Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Samurai Spymaster: L5R Plot Hooks

We're been playing our homebrew Legend of the Five Rings game for a couple of years now. It's a collaboratively-built, season action-based campaign. Because of that and how we've played L5R in the past, it veers away from the core setting canon. I suspect my game looks more like a conventional fantasy game with samurai trappings than most. But as they say, "Your Rokugan May Vary." 

A few sessions ago, our spy master (Oniwaban) spent her seasonal action to map out the various dangerous factions. She put all of her persons and resources to that end and had a remarkable series of pulls. I've been trying to figure out how to present that information in a useful and non-info dump way. Recently I picked up a copy of Cairn in a Math Trade. It has a neat device of player-facing plot points associated with the well known NPCs of the setting. I loved that in the Kaiin Player's Guide. So I tried to do something like that with this material. I'm working on another post more broadly looking at pushing setting.  Below is what I gave Kuni Setsu's player. These are open-ended plot points-- static until the player decides to investigate them or bring them into her work. 

FACTIONS IN THE LANDS OF THE SHIMSAU
The Scorpion Ring
While the Scorpion have a presence here, it is unlikely that what’s visible is all that exists. In fact, that visible part may well be a distraction from other, more dangerous agents and plots. Or not. As you know that the incidents of several years ago left the Scorpion scattered and uncertain. The major Scorpion agent in the area, Bayushi Haruhisa died at the hands of an unknown assailant shortly before the Emperor formalized the Dragon Clan’s control.

The Scorpion Clan trade representative, Sosuro Chiyo, moved up in rank at that time, but did not apparently gain control of the Scorpion network. Who did remains a mystery- but it does not appear to be either of the major Scorpion figures more lately arrived. We have detected connections to several merchants, ties of patronage, and perhaps blackmail. As well, as previously established, one of the major gangs in the capital operates at the behest of Scorpion handlers. Whatever the nature of the Scorpion agents operating here, they seem to be split from the trade interests coming out of Ryoko Owari (mentioned later).

  1. An artisan, long suspected of being a secret dupe of the Scorpion organization, recently fled the capitol under cover of darkness.
  2. There has been tension and in-fighting between the gangs servicing the opium trade. So far the Scorpion network oddly has not intervened.
  3. On a few occasions, figures have been seen working in teams in the northern woods- often spotted with masks. They have vanished before being engaged by our patrols. However, there’s a pattern to their appearances as they’ve shown up near old shrines established by the Kitsu here when the Lion held these lands.
  4. An intercepted communication suggests that the Scorpion have managed to place a servant within Governor Doji Yasumori’s household.
  5. A master of “medicines” associated with the Scorpion Clan died while travelling through the region, apparently of a stomach malady. However his travel satchel and “herbal” supplies went missing and the Scorpions appear to be hunting for it.
The Unicorn Pathfinders
The Unicorn have had extensive trade contacts through this area for some time. However, it has become increasingly clear that several locations serve as major hub point for Unicorn agents moving out into the rest of the Empire. In particular several traveler inns, hostels, and similar locations serve as cover for these operations. That seems to be restrained in the capitol, Maru Katei. Instead their network operates in the hinterlands, especially the northern forests and the mountains of the West and East. Our Master of Scouts, Toritaka Ataru, has found several hidden trails that may be tied to these, rather than the Lion Clan infiltrators.

  1. Scouts have discovered a strange trail in the Eastern mountains. It seems to head off into inaccessible territory.
  2. A crafter under Unicorn patronage recently closed up shop and set out to relocate to the village on the border of the non-human Monkey lands.
  3. Scouts followed a set of trails which might be tied to the Unicorn network. They came across a ronin who managed to give them the slip in the woods. Their description closely matches Itsura, Ogawa’s former sensei.
  4. The Unicorn agents have been agitated and hunt for a Moto who fled here. Given that no word of this has come through official channels, something odd must be involved.
  5. One of the few persons we’ve directly associated with the Unicorn suddenly gave up his position and fled to the Suru Ishi monastery. It is clear the Unicorn will not welcome this defection.
Merchants’ Cabal
Even before the time of the Three Armies, the Lion Clan had dealt loosely with the merchants of the region. They provided necessary services and helped keep the rich farmlands of the area running efficiently. The merchants kept their head down and operated as connections between villages. Practicality mattered more to the Lion samurai than other details- though from time to time they cut down someone breaking tradition as a demonstration of the order of the world.

As the battles became more desperate in the area, several merchant groupings worked to cement stability for themselves. They worked quietly- servicing some black market needs- but more importantly taking advantage of want and lack of authority in villages and towns to gain goods, concessions, and future favors. Control by the Dragon Clan gave them even more space to operate. The morel hands-off policy of the Dragon towards the underclass increased their space to operate. Where other clans with stronger trade connections (Unicorn, Scorpion) might move to occupy or control those spheres, the Shimasu and Dragon have not.

  1. The merchants have one major nemesis among the Dragon Clan, Kitsugi O-Mugi, the Mistress of Taxes. They have quietly offered a bounty to anyone who can provide damming information regarding her.
  2. The Merchants seem to be heavily supporting the Gambaru sumotai school. They have put pressure on the Shotosu school to close.  
  3. An old and respected sake brewery in the West region has apparently defied entreaties from the Merchant Cabal. It is likely they will retaliate.
  4. The Merchants may have a traitor in their midst. At least two recent shipments intended to evade Imperial scrutiny ended up attacked by Sanada and his men.
  5. One of the senior members of the Merchant cabal has secretly been running up large gambling debts. He gambles in many different places to keep this quiet.
The Lion Conspiracy
The Lion have had to rebuild their regional contacts and connections. They clearly believed that any set-backs would be temporary, hence their reliance on infiltrators over more conventional agents. While they engaged in sabotage early on, that has trailed off. Instead we believe that most have returned to the Lion or gone for deep infiltration. The Lion have had to trade off long-running ties of loyalty against not being prepared for this. While you’ve long suspected that “Uncle” Ikoma Daihachi has acts as a spymaster or organizer of the Lion network, it remains difficult to confirm. Particularly over the last year, he’s become even more cautious after his unreported attack.

