Play report 4: 1st Edition AD&D, and 1st Edition Oriental Adventures.
Summary: Three nights on the town
So, our party has made landfall in the big city Okina Ringo. The ship is docked and entry fees paid. Now what? What is Okina Ringo like? Shozu and Yamagato are a faux Nippon (Fo-Nippon). Is the mainland a faux China? Well, yes and no. The last session ended with me not really knowing what it would be like except that the names of things would be loosely based on Chinese (thanks Google Translate). But, other than that I really had no idea. And, since I know even less about China than I do Japan it really would be a herculean effort for me to even half-ass a believable Chinese culture. So, let’s quarter ass it instead. Okina Ringo (Jiang Chung) will be more of a fantasy city with Chinese like elements sprinkled in. And, really, let’s face it, Fo-Nippon is really no different than that anyway.
But, back to Okina Ringo. Now, this started as an experiment in seeing what 1st edition AD&D systems can do when taken as literally as possible. But, it turns out cities are one of the weak points in the DMG. Like OD&Ds assumption that players would use it in conjunction with Outdoor Survival there is a big blank spot in the rules. There are references to cities but, basically the real meat of information about cities is one random encounter table. Same with villages and towns too. It seems like the background assumption is that the DM will come up with something. But, how? Traditionally, the approach has been to map everything in excruciating detail and create long lists of where everything is. Purchased city products have featured beautiful maps with associated compendiums. But, I never could make these work. The maps are great but, you can’t show them to the party without revealing hidden information and, at the same time, they are too big and detailed for a DM to manhandle behind a keepers screen. This state of affairs has persisted for 30+ years. Surely, one can do better.
And, one can do better. Okina Ringo is an area where I did turn to a modern product – the much lauded, and rightfully so, Vornheim by Zak Smith. Now, Smith’s Vormheim is not much like my Okina Ringo. Vornheim has a rather gloom and doom laden Teutonic quality to it – being all northern ice and wind. The names of things and places in Vornheim are all wonderfully garbled European Latin and Greek roots. But, don’t be fooled, that’s just the surface impression. It has some detailed characters and places (which I intend to use with serial numbers filed off) but, the bulk of Vornheim really is a slim primer on the minimum information needed to run city adventures. So, about an hour before game time I used the procedures on pages 35/36 of the book to make Okina Ringo. You can see the map below. Now, it isn’t much to look at. But, it does fit on one sheet of paper and shows the locations of the cities ten neighborhoods. You can see ten of them right? The lines of the words make up the major streets. Read about it in Smith’s book. It worked like a dream. I also made some brief descriptions of the neighborhoods based on suggestions in the book.
And, I jotted a few other notes based on Vornheim bits I planned to use and my own inspiration.
And, that’s it so far. That, plus the various useful tables in Smith’s book – especially the encounters. I now had a city of sorts. What did the players do with it? Here we go.
Three Nights on the Town
Having made landfall and paid their docking fees, are players are at loose ends while their ship (The Bata Hashike) undergoes repairs. Our characters for this session are barbarian #1 Naozumi, barbarian #2 Shinjo and our shugenja Oyumi. With a week on their hands they do what sailors do – they visit a brothel. Or, the barbarians do while Oyumi seeks out supplies for the ships medical kit. Thankfully, the players don’t make me play out the bothel visit. I skip to the walk back the ship in the night air. They are enjoying the spectacle of being in a big city when they notice an unusual woman. She wears and ivory mask and an elaborate headdress and is clearly rich. But, she has no retinue and is walking a large tortoise on a leash for the slowest walk ever. The players notice the people of the city make way around her on the street with no one getting very close. They are about to approach her when Naozumi (barbarian #1) feels a hand lifting his purse. Using his barbarian senses Naozumi thwarts the would-be thief who takes off running. Naozumi pursues through the maze of streets and finally catches the thief in a garden area (moving from neighborhood 5 to neighborhood 3) wrestles him into submission. The thief demands to be released “Or, face the wrath of the Blue Tong” which makes zero impression on the barbarians. The thief then calls the guard which soon arrives. The thief (Gang Chen) plays the victim knowing the barbarian’s poor language skills put them at a disadvantage. The guards don’t appear especially convinced by the Chen’s arguments but, they are very concerned about the giant nodachi’s the barbarians are carrying which is highly illegal.
