The Drowning Empire, Episode 34: Good Judge of Character

The Drowning Empire is a weekly serial based on the events which occured during the  Writer Nerd Game Night monthly Legend of the Five Rings game.  It is a tale of samurai adventure set in the magical world of Rokugan.

If you would like to read all of these in one convenient place, along with a bunch of additional game related stuff, behind the scenes info, and detailed session recaps, I’ve been posting everything to one thread on the L5R forum,

This week’s episode was written by Zach Hill, who is playing the gullible, naive, backwoods farmer samurai Suzume Shintaro. So last week we get Steve’s dark, gritty murderous version of events, and this week we get to see the same session through the ultra reliable, totally truthful Zach. (basically, if Shintaro sees somebody as nice or trustworthy, watch out) And the oddball one liners? Yes. Those are real. We started keeping track of Zach’s “Shintaroisms.

Continued from: 

Shintaro’s true account of his adventures and voyages

The docks of Toshi no Omoidoso were heavy with the smell of salt water and the cries of seagulls. Though born far from the sea in a farming community, Shintaro found that he greatly enjoyed the ocean. Perhaps it was the smell or the sound of the constant waves.

He stood on the dock and inhaled deeply, letting the ocean soak into his bones. “This will be a fine voyage!” Shintaro said to his companions.

“Define ‘fine.’ If by ‘fine’ you mean watery deaths, drowning and sea monsters, then I fully agree,” Isao said.

“A little water’s never hurt anyone! Except for terrible storms that capsize ships, pirates, or just slipping off the deck and being lost—”

“Enough of your comfort Shintaro!” Isao exclaimed.

Yoritomo Oki arrived. “It’s not so bad, Isao. A sturdy ship can break through any storm.”

“Is this a sturdy ship?”

“Not hardly.”

Then the captain of the Profitable Salmon approached. “Your horses and supplies are loaded and we’ll be ready to sail in an hour,” the captain said.

“Captain,” Oki said, scratching his chin. “I realize that this is your ship, but seeing as how I have more experience with sailing, I’ve lived my whole life on the ocean, I think perhaps I should be commander during this voyage.”

The captain suddenly looked uncomfortable or sick.

Toranaka overheard and walked over with Subotai following close behind.

“Captain, my friend here has an unusual sense of humor that takes time to adjust to,” Toranaka said.

The captain let out a sigh and smiled. “Had me worried there.”

“Oki wouldn’t do that,” Shintaro said. “That would have been a serious dicku move.” Toranaka, Subotai, and Oki looked at him with knitted, confused brows. “Dicku. It’s a type of weed we have on Sparrow lands. It’s wild and thorny and when the wind blows the thorns can lash out at an innocent passerby. We call this a ‘dicku move.’

“You sparrow have unusual sayings,” Toranaka said.

“Strange? How so? I just didn’t think Oki would try to cock block the captain like this,” Shintaro said.

Toranaka made as if to say something but stopped.

“I don’t believe we’re familiar with this term either,” Subotai said after some consideration.

“How so? Do you all not know of the farms that bring you your yearly koku?” Shintaro met with blank stares. How could they be so ignorant of the source of their wealth? “Cock block. When one wishes to stop the rooster from entering the hen house.”

He still met with blank stares.

Frustrated, he sighed and shook his head.

City samurai were so ignorant sometimes.


For three days of sailing Shintaro had spent most of his time above deck. The ocean never tired of being inspiring, yet poor Isao was missing it. He’d spent all hours below decks near the ballast stones. He drank much of Uso’s “calming tea.” Shintaro had tried it and found it befuddled his thoughts, he did not think he’d try it again. He needed his mind sharp as the blade of his bisento. The group was counting on him and he couldn’t let them down.

These were all honorable samurai who Shintaro would not hesitate to give his life for. The kami must have smiled upon him to allow him to travel with such noble examples of Bushido.

Then Shintaro noticed something. On the horizon it looked like black clouds gathering. He wasn’t concerned. They were far away and a storm would never overtake them before they reached the Great Pier.

Never in a hundred years.

Within the hour the monster storm was upon them. Waves were taller than their ship and the creaking of the wood warned of an approaching breaking point.

Shintaro hurried below decks to check on Isao and the cargo when he heard wood splitting. He turned to see sea water spraying through a giant crack in the hull. Isao was holding on to a post for dear life. Shintaro, not knowing much about ships or how to fix them, knew enough to know that he had to stop this leak.

He shouldered the loose board and tried to keep it together.

“Isao, I could use some help here!”

Isao looked around as if to find anyone else that could help, but it was just them and the panicking horses in the hold, so he closed his eyes, swallowed hard and rushed to help with the breaking boards.

For several hours they held the ship together while bailing out the hold with buckets.

These were the second longest three hours of Shintaro’s life. The first longest being when he had broken his father’s favorite vase and had to wait for him to return for a scolding. Where was father now? If he was alive he should have sent word. Unless Spider Clan business kept him.


His father was a filthy, dishonorable spider. All his life he had lived under the assumption that his father was a good Sparrow man; a humble samurai that found joy in the simple things of life.

That was all a lie. His father was a deceiver. He had deceived the Sparrow, his mother and his son. Outwardly Shintaro had tried to appear rational about the whole mess, but inside there was little more Shintaro wanted to than cut off his father’s head and bring it back to hang on the walls of the Sparrow’s fortress.

Thinking about his father’s treachery kept his mind off of possibly drowning as their ship fell apart.

Somehow the Profitable Salmon limped into the harbor of Broken Wave City. Isao rushed out before the ship was even tied down, ran down the dock, and threw himself on solid ground.


Later that day Shintaro sat with his friends in the Belly of the Orochi tavern. One thing Shintaro had noticed was that sailors were very loud and liked to drink. He made sure to make note of it for the book he was writing. He was actually working on two books. One was a collection of thoughts and meditations based on his experiences of life. The other was a true history of their adventures, though he only wrote that one with brief notes that nobody but him would understand. He did know that “secret mission” meant “let someone read about this and the shogun will chop off your head.”

As he sat sipping his sake, an idea kept rolling around Shintaro’s head. This port city was full of embassies for all the great clans. There was a Spider clan embassy. In all his time traveling the mainland as a herald, he had never found anyone that knew of his father’s fate. If any place might have information, it would be the Spider embassy. He had to check.

“Friends,” Shintaro said as he stood up from the table. “I have business to attend to that takes me to the Spider embassy.”

This was met by stunned silence and sake through the nose of Oki.

Toranaka was the first to speak up.“Are you sure, Shintaro? I don’t see this as a wise move.”

“We are in a civilized land. The Spider will not harm me if I come in peace.”

“Perhaps one of us should accompany you,” Toranaka suggested.

“Shintaro, I must say that you should rethink this,” Subotai said.

“Is he joking?” Uso asked.

“No jest, my friends. This is something I must do.”

Oki shrugged and stood up. “What else could go wrong today?”


Oki walked with Shintaro to the Spider embassy, a dark stone edifice with arrow slits and masked guards.

“You do realize this is crazy, right?” Oki asked.

“No madness. The Spider are recognized by the Empire as a great clan. I do not think they would do something to jeopardize that standing.”

Oki laughed and took the straw out of his mouth. “Should be interesting at least.”

After introducing himself the guards escorted him to the office of a man named Daigotsu Ohaba. The masked Ohaba sat behind a small writing desk in a dark room that smelled faintly of copper.

The entire embassy was dark and cold and Shintaro wondered if his father had actually grown up in a place such as this.

“Your visit is somewhat unexpected. We do not get many visitors,” Ohaba said. His voice was perfectly neutral.

“You might want to add more windows; let the light in. Maybe more people would care to visit then?”

Ohaba nodded. “What is the nature of your visit?”

“I am looking for my father, Suzume Sahara.”

Ohaba thought for a moment. “I do not know this man, but I have heard of him. I believe he is in the colonies at present. I can send a note enquiring of him?”

His father was alive… Shintaro didn’t know if that was a relief or a burden. He still remembered his father giving him his first lessons with the bisento and teaching him the ways of honorable poverty of the Sparrow. He remembered the look of content joy his father would have as he looked out over the rice fields. Everything Shintaro was, he owed to his father.

