[L5R] Making etiquette fun

edited July 2010 in Story Games
So, I'm going to get to run a Legend of the Five Rings game soon! I have fond memories of this game from my college days, but since then, it's always been a problem for me. I think a lot of the fun of the game lies in its subtlety. A samurai lays his daisho on one side versus another, and sends a clear signal that despite his kind words, he does not trust you. The etiquette forms a kind of non-verbal vocabulary, but unless the players know that vocabulary, you can't have that subtlety. The last time I ran L5R, I gave a sheet of paper with bullet points of etiquette. The players said it was like homework. That game didn't live out the first night. This time, I've learned a thing or two. I have some ideas for ways I might handle this, but I wondered what the rest of you think. What are some useful techniques for teaching players these points of Rokugani (pseudo-Japanese) etiquette in a way that's fun?

Comments

  • Lend out your copies of Usagi Yojimbo and Lone Wolf and Cub?
  • Posted By: jasonWhat are some useful techniques for teaching players these points of Rokugani (pseudo-Japanese) etiquette in a way that's fun?
    Does authenticity matter?
    Let's assume no.

    Great! Since authenticity doesn't matter, here's how you can enable players to make etiquette fun without having to do any homework.
    I don't actually know the L5R system, so you will need to tweak these solutions to actually fit the system.

    Two different methods:

    1.) The Signal Die / The Etiquette Die / The Scorn Die (stolen from My Life With Master)
    There's a orange d4, and a blue d6, and a red d8. They sit in the middle of the table.

    The orange d4 is the signal die. It's orange to signify: danger, distress, warnings, drawing attention.
    Whenever you communicate to an ally through a secret code, such as the Secret Code of Scarves, grab the orange d4 and put it in front of you.
    The next time you roll dice in this scene, add that signal die to your roll, if the code helped you and your allies prepare for this action.

    The blue d6 is the etiquette die. It's blue to signify great range: you can use it to be cold, or to signify peace and calm. It can go either way.
    Whenever you subtly communicate your true position or feelings, such as laying your daisho on a particular side, grab the blue d6 and put it in front of you.
    Then next time you roll dice in this scene, add that etiquette die to your roll, if it builds upon what you communicate with that etiquette.

    The red d8 is the scorn die. It's red to signify danger, the potential for blood, and the rage it can bring about.
    Whenever you use rokugani and subtle double-meanings to communicate a threat or insult, grab the red d8 and put it in front of you.
    If the scorned attacks or challenges you this scene, add that scorn die to the roll you make in fending them off.
    If you still haven't used the die by the end of the scene, discard it and carry +1 forward against the NPC permanently (until they defeat you in some way, at which point it dissolves).

    There can only be one of these 3 dice sitting in front of a player at any given time, and a bigger one trumps a little one.
    If you use a secret code, take the orange d4. Someone else can use subtle etiquette signals to discard your d4 and take the blue d6. Someone else can make a subtle threat to discard your d6 and take the red d8. The only way to get rid of that red d8 is to challenge or attack the person who scorned you, or to wait for the scene to end and suck up that +1 against you.

    2.) The "So, why did you just do that thing you didn't know you did?" technique (stolen from Apocalypse World)

    When a player says they sit down at the samurai master's request, say (as the GM, not in character) "Alright, but as you sit down, I notice that you set your daisho on the left instead of the right. The grand master raises an eyebrow, possibly offended. Why did you do that? What does that signify?"

    No matter what rokugani explanation they give, it becomes canon and true for your table's setting.
    If their answer introduces a potential conflict, they carry +1 forward for all rolls they make facing that conflict this scene.

    So, if they say "it signifies great respect for him, and that I bow to his wisdom," cool. That's true.
    If they say "it means I plan to kill him in the dark of night," cool. That's true, and they carry +1 forward this scene when facing the repercussions of that little thing they just did.
  • Teach by example! The more you can inject the etiquette and the setting into the behavior of your NPC's, the more players will get used to it and catch on!
  • Joe, that's awesome! Unfortunately, authenticity kind of does matter here. I have one Japanophile at the table, for whom "getting it right" means a lot. Frankly, I'd like to "get it right" myself. The chance to practice the kind of eloquence and subtlety that this kind of game requires is one of my big reasons for playing it, and that could get overturned pretty quickly with collaborative setting creation.

