View Full Version : Bushido: Gempeiji Campaign monthly in Lansing-Metro Detroit area

07-07-2010, 10:44 PM
"The Gempeiji Campaign" is a well established, highly textured samurai-based Role Playing game (RPG) that has been running continuously since 1981. Three members of the group (including the Game Master) have been playing the game together since the Bushido game systems initial publication in 1979. We have "second generation" players.


The Gempeiji [pronounced "ge-m PAY jee"] Campaign is situated in an alternate fantasy worldline of a multiverse, temporally located in the 13th Century, and physically located in Japan relative to our "real world" perspective.

There are a number of implications in that statement that you may not be familiar with or are specific to this campaign, so please bear with the explication.

"Alternate fantasy worldline" means game history is the same of ours until shortly after the defeat of the 2nd Mongol invasion of Japan in 1281. After that point history is influenced by Player Character (PC) actions and the design of the Game Master (GM). For instance: the 3rd Mongol invasion never occurred in "real world history" due to a lack of seaworthy vessels following the loss of the invasion fleet and the death of Kublai Khan in 1294, while in this alternate history worldline the invasion takes place (as expected) in Kyushu and South Western Honshu in 1292. Player Characters during that early stage of the campaign had a significant role in the defeat of the Honshu invasion forces. Nevertheless, efforts to repulse the invasion continue in Kyushu. Despite these liberties, a great deal of research and effort is spent in maintaining historically accurate adherence to the feel of the era.

It is "fantasy" in that we accept the mythology and superstitions of the era as reality. Magic is functional, and kami (ancestral or environmental spirits, or others of a mystical nature) manifest and interact with people. The goal is for the players to feel they are interacting in a chanbara (literally "sword fighting") "samurai costume" film like a slightly more surreal version of "The Seven Samurai", "The Hidden Fortress", or "Yojimbo" (all by director Akira Kurosawa). In the same vein, characters can introduce "modern" ideas that are conceptually consistent with the era, if not the locale. However, this is a strongly conservative and consensus oriented society, so resistance to such innovations will be strong and social consequences expected.

"Multiverse" is defined as consisting of multiple planes of existence or dimensions, as well as worldlines branching from different points in the relative reference history. It is possible to travel between planes/worldlines, and "temporal" in that as time flows at different rates in different planes it is consequently possible to "time travel", with the accompanying risks. Temporal paradox is avoided because a sufficient alteration in history creates a new worldline branch. (This mechanism was specifically developed to permit playing in scenarios designed for other game systems, and the use of expensive "time bottles" for training.)

One example of the multiverse is that the kami reside on the Spiritual Plane even though they manifest on the Material Plane where people reside. Temples and Shrines house the alters that are gateways to the Spiritual Plane. Pray at a shrine dedicated to a particular kami and anyone's prayer may be granted with a personal audience on the Spiritual Plane to make their case. Another is that the group once bargained with a greater kami for transport to (and from) another plane which operated under the rules of a different gaming system. This was effected through that kami's shrines. The "time bottle" effect is the result of entering a training facility on a plane with a different rate of time, where for example, a day there is only an hour in the campaign. The characters age at the subjective (locally experienced) rate, so it is necessary to track your subjective, rather than "base reference timeline chronological", age. (We have developed an appendix to the rules explaining this concept in detail.)


The game system used is "Bushido", authored by Paul Hume and Bob Charrette as published by Fantasy Games Unlimited; and supplemented by expanded, extended, and enhanced "house rules" developed by various members of what is now called the "Gempeiji Campaign Gaming Group" since 1981. The "Gempeiji Campaign" itself has been in continuous development under the same GM since 1985.

Formal compilation and documentation of the "house rules" began in 1995. They are available on the group's wiki page in the "File Library" section under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License at "http://bushido-gempeiji.wikispaces.com/". The "house rules" are always a "work in progress" and the website version is updated as necessary to keep the players current; usually 3-4 times a year. The "house rules" themselves total approximately 125 KB in ZIP compressed files.

The game is hosted in players homes on a rotating basis, though no player is forced to host the event. The members who began the campaign now live in separate communities in the Lansing-Metro Detroit areas and adopted the rotation of location scheme to equalize the commute burden. This has served us well as members come and go over the years. The sessions are generally held monthly on a Saturday from noon until 8pm or so, with variations as dictated by the needs of "real life".


