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Jade Regent Retrospective, Part 2

Some more thoughts on our Jade Regent campaign, from yours truly! I played Ameiko’s brother, Yoshihiro Kaijitsu. I enjoyed my character, he grew from a reckless Cheliax-trained cavalier into a proper samurai. Curse of the Crimson Throne is still my favorite AP we’ve gone through but this is definitely right there in the running!

Favorite Memories

The crazy tengu oni from Brinewall was entertaining because of his play about his relationship troubles, The Cuckolded Cuckoo.  I took the play, completed it, and then our traveling Varisian caravan performed it every chance we got.  We improvised what the play contained and it was very postmodern. Gobo the blind gnome was the breakout hit playing “A Giant Standing In The Distance.” And then we performed the play in the capital near the climax, allowing V’lk to set up his ninja showdown with the Raven King, the Regent’s tengu ninja! That’s some literary shit right there.

The 3D fight with the white dragon and the fact that the hostile Eskimo shaman looked like Wilford Brimley was the best part of the cold wastes.

All the Japanese spirts were cool.  The kami, the oni, the Japan-horror ghosts on Shrine Island – all super interesting. Tide of Honor was probably the best installment and it was super heavy on all that.

The characters all fit in well somewhere.  Me in Tian Xia, Jacob in the cold wastes, Bjorn in Viking land, and then Gobo, V’lk, and Harwynian were like “see no evil, speak no evil, smell no evil.”  A fun crew. 6 characters is almost too much for an AP but not quite.

The guys worked together tactically well after a while.  I get frustrated in some of these campaigns where some of the PCs just want to “charge in” and act like doofs because it could easily lead to TPK. We had some initial bits of that, which got to a height when Bruce (Harwynian) blinded us all during a fight with 40 yeti because he hadn’t bothered to read his new Firefall spell. After a little “we’re going to cut a bitch if they endanger us again” discussion, I feel like the whole group really started to click tactically – by the time we were taking on the Jade Regent’s palace we were pretty 3l33t.

And there were some very interesting fights.  Fighting the Daimyo at the hot springs lodge while our ronin allies held off his enemies outside… The Viking castle…

And then there were the little flashes, or Zen moments, that are the real memories stay with me.  When we were assaulting the underground hobgoblin keep in the House of Withered Blossoms, Jacob had Walls of Ice in front of us to block arrow slits, the ice putting off clouds of low-lying mist, and Harwynian sent a Firefall up into the murder holes above, causing lances of light to strobe down through the holes into the mist around us – I saw my character vividly, sword in hand, looking over his shoulder at the sublime sight.  Also on the Imperial Shrine Island, when we found musical instruments in a pagoda on the lake, and we stopped to play them as the cherry blossoms fell around us.  Jade Regent was very visually striking and I had a number of these in-character visual “flashes” over the course of the game.

Meh Memories

The caravan rules were a bit of a distracting minigame.  Paul changed them to not be caravan TPK fodder as they are by default, but it was still too different from the normal character rules, and our PCs weren’t effectively present during the minigames.  Bah.

The relationship rules were a bit of a distracting minigame (see a pattern here?). Once they were exposed to us, we were reduced to buying our otherwise personality-free NPC comrades presents all the time to “gain faction” with them. Both these rulesets were poorly thought out and playtested.  If they’d bothered with doing them up right, maybe making them a little more generic, they could have been good, but as they stand, if I ever ran Jade Regent they’d both be cut without comment.

And on the NPCs – we had a lot of PCs.  As a result the GM was kinda forced into keeping the NPCs on the back burner most of the time.  So we didn’t have very realistic relationships with them. We found the new NPCs we met actually doing useful things (Spivey, Kelda Oxgutter, etc.) so we’d see if we could “gain faction” with them, but no, that minigame was only for the designated four core NPCs. And once any of them joined us, again, too many people, so they’d go flat.  Some of that’s on the GM but it’s hard – in Reavers I try to make the whole ship of pirates the PCs are on be “alive” all the time but it takes a hellacious amount of work.

