[The Mountain Witch] Weight in gold

Started by Jaakko Koivula, October 09, 2009, 07:40:28 AM

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For my own part I found the game a great success. I had hoped we could play it throughoutly in four sessions, but was quite content with the decision to divide the last part of the story into two sessions. Two things started to bother me early on, but they didn't take the fun out of the game. Firstly every player wanted to leave their mark in the NPC:s. Everyone knew someone, that ronin had killed that robber's brother, this ronin had led this bandit's former army etc. There was a whole lot of far fetched and unrealistic connections between people.

Secondly most of the main twists in the plot ended up in total massacre. There was no chance for any other kind of resolutions than immediate battles (the fillers for players who had missed sessions were exeptions in this rule). Live by the sword, die by the sword. As a whole the story could have been a bit more coherent, but I think most of the Dark Fates fitted in nicely. I believe that next time I play this particular game I know better how to create connections between the characters.


Imai's Dark Fate was a struggle indeed, and I think there wasn't much room for his thread of a story in the game, as most of the players viciously fought for the place in the spotlight. This is a problem inherited in a game with six players, no matter what the game is. Imai's solo adventure was interesting enough, but it did leave the character in much more difficult situations than others had endured. Fighting continuous fights alone in this game results in wounds. I did however find Imai's fate established in the actions of the character, even if it was not explained otherwise. It was also nice to see that the character that took the greatest beating during the game was the victorious one in the end.

Takayama's Dark Fate was of course quite clear from the start. Or at least it should have been. I thought it could also be the "Other Agenda", as the business with the family and merchant seemed so plainly given, and Kanamaru had the perfect set for seppuku. I did find Takayama somewhat more honorable than Jaakko, and liked a lot the way the player made him painstakingly stubborn. What I did not like was how the player tried constantly to get around the game mechanics or twist the story so that his character could have the upper hand in every situation. Of course the system was new for everyone, so it was not always obvious how mechanics should be used.

Takayama was clearly the most suitable protagonist for the story. The player had created a solid background and even if his Dark Fate was rigidly fortified and secured from the start, it gave a lot of possibilities for other players to join in and create something of their own. I myself had decided that Matsushita could actually be the Daimyo Ono, so Takayama's background was an inspirational one for me.

Umiroya had the Dark Fate Love, which I think is one of the more boring ones in the game. The background story however was the only one with a clear angle for me to shove in my character's Dark Fate - Revenge. I think our stories mixed quite nicely in the end and there was a sense of cooperation even if the characters were destined to kill each other. I was a bit misguided with the real intentions of the player. The Witch was torturing the Red Ronin with dreams with false promises of unconditional love. This was enough for the character to slowly lose his mind, a development I thought was about guilt and long lost sense of honor rejuveneting. I was given a clue about this. The Red Ronin actually uttered the name of the wizard in his dreams, and Matsushita heard this. Alas, the whole thing slipped my mind.

Anyways, even if the character's Dark Fate was given away quite bluntly, I did like the twists and developments in his nature. Especially the ending was good, because Umiroya grew to become the actual bad guy in the story. Umiroya's decision also built a bridge between Shinta and Umiroya. I was actually hoping for a final stand-off between Umiroya and Matsushita after the Witch had been dealt with. My idea was that Matsushita drops his mask and demands justice. Kanai Miki or Umiroya must die to compensate for his own lost. This would have ensured a dramatic ending for the game. I was not disappointed with the way things actually went, as it fitted the anti-hero perspective well.

Kanamaru's Dark Fate was the one I had real troubles with. The character was clearly preparing for an honorable suicide. Old debt perhaps? The Character had a curse upon him and he was trying to make a deal with the Witch. Deal With the Devil? The Character feared the horrible dark women that were always following the party. Worst Fear? I was trying to figure out which fate had been left out and concluded the Old Debt most promising one. There was a clear relation between Kanamaru and Shinta, that was for sure. I didn't find a suitable angle to mix my story with Kanamaru until I came up with the idea of history of the surrounding lands. This was also an opportunity for me to bring Daimyo Ono more in to the game.

