Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Look at the Ii Bushi Disciplines

By rights, this should be a post about Magic and Magic Items, the last sections of Chapter 3. However, I want to spend a little more time revising those rules. But, I still want to give this blog something to chew on. So, let's look at Disciplines, and one in particular.

When you make a character, you choose a specific Dharma, a metaphysical law your life is guided by. For samurai this is life as a bushi (warrior), onmyoji (wizard-priest), or teishin (courtier). Then you get to choose a Discipline; these are analogous to Classes , Schools, Careers, and other similar divisions in other games. you can only choose Basic Disciplines normally at character creation; later you can choose Branch Disciplines requiring certain Ranks in a Basic Discipline, or Advanced Disciplines which have even more strict requirements. Advanced Disciplines, by the way, don't strictly require their Basic Discipline, it's just the best suited to the theme of the training. Advanced Disciplines represent specialized training usually tied to a group or other extraterritorial tradition.

So this is rundown of the first Bushi Discipline "set": a Basic Discipline, its associated Branch Disciplines, and the well-suited Advanced Discipline. Enjoy!

Ii Bushi Ryuu

The charging fool thundered against the mat, thrown back by his instructor's hip toss. Inoue Tatsune risked only a brief scowl at the young soldier before adjusting his armor, the practice plates of woven bamboo creaking and cracking across his shoulders. “What did Takeshi do wrong?” he barked. “What should he have done?”

Students still waiting their turn for punishment looked straight ahead. None dare turn to another for help. And besides, Takeshi's approach seemed traditionally perfect. Under their thick bamboo practice armor, sweat ran in rivers.

“My knee,” smiled their sensei. “He should have struck my knee. You are not learning to let others use honor against you, or to engage in treachery. But you must always look for advantage in the moment; it is never dishonorable to win.” He pushed his right leg forward, reached down and grasped either side of his training pants. “Whether your enemy wishes to kill you or worse, you pay for hesitation.” He ripped open the cloth.

A ruined knee, shot through with thick scar tissue spidered white and green, unhealed gashes at the edge sticky with black blood, and sickly sweet to the nose.

“Win or die, samurai. I am your lesson why.”

The dominant school of the Ii uji, and most of the Kitagoku uji, its followers are immediately recognized by their preference for heavy armor and heavier weapons. Weapons crushing or pulverizing your enemy are preferred, as an outgrowth of its development from Todo origins into the monster-slaying bushi needed during the Kaiju War. Although they are as competent in the traditional sword and bow of their fellow warriors, even those outside of Kitagoku who become heavy infantry shock troops maintain a fondness for the less elegant tetsubo, and a rare few prefer the raw brutality of an ono or otsuchi. It's a mark of honor to wield the most cumbersome weapon they can find on the battlefield and still strike circles around more delicate “flowers.”

Ii bushi are also trained to shoulder the weight of their armor and weapons effortlessly, and to stand firm no matter the pressures of war or pain. From an earlier age they pile heavier and heavier kimono on before moving to bamboo practice armor. In the field they do their morning kata in full heavy armor. Winter or summer, it makes no difference. “Patience and persistence against all odds,” decried the first Ii, and no matter their uji an Ii bushi does not abuse this maxim.

Daimyo throughout Hachigoku prize their Ii-trained bushi, not only as centers for their armies but as imposing yojimbo whose mere presence grants a negotiator the upper hand (a fact the Ii often ish the Yagyu would take less advantage of). While Ii no Ii Basara, still considered one of the strongest men in the Empire even as his topknot turns gray, is the ryuu's Sei. With his grave responsibilities as both daimyo of the Ii and Warden of the Third Jade Division demanding his full attention, he appointed Ii no Inoue Tatsune as Dai and Senryuu representative. Local legend says Tatsune swam to Goshima and back just because the Ii daimyo asked.

Legend is not far wrong.

Ii Basic Discipline
  • Element Bonus: Earth
  • Skills: Athletics, Kenjutsu, Kyujutsu, Obujutsu, Senjojutsu, Sumai
  • Virtue: 2
  • Outfit: Heavy armor, daisho, daikyu, 20 arrows of any type, 1 Obujutsu weapon, 1 kimono, traveling pack, 2 koku

Rank 1: Way of the Mountains
Ii bushi train extensively in their heavy armor, and visualize themselves as mountains on defense, avalanches on the attack. Your Defense (both passive and active) is based not on your Water but your Earth, and all melee attack rolls keep your Earth instead of your Fire. All armor penalties for attack and Bugei Skill rolls are reduced 1 Difficulty Step; this will not lower the Difficulty below Average.

Rank 2: Mountains Weep Not
Ii bushi strive to be paragons of immovability, holding the line at all costs. You may spend Honor equal to all Light Wounds suffered to remove them once per Scene. You may also spend an Honor when resisting social rolls or other attempts to manipulate or intimidate you, unless they are magical.

Rank 3: Lightning Between Twin Peaks
Ii bushi strive to be swift as a mountain storm raining strikes upon their foes, especially when overwhelmed. When you spend an Action to make an attack, you may make an additional attack immediately. All armor penalties for attack and Bugeil Skill rolls are now reduced by 2 Difficulty Steps; this will not lower the Difficulty below Average.