My only other concern was the “rocket tag” nature of higher level combat.  Earlier combats were more fun, then towards the end – I got this magic bow that let me put samurai challenge on my arrows.  That made some combats into anticlimax, like me killing Master Ninja bang bang bang one round kill. That sucked and made the other PCs jealous. But then some enemies at the high levels were also “here’s 150 points of damage enjoy,” so I didn’t feel like I could just self-nerf and put the bow away all the time because it could cause the death of one of my comrades.  The bow was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” but high level even lightly optimized Pathfinder/3.5e play gets kinda unfun, either an ass-whupping or a total roll-over. The final climactic combat was like that – a couple rounds and done without breaking a sweat.

Finis

Thanks to Paul “Two Sheds” our GM, and to the other players who made this a fun ride!

Jade Regent Retrospective, Part 1

And with that we’ve completed another Adventure Path!  Jade Regent was really good and enjoyable overall.  I’ve polled the players for their thoughts and will share them here for your edification!

In this first installment, we see what Chris (V’lk) has to say.

The Fun Parts:

  • Hongal’s captial Ordu-Aganhei – That place was awesome. Sort of like Vegas with a real hint of danger. The descriptions of the people, food, dress, and buildings caught my imagination. Kahn Kiriltai’s contests, feasts, and hospitality were awesome. I wish that country or even just the capital had played a larger part of the adventure path. [ I missed this session and regret it. It was fantasy Korea with a fantasy cross between Genghis Khan and Kim Jong-il. -Ed.]
  • The Spirits – I liked how most of the nature spirits were peaceable, rather than the typical D&D default “…enjoys the taste of human flesh… highly prizes elf flesh.” In fact, once the supernatural element was removed the typical spirit was more like an NPC human villager with useful information. [Or not very useful, like that worthless damn lake spirit on the Imperial Shrine Island... -Ed.]
  • The Human Spirits – This idea was original and fun. They are possession machines driven by appetites, revenge, sadness, or just plain craziness. Some good, some bad, and some “no big deal”. There seemed to be just enough balance between those three elements that some players decided letting one in was worth the risk. And the bizarre behavior of the possessed offered some interesting role-playing and moments of humor. [Everyone looked down on me because I refused to let myself get possessed! -Ed.]
  • The Rift of Niltak – creepy, scary, and weird. Frightening monsters experimenting on humanity. Fungus that attracts ghouls. Crazy bondage soldiers ala The Beast Master. Well done, Paul. I totally wanted to go back after we saved the empire.
  • The Ending – I actually cared if Minkai survived and prospered. I can’t identify the exact elements that made this so. The common backgrounds and occasionally strong ties between the PCs and also with Ameiko helped me believe that V’lk should care. The quests would be another factor – they were not stacked upon each other. And many of the quests had goals that would seem important to an oppressed population or to a revolution in the making.
  • Every PC had a Moment – I think the variation in the adventure series was the main element. GMing, luck, and role-playing were also strong contributors.

It Went Both Directions:

  • I really liked the Asian equipment, weapons, and magic items. They have colorful names (Ghost Mirror Armor), nifty effects (fugitive grenades), and cool imagery (freaking fireworks!). Who wouldn’t want to be a master of the katana or the kusari-gama? Who wouldn’t want to gear up and sneak around ninja style?   But you bastard Asiaphiles couldn’t leave it at that. You just had to make all of it better than their western equivalents, including the classes. The Samurai and Ninja classes have supplanted the Fighter and Rogue. Just marry an Asian and get over it already.

The Irritating Bits:

  • Thank you, Mr Dungeon Designer, for the “Bow of Death”. Have we not passed the days where the high school GM decided to shove Stormbringer, Mjolnir, Excalibur, the Heartbow, or the Red Rider BB Gun (Fallout) into the game? Only one person gets to use it. Next time make it the Head of Vecna so the pcs can at least slaughter each other for the prize. But seriously, if you want powerful weapons in your module at least put enough in the game to cover everyone and mix it up a bit: Twelve Swords of Power or The Swords of Wayland. [I was the one who got that bow and it presented me with a dilemma - I even posted on RPG Stack Exchange about how to deal with suddenly being so uber. -Ed.]
  • Monsters vs “Bow of Death” – Very few monsters tried to set the battle field to avoid the “Bow of Death”.
  • Pandas – I wanted one panda themed monster. Just one.

Jade Regent – The Empty Throne, Session Five

Fifth Session (7 page pdf) – Campaign Finale! We roll hard on the Jade Regent and his overlord/lackeys. It’s over fast – is it a TPK, or do we liberate the country of Minkai?  Read on, Will Robinson!

