War, now memory
Shed blood shared turns to shared blood
Three swear brotherhood
How quickly children forget
A peace can not last
Brothers betray their brother
Son against uncle
Sworn cousin against cousin
Now, Nihon is Burning
The other half of of our pair of one on one Burning Wheel games is a game of the Blossoms are Falling. Neither of us has done Blossoms before, so it should be an interesting experience!
We decided to divorce this game a bit from real world Japan. We’ll take the culture, take the high situation, take the rules (and convert what is needed to Gold). We’ll then tweak the geography and names a bit so we aren’t messing around in real history that we don’t know much about beyond what is in the book.
In our version of Nihon, our Imperial Family is the Yamauchi. There are several great clans that have broken off from that line as the provincial lords of our island. The single greatest of which, is the Tanabe. The Tanabe, while unquestionably the strongest single clan, are opposed by the Hirafune alliance. This alliance, forged generations ago, unites three great clans, the Hirafune, the Yabe, and one clan yet to be named, along with their various cadet families, against the Tanabe. The Hirafune alliance stands, depending on the times, about equal to the Tanabe, but the Tanabe is one, united, while the alliance is three.
Flash forward to about 70 years before the game starts. Nihon was invaded by a mainland army. The great clans, along with the imperial forces, united as one to defeat this foreign threat. It was an intense struggle, and over the course of the war, the young Emperor, along with the leaders of the Tanabe and Hirafune, swore a blood oath together, and declared each other brothers.
For a time, this oath had brought peace between the rivaling Tanabe and Hirafune alliance. Hirafune, however, died fairly young, and was succeed by his eldest son. His son did not claim the same respect his father did, and even if he had tried to continue the peace his father had worked for, the militaristic faction in the clan, especially those that did not remember the invasion were against it. Bolstered by the military faction, the weight of the tradition of the rivalry with the Tanabe, and the support of most of his ancestral spirits, Hirafune Koan staged a coup against his elder brother, slaughtering his household down to all but his son, our PC, Hirafune Kento.
Kento fled, swearing vengeance, briefly falling in with River Pirates before finding refuge with his maternal uncle, the clan chief of the Yabe Tengan Tennak clan. In exchange for refuge, Kento vowed to serve as one of his retainers until such a time where he would be able to claim his rightful place as head of the Hirafune. The allience itself has divided into factions. Some support the coup and increased action against the Tanabe. Others see it as a shameful and unjustified act, and would be willing to throw in with the “rightful” heir.
Meanwhile the other two oath brothers, Tanabe clan chief Kojima*, and retired Emperor Fusajiro, both survive, but both are pushing 90. The Tanabe is militarizing ostentatiously in case there is another foreign invasion, but whispers swill of them thinking to challenge the Emperor. Still, both “brothers” seem intent of honoring the oath they swore as long as they live, so none believe Kojima himself will defy and the throne. On the other hand, the current Emperor, Katsuhito, is limited in the actions he can take while his grandfather lives and still supports his brother, so the Tanabe are mostly going unchecked. Still, both men are bound to die sooner, rather than later, and much depends on the nature of the next leader of the Tanabe.
*I think I just called him Koji in game, but then I used that as a sub-clan name later and he did not feature in the first session, so I will go with Kojima going forward to reduce confusion.
It’s a complex situation, with the Hirafune alliance politics and revenge story being the immediate situation, while the Tanabe and Intra-clan politics being a sort of background that might become the focus later.
I had asked Blaine how he saw this game starting, and he said he kind of expected to be assigned a task by his uncle. I was okay with this, but, having not really seen Kento’s beliefs at this point, I was struggling to come up with one. Instead, I tried to think about what sort of man the chief of the Yabe was, and why he took Kento in, and what sort of things he would have him do.
We started out in Tengan Tennak’s Tea Room. A serving girl prepared them some traditional tea while the two of them talked. The two of them are in a sort of odd situation, if, Tengan Tennak acknowledges Kento as the rightful heir of the Hirafune family, then, by the terms of their alliance, he owes Kento his loyalty. He’d be slightly more independent than a traditional vassal, but not quite by much. At the same time, he had Kento swear loyalty to him in exchange for shelter, resulting in an odd balance of power. I go into this, because, I spent a while thinking of how Tengan Tennak should address Kento, and, in the moment, I decided on Kento-kun. Perfectly fine for an uncle addressing his nephew, particularly a subordinate one, but not so for the clan chief of the Hirafune. I can not say if Tennak was doing so conciously, but it was a subtle reminded of Kento’s current situation.