Rank 4: Fire on the Mountain
Mountains spend entire ages patiently waiting to unleash their inner furnaces of fury. You may spend an Action to conserve your energy awaiting the moment of a perfect explosion. If you are successfully attacked and take Wounds before you spend another Action, you automatically attack and hit your foe in return with the same number of Raises (including Free Raises). No roll is needed, but both the original attack and yours must be melee attacks. You may also sacrifice a Strike in any Duel as if spending an Action to active this okuden; if you do so, you need not suffer Wounds in order to automatically strike back for equal Raises, but all standard consequences for continuing a finished duel apply if necessary, such as not acquiescing in a duel to first blood. You cannot activate this okuden if you are Down, Out, or Dead already.

Rank 5: Mountain Shoulders Heaven High
Duty is heavy as a mountain, death light as a feather. Even when Down or Out, you can spend an Honor to immediately gain an Action in the current Moment. If Dead, you can still spend Honor to gain Actions, but only until the end of the Scene. When you are out of Honor you are finally, truly deceased. All attack and Active Defense rolls made with these Actions adds add your Earth in unkept dice. All armor penalties for attack and Bugei Skill rolls are now reduced by 3 Difficulty Steps; this will not lower the Difficulty below Average.

Naito no Abe Hiro served for years in the Imperial armies along the Wall of Bones before being assigned as a yojimbo to Imperial ambassadors during their brief contact with the court of neighboring Outremer. Although as contemptuous of the foreigners as any in the embassy, he admired their ability to march around in the desert heat in chainmail and plate—even if they stank. Particularly interesting was their cavalry. Although trained in the Ii ryuu, Hiro had always admired horses, especially the tough, northern farm horses used in Kitagoku. Until Outremer and the massive warhorses of the Alphasian knights, he had never seen their equal.

Bit by bit, he befriended the knights until he was invited as an observer on their patrols. When the Night of Crescent Knives decimated the foreign quarter of Nouvelle-Sadiq and the Hachigoku embassy fled three decades ago, Hiro was left behind; it took two more decades of living as a mercenary among the wastes before his craggy eyes saw home again, coming in on a merchant caravan through Katagiri borderlands.

Reinstated to the Naito, he hunted the forests for bandits and trained his samurai cavalry to charge fiercely into battle, fully armored, after searching for suitable high ground to strike from. Small units would engage an enemy, drawing them to a scouted location, then dismount and quickly ascend, still armored, to the rest of the force. Only then was thunder unleashed.

Impressed by his success, the Naito daimyo gave him a hundred men to train. When that force successfully joined in the Battle of Three Dagger River, routing an Owari raid, the Todo daimyo offered another thousand. Now under the leadership of Hiro's daughter, Hanako, the Naito cavalry have become a feared rapid strike force in the Todo armies.

Naito Bushi (Branch Discipline)
  • Discipline: Ii Bushi 1

Iron Stallion
On horseback you come crashing down on your foes. Your Athletics gains access to all the abilities and Aspects of the Bajutsu Skill. If mounted and using the Charge maneuver on your attack, you suffer no Difficulty penalty from armor to your attack and Bugei Skill rolls, and you may sacrifice remaining Actions in the round to deal extra Wounds if your attack succeeds. Each such sacrificed Action deals Wounds equal to your Earth.

The Oka don't view the tetsubo the way most samurai do, thinking even their lieges the Ii don't regard it properly. It is more than just a tool against monsters and those unworthy of samurai steel; it is a marvel of polearm and club, and only great strength unlocks its full potential. Other samurai view the reverence of the Oka for this rugged, inelegant weapon as an overcompensation for their status in Kitagoku, as if elevating the signature weapon of the Ii founder justifies their own common origins.

Whatever the cause, there's no denying that in the hands of these specially trained tetsubo duelists the weapon acquires the kind of grace Okabe bushi lavish on their naginata and yari. Ii samurai often join their brotherhood as well, thinking that dividing their attention between different weapons is merely impractical. This combination of intensity, strength, and unorthodox beauty strangely makes bushi trained in the style excellent samurai in foreign courts, and many become yojimbo to Ii diplomats.

Unfortunately, this can also lead to dueling disasters, as fierce loyalty to their art sometimes outstrips any other oaths. The current daimyo and Dai of the style is currently banned from every court they ever visited south of Kitagoku.

Oka Bushi (Branch Discipline)
  • Discipline: Ii Bushi 2

Iron Lightning
Your devotion to obujutsu brings you martial and spiritual excellence. Your Obujutsu gains access to all the abilities and Aspects of the Zen Skill, and you gain bonus dice equal to your Void on all rolls involving a tetsubo. After being challenged to a duel, all social rolls for the rest of the Scene have a difficulty penalty equal to your Obujutsu mastery: Rank 3 has Moderate difficulty, Rank 5 has Hard difficulty, and Rank 7 has Heroic difficulty. However, in duels involving your tetsubo you may increase the difficulty during the Focus additional times equal to your Earth.

