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Upheaval in RPGs

**Spoiler Alert** If you are listening to our Actual Play podcasts of the L5R game — Saga of the Inukai, you may want to skip this article until you hear Session 11, as it involves events that took place in that session.

We had a pretty Earth-shattering event happen in our last L5R session. The party’s daimyo was forcibly removed by his older brother (who is daimyo of other lands a few day’s journey away.

A commenter to the actual play rightfully pointed out that at the moment, the party are all ronin.

It was a big blow to the party. They had enjoyed many successes in the previous 10 sessions: they unraveled a mystery, putting their current daimyo in charge of a particularly wealthy holding; they unraveled yet another mystery, exposing some of their rivals as cheats and giving their daimyo another particularly lucrative holding in a large city. They have been the target of a couple of fathers looking for well-to-do husbands for their daughters.

Life was great. Awesome. Their pockets were full and love was in the air.

Then some asshole came along and took it all away from them (that was me, by the way). It was nothing the party did wrong. It was, without getting too specific, a conflict between two brothers, one of whom happens to be the party’s lord. To be clear, these were events that were beyond the party’s control. In fact, their daimyo ordered them out of the way when he suspected such a thing might happen, as he knew they would die defending him, and he wanted them alive.

Now I don’t want to spoil any thing by talking about what might happen in the future, but what do you think about throwing a huge setback at the party? How do you feel about it when it happens to you as a player?

Fair? Bullshit? Challenging? Dramatic?

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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5 Responses to "Upheaval in RPGs"

  1. Jim RyanNo Gravatar says:

    I listened to the AP, and I think the way you handled it was fair. There’s a big difference between turning PCs’ worlds upside down through a progression of events in the story and suddenly taking away a standard D&D party’s gold and magic items. (Ironically, those D&D murder-hobo-type PCs probably DESERVE it more, but it’s more acceptable to do it to the samurai.)

  2. BrandonNo Gravatar says:

    I think party setbacks are great. Usually blindside the party, so that in itself reminds them that they have to keep on guard and not get too complacent. More importantly, I think a setback has more power if you can tie it to some choice the party made. I enjoy reminiscing and thinking about the things I could have done to prevent the big bad guy from getting the upper hand. I think you will always enrage some players that want everything to go their way, but it is more important to keep the party on their toes. Excellent question you pose, sir!

  3. RobNo Gravatar says:

    I do this often to pc’s as its the basis of drama I follow two major rules.
    1. I know my players and I throw setbacks at players that can handle it and will still have fun. If I throw a massive setback at my player who loves to power game and see his character grow he will disengage and quit. If I throw it at the players who are there for a great story I will have no problems. Your crew is all the story type so your fine.
    2. If I do throw a setback at the party I make sure that the pc’s are in it together as much as possible. If pc’s are struggling together they will have fun struggling alone sucks. In this case there are struggling together so your in great shape.

  4. Michelle (@TARDISinaTEACUP)No Gravatar says:

    I think Tyler said it best at the end of the AP episode. The party was just bopping along, then they were like, “We’re on a mission! … Awwww *what*?”

    Something similar is happening in Sir Guido’s game. A powerful faction (backed by the governor’s daughter) is trying to overthrow the Emerald Magistrate we (the PCs) serve. So things are coming to a head and we’ve done our best to help swing things in our favor (in light of certain unfortunate events).

    So we’re going to be taking a break from these characters, but we all agreed that we wanted to continue playing them in a month or two. (Whenever DT Pints gets back.) Sir Guido mentioned the possibility that the upcoming conflict could end poorly for us and that would make us Ronin when the game started again.

    We all kinda perked up and grinned at that. It’s not that we WANT to fail, but that would certainly be interesting.

    Drama comes from conflict, and while players like succeeding it doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate complications that are close to home.

    Stu, in particular, seems to be trying to tell a story about this particular place. So the conflict is going to be in this valley and about this valley.

    What I like best in both cases about the way these things are being handled is that it’s not totally out of the blue. There was foreshadowing and opportunities to act/inquire/get involved whether or not the players took them.

    It’s part of a story, and these events don’t happen in a vacuum. Even though the situation in this most recent episode of Stu’s AP were things that were out of the players’ control, there were many opportunities for them to make what was going on their business.

  5. CraigNo Gravatar says:

    Throwing a huge setback is, to me, part of the point of the GM. While it’s nice when conflicts and complications come from the players the world they inhabit is far bigger than them and therefore external complications are always going to be a major factor. The important thing is that it makes sense to the game, which you have done by setting up the conflict between the brothers beforehand.

    Also with regards the game I would disagree with the statement that they’re now ronin. With Renjiro removed I’d have thought their loyalty to the clan would mean they now (technically) serve whoever has replaced them. I would say though that they’re being set up in a position to dishonour themselves in front of the clan (and thus be made ronin).

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