Upshot, they choose not to fight the city guard and are arrested. The guard transports them to the clink for the night (traveling through area 7 to 10). During the journey they pass the Tong’s Opera Houses and see the Grand Arena in District 9 to the west. They also engage the Guard in a broken conversation about the police of the city. “Our jurisdiction? It’s the whole city of course! Well, except for the Golden Monastery, the Sohei have jurisdiction there and in the rest of city of course but, only for religious crimes. Oh, and not the Entombment (barracks), the military police operate there. And, the secret police well, who knows, they are secret. The guilds enforce their own regulations and then the Tongs, which are illegal of course, have their own enforcers.” Sounds like any city – lots of organizations and unfathomable rules.
They are thrown in a holding cell for the night. A cell that it turns out is full of thugs of the Red Tong. The guards knowing they were involved with a member of the Blue Tong decided to keep them separated. There follows a confusing conversation with the Red Tong Members who tend to refer to themselves as “performers”, “actors”, and view pickpockets as we view mimes – the most annoying of the “street performers”. They learn that if they want to get revenge on the Blue Tong, they should audition at the Red Tong Opera House for the opportunity to crack Blue Tong heads.
In the morning they are brought before the judge. The judge informs them they have been accused of assault and disorderly conduct and since it is really their word against Gang Chen’s, it has been decided that they should undergo trial by assassin. They meet the jury – 20 masked assassins. The assassins, they are informed are to secretly watch them for the next three months. If a juror finds them guilty then the assassin can execute the sentence himself. If they survive the next three months they are found innocent. Note: Vornheim has a nice random table for styles of trial. I like this idea as making the legal system both incomprehensible and varied if they have multiple run-ins with the law (and, what party won’t). They are freed on their own recognizance but, not before buying from the court bureaucrats a temporary nobility status with an enormous fee. Clearly the poor could not be noble.
Heading straight to the Red Tong Opera House, they are at first rejected as barbarians who can only speak trade pigeon. But, eventually, they wheedle an audition out of them which turns out to be a Kung Fu match with one of the local “actors”. Naozumi rolls poorly and is cold cocked by the thespian and it is decided that there may be a small part available such “man” or “guard”. Shinjo though shines and defeats his opponent handily. The Tong allows he may be able to get a speaking role. They are measured for costumes, given a script (which they can’t read), and told to return in the evening for the play.
Then they make their way to the Blue Tong Opera House. There, they finagle a meeting with the Blue Tong Boss. The Blue Tong Boss is concerned that the lack of artistry in their “street performer” has dishonored the opera house. He agrees to arrange for Gang Chen to make up for it by taking part in the Red Tong production. From there they head back to the ship to practice their roles. But first they stop at an eatery for lunch and learn about the protections for cats, and that Eu-meh is likely the mysterious woman they saw the night before.
But, what has the Shugenja been up to all this time? After collecting medical supplies in the Entertainment District while the barbarians are at the brothel, he decides to head back to the ship. But, that means he needs to cross a bridge from district 7 to 3. But, the bridge is being blocked by some sort of unruly mob protesting something. Believing discretion is the better part of valor he doesn’t even inquire what the protest is about but, detours around after looking for a second bridge. Soon after crossing he is approached by two well-dressed men – obviously servants of a well-to-do house. The servants tell him that he has been “noticed” in the market by a well-heeled noble who would pay him handsomely to “spend an evening with him”. At first, Oyumi is confused but, the servants drop the pretense and say “The boss has a thing for holy men, what can we say.” Oyumi politely turns them down and continues on his way. Then, a ways on, he here’s a moaning call for help coming from a nearby alleyway. Warily he approaches the alley to find a woman bleeding, robbed, and in torn clothing. He casts a cure light wounds healing her bruises. Now more conscious he learns she is Ning Ju, a courtesan in training who was jumped on her way home from District 5. He offers to escort her back to her home to learn that she lives in District 8 Luckytown, the vast slum in the Western part of the city. He has a bigger detour than he expected. He escorts her home and gives her some money to replace her torn clothing and then uneventfully makes his way back to the ship. He’s sleeping in when the barbarians get back from their auditions at the Opera house.