Empty Throne

Jade Regent – The Empty Throne, Session Four

Fourth Session (12 page pdf) – We go on a hostage rescue raid and kill a good bit of the palace’s defenders in the bargain. And then the propaganda war begins! Plus, we set up V’lk in a deadly one-on-one with the Raven Prince, the Regent’s pet ninja master.

This was a lively time.  First, we went to rescue the captured women of Kasai from the Imperial Palace.  Our usual scry, teleport, kill strategy is tried and true, but we sure get some resistance this time. The three spider woman wardens in there with them are tough, and then a mess of Typhoon Guards join them.

We get in a tight spot when the Typhoons kill one of the women and threaten to kill them all if we don’t surrender.  In an inspired bit of mayhem, V’lk uses a Major Image (illusion) to show Harwynian breathing fire on all the hostages, “killing” them. That got a big “holy shit!” from friends and foes alike.

The second tight spot was when we saw more women across the courtyard in another building and more Typhoon Guards coming.  Harwynian scooted over there and teleported out that contingent while we Wall of Iced inside our room and mopped up. Tactics FTW! I was really pleased with the whole group’s performance.

Speaking of performances, we’re not to the most awesome part yet. We start in with some standard insurgency work and decide to lure out the Jade Regent’s pet ninja, the Raven Prince. V’lk challenges him to a ninja showdown and then we put on a performance of The Cuckolded Cuckoo, the play we took (and Yoshihiro adapted) from the crazy tengu we killed in Brinewall. V’lk was working backstage… But not really V’lk, another Major Image.  His Hide outstripped the Raven Prince’s Perception, and the ninja appeared and stabbed the illusion.  The illusory V’lk pled for his life and dragged himself from the gloating tengu ninja – he went for the death strike just to have the illusion disappear as he got helle-backstabbed by V’lk. And down he goes!  Clean kill Naruto style! Ninja style chest bumps all around, after the curtain fell on our play ended – with the death of the Cuckolded Cuckoo. Literary irony FTW!

A little hooker negotiation, and we’re set up for the finale next time on Jade Regent!

Jade Regent – The Empty Throne, Session Three

Third Session (12 page pdf) – We continue to kill already-dead emperors in the Well of Demons.  They’re livelier than you’d think. There’s devils and demons and daemons and whatever else they could think of.  And then we fight Lo Pan!

First, after a conversation with the totally worthless kami who guards the holy waters (his main superpower appears to be “tastes good in butter”), we go back into the rift and fight stuff.  First up are giant spellcasting boggards!  Or hydrodaemons, as it turns out. With summoned water elementals and spell-likes and them being in the water it takes a really long time. Then, an undead samurai. And a nightwing. And a lich. Finally we get the dead Emperor’s body and finish up this big ol’ vision quest! And level to 13.

Not too much else to tell about this one – we basically grinded the heck out of a bunch of high-CR baddies!

Jade Regent – The Empty Throne, Session Two

Second Session (16 page pdf) – It’s down into the demon rift under the Shrine Island for us. We don’t mind the normal Type III  and IV demons so much but when I spend half a combat in a demon’s vajayjay – that’s a little extreme.

My character Yoshihiro meets a good angel type ancestor of his – but discovers he has to kill a weird twisted one.  Check out this puppy:

Venedaemon

The Gylou, or Handmaiden Devil – but the name on the image is “Venedaemon.” She pulls you up into her… “Tentacle cage” in her nether regions. Guess where I end up.

We headed down into the Well of Demons and every encounter there was hardcore.  They mixed demons and devils and daemons and undead and whatever they could think of that was high CR. We cut our way through erinyes and a masked devil before we get tentacle girl.  Luckily my buddies killed her fast when she “enveloped” me.

Then we had a funny time with the fish-men.  They were sitting there talking about “killing that Commie.”  It took us a minute of scratching our heads to realize that they meant kami, a Japanese nature spirit. We determined they were “Republicans” and tried to negotiate with them, but with a large group someone or other is going to initiate combat within a round of contact, so we just kill them too.

These combats are a big game of rocket tag.  I can’t take a big boss down in one round but pretty much can in two.  So a lot of the time I run up, hit them once and hurt them, they full attack me for most of my hit points, then I hit them for all their hit points. I really don’t like the damage inflation in Pathfinder and 3.5e in general. These critters had enough weird abilities that it was a little more interesting, but even so, a lot of it is exchange of “here’s 100 points of damage, enjoy!”

