Scorpio I – Zodiac I

“I desire”
positive: loyalty, willpower, magnetism, gentleness, insight, self-control
negative: ruthlessness, fanaticism, revenge, sadism, suspicion, self-hatred – Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”

Do people feel strongly about any of the Zodiac signs?  The only one I think people have any sort of reaction to is Scorpio.  The scorpion image isn’t helped any by the negative traits above.

The point of this series was to take advantage of a source of personality types that people could identify with but which aren’t simplistic or really that familiar and/or take imagery/symbolism from the signs as inspiration for gaming ideas.  While I’m surprised by how many people who have never thought of using astrology to create characters or whatever, I can’t imagine that L5R’s Scorpion Clan wasn’t connected originally to Scorpio.

Take loyalty.  It’s often stated that the only tenet of bushido the clan believes in is loyalty.  It’s even described how to have a Scorpion “not”-ninja fit in with a party of more honorable sorts by stressing that once a Scorp cares about you, loyalty kicks in and the dishonorable scum is only being dishonorable while looking out for the party’s interests.

I understand the appeal of the Scorpion Clan in L5R.  Both from a world design standpoint where you get to have PC ninja and spice things up with a contrast to the idealized belief that bushido is the end all and be all of how to approach the world.  And, from a player standpoint, where it certainly seems that the most popular clan played in Heroes-of-Rokugan is Scorp.  The sneaky, intriguing types get to have side adventures.  Plus, you get to mess with other PCs and have the excuse that you are just playing to stereotype.

But, I don’t really buy the plausability of the clan.  Sure, the background and explanations and vaguely historical tie-ins do a good job of justifying the clan.  But, it’s just incongruous.  It’s just too far away from “gee, there are monsters to the South that need to be kept at bay all of the time” and strikes me as too likely to fall apart politically.  But, most of all, it’s just too extreme.  “You all follow one way of living and we will follow this other way yet we are all …”  Being all part of the same empire is one thing, but L5R puts all samurai in the same religious structure.

Then, I know that different people want different things from L5R and my desire for heroic fantasy is different from those who get off on the intrigue, but it’s so weird to go from fighting oni one day to wondering whether your fellow samurai are messing with your mind another.  In a house game, that’s easily solved.  In HoR, there’s not much you can do but try to cover a wide range of interests, though I think heroic fantasy gets shorted.

By the way, I had the same trouble with the incongruity of Babylon 5 where Sheridan goes from sending the elder races beyond the rim to dealing with secret police.  It may not be any more unrealistic than the alternative, but it’s jarring.

I keep thinking of Scorpion character ideas, mostly involving schools of highly honorable clans as I’m into irony.  But, I just can’t pull the trigger.  I just can’t get behind the idea of playing someone with so much baggage.  Play one straight and you end up with the sort of character I could do without seeing.  Play it against type and you very well may end up with a bad joke that you can’t be rid of.

That’s not to say that Scorpio traits aren’t interesting.  Sure, they sound villainous compared to pretty much every other sign, but that’s too easy.  I’d be good with seeing more heroic characters that managed some of the negative traits.  Of particular interest may be playing a Scorpio who isn’t a Scorpion in L5R.  When the _ cares more about loyalty than the Scorpions do – that’s at least interesting role-playing.  From a mechanical standpoint, it would also be interesting to see a high Earth Ring Scorpion (willpower …).

And, what’s up with “gentleness”?  I keep thinking that should read “gentlemanliness” or something.  Well, that would certainly be a different angle to come from.


5 Responses to Scorpio I – Zodiac I

  1. Azel says:

    i’ll have to check out Heroes of Rokugan (D&D d20 system, right?); i’m used to old AEG L5R. I always thought it made sense because it was the Crab who bore so much of the burden of fighting “the monsters down south” that everyone else was at relative peace and took them for granted. sort of like how the Unicorn were at the edge of the plains towards the desert and had to manage the plains and desert tribes with their cunning and flexibility. sure it’s a thankless job and a lot of work, but the interior never bothers to thing about, enjoying its peace while outposts and bases keep certain parts peaceful.

    sorta like how the Mantis keep the high seas safe, the Phoenix deal with esoteric/philosophical dangers, the Dragon deal with atavistic and cosmic dangers, the Scorpion deal with life at the edge of the Shinomen forest, old mysteries and hidden motivations, and have to keep everyone at their throat as to not thwart the emperor. like, you could live in imperial Rome and not know or care about the dangers going on in Britannia or the Black Forest of now Germany. or how there’s “monsters and incursions” in imperial China and the outposts into Mnachuria and Inner Mongolia left several centuries dynastic peace — only to be stirred up and destroyed from time to time and reset.