Hotta samurai have a long history with the art of sumai; legend says they refined the style specifically to engage the spirit world in battle, and many of their techniques became ritual conventions for modern sumatori. Their samurai, they say, still preserve the original spiritual power of wrestling. Whatever truth is lost to history, there's no denying that those initiated in their secret techniques are fearsome opponents when confronted with the supernatural.

Legend says the first Hotta grappler was a samurai who saved a kappa from the nets of hunters poaching on his land; in thanks, the kappa taught him how to best other yokai through sumai. Returning the favor, every student down through today vowed to never use their technique against kappa, or take up arms against them. When the Hotta eventually settled in Chugoku, they found a mysterious, mountainous land full of the supernatural, where even immigrant and native yokai were at odds.

The new neighbors discovered the Hotta had a unique style, one their most accomplished samurai could easily use to police their disputes and protect their peasants. By consequence, the most accomplished Ii bushi in the uji are given wide authority as metsuke, and the Makino have an unusual respect for a ryuu they typically hold in the lowest esteem.

Hotta Bushi (Path Discipline)
  • Discipline: Ii Bushi 3

Slam the Beast
You know your spirit and flesh steels you against the supernatural better than armor. Your Sumai gains the abilities and Aspects of the Shingaku Skill. When unarmored, attack rolls against you suffer a difficulty penalty equal to your Earth. If you spend an Action to attack a supernatural foe barehanded, your body is considered a magic weapon, and you may make an additional attack immediately against a supernatural foe. This is cumulative with your Ii Bushi Rank 3 Okuden.

During the Kaiju War, a small band of desperate samurai from many uji, ronin, and even ashigaru held out against a tentacled kaiju along the coast, completely abandoned by Todo forces and besieged on the other side by a vicious company of oni. Hojo no Shinjo Hiroki, the Jade metsuke in charge, rallied the survivors. For thirty days they held out, dodging from building to building as tentacles battered down the strongest fireproof vaults.

When Ii himself arrived to liberate the village, only a dozen fighters remained. Ii made short work of the oni, and upon meeting Hiroki congratulated the hero. “How did you survive so long?”

“The temple had a store of jade,” he smile through green teeth. “We ate it.”

Hiroki demanded to be the vanguard of the assault against the kaiju. Ii granted the request, and after a furious assault ended the threat, one of his aides hailed them as the “Jade Heroes.”

“No heroes here. Just a bunch of battered bastards.”

Ii reenforced the unit with a company of his own samurai, naming them Jade Company and giving Hiroki command. Mizuno spent a good deal of time with as well, study the effects of their desperate diet of jade dust and amplifying its potency. They continued to fight at the forefront of every major engagement afterwards, including the defeat of the Blood Lotus at the Battle of Five Talons.

The Jade Company remains an elite force of the Imperial army, traditionally headquartered near the foothills of the Five Talons. Their standing orders are to assist any samurai or peasant against Yang-corrupted beasts and their worshipers, with small units regularly dispatched across Hachigoku. There is no discretion in their appearance, they are loud and the break things. But not every samurai who takes their turn is honored to be a true Battered Bastard; such samurai must survive combat with monsters, and take an oath, even after their discharge from Imperial service, that they will never turn down a request to protect the weak from Yang corruption. Villages ever since have been overjoyed to see the permissible Jade fist broach on a traveling samurai's cloak and plead for safety.

And a Battered Bastard loves a hopeless cause.

Battered Bastard (Advanced Discipline)
  • Element: Earth 5
  • Skills: Kenjutsu 5, Lore (Oni) 5, Obujutsu 5, Renkinjutsu (Yang) 3
  • Fortunes: Brutality, Dealing With Shadows
  • Other Requirements: You must be a member or veteran of the Imperial army, and you must have publicly defeated an akuma, oni, bakemono, or practitioner of Yang corruption in combat.

Rank 1: Strength of Jade
Any creature corrupted by Yang earns your wrath. Any person or creature with Yang corruption making attack rolls against you may not have their dice shout, nor may they make Raises (except Free Raises). If you are aware of another's Yang corruption, you gain bonus dice on all attack rolls against them equal to your Earth.

Rank 2: Raise a Wall
Northern Hachigoku has no great wall against evil, except you. If a person or creature corrupted by Yang targets you with a Battle Action in a Battle, you may spend an Honor to cancel their Action. You may then immediately target a member of their force with a Battle Action of your own. You also add your Earth + Discipline to your passive Defense at all times.

Rank 3: Lay the Last Stone
When facing the worst evils, every day is as good a day to die as it is to kill. If you are reduced to Down, Out, or Dead by a Yang corrupted foe, you may spend an Honor to immediately retaliate with a melee attack that automatically succeeds against the foe. You make no Raises, but you do gain any normal Free Raises, including additional Free Raises equal to your Renkinjutsu. During a Battle, you may spend an Honor at any time to target you and a Yang corrupted individual to bring you both down to Down, Out, or Dead.

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