But if he was alive, honor dictated that he be killed for betraying the Sparrow clan.

Shintaro looked over to Oki who sat with his mouth hanging open. “Oh, yes, Oki. Please do not tell anyone about my father,” Shintaro said.

“What? Oh, sure.”

He turned back to Ohaba.

“If you would, please just send a message informing them that I will be coming to ask a few questions.”

“Very well.”

“Thank you for everything.”

“Are you…interested in joining the Spider then?”

“Joining? No thanks. I was born Sparrow and will die Sparrow. Good day.”

He bowed and left with Oki trailing behind.

“Spider? What’s going on?” Oki said once they had cleared

“I’m looking for my father.”

“Understood, but…Spider?”

Oki is an honorable man. He will keep the secret. “I have been considering my lack of skill with the bow,” Shintaro said.

“Don’t you have weightier things to think about?”

“Back in Sparrow lands I was learning the bow under Master Gangam. I learned this Gangam Style, but I fear it’s far inferior to you style. Perhaps you might teach me a thing or two?”


Shintaro woke up in the middle of the night. They were staying at the mansion of Admiral Naota and had enjoyed a very pleasant evening with a tour of their art museum and wonderful conversation at dinner.

But something had awoken him and as his mind focused. He heard screaming.

Shintaro did not hesitate. He stood up and grabbed his bisento “Swamp Dragon” and opened the screen door of his room. A woman rushed by too fast to get a good look at. A man was running after her, wearing all black and carrying a ninjato.

It didn’t matter who this man was or what his reasons were. He was an armed man chasing an unarmed woman and Shintaro would not stand idly by.

Shintaro swung Swamp Dragon in a wide horizontal arc that caught the man square in the chest. The impact lifted the man off his feet and he fell to the floor with blood gushing out over the paper screens.

Worried about the woman, Shintaro rushed after her. No woman should ever be harmed under any circumstances…except Sayako.

He ran up the stairs and the scene that greeted him on the next floor was one that almost made him pause. Men in black were fighting the just awakened samurai, most of whom were not dressed yet. The woman was wearing a kimono that was barely staying closed and Shintaro almost looked away for modesty’s sake. His host’s family was in danger. So, Shintaro found the nearest man in black and attacked. The intruder noticed Shintaro too late, just in time to see Swamp Dragon swinging down towards him.

Shintaro registered the look of surprise and fear right before the blade cleaved into the man’s shoulder, slicing down and severing his entire right side from his left. Blood spurted out over Swamp Dragon’s blade. He was glad he’d killed a swamp dragon to name his blade. “Strange Man in Black” wouldn’t have been a good name for a pole arm.

He looked around but saw that the fighting was over. The men in black were either dead or captured.

Naoto thanked him and his friends and said that they were in his debt.

Why was Isao naked? Perhaps he had been bathing as the attack occurred.


The next day they were summoned to the harbor master’s office and to Shintaro’s amazement, the harbor master gave Oki an entire ship that had once belonged to Oki’s father. It had a bad reputation, but Shintaro found it was beautiful. He loved the ocean and now they’d be traveling on it with their own ship.

“I’ll call it the Friendly Traveler,” Oki said.

It was a strange name for a ship.

“This is most fortuitous,” Toranaka said.

“One problem though,” Uso said.

“We need a crew,” Subotai guessed.

If there was one thing in this world that Shintaro knew besides the art of the bisento, it was how to talk to peasants. Peasants were the life blood of the Empire. They were the force that fed the samurai so they could carry on their honorable duties. He would find their crew.

Shintaro walked down to the docks and began asking around. He told stories of the Topaz championship and gave advice on how best to store rice and beats for long keeping. He told more stories, some of them were even true.

After he had a nice crowd gathered around him, he began asking about work.

“I need crew for a ship headed to the colonies,” Shintaro said. “I don’t know when we’ll be back or how safe it will be, but we pay well and will feed you well.”

Most of the crowd dispersed, either having work or not being interested. The ones that remained were either desperate or adventurous. Luckily, Shintaro—being an excellent judge of character—would be able to weed out the desperate.

