Even if you have no interest in Hachigoku proper, I hope you find the "Story" ideas under Time to be useful.
Of course, you're going to notice similarities to other games; "grading" different types of characters has become popular in RPGs, and I think it's a good shorthand making the SD's life a little easier. Hopefully the game will include a healthy appendix of Kaonashi that SD's can flesh out into Namae characters if they need them. The CFS format of adventure planning, as well, works exceedingly well when narrowing adventures in Scene/Story session formats.
Ten Thousand Things
Across the length and breadth of Hachigoku, and beyond, live countless beings; philosophers and poets often refer to the entirety of the world as being “Ten Thousand Things,” “ten thousand” symbolic shorthand for an uncountable multitude. Humans, animals, monsters, spirits, gods, and stranger, more esoteric entities populate the mortal and spiritual realms. All these beings, once encountered and interacted with by your character also become characters. There's the first division of beings: your characters, the ones directly controlled and embodied by your decisions as a player, are Player Characters (PCs), and those not controlled by any of the players but by the SD are therefore Non-Player Characters (NPCs).
Furthermore, all characters encountered in Hachigoku fall into three broad categories: Kaonashi, Namae, and Kami. Kaonashi (“faceless”) characters are somewhat weaker, one-dimensional characters not meant to serve as much more than narrative flavor and momentary challenges; thus they use a streamlined version of the combat rules and in general have far less fewer mechanical elements to generate and keep track of. Namae (“name”) characters operate on a different level. Their actions and existence are meant to serve as important conflicts and aid for the development of the PC; thus Namae refers to characters who can be either PCs or NPCs, both using essentially the same rules. When in doubt as to whether a character encountered should or could be Kaonashi or Namae, keep one crucial mechanical difference in mind: Kaonashi absorb far less Wounds than Namae; they are narrative speed bumps, although hardly harmless, while Namae are serious detours and signposts. Kami characters are those whose existence does not necessitate mechanics; choosing to bring conflict against one and surviving the ordeal is not going to be a matter of dice rolls or any strictly mechanical effect. This category includes the Fortunes, dragons, the kami and kansen of the mortal world, and any spirit beings from outside the mortal realm encountered in their native realm.
It's important to note how these divisions apply to NPCs and PCs respectively; PCs are considered Namae characters as well as PCs, although an NPC may belong to any of the other three divisions.
Not every NPC is the focus of a story or adventure. They don’t need names, motivations, or depth of character. They just need orders, and to give the PC’s something to fight. These random opponents (usually warriors or monsters, but not always) are called Kaonashi.
There is one important calculation to always keep in mind about Kaonashi: all it takes is one successful hit and the Kaonashi is out of commission. Unlike Namae characters, they have no need to calculate out how many Wounds they can take and can only absorb the final three categories of Wounds: Down, Out, and Dead. However, it is possible an Okuden, Fortune, or prayer may grant them the ability to absorb additional Wounds. If so, treat any Wounds absorbed by these bonus abilities as Heavy Wounds.
Sidebar: Kaonashi Rank Examples
- 1: Peasant mob, peasant levy, zombies
- 2: Ashigaru soldiers, Dharma 1 samurai, small bakemono
- 3: Dharma 2 samurai, ninja assassins, large bakemono
- 4: Dharma 3 samurai, most elite units, minor yokai
- 5: Dharma 4 samurai, major yokai, minor akuma
Kaonashi Ranks: Each Kaonashi has a Rank from 1 to 5. All Elements are considered equal to their Rank for the purposes of mechanics (although a lone Kaonashi, once promoted to Namse status, may actually have higher or lower Elements). Also, when Kaonashi make a combat roll, they act as a group, making one roll for all of them, and ignoring normal rules for group rolls. They roll dice equal to their number, and keep dice equal to their Rank. A Kaonashi could be made more powerful by simply increasing their Rank by 1 over their normal specimens. Such Kaonashi would be “experienced.”
