The Bestiary

If there is one section that really typifies the different styles of play available in Daisho it is the Bestiary.

The first part. like in IHMN contains the some of the natural animals  that could be used in the game. Dogs, horses, wolves, bears for example.

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The second covers a few of the many legendary creatures that inhabit mythical Japan. In Daishō the following are available:

  • Centipede, Giant (mukade)
  • Crocodile, Giant (wani)
  • Faceless One (mujina)
  • Fox-Man (kitsune), human form
  • Fox-Man (kitsune), fox form
  • Ghost, Warrior (shura)
  • Lion-Dog (shishi)
  • Lizard, Giant (yamatokage)
  • Octopus, Giant (tako),
  • Shark-Man (kojin), human form
  • Spectre (shoryo)
  • Spider, Earth (jikumo)
  • Spider, Giant (hirata-kumo)
  • Spider, Trapdoor (totate-kumo)
  • Spider, Water (mizu-kumo)
  • Spirit of Place (kami)
  • Vampire (shuten-doji)

How you use these is up to you. A few of them appear in the scenarios we have written in the book. But they don’t just have to be non-player characters, you could integrate them into your buntai, just as you would a Hero of Nippon.

Anything that you choose to do with them, that is not already covered by the rules though, falls under 1.6.3 The Power of Rules.

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The Buntai

Already people are asking us what Buntai are available in Daishō. This can be answered simply by just giving you a list or more complicatedly by describing the Buntai creation process. So we thought we would do both.

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  1. The Buntai in the Book

These are the dozen Buntai you get pre-costed and fully described in the book. Each has its own character and will appeal to different people. We tried to cover all the well-known themes and a few less well-known ones.

The Troubleshooters

When diplomacy fails and the Imperial Court is in danger, the Shogun sends for Mamatu Zaemon and his elite band of warriors. These men are famed for dealing with unpleasant matters with discretion and a certain finality.

Bakura’s Bandits

Bakura is typical of his kind, a ruthless hill bandit, with pretences of social sophistication. He gathers about him a gang of misfits, lost men and thieves. Every Daimyo has to deal with such men.

Sōhei Monks

Some look upon monks as being peaceful servants of the Buddha. However, in these turbulent times many monasteries meddle in local politics and can field fast and deadly warriors. They will fight just about anyone, even other monks.

Clan Patrol

Every samurai clan has a duty to protect its people. The men it sends to do this are steadfast and loyal and will fight to the death to keep their villages safe from bandits, ronin and worse predators.

Ronin

What does a samurai bushi do when he loses his master or is cast out? He could commit seppuku to regain his honour or become a bandit. Some though stil cherish the dream they might one day return to the service of a grateful lord. These form bands of mercenaries that roam the land seeking employment suited to their martial skills.

Ninja

In the shadows, death awaits those who offend the ninja clans. In these times of strife they are much called upon to serve masters for whom ambition trumps honour.

Ikko-Ikki

There comes a time when the heimin, the peasant and merchant classes, can no longer bear the daily humiliations laid upon them by the samurai. Then they rise up and throw off their yokes, turning villages and towns into fortresses, and attract the support of disaffected ashigaru, ronin and sōhei.

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Kabuki-mono

In every society there are narcissistic psychopaths who prey upon the weak. Such are the Kabuki-mono. Mostly of the samurai class these men have really gone over the edge between light and dark. Dressed like dandies, these are men you dare not oppose without good reason.

Ryu

In every town and city there are ryu where men train for years to master the martial arts. Many samurai spend a season in such a ryu to improve their skills. However, there are times when the ryu will march to war, and Buddha help those they take up arms against.

Oni

From the pits of hell these demons pour forth to answer a foolish mortal’s call and make man pay for his hegemony of the surface world. They are huge, unspeakable beasts with ambitions best left unspoken.

Bakemono

Always in the shadow of their larger cousins the Oni, the bakemono have ambitions of their own. They will sally forth in often vain attempts to possess land and demand tribute in mockery of the samurai clans they abhor.

Tengu

No-one can fathom the real motives of the mysterious Tengu. It is enough that they exist in the mist-shrouded forests of the interior and occasionally meddle in human affairs wielding their sorcerous arts and deadly blades.

  1. Creating your own Buntai

As in our previous works we believe that the players should have all the tools they require to build up their own, unique, buntai based upon history, story or myth. For this reason we have written the Buntai Dojo which is in the Bonus Material section of this blog.

Within this mini-supplement is also a full new buntai – the Iron Blossom Geisha.

And to assist you further there is also a points calculating spreadsheet. With Daishō you have no limit but your imagination.

Design Notes – Campaigns

“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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Japanese history is a series of great stories, written about the actions of heroes and villains, honour gained and lost, strange creatures, bold stratagems, personal sacrifice and cunning ploys.

It is in the campaign that players of Daishō shall be able to come closest to the true nature of this game. Where each small victory, each tragic loss, will be felt most keenly. Any man can win a single skirmish, but it takes a master to weld their victories and losses together to become the victor of a campaign.

One must remember that you need not survive your story to win. Take the example of the 47 Ronin who’s final and redemptive act, once they had avenged their Lord, was to commit seppuku. Or the story of Benkei, the half-oni monk, who died that his friend Yoshitsune could commit seppuku in peace. Japanese legend honours such acts.

The Campaign chapter draws heavily upon other chapters such as Landscapes, Scenarios and Complications. These are the brushes with which you shall colour the background to your narrative. What is  most important though is that you create an engaging story for your comrades to play through. Above all other chapters this one emphasises the collaborative nature of wargaming.

Thus we have spent a lot of time discussing and writing this chapter. Of course we have kept to our core principle of KISS and the campaign rules are simple to learn and straightforward to use. Nonetheless this is where players can really wield their imaginations to produce games that will be spoken of in the bars of clubs and shows for decades to come.

To give you an idea of the contents of this chapter of Daishō here are the section headings:

  • Structure and Narrative
  • The Points Pool
  • Capture & Ransom
  • Rewards for Success
  • Battles
  • Grand Finales
  • Victory and Player Awards
  • The Campaign Journal
  • An Example Campaign

Campaigns is the last chapter in the Daishō book, and deliberately so. It is where you bring together everything you have learned and play as a master of your own fate.

Design Notes – Scenarios and Complications

One of the things that caught people’s imaginations with In Her Majesty’s Name was the range of scenarios, and the additional scenario complications. We have put a lot of effort in bringing these concepts into Daisho and ensuring that they are well-detailed and properly balanced.

Now most skirmish games have scenarios and the ones in Daisho cover all the normal bases such as breakthrough, capture the flag and king of the hill etc.. However, in Daisho every scenario has been adapted to reflect the game’s setting, and quite a few are utterly unique.

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Illustration by Tony Yates.

For example in one scenario the objective is to prevent your opponent’s leader from committing seppuku, and in another you must prove yourself worthy to receive a terrible secret from a hermit, sitting under a tree surrounded by a wall of flying knives. More terrifying are the scenarios in which you must escape from an erupting volcano or from a tsunami.

On (honour) is important as it measures your success in a scenario. Your victory will be determined by how much On you can accumulate. The scenarios have carefully balanced On rewards and several have the On split between different objectives so it isn’t winner takes all. Remember that you also get On for taking out your enemies. Keeping an eye on the On situation will lead to interesting tactical dilemmas.

In campaigns On can be spent to improve your buntai and to recover from losses in battle. So getting every last point may be key to your eventual victory.

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Illustration by Tony Yates.

It is in the complications where our range of games differs from most other rules of this type. Each complication adds a layer of difficulty to a scenario that will modify your tactics.

Imagine being in a small town where you have to slay your opponent’s leader. However, this is no free fire zone for there are authorities who may intervene if you begin setting the place ablaze and there are armed civilians who may object to you get too close to them. Also your patron may not be happy if too many locals get caught in the crossfire.

There are other complications that bring in such elements as heavy rain, mist, snow, twilight and night fighting. For those of a religious persuasion there are processions, praying monks, sacred ground and even a ‘Place of Perfect Harmony’.
Some scenarios require or recommend certain complications and most landscapes recommend them as part of their hazards.

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Illustration by Tony Yates.

Currently there are seventeen scenarios, seventeen complications and ten landscapes, which gives us  a little short of three thousand different combinations, and that’s if you only have one complication per scenario

Design Notes – Landscapes

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As part of completing the Playtest Beta Rules it has fallen to me to create the Landscapes section so I thought I would describe to you how I went about this.

As in IHMN the purpose of the Landscapes are to provide players with ideas for their tabletops that will provide a certain level of tactical challenge during the game. It is one of the more unusual aspects of this series and has proven itself popular over hundreds of games.

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The landscapes are not prescriptive, you do not have to use them, but it particularly gives people who are unfamiliar with the genre a feeling for what they could use on the tabletop. In my opinion, even before painted figures it is nicely presented terrain that gives you a sense of satisfaction and immersion in the game’s narrative. After all it is one of the things we all look forwards to at shows.

Each landscape has a description and then suggestions as to the benefits it provides. the hazards you may face and some suggestions for the terrain pieces you might like to acquire and/or use.

The hazards section is often the most interesting as in there we often list Scenario Complications that might be appropriate to the landscape.
Combining a Landscape, a Scenario and perhaps one or more Scenario Complications gives you an enormous number of different potential games to play. Currently our count is 2,720.

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Here is the list we have so far:

A City or Town
The Imperial Palace
Daimyo’s Castle
Temple or Monastery
Village (Agricultural, Coastal/Fishing & Mountain)
Samurai Encampment
Abandoned Temple
The Forest of the Tengu
The Forgotten Village
The Demon Caves of Mount Fuji

If you can think of any we’ve missed or you would like to see leave a comment below.

Designing the Buntai: The Tengu

One of the otherworldly creatures we are going to make into the subject of a buntai are the Tengu.

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In traditional art tengu are portrayed as human-like creatures with a bird’s beak or a long and beak-like nose, wings and tail feathers on their backs, and claws on their fingers and toes. Some of the more monstrous depictions give them scaled digits or lips, pointed ears, mouths full of sharp teeth, three-toed bird’s feet, or somewhat bat-like webbed flight feathers. Like many demons, they are often associated with the colour red, although sources differ on whether this applies to their skin, hair, or clothing.

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Perhaps via confusion with the similarly-long-nosed Shinto deity Sarutahiko, Tengu are also sometimes portrayed with a red face and sans any bird features. This image is particularly common in folk art, like the famous Tengu masks that can be found in many Japanese restaurants.

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I am quite taken with the portrayal of the Tengu in the film 47 Ronin. It nods to the traditional, but brings it up-to-date. Some of the character of the Tengu shown in this film has made it through to my first draft of the buntai.

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So how do you see these fascinating creatures and how would you interpret them for a skirmish game?

Daisho Design Notes 05-07-2014 Heroes of Nippon

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Many of the tales of legendary Japan focus on the heroism of a lone warrior. This was attractive to people in such a homogeneous society. The rebel, the outcaste, the individual hero who sweeps in to save the day and then rides off into the sunset.
When writing up the Buntai we could not leave this out, so we decided to create a dozen or so different lone heroes/villains than certain Buntai could choose to ‘hire’ on a single mission basis. Note though that none of these are leaders, nor do they replace leaders in the Buntai that hires them.
In the Options list for each Buntai you will find one or more Heroes listed. Obviously Buntai leaders will not choose heroes that they despise or that would not serve them, so the list is restricted.
The most obvious such Hero is Benkei, the half-oni warrior monk. In legend he fought alongside a Samurai Lord. In Daisho he will certainly be available to the Samurai and Sohei. We are considering what other lists he might also be available to. Maybe a Ryu or the Ikko-Ikki for example.
Other heroes we are designing include:

  • A superb Ninja infiltrator,
  • A Yamabushi hermit,
  • A Shugenja and summoner of demons,
  • A Sensei from a famed Dojo,
  • A Ronin Bandit,
  • A Sumo Champion,
  • A Shinto Priestess and friend to Kami,
  • An accomplished Noh Actor,
  • A Kitsune Geisha, and
  • A Royal Samurai in disguise.

None of these will be cheap, but they will give players the opportunity to add something special to sweeten their Buntai.
So, do you fine people have any ideas for such a hero? They need not be hugely powerful but they should bring something different to the Buntai’s they choose to help. If we pick one of your ideas you will be credited in the acknowledgements in the book.