Night falls and the three head down lantern line streets to the Red Tong Opera. The barbarians go backstage while Oyumi buys a ticket with the groundlings on the floor of the opera. Backstage the barbarians get their costumes. Naozumi with the not-so-key role of “guard” gets a set of red trousers, leather vest, spear, and helmet one size too big. Shinjo, with a speaking role is cast as “Oni” and is given an elaborate costume of scarlet and gilt with fierce makeup and pasted-on whiskers and horns. Shinjo decides to use his own naginata in the production bragging, “I got it from a real Oni!” The other Red Tong actors look upon this dubiously.
Down in the pit, Oyumi looks around and sees people cheerfully singing, drinking, and gambling. He briefly runs into Ning Ju. She is dressed in the new clothes he bought her but, she is obviously embarrassed for him to see her while she is “working.” He lets Ning Ju carry on and notices someone watching him. Up in a private box is a well-robed noblemen looking at him with opera glasses. The noblemen has long drooping mustaches and similarly long fingernails. The nobleman lowers the opera glasses winks and blows a kiss causing Oyumi to squirm. Looking back to the gamblers, Oyumi places a bet of four tael in favor of red at two to one odds.
Then, with a gong and clashing of cymbals, the performance begins. It is an opera, reenacting some old incomprehensible myth. There is a princess, and a prince, a commoner who is secretly a king, and at the heart of it an Oni causing all sorts of mystical mischief. Shinjo, fails an intelligence roll and forgets his lines but, gets whispered help from the wings. Naozumi is a tour de force standing stiffly at attention as “guard”. But, then the heart of the play occurs: four Blue Tong actors (including our thief Gang Chen) have to fight the “guard” and “Oni” to the death. This time it’s the reverse of the audition: Naozumi rolls well and drops three of the four (Gang Chen being the first to fall) while Shinjo rolls poorly and only drops a single blue actor. In addition, Shinjo is severely injured by a wicked flying kick. But, they do prevail and the course of the play goes in favor of the Red Tong that night. Oyumi collects his winnings and joins the cast backstage for a raucous after party.
At the party, everybody is celebrating the Red Tong victory. But, Shinjo is still injured so Oyumi uses his healing magic. The room goes silent. Everyone is staring at Oyumi. “What?” Hesitatingly, one of the Red Tong actors tells him that he better be careful using his healing in the city as the Golden Monastery guards its rights jealously. Oyumi is taken aback to learn that healing is regulated. Taking the wrapped head of Gang Chen our groups excuses themselves early and walk straight over to the Blue Tong Opera house. There they deliver the head to the Blue Tong Boss who accepts it politely.
Then they decide to return to the ship. Heading through the Garden District, they pass through the “Effigy Festival”. People have placed scarecrows all throughout the gardens. Vendors are selling materials to make your own scarecrow. They learn the scarecrows are ritual purifications to decoy Oni away from real people. Naozumi buys materials and builds a large scarecrow to represent his brother who still has the naginata he took from the Oni he killed. Naozumi is concerned that the relatives of that Oni may be looking to revenge themselves on Shinjo. But, Shinjo scoffs. He isn’t afraid of any Oni.
Continuing on, they see a grimy hand reach out of an alley and grab one of the city cats. It’s an incredibly grubby and pustuled hobo who takes the cat and stuffs it into his mouth whole. They accost the gross creature which is chewing and can barely be heard over the crunching. But, the conversation doesn’t go anywhere when the hobo tells them to leave him alone and retreats into the garbage nest he has built in the alley. The players decide not to pursue him back into the alley and head to the ship for the night.
