1 honestly, pretty impressive
2 The War At Daddy's House
3 Brothers in Shinsei
4 Accidental Drug War
5 How 2 Feudal Lord
6 Court Tiers
7 Castle Guts
8 "Even the Inuit will smile and admit, 'for white men, the Rangers know our land well.'"
9 Ranbo - First Blood
10 Lies and Courtesy
11 I Will Never Tire Of Calling Otosan Uchi "Daddy's House"
12 "They are known to raid towns and farms, attack travelers, kidnap people (especially children and young maidens), enslave mortals, engage in murder and other crimes, corrupt and manipulate humanoids, and generally torment humans and D-Bees."
13 Diplomacy Is War
14 War Is Also War
15 crab battle
16 Sex and the City
17 Rice Balls
18 Town and Gown
19 City of Statistics
20 What If The Kolat Sucked Less?
21 Gotei's Finger
22 Wealthy Toads
23 Tough on Crime
24 Russian Novels Something Something
25 Goshi Goshi
26 Buy The Farm
27 Bug Town
28 Fish Town
29 Your Betters
30 People That Don't Exist
31 The Post
32 Shriners
33 Heaven Is A Place Slightly Above Earth
34 Lucky
35 The Scottish Rite
36 Mister Clean
37 Shrine Time
38 Feeling Festive
39 From Sea to Shrining Sea
40 Magical Space Horses
41 The Oldest Shrine
42 Who Am Shinsei
43 The Other Priesthood
44 Templestuous
45 Template
46 Monk Key
47 The Monk with the Dragon Tattoo
48 Where The Wild Things Are
49 You Make My Heart Sing
50 Born To Be Wild
51 Rock The Dragon
52 Welcome To Hell Forest
53 What Came Before
54 Troll In The Dungeons
55 Pirates of Penzance
56 How 2 Imperial
57 Making Maps
58 Making Monks

honestly, pretty impressive

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire is the first released supplement for FFG's line of Legend of the Five Rings books. I covered the beta way back when it came out, and...well, the mechanics are all pretty similar to what they were then. Some tweaks, dueling got redone some, some stuff got renamed (strife explosions are now called something else and are technically optional, but if you don't have one when you're full up you get huge penalties). But now we get to see in detail their take on the setting, and it is...honestly, pretty impressive. For example, this book is the first time Legend of the Five Rings has ever actually detailed a lot of the stuff that goes into playable day-to-day of the Empire, such as how shrines are actually treated or what castles are really like.

The book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1 is about castles and palaces, both as forts and as political centers, and also discusses diplomacy and war. Chapter 2 is about cities and towns and their role in trade, as well as harbors, ports, crime and law. Chapter 3 covers villages and farms, roads, rivers and the interaction of the Empire's classes of peasant and samurai. Chapter 4 is about Rokugani religion, shrines and magic. Chapter 5 covers the teachings of Shinsei, the lives of monks and priests, and the role of temples and monasteries. Chapter 6 is about the wild lands, the mines and logging villages and other rural areas. Chapter 7 is new mechanics - the Imperial Family's schools, playable kitsune shapeshifters, playable Kolat agents and new titles, mainly.

But first, let's talk about the history. It is presented as a text written by Imperial Scribe and historian Miya Chinatsu, and it is explicitly the official Imperial History, which is written expressly from a Rokugani perspective and almost certainly does not line up with the histories kept by, say, the Yobanjin, foreigners or even secret groups within the Empire itself. But hey, let's see what the timeline is now.

In the beginning, there was Nothing. Nothing is not even Void, because the Void does not change and cannot change. The Nothing, however, eventually realized it was alone, and in realizing it, the Nothing became afraid, which made one third of the world. Then, it longed for companionship, and in so doing, it made the second third. At last, it realized what it had done, regretting its fear and longing, and so created the final third. When this was done, the Nothing was no more, because the world had taken its place. Of course, in that time it had neither form nor solidity, being like a dark fluid swirling in chaos. Eventually, the lighter parts separated out, becoming hte Heavens, while the heavier parts became the earth. From this came the Three Nameless Gods, who saw that while Heaven and earth formed, all within was as yet wild and unshaped. They discussed, and they made two gods, sent forth to give shape to the world. These gods thought of how this could be done, and they bowed, kissed the earth and named it.