Active & Passive TNs: When a group of Kaonashi are targeted by a roll with a passive TN, different Ranks of Kaonashi are targeted as groups, even though all the Kaonashi (and likely any Namae characters) are targeted (by a social roll, an attempt at stealth, etc.). The Elements of each such group are considered 1 higher for each additional Kaonashi past the first, to a maximum equal to their Rank. When making a roll against an active TN, Kaonashi act as normal (roll dice equal to their number, keep dice equal to their Rank).
Example: Keiko climbed up the hidden footpath behind the hill, only to discover four bandits (YR 2) guarding a back gate. The walls here are low, so she wants to sneak past them. They're not terribly attentive, so it's her Stealth/Fire against a passive TN. The group has a base Void of 2, plus 3 for three Kaonashi past the first, minus 1 since their bonus is capped by their Rank, and then all multiplied by 5; thus the TN is 20. She succeeds, bypasses the guards, and begins searching for her comrades.
Skills: Some Kaonashi have Skills, especially samurai Kaonashi. These Skills work differently than those of normal characters. Instead of rolling Skill/Element, the Kaonashi add dice to their roll when using the Skill equal to their Rank, no matter how many Kaonashi are acting in concert. If for some reason a Skill Rank is needed, it's the same as their Kaonashi Rank.
Generally, while they may have Skills they rarely, if ever, have Aspects. Kaonashi should only be given an Aspect if it is required to facilitate or fulfill the requirements of a Discipline.
Example: Keiko has managed to free her comrades from their prison, but they're in no shape to fight, and a fight with a few bandits sounded the alarm. She needs to quickly and quietly get the samurai free to fight another day. Unfortunately, the bandits are well-skilled and have Investigation. She needs to make it past the 4 bandits still guarding the back gate using a distraction by making a Stealth/Wind roll against the their Investigation/Void, which is a 6k2 roll (+4k0 for their number, +2k0 for their Investigation Skill, +0k2 for their Rank).
Skirmish: When rolling for Initiative in a Skirmish, only a single roll is made for each type of Kaonashi present. Since their Void is equal to their Rank, they roll their Rank for Initiative. Kaonashi cannot use Interrupt Actions except for Active Defenses, although they can collectively Hold their Actions.
Kaonashi are often handled in groups of six, since it's hard for more than six people to attack a single person at once. Thus, since almost all attack rolls are made via Skill rolls, when attacking in concert they add their Skill Ranks, together with their quantity to determine rolled dice, and keep only dice equal to their Rank. If wielding multiple weapons of sufficiently different Damage Ranks, use the lowest DR; this includes using the highest rolled and kept dice separately. So, a Kaonashi group who otherwise share the same traits and Rank, but mixed between katana (DR 2k2) and ono (DR 0k4) would have a total DR 2k4. They may be Kaonashi, but they’re not to be laughed at.
Kaonashi also have a Defense. Their Defense is equal to their Rank x 5, so a Kaonashi of Rank 3 has a Defense of 15. As mentioned earlier, each susccesful hit automatically incapacitates a Kaonashi. If able to strike multiple Kaonashi (they are all within Close range, you have enough arrows at hand, etc.), you can divide up all Wounds inflicted among them as you see fit. If you successfully inflicted 4 Wounds, you could assign 3 to kill one foe, and another to send a foe Down.
Finally, Kaonashi can also aid you. When acting in concert with Kaonashi, you can make attack and active Defense rolls as group rolls involving you and the Kaonashi against a foe; this can also apply to social rolls in a court setting. However, the group roll's bonus limit is increased by the Rank of the Kaonashi.
Factions: It's reasonable to assume Kaonashi belonging to factions, such as uji or otokodate, might also receive the faction bonus of +2 to a Skill and a free Aspect in that Skill. Generally, though, I wouldn't bother. It increases bookkeeping at the expense of gameflow and makes them perhaps too specialized, when the whole point of the concept is just to grab characters out of thin air with minimal preparation and start throwing dice.
