The Player's Experience

In his browser, he clicks on his bookmark for RONIN

The game greets him by his nom-de-guerre and offers him a webpage with several frames:

The player glances through the log, presented to him by a kneeling samurai:

Three new men were raised on his estates during the last 45 hours. With training and seasoning, they might replace the men he lost to Harrison. He will apprentice these three to Yamasaki: the castle needs more samurai quickly, and Yamasaki's swordsmen have the most rapid training.

Still not enough...

The player reaches into a pocket. He pulls out a card: it shows the picture of a Zen archer. He clicks into the Activate Warrior screen. He rubs off the silver blob from the card, and types in the serial number that was printed underneath. The website responds by verifying that he is now the master of Yomotomi Katasuki. He reads Katasuki's stats. Wow! The player is excited. This is almost as strong as the Zen Archer that was listed in the Trading Corner for $35 by some guy in Terre Haute!

He enters the Castle Building screen and studies that weak corner. He could repair the burned gate, but it would be good also to extend the new moat to protect that gate. Can he afford this? He looks at his reserves. Need to keep some cushion. Maybe just a higher wall would help?

He is suddenly interrupted by Iko: A band of Samurai is approaching the gates. Let us see what mon they are flying? It isn't Harrison. Who is it? How come nobody knows anything about this band?

Then he remembers: that little fat monk was always the one who knew everything. With his queer sect of Buddhism spread out throughout the islands, the monk had been able to tell him all the political affiliations and all the history of anyone he encountered. And Harrison had captured the monk in his last raid. Although the player has given standing orders to his men to commit seppuku rather than be captured, they very rarely do. Least of all this alien little monk that the player himself had captured during a raid last week in the East.

Clicking to the Play Ronin screen, the Player hails the chief of the strangers stnding before his moat. Meanwhile, he rapidly assigns his men to new defensive positions, doubling strength at the gate that was burned and still not replaced. And he sends Kikotomi to scout the enemy.

Where will he put his new Zen Archer? In the inner courtyard, he will command both doors and protect the Daimyo, but better perhaps to staion him where he can protect the gate. It is a more vulnerable position, and it would be awful to lose this fighter whom he had just bought yesterday, but the Archer is tough, and he'd bought him to use him, not just to add the card to his collection. The Archer goes out to cover the approaches to the gate.

The stranger replies that he is the Black Crow, and he is a vassal of the Naomi, mistress of the Hanto region and soon the leader of all of Honsho.

In her dreams, thinks the Player. But he has heard of Naomi, and in fact assaulted a castle last week that was under her protection. She didn't seem to be able to help her vassal much, except to send threatening messages. He probably would have taken the castle, if it weren't for the fact that his own Lord Hilo had ordered him to call off the attack. Some political accommodation between Naomi and Hilo.

I guess that deal is breaking down, he thinks, and sends a carrier pigeon to Hilo with the news that Naomi's vassal Black Crow is threatening his gates.

Black Crow recommends the Player get on the winning team and join with Naomi. If he surrenders now, he can keep his castle. If not, the Black Crow's banner will fly from the battlements and the Player's head will be on a pike before sunset. The Black Crow has eight championship swordsmen who will cut through the Players men like straw before a scythe.

The Player stalls for time, waiting for Kikotomi. He turns up, with his report: Black Crow has eight swordsmen, all right but only two are accomplished warriors: the one with the green sash and the famous one-armed swordsman that the Player has heard about. What a prize! The Player is anxious to begin the fight and will attempt to take the One Armed Samurai without killing him. Iko tells him that a Black Crow spy was seen around the castle, and the Player must assume that the enemy will assault the ill-fortified corner with the burned gate.

He instructs the new Archer to shoot at anyone within range of the front Gate, except the One Armed Samurai. The other forces are arranged near the compromised corner. First an arrangement of weaker men to put up a creditable defense. When the enemy punches through them, he will fall back and allow the enemy to enter the Great Hall, which leads directly to the Player's own chambers, where his character was directing the battle.

