This was the first adventure I tried using Land of Ninja (LoN), Avalon Hill's RuneQuest 3 supplement for adventures in fantasy Japan written by Sandy Petersen of Call of Cthulu fame and Bob Charrette, one of the co-authors of Bushido. If you haven't got it yet we recommend it!
The various NPCs and monsters will be found in Appendix B, roughly in Order of Appearance: I've somewhat lazily only put in those I needed to roll up. LoN has stats for minor NPCs: 'bandits' for example would be poor quality ashigaru with peasant weapons.
My campaign didn't use the supplied map of Japan but rather one of my own devising that nevertheless resembled Japan in broad outline. The backwater north coast province of Tachima where the action takes place most resembles the real Japanese province of Noto or possibly Etuchu I would guess.
There were (as our title suggests!) seven regular players. This being a first scenario, with one exception they were rolled up as young samurai currently in the service of a Daimyo on the southern island of Gozen, which in Nippon is a bucolic and peaceful land where adventures never (well hardly ever) happen. As GM I fiddled the rolls to get a wide mix of character types (a sorcerer, a monk, a courtier etc).
The chief requirement was that one of the PCs should have the family background detailed below. It would also be helpful to have a PC with religious inclinations, in the playtest this role was filled by a Buddist monk.
The Ijichi are an old and honourable country samurai family in Yao, the largest province of Gozen. Iemitsu is our PC, he is a cousin of the present family head Bakin (see family tree below).
Fujiko was a beautiful if headstrong girl, her father's favorite. Ten years ago she fell for and married a visitor to court from Tachima province, Usari Toshifusa. This was against the wishes of her brothers, who had better plans for her. Our PC has heard no mention of her since she left Gozen.
Moritamo was hatamoto (favoured retainer) to the father of the present Daimyo of Yao, who died seven years ago. He chose then to retire to the estate he had been given some two days journey from Echikai, the Daimyo's seat of government.
Moritamo has one sibling still alive, a sister who married a courtier of Echikai and resides there.
Iemitsu's player should be told all the above and shown the family tree once he starts asking about his family.
Recently Iemitsu was appointed a junior samurai of the Daimyo. There he naturally fell into the company of the other PCs, young samurai like himself. Not all would be local, as there is a well established system of exchanging samurai in training between friendly Daimyos. 'Auntie' keeps an eye on Iemitsu and makes sure he doesn't get into too much trouble.
Iemitsu's mother writes regularly (as she does to everyone too far away to gossip with in person). Her latest letter a fortnight ago reported that his father had had a bad fall, breaking a leg and a collar bone, but must be recovering as though confined to the house by the doctor he is making everyone's life a misery.
The scenario starts in early autumn when Iemitsu receives a package from his father containing a letter from him and two other letters (Appendix A).
Iemitsu's player will undoubtedly notice that his father has forgotten to say where exactly Fujiko is (Sekku-na is the main island of Nippon)! There are now two things he must do: get permission from the Daimyo for leave of absence and visit his father. The order in which he performs these tasks is not important.
For PCs unfamiliar with Japan the GM should point out that when a woman marries she becomes a member of her husband's family and clan, and their responsibility even if subsequently widowed. Something very serious has evidently happened.
Iemitsu is greeted by his mother, who endeavours to tell him all the local news while conducting him into his father's room. "Well I'm glad you're here", she says, "now come and talk to your father and keep him from shouting at the servants for a bit." Moritamo has arm and shoulder strapped up and though he pretends to be grumpy is, Iemitsu suspects, rather enjoying playing the invalid.
If Iemitsu is cautious in his questions he will realise that Moritamo has been in regular correspondence with Fujiko. She has two children and her marraige has been a happy one. Her adoptive clan, the Usari, hold eastern Tachima province, and Fujiko lives in a village called Hotaka.
It should occur to Iemitsu that this correspondence would be disapproved of by his cousins. It would be impolite of him to say this directly, and his father will be embarrassed if he does so. Iemitsu's mother knows nothing of the correspondence and would be most upset if she found out, not because she herself disapproves of Fujiko but because her husband has been deceiving her - naturally she believes herself to be the soul of discretion.
