Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dangerous Enemies: The Iaijutsu Master

In 1489 DR, the city of Luskan is ruled by five rival gangs. Details about these gangs can be found in Erik Scott de Bie's novel, Shadowbane. One of the gangs, the Blood of the Dragon, is made up entirely of immigrants from Kara-Tur. Essentially the Yakuza presence in Luskan, the Dragonbloods (as they are known) still hold on to the culture and practices of their homeland. One of the less common practices seen amongst these descendants of Kara-Tur is the ancient sword style of Iaijutsu.

The Art of Drawing the Sword

Iaijutsu Master by deviantArt's DrStein.
Iaijutsu is the ancient Japanese art of drawing the sword. It is a combative art in which the warrior strikes with the blade, drawing it from the sheath in the process. There is some suggestion that it is a defensive form as it is counter-attack oriented, but there is also argument that Iaijutsu is useful in combat due its potential for surprise.

I will not pretend to be an expert on Japanese culture in any way. My primary exposure to Iaijutsu was the Samurai Shodown character Tachibana Ukyo, the seemingly enigmatic samurai stricken with tuberculosis. While thinking about how a Iaijutsu master would appear as a member of the Dragonbloods, I thought a lot about Ukyo while trying to keep this character a little bit grounded to reality. To that end, I watched a lot of YouTube videos.

After scouring the Internet for information about Iaijutsu, its history, and its effectiveness, I felt comfortable putting together some sort of Dungeons & Dragons monster state block that utilized the basic concept of Iaijutsu at its core.

Mitsurugi Yoshikage, Samurai of the Blood of the Dragon

Mitsurugi Yoshikage, Iaijutsu
Master of Luskan.
The Blood of the Dragon are one of the five major gangs in Luskan. The Daimyo, Umbra, is one of the "five captains" of Luskan, although that designation means a great deal less than it did one hundred years ago. Mitsurugi Yoshikage is somewhat unique amongst the Shou living in Luskan as he is a practitioner of the ancient Kara-Tur sword art of Iaijutsu. He is a stalwart warrior and carries out his work for the Daimyo with honor, unlike some of the less reputable members of the Dragonbloods.

Mitsurugi learned the art from his master, an old samurai who came to the west prior to the Spellplague. Since the death of his master, he has become the last swordsman in Luskan, and possibly the entire Sword Coast, to practice the unique style. As he continues to fight the enemies of the Daimyo in the streets of Luskan, he has adapted his style, focusing on powerful strikes from the sheath while emphasizing mobility and defense when his blade is drawn.

To earn Mitsurugi's respect merely takes fighting bravely and honorably in battle. As a warrior serving the Daimyo, battle is his life. In defending the honor of the Dragonblood, he finds little time for anything but perfecting his fighting style. However, he does spend a great deal of time thinking about what he will do when the Daimyo finally seizes control of all of Luskan (an eventually that Mitsurugi sees as inevitable). He has considered taking up artistic forms of his people, such as poetry, but only time will tell.

Battle Tactics

Mitsurugi Yoshikage is different than most Dungeons & Dragons solo monsters. Like a few creatures that appear throughout the monstrous manuals, Mitsurugi divides his abilities across two different phases. In his case, it is divided between having his Katana drawn or sheathed. While his Katana is drawn, he has slightly higher defenses and he is able to move more easily about the battle field. While his Katana is sheathed, he has the ability to use his more powerful attacks. He can even use one of those attacks, Iaijutsu Strike, in response to being hit by an opponent. In battle, he must balance the two forms properly, utilizing one or the other as necessary to achieve maximum effect.

Generally, the optimal strategy for Mitsurugi would be to strike (using either Iaijutsu Strike or Katana, depending on which form he starts the turn in) and then use his move action to do Iaijutsu Recovery, sheathing his blade. This would allow him to remain sheathed during player turns, granting him the ability to strike with Iaijutsu Parry when the opportunity presents itself.

If Mitsurugi needs to move about the battlefield (whether it be due to terrain circumstances or due to the mobility of the player characters), he should remain with his sword unsheathed, using Advancing Kick to shift around enemies while kicking his intended target prone, then striking with Katana as necessary. Although a standard Katana strike does less damage than his Iaijutsu Strike, the ability to remain mobile can be far more important than the damage sacrificed.

It is important to remember that Mitsurugi's defenses are slightly higher with his Katana drawn. His ability do defend himself with his blade is represented by a +2 bonus to all of his defenses. As a peculiarity of fourth edition turn mechanics, his Iaijutsu Parry is an Immediate Interrupt and will raise his defenses to the triggering attack. Thus, he may not only get a powerful attack in but also protect himself from the attack altogether.

Defeating the Master of the Drawn Blade

When bringing a character like Mitsurugi Yoshikage into a campaign, it is important to remember that a battle to the death is not necessarily required. Mitsurugi may simply be in search of a respectably powerful opponent or he may seek out some other specific person. He will fight until it is no longer important to his mission to continue. Furthermore, if his opponents are close to defeating him, he may very well surrender. Perhaps a near defeat will impress him, causing him to aid the player characters at a later date. Perhaps bringing him to the edge of death is what is necessary to convince him of the characters' worth. Either way, a battle with a warrior like Mitsurugi should be more than just every other battle that the characters face.

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