An encounter with a kami inside a Japanese castle, with stat blocks for use in D&D 5E.
Lord Koji Ishiyama was a curiously reclusive man, keeping within the confines of his castle and rarely allowing visitors. Even the workers on the castle grounds were kept to strange schedules and not permitted beyond their workspaces. But Koji has passed, and Tadashi Ishiyama, his eldest, has inherited the land. Since his arrival, Tadashi has noticed odd goings-on. These occurrences are growing more frequent and less harmless, and Tadashi finds himself both in need of assistance and wondering if there was a method to his father’s madness.
Koji and the Kami
Many years ago, after the passing of his wife, Yuna, Koji Ishiyama secluded himself within the grounds of Castle Ishiyama. He became closed off and private and made odd requests, always through his single closest confidant. One such request included frequent deliveries of the region’s best persimmons. The staff of the castle was reduced to the bare minimum required, chosen from those with the most seniority and who would follow Ishiyama’s instructions to the letter. These duties, schedules, and limitations seemed peculiar but were never an issue for the loyal workers.
Most attributed the changes in Koji’s behavior to grief over his loss. With his three sons all far from home, few could blame the old lord for his reaction. And with the surrounding lands suddenly growing more fertile and fruitful, many more of Ishiyama’s people were simply too distracted to notice their lord’s oddities.
The truth was more complicated. A kami had found its way to the castle, drawn by Koji’s grief and appearing to him under the guise of his late wife. Lord Ishiyama was not foolish enough to truly believe it to be her, of course, but the sadness of an old widower got the better of him. He commissioned a shrine to the kami, modeled after his beloved, and placed it in the castle’s uppermost floor in hopes that the kami might stay. It seemed happy to oblige and made only one request in return: frequent offerings of the highest quality persimmons. The kami stayed, offering Koji images of his wife, that he spent more and more of his time lost in. He created the awkward schedules and restrictions to hide what he was doing. Meanwhile, the presence of a happy kami gifted the surrounding land with fertility and wealth.
That was until Koji’s passing, several months ago. Without the kami’s appeasement, the bountiful crops and hunts have begun to wither and struggle since then. Anxiety is spreading through the people. They direct their blame towards Tadashi, Koji’s eldest son, who has returned to the castle to handle its affairs. But he has been having his own problems within the walls of his old home. The fickle kami grows bored and aggravated by the sudden lack of offerings and has taken to finding its own fun. This began with minor pranks such as causing distant sounds at night, moving objects, or imitating people’s voices. But recently, the kami caused a persimmon to appear on a step beneath a worker’s foot, injuring them as they fell down the stairs.
Perhaps most disturbing is the momentary apparitions of the late Yuna. The brief visions and glances of her have made many of the workers believe it to be her spirit or a demon in her form, sparking rumors and superstitions about the lord’s private activities. Their fear has led to many of them refusing to work or even enter the castle as long as the spirit remains.
With the situation now growing hazardous and with no knowledge of his father’s deal, Tadashi seeks outside help. He invites a group of adventurers into the castle grounds in hopes that they can find what he believes to be a malevolent spirit and remove it, without attracting attention and worsening the peoples’ tension. Tadashi simply wishes for the entire affair to come to an end so that he and everyone else can move on.
Looking to use this encounter in a setting where a Japanese castle and kami don’t fit? For exactly this reason, we’ve designed the kami to be as interchangeable as possible with a fey or similar creature. The castle can likewise change, making the whole encounter easy to translate into your own setting!
The Japanese Castle
The castle doors slide open to a beautiful interior of varnished wood and off-white paper walls. Many of the walls are painted with depictions of landscapes and warriors locked in combat, though the space between them is almost entirely devoid of furniture. Where you would expect there to be tables, seating, and displays, there are instead workers, hurriedly moving about with too much urgency to notice you. One man does eventually glance your way, furrowing his brow in momentary confusion before his face lights up as he recognizes the purpose for your appearance.
The current situation in the castle has left it lacking in presentability. Tadashi is having the castle’s workers attend to the many belongings and valuables left behind by his father, taking inventory of its contents. The workers are still active on the ground floor but most refuse to go higher due to the kami’s presence.