    if you can get to a point where you can keep the foreign and scary at bay, and oni are just a palette swap if you think about it (if they could take over, they’d have already done so), then what is there to stop humanity from growing fat and complacent from peace? and from that, it’s only a step away from tearing each other apart needlessly. the Scorpion are there to disrupt the peace. they and others, keep the empire from being fat and complacent, and thus avoid being torn apart needlessly — which would naturally guarantee a Shadowlands’ or Nomadic tribes’ win.

    what really confused me was the Kolat, Ninja, and Spirit army threat so soon after the Day of Thunder. Hidden Emperor was fun, but storywise, how does a newly formed dynasty survive all that upheaval and internal corruption? and then a new lord of the Shadowlands arrives in the form of Kuni Yori amid all that? big ol’ mess. throw in the loss of the moon and the atavistic goodness of trying to find the lost Moon Goddess and you have a soap opera that needs its evil twins and amnesiacs.

  2. iclee says:

    HoR II is using 3.5, an AEG product. Why would I play L5R without the vastly superior d10 system? Well, I guess I would play whatever my friends play.

    The problem with such separation of duties is that it isn’t remotely realistic. The different parts of the empire aren’t that far apart nor are the parts particularly isolated to where people don’t know what’s going on in general all over the place. Then, we aren’t talking about barbarians on multiple fronts. We are talking about a god’s demons located in a known location.

    It’s fantasy. That means you can get away with some stuff, but it also means you shouldn’t get away with some stuff or you fail suspension of disbelief. Intrigue is perfectly believable. Dirty tricks orgs, secret police, whatever are believable. Treating those guys the same as how you treat the artistes, the boy scouts, the magic dudes, the monster slayers, et al is where I have trouble.

    The world is trying to do too many things at once. I enjoy intrigue in the Deryni novels and, while I’ve never read them, quite a few people like A Game of Thrones, but they don’t have armies of demons on the border as far as I’m aware nor this level of artificially segmented society.

    Of course, you could eliminate other features of the world instead and make it more plausible to me. Eliminate the Shadowlands and the focus on intrigue makes more sense while also getting rid of the complete nonsense that is the Shadowlands (oh, the source of all evil is just right over there, but since we are Senpet, Meranae, or whatever, that’s not our problem).

    I actually totally see somebody doing what the Scorpion do, just not anyone recognized for it. It would be individual spymasters in roles fairly similar to the magistrates and use mostly peasants.

    Don’t you find it awkward to have a Scorpion go to another clan’s school or another clan go to a Scorpion school? While it’s not any more plausible flavorwise, I find other crossclan stuff amusing where I just find Scorpion crossclan stuff depressing.

    But, whatever, I care more about the mechanics of L5R than I do the flavor. Even if you take the Scorpion out of the equation, you still have to deal with a society I don’t like and wouldn’t want to live in.

  3. Azel says:

    well, that’s the big thing: it’s far apart enough and society is stratified and regimented to the extreme. but that’s pretty common in our human history so it’s pretty believable. travel around “Rome’s Pond” was dangerous, but pretty common enough. however what happened in Iberia and what happened in Britannia was often far enough to operate different enough and be relatively an unknown quantity to people in let’s say Judea or Trebizond.

    dunno, i’m not used to HoR II 3.5 d10 system. i’m used to the original, original — which is probably a problem. used to the original L5R card game and original 1st print of L5R for AEG. not that that’s better in any way. i’m just used to a very large lay of space, enough to have huge battlefields and travel from one corner in the empire to another taking months by foot, to speak of nothing bout permission.

    i find it easy to believe for the same reason vampire clans or other national attitudes or tribes works. it makes sense in terms of feudal regionalism. just like Crusader Kings i’m playing now, feudalism treats like class/caste the same — however regions can be wildly different in terms of local tech, laws, development, etc. and it all goes back to how dynastic control leaves a fluid mix in boundaries leading to a lot of infighting, however leaving a resilient front in the face of greater regional threats, such as Mongols or Muslims. suddenly culture, religion, dynasty, trade partners, all take a back seat to regional threats — only to immediately infight as soon as the Papacy says the Crusade is off. it’s a wholly alien mindset, but the video game gives an excellent assessment to how such a diffuse and counter-intuitive system can work in the face of common enemies, let alone see each other as equals.

    however i do agree the game is trying to do waaay to much. i had no idea that they incorporated the Legend of the Burning Sands material into the new HoR; mentions of Senpet aware of the Shadowlands is intriguing. from my brief stint getting into LBS, the evil was more an issue of atavistic proportions. gods of Kali, Vishnu, Hashassins, the “Greek” Yodatai colonists, the “Mali and Sudanese” Deneb traders all had varying demons and evil on their periphery, but it was over the Jewel of the Desert city they were fighting. to think that the source of all evil for all those undefined (at the time) regions is now the Shadowlands next to Rokugan is rather a shocker to me. hmm, new info.

    i like to think of the Scorpion, and all the clans, really working off of public faces versus personal faces. or perhaps better, various public faces continuously, like layers of an onion and maybe there is no real core. so Scorpion’s play the role of the dark house of cruel machinations — but no one acknowledges them as “the secret police that keeps the Emperor safe from united forces.” just like the Crane, as i would play them, are perhaps second only to the Scorpion in terms of organized espionage organizations (they have courtiers *everywhere*), but just better at not having a public face attributing them to any dastardly deeds. the Scorpion could hide it, but choose not to, because their role is to play the public villain. in fact, from the original RPG, the Crane was said to be the best resistors to Kolat incursion because of how suspicious they were and how advanced their spy network is.

    it would be just like how european courts started to be famous for certain attitudes. fosterlings are hugely important in feudal dynastic strategy. you sent your first son to the courts of France or Hungary/Austria to learn courtier life, decorum, espionage, and ruthlessness, you sent your second son to England or Germany to learn navy or army, sent your youngest son to Italy or Byzantium to learn the church and intrigue. some courts became well known for certain things. France became known for refinement, but often deadly from backroom intrigues. Russia famous for brutality and espionage. Austria-Hungary for refinement and military prowess. Byzantine for elaborate intrigues and advanced technical weaponry (cavalry cataphracts and new naval firepower). very much comes off the same as Rokugan or 7th Sea or burning sands.

    however, i will say, just like i find Vampire played with poor awareness of the mindset necessary, i found 7th Sea played the same way. i cannot imagine how backward and incorrect Rokugan would be played (to my expectations) if i ever played here with people. a real deep awareness of feudal thinking is essential for all of these games (i have yet to find a decent playgroup depiction of Camarilla and it’s court-like feudal system). throw in a Japanesque, quasi-East Asian world view, along with stronger caste systems, and more rigid and alien codes of conduct, and it’s almost too much. now throw fantasy into the mix, and it’s almost impossible to do it justice. people will almost always be lost in trying to run that *and* trying to run the dynamics of a party. something’s gotta give.

    i also find In Nomine almost impossible to run for the same reasons. the characters of angels or demons is far too alien for most players to even attempt. add in a nigh-mandate that groups of players work as “a party” (whatever that means) and you have a recipe for disaster. i actually find the social pressure to run party dynamics as some sort of commando squad on a dungeon run one of the biggest liabilities for running RPGs.

  4. iclee says:

    I’m not saying other nations recognize the Shadowlands as anything more than a bad place. But, that in itself, strains my suspension of disbelief as people actually talk to each other and someone would finally come up with “Hey, demons living over yonder sucks, why don’t we just nuke ’em?” The idea that other societies exist in the same world as Rokugan is highly problematic on a lot of levels.

    Anyway, I agree that a/the fundamental problem with L5R is that players don’t really understand the different mindset. But, then, it’s a mindset I don’t like, so I don’t mind the trappings of Japanese culture. The problem is that you don’t know where the line is and you get incredible inconsistency.

  5. Azel says:

    hmm, yes. “There Be Demons Here,” would be a rather hard sell if everyone had a rough idea where it was on a map. it’s rather different than “terra incognita, where the evil marauding nomads come from.”

    however, from the card game, we were used to demons showing up almost anywhere in Rokugan, because any hero could be tempted to make a pact with an Oni. this in turn would lead to demons running around loose in the heart of Rokugan, and wacky hijinks would ensue. i though that’d be common enough as to keep people busy. too strong to banish them away for good, but not strong enough to break through our barriers; the best they can do is infiltrate us through our weaknesses. but yes, that’s a weird role-playing challenge.

    yeah, it’s definitely NOT a happy place to be. in fact, i’d say the same about being in either Camarilla or Sabbat. they should be incredibly removed from being a happy place to be. part of the challenge, i suppose. but most players want a dungeon crawl, so background and its complications often become extraneous.

    as you can see, i am most easily identified as a role player rpg archetype. give me a complicated character and a good audience and i might even flip into the dreaded thespian rpg archetype. i play well with groups, even though i keep finding the experience lacking when we get bogged down with combat and loot. :( not the munchkin power gamer here….

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