Right. Fantasy Japan time!
When last we’d left off, the party had played Hangman and gotten a wizard’s tower, along with heaping cartloads of loot.
They were, of course, prevented from enjoying it. They had to rush back to their current benevolent Marty Stu, Arns’gyr/Arn’gyr/Arun’ger “Depending on how Marty feels like spelling it today” Ravenscroft, who is also Acererak, the leader of several kingdoms in various guises, and secretly manipulating both players while also overtly manipulating them. He’s leading a k-tuple life where k is ludicrous, and he can do it because he’s “just that badass”. The whole thing kind of reminds me of the Wobblies from Paranoia (although he doesn’t like Paranoia much); if you actually trace all of his secret identities, he’s got secret identities as spies spying exclusively on his other secret identities for the benefit of still other secret identities. Everything is just as planned, and Marty thinks this is just so cool. He’s also explicitly described as being able to defeat the Dragons the party’s trying to kill, because what Elminster Problem? He’s even described as being able to defeat a clone of Marty in a “fair fight” – but, of course, Marty would always cheat better.
He is every bit the twit he sounds. Rick rightly doesn’t like such a needlessly manipulative bastard; he needs Lily to more or less drag him off to see the resident Xanatos Speed Chessmaster. In his pause-laden, sanctimonious way, he tells them to go get a magic sword from some kingdom with too many apostrophes in its name. Apparently he has/is all the spies needed to know where this sword is, what it does, and why they need it, but he can’t just pop down and get it for them. Instead, they need to ask the Emperor of Fantasy Japan for it.
Quick disclaimer: the player accounts I have are all spotty and indistinct, and my queries to Marty about it were months earlier, so much may have changed. I hope it did, anyway.
Marty, see, knows about as much about Japan as he does about middle school science, so this place has more in common with Wonderland than anyplace else. He knows everything he likes is Japanese, but has never actually researched the history of Japan; instead, he’s simply inserted all the elements he likes into a vaguely medieval generic fantasy world and stripped out everything else. Everyone chugs sake and eats rice balls, all day every day, except when they eat sushi (or, come to think of it, bread). A rabble of “shoguns and daimyos and prefects” (emphasis mine) rules a serf caste of “basically rice farmers”, and above them all is the Emperor, who sits all day composing haikus during endless tea ceremonies with a bazillion geishas and courtiers (when he’s not reading manga). Armies of samurai run around with katanas and only katanas, mounted archery be damned, except when they’re sneaking around in black bodysuits “as ninjas”. These are probably distinct from the ninja training schools on remote mountaintops that also teach mangled Buddhist philosophy. In similarly ludicrous fashion, we’ve got peasants committing seppuku and “samurai merchant lords”. The education system’s got sailor suit school uniforms (not gakuran, though), nationally standardized exams, and very important clubs, by the by; apparently samurai go through public school like anyone else, and that makes the system a meritocracy.
I feel like Milo from Atlantis; there’s bullshit here from every era.
I admit, I’m being a stickler for historical consistency here. It’s not like he ever explicitly said it’s Japan, but still, the skein of Japanese names and architecture over everything doesn’t sit well when there’s no rhyme or reason to the anachronism. I’ve done crazily jumbled-up settings before, but neither so disparate nor so unjustified. There just isn’t enough of any one element to explain its own existence, let alone the conflicting parts. There are no sword hunts, but peasants still exclusively use “peasant weapons” that double as farm implements; they have ample supplies of high-quality steel, but still make katanas via folding and armor via laminating. They don’t even have the rainfall for rice, let alone the coastline for fish. Welcome to Utah; try the sushi.
All of this pales, however, next to the Celestial bureaucracy that got jammed into the rest of it. Yes, apparently this pseudo-Japan uses a Chinese sort of pantheon…but without the Grand Tao. There’s a Jade Emperor sitting on top of a giant mountain of bureaucratic immortals, he makes the rules, and they trickle down. Apparently Marty has efficient bureaucrats hope to become celestial functionaries when they die, or something like that.
I should mention here that Marty is a perfect bureaucrat…in his own mind, anyway. He’s the sort of person who writes detailed, lengthy letters to the editor about the treatment of his past letters to the editor; you could set a trap for him with a box, a stick, and a complaints department. He honestly thinks he’s helping to “improve the system” by “giving feedback” to people who are patently not going to change a thing, because if they had the power to make the decisions he wants, they wouldn’t be handling consumer complaints. Complain about anything, and he’ll march you along to complain to the right people…who are clearly the people behind the complaints desk, otherwise why are they there? I kid you not, this is a man who said, earnestly and while sober, “they always pick me for early room selection because I give such good feedback”. Then, too, he’s a time-consumingly ingratiating little sucker; I’ve never known anyone to monopolize so much of the time of so many busy people for no good reason. He doesn’t actually remember anything about them, of course, but he’s convinced that “they save the best things for me at the dining hall because I’m on a first-name basis with them.” So is everyone else. Their first names are etched into their nametags. Besides, if there were ever any “best things” in the food vats, who could see through enough grease to tell?
That, at any rate, is why he constructs this silly toy-train bureaucracy inhabited by people with very neatly arranged pens, and shortly thereafter forces the players to read a bunch of paperwork in order to do anything.. It’s what he thinks is the perfect system because it lets him “make a difference” in his own self-serving, inept way.
For all that, the whole reason they’re here, the magical god-slaying ubersword, has a fairly recognizable backstory: forged by a god who then got killed with it. It’s so sharp it cuts the air, never chips or scratches, has been around since the dawn of time, etc. etc. etc. Very specially magical metal stick, style of thing. Naturally, no “inferior gaijin pigdog” (different countries, Marty…) could ever be trusted with the holy sword Amegiri/Anigiri/Onigiri. So either it’s cutting wind or it’s a rice ball, but either way it’s not leaving the Emperor’s side. And yes, he wears the atom-splitting uber-sword around every day, because he is always in full ceremonial dress.
Naturally, we need a Convenient Event to happen to allow them to prove themselves worthyish. Lo and behold, that day, the entire court takes a nap. Right in the middle of the afternoon bacchanal and poetry slam, they apparently have naptime.
Then mind flayers and psions attack, and the party makes a minimal contribution to their being turned into neat chunks by “a combined force of samurai and ninja monks”. Apparently the entire Forbidden City was napping, because someone parked an invading psychic monster army on the lawn, and they fight their way to the Emperor and defend him because he’s sitting on the only reasonable chokepoint. Construct siege engines are shredded, another few thousand bodies add to the kill count, and the Emperor favors them by making them “minor nobles”. They’re “shoguns” now, apparently; it still freaks me out to pluralize that.
Anyway, the Emperor offers them “any boon [he] can grant”, and apparently this came with raised eyebrows and pointing at Riceball the Wind-Cutting Sword, because that was the only boon it was “feasible” to grant. Pick a card, any card, no not that card, this card. They get to borrow it for a while, and they have to return it just as they received it. I kid you not; they signed a rental agreement for the god-slaying sword of ages.
Next time, things get surreal.