Fortunes: Usually, Kaonashi do not have Fortunes, but neither are they barred from having them. Usually it's only worth it to give Kaonashi Fortunes a Discipline demands or grants. This itself is rare, since Advanced Disciplines are usually the only ones requiring or granting Fortunes, and the linking of Threat to Skill Ranks would prohibit most Kaonashi from having Ranks in Advanced Disciplines requiring any Skill over 5.
Names: Although Namae status denotes much more “flesh and soul” for a character, calling the Kaonashi “nameless” does not actually imply names are forbidden to them. When one encounters a servant, a peasant, a roving bandit, a court official, or a border guard it is assumed such people are, narratively speaking, of minor importance as individuals. Yet they still do have names and histories and can be referred to as such, without losing the mechanics of being Kaonashi. So Kachiko the geisha, whom you slept with one night before moving on, did not magically gain all the attributes and advantages of being a Namae character all of a sudden.
Promotion: Then again, what kind of heartless wretch are you? It is possible for a Kaonashi to be promoted to Namae status. The Kaonashi samurai who challenged you to a duel, who killed your friend, who you fell in love with, who has sworn vengeance on you for your desecration of their village, desecration of their honor... All can develop into major players in the course of your life, above and beyond the role Kaonashi typically serve.
Promotion to Namae status is simple. First, the Kaonashi already needs a name. The name doesn't even have to be full or correct; you may only know them by a family name, given name, nickname (common for ronin or the lower castes), or even a false name (common for ninja and bandits). Second, target the Kaonashi and spend an Honor. That's it. The Kaonashi is now a Namae character. Remember, you're not restricted to characters your character interacts with, nor is promotion only limited to being enacted by a PC; the SD can spend Honor for promotion as well. In fact, you can even help the SD out by by using an Honor from the Honor Pool to enact a promotion, but doing so also costs you Honor equal to the Kaonashi's Rank. If you don't have enough, you can't swipe them.
Once promoted, the new Namae character has all the same Skills as before, and no more, at Ranks equal to their former Rank, adjusted for any faction bonus, if given previously. The same is true of their Elements. Any other attributes are gained if already given, such as Fortunes, Discipline Ranks, Honor, Glory, Infamy, etc. Most importantly, the character now acts according to all normal rules, and can now absorb both Light and Heavy Wounds.
You also get Three True Things to say about the promoted character. These can be facts equivalent to bonus Effects concerning things previously unknown (social status, faction, hair color, height, upbringing, family, lovers, likes and dislikes, rumors, etc.), new Fortunes or equipment, additional Disciplines or Discipline Ranks, new Skills at a Rank equal to character's previous Threat, or a new Aspect in a Skill already possessed (although you can give one after giving them the Skill as a True Thing). Additionally, you can raise or lower an Element by 1 per True Thing “spent.”
So, that samurai your ally just dueled and left standing? The bandit whose life you spared and owes you a debt? The sister of your friend's enemy with the sparkling eyes? The geisha your daimyo abandoned?
Give them purpose. Give them strength. Give them an Honor Point.
These are the people who both have meaning in your Story and in turn give your Story meaning. The people that matter: your friends and enemies, your allies and rivals, your daimyo, and maybe even your family, depending on the active role they take in your life. And of course, those who were inconsequential once but have grown with or against you.
And, of course, you. Or at least your PC.
When generating Namae characters, the SD can make it as detailed or vague a process as the like. They can go step by step as if creating a PC, or just simply assign Ranks to different attributes as they see fit. When increasing the Dharma Rank of such characters, they could carefully track out the Season Actions and events of the character's life from gempukku onward, or just arbitrarily assign additional Ranks and attributes. This is best left to the SD's prerogative. However, any attribute not defined before being encountered (even if only secretly for the SD's eyes only) is subject to a PC's use of bonus Effects from Raises.
A good rule of thumb is that any character who could be created as a PC, should be. This excludes monsters and particularly gifted animals and members of the lower caste, who should be created as needed with whatever attributes the GM and reason deems proper. If advanced past Dharma Rank 1, the SD should just assign whatever attributes and Ranks are appropriate, or even leave them to be filled in by circumstance and player ingenuity.
