While my brother is one of the most memorable players I know, this won’t be about him.
My table has been exploring Legend of the Five Rings again lately, and what makes Rokugan here in the Philippines different from Rokugan as I played it in Canada is that there is legitimate interest in the Mantis Clan outside of marveling at their deadly proficiency with the bow. If you’ve ever taken a look at L5R, you’ll realise that it is not a very Japanese setting, not truly, and more a strange hodgepodge of Asian-like, or dare I say “Oriental,” cultures living together under a “Japanese-y” emperor. With the Unicorn Clan, you have the Mongols; the Scorpion, Thailand; and with the Mantis, you have a sea-faring island culture roleplayers in the Philippines feel affinity to.
(Nosfecatu, for instance, is always talking about running a Mantis-centric game in which he uses his vast research of what life was like in the pre-colonial Philippine Islands.)
It’s with this in mind that we walk into this story. While three of us decided to take our one-shot characters forward into a semi-ongoing travel campaign, our fourth player, Gelo, wanted to really explore the different cultures of Rokugan, and so planned to change his character with each new arc. Gelo’s a fun-loving player and who really wanted to dig into the social dynamics of the world, so when we traveled to Mantis lands, he took on the persona of a young lord wanting to increase his financial standing and please his easily-influenced, nouveau riche young wife in the process. All this is of course standard fair for the idea of switching, until his first scene when suddenly Gelo transforms from player to fully immersive actor on the table! Two players strive for an introduction with him by buying him a drink, and it initially looks as though he’ll accept and call them to his table, but instead what he does is quietly order everyone else to leave the tavern. Then he suddenly hurls their offered jug of sake to the ground beside him! “Tell me,” he growls within the very edges of civility, “Do I have the appearance of someone who can not afford his own drink? Do I seem to you someone asking for your charity?”
The roll of the head, the intensity in his eyes, and the aura of machismo emanating from him is exhilarating. His body language is not Gelo’s. You can tell the other two players are taken aback at this subversion of what ought to have been an easy introduction between player characters. But this is the young Mantis calling the shots, not Gelo. He orders the most expensive drink in the house. He gives no easy ground to anyone trying to ingratiate themselves to his character. He makes everyone work for it, forces them to come at him through his wife, his weakness, because he’s now a living, breathing part of the world whose rules we must obey. Our antagonist for the session, a Crane samurai seeking to drive the prices in Mantis lands back into Crane favour, does the same in exploiting that weakness until a meeting is called between the two economic rivals.
Now, typically in Rokugan, when it comes to social manipulation, the Crane have the upper hand, and that’s moreso true here given that our GM is very proficient with the Crane clan. But Gelo matches. The Crane begins by dragging everyone into the Crane game of social niceties, enforcing norms that obviously benefit them. The Mantis finds reason to force the conversation out in the open instead. The Crane takes the opportunity to toss verbal daggers and aspersions, but gets caught in a trap set by someone else that the Mantis capitalises on. When the Crane tries to delay to recoup, the Mantis taps his fingers on the table impatiently. It is unnerving how irritated he is. When the Crane tries to save face, the Mantis clicks his tongue in annoyance, “Tch. Are you telling me that the mighty Crane Clan with all its riches admits they cannot afford the price? That they ask the Mantis for a discount?” The words drip with the venom of disappointment and echo with the sound of someone disillusioned by how base this Crane is making her clan appear.
The meeting ends with nothing left to be said but that. We leave. The Crane kills herself. The session ends not long after, and Gelo returns to us as Gelo, not the Mantis lord.
But we all remember the Mantis lord.