If asked about a possible cause for Fujiko's distress Moritamo will say Fujiko mentioned 'young hotheads' of the Usari getting into fights with the Miura, a rival clan.
By reputation the Daimyo of Yao is a fair man, and it would be quite reasonable for samurai to request leave of absence to attend to personal business. Such a request must be made in public at the Daimyo's daily audience. The Daimyo will in fact grant such leave willingly.
However to simply march into the Daimyo's audience chamber and make the request would not be the Nipponese way. Iemitsu should first check privately to find out how the Daimyo might react. His best route for doing this is via his aunt, whose husband as a courtier will be privy to the Daimyo's thoughts.
No great harm will be done however if Iemitsu doesn't check. The letter from Moritamo to the Daimyo is not neccessary, and if used will actually offend the Daimyo, it would be very difficult of him to refuse a personal favour to his late father's hatamoto and adviser. Iemitsu will go down in his book as being 'pushy' and undiplomatic. The court will start to wonder what this important family business might be.
If any of the PCs has 'previous experience' as a courtier, give him a chance (an INT roll?) to advise Iemitsu on the proper course of action.
Should the reason for the PCs' mission leak out by any means, it would cause a sensation: everyone at court remembers the beautiful Fujiko! For the consequences of such a revelation, see A scandal in the family below.
A sea journey comes first, across to the main island. In Nippon the PCs landed at Edzo, the former Imperial capital, and it took twelve days on foot to the Tachima border. You will have to work out your own route! As Samurai the PCs may well have horses, but transporting them by sea would be expensive...
[The PCs are naturally not being paid while on leave, but they should have enough money for their immediate needs. If they are really short perhaps Moritamo will remember to give his son a credit note to an Echikai merchant. Samurai don't worry about money anyway]
On the north coast the PCs may attempt to find out about the situation in Tachima before they arrive there. They will learn that Tanatori Sanzo, a powerful Daimyo, dominated the whole north coast until his death last year. His sons do not have his authority, and in Tachima it is said the old feuds have restarted.
There are two routes into Tachima: the coast road and Greenrock Pass which leads across the coastal range. Whichever route the PCs take will lead them to the next section!
It should be pointed out to the PCs that only samurai authorised by the local ruler are supposed to travel in armour: feuding northerners might shoot first and ask questions later! Keeping to travelling clothes bearing the Mon (heraldic badge) of their Daimyo would be the best way of avoiding trouble.
Now for some action - a chance for eager samurai to try out their skills...
In the late afternoon around a cliff edge path or beyond trees the PCs hear sounds of fighting: Shonin Maruta is being attacked by bandits. By the time the PCs have a view one of the merchant's hired guards is dead and the other two are fleeing down the track. Two servants are grovelling in the dust, the merchant himself is held by two bandits, and only Taka, the merchant's teenage son, still resists. Before the PCs can reach the action he will fall, badly wounded. The merchant's goods are on a string of heavily laden ponies.
There are as many bandits as there are PCs. If the PCs resort to bows the bandits will reply in kind. Once they realise they are facing samurai (INT rolls?) the bandits will run away if they think they are losing.
Maruta is naturally very grateful to his rescuers. Experienced players will spot a GM plant, if not Maruta will volunteer information anyway: the last village before the border is not far ahead.
At the village the company are just sitting down to a meal in the shelter provided for travellers when an elderly samurai arrives: he is in charge here and formally apologises for the bandit attack. Provided the PCs are polite and understanding (and the merchant offers him some sake) he will unbend. The bandits hereabouts are undoubtedly dispossessed peasants from Tachima, he will say: the clans have been burning each others' villages.
The merchant offers to guide the PCs into Tachima, their mere presence will be enough to deter bandit scum. If they reveal Hotaka village to be their destination he will say he knows of it, it is off his intended route but he can easily divert there. However it is a Usari village and to reach it they must pass through Miura lands...
What are a group of samurai in service doing travelling to Tachima? The merchant is too diplomatic to ask, but will suggest that if the PCs were to disguise themselves as his guards he can get them through without problems.
The PCs now have a choice.