Jade Regent – The Empty Throne, Session One

First Session (11 page pdf) – We teleport into the capital city, Kasai, to free our thick-necked ally Hatsue and link up with the resistance. We fight the Typhoon Commander, stone tigers, long-necked freaks…  Then it goes all Japanese horror movie on us!

In D&D 3.X fashion, we glom onto the ‘scry and teleport in’ tactic as a winning combo. We port in, waste some guards, grab Hatsue, port out. They didn’t even disguise some oni as her or mentally dominate her or anything, which is pretty softball we thought. I gave her the Thundering Blade of Sugimatu so she could kick some butt, we all kinda like her.

Then we go on a rice-liberation run and fight big stone tigers with dimensional gates in their stomachs, or “tao tieh.”  I (Yoshihiro) have a pet bag of devouring. Like really – it was a cursed item I got a long time ago, I discovered it wasn’t a bag of holding when it tried to eat my arm. Since then I’ve kept it as a weird pet (Yoshihiro’s Japanese, so weird pets are de rigeur). I feed it odd pieces of loot we don’t want and talk to it. The party tolerates that well enough. But I had to sacrifice it in this fight – I was being attacked by two of these things and knew I couldn’t take all their attacks, so fed it to one of them. I reckoned that it would go bang just like when you mix bags of holding and portable holes and stuff, and I was right. But I did give a good long scream of grief and rage when it happened.  “SACKY! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” And thus did my pet bag of devouring save me from evisceration by a big stone tiger.

Then we head off to the sacred island of the emperors, which is nice and Asian fantasy chic.  We fight a freaky long-necked hag woman thing what like they have over there.

My favorite part was when we found magical instruments on a little stage on a mini-island in a decorative pond.  I proposed we all play the instruments to soothe the spirits.  We played well; it didn’t have any game effect but I could picture us all sitting there, in a pagoda with the leaves falling, playing a tune while the many spirits of the imperial island looked on…

At the end we met the ghost of Emperor Shigure, who was hard to deal with, he kept going all shaky-face-staticy on us like ghosts do in modern Japanese horror movies, which was cool. Now we’re off to recover his body from some demon chasm.

Jade Regent – Tide of Honor, Session 6

master ninjaSixth Session (10 page pdf) – The Master Ninja comes for us but goes down fast. Then our armies go to confront the Jade Regents’ and we defend a fortress from an oni attack.  Now to the offensive!

Well, the master ninja with the ninja artifact coin that’s hunting us showed up. He was clever in posing as a normal commoner and got in his death attack on me, but I made the save and then, somewhat regrettably, as he leapt away V’lk hit him with a flask of burning oil as a target designator and I put one full attack worth of arrows with my samurai challenge into him and that was it.  With this magical bow that lets me put my challenge on arrow damage I do an embarrassing amount of DPR; I actually feel a bit bad about it as I try to avoid min-maxing. Some of this is just normal higher level Pathfinder “glass cannon” syndrome though.

Then it’s shopping and crafting and planning, leading up to our armies intercepting the Jade Regent’s army and us teleporting to the fortress to fight some oni! It was a tougher fight than the ninja but not too bad, most of the damage was from people hitting guys with fire shield on them :-P

Next we hit Chapter Six; we’re taking Ameiko to a shrine in the capital to get blessed (and ideally rescuing our helpful farmer lady spy in the bargain).

Jade Regent – Tide of Honor, Session 5

Fifth Session (15 page pdf) – It’s time to fight a whole mess of samurai! We go to Shirio Onsen, a hot spring lodge, to kill Daimyo Sikutsu Sennaka. It’s pretty much one big ol’ tactical combat, battle mat pictures are in the summary!

13-assassins-movie-image-03First we head out to the lodge and get the “Nine Pawns,” a bunch of ronin, to go hold off the mass of the daimyo’s retainers while we bust in on him and his elite bodyguard. Despite our attempt at stealthily infiltrating the onsen, they bum rush us. You know, when you have six characters all of which have to roll Stealth or else you’re detected, you may as well not bother rolling; the laws of probability indicate someone’s going to bork the roll.

