Sword of the Samurai

“Oh come on, this isn’t even remotely fair!”

Sword of the Samurai by Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith

Sword of the Samurai is a rather self-explanatory title. Location: Hatchiman, on the continent of Khul, on the world of Titan. A country walled in by mountains and suspiciously similar to feudal Japan. It’s reasonably well done, though some of the Japanese terms are a bit off. But it’s definitely a fun tour through a different based-on-history fantasy setting.

Perhaps the best part is the extra skills, which provide a bit of replay value. It’s certainly interesting to have the chance to wield a bow. There’s also a sidekick in at least one path through the book, and there’s also allies for an arena battle at the end. All good fun, really. Plus: Decapitations!

Statistics

Skill: 10
Stamina: 22
Luck: 10
Honour: 3

Honour starts out at 3 and goes up and down depending on my actions. If it reaches zero, I turn to paragraph 99 where I kill myself. Okay, I can live with that.

I also get to pick one of the four skills: Archery (I’m not explaining that), fast draw (a free attack at the start of any combat), heroic leaping (leap normal-sized opponents in a single bound), and dual wielding (a free attack if I roll 9 or more). Yeah. That’s a tough one… I think I’ll go with dual wielding. What a stereotypical adventurer I am.

Equipment: Two swords (by default – if you don’t have the dual-wielding feat then the wakizashi is a spare); armour (proper armour, at last!); a backpack; provisions; and, get this, the book proper says I have a flag stuck to my back.

Onward to Adventure!

So, I’m a samurai. I’m sworn to serve Hasekawa, Shogun of Konichi, who rules all of Hachiman, and he wants me to go and find the daikatana called Singing Death, which has been stolen by Ikiru, Master of Shadows, owner of the Pit of Demons. Phew, that was a lot of exposition. Did I mention I’m a samurai? I have no choice in the matter: I can get eaten (BAD EATEN) by a bunch of oni or gut myself right now. But it’s okay, the sword’s secret will help me once I’ve got in my hands… except, if the Shogun tells me himself, the sword will vanish forever. Bloody hell.

Okay, discover the secret of Singing Death, get to the mountains where Ikiru lives, grab the sword, waste the sorcerer. No problem. I decide to head off for the Forest of Shadows, since for some inexplicable reason I have a bad feeling about The Spider Fens. It’s easy going riding through the lands of the shogun, with peasants bowing deferentially, much to my embarrassment. Eventually I am meandering through the lands of Lord Tsietsin and see a burning village. I decide I should probably see what’s going on. It turns out the local lord has… decided to have his samurai raze the village, which he owns, to the ground. How sensible. Okay then. Time to get out the swords and carve up some raiders.

One comes at me on a horse, and I cut him out of the saddle and take his head clean off. Then I challenge their leader to a duel. Three of the samurai step up to fight me, which is a funny definition of “duel their leader”. I dispatch them with a dazzling display of swordplay, and then the rest give up and flee. The village proposes I execute a wounded straggler, but I refuse. That would be dishonourable. The peasants, not understanding the complex network of social codes that bind samurai, merely think I’m part of an oppressive system of systemic oppression, where the privileged only look out for their own. They may be right. The wounded straggler, Moichi, swears to serve me, and I figure cannon fodder is good to have. We leave town, and he prattles on about his life history for hours. I consider lopping his head off, honour be damned.

Around a bend in the road is the castle of Lord Tsietsin. I figure that since I’m here, I might as well teach this impudent dog some manners. Or possibly I just want to put off this whole Pit of Demons business as long as possible. Thankfully Moichi knows the password. Inside, we find demons. Oh, great. I disguise myself in the armour of the unconscious guard, and we pretend to have a message. Then we take out the demons, and run around the palace completely lost. This brilliant plan is not turning out well at all. Not only are we completely lost in the bowels of a castle run by a traitor who is working with evil monsters, but the walls down here are made of stone so the quick solution isn’t an option. On the upside, Lord Tsietsin is lost too and we run into him. On the downside, he’s lost with his bodyguards. Bodyguards down, we give chase, and find our quarry about to flee down a trapdoor. One dead traitor later, I loot the chest conveniently located in the same room. A big pile of gold, some slightly better armour, and a magic arrow that is completely useless to me.

