[Mountain Witch] Second Session

Tonight, we played the second of four sessions of Mountain Witch. On the whole, it went pretty well, even though we had a few kinks to work out – my players were slow to start using their Fates, and they need to get accustomed to narrating successes. On my part, I haven’t been good enough at setting good scenes, and I’ve been “fishing” far too little. It’s getting a bit late, but I’ll need to do it a lot the next two times.

The Game

We continued where we left off last time. Hitayoshi was on one side of a chasm with Pig Man, the guardian of the bridge, while the rest of the group was on the other.
The big group decided to try finding a way around the chasm. I sent an icy storm their way. They decided to try finding a cave to hide out in. One of them suggested she could use her tracking to find a trail leading to a cave. So, when they had a marginal failure (or was it a tie? I know I got to narrate, so it was one or the other), I used that to say that they found a set of badger trails leading into a cave, thus introducing my character the Badger. However, just as they found the cave, they suddenly hear a rumbling noise: an avalanche, coming to bar their way.
The avalanche was an attempt on my part to split them up, in order to use the so-called “Break and Rejoin” technique: splitting them up, sowing discord, then putting them back together. And it worked beautifully. They all tried to get to the cave before the avalanche struck. Their rolls varied, with Hayashi getting a mixed success, Kato and Futasawa getting partials or ties, and me getting mixed successes against Hidaka and Kurosawa. Hayashi narrated barely getting into the cave (he got a mixed success, and narrated my partial as a flesh wound), Kato and Futasawa ended up right outside the cave, and the last two were swept along on the avalanche, getting thrown off near a little house in the mountains.

Teatime all around

Meanwhile, Hitayoshi was left with an angry Pig Man. Pig Man scoffed at him, calling him a cheat, then turning around to go home, mumbling something about tea. Hitayoshi politely asked whether he might be allowed to buy a cup, to which the pig grudgingly consented.
They arrived at the house, with someone inside asking what Pig Man was doing back so early. Hitayoshi asked me who was standing there, and I asked him to tell me.
He explained that it was his old master, Musachi, who had been thought dead. In reality, he had been dying after the battle. He had lost an arm, and was fading quickly. Then, O-Yanma approached him, offering to heal him in return for his service. And so, now he was serving the Witch.
Hitayoshi then explained that he was there with a group of Ronin, hired to go after the Witch. He said he got along well with all of them, except one.
“What is his name,” Musachi asked.
“Kurosawa,” Hitayoshi replied.
“Kurosawa… that name is familiar to me.”
“Yes. He was the one who killed my family.”
Awesome! I hadn’t expected them to be so blunt about their Fates so early, but it was great to see their reactions: they all cast glances at Kurosawa, who looked a little unsure of how to react.
Hitayoshi and Musachi agreed that Hitayoshi should go offer his services to the Witch the next day.
In the other end of the mountain, Hayashi got his breath back inside the cave. Suddenly, he realised that there was light coming down the tunnel. Intrigued, he started going down towards the light.
Here, he saw a curtain setting a cave apart from the rest of the tunnel. Inside someone was moving around.
He politely introduced himself, seeing a man in a great big coat walking around inside. In a slip of the tounge, I called him “the Badger,” which was generally well received – my attempts at describing a badger-like person worked better, I think, now they all knew what I was getting at.
The Badger invited him for tea, while he explained his business. He said he’d been pretending to be on a mission to kill the Witch, while really, he was in O-Yanma’s employ, doing something for the witch in return for being helped away from Japan.
He was offered a place to stay the night, and the next day, the Badger agreed to take him up the tunnels to the Castle, in return for a small favour.
Next up were Hidaka and Kurosawa. They went up the path to the little house. Just as they were approaching the house, the door opened, and a woman in the door offered them to come in. Inside, the table was set for tea for three.
“Were you expecting visitors… other than us?” Hidaka wanted to know.
“We are three, and the table is set for three, is it not?” said the Fox (whom, of course, it was).
The Fox started to open negotiations for favours with the two, but Hidaka, having apparently been spooked by their host, closed down the talks immediately. She was only interested in being shown a way up to the castle.
I did use this opportunity to get Kurosawa to agree to owing her a favour. She then pointed to what had appeared to be a dense bush, through which a path now ran.

