[Review] Imperial Matchmaker (5e 3PP) Pt. II; Over 9000 fathoms deep…

Deep will we delve into the pelagic depths of Imperial Matchmaker. My first attempt merely scratched the surface, today we are going into the mantle.

In the first part I covered some of the contents of the Gazzeteer of Imperial Matchmaker and covered its major, some would say crippling, flaws so in this part I want to mix it up a bit and explain how it can ameliorate them (while showcasing some more of its contents).

After reading 240+ pages of gazzeteer I have a bit more of a grasp on the tone of Sanbaoshi which is CYBERPUNK. Imperial matchmaker tries to be a CYBERPUNK sandbox set in a japanese fantasy setting. It depicts a highly stratified society with the bulk of the content composed of a sprawling network of shops that are criminal fronts, violent street gangs, assassin’s guilds, tsukukomogami smugglers, drug dealers, slavers and war criminals in hiding. Within this already corrupt society hides a sub-society of kami, oni, shapechangers and other nonhuman entities, preying on humankind and enacting all sorts of monstrous schemes. The services you can purchase reflect its fantasypunk noir ambitions, favoring services like information, entrance into restricted areas, contraband, forged documents, illicit actions or downright murder. All this against a backdrop of grime, pollution, corruption and poverty.

The major problem with the gazetteer is that it is not organized in a way that players actually move in a city. Unless you run a City-State level game where every street is LITERALLY mapped out, players will either be directed somewhere, or look for shops, taverns, places to stay or locations based on the clues they receive, generally regardless of geographical location. It therefore DOES NOT MAKE SENSE to organize this myriad of buildings with NPCs and different functions geographically.

A possible solution would be to organize it based on purpose; shop/services category, inn category, information category, quest location category etc. etc. etc. These locations could still be marked on a map with notes about the general character of the neighborhood but are easier to locate in this fashion.

A second problem is the use of the sub-quests for each individual character. The sub-quests are spelled out in the beginning of the book but only in a general sense and the references to the various locations do not have a page reference. These sub-quests are fleshed out in parts under each location, which is a confusing shitshow. Instead all the sub-quest information, and indeed ALL INFORMATION, for each character, including its content, should be in one place, with REFERENCES to the location each segment takes place in.

Please observe the problem, condensed in a single platonic example.

If Ayakashi is able to continue the ruse of being Tērā-ō Kiyasa/Kurai Torēdā the party have accessto the metropolis’ biggest illicit trading house—until the tsukumogami-hunting tailor wrestles away from the mask’s control. They can use this to purchase or access the black urn Lan is after, find out about the hearthmetal Tomoe Masamune is searching for, fence their own ill-gotten goods, and purchase items that aren’t for sale on the streets above. Provided that Akiyama isn’t being obstructive a DC 18 Charisma (Persuasion) check convinces her to treat a member of the party with the same deference given to Kurai, although if she is suspicious this check is made with disadvantage.
-Everything that is wrong with this book

An incomprehensible jumble of references that must all be known for the text to be parsed.

Nine different references to characters, sub-quests, locales. The demand on the GM to memorize a whole sleuth of characters and plotlines introduces a time-debt to Imperial Matchmaker that is almost unprecedented. This is not Tekumél, it should be relatively straightforward to run.

There is an existential question which should be answered, namely, WHY DO A SANDBOX, AND THEN STOCK IT WITH LINEAR, CHARACTER-BASED, STORY-DRIVEN?!? sub-quests but who am I to question and fathom these motives.

These character-driven quests are also the best part of the supplement, or the most creative. There’s genuine fun here. You must deliver 100 origami invitations to some noble broad, every time you attack or get hit or every hour you dither d10 of the invitations lose their shape. How do you go about it? A spirit of drunkenness is haunting a tea-house run by a 100 year old oni and his possessed sake vat. One character is doing a sort of grand-tour exorcist run, the other must obtain a relic from a criminal auction (good luck finding it), there’s underground slave factories run by Occupation war criminals etc. etc.
I mean there’s even cybernetic augmentations you can purchase. Uh I mean steam-metic. Shoulder, mounted flintlock miniguns, laser-eyes, artificial mist-of-akuma proof lungs that are ‘dangerous to install’ which in 5e means you might have to make 3 death saves until one of your buddies casts cure light wounds but whatever. Where the fuck are the GP costs for these things?

There’s absolutely classic weeb storylines coupled with an eerie supernatural horror vibe that would be pretty cool if you could make it work. A possessed bamboo grove haunted by the genius loci of 100 nature spirits that gradually becomes aware of you as you traverse it. If it fights you it leaves you unconscious with 1 hit point and +3d4 haitoku. There’s ways you can put it to rest, it’s handled retardedly because you just have to succeed at a check, the cancer of post D20 gaming, but it still requires you to use your wits.

Those little nuggets of cleverness are worked into some of the quests too. You have an auction battle at some point but the game accounts for characters doing things like subtly signaling so some other guy doesn’t notice or fucking with someone. Always accompanied by boring, useless DC’s. Fuck social combat. But its better then nothing! The game very often accounts for some player slight or intelligence, as god intended.

I will give credit where it is due. The bulk of the hooks in Mists of Akuma avoid being straight up combat hooks and provide A REASON for you to possibly use some of the illicit favors and services you can purchase throughout the city, maybe even giving you a reason to explore.

At the same time it’s all handled very loosy-goosy, stream-of-consciousness style. A straight-up challenge with a lower DC if you think of something clever. That type of game often originates naturally when the GM has to improvise and its good that player skill is taken into account but the lack of codified organization also means a lack of depth which is at times regrettable.

When the gazzeteer arrives to the underground (of course Soburin has one) suddenly Tyler hears the heavenly choirs of the OSR and starts describing its five gangs in a single, short, evocative paragraph and just making a single statt block with custom options for each BEFORE LOSING THE PLOT AND MAKING THEM ALL 10HIT DICE GANGSTERS. YEAH? 17 YEAR OLD THUGS WITH 10 HIT DICE? There seems only borad rhyme or reason to the power levels of some of the NPCs, a problem endemic to the hole of 5e. Stripped of firm co-ordinates of what a level means, it is doomed to an existence of 10th level pickpockets, 3rd level evil overlords and 15th level shopkeepers.

Some sections almost function like minimally keyed dungeon maps. The lack of scale will irk purists and d20 enthusiasts but everything makes a robust sort of sense. The dungeons are by no means brilliant but here too we see a good mixture, if minimal, of combat encounters, opportunities for misdirection or negotiation and the occasional piece of hidden treasure. Somewhere in the distance, a brief glimmer of hope beckons.

In the Conclusion, we will take a look at the Wedding Framework that has been bolted onto this sandbox, to see how well its myriad intrigue facilitators can be harnessed. For now, have a great weekend, and Palace updates coming soon!!!

The new wordpress format is so shit I typed this out in word and copy pasted it in the wordpress text editor. Disgraceful.


2 thoughts on “[Review] Imperial Matchmaker (5e 3PP) Pt. II; Over 9000 fathoms deep…

    1. It is silent, there are no trees here. I yearn for sunlight though I do not remember how it feels. Up and Down have fallen away, there is only Descent, and it is endless and bottomless. It is silent, and there are no trees here.

      Liked by 1 person

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