13-assassins-movie-image-01Then we fight our way through a bunch of tengu samurai and normal samurai with some snappy tactics. They got us in a pincer. Gobo and Jacob got caught on the end of the left flank and I figured our little blind gnome oracle was toast, but he has a nice sparkly 30 AC from his magics so he tanked better than the rest of us. I protected Harwynian and shot the samurai up while he fended them off with a Forceful Hand and crowd control including a Persistent Slow. V’lk cast an illusion of the Nine Pawns and that kept the right flank partially protected for a long time. Gobo got a little lucky, but we really clicked tactically and did a great job IMHO.

13-assassins-movie-image-02And finally I got to duel the Daimyo, glass cannon on glass cannon. I almost murderized him in one round (only his samurai resolve saved him – in fact, the GM thought he was dead outright until he realized he was looking at the wrong guy’s hp total), and a dragon breath from Jacob finished him off. His plump ogre mage buddy wasn’t much work. Then it’s all over but the looting.  We even raised the two dead Nine Pawns and gave them all magical katanas.

Jade Regent – Tide of Honor, Session 4

ManananggalFourth Session (9 page pdf) – Special musical episode! Minkaian pop punk samisen-playing band “Hi Hi Puffy Osayumi” is briefly in effect. And when we’re attacked by manananggals, every time the GM says the word “manananggal” we are all compelled to respond “Do doo, do doo doo!” Then we drink tea and hang out with ninjas.

The helpful housekeepers from the manor house were actually horrid undead called manananggals, which are like the penanggalan all us 1e’ers are familiar with but instead of just a woman with a detachable head it’s a woman with a whole detachable torso. They definitely got their surprise licks in before we overcame them. V’lk went to loot their chambers, and we speculated that the real treasure he was looking for (and found) was four womens’ bodies only intact from the waist down. What he also found was that they had mended his pants before coming to kill us! “That’s the best treasure I’ve gotten in a long time,” he noted. We speculated that they are of the obsessive-compulsive sort of undead and they can’t help finishing their domestic tasks before trying to feed on the – whatever – of the living. Subsequent research revealed they mostly attack pregnant women, which led to a bit of a witch hunt among the group to determine if any of us were indeed a pregnant woman.  My money was on Harwynian.

We then got a couple more semi-artifact magic items, a samisen that casts divinations and a tea set that basically lets us put greater heroism on ourselves before a mission!

Then we go to meet with the “Three Monkeys,” the heads of various ninja clans. After some folderol we have a sitdown with them and they tell us they can’t help us because there’s a contract out on us – luckily, not with them. “A problem murder can solve!” we exult. As the meeting wound up I realized I still had one of the ninja fugitive grenades (smoke bombs with a rope trick in it) and it struck me how hilarious it would be to end a meeting with three ninja clan leaders by tossing down a smoke bomb and disappearing ourselves. So hilarious, I had to exercise all of my self control not to do it. We imagined it would go something like this…

“Peace out!” <BAM!>
“this way guys…” <shuffle, shuffle>
<bonk>  “Ow!”
<door slams>
<heard clearly through the paper wall> “Woot! Who’s the ninjas now!” <high fiving all around>

And now, we’re all level 12!

Jade Regent – Tide of Honor, Session 3

geishaThird Session (12 page pdf) – Ah, home invasion, the bread and butter of adventuring parties everywhere.  We look to liberate a captured psychic geisha from a big freak, and our Aliens-driven policy of “nobody touch nothing” pays off!

Much of the session was navigating the shadow maze under the mansion, which was pretty cool. We had one false start on the premise that maybe the geisha’s clues were approximate and not super specific – turns out they were super specific. We kill the wizard, free the geisha.  Details in the summary!

Jade Regent – Tide of Honor, Session 2

Second Session (11 page pdf) – Murder spree number one garners us our first set of allies, a batch of ronin, so we set about murder spree number two. This one promises to get us a batch of geishas. We’re business in the front, party in the back!

Yes, we’re still playing, I’m just a little behind on posting the summaries. I missed this session due to holiday plans. But the guys finish off a druid and a weretiger to put the kibosh on the bandit threat, and then get a weird riddle-filled quest to go save a kidnapped geisha, upon which they embark with a startling dearth of “love you long time” jokes. Other than that, you’ll just have to read the summary!