The campaign has been an open-ended realistic story-telling style since the inception. Characterization consistent within Japan's social context of the feudal era are core values. New characters are expected to have a background story that can be plausibly included within the group dynamic and distinctive personalities from that of the player are encouraged. "Role Play" is emphasized. Any type of character is possible, but should exist within the constraints of a highly structured and stratified society that places a premium upon manners, conformity, loyalty, honor, and long term (generational) planning ambitions. Experienced players run multiple characters if they so desire. The group has had all of the standard "book" classes: "Bushi" warriors, "Budoka" martial artists, "Shugenja" mages, "Gakusho" priests, "Yakuza" gamblers, "Ninja" spies; as well as the campaign developed "Yamabushi" warrior-monk split class and the "Katari-be" entertainer class.

The "Code of Bushido" is evolving and has not yet been formalized. The role of the samurai is only now emerging from that of a mercenary to a strong political force. Authority has been shifting from the Emperor to the Shogun (war leader) and the Bakufu, the military government, but the new Emperor is trying to wrest it back. There is a weak "central government" with limited control over the country, and much internal conflict as various Daimyo contend with each other to expand their fiefdoms. It is a very turbulent time, with much opportunity for the ambitious.

Advancement to 3rd level is fairly rapid (about a year of play on average), but the majority of characters are between 3rd and 4th. One of the characters has only just recently reached 6th level and another is just short of it, after 25 years of play. A third, started only a year or so after the start of the campaign is only about half way to 5th. This is not a campaign for "power gamers" or the impatient. About 75% of the time is spent in role-play and 25% in combat. Many sessions have no combat at all. (The exception to the rule was during the "Honshu defense campaign" period of the 3rd Mongol Invasion where every session involved a 3 game-day long battle.)


The current GM has been running the campaign since 1985. He has experience with many styles of play up to "high-level, high power" games where characters are transplanar demi-ghods. While creating the basic plot line, he keys off player roles and goals, with an emphasis on creative and unexpected, but "realistic" turns and events often sparked by player discussions of what they perceive or suspect is driving events. He has commented that PC reactions and decisions have often twisted the plot in unexpected directions. Quite literally, no one knows where events will lead. The plot is a true "interactive improvisation".

In a long established campaign, it should be recognized that the older established characters will tend to dominate play. To counter-act this tendency, we have several "sub groups" of characters based upon comparable levels running different missions. The experienced players either have additional characters in the sub group of the appropriate level or run NPCs with that group. The GM restricts focus on any one sub-group to roughly an hour at a time to ensure all players present get a fair share of "game time".

Eventually the sessions started to be recorded and then transcribed into "logs" in the form of a pseudo-diary by one of the PCs in order to keep track of events and plot threads. Consequently we have two logs of activity: a session log that tracks the events in current subjective time for each group from the recording, and a "chronological log" (constructed from the session log) that organizes the events in a collective sequential order corresponding to the "base reference time line". These logs are posted to the group's Wiki site roughly 2-3 weeks after each game session. [It takes approximately 2.5 hours to transcribe and edit one hour of recording, and another matching hour for hour to reorganize into the chronological version.]


Previously: the group rescued (unknowingly) the sister of the Emperor (who thereby avoided a public scandal). As a reward, the ranking samurai of the group was appointed Daimyo of a remote rural province called "Gempeiji" by the Emperor instead of the Shogun. The new Daimyo Matsudaira took his companions as retainers and headed north, where they pacified the province and he married a neighboring Daimyo's daughter. When the Mongols invaded for the third time, he sent a company to the country's defense, led by his court magician, Klaiban. [By this time the player of Matsudaira had moved away from the area and he was now a "Non Player Character" (NPC).]

Currently: the mage Klaiban was instrumental in achieving the defeat of the Mongol army that had recently succeeded in capturing Kyoto, the Imperial capital city. Klaiban's most significant contribution to the successful campaign was not through his own mystical prowess but rather through his social connections. His sensei (teacher) was able to arrange for the magical transport of the army in which they were members to a blocking position where they pinned the Mongols in place while a second force came in from behind and crushed them between the two forces. His yakuza "merchant scribe" was able to loan the army the money to pay for the magical transport because he had won a bet with a kami, resulting in 100,000 copper pieces being transformed into gold. (The character's group was the only unit to survive the battle intact. Their role was the blocking force: the "anvil" to the other army "hammer".) As a reward, the mage was given a significant portion of the loot from the enemy camp and appointed the Daimyo of a province whose previous leader had died. (The playing out of this one year military campaign occupied 5 years of real time.) His companions have all accepted positions as retainers in his service or employment. (New characters will not have to become retainers. Given that PC retainers are now being sent off on their own separate (level appropriate) missions, there are still plenty of opportunities to meet up with and accompany them.)

