[Kagematsu] Ghosts, innocence, spring in the mountains

Started by Ron Edwards, September 19, 2010, 10:08:10 PM

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Ron Edwards


Dice Dojo game of the week! The participants included Megan, Peter (same guy from the Contenders game), Michael, and me. Also, Sam (from the Contenders game) sat in to spectate after he was done with playing something else, and a woman named Irm (actual spelling unknown) borrowed the rulebook at one point, came back raving with enthusiasm, and also sat in for most of the latter third of play.

Our village was in the mountains, terraced above the windings of a river that cut its way through narrow valleys. We set the story in the spring. Our Threat was supernatural, the seven ghosts of a small bandit gang whom the villagers had killed. The following is from Megan's sheet:

Kagematsu enters the village on foot. He is dressed in well worn armor, the intricate details long since worn away by time and battle. He appears in modest clothing and means. He is clearly a traditional man, his head shaved in the style of a warrior. - middle aged, - moves cautiously, silently like a panther, - his sword is exquisite. He treats it almost as a lover. It is wreathed in cherry blossoms.

As usual, the description of Kagematsu spurred the creation of the specific women:
i) Kazuka, the tomboy farmer's daughter, favorites were her father and her one good kimono, Innocence 5, Charm 2 (Michael),
ii) Mae, the pleasingly-plump baker's daughter, favorites were the waterfall (widely regarded as ghost-haunted) and grandmother's sweetcakes, Innocence 5, Charm 2 (Peter); she came to be nicknamed "Madame Sweetcakes" by Kagematsu
iii) Ume, the young and inexperienced semi-widow, favorites were a pretty local shrine and her wedding scroll, Innocence 3, Charm 4 (me) - this is my second widow character when playing this game, but a very different sort of person (I almost went the other way 4-3 instead of 3-4, with the scores)

So here's an older guy surrounded by a bunch of flowering innocents!

Early play seemed promising for the village's eventual prospects, as at least two of us accumulated many small affections. Megan's Kagematsu was extremely committed to social proprieties, despite a good and perhaps fun core revealed by certain smiles and glances early in play, but never delivered without a roll involved. The scene framing rules worked very, very well for this group. We managed to play without frenetic drives toward rolling, allowing some villagers to come to life and getting a good idea of each woman's daily routines, and the village's too. At first we spent time at the teahouse, the shrine, and some outlying fields as Kagematsu settled in. Kazuka's father gave her a knife for protection in her first scene, which would become a significant item both for the village back-story and for Kazuka.

The middle of the session was a distinct transition composed of failed rolls and Looming Threats, all in the context of a days-long village festival. We went through several steps of the festival, including the little paper boats, dancing, and gift-giving. New characters were brought in, like the rather addled Shinto priest. By this point we all had an idea where important locations were, including the shrine, the teahouse, the place Kagematsu stayed, the waterfall, the bridge out of the village, and more.

The Threat rules worked really well. I hadn't played with the Shadow Track before. It's cool to see how the increased size of the dice pools tended to disrupt the various overtures by maxing out the Track, and how the reappearance of the Threat allowed for beefing up the big conflicts of the story. In our case, the Threat appeared twice in dramatic but essentially visual ways - the bandit ghosts manifesting in the waters of the river and in swirling mists. Then, in one of Ume's scenes, she was reviewing her wedding scroll with the Shinto priest, on the centrally located little patio/platform the villagers used for anything formal. A primary concept feature for the character was that neither she nor anyone else knew whether her husband was dead; he'd gone to fight the bandits mere days after their wedding and never come back. If I remember correctly, she gained the Introduction she sought for Kagematsu, but I pushed it for another roll, and the Shadow Track caught up with us. Megan stated that the ghost bandits appeared and took the wedding contract, crumpling it up and squeezing blood from it, and that Ume's husband's ghost was trapped among them. This turned into a big deal, because from that point onwards, the husband's ghost became more and more allied with the bandit ghosts.

I'm shorting the other townswomen's stories a bit here. Although it never got truly indecent, during this part, play slowly became more erotic. Kagematsu looked down Mae's shirt for about half a second, Ume made it clear to him that she was truly a widow, and there was a knockout scene featuring Kazuka, the grubby tomboy, cleaned up and in her best kimono. I especially liked the way that the women themselves had to realize what was happening; they were probably more surprised than he was. The adolescent context for two of them was really well-handled by everyone at the table, being both minimal and also sympathy-producing.