    Kira, I do hope to do some of that, but it seems like a lot of this is (a) so subtle that it will take a lot of burdensome exposition to put out there, and (b) that means they can't use it before they've seen someone else use it. For (a), using the daisho example again, I can say, "The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on his right." That doesn't really teach you what that means, though. To really do that, I need to expand it to something more like, "The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on his right, a traditional gesture of trust, because it makes it harder for him to draw his sword. Had he placed it on his left, where he could draw it easily, he would be giving you a traditional gesture that he doesn't trust you." That feels kind of clumsy to me. For (b), I'm afraid that I'll have upset players telling me, "Well, I would've done that if I had known about it back then!" Once you get to the point where players feel angry or frustrated, you've already lost, I think; you really need to apply something before you get to that point, so you don't ever get that far. At least, that's what I'm looking for here.

    I'm thinking I might use Minutiae from Shock:—just have a bunch of note cards on the table, each with some bit of etiquette. That seems to remove it from the "homework" category, because it's broken up, and not all presented on one sheet. You can browse over them during the game and incorporate them when you need to. There might even be some ways to add some mechanical heft to them (free raise whenever you use a piece of etiquette correctly, perhaps?). That seems like a start, but I'd rather have some stronger options, even if only to back that up some more.
  • Posted By: jasonJoe, that's awesome! Unfortunately, authenticity kind of does matter here. I have one Japanophile at the table, for whom "getting it right" means a lot. Frankly, I'd like to "get it right" myself. The chance to practice the kind of eloquence and subtlety that this kind of game requires is one of my big reasons for playing it, and that could get overturned pretty quickly with collaborative setting creation.
    Authenticity mattering is stupid.
    If you have players saying "I do X while saying Y, meaning I really think Z about W," then you have rokugani.

    Your japanophile should embrace the opportunity to lead with real world examples, help people create a fiction within the framework of a historical truth, and accept that gaming creates a spirit, not a reality.

    You should lead with examples from the book, mentor and reign in people's fiction when it falls outside of your genre expectations, and allow for multiple creative visions at the table.

    [/rant]
    Posted By: jasonUnfortunately, authenticity kind of does matter here.
    Fine, already!
    Posted By: jasonFor (a), using the daisho example again, I can say, "The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on his right." That doesn't really teach you what thatmeans, though. To really do that, I need to expand it to something more like, "The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on his right, a traditional gesture of trust, because it makes it harder for him to draw his sword. Had he placed it on his left, where he could draw it easily, he would be giving you a traditional gesture that he doesn't trust you." That feels kind of clumsy to me
    "The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on the right - in a position that would be hard to draw from. This is a sign of trust."

    or, better:

    "The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on the right - where it would be hard to draw from, in the position of trust. Where do you place your weapons?"

    ...and even better if followed by:

    "You place them on the left?!??! What are you hoping to communicate with that? Alright, rad. He seems to get your message."
  • edited July 2010
    A free raise is a lot. (It's kind of like a loan of +5 on a 3d10 roll, for the uninitiated.) I'd try that before playing with more radical incentives.
  • Posted By: McdaldnoAuthenticity mattering is stupid. ... You should lead with examples from the book, mentor and reign in people's fiction when it falls outside of your genre expectations, and allow for multiple creative visions at the table.
    Good point. Maybe I start with a bunch of points of etiquette already out on the table, and give them room to add more. There's an Etiquette skill in this game, so maybe I can use that in here, too. On a success, it means exactly what they say. If they fail, it still means that--in some places. But there's some other detail that they're forgetting that screws it up. "Oh, yes, it's a sign of respect to the Crane Clan, but among the Unicorn Clan, it's a terrible insult!"
    Posted By: Mcdaldno"The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on the right - where it would be hard to draw from, in the position of trust.Where do you place your weapons?"
    I like that!
    Posted By: ccreitzA free raise is a lot. (It's kind of like a loan of +5 on a 3d10 roll, for the uninitiated.) I'd try that before playing with more radical incentives.
    True, but I don't know of any smaller handle I could really grab onto.
  • Posted By: jasonGood point. Maybe I start with a bunch of points of etiquette already out on the table, and give them room to add more. There's an Etiquette skill in this game, so maybe I can use that in here, too. On a success, it means exactly what they say. If they fail, it still means that--in some places. But there's some other detail that they're forgetting that screws it up. "Oh, yes, it's a sign of respect to the Crane Clan, but among the Unicorn Clan, it's a terrible insult!"
    Yes. This is exactly the best thing to do. Especially if:

    You only have five or so points of etiquette on the table, and each one is written in sharpie on a half index card. Figure out what the lion's share of rokugani relate to (say: weapon placement, tea ceremonies, fans and scarves, greetings and... oh, how you exit the room). Don't state those categories, just make one pre-existing point of etiquette for each. For the weapon placement one, say: Placing your daisho on the right side (where it's harder to draw from) is a sign of trust.

    When you introduce a twist (on player failure), you tie in more of that canonical material. This one requires the GM (you) to be both quick-on-the-draw and knowledgeable. When they blow that etiquette role, and you get to say "oh, but not among the unicorn clan!!!", that's where you get to ground it in canon again.
  • edited July 2010
    Rather than researching etiquette yourself, why not tell the players to do it? Perhaps give them a reward when they use a piece of etiquette they've found.

    If I'm a player, bringing in my own research is fun. I don't want to be taught etiquette. I want to teach you what I've learned about etiquette, based on...well...Wikipedia, probably, but I'll still enjoy researching it.
  • The way I'd do this (in a "screw authenticity" way, since most of that "authentic" stuff is probably from chanbara anyway, where they freely make shit up), is to make a few principles of hidden meanings, and then let people freestyle it. Like:

    Placing things where they're hard to reach signals an intent not to use them, or that you expect not to need them (and the reverse).

    Colours signify feelings. Red is willingness. Black is regret and reluctance. Blue is confidence. Green is hope for the future. Your mistress greets you in a green robe. What is she trying to say? Your enemy's sword is on her left, but the scabbard is black. What does she want you to know?

    Numbers have meanings. One means strength. Two means partnership. Three means conflict. Four is death. Four crows carved into your door. A death threat? But crows are black. A reluctant killer? A single messenger brings you a declaration of war, wrapped in blue silk. They're expecting to win this.

    Times of the day are for different purposes. Dawn is for starting anew. Midday is for battle. Evening is for plots and plans. Dusk is for lovers. Night is for murder. A meeting with your enemy at dawn? What could they intend? The invitation is in rich calligraphy. The word "meeting" is drawn broken into two symbols, rather than the usual one. Partnership? But they've used black ink. Curious indeed!
  • Posted By: GrahamIf I'm a player, bringing in my own research is fun. I don't want to be taught etiquette. I want to teachyouwhat I've learned about etiquette, based on...well...Wikipedia, probably, but I'll still enjoy researching it.
    Huh. I would guess that telling them to research it would make it seem even more like homework, but I think you're right: them having the chance to tell me might make it all worthwhile.
  • edited July 2010
    Why should authenticity matter? Because some people already figured out how to make something work, something you're trying to evoke. Instead of trying to design your own complete system of etiquette to evoke that thing, just steal the existing way of doing it! I don't think inventing your own is really going to be less work and less problems. Making your own could definitely break the immersion for your japanophile friend (who should be valued for his/her knowledge, not treated as an obstacle).

    Here's my trick for sharing etiquette in L5R: teach by having NPCs set the example. If you want to have the PCs bow to a lord, have a NPC of similar rank to the PCs bow to the lord first. This NPC doesn't even have to be important to the story. If you want players to do their own research on etiquette, then let them take temporary control or introduce minor NPCs to demonstrate what they've learned.

    A little more advanced than leading by example is leading by expectation. A geisha might stand by a table, two places set, waiting expectantly for the samurai to sit down before she does. Heck, geisha practically become tutorial guides. In their conversation they could even ask the characters about things that have happened, then give insights as to the etiquette that occurred (or failed to occur).