Four people remained. One was an old man that had seen too many winters on the water and another was a young man who had never seen a razor. The third was a man with a vest and shaved head. Tattoos covered his arms and he had several scars, including one that ran down his left cheek. He stood there with his arms folded and a strange smile on his face.

The fourth one was a girl. She looked between seventeen and nineteen. She wore a black, sleeveless kimono with a bright red obi around her waist. She had a headband that kept her wild hair in check. She looked as if she had missed too many meals and stood with her hands on her hips and her chin held high.

“How much does this pay?” The tattooed man asked. He looked like a man that knew his way around a ship. He was tanned and muscular. A good man to have in a scrape.

“I do not know the specifics but I assure you it will be sufficient,” Shintaro said.

“What kind of ship? I’m not going out on any old tub,” the girl said.

A question a sailor would ask. Perhaps this girl did know her way around a ship. Unfortunately Shintaro didn’t know enough to answer that question. “It’s a Mantis ship….um….with two masts, I think,” Shintaro said.

“Mantis, huh? Not bad,” the girl said.

“Hey, how many samurai on board?” The tattooed man asked.

“Six, including the Topaz Champion.”

“That means a lot of coin, right?”

“Do any of you have any other skills besides sailing?”

“I once had a red ball. I loved that red ball,” the old man said.

“I can fight!” The too young man said. He got in a fighting stance that was laughably off balance and Shintaro kicked his foot out from under him. The boy fell onto his back. “I wasn’t ready!” The boy yelled.

“I can get whatever you might need. Anything, old Toshi here will find it for you,” the tattooed man said.

“I can cook,” the girl said.

Cook? Now that sounded interesting. But before he rushed to conclusions he had to find out more about her. “How good are you at sailing?”

“I’m the best girl sailor around.” She thumped her chest. “I can tie any knot and…um…I can spy a ship at a hundred leagues!”

The tattooed man laughed. “Get out of here girl. You’ve been hanging around the docks too much.”

She folded her arms and turned her back to the man. “I don’t have to take this from you. I know what I can do. Mr. Samurai, if you take me aboard I promise I’ll be the best cook you’ll ever have.”

Shintaro looked them over. The tattooed man looked like an honest, hard working sort, but the girl could cook. And as much as he didn’t want to admit it, she was awfully pretty. Perhaps her teeth were too big and she was a little dirty, but that just meant she was used to hard work. She wasn’t a polished, lazy good-for-nothing.

He pointed to the girl.

“You are now the Friendly Traveler’s new cook,” Shintaro said.

The tattooed man threw his hands in the air and left.

“How soon can you leave?” he asked.

“Right now if you need!”

“Go get your things and meet me back here.”

“I have everything I need.”

“Good, follow.” He began walking back to the ship with the girl beside him.

“I won’t let you down, sir. I’ll do anything you ask,” she said.

“As is expected of a crewmember.”

“I’ll keep your bed warm and polish your spear.”

“Not necessary. The nights aren’t cold yet and I maintain Swamp Dragon here myself.” He held his bisento out in front of him for her to see. She seemed confused at first but then nodded.

A smile slowly spread over her face. “My name’s Yuki.”

“Suzume Shintaro of the Sparrow Clan.”

“Oh, the noble Sparrow Clan. I’ve heard much of them.”

“You have?”

“Oh, yes. All the time.”

This Yuki seemed to be a good, hard working girl. She was young and impressionable, but Shintaro would keep an eye on her and make sure her inexperience with life wouldn’t get her into any trouble.

A samurai’s duty was to protect the weak and look after the innocent. And this innocent girl would need his protection.

Then he noticed she had two knives tucked into the back bow of her obi.

“Knives?” he asked.

“Oh! Well, I’m a cook, right? These are my cooking knives.”

Excellent. She was a hard worker indeed! She was already to get to work. That was a good sign he had chosen well.


To be continued next week:

If you want to check out what Zach can do when it isn’t written on the fly after a 2 AM game session:

Announcing MHI Zippo lighters! Available on the Kickstarter.
The scientific Tea Party

One thought on “The Drowning Empire, Episode 34: Good Judge of Character”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.