Down in the tunnel there is, naturally, a giant centipede. The horrendous insect makes quick work of the cannon fodder. At least it’s glowing, that makes it easier to hit. As I loot the cave, I wonder how Tsietsin was going to get past the centipede if he was such a pushover. Outside, I find the main road and head for the mountains. But before I get there, I have to pass through the Forest of Shadows. The forest is not so bad. Hardly even shadowy. Except for that big, dragon shaped shadow. Which is, naturally, being cast by a dragon.

“So,” I say, “You’re a dragon?”

“Well, yes, the whole giant flying snakey lizard thing is your first clue,” says the dragon as it forms a figure of eight in the air.

“I’m a samurai,” I say, gesturing to the laquered armour and twin swords, “and I’m on a mission through here, so uh… if you don’t let me past, I have to fight you.”

“Well, we only have to fight if you can’t guess the answer to two riddles. I’m just a guardian for this forest. No naturally occurring monsters, you know? So some deity thought I should guard it, to get a nice even spread of danger and peril through the land.”

“How thoughtful,” I reply. “I will have a go at your riddles, but I should warn you, I’ve heard that one about four, two, and three legs before.”

“Oh, uh, really? Hang on.”

The dragon spirals through the air, muttering to itself all the while as it tries to come up with a new riddle. All it can manage after being put on the spot so abruptly is that tired old chestnut about eggs, and then a meta-riddle. Big deal. It is enraged that I won the game despite its lack of preparedness, but decides to fork over a statuette of a dragon and give me a cryptic incantation. I press onward. Eventually I leave the forest and come to the Hagakure Bridge. As I step onto the stone span, the sky turns black and the river runs as blood, the surface covered in the floating limbs of damned souls. I take a step backwards, and everything is normal. Step on the bridge, nightmare world. Step off, normal world. This is kind of fun. I step on and off the bridge for a bit, toggling between the two worlds. My immense and mighty power of standing on a bridge knows no limits! Well, part from the undead samurai coming to attack me for playing around instead of being suitably awed. I duel the skeleton for a bit until I chop away one if its arms. Then it turns invisible which is clearly cheating. I get in a hit and it becomes visible again and calls up half a dozen skeletons. Oh, come on. I kill the skeletons, and the Skeleton Commander comes back for more. “Look,” I say, “this is just bullshit,” and take its head off. It is a hollow victory. Beheading a skeleton is just not as satisfying as cleaving the head from a living, bleeding foe. The body disintegrates, and as the nightmare world disappears for good I rummage in the remains of the super-skeleton and find an ivory horn. Gosh, I hope all these rare and valuable items will be of some use.

The next day I ascend a goat track that winds up the side of the mountains. Naturally nothing is ever easy: I am suddenly confronted by a dai-oni who goes by the name of Dai-Oni. He says that to get in to Ikiru’s Pit of Demons I have to beat him in the Tourney of the Planes. Oh, good, a glorified doorkeeper. I am promptly teleported into outer space, where eight doors lie in a circle around me. I don’t notice the doors, though, because I’m freaking out about the infinte vista above and below me. It’s like I’ve suddenly been shown the whole universe and my place in it. After a moment I regain my composure and reflect that my place in the universe is in the middle of a bunch of doors. Let’s see… I hop through the door that has “Elder Plains” written on it, and meet a sabre tooth tiger. One horn blast later, I have an angry cat on my side. A quick trip to a magic tower scores me the aid of some knights, then I travel elsewhere to get the aid of a Ki-Rin, and then yet another door gets me the aid of the same dragon that wanted to play riddles in the forest. I’m out of special items, so it’s time to duel, I suppose.