    Finally, enforce no etiquette until it has been taught. Think of it as fluency play for in-character actions instead of mechanics.
  • Heya, Japanophile and longtime runner of Japanese-themed games here (yep, even L5R):
    Posted By: jason"The samurai kneels in front of you, placing his daisho on his right, a traditional gesture of trust, because it makes it harder for him to draw his sword. Had he placed it on his left, where he could draw it easily, he would be giving you a traditional gesture that he doesn't trust you." That feels kind of clumsy to me.
    It may sound clumsy "on paper", but in real life it works, and works VERY well. In fact, it's pretty much how etiquette was conveyed through the entirety of the L5R campaign I ran about 2 years back.

    The first time you say it, it sounds like an "aside". You can reference it later, but more likely than not you'll have the other players reacting like that in the future.

    If the players do it, too, then you have gestures and etiquette coming through without getting lost on an inattentive or forgetful player/GM.

    Some other examples I've used:

    "As years of meeting with the lord taught you, before you go in to see him his servants search you thoroughly for weapons. However, at this point you're a revered hero. Do you put up with this? OK, you do? Well, how do you act as it's happening? Do you make any frustrated sighs or anything?"

    "Your master calls out and waves you in to his chamber. From past encounters, though, because he is normally a stickler for Phoenix tradition of aloof and subtle set greetings. Something's up."

    "Hashizume greets you with uncharacteristically coolness, bowing low in front of you and offering pleasantries in the manner of perhaps a stranger. She's no stranger to you, though. How do you react? Oh wait, first, make an Etiquette check. 18? OK, she seems to be acting very formal, pretending she doesn't know you that well to those near her. It's likely that she knows someone is listening in. How do you react?"

    "The samurai immediately drops to /plain speech/ from 'honorific speech/ once the others leave. He also affects an accent which indicates that he's from the same region you grew up in."

    Player: "Uh, I want to give this weapon to the Crab lord in the most polite, samurai way."
    GM: "OK. So you basically start at the end of the room, get on your knees, shuffle forth on your knees to about 10 feet from him, keeping the sword out in both hands the whole time. You lay it in front of you, slowly bowing your head to about a milimeter away from the tatami mats, waiting there for about 10 seconds, before scurrying back about five feet. Something like that?"
    Player: "...yep!"
    GM: "OK, then now it's time to offer words about the gift, talking about it's properties. Let's hear it!"

    Etc.

    It's like the "player knowledge" vs "character knowledge" thing. It would be awesome to do all this "in character" (heck, including switching from Keigo to Samurai to Polite to Plain forms; but we don't have them in English, save for the dribble from the Queen's lips, maybe with "Thy" and "Thou" and stuff), but that means that all players have to have buy-in, and know everything at all times. It would pretty much be like running the game in another language.

    Instead, make prompts, issue asides, explain behaviors, but then turn back on the players and ask how they react, indicating that they are seriously free to proceed however they want. The players will probably do things in character that will really show off their character's attitude.

    "I slam my swords to the ground instead of placing them, indicating that I'm tired of this charade."

    "I switch to polite form in front of the emissary, trying to disarm him with a kind of almost improper kindness."
    "He might think that you're a fool, is that OK?"
    "...sure. As long as he thinks I'm a /nice/ fool."
    "Sounds good. Proceed."

    (after being explained that the NPC samurai does not look at your face, as that would show aggression here)
    "Screw that, my eyes are burrowing into his face like daggers."

    etc
    Posted By: GrahamRather than researching etiquette yourself, why not tell the players to do it? Perhaps give them a reward when they use a piece of etiquette they've found.
    This is also a good idea.

    But when you introduce it, have you and the players do "asides" to indicate what it is you're trying to mean.

    Good luck-

    Andy
  • edited July 2010
    Personally, having not read the thread in great detail, I would say that your players should just be upfront about their opinions of NPCs and state how they want to present themselves.