Kanamaru's jinxed poems and his position as the old man of the party were great additions to the story. When the party finally got to the Temple of the Mad Monks, there was a good tension between Matsushita and Kanamaru. He was also the only character who was concerned about the true identity of Matsushita even if he did not try to force matsushita to unmask.

Shinta was always my true choice for the title of the henchman. He had all the qualities one would expect from the Deal With The Devil Fate. I missed one crucial point about the character until it was told to me. Shinta did not know in the beginning that the Mountain Witch was his old master. So what happened was that he kind of stumbled upon him after centuries of wandering. I was trying to find a suitable angle to mix my character's background with Shinta's, but after the relationship between Shinta and Kanamaru became evident (also the unaging virtue of the character), I decided not to. I was going to fix Shinta into my history lesson though, but forgot it when the time came.

Shinta was a very straight-forward kind of character, who was quick to decapitate people. Character was described as naive, loyal and strict with the warrior code. In the end it was obvious that someone had to fight him to get the Witch. I was quite interested to see how the player would handle this situation. His choice was somewhat unexpected. As Jaakko mentioned, we were not sure how to handle the situation of ai-uchi with killed off Chipo and Shinta. Even if this went well with the story, the mechanics were hazy. Irony in his Fate was that he sacrificed himself to help Kanamaru, but asked Takayama to stop the old ronin. A big mistake. Takayama got all kinds of pleads and deals during the game, and all of them were forgotten or disregarded.


The choice of the drunken, masked warrior with explosives and firecrackers was of course an inflated, dubious and unrealistic one. My inspiration came from the Tekken character Yoshimitsu (traits, voice, appearance etc.) and Jackie Chan's Legend of the Drunken Master (style of fighting). I was sure that one of the other characters would confront Matsushita and force him to abandon his mask. This however did not happen, so I had a lot of time to figure out who my character actually was. I tried to carefully learn everything I could from the other players and created my own background history based on their stories. matsushita could have been Daimyo Ono, his twin brother, man with a scarred and burn face, some enemy of other ronins', Takayama's father or cousin etc.

Matsushita ended up to be the Daimyo himself. He had used his alter ego many times and wandered among the people, helping were he could (I saw him as a sort of samurai Batman actually). He was trained by the drunken master Ueshiba, who also trained his league of assassins before retiring to the Temple of the Mad Monks. Ono had helped the Hatsuki clan to gain power and had exhanged his niece with Hatsuki-sama's daughter to ensure peace between the regions. When Umiroya killed Ono's niece, he decided to lure the Red Ronin into his dominion and have his vengeance. Hatsuki-sama sent Umiroya into the trap as an offering of peace. As everyone with the star sign Monkey, Ono was a known schemer, he came up with aa unnecessarily complex plan.

He gathered all the ronins and mercenaries around the region and put an bounty on the corpse of the Mountain Witch. Knowing that this would be a suicide mission he ensured that Umiroya was in weak position and easily dealt with. To enforce his position he ensured that other notable and interesting ronin's would take the quest. Surely most of them would defend his honor and help him to defeat the murderer. Also this was a perfect opportunity for him to learn more about the party. Should Takayama's clan be given back their position? Could Imai become one of his Samurai even if he was such a notorius character? The epic quest needed someone to tell the tale. Kanamaru was the obvious choice.

Hatsuki's daughter, Kanai Miki had escaped from his court to pay her respects on the grave of Matsushita, a warrior that she had heard a great deal of good. Ono left his son in charge and entered the contest in disguise. Ono's plan was to find the girl and test the Red Ronin to learn his true nature. However he did not expect that the son of the Forest Lord would capture the girl nor that Chipo would rescue her and put her under the spell of the Mountain Witch. He also trusted too much in his old master, Ueshiba Sensei, who eventually betrayed him. Neither did he foresee that he actually liked the Red Ronin and would have died a dozen times without his help. These were the reasons why he was finally forced to actually enter the Realm of the Witch and meet his end.