If they decline the merchant's offer, they can either march openly into Tachima or attempt to sneak to Hotaka on their own. In either case Miura patrols or guards will see and attempt to question them, moreover the Tachima hills are rough country and the PCs are quite likely to get lost without guidance.
Miura guards would be highly suspicious of samurai either unidentified or bearing a mon unknown to them, they would insist on the PCs accompanying them to Miura castle.
If they accept then they will encounter guards in at least one Miura village (see map) but providing they let the merchant do the talking they will get through; south of the Serijen river the merchant will cut north east through the wood.
At a ford across the Serijen the PCs will come across an abandoned hamlet, which if search rolls are successfully made will prove to have been burnt down several months ago.
Provided the PCs approach openly and Iemitsu identifies himself they should have no problems getting into the village - sneaking about would be another matter as there are well placed scouts on all approaches who would almost certainly spot them.
Hotaka is a large village (see map) somewhat overcrowded now with refugees from outlying hamlets and the ashigaru garrison reinforced by samurai from Usari castle. The PCs will be invited to stay at the Big House and to dinner that evening.
There are often latecomers to campaign games, we had three who were introduced at this point as Karuma Maru, commander of the garrison, and two ronin hired by the Usari. If PCs are killed and need replacing they could perhaps be other ronin or brave Hotaka villagers.
Before dinner Lady Fujiko (for it is she) will have a private talk with Iemitsu and tell him what has happened. Much of the following background material will have to be ferreted out by the PCs however, and some (such as the Usari and Miura plans) they may never learn about at all.
The North coast has cold wet winters and cool moist summers. In Tachima there is little flat land for rice cultivation: the problem is not water but lack of sunshine and the short growing season.
Below 1,500 feet are beech and oak, above conifers such as fir, spruce and larch. See Japan: Climate and Ecology
Only one extensive area exists for cultivation, between Miura and Usari castles behind the sand dunes. The dunes are backed by a carefully preserved belt of pines.
Serijin-Heko is the only town of consequence (pop 3,000), with entertainment, shops and a market (see map). A ferry-boat crosses the river here. Though in Miura territory it is self-governed by its fishermen and traders.
There are two major clans, the Usari and the Miura, whose lands lie north and south of Serijen-heko respectively. The Miura were once Daimyo of Tachima, but about 150 years ago the northern clans led by the Usari rebelled. Miura castle was besieged and burnt but with aid from the south the Miura fought back and the war eventually halted with both sides exhausted.
Hostilities resumed forty years ago but for the past twenty years a truce has been imposed by Tanatori Sanzo.
In February of this year brawling between clan samurai started in Serijen-heko, this culminated in the death of Iwao at the hand of Yoriie in a drunken duel. Yoriie was lucky - Iwao was the better swordsman but had consumed a lot more sake.
Azumaharu led a raid on a Usari village soon afterwards and there have since been raids from both sides, with both hiring troops, renovating their castles and preparing for the real fighting to come.
There are two Miura sub-clans, the Blue and the Grey. Leadership of the clan generally alternates between them.
Masahide is clan head: implacable, detirmined to destroy the Usari at any cost before he dies.
Narihiro of the Blue is his loyal supporter, a relative non-entity.
Azumaharu, vicious and devious, has been largely responsible for escalating the feud, ostensibly in revenge for his brother's death.
Rokuemon has been in the East training under a master archer and has only just returned. An honourable samurai, he was shocked at Toshifusa's treatment (see later). If a love interest is required, he fancies Miyako no end but is too shy to approach her.
Katsumi is dominated by his wife. Badly lame after an accident, he is generally ignored in clan decisions.
Masahide and Tanomu are twins.
Imoku is a sorcerer, taught by his late uncle Yakei. Never a good warrior, he is detirmined to prove himself in the clan's service and spends most of his time shut up in his tower practising spells, of late some nasty and powerful ones.
Yukihira is Azumaharu's stooge, fancying himself as a dashing hero of the olden days.
The Miura have 20 samurai and 70 ashigaru. These can be taken from the generic types given in the LAND OF NINJA pack, an equal mix of poor (hired ronin) and good (retainers) would be appropriate.