    Player 1 could be like, "Hey, I start talking to him politely but I put out, like, the vibe that I do not dig this guy."
    and then Player 2 (who loves ancient Japan) would be like, "Oh, so you're laying your daisho on the ready side, indicating that you don't trust him?"
    and then Player 1 would go "Yeah, dude, rad!"

    That's probably how I would do it. I like the dice idea, too. This way you can just let the people with the knowledge create the context and help everyone else be cool. I like that.

    EDIT: Oh dude, Andy is on the money. He said it way better. Nevermind my blathering.
  • Ah, but you bring up a good point: In both my case and Jason's case, the people who were excited about/knew about the etiquette stuff were Myself (GM) and One Player (of several).

    Like "shock:" or Ian Millington's Ergo, have one of the players (or GM) "own" the rules/guides to etiquette, and disseminate the information in exactly the manner of framweard's example above. That's definitely what we ended up doing, a lot. Have the players own different aspects of the game, and there's more buy-in and interaction.

    -Andy
  • After reading these replies, I'll only add that in any RPG some players need reminding that they can (and should) ask the GM questions to tap into the GM's greater knowledge about the setting or encounter details that might be obvious but have not yet been communicated.

    These questions could be about character potential, such as, "Do I think my character can jump across that pit?" or, "Looking at how these guys move and their equipment, does my character think she can defeat these three muggers in a fight without getting too badly wounded?".

    Or it could be about the setting, such as, "How could my character use body language to show the prince that he does not impress me without being overtly rude or accidentally picking a fight?" or, "An eight foot tall, neon orange kobold? Has my character heard of these before?"
  • That, too, is an excellent point. I'd add: "can (and should) ask the GM - or the group/GM-appointed "setting details guy" "...

    You're right, it's basically eyeing up the situation in terms of rules or other elements ("How many guards are there?" "What does this grand hall look like?" etc), but with Culture/Etiquette instead.

    -Andy
  • There's an entire section in the Player Chapter of Blood & Honor called "Etiquette (That Matters)". The whole point is to use Japanese etiquette (actually, any culture's etiquette) to communicate information to the other players.

    I used the example of a powerful female daimyo who uses Japan's "no touch" etiquette to her advantage. She's intelligent, attractive and powerful. And she uses personal space and touch to put the player characters off-balance. Because they don't know how to respond, she gets what she wants.

    Or a samurai who turns his sword up when he gets pissed off, communicating, "I'm gonna use this if you don't shut up" to the player samurai.

    If etiquette doesn't communicate information to the other players, it doesn't matter.
  • I like Joe's answer best.

    But, aside from that, another way to do it would be to make sure that the etiquette, and the challenge of learning and using it, is front and center in your game:

    For instance, what if all the protagonists are foreigners, or aliens, demons, in disguise, unfamiliar with local customs and etiquette? But maybe they're demons who are disguised as local nobles, and now have the challenge of carrying out careful diplomatic negotiations. They'll have to use all their resources (like their friends, advisors, servants, magic, whatever) to make sure they learn the appropriate elements of etiquette so as to achieve their ends without giving away the fact that they're clueless.

    I think *I* would be more interested to learn etiquette "in character" (say, from a geisha or after receiving a beating from a samurai) than off a piece of paper before the game.
  • Posted By: Paul T.what if all the protagonists are foreigners
    You can also do this with one of the protagonists being an outsider as well: The ettiquette-play will trickle to the other PCs as we..

    -Andy
  • Posted By: AndyIt may sound clumsy "on paper", but in real life it works, and works VERY well. In fact, it's pretty much how etiquette was conveyed through the entirety of the L5R campaign I ran about 2 years back.
    I've also had very good results using this style. I like it a lot, because it communicates information when it's relevant, instead of relying on people memorizing fact sheets of etiquette that isn't immediately relevant. It also means that you're giving the exact kind of information you want, so nobody will be thrown off by misremembering factoids or looking at an inaccurate etiquette book.

    Be blunt! When a character is being subtle, tell your players they're being subtle! Otherwise, the subtlety will be too subtle and they'll ignore it!
  • Thanks, everyone! A lot of really great suggestions here. As luck would have it, my brother's most interested in playing a Unicorn bushi, so he'll make a great conduit!
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