I liked the choices the GM made during the game. Jaakko's Mountain Witch was definitely not a quasi-japanese character but neither was he a fireball-throwing sorcerer with the name of Tim. Jaakko did not try to interfere in the game too much, but took his position quite cooly and only "fed the fire" so to speak. There were some occations where a more harsh dealing with rules etc. could have been a better choice, but the group itself seemed to keep the power structure stable, so perhaps there was no need for a more dictating approach. The music choices were... very Samurai Champloo? Not that I find NPC-shuffled OST a bad choice, but in the future it would be nice to hear something that also fits into the mood of the situations. As said earlier, I would have hoped for less violent conflicts also, but blood opera is blood opera. The art of subtle conflicts of interests and conversational pieces I hoped for were present in the last game, even if they were (this time) pushed aside by the players.  All in all,very well done. This was an excellent group to play with and I had fun. I'm amazed this actually was the first time we played together. It can't be. My memory must be failing me once again.


As player of pink ronin Shinta I also enjoyed these games and it was my first time to play indie-RPGs, though this was not my first time in non-traditional RPG. I knew the players of Matsushita and Kanamaru beforehand but had never met other players or GM before. 

I began to construct my character from few basic facts; as a pig he was naïve, honest, forthright and brave. Unfortunately he had also 'deal with the devil' destiny so this created a bit of conundrum for me at first. I decided that Shinta would not know at first that he would be traitor, and would as game progressed slowly realize that he was fighting against his own master. I also decided that Shinta would be very honorable and would not use given trust to betray anyone in the group. This was partly because I knew Shinta's treachery would become very apparent and I thought it would be more interesting if those who still decided to trust him would not be penalized.

As centuries old immortal swordsman his backstory was quite complete from the beginning and the game as whole gave no reason to change anything during play, actually from start to finish his actions were almost exactly as I had planned. I thought that the basic nature of the character should be hinted as early as possibly to give other players time to create their own stories accordingly, if needed.

I evidently did not leave very strong impression to GM with Shinta, as all his actions in the first half of the first game were attributed to Takayama in the game report. ;)

Kanamaru was easily the most important character for Shinta, as his venerable age and piety allowed me to illustrate Shintas true nature. His cursed nature used same themes I had used in my own character and created a good bond between them from the beginning. Of course it also helped that I had played before with Kanamaru's player. At the end he become the reason for Shinta to turn against his malefic master, though as previously mentioned, Shinta gave his last words to wrong guy 

Takayama was very straightforward, almost suspiciously so. I did not see him as cold bastard, merely very driven and stubborn. Actually his decision to ignore all distractions in the castle was kind of rational one, and fitting to his stubborn and hard headed nature. I concur with Pekoraali in that Takayama was probably the protagonist of the tale.

Imai was indeed a hard one. His story seemed almost irrelevant to other characters, but his survival at the end kind of justified it. As Outsider, he would probably been the narrator if this had been movie. It seemed as the player did not quite find the essence of the character, so in the end it became kind of anthrophobia due to the lack of interaction with other characters.

Umiryoa had very distinguishable character from the beginning with his smirking attitude, but did not become very relevant to Shinta until the very end. I actually did not fully notice the changes in character until the last game and didn't appreciate the significance of Takayama/Umiroya interactions. Umiryoa's betrayal at the end provided perfect thematic ending for Shinta's tale as new samurai rose to take his place.

Matsushita was also secondary character from my point of view, even if he probably was the progenitor of the tale. I contemplated if Shinta should try to unmask him, but concluded that it would be dramatically more fitting if he were unmasked at the end. His identity was probably one of the central mysteries of the game. I think Matsushita was the leader of the group so it was very fitting that he was also the originator of the quest itself. It was suitably tragic that the Ronin fought, died and killed for nothing as the reward money was lost with Matsushita's death.

Surprisingly the independent stories created almost coherent big picture. I think this was mostly due Matshishita's attempts to narrate the history and include all the stories into it as well as he could. First parts suffered a bit from overabundance of plot characters - for a time it seemed every average peasant met was someone's aunt or mortal enemy. ;)

Of course with six players this might be unavoidable as people try to find time to tell their own parts of the story.

GM himself seemed to take quite hands off-approach and mostly followed the hints given to him by players. This was probably the right choice as more rigid storytelling would have probably collapsed the individual stories.  The wizard himself was well written even if the actual fight with him was almost an afterthought in the end.

All in all, very entertaining game, thought the individual sessions were probably a little too short as the story could have been told in three to four sessions. I thank all the participants of the game and hope we can throw dice together in the future as well.