The Chrysanthemum War: a short campaign idea

After a discussion with my buddy Cameo Mo, I’m working on a short campaign to run during Ramadan, when we hope to persuade some of the card-playing suhoor crowd from the majlis to have a stab at tabletop roleplaying.

Now, we’re not sure how many people (or who) will make it to any given session. Suhoor during Ramadan is like that. The campaign has to be designed as a series of interlinked standalones – whoever turns up can play. We’d also have to use pregen characters.

That’s when the idea of a communal character pool struck.

With maybe four or five players, a pool of a dozen or so characters to choose from for any given mission or scene would be nice. It can also give the players a chance to play both the daimyo’s advisors, and the mission-running samurai.

The same character might end up played by different people at different times, but that’s OK (it may be better than OK – it may be great). We can create the characters in such a way that they each have particular specialities, mannerisms, rivalries with other characters from the pool and so on.

M0 likes the idea of a Sengoku-period game, and assures me it will be popular among the suhoor crew, so we’ll attract some first-timers. He also wants a large-scale battle to be involved, something he’s never played before.

The initial idea for campaign structure was to have the players running missions in preparation for a major confrontation between their daimyo and a rival. Success in the preliminary missions should make the battle easier to win in the finale. Players could then select their prominent characters from those still left alive in the pool and have at it.

With a character pool, PC death shouldn’t be much of an issue – the character is removed from the pool and the player chooses another from the pool.

Then a bit of thought about what else we could do with this kind of format… it could be structured something like a movie.

I figure a prelude scene: players are a party of samurai escorting a gift from their daimyo to help woo a powerful daimyo into an alliance – the near-legendary Chrysanthemum Blade, hundreds of years old. On route they’re attacked by bandits.

Cut to our daimyo’s palace. The players are now the hatamoto (elders/advisors) planning how to handle the attack (and what it means for the alliance) in the face of increased threats from their bitter rivals.

I plan on this being a little like those murder mystery dinner party games – just giving players the broad outline of their character (one’s cautious, one’s impetuous, one’s worried about the cost, another about honour, etc) and letting them freeform it, answering their questions and perhaps putting out with occasional notes with stuff their character knows, suspects or mistakenly believes. I may do pregens for the hatamoto in case they decide one (or more) of them should go on a mission, but I woudn’t hand them out for the freeform.

There are other clans who might be persuaded to help (or at least not interfere). Mercenaries, even ninja, could be hired. And then there’s the rumours of the special characters who might be persuaded to help.

When they’ve decided the immediate mission, players can pick their ‘mission runner’ characters from the pool and off we go with a more traditional RPG scenario.

A good suhoor session might see two or three missions completed (or attempted and failed).

At some point I’d like to do another freeform scene – the period-movie classic roadhouse scene, where the players will be commoners discussing the coming war, the chances either side has of winning, the likely fates of the characters the players have been using, prospects for the forthcoming harvest, what war will mean to their families and so on. I’d like it to be a counterpoint to the blood, glory and honour of a typical samurai game.

We will, I hope, have time for three preliminary sessions before the big battle scene. If the players have managed to win over any of the major hero characters they can play them for the battle (or earlier missions after they’ve recruited them).

And then we have at it. There are a couple of curve balls I may throw, but I’ll keep those to myself for now.

We’ll be using Hero System for this one. Both Mo and I like it, it has a mass combat system which allows for prominent characters wielding influence over the outcome, and its core mechanics are fairly simple (Hero’s reputation or complexity largely comes from character generation, IMO).

I’m figuring the initial characters and and the mission runners (which may include some of the hatamoto, particularly for diplomatic missions) as competent normals (100 points), with the special heroes as either standard heroes (175 points) or even powerful heroes (225 points).

I’m not certain whether to introduce fantasy elements into this game. It could work well as a historical game, with the fantasy elements being mere myth and superstition. On the other hand, an encounter with a tengu or kappa might be nice, and perhaps one of the special hero characters could be a mahotsukai (magic-user).

 

 

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