The lack of mechanics for those who are considered Kami (as distinct from other uses of the term, such as for elemental spirits and the the Fortunes) is meant to foster a sense of awe, respect, and fear when encountering such beings. It's not a matter of physics or ingenuity whether or not you wrestle a Fortune to the ground; doing such is a cosmic occurrence. Giving the Fortune stats, no matter how ridiculously powerful, still serves for most players as encouragement to take on the challenge.
Not that it wouldn't be entertaining, but being able to constantly and consistently wrestle Fortunes, dragons, kami, etc. would not only detract from their awe, but render them merely Namae characters, however powerful and magical they may be.
Going that route is up to you, just be prepared to lose for what you gain.
An important consideration for game mechanics is the concept of time. How much time does a specific task take, or even beyond that how is general time measured? It is one thing to measure time in years, then seasons, then months, then days (all of which Hachigoku does), and another thing to measure it in rounds and phases.
The cultural divisions of time are described in the first chapter on Hachigoku; this section focuses on mechanical interpretations of time.
So, for a mechanics purposes, the largest unit of time is a year, which is in turn composed of four seasons. A season is pretty much what it sounds like: a roughly three month length time. What's important about the season as a specific game term is that it's a time unit in which certain actions, requiring a great deal of time and concentration take place. These Season Actions typically include training, crafting complicated items, and taking care of your responsibilities to the uji. Which season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter) is currently active can influence certain other mechanics, and the end of the year (concurrent with the end of Winter) is a time for accounting; all the koku is taxed and the new year is brought in with tales of the past year's glories. Most games are assumed to begin in Spring, but there's no strict rule against beginning in another Season instead.
Also, each season corresponds to one of the Five Elements; Void can be theorized as symbolizing the entire year. This is important when it comes to performing Season Actions, described much later.
The correspondences are:
- Spring: Water
- Summer: Fire
- Autumn: Earth
- Winter: Air
Why take such an extended view of your character's activities? Well, they have responsibilities to their daimyo. Even a ronin must scrape and scrounge for work to survive. None of this is particularly exciting to roleplay, yet your character lacks roots in the world, and a stake in the society, without such obligations. What matters to you, as a player, is the conflicts encountered, the victories and defeats in the life of your character. Not so much the thrill of counting rice bushels in the daimyo's storehouse. Your daimyo, and Hachigoku in general, do not care. What matters most to them is getting those bushels counted correctly and quickly, your service, duty, and ability to stay out of trouble most of the time. Don't worry too much about what you do as Season Actions right now; this will be covered later in Chapter 4.
When you do get into trouble, that's when Stories happen. The Story is a conflict the player characters encounter that's, well, fun. Even when it hurts. For samurai, especially when it hurts. If Story sounds like a pretentious term, feel free to think of it as an Adventure or Mission or Module. There are no hard and fast divisions. It's useful to think of a Story in Hachigoku proceeding in three parts similar to a ritualized duel: Challenge, Focus, and Strike.
In the Challenge (in other games you might call this the Hook or the Call), the characters are presented with a dilemma requiring attention and testing their abilities (even when it's not obvious). Examples include:
- Your daimyo orders you to investigate bandit attacks on some of his villages. He wants to know who's responsible, and wants them stopped.
- The local shrine is scheduled to receive a high ranking visitor, who is known to be hostile to their philosophy. The caretaker wants you to escort them and make a good impression.
- A murder has been committed in the city, and your lover was discovered standing over the body with a bloody tanto.
In the Focus, the Challenge takes on a new dimension as a wrinkle or unexpected complication occurs and outs the characters into conflict with what should be a simple matter. It's recommended that this complication spring from some intrinsic properties of the player (Fortunes that make resolution difficult or traditional uji and Discipline conflicts), or from characters already present in the Story or foreshadowed. Completely external events could also provide a Focus, but should be appropriate to the Challenge. Thus, if you're investigating bandit attacks, the sudden appearance of oni would be jarring unless it was controlled by the bandits, or some force in conflict with the bandits. Examples include:
- Once you arrive at the villages you are attacked by the bandits. You quickly discover the “bandits” are ronin hired hired by the peasants to protect against your daimyo's ruinous taxation.