Snow Battles

Kato and Futasawa turned out to be the least lucky of the bunch. Instead of getting served tea, they were left out in the snow. At first, they tried digging through the snow to get to the cave, but they quickly gave that up. Instead they started up the slope towards the castle.
Blocking their way, however, was a group of snow spirits, dancing some weird kind of dance (I hadn’t thought of these in advance, so they weren’t very well thought out. But, ah well – they worked). Futasawa had “Meld with shadows” as an ability, so he tried sneaking past them. He got stuck along the way. Meanwhile, Kato wanted to sneak past them by going from tree to tree, but soon discovered (after a tied roll) that there weren’t enough trees.
Futasawa then tried diverting their attention by using a stone from his sling shot. I won, so I ruled that the snow spirits surrounded him, but that he wounded one of them with a stone.
Seeing that the snow spirits were occupied, Kato tried sprinting up the road. One of the spirits heard her, and ran after, leaving its two companions to deal with Futasawa.
Which they did in spades. He rolled a 1, deducted 1 from a wound, and ended up with 0. Meanwhile, I rolled a 6. A critical success – enough to take out a PC.
Futasawa had been swinging his sling when he was cornered. Now he let the stone fly, and hit one of the spirits on the cheek. It roared in pain. This started a snow-slide, dumping a ton or more of snow on top of Futasawa. Kato left him behind, presuming him dead. He will return next time – either he wakes up to take part in the game as a full part of the party, or he’s found by some patrol and brought into the castle to be tended, where some of his companions will doubtlessly run into him.
Kato ran up the path, away from the snow spirit. But suddenly, a big wall with a small gate in it blocked the way. She knocked on the door but no one answered, and the snow spirit caught up with her. She drew her sword and ran it through, killing it easily.
Hidaka and Kurosawa were walking up the path, when they suddenly heard someone coming up the path. They quickly hid in a bush. The soldiers, however, stopped right in front of their bush to rest, so the samurai threw a stone to distract them, then ran out with swords blazing. Hidaka grabbed a soldier from behind, taking off his head, while Kurosawa hit the other on the arm. The wounded soldier was enraged, trying to trample Kurosawa, who managed to wound it, before he was knocked to the ground. Hidaka killed the third soldier, then turned around and killed the last one.
The two then proceeded up the path, running into Kato just as the remaining two snow spirits came running up the path. They finished them easily, Hidaka (or Kato?) even getting a Double success. She explained that when she stuck her sword into the spirit, it melted, leaving behind a key to the locked gate that I had been refusing to have someone answer. They went back to look for Futasawa, but ended up leaving him for dead under the snow (I think I may have been “GMing” them into dropping their search, but I thought it far better to leave him under the snow than to have them drag him around).

Entering the castle

Next morning, all of them prepared to go into the castle. Hitayoshi was going with Musachi and Pig Man, who was going to report the destruction of the bridge, Hayashi was led by the Badger to a place right outside the main gate, and the remaining three were going in through the side gate.
Outside the main gate, the guards were unwilling to let a stranger like Hitayoshi in. Hayashi heard this, and came to his aid, explaining that O-Yanma would want to see Hitayoshi. A friendly relationship started forming between these two ronin, who were, at least seemingly, siding with the Witch.
Inside the castle, they met the frightful captain of the Watch, who smelled the dead Gaki on Hitayoshi. He defended himself, saying that he hadn’t wanted to kill the Gaki, but had to go along with his companions.
In another part of the castle, three other ronin came sneaking in through a side gate. They came into a courtyard, where many creatures seemed to be walking. They saw a patrol come walking towards them, when Kato suddenly narrated hearing someone hissing her name. The woman led them all into a little hut in the courtyard. Kato explained that this was her old accomplice, Oshiro, who had once before helped her.
And with that, we ended.

