Today it’s the Thunderbolt Blade Bushi School (sometimes known as the “Hand of Bayushi” School) for Legend of the Five Rings.
Darkness is everywhere. Beneath the ground, beyond the stars, hidden within the light, and lurking in the hearts of men. None can escape it.
The blade pierces darkness. One with it, yet shining like a thunderbolt. It comes from darkness, it strikes darkness, and it passes into darkness, yet is not one with it.
Such is the Tao of the Thunderbolt Blade.
This particular school focuses on movement and on striking at exactly the right moment, when the forces of the universe are aligned with your effort, for optimum effect. It’s best in individual heroic combat, rather than on the battlefield, although it also puts some of it’s teachings to use in less physical combat.
Students of the Thunderbolt Blade tend to be more than a bit brash at first; they are aware that their school’s strength lies in speed and mobility, not in patient manipulation or analysis of an opponents techniques. They know that a single strike at the right moment is worth a hundred that come too late to make a difference.
Basic Modifiers: Agility +1, Glory 1, Status 1, Wealth 2, and Honor 2
School Skills: Athletics, Bow, Chain Weapons, Courtier, Defense, Etiquette, Fast Draw, Hunting, Sword, and any one high or low skill.
First Technique: The Strike of Lightning
The first technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on timely action; neither strength, nor speed, nor even righteousness is as important as being at the right place at the right time. When the moment is at hand, it must be seized. When it is not, the enemy should not be engaged unless no other course is open to you.
The Student of the Thunderbolt Blase may add twice his or her Air Ring to Initiative rolls (5), gains +10 Defense against slower opponents (5), gains a daily pool of (Rank) free raises which may be used on any roll made in the direct pursuit of his or her duty (10), adds +2 to his or her water ring for movement purposes (Enhancement, 1), and inflicts +1K0 damage with all weapons (4). Sadly, this technique cannot be used while wearing anything heavier than scout armor and it’s intense focus on acting in the instant that an opportunity arises places the Student at a slight disadvantage in social situations, where he or she will suffer a -1K0 penalty (net -5).
Second Technique: The Lashing of the Storm
The second technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on constant motion, leaving opponents off balance and out of position.
The Journeyman of the Thunderbolt Blade may add twice his or her Fire Ring to Initiative rolls (5), gains another +10 Defense against slower opponents (5), gains (Air Ring) free raises against enemies who attacked him or her and missed in the last round (10), and requires one less raise than usual to increase the damage he or she inflicts (5). Unfortunately, this technique cannot be used while wearing anything heavier than scout armor or if there is no room to maneuver freely (–5).
Third Technique: The Penetrating Rain
The third technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on a multitude of approaches, combining constant motion with attacks from every angle. No matter how small the chink in an opponents defense, it is always a point of entry.
The Adept of the Thunderbolt Blade requires one less raise than usual to perform the Acrobatics and Disarm Maneuvers as well (+5), gains one free raise on each attack towards the Acrobatics, Disarm, and Extra Damage maneuvers with each attack (10; in combination with the last technique this amounts to an automatic +1K1 damage, a basic disarm attempt, and some minor bit of acrobatics with each attack), and now gains (2x Rank) free raises which may be used on any roll made in the direct pursuit of his or her duty per day, replacing the bonus from the first technique (+10). Unfortunately, as usual, this technique cannot be used while wearing anything heavier than scout armor or if there is no room to maneuver freely (–5).
Fourth Technique: The Purity of Thunder
The fourth technique of the Thunderbolt Blade focuses on purity of purpose. The storm must be harnessed, directed, and focused upon a task. Otherwise it’s fury is wasted – yet the storm cannot direct itself and remain pure. Such is the paradox of the Thunderbolt Blade.
The Master of the Thunderbolt Blade gains +1 attack with bladed melee weapons (5), may add twice his or her Void Ring to Initiative rolls (5), and gains a secondary Void pool equal to his or her Rank, which is regained monthly (10). The points from this pool may only be spent on rolls made in pursuit of missions assigned by the user’s superiors (-5), but up to half of them may be spent on a given roll (+5) and their effect is doubled (+5).
While the fourth technique transcends the limitations of armor which restrict the three previous techniques, it requires that the user be in active service to a greater lord. Without the instructions of a lord to provide direction, the mind of the user is necessarily divided, and his or her purpose is not pure (-5).
Fifth Technique: The Lightning-Cast Shadow
With purity of purpose comes it’s shadow. With this technique the user’s shadow takes on a life of it’s own, embodying ruthless purpose without compunction or honor. While the Shadow may be unleashed into the world for a time, it is always a risk. Indeed, if the Shadow is unleashed, and sees it’s “Master” – or his friends, family, or companions – as an impediment to the mission, it will not hesitate to dispose of them in passing.
The fulfilled Seeker of the Thunderbolt Blade gains a shadow-companion, with XP equal to his or her own (within whatever limits the game master sets) – but it is ruthless and without honor, loyal only to assigned missions and of an independent mind (5). The creature has Shadow instead of Void, and also has a secondary Shadow Pool, equivalent to the user’s secondary Void Pool, which the Thunderbolt Blade Master may freely draw upon while his “companion” remains a simple Shadow; it is not available while the shadow is unleashed (+10). Finally, the Seeker may draw upon the light and darkness within himself or herself to temporarily awaken the spirits of bladed weapons in the vicinity, requesting their assistance (Rank+2 Favors per session, with favors based on the Seeker’s [Sword Skill/2], 5).
The Thunderbolt Blade school is loosely based on a school proposed by one of the players: he felt that the original Bayushi Busi school wasn’t quite up to snuff at very high experience point totals, and certainly wasn’t up to schools like the Hida Bushi School and the Tsuruchi Archer School. Whatever the merits of the case there, it’s certainly true that it’s fifth technique was dull, risked nothing, and made combat rather uninteresting; you just rolled than counted up your spare raises and picked some effects. Ergo, he wanted to drop the fifth technique and make the school a bit more powerful – and noted that “the Scorpion are exactly the knd of Clan to keep their actual school technique secret while pretending to have a less effective one”.
His initial mechanical proposal sat in the files for quite some time, until I eventually thought of some interesting flavor to give it. As usual, of course, once it got some flavor text the mechanics mutated to fit the flavor text until it no longer bore much resemblance to the original idea at higher levels – but that is how school design tends to go.
The school itself is quite powerful, albeit mostly because of those secondary Void and Shadow pools. If the user saves those pools and throws them behind one or two rolls, they’ll get some pretty horrific bonuses. At – let us say – Rank 6, the user would have reserves of 6 Void and 6 Shadow, could spend 3 Void and 3 Shadow on any one roll, and would get a total bonus of +12K12. That translates into quite a lot of free raises. It’s a very good trick, but you can only pull that stunt twice a month. You’d best save it for when you really need it.