Masahide knows his disadvantage - a lower economic base. In a long grinding war the Miura will lose. His advantage is himself, in sole command as opposed to the Usari internal bickerings. Only Azumaharu would think of crossing him, and even he is not aware of how much Masahide knows of his activities. Masahide hopes to provoke the Usari into attacking him. Close to the castle he can produce some surprises with Imoku's sorcery (see 'The Siege' later). His raids across the border are aimed at Usari peasants: burning villages, destroying food supplies.
Otomasa, officially clan head, is well into senility and stays in his own chambers in the castle. His sons take care not to give him any opportunity to issue orders, since they would have to obey him.
Shigeuji is acting clan head, but is not clever and tends to dither rather than act decisively. His wife Miwa often berates him about this, but cannot advise him sensibly as she has no understanding of men's affairs.
Tadako is loud, bombastic and easily manipulated.
Watamaro is scheming and ruthless. He beat his wife so often for refusing to give him a son that she drowned herself - this was hushed up but is common knowledge amongst the clan. His two daughters work as drudges at the castle and are ignored by their father.
Yoriie and Masamaro are youngsters eager to prove themselves.
Hana married into a clan in the next door province. Her son Nagate is visiting his cousins, Hana would throw a fit if she knew the dangers he was running...
Nawa Hakataro is Head of Samurai. An upright and honourable bushi of the old school, he is the master strategist of the clan. He sees the feud almost as a personal duel between Masahide and himself. His blind spot is women: he simply doesn't understand them.
Nawa Otomasa ("young Otomasa") is Hakataro's dutiful son. He disapproves of attacking peasants.
Kani ("The Crab") is a notorious waco (pirate) chief. He is in secret league with the Usari and has promised to aid them in exchange for supplies sent to his island base and the 'laundering' of plundered goods. Goods are landed at a cove at the north edge of the map and stored at the nearby village.
The Usari have 25 samurai and 100 ashigaru, plus 50 of Kani's waco.
The Usari hope to draw the Miura into border skirmishes, wearing them down until winter. In the spring Kani will join them in an attack on Miura castle (see 'the Siege').
The under-steward at Miura castle is a Usari agent. He has been spoiling the food stores: there is only enough good food for a fortnight. When the Usari are ready to march he will leave Tachima to collect a large money sack awaiting him.
Fujiko was well received by Usari Ietoshi her father-in-law and a cousin of Otomasa who held Hotaka for the clan. A kind and thoughtful man the 'Old Master' was well liked by the villagers.
She was surprised to find that the clan assumed her to be a sophisticated and cultured southern lady and didn't giggle at all at her Gozen accent. Everyone in Tachima addresses her as Fujiko-sama (Lady Fujiko), and so should the GM from henceforth.
The marraige has been occasionally stormy but generally happy, with two children Sen-hime (9) and Kyusu (6). Ietoshi was opposed to a resumption of the feud but in July he was killed in a raid on Hotaka. Shortly afterwards Karuma Maru arrived at Hotaka and the events up to the PCs' arrival in early October will be found in Appendix C, the story given to Maru's player.
Lady Fujiko will if pressed explain why she cannot marry Watamaro. In Nippon women cannot be married against their will, but she also has a duty to her villagers. What advice will her cousin give her?
Up to now the PCs have been following a set story line. From now on what happens is in part dependent on their own actions, what follows are some events that will happen when the PCs run out of ideas or that the GM can steer them towards.
Watamaro will in fact appear in a couple of days, before the PCs have much chance to do anything. Lady Fujiko cannot of course publicly refuse him (no one says no in Japan), in the playtest the players suggested a noble speech about not considering remarraige until her husband's shameful death had been avenged, and Lady Fujiko duely obliged.
A refusal will result in the Usari reinforcements being withdrawn by Watamaro. The PCs now have no option but to stay for a while.
One option would be for Lady Fujiko to go to the castle and demand a family conference. Miwa would at first tell her husband to assert himself and tell Lady Fujiko to obey clan orders, but once she realised that Lady Fujiko will cause a fuss she would switch to wanting Watamaro to back down and not cause scandal! Tadako admires Lady Fujiko for her independence and would support her.
Young Otomasa will report back to his father, but mention of Lady Fujiko will cause him to shake his head and ignore the problem.