From this came life - new gods, new beasts. Suijin, lord of the oceans. Kaze-no-Kami, the god of wind. The Four Cardinal Winds, the Elemental Dragons. More. The two gods also gained names - the man Onnotangu, who was the moon, and the woman Amaterasu, who was the sun. They were attended by the shizoku, the tribe of gods, and below them the mazoku, the underworld demons, toiled to oversee what few dead souls existed. At this time, no humans existed. Instead, there were the Five Ancient Races - the tengu, the kitsu, the ningyo, the trolls and the zokujin. Little is known of such ancient times, of course. While the last of the Kitsu married into the Lion Clan, if he gave them any histories of his people the Lion have not shared them. What is known is primarily stories recorded by the granddaughter of Tsumaru, the ningyo wife of the Kami Shiba. The Unicorns claim that after the Five Ancient Races came another race, snakelike, which dwelled in the lands that would become Rokugan, based on the existence of statues within the Shinomen Forest that resemble snakes with human features. However, nothing is known of the truth of this.

As time passed, Onnotangu and Amaterasu had nine children, the Kami. As they grew, Onnotangu saw their strength, empowered by both his own blood and that of Amaterasu, and began to fear that they would one day usurp him. He became envious and fearful, and decided he would prevent this by devouring his own children. Amaterasu wept over this, her tears falling to the earth to form salty pools. However, she would not fight her husband directly, so she found a different solution. Each time Onnotangu swallowed a child, she would give him a cup of sake containing a single drop of poison. By the time he reached the youngest child, Hantei, he was so addled by the poison that Amaterasu was able to swap the child for a stone. At last, Onnotangu was satisfied and went to sleep. Amaterasu smuggled Hantei out, hiding him and teaching him of honor and war and strength. When he had learned all he could, she gave him a sword of starlight and sent him to rescue his brothers and sisters. Onnotangu was barely awakening when Hantei arrived, and the two began to fight. The duel was long, and Hantei was able to avoid his father's blows while striking his own heavily. Onnotangu's blood fell to the earth, landing in the pools of tears Amaterasu had wept. From each pool emerged two humans, and humanity is born of the Sun's tears and the Moon's blood. At last, Hantei found a chance, carving open Onnotangu's stomach and freeing his siblings. The last of them, Fu Leng, was caught by his father as he fell, but Hantei cut off his father's own hand, causing Fu Leng to fall to earth as had all the others. Fu Leng grabbed Hantei in a panic as he fell, and so all the Kami tumbled from the Heavens.

However, Fu Leng landed far from the others - Hantei, Akodo, Doji, Hida, Togashi, Shinjo and the twins Shiba and Bayushi. None knew where he fell. Having landed on earth, the Kami were shocked to find that they had become mortal, able to die. But even more, they were amazed by humanity, which was pitiable and weak despite the nature of its birth. In this dawning age, humans lived in scattered tribes, like the Yobanjin do, and worshipped the Fortunes, who are the gods of human labor. They lived in tiny villages and small towns, making crude pots and bronze weapons. They were barely able to farm wild grains or beans, and wore uncured hide and woven grass. However, they had no letters, no art, no dye. They relied on word of mouth and wild drums. Raiding was common, without strategy or honor.

The Kami decided that each of them would travel the land and judge it. Because all eight of the Kami were beautiful and wise and strong, they always gained attention where they went, and soon each had many followers seeking to learn from them. The Kami taught the arts of writing, calligraphy, smithing, making instruments and more. They taught honor and loyalty. (Some say a tenth Kami existed, called Ryoshun, but he died in the stomach of Onnotangu, and many claim he fell to the Underworld, where he serves or helps the Fortune of Death. Others say this is blasphemy, worthy of death.) In the year recorded as 5 Imperial Calendar, the Kami returned to the place they had fallen, deciding that humans had great worth, and so must be organized and governed, to bring wisdom. Thus, they would hold a tournament to see who would lead. Of the Kami, Togashi refused to participate, for it is said that with his immense wisdom, he saw that Hantei would inevitably win, and saw no point. (Hantei did, indeed, win.) Naming Hantei Emperor, the Kami then set about to forge an empire. All of them but Hantei formed clans made of their followers, and Hantei granted land to each, where the Kami settled and taught the ways of Bushido, teaching many warriors to make the land safe, and to fight those foolish humans who did not understand the blessings of the Kami and resisted their rule. Others learned the arts and craftwork, especially those that served Doji, and made many things of beauty. Towns grew to cities, roads were made, and the Emperor chose as his home the very hill upon which the Kami had fallen, which is now the site of the capital, Otosan Uchi.

Next time: Fu Leng returns.

The War At Daddy's House

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: The War At Daddy's House

In 39 IC, Fu Leng returned from the south. Hantei's rule had been wise and beloved, with perfect laws and perfect rule. The other Kami were overjoyed when Fu Leng returned...but cautious, because the Crab had reported evil stirring in the south, where he came from. Fu Leng was enraged that his siblings had excluded him from the tournament to decide the emperor, though their reason had been that they thought him dead. He called them liars, traitors and monsters, and it soon became clear that he had been corrupted by the evil power of Jigoku, the dark mirror of the true underworld. He demanded the right to challenge Hantei for rule of Rokugan - which Hantei accepted, naming Togashi as his champion. However, when Fu Leng told Togashi to name his weapon, the mighty ruler of the Dragon Clan named all of Rokugan and all that lived within it. Infuriated, Fu Leng retreated to the Shadowlands, vowing he'd return with his own army to fight that duel. The south was overrun by creatures of darkness - goblins, oni and worse. Warriors gathered to face these monsters, but all were defeated. Fu Leng used his evil magic to summon new forces and win battles, and the armies of Rokugan were slowly pushed back.

In this time, the tribe of Isawa joined the Empire. Before then, the spiritual leader Isawa, who was beloved by the Fortunes and lesser kami, had seen no prupose in serving under the Kami, but as the war went on, Shiba himself went to the Isawa tribe and begged their aid. Isawa refused, for he would not give up his tribe's traditions - and so Shiba knelt, swearing that he and all his descendants would serve Isawa and the Isawa tribe, should they agree to join the Phoenix Clan. Isawa was so impressed that he accepted, and to this day, while a Shiba is Phoenix Champion, the clan is run by the Isawa. It was also in this time that an old monk came to the camp of Hantei. He named himself Shinsei, and he said he knew how Fu Leng's forces might be defeated. While at first, Hantei would not listen, after Shinsei managed to defeat the guards sent to get rid of him despite wielding no weapons at all, the Emperor grew curious. The two spoke into the night, and Shiba recorded all that was said. This became the Tao of Shinsei, the entire teachings of the Little Teacher about the world, the elements and enlightenment. Shinsei said that fortune favored mortals, and so he would gather seven human warriors to defeat Fu Leng. Hantei gave permission, and one warrior from each tribe was chosen. These were the Seven Thunders.

The Seven Thunders headed south, and for many weeks, no one know anything of what they did. However, one day, the armies of the Dark Kami suddenly fell to pieces, and the warriors of the Empire were able to defeat them in a fierce battle, driving them from the battlefield. Thus it was clear that the Day of Thunder had come, that the Thunders had won. Hantei had a feast prepared, but of the Thunders, only two returned - Shinsei, and the Scorpion Thunder Shosuro. She carried twelve scrolls which she said bound Fu Leng, and Hantei ordered that these were to never be opened, giving them to the Scorpion for safekeeping. That is the end of ancient history, such as it is, and the beginning of the era known as the Thousand Years of Peace, in 42 IC.

