Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Trigram Chronicles #5

Lushan in winter

Daring rescue in Tongling; our heroes save four from the blade of the executioner

Travel to Lushan to seek the Two Elders; our heroes face four of the twelve Banes

For half a month our heroes recuperated from their injuries at a house in Tongling, under the protection of the Sword Sisters. Then one morning, when Zhang, Soong, and Wu (see PC profiles here) were well enough to be out, they learned that the magistrate had announced that the four assassins who have murdered General You had been caught and would be executed at the city square at noon that day.

The three heroes went to the city square, where a small crowd had started gathering around a stage set up for the execution. Here, Soong noticed that they were being stalked by two men, whom he accosted. It turned out to be Yang Shou and Liu Zheng, two of the thugs they had defeated and sent home a few months earlier. Hearing of the news of general You's assassination, the two had decided to find our heroes and pledge their services to fight against the Qing. Our heroes accepted the two's offer, and gave them instructions to meet them outside the city.

The Sword Sisters warned our heroes that this was likely a trap laid by the Qing, but our heroes would not let four innocent men die for their actions, and so they decided to rescue the prisoners.

The city square was packed even before the hour of noon. Soong surveyed the crowd and noted that several men in plain clothes were watching the crowd more than they were watching the stage set up for the execution - this was indeed a trap! At the appointed hour three men and a woman, all of whom did not know kung fu by their movement, were marched onto the stage. The magistrate, a known corrupt official, strutted onto the stage... but before he could give the order to the executioner, Wu, hidden in a nearby building, threw a needle into this eye, killing him instantly!

The crowd began to panic as the soldiers tried to keep order. A troop of soldiers led the prisoners away from the square, but they were ambushed in an alley by our heroes, who defeated them in short order and set the prisoners free.

Returning to the Sword Sisters' house, our heroes learned that the last of the set of scrolls were known to be last held by the Two Elders of Lushan, who were the founders of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. Now during the reign of Emperor Tianqi, when the corrupt eunuch Wei Zhongxian held much power, famines and natural disasters resulted in much lawlessness in the lands south of the Yangtze. It was then that the Two Elders of Lushan, then know as the Jiangnan Chivalrous Couple, rallied a band of ten other martial artists and their followers to keep order and dispense justice in the region. However as their numbers increased they found it hard to maintain and keep order their band of followers, who turned to extortion to sustain themselves, such that in time they were known as the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. Disillusioned, the two retired to Reed Forest Lake in Lushan, leaving control of the band to the others.

Our heroes met up with Yang and Liu, and together they journeyed westwards to Lushan. Near the foothills of Lushan they learned from the villagers that the Two Elders still lived in a hut in the middle of Reed Forest Lake in the mountains, where they had supplies sent to them every month. Our heroes purchased a boat and some wine and meat, which Yang and Liu carried as the party ascended the mountain. Now even in those days Lushan was known for its scenery, and along the path to the lake were rocks carved with the calligraphy of famous poets from the previous dynasties, but our heroes had little time to tarry and appreciate these.

As they passed through a snow-covered bamboo forest on their way, they were ambushed by black-cladded swordsmen hiding among the bamboo and in pits dug into the ground, whom they defeated. It was thus that they knew their arrival was anticipated, and this was confirmed when they arrived at the shore of Reed Forest Lake, for across the ice floes formed on the surface of the lake came four forms, skipping from floe to floe, to confront them.

Two of these they have met earlier: the Purple Robed Twin Swords whom they fought at Qiyun Mountain. The other two they knew only by reputation: Red kasaya monk and White robed taoist, two more of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan. The four explained that the Two Elders were not receiving visitors, and bade our heroes to leave. Our heroes were of course unwilling to leave without meeting the Two Elders, but knowing that they could not defeat the four in combat, instead proposed a contest, which if they win, the four would give them passage.

Now Yi, the Purple Robed Swordsman, advised his companion against this, saying that our heroes were full of trickery. The Red Monk, however, was impetuous and easily provoked, and challenged Soong to a contest, saying that he would step aside if the latter could defeat him in five rounds. Soong countered his challenge, saying that as he was a junior, the terms of the contest should instead be: if the Red Monk was unable to knock him out in five rounds, he would have to step aside. The Red Monk agreed, and proceeded to attack Soong, who put up a methodical defence. At the end of five rounds, Soong was much battered but was still standing, and the Red Monk stepped aside.

Now it was Zhang's turn. Knowing that the Purple Robed Twin Swords complemented each other with their fighting style, she challenged Wen, the Purple Robed Swordswoman to a duel. Trying to play to their own strength, she attempted to keep the distance and use her throwing knives to defeat her opponent, but Wen was able to close the distance each time, and Zhang was defeated.

With each side having won a round, it now came down to Wu. But it was the White Taoist who proposed the contest: he and Wu would each carve a line of poetry on a nearby rockface, and whoever did the better would win the round. Wu agreed, and won the contest convincingly.

The four then left as they had promised, with Yi again berating his companions for falling for the trickery of our heroes.

Yang and Liu now set the boat on the lake, and the party rowed their way to the tiny island in the middle. As they neared, they saw an old woman sweeping the floor outside the hut on the island. She admonished our heroes for creating a ruckus, and asked them to leave. The heroes announced that they had brought wine and meat as gifts, whereupon a voice from inside the hut welcomes them.

Entering the small hut, they found Feng, the Old Man of Lushan, and presented their gifts. They explained the purpose of their visit, and beseeched him to give them the scrolls. Feng was unmoved by their pleas, and indeed tried to dissuade them from their quest; the way of the world, he observed, was the strong preying upon the weak, and it was beyond the powers of a few to change the order of things. Nevertheless, the wine and meat had put him in a good mood, and he allowed the heroes to stay in his hut for the night.

Have our heroes journeyed so far to fail in their quest? Alas! dear readers, you must await the next chapter of our tale to find out.

Prepping and Running the Game

The plot for this session came more or less organically and from requests made by my players during session zero.

The plot involving the prisoners was of course supposed to be a dilemma for the players: should their characters risk capture by rescuing four unknown? I am glad they decided to, and was impressed by the way they pulled off the rescue.

Yang and Liu joining the party was the result of Zhang having reached level 3 of the Leader class, which gave her followers. I was able to use an NPC from an earlier session to introduce followers in a more natural fashion. 

They have asked for a fight in a bamboo forest, and one on water. I therefore decided to use a battle mat I had in our of my map books that showed a lake covered with ice floes for the big fight in the session, which in turn meant that I had to place the Two Elders in a suitable locale.

The other fight, an ambush in a bamboo forest, is of course a wuxia staple.

The way the final fight turned out was not planned. I had imagined a straight fight, but my players had different plans, and frankly I think they did an excellent job of playing to their characters' strengths while sticking to the wuxia ethos.

The campaign had been fun so far, but the next session, to be played at the end of the month, will be the final one. I have yet to decide what happens in the next session, but I have made it clear to my players it would be the finale session, and asked them where they imagined they would fight General Yen. Their decision was to confront him at the Qingming Festival, where he would return to his ancestors' tomb, presumably with a small entourage. This seemed like a reasonable choice, although I will have to come up with some ideas to make the battlefield interesting.

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