Tuesday, 22 March 2016

[Actual Play] 5th Edition in Pre-Medieval Japan: Session 2 - Musseling in Where One Ottern't

The blog is not going to turn into me just obsessively cataloging what happens in gaming sessions. But this post is yet more of it nonetheless.

The three philosophers Monomi, Goro and Terasu had gone in search of the lost population of the Emishi village of Niseko, and discovered that an aggressive group of Emishi hunters, operating from a series of river caves, had kidnapped the Niseko band in order to slaughter them for a local kamuy, the river mussel god. They had killed some members of this group of hunters and now had two of them hostage.

The three philosophers decided to rest for the night to recover their powers magical, mystical and physical, and then go in search of the river mussel god the next day. But in the night Monomi was disturbed by a bird call which seemed obviously to be made by a man rather than a creature. He woke the others and Goro was able to use his telepathy to get out of the captives that they had to make the call of a raven in return in order to signify that all was well. By the vagaries of fate, Terasu had the power to do precisely that, and communed with the local kamuy in order to do so. His raven call convinced whoever was outside the caves to approach. The three philosophers doused their torches, and soon enough five men appeared, entering the caverns; in a sharp fight two were shot dead by the arrows of Goro and Monomi and the others fled; Monomi gave chase to the others and killed them with his shugendo powers as they attempted to wade upstream. He then floated back down the river, to the others, meditating on the fleeting nature of life and death.

As dawn crept over the sky the three philosophers headed North with their captives, to the waterfall lair of the river mussel god. They had decided to attempt to negotiate with the kamuy, primarily through Goro, who was versed in the art of communication with beings otherworldly. They discovered a waterfall some 4 or 5 yards high, with a deep pool at the bottom; to its left carved into the cliff face were steps, and a little further to the left, a cave. After tying up their two captives (and promising to let them go if they survived), they decided to go up the staircase first to investigate what was on top and found another cave on the opposite bank, with a guard standing outside. In the water, tied together to a rock, were the decaying corpses of five Emishi villagers. The guard issued a challenge in Emishi; Goro was able to communicate to him that they had come to pay homage to the river mussel spirit. In return, he was informed that they must go to the pool below and call the god forth.

The three philosophers duly did so, and from the depths of the pool came the figure of a woman, naked, with very pale blue eyes. Accompanying her, emerging from the forest behind the three philosophers, appeared two bears. The three philosophers paid homage, and decided to offer her their services. They discovered that she was the sworn enemy of the otter god, whose people preyed upon hers; she was using the nutrients from the bodies of human beings her followers could capture in the forest to build her strength in order to fight back. The three philosophers promised to help her defeat the otter god, and learned that this other spirit's weakness was its curiosity. They headed off downstream in search of an area in the river which the local Emishi referred to as 'the salmon king' - a calm place in the river where salmon congregated. Before doing so they released their two Emishi captives as promised, though not without some debate as to whether to fight them to the death afterwards.

They found 'the salmon king', and, knowing that the otter god was insatiably curious, Monomi played a mysterious tune on his flute while Terasu burned incense. This did not attract the otter god but did bring some Emishi women, who seemed to have been in the area gathering berries, to the far bank of the river. Goro used a magical cantrip to paint an image of an otter on the surface of the water; the women responded by gesturing upstream. The three philosophers headed in that direction and within a short period of time had found a family of otters playing in the water. One of these revealed herself to be the otter god.

After debating the nature of joy and sorrow with Monomi for some time, the otter god eventually revealed that she knew of the river mussel god but had always viewed their relationship as being cyclical, with the mussels growing from nutrients in the river and the otters growing from the mussels in due course. The three philosophers had initially planned to find some way to get the two spirits to fight each other, but through conversing with the otter god they discovered that there were some Emishi elders who could prevent animal kamuy from transforming back and forth between their true form and the form of a person. The three philosophers then hatched a plan. If they could gain the knowledge of one of these Emishi elders they could cast a spell on the river mussel spirit to force her to remain in river mussel form. They could then carry her downstream to a place close to the Japanese settlement of Kawa-no-kuchi, where she could live off the nutrients of the burgeoning village, and this might persuade her to no longer use the nutrients from human corpses to build her power.

And thus the session ended, with the three philosophers about to head to the friendly Emishi village of Okoppe to see if they could find an elder who might teach them a spell for controlling the shape-shifting power of a forest kamuy such as the river mussel god. 


  1. Brilliant stuff - evocative, original and above all entertaining!

    There's something about a mussel spirit - of all things - that really captures the, ahem, spirit of animism.

    1. Lots of Ainu songs are about different animal gods. One of them is a river mussel. My originality is a thin veneer. ;)

  2. Ah, but it's the knack of winkling out (here almost literally) the strange: as they reportedly say in the antiques trade, "you have the eye".

  3. "They headed off downstream in search of an area in the river which the local Emishi referred to as 'the salmon king' - a calm place in the river where salmon congregated." Awesome!