[BTW: the 3 longest run characters all voluntarily minimized their activities during the "Honshu defense campaign". The mage was bound by "mutually assured destruction" convention from any offensive acts except in self-defense, and the yamabushi and yakuza (passing as a merchant employed as a scribe) only entered combat when their side was losing and then only to protect the mage. They primarily earned their experience in support tasks because that was more appropriate for their characters professions and social positions. Their appearance on the actual battlefield during conflicts was regarded as highly unusual and unexpected.]

However, the new Daimyo Nobunaga Klaiban is discovering that the realities of his new position are much more complex than they appeared on the surface. First, the province he was appointed to still had it's original Daimyo (Lord) alive and in residence. (Apparently due to faulty communications about the status of the Daimyo and his succession. Or was it?) One of the samurai in the advance party sent by Klaiban to scout out the situation in the province (a PC) was arrested and hanged as a warning to the would-be usurper, and the merchant factor they had dropped off enroute to make trade arrangements in a neighboring province (another PC) was arrested and tortured because the party was accused of being arsonists (so, who actually set the fire, and the blame?). [The hanged character was resurrected, and the tortured character survived to eventually be acquitted. The only permanent character deaths in the campaign have been "self inflicted".] Negotiations resulted in the "new Daimyo" being given a different province to manage. Then the new Daimyo learned he was not an independent ruler, but more the superintendent for the absentee noble landlord who owned the province. And that his new province had been overrun and the economy destroyed by the Mongols. His "patron" wants full production restored, but generously has allowed him 3 years to accomplish it. As only 10% of the previous population has survived, he needs to attract immigration. Then, all of the coin and the best of the magic items from the looted enemy camp were stolen and a number of his NPC retainers slain by "interplanar bandits".

Now he and his principal retainers (other PCs) discover that: 1) his new province is host to the annual gathering of the 6 million kami of the land, including the emperor, which requires a major rebuilding effort for not only the shrine but also to provide housing accommodations for the court; 2) he has major magical test happening in a month; 3) he has to renegotiate the treaties with the dozen or so major resident kami, who all want him to cover the past due payments of the old treaties before they will agree to new ones, which require individual visits ASAP; 4) some of his retainers (PCs) have unearthed the resting place of an ancient sword artifact and have been geased (i.e., compelled to undertake a quest) to take it to the Emperor in Kyoto (whether the emperor or they want it or not); 5) the kami of one of the two economically vital lakes in the province wants him to remove and properly dispose of the 36,000 corpses from it sooner than yesterday or she will "release the Kraken"; 6) the kami of the other lake wants him to remove the blocks of stone from the dismantled castle that have left it with an effective depth of two inches before shipping and fishing can resume, but at least he will wait until spring before he gets irate; 7) all of the survivors of the province have been drafted into farming to ensure there is enough food to survive the winter, so there is no available manpower for anything else, and now that they are "land owners" they don't want to return to their old, less prestigious occupations; and 8) "oh yeah, your wife will be arriving with both sets of quintuplets shortly". (He's living in a pillaged merchant's house.)

So, he has sent off all of his trusted retainers to deal with various aspects of these issues; the process of burning the corpses by magic is creating a potential volcano in his backyard; undead creatures are interrupting the transport of bodies from the lake to the funeral pyres; he's trying to persuade the wainwrights to go back to making carts to haul corpses; starving peasant bandits and deserters from both armies are preying upon roads and villages, which is reducing trade and tax revenue; one of his retainers has gone missing and divinations indicate she is being held prisoner and needs rescue from somewhere offshore from Shikoku island; and his military commander has been drafted for a higher calling and is asking to be released from his service. And his "faithful retainers" have this habit of unexpectedly embroiling him in yet more complications.

"Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it." - Ancient proverb

"May you live in interesting times." - Ancient Chinese curse.

"When am I going to be able to resume my magic research?" - Daimyo Nobunaga Klaiban, mage

Wiki Website: "http://bushido-gempeiji.wikispaces.com/"