  1. A murder of a merchant in a simple, distant village comes through the Magistrate’s letters. What striking is the mention of that merchant having come into possession of a scroll case matching those you’ve found in other Lion caches.
  2. One of the younger samurai in the Eastern province has been given permission to marry a local from a ji-samurai family. However, her groom may be tied to the Lion agents through his father.
  3. Several suspected Lion agents, including a Kitsu shugenja were found in the Eastern mountains. Their wounds match your recollection of the weapons of the Tsuno.
  4. Matsu Gorosada recently requested travel papers for a member of his clan. Intercepted information suggests this person is a liaison for Lion agents in our region.
  5. The medicine which recently saved the daimyo of the neighboring Mirumoto family seems to have come through the Lion network.
House of the Ruby Cricket
While small-scale smuggling has always been a problem, it tends to be scattered. Many assume larger smuggling operations have behind-the-scenes control from the Great Clans. In this area, much of that flows through Ryoko Owari. However at least one smuggling operation exists in our lands outside of direct Clan control. While members of various high families seem to be tied into it, The House of the Ruby Cricket exists as an independent operation for the moment.

How long that’s been the case remains uncertain. The group seems to have arisen from the consolidation of several smaller networks. They operate through this region with connections to the Crab, Unicorn, Lion, and Phoenix lands. More notably, they apparently smuggle goods into and out of the Dragon Clan homelands and beyond. As a criminal organization, they might rightly fall under the jurisdiction of the Magistrate. However the House has an extensive network and they clearly put an emphasis on contacts and information gathering.

  1. Rumor has it that some of your Suguremashita Iron has become available via the Ruby Cricket.
  2. A pair of travelers who may be Yobanjin have been spotted in the region. How they’ve made it through the road wardens remains a mystery, but they seem to be pursuing someone from the House of the Ruby Cricket.
  3. The Ruby Cricket have apparently been moving some gaijin items in recent months, to the chagrin of Unicorn smugglers.
  4. A known agent of the Ruby Cricket had an odd reaction when he found himself in the same shop as swordmaster Anbu Utamaru, seeking to escape before being spotted.
  5. A courtesan in the Silver Drop “Tea House” has been bragging that two important agents in the House of the Ruby Cricket have been vying for his affections.
Mikoto’s Breath
The number of ronin has increased steadily in Rokugan over the last several decades. Shifts in power, destruction of minor clans, internal dissension, and the exposure of criminal conspiracies all contributed. Many ronin swept into this area during the Time of the Three Armies. The sudden halt to the conflict left them without patrons or coin. The recent destruction of a ronin force in Crane lands has intensified the problem. Some have quietly called for an organized campaign against them, but such a war would bring little honor. Despite their shared interests, most ronin remain scattered and easily set at one another in pursuit of a pittance.

However we believe a network for some ronin exists in the region. How they’re organized and recruited remains uncertain. They operate outside of the other groups mentioned. We strongly suspect they have at least one settlement in the area and may have support from among the clans. Three factors make this group more dangerous. First, their name has been tied to the death of several skilled swordsmen. If they are assassins, they do not use the typical ronin ambush and overwhelm approach. Second, they may have shugenja among their number, but they work carefully to keep that hidden. We do not believe they use Bloodspeaker magic, but the nature is unclear. Three, we believe they have some knowledge and commerce with the yokai.

  1. A shugenja bearing the marks and appearance of the Phoenix has appeared a couple of times in the last year in the South. Calling himself Isawa Gobenmaru, conversations with the Clan rep in Maru Katei suggest they have either never heard of him or have disowned him.
  2. The recent killing of a retired Dragonfly samurai in the North has raised tensions and signs suggest the involvement of Mikoto’s Breath.
  3. The Soshi are said to be hunting a particular ronin warrior who has joined with Mikoto’s Breath.
  4. Chibaru let slip that he was targeted for recruitment by Mikoto’s Breath but turned them down.
  5. A legendary ronin assassin named Kobukodo is said to be coming to join Mikoto’s Breath to serve as a trainer.
The White Cage
A criminal underground network operating in these northern lands. Usually conventional criminal groups remain restricted to a city or smaller location. Those operating over larger areas usually gain the attention and enmity of clan operatives. How and why the White Cage has survived remains uncertain. They’ve existed long enough to have their own rites and rituals, as well as a strong code of loyalty. They have strong contacts with banditry- not acting as bandits themselves, but instead as intermediaries. Through their network they’ve also been known to hire out to various daimyos as scouts to count forces and assess strengths. Rumor has it that they have some support and connection to some of the more worldly elements of the Brotherhood. It may be that they’ve gathered up some members who have left the order or belong to broken temples. One rumor suggests they have knowledge of the Zokujin and trade with the Nezumi.

  1. Bayushi Kenzo, the Emerald Magistrate, may be interested in The White Cage. He captured someone who may be involved and seems to be readying to move them out of the city quietly.
  2. Another location, said to have markings of the Trolls, was found ransacked. The unlocking of the site suggests Zokuijin involvement.
  3. Agents of the White Cage kidnapped both a Doctor and an Herbalist in the Southern region.
  4. Information from our “special allies” suggests that in several places, the White Cage has been using Zokujin to keep old, abandoned shires and other sites unoccupied.
  5. A senior person of the White Cage crossed Sanada recently. He’s now a persona-non-grata and on the run