With Fu Leng defeated, the Rokugani returned to building up the Empire. However, Hantei did not forget what had happened - an enemy from without had come, after all - and called his sister Shinjo, for she had always been a wanderer. He charged her and her clan, the Ki-Rin, to explore outside the Empire, to see what threats lay without. Doji was sad to see her sister go, giving Shinjo a beautiful fan she had personally made, to remind her sister of their close bond. Shortly after Shinjo left, Hantei died. Some say he died of a lingering wound from the war with Fu Leng, while others say he merely tired of the mortal realm and returned to the Heavens. He was succeeded by his son, Hantei Genji, the Shining Prince. Genji had, in his youth, been a great adventurer, and as Emperor he sponsored many temples and monasteries, to spread the knowledge of the Tao of Shinsei and the Five Elements. He also continued the work of infrastructure until his death, when his daughter, Hantei Murasaki, took the throne.

It was during Genji's reign that the Imperial Law was codified and reformed by Doji Hatsuo and Soshi Saibankan. Under Hantei, the law had always been perfectly just and without omission, for he was a Kami, but judges were mortal and flawed, varying in ability. By annotating the law, Hatsuo and Saibankan allowed for consistent rulings across the Empire. They founded the Emeral Magistrates, officials with authority to investigate crime and pass judgement. The land prospered for many years, producing far more yield than ever before, with the spread of cheaper and more effective iron tools and the discovery of wheat flour noodles, which could be made in lands too cold or dry for rice, and which were easier to cook than whole grain while being tastier than porridge. Trade spread, but barter soon became limiting. Many areas used plates or bars of gold and jade, but they were hard to use due to varying size and forgery. Coins developed with the rise of mining and casting, and the Emperor decreed their value - the koku would be set at the worth of an amount of rice sufficient to feed one person for one year. This and smaller coins allowed for easy and profitable trade.

Literacy also spread widely among the samurai class, for many clans prized ideas and wisdom. Annotated maps and written orders were useful to armies, reports preserved knowledge, and written works spread. The famous books Leadershi (by the Kami Akodo), The Sword (by the first Emerald Champion and husband to Doji, Kakita), Niten (by Kakita's great rival, Mirumoto Hojatsu), the Tao of Shinsei, and Elements (by Isawa). By the end of the first century, Lies also appeared, generally attributed to the Kami Bayushi. Even more books spread over the years, and the people achieved great advances in astrology, philosophy and theology. They unified the teachings of Shinsei and the ancient worship of the Fortunes, developing new healing methods and use of alchemy. The tea ceremony spread, invented by Lady Doji, and became quie popular.

In 390 IC, however, came the Time of Greed. Disputes between the Crane and Crab over land were common. The Yasuki family renounced their loyalty to the Crane, joining the Crab, and there was no rule in the Empire. While a Hantei sat upon the throne, the Crane, Phoenix and Scorpion Champions had conspired against him. They formed the Gozoku, a conspiracy that kidnapped the Emperor's heir, forcing him to make political concessions, and when the Emperor died, they prepared to make that heir their puppet. However, while the Emperor's sons had all been fostered to be subservient to the Gozoku, the youngest child, Yugozohime, had instead been raised by the Lion. She was a mighty warrior and an honorable samurai. When her father died, she challenged her eldest brother to a duel, slaying him and claiming the Throne for herself, ending the power of the Gozoku in 435 IC. The decade that followed would be known as the Blooming of the Lotus.

Next time: Gaijin appear.

Brothers in Shinsei

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Brothers in Shinsei

By the 400s, the monks known as the Brotherhood of Shinsei were leading innovators in medicine, and many commoners and nobles supported them as a result. Their growing resources and