In the morning an invitation is delivered. They are all invited to a dinner at a prominent noble’s house that night. Oyumi has a sinking feeling he knows which noble it is. That day, the barbarians spend the day getting the ship ready for dry-dock. Oyumi decides to visit the Golden Monastery. He wants to determine whether he can obtain permission to use his healing in town. At first Oyumi is prevented from entering the grounds of the Golden Monastery but, eventually he convinces a guard to go ask someone to come talk to him. The guard walks down a long straight road from the gate and up the steps to the tiered shrine building. Then the guard can be seen escorting a stooped elderly monk down the steps and slowly back toward them along the straight road. The monk leads Oyumi down into the bowels of the shrine building into a large dusty records storage room. There, after digging through many dusty scrolls, the wizened monk finds an old agreement between Oyumi’s monastery and the Golden Monastery that allows him the privilege of using magic in the city – for a fee or other service to the Golden Monastery. Oyumi doesn’t have much money and so, decides to provide services instead. Oyumi asks the monastery to deliver a letter to update his monastery what events have befallen him and the barbarians. The shrine agrees to have the letter delivered.
Oyumi carries out menial labor at the monastery all day and returns to the ship in time to get ready for their dinner invitation. One player had to leave early so, only Oyumi and Naozumi attend. Also, I needed a name for the noble who invited them. The Vornheim book has nice table for rolling impromptu names but, it will not do for this setting so earlier I had made up a table of common Chinese given and surnames. I have to roll twice for the noble and end up with Shen Song (twice because the first set of rolls came up with Dong Long, I kid you not). Oyumi is nervous for obvious reasons. Naozumi brings his nodachi and has to show his papers at the door. The other nobles at the party wear ornate slim swords and eye his giant cleaver somewhat nervously. While eating hors d’oeuvres Naozumi meets a young lady, Lu Bao, who saw the opera the night before and is obviously a groupie. For dinner Oyumi is seated with several other young monks and shugenja who talk how Shen Song has “special needs” and wants “careful handling.” Up at the head to the table Shen Song eats languidly and eyes Oyumi.
After dinner, Naozumi, approaches Shen Song and cuts a deal for several hundred chien to procure the shugenja for the night. Apparently, cost is no object to Shen Song. “Thank goodness”, says Shen, “I was afraid I was going to have to have him abducted. So unpleasant.” Amazingly, Oyumi promises nothing but, does say he will “spend some time” with Shen. Shen leads him through the house, down a hall, through a bedroom, through a secret door, into a library. There he tells a story of how he once was married. His wife would write him a note or letter everyday but, Shen was too proud to admit to her that he could not read. Then one day, his wife took sick and soon after died. Now he has the Golden Monastery monks read her letters to him. He can’t lose face by people knowing he can’t read or that he loved his wife. So, he prefers the public think him a typical lecherous aristocrat. The Shugenja of the Golden Monastery are discreet and, he expects, they don’t mind having a secret to hold over him.
But, Shen says, the Golden Monastery has limits on what they can do. But, a stranger can have more freedom to take risks by not being connected to the politics of the city. He needs Oyumi and the barbarians for a special purpose. There is a collector in the city who has stolen his wife’s letters. The collector is obsessed with written works and has an extensive and secret library stolen from people throughout the city. He hires numerous skilled “librarians” to sneak throughout the city and steal books, scrolls, and other written works. He needs Oyumi and his friends to retrieve his wife’s letters for him. Oyumi gravely agrees to help. Upon leaving the party, they see Eu-meh walking her tortoise down the center of the street in the middle of the night. Naozumi again thinks to approach her but, is too concerned about getting the groupie Lu Bao into the sack. You got to have priorities I guess.
And, that’s where we wrapped up for the evening.
The current interactions have set up lots of other potential events: