Actual play: The Mountain Witch RPG

A writeup of our latest Mountain Witch RPG session follows. I’ve probably made mistakes and omissions; my players are most welcome in the comments section.

We had four players, with myself being the storyteller. It was my third time running the Mountain Witch. One of the other players had played the game twice before. We have not gamed together for quite some time, but it was pretty smooth sailing. In a nutshell, the game is played the same way each time. The story is formed during play, but the context is always the same: a group of ronin set out to claim the prize on the head of the witch of Mount Fuji. The storyteller does not prepare a story. Instead, he throws out a series of hooks for the players to use in their own storytelling. But as long as the players are proactive, the storyteller merely challenges them, throwing in adversity after another until the story progresses as needed.

Character creation is a matter of thinking of a color to know your character by (think Reservoir Dogs) and a single feature to make him stand out. There are no numerical statistics. Finally, you draw a horoscope card to determine your nature and a fate card to determine your goal in the game. Thus every player has an actual goal: to meet his fate, in as dramatic a manner as they can manage.

The basic structure is split into scenes. The idea is to build up a satisfying dramatic arc, starting with hints towards the fate and culminating in a satisfying fashion in the final scene. The players get to progress to the next scene once everyone has advanced their fate. They want to be quick about it, because their resources are very thin. The single mechanic keeping things interesting is trust, which allows the ronin to help and betray each other. It’s expendable, and refreshed between scenes. You cannot survive without it.

My players were initially baffled, but everyone got the idea soon enough without much pause. The idea of being free to invent scenes and encounters can be difficult to grasp if you’re used to the game master driven model of roleplaying. After an introductory scene in a teahouse on the foothills of Mt Fuji, the ronin set out.

They were caught off-guard by a mudslide, but persevered to come across a fork in the road and argued which way to go. I prohibited them from arguing, instead opting to resolve the argument with a roll of the dice – this allowed them to give mechanical support (that is, dice) to each other and thus build on the allegiancies which are a major part of the game.

They followed the tracks of a wagon and finally ended up on a clearing next to a steep gorge. The wagon was there, abandoned, with the clothes of a woman and a child left there. Because the players had not advanced their fates yet, they were attacked by gray men (perhaps ghosts of a kind) from the forest. After the fight the ronin set deeper into the woods and made camp.

The next day saw the ronin climbing to the witch’s castle. They first came across an abandoned village, covered in large feathers. They were attacked by flying man-demons (I dubbed them tengu). After a bloody fight the ronin were free to make their way to the castle gates. On the way they spied a strange flying man – not a tengu – and a dead man grasping a note, telling of a noble coming to visit a nearby castle. This was the first time the players exhibited ownership over the narration, one player adding a detail to the scene (set up by me, as the storyteller) and another upset by this, having plans of her own which were now hampered.

On the gates, in the beginning of the final scene, things went every which way. There was a dead woman outside the castle walls. One of the ronin recognized her and promptly committed ritual suicide. Another ronin acted as his second. (Yes, we were all surprised.) At the same time one of the ronin took another’s gun (he had gunpowder weapons) and made her way to a side entrance. It turned out the one taking the gun wasn’t going to rush the witch – instead, he had made a pact with the witch to bring the strange ronin’s extraordinary weapon, which he now completed, then disappearing from the story.

The gunpowder ronin signalled for an artillery strike with a mirror, which crumbled the castle’s gates. Inside, the ronin faced the flying man from before. I forget, but I think he was one of the ronin’s brother, asking the ronin to not interfere with the witch’s plans. Torn and undeciding, the thus confronted ronin sided with the gunpowder man, who managed to access the throne room, where glowing energy spheres awaited. Something was stirring in the ceiling, but the ronin took hold of one of the spheres, and laughed victoriously. He had been after the witch’s secret source of energy all the time – and having secured it, ended his story. The one ronin left decided to accompany the gunpowder guy in his plans for world domination.

As before, the best time was had in debrief, when the secrets were uncovered and mysteries explained. Everyone’s story truly unfolded and people seemed to agree that the game would benefit from playing again, which we intend to do.






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