Getting to the point, Chief Yabe tells Kento that he needs his help in a personal matter. A “friend” of his, a traveling Merchant by the name of Ichiro has gone missing. Further, Ichiro was supposed to deliver a box of spices upon his next visit, one that Tennak had already paid good money for. Reports indicate he was last seen in Koji (a cadet family of the Hirafune, known for their horses and loyal to Koan) territory. Tennak asks Kento to find Ichiro if he still lives, and if not, retrieve the spices, which is is quick to note are in a specially sealed container to keep them from spoiling and therefore not to be opened.
Obviously something is going on, but Kento plays the dutiful servant and doesn’t question it. When asked if he needs anything, he only asks for a Horse, which I give to him. He then wants to reach out to his river pirate friends, and see if they had anything to do with it. He has a relationship, so I say he can reach them easily and discreetly, but he’ll have to wait a few days for a response. He does, and since I know the River Pirates don’t know much in this case, I don’t punish him for it. They tell him that Koji territory is too far from the river for them, but they’ve heard there has been a crackdown on banditry in general there.
He heads out to scout out a boarder town, and sees some militia members checking out some traveler’s bags and personal effects and sending them on their way. Kento rides up, and I ask him how he is dressed. He tells me he is dressed like a Bushi, not a high ranking one, but “Enough to get away with carrying weapons”. I ask him what clan insignia he is wearing, and he ends up going with the Yabe clan. The militia greet him as “Yabe-san”, and when he questions them on Ichiro, they direct him to “Koji-san”.
Now, I was blanking on a proper title for this guy. Basically, this guy is some low ranking Bushi that they sent out to some outlying town to oversee it. I went with “Sheriff” at the time, but I think “Magistrate” would be more fitting. Either way he was Koji Kohaku, and he had been trying to crack down on “spies, smugglers and bandits” passing through Koji lands. When asked about Ichiro, he informed Kento (still acting as Yabe Kento), that Ichiro was being detained, under the premise that he was acting as a spy.
When asked why, Koji explained that upon a search of his cart, they found a hidden package of spices, inside which also contained an alternative ledger. Koji believed that this ledger due to it having no relation to the official one, was likely encrypted intelligence information. When pressed why the Yabe were not notified of this arrest, Koji countered with asking what reason the Yabe would need to know. Surely they were not involved in such a thing, right? Kento asks to see the ledger, and Koji is resistant, saying that he was only able to determine it is intelligence information because he noticed some correlations to information he knew about the Koji. I flat out say that Kento could press for this, but it would require a roll of some kind, so the matter ends up dropped.
He asks to see Ichiro and is taken to him, finding the man talking business with a woman and protesting his innocence. He asks to be alone with the man, but is again, denied without a roll, Koji has ordered that no one be alone with the spy. Kento spends a bit trying to get information from Ichiro, but he seems to know nothing. Eventually, Kento gives up and leaves. The woman approaches him and addresses him as “Hirafune-sama”, and they arrange to meet later.
They do, and she is Kasumi, Ichiro’s wife. She’s mostly upfront with Kento because she knows who he is working for, and she needs his help. She’s the spy, her husband is just a merchant, that ledger is what Koji thinks it is. Kento wants to know why Yabe is gathering info on his allies, and Kasumi says that he thinks that there is a risk of inter-alliance conflict. Kento wants to know if there are any important details she can recall from that ledger. She says there might be but “the distress caused by her husband’s imprisonment” seems to be “clouding her memory”. Kento wants her to leave with him, and she says not only does she not want to, but if she just left while her husband was imprisoned on suspicion of being a spy, it would look suspicious, at least.
Kento promises to help, and we called it there. We really didn’t engage the system this week, no artha or die rolls, but it was really short (probably about 30 minutes since we started very late), and I expect us to dive in deeper into beliefs and the like next time.