Much of the furniture and other belongings is also packed away, either in the castle’s storage or in additional crates. The castle’s uppermost level is filled with these boxes. Among them is the late lord’s shrine to the kami, in the appearance of his wife, which was packed away in a corner. Tadashi is aware of the shrine, having believed it to be an unassuming product of his father’s grief. He did not initially question its existence and may neglect to mention it when he first speaks with the party.
(LG male human veteran)
A man in his 20’s with long, black hair tied in a thick tail behind his head. He sports a gentle expression, though the confidence of it seems to fade as fewer people look his way. The gorgeously designed robes of a lord betray his stature. Yet beneath them, when he moves or fidgets in the ill-suited garments, you can spy a layer of worn, tailored armor.
Tadashi Ishiyama is the oldest son of Koji and Yuna Ishiyama and the inheritor of Castle Ishiyama. Despite this, he does not believe himself to be a born leader or diplomat, instead preferring to travel as an adventurer with a name recognizable enough to force the use of a pseudonym. He has done this since leaving home, when he set off with his childhood retainers and friends, Iida and Owada. The time away taught him a great deal about responsibility and kindness.
Tadashi feels most comfortable living day-to-day on the road and is under a great deal of pressure in deciding the future of the castle. He does not recognize the leadership ability he has developed and often relies on his retainers for guidance. They, conversely, can see how much he has truly grown and loyally support him.
Tadashi will tell the characters everything he knows of the situation, including its likely ties to his father’s behavior. He believes that some form of dark spirit took advantage of the old man, who may have also strayed towards the occult. His death has given the spirit free rein over the castle. It appears more and more frequently, particularly on the castle’s upper floors.
The new lord’s foremost worry is that it is indeed the ghost of his mother, either corrupted in some way or remaining for another, unknown reason. Regardless, he asks the party to draw out and remove the spirit in whichever way they see fit and requests that they do so quietly and avoid creating panic.
Tadashi is also available within the castle for any follow-up questions the party might have. He can give directions and repeat anything they have forgotten. Tadashi can also aid in any requests they have for meeting with, organizing, or giving instructions to the castle’s staff.
Map and Asset Downloads
Castle Ishiyama and its encounter were created for use with our new Japanese Castle Oshiro battle map. You can find it, as well as many of our other Japanese maps and assets, below. We also have tokens for the various characters and creatures…
The Creatures of the Castle
The Trickster Kami
An apparition of a woman, translucent and shimmering. She appears elderly under the distortion, wearing a beautifully detailed ceremonial dress of warm pinks and purples and a kind smile on her face. But the image ripples like water, each wave momentarily altering her form. Some show other faces and clothing, while others reveal features of various animals such as a furred tail, long claws, and grinning fangs.
The kami is an otherworldly spirit, similar to a fey, though often more elusive. A kami can come from myriad origins, whether it be a nature spirit, a soul of the dead, or a representation of something more esoteric. They are fickle beings who can create destruction and chaos, or bring great blessings if appeased. Their abilities are similarly varied.
The particular kami within Castle Ishiyama appears to be a wandering trickster, previously without a home or worshippers. While Koji’s grief drew it to the castle, little else can be deduced about its history.
The kami’s abilities center around illusions and visual apparitions. This pairs with its curious, almost childlike fascination with the castle’s people and their emotions, resulting in the prank-like tricks and appearances. It seems to feel an attachment to them. Whether this is because it finds enjoyment in this, or perhaps is more closely connected to Yuna than they realize, no one can say.
The trickster kami’s stat block is a combination of a dryad and ghost. It uses altered versions of the former’s charming and spellcasting abilities, with the additions of the latter’s incorporeality. The kami also has added ways to trick people with its mimicry and shapechanging, while the dryad’s Fey Charm was split into dual abilities to represent a kami’s dual nature: the ‘nigi-mitama’ and ‘ara-mitama’.
This particular kami has also taken to animating different objects within the castle, in addition to illusions. These animated objects include the following:
A beautiful, traditional, and clearly expensive dress, kept in pristine condition. Its warm summer colors become a radiant blur as it whips at you, slipping over one arm and then the next, forcing you to wear it.
The animated coat is a twist on the rug of smothering. Rather than smothering and suffocating targets, it wraps around and controls its target’s movement… while suffocating them. They can still talk, of course, which allows them to call out for someone to pull the coat off of them.
The animated coat can also be almost any item of clothing. Its puppeteer action can even be modified to only affect the areas of the target’s body that it’s covering.
Animated O-yoroi Armor
The suit of armor clatters, moving as if it is worn by an invisible warrior. It draws its sword and assumes a patient, calculating stance.
The animated o-yoroi is a variant of the regular animated armor. It wields a katana (longsword) and has the ability to parry and study its opponents, just as its wearer once might have.
A bonus Animated Daisho monster token.
Calming the Kami
Without its offerings to appease it, the kami has revoked its blessings and taken to pranking, tricking, and harassing the residents of Castle Ishiyama. And though it’s actions have become hostile, the kami’s true intention is to return to the symbiotic relationship it shared with Koji Ishiyama. It wishes to lead the characters to understanding this by drawing attention to its persimmons and luring them to the now-hidden shrine. Unfortunately, its own understanding of how to do this is lacking, to say the least.
In its limited grasp of human language and conduct, the trickster kami attempts to force the party into an understanding. It animates suits of armor, clothing, weapons, and even furniture within the castle. The animated o-yoroi armors force the characters higher up the floors as well as standing between them and the entrance to prevent them from leaving. Animated coats and kimonos that bind a character do the same by forcibly moving them.
The kami itself avoids physical confrontation and personal violence. It assists its animated minions while making liberal use of its incorporeality and shapeshifting to evade danger. If the party actively pursues it, the kami heads for the castle’s uppermost level and the shrine within. Once they find the shrine, the kami will grow noticeably less aggressive and give them time to think.
During this time, the kami also tries to make the characters aware of the offerings of persimmons. It will place them in the party’s path and incorporate them into its minions and appearances. Animated kimonos may be stained with persimmon juice. The animated o-yoroi armors may rattle with something that moves inside of them, revealed to be loose persimmons that then roll out when the armors are defeated.
These offerings are grown on trees within the castle grounds, and are also common in the region’s farms. Though the kami could simply take them, its appeasement requires that they be given willingly as a gift to it.
Clues and Resolution
There are a number of clues that may lead the party to understanding what the kami wants. These can include the following, as well as many others:
The kami’s appearance. The kami had originally taken the form of Yuna Ishiyama, as it was what Koji seemed to want. It still does so, though it is now confused why this seems to anger or scare the castle’s residents.
Persimmons. The characters should very quickly notice the large number of persimmons involved in the kami’s tricks, as well as stacked around the shrine.
Hidden shrine. Koji’s shrine to the kami was moved into storage in the castle’s highest level. Tadashi believed it to have been dedicated to his mother. Characters that find the shrine and that have seen the kami can recognize the resemblance.
Speaking with workers. Talking to the workers who served Koji reveals many details of his behavior. This includes the frequent deliveries of persimmons, all of which he took for himself. Koji’s closest confidant may also admit that he overheard the lord speaking affectionately and mentioning Yuna’s name. Someone else who is knowledgeable in their legends and traditions may mention the possibility of it being a kami rather than Yuna’s lingering spirit, and the differences this could make.
The encounter ultimately ends once the kami is killed, driven out, or appeased. The latter result, being the most favorable, is up to the characters to find by putting the clues together and trying to ascertain the kami’s intentions. This may include attempting to speak to it, offering it fresh persimmons, or even having Tadashi meet with it. Any version of this can reveal that it is in fact a kami, allowing the characters to piece together more information and for Tadashi to fill in anything they did not figure out. Tadashi is apprehensive, though willing to continue the kami’s relationship for his people’s sake. He may request that it stops appearing in the form of his mother.
Of course, the party may also seek a more violent resolution. If the kami is removed from Castle Ishiyama, its blessings leave with it and the region’s prosperity will continue to fade. The most immediate effect of this is a dour mood, though there may be more dire consequences in the future.
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