The climax of this phase was Ume's attempt for a kiss at the waterfall, which was apparently successful - but then the Shadow Track struck again, and the ghosts tossed them about ... and now, her husband was definitely among them, as one of them. This was also integrated with various role-playing about how after the previous scene, she now knew that she was truly a widow, or as our table-talk would have it, "fuckable."

After that, the story could go one of two ways: blooming romance, or more than one; or going sour, which is what happened. Mechanically, some tough rolls started using up our viable options, until the Promise became unavoidable. For those who don't know the rules, there's a bunch of possible Affections to elicit from Kagematsu, ranging from quite easy to quite hard, and once you try for one, it's checked off. Most of them are specified to Charm or Innocence, so in the case of the two 5-2 characters, once they used up the easier options for Charm, their two little dice were risky gambles in the higher ranges for that attribute. (Your roll is modified favorably by the amount of Love the Kagematsu player has assigned to your townswoman so far, but you don't know how much that is.)

Even the eventual sex scene between Ume and Kagematsu, steamy as it was, had a certain physical desperation and even antagonism to it, with love as a still-uncertain potential factor. Noting the aborted kiss Affection we'd played earlier, the two did not kiss during the sex scene either. Sam and Irm, the two onlookers, were intensely involved in play by this time, and their voices and reactions were simply mixed in with the rest of ours, as if they were fellow players.

Over about five scenes, all three of us angled for the Promise, and we all failed. The scenes were really good - all of them concerned what each woman had learned from Kagematsu, including pride, responsibility, discipline, and hope. We revealed that the bandits had been killed by the women of the town they'd taken as rape-captives. It was also clear that something was sticking in Kagematsu's craw; he was just obsessive and intense enough to show that he did have some kind of vulnerability ... but none of us had managed to win the Share a Secret Affection, and the women had not managed to get inside his head.

The horrific ending moved straight from Kazuka's failed Promise roll, because Michael narrated that upon his refusal, she simply committed suicide right in front of Kagematsu (jigai, throat-slitting) using the knife she'd carried since the beginning of the story. As the player with the highest Fear, he also began the final three scenes by having the ghosts attack the town on horseback, killing Kazuka's father as their first act. Peter then described how they simply butchered the townsfolk, and that Mae flung herself over the waterfall, which I think all of us saw coming and found appropriate. I finished with a sort of sub-scene within the general carnage, how the husband ghost came home, how Ume let him in, and how that house stood untouched through it all ... and in the morning, she lay dead on their bed, sprawled gracelessly with her head off the mat, a look of horror frozen on her face. The three-punch ending gave rise to spontaneous applause from the onlookers, and one said, "I feel like I just watched a really good movie!"

It think this was the first townswoman I've played with one score at 3 and one at 4. That 3/4 split in the middle is no joke. The difference in averages is 3.5 pips, which in this game is huge if you aren't unequivocally Loved (say, up to 6 points by halfway through play). There really isn't a way to be half-and-half Charming and Innocent.

I wrote a little bit about how when failed rolls occur is really important in this game, at least as much as which fail, in [Kagematsu] GenCon, Thursdaynight. I think this latest instance of play showcases that point really well. Our failures hit hardest in the middle, giving the story quite different arc from the earlier ones I've played. It's good to contrast as well the role of Kagematsu's Secret - in the game referenced in the above-linked thread, the women cracked the Secret but destroyed the man; but in this one, we couldn't crack the Secret and his prejudices and internal issues (whatever they may have been) remained his armor against us.

Afterwards, Megan showed us our hidden scores - each of us had 4 Pity, Ume had 7 Love and the other two each had 6. She said that at different points in play, each woman was distinctly in the lead in terms of Love, but somehow by the final stages, we were tied.

Every game of Kagematsu I've played has been a hell of a lot of fun, but this one was especially successful in retrospective, even artistic terms. Part of getting that, I think, was a nice, unforced, let-it-happen approach to the attempts at Affection. Megan said that she'd been playing a lot of Zombie Cinema lately, and in that group, in that game, they tend to jump to conflict!-conflict!-conflict! without giving characters much chance to develop. Whereas here, every attempt at an Affection seemed both spontaneous and inevitable given that that was not all conflict-y, happening already in that particular scene. I think she gets a lot of credit for this, as the Kagematsu player sets a real pace and atmosphere in the first scene-frame of a given round.

Best, Ron