Thoughts

I haven’t been a good enough “fisherman,” only once getting something useful out of fishing. It’s a bit late now, but I’ll have to do something about it.
My players’ reactions to the way this game is run differs immensely. Some take to it, while at least one is trying hard to reject it. I’ll have to do an extra effort to get that last person to buy into the game. I’ll try luring her into starting her own Dark Fate – I think that’ll help her.
I could certainly run the rules better in many ways – but I think my main issue at the moment is forgetting to set clear stakes, and forgetting to set counter stakes to the players’. This means it’s often difficult to narrate a mixed successes, or any of my successes really, because it’s not clear what is a success for me. I think I’ll tell my players to help me out – I get too preoccupied with managing the flow of the game, making me forget setting stakes. If I can make them remember it for me, it would take a task away from me, and give them more of a buy-in in the rules, I think.
Something interesting is happening with Trust. The person giving out the most trust (Kato) is giving out 14, the least trustful (Hitayoshi) only 7. The players are spread throughout the spectrum with people giving out 7, 8, 9, 13, 13 and 14 trust. That seems like quite a span! Clearly, someone is getting along well with people while some are being distrustful.
The trust is really well spread out, however, with people getting 9, 10, 10, 11, 11 and 13 trust. Interestingly, Hitayoshi is the one getting the most trust. I think there may be a stance issue here: only one of them have spent time with him in the game, and so they think: “Well, my character has no reason to trust him less,” while they, as players, know what he’s been up to. Hopefully, he’ll use it against them.

Next time

I have a much better idea about what’s going to happen next time than I did last week. I want to split up Hidaka and Kato – they’ve been inseparable since the beginning; unfortunately, Oshiro can’t get them into the inner castle all together – how troublesome, eh?
Hitayoshi will go before the Witch or one of his minions, who will ask him to go back to the other under cover, ready to help the Witch against them. He’ll have to work together with Kurosawa. I may show them both a family being executed by the Witch’s minions, to ramp up the tension.
Kurosawa will be approached by the Fox, who will want him to make good on the favour he owes her. The favour will of course set him on a course to collide with one or more of his companions.
Hayashi, likewise will be badgered by the Badger, who wants him to do something for it. I am a bit unsure about Hayashi – what he’s said so far could indicate that his Fate might be both Unholy Pact and True Motives. I want to give him a bit of playing field to expand his Fate, before I decide where to ram in the knife.
Kato has dug her own grave. ‘Cause you can sure bet that Oshiro has agendas of her own – and she’ll expect Kato to help her out.
I am considering giving my NPCs actual goals they try to achieve. I know I want the Fox and the Badger to have a rivalry, sending the PCs to do their dirty work. I think I’ll adopt the Dream Hunters storyline, and make them fight over a monk who is in the Witch’s dungeon.
Apart from that, they are going to hear much more about the dead Gaki. Oh, am I going to press that for all it’s worth. Overall, loyalty to the Witch is starting to become a theme here – the Fox and the Badger both made half-hearted statements to the fact that the Witch is the lord here, while Musachi and Pig Man both fervently declared their loyalty to O-Yanma. I’ll do my best to make them doubt the Witch – is he a strict, but benevolent, ruler, or a capricious and cruel tyrant?
All in all, I’m satisfied enough with tonight. We’re too many, and we were missing one, which will be a problem next week as well if he shows up. But we are having fun, and I can see the potential in the game. I’ll want to play it with four or five players who are more accustomed to indie, and I’ll make them read the book in advance, so they have a better idea of what this game is about. I think it will help this game a lot to have players who have read the rules themselves, instead of depending on their GMs haphazard explanations.
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