- You arrive at the rendezvous point to meet the visitor, only to find he's been kidnapped by samurai from an uji he offended. It's clear their actions are in violation of law and honor, yet these samurai hand over documents indicating the victim already signed the official papers to shut down the shrine.
- After intense investigation, it's clear that your lover truly is the murderer, but she was blackmailed into the killing by your daimyo's enemy to disgrace the uji. Publicly shaming the enemy would require you to publicly shame and condemn your lover, too.
The Strike is the resolution of the conflict, a resolution hat could end in various otcomes depending on the characters' views on Bushido. It is not necessarily a definitive end, as one Strike can easily lead to a new Challenge. What the Strike does is essentially represent the characters' answers to a question posed by the Focus. Examples include:
- Which is stronger, your loyalty to your daimyo (punishing the ronin and villages) or your compassion (figuring out a way to alleviate the taxes on the villages and letting the ronin go)?
- Which is stronger, your need to punish dishonor (freeing the captive) or protecting the shrine at the cost of your honor (failing in your task by making the documents and witness “disappear”)?
- Which is stronger, the personal loyalty to your lover (releasing her from punishment) or your desire for justice (holding her accountable to your daimyo's law and pursuing the enemy damyo)?
Having each of thee three elements (Challenge, Focus, Strike) take up about one gaming session each tends to be effective; you can spend more or less time, certainly, or even adopt a completely different structure. It should begin and end within a single season, although interconnected Stories can beneficially extend throughout seasons, eventually composing a large-scale Challege-Focus-Strike epic. A season should contain one or two Stories. There's no rule against doing more, but eventually people wonder why no harvest reports are being turned in, why you're never at your assigned guardpost, why the routine crimes under your jurisdiction are not being adjudicated, why you're chronically absent during inspections… You get the picture. And as players you wonder if you're ever going to improve attributes and abilities, since the benefits of training and Obligations usually occur at the end of the season.
Past the large-scale time segments are the segments occurring in a single session. The most basic is the Scene. The Scene is the focus of what the characters are doing now, with a coherent set of circumstances, reasonably limited time-frame, and defined location. That sounds complicated and a bit fuzzy (what defines “reasonably”?), but I trust you to adjudicate what makes sense for everybody to stay engaged in the game. In other games, we might call this an Encounter. So, a single Scene could be the characters investigating the murder scene, fighting a skirmish outside a village, reporting to the daimyo, or arranging an ambush. A change of location then could signal the end of a Scene and beginning of another (your investigation of the murder site concluded, you move to the home of the suspect for apprehension), or even considerable passing of “inconsequential” time (you spend a Scene planning and arranging an ambush, then spend hours waiting until the target arrives triggering a brand new Scene). A Scene becomes a useful measure of time to regulate effects and abilities that do not (or rather do not need to) function in set increments like minutes or hours. Actions can be taken in Scenes, but if another Action is taken in response (anything that by construed as a Complex Action under the Skirmish rules) the game has moved from the Scene into an even more precise segments: Rounds and Moments.
Rounds & Moments
A Round is a unit of time measuring activities requiring swiftness and certainty, usually combat-related. A single Round is divided into 10 Moments each, with a Moment being only an arbitrary tracking of Action order. Exactly how much real time a Round takes up is fluid; it may only take the traditional 6 second period most games take for granted, or it may take significantly longer, depending on what's happening. Generally speaking a Round should never be considered longer than a minute, and fierce combat is considerably shorter. The most honest answer is that Rounds, like Scenes, move at the speed of plot, and ignore extraneous action. While during a Round you might roll only a single attack roll, there are assumed to be lunges, feints, dodges, footwork, etc. The Actions are the ones that matter, the ones that might exceed. Actions are, in short, opportunities. Your character does not simply stand there stock-still waiting for the right moment to wiggle a finger.
A Battle, it should be noted, changes the scale of Scenes and Rounds.