In our playtest Iemitsu blundered by telling his Daimyo the purpose of his mission. Word was all over Gozen within a week and his cousins descended on Moritama demanding an explanation. He managed to conceal his correspondence with Fujiko, but was forced by them to write a letter summoning Iemitsu back:
"Our plans have changed. Return home at once. Moritamo."
The note was handed to one of the cousins' samurai for delivery.
Moritamo however directed the samurai to take the coast road and inquire at the castle for directions to Hotaka. This would of course be the Miura castle, and Masahide would question the messenger, throw him in the dungeon, and pass the letter on to Iemitsu via a Serijen-heko innkeeper.
If the message arrives, Iemitsu and his friends should see that it is worded oddly (what plans?) and wonder at its source. Samurai are banned from Serijen-heko for the duration of hostilities, but should someone sneak in the innkeeper would be under orders to reveal that the message came from the castle. Masahide, being in the dark about what is really happening, wants to get the opposition confused as well!
One of the Miura raids will occur about a couple of days after Watamaro's visit. A woodcutter will arrive at Hotaka with news of a suspicious group of armed men seen in the eastern woods. Their objective is Amas village, but the PCs will arrive too late, the village will be partly burnt and deserted. A search will find a few hiding peasants, the rest having fled. Searching the village and making INT rolls or similar will reveal that the rice stores recently harvested have been deliberately spoiled by dumping in the steam.
If such news is passed on to the castle Hakataro will see the problem, but will be unable to persuade the brothers, who will simply urge retaliatory raids which Hakataro does not want at all.
It should be apparent to the PCs that an active policy of putting out scouts (peasant boys?) along the river and trying to intercept a raid might work. If it doesn't, a message from Young Otomasa could suggest it.
The next raid will cross the river between Hotaka and Serijen-heko aiming for the two villages NW of Amas. The raiders intend to hide in the eastern woods that night and head back the following day. They are led by Azumaharu and Yukihira and there will be enough to give the PCs a hard fight if not surprised.
Villagers have also been taking precautions, at one of the villages a hideout has been dug in a thicket to which the peasants will flee.
Miura Imoku has found in the Miura castle dungeons several Yurai, spirits of Miura captives tortured to death in past centuries and confined there by a previous Miura sorcerer when they started to haunt the castle. One of them, held in a windowless oubliette for many years, is quite insane.
The Miura have a spy in Hotaka village - Lady Fujiko's cook. He smuggles some nail clippings and child's hair to Imoku, and the villain orders the Gaki to possess the child.
The intention was to attack Kyusu, but the cook has erred and it is Sen-hime, the daughter, who is affected. One night screams will be heard from the kitchen (a seperate building) and Tsubaki, first on the scene, will tell PCs that she found Sen-hime with her hands in the fire! She is badly burnt and even after healing too shocked to give any explanation. Her mother will sit up with her at the child's insistence.
In the morning Sen-hime seems normal and can remember nothing of what happened before help arrived. She will be reluctant to come indoors in the evening, and when left alone for a moment will 'panic' and use a candle to set light to something - dried flowers, a paper screen, whatever she can find.
Eventually the PCs may realise it is darkness that is triggering the child's outbursts. 'Second Sight' etc will reveal the Gaki: if the PCs don't suspect possession the villagers undoubtedly will!
The only sure way of driving the Gaki away is Exorcism (Players Book p33). In the playtest the Monk had this Divine spell, otherwise a priest from the town could be summoned. If the Gaki wins it will not attempt to possess the exorciser, merely leaving him with a splitting headache when he wakes up.
Eventually the Miura will decide on a final big raid on Hotaka itself before winter sets in. The attack will be led by Azumaharu or if he is unavailable by Rokuemon. It will be a night attack, with one group at the SE gate, a second circling round to the north gate, and several archers shooting over the stockade onto the roofs of the peasant dwellings with firearrows as a diversion.
The peasants will defend their home if trained and encouraged to do so, otherwise they will leave everything to the samurai.
From November to April there will be little opportunity for action. If the PCs have been successful against the Miura then Hakataro will include them in his plan: their part will be to advance south while the main force marches along the coast. They will meet no opposition, and will arrive outside Miura castle to find it already under seige.
Miura castle looks much like Usari castle which the PCs may already have seen: perched on a rocky outcrop with the only good approach being from the south. PCs observing it closely may note that the ramparts are roofed over. An initial attack will be beaten off but the Usari are not worried by this.
The PCs will now be ordered to secure Serijen-heko. They will be cautiously received by the merchants and given lodgings at one of the Inns on the market square.
A boatload of Waco have already arrived at the town. They are under orders from Kani to establish his presence there, and will cause trouble: getting drunk, abusing townspeople, showing no respect to the PCs until eventually the PCs will be forced to take action or lose face (complaining to the Usari would be an admission of failure). Any waco that escape would make trouble - sensible PCs would wipe them out!
After a couple of days the PCs will observe storm clouds gathering to the south. In the playtest inquiry about weather produced Old Fisherman, a local 'character' whose Detect Storm (p35) spell confirmed PC suspicions that the storm was unnatural.
About a week after the siege starts the Miura will discover the spoiled stores. Imoku immediately sets the yurai to wander the siege lines at night, frightening sentries and lowering morale: the Usari will send for help from whoever exorcised the Gaki. The Yurai appear as conventional ghosts, jumping out at people and making scary noises.
The storm conjured by Imoku has caused cold and snow around the castle, but by rotating the besiegers the Usari are persevering.
Becoming desperate, the Miura turn again to Imoku who attempts his most powerful spell. On the Astral Plane he travels to an undersea cavern where he gains possession of a Ryu. In the Ryu's body he attacks the beseigers, who are scattered: Tadako and Hakataro are killed, Otomasa wounded and captured, Shigeuji cravenly flees and doesn't stop until he gets home.
Kani is not present: by coincidence he had already decided to pull out before his men started to desert and had sailed for Serijen-heko. The first the PCs will learn of developements is when the waco ships are sighted one misty morning. By the time the PCs have been alerted the waco will have landed and Kani will marching up to confront them.
He will attempt to persuade the PCs to withdraw. If they call his bluff or attack he will pull back to the docks (where his men are already looting the warehouses).
At this point a horseman arrives. 'Flee for your lives - the dragon is coming!'
The Ryu will appear in the harbour, seeking the waco ships.
As soon as the ryu comes within range Kani will attempt to use his magic amulet of Controlling Water Creatures. He actually only needs to overcome Imoku's magic points, already depleted by his astral planing and domination spell. In the playtest Kani had been killed, so a waco had to alert the PCs to use the device.
It would also be possible (if difficult!) to kill the Ryu, which will be attempting to sink the ships. Note that this ryu has only (!) 12 armour points.
If the Ryu is killed while Imoku possesses it the shock will incapacitate him for several weeks. If the sorcerer is overcome then the Ryu's spirit will resume control: shapechanging into a wise old man he will politely ask what is going on.
Assuming he gets polite answers he will seek revenge: the Miura army which by now is outside the castle harrying the Usari survivors will in turn be attacked and the ryu will then set about demolishing the castle in search of the sorcerer. Since this is a Tale of Heroism, Rokuemon will undoubtedly slay him with a Ki induced arrow after he has killed Masahide.
To provide a grand finale this might be the point for Watamaro to arrive in town seeking Kani and the amulet. In the playtest Karuma Maro was sufficiently rude to him to provoke a duel, killing Watamaro - but any of the PCs could do this.
With both Miura and Usari in disarray the way is open for the PCs to impose their own resolution to the feud provided they act quickly. A possible course of action would be to negotiate a truce with Rokuemon and then rush off to Usari castle and seize it in the name of Lady Fujiko and her son, killing any surviving Usari at once. Then Lady Fujiko can marry anyone she chooses - young Otomasa perhaps. In our playtest Karuma Maro is presently after her of course, but this has yet to be resolved!
Chris: Ijichi Iemitsu
Jenny: Taka, son of Old Headman
Eddie: Fujiwara Yasumori, a mainland samurai
Dave: Togashi Omaro, a Gozen courtier
Andrew: Togashi Mitsukani, a Gozen samurai
Mike: Kido Nambo, a warrior monk
Nick: Karuma Maro, a ronin
A: Some letters