Like a chess King, this piece is critical: when the piece is killed, the Player's life is over. His territories are lost, his men are all gone (except that expensive vaulter, whom the Player had deactivated. It had cost him seven dollars and it wasn't very useful in defensive warfare.) Unlike the chess King, the Player's avatar is one of the most powerful individual fighters. Many players lead their men personally into battle, and this gives them a great advantage: not only is the leader an excellent fighter but his proximity provides a large boost in morale, which influences the odds of battle significantly.

But the Player is far more cautious. His leader stays in his protected quarters, safe and also serving as bait for the trap of the Great Hall. As the forces enter the Hall, he will pinch off their retreat. He will then divide the enemy within the Hall, isolating the One Armed Man and exterminating anyone else who does not escape.

Already there is action. The Archer fires at approaching footsoldiers who stay just out of the range at which the Archer is accurate, but within the range where he will shoot. The Black Crow is smart, emptying the Archer's quiver. The Player instructs the Archer to be less aggressive - to conserve his arrows. (There are only nine left now). But he knows that this Archer is very stubborn, and his instructions will not be heeded long.

But these footsoldiers at the Gate are a feint. The real force is attacking at the weak corner now. There are one-on-one fights between the Player's men and those of the Black Crow. One of the Player's lesser men is killed. Another is wounded. But the Black Crow do not push through into the trap.

So the Player opens his line of defense, pulling back two of his men. The Black Crow men enter cautiously. Is the trap too obvious? Was my last move too transparent? And where is the One Armed Samurai?

The answer comes quickly. While he was distracted at the weak corner, three wall-scalers from the Black Crow have breached his defences on the opposite side of the castle. They attack the Archer quickly, and he is too close to get off more than a single shot. That downs a wall-scaler, but the other throws open the gate and the sword wielders rush in. The Player rushes his men who were ready to ambush in the Great Hall out to meet this force. But they are in dissarray as the Black Crow's forces take up strategic positions in the Players' forecourt.

It gets worse. The third wall-scaler was the Black Crow himself. And during the fighting in the forecourt, he slipped into the Players chambers with one other fighter - the One Armed Samurai.

The Black Crow has promised to put the Player's head on a pike. Maybe it was a mere threat. The Player doesn't have much of a chance. He kneels before the Black Crow.

"Time to slice off your head." No, not now. He had several precious pieces. He had this castle that took him two weeks to win. He has the Zen Archer, although that piece seems lost now anyway.

"Wait, Lord Black Crow, hear me out". This is how the Player became a vassal to Hilo, three days ago, not long after acquiring this castle. "I will be your vassal". Hilo will be enraged that the Player did not fight to the death. Where is the ancient honor these days?

"Why bother," sneers the Black Crow "when I can simply kill you and take everything." But in the end the Black Crow accepts. The Player gets to keep his castle, but receives only 35 koku now from his lands, and he needs to surrender five of his best men including the Archer and the scout Kikotomi. In return he gets four men from the Black Crow. Two are wounded. One is of questionable value. The fourth is a Ninja assassin. Neither man speaks about it, but the Ninja is clearly there to enforce the allegiance the Player swore to Black Crow. And the first order the Player gets is to journey toward the Hanto, to protect the flanks of Naomi's empire while her more elite teams are invading Hilo's lands.

"Oh well," the Player thinks, as he divides his men again into a defensive garrison and an expeditionary force, "The Hanto region is rich. Maybe there is plunder to be had. I just need to watch out now for this creepy Ninja."

The Setting

The game is set in 16th century Japan: an age of violent opportunities:
The Ashikaga dynasty has dwindled to an eight-year old boy. Power has been usurped by the aristocrats of the Emperor's court -the shugo.
Without a strong center, they destroyed one another in war and their authority in the provinces evaporated.
This chaos is gekokujo - "the low overturn the high". During this period an ambitious leader can arise from some rural hilltop to challenge the power of the Shogun.

Properties of Warrior