The door to the place of battle leads to an ancient arena full of ghosts. Dai-Oni the dai-oni has picked up some allies too. There’s a giant frog, a giant mantis, and a giant giant made of bronze and with glowing eyes that probably shoot bolts of fire or some other magical rubbish. It occurs to me that the crazy skeleton from the bridge might have been handy here. I have my pet cat kill the toad demon, and the dragon burns the mantis to the ground. I shake my head and offer a sympathetic word to Dai-Oni the dai-oni.

“They don’t make giant mantises like they used to.”

Meanwhile, the knights have taken down the giant. I’m one ally up in this, so I send the Ki-Rin after the greater demon. Instead of doing anything amazingly useful, the Ki-Rin just snatches my foe’s magic powers.

“What, is that it?” I ask.

“You must fight your foe honourably,” the divine messenger informs me.

“Fine. But I won’t like it.”

I duel the demon in a sulk, but it’s really not that difficult. After I’ve chopped off all his limbs, he is bound to provide me a boon, and as such turns over the secret of Singing Death most unwillingly. Thanks to the magic words the dragon told me, the avenging spirit that rises from the demon’s corpse gets destroyed without my having to do anything.

Well, that was easy. Wait, no… now I’m suddenly in the Pit of Demons. Ikiru is a fairly boring robed, hooded, wheezing evil wizard. I call the sword to me. It’s a pretty good magic sword. I get to slice and dice some shadowy demon things, and since it’s a rather excellent sword it absorbs the lightning that Ikiru tries to blast me with. This is rather trivial. When I finally engage him in combat, he goes down with a single lucky hit. I’m a bit stunned by this, and only snap out of it when the entire building starts falling down. This sword is a bit too good. I make tracks through a hole in the wall, and the demons outside are too busy freaking out about the collapsing building to care about me.

I make good time back to the capital, but am not feeling too happy about how this turned out. I hand over the sword with a “here, whatever.” I sulk through the banquet in my honour. Over the next few weeks I’m seen sitting alone, dejected. Some people occasionally claim to have heard me saying, “But I only got to hit him once!”

Wrapup

That was rather anti-climactic. If you have enough special items and do enough good deeds the book is a walkover after you reach the mountains. Well, okay, there’s two opponents with high skill scores, so I guess it’s not that easy. But then to get there you have to have a skill score in double figures, and it’s also probably best to pick the right special skill at the start. The book is also quite short, depending on which path you take.

There are all kinds of Japanese terms scattered through the text. Some of them are not quite accurate, for example “rokuro-kubi” is a misnomer, the detachable head monsters are supposed to be called nukekubi. Kappa, on the other hand, are named well enough and just slightly tweaked.

I got about 25 extra attacks in. It was a mostly pointless skill, since if I’d taken the jumping skill I’d have been able to avoid half the combats in the book where those attacks stopped me being slaughtered. The main reason it works out being remotely useful is that the enemies have enormous stamina totals, or you have to fight two or three opponents at once. This is not an easy book for combat! And yes, the book really does include beheadings and hewing of limbs. What kind of samurai story wouldn’t? The best losing paragraph is where you get caught in a trap and saw your own leg off. It’s good, gory fun and it’s a pity other books aren’t like this.

I narrowly avoided an evil well on the first attempt. If you are unlucky while frantically running around avoiding a horde of flying heads, you fall in. Wells will get you!

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: When the picture for the first paragraph was of a male samurai. It could have been a picture of the gates of the city, or something equally scene setting, but no, it’s some guy on a horse. This is sort of a problem with a heavily gendered character role.

Ridiculous Battle: The horde of skeletons on the bridge. That one just never seemed to end. See the quote at the start of the article? I shouted that at the book.

Victory: A brief explanation of a collapsing castle and the triumphant return with the magic sword. These victory paragraphs should be longer.

What Was I Thinking? My first attempt involved a trip to the Spider Fens, where I was mauled continually and then died in an increasingly desperate attempt to save myself from drowning. There’s the easy way through, and there’s the very, very hard way.

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One Response to Sword of the Samurai

  1. Hey! Seems like you conquered this one as well, Those flying heads are a thing! Thanks for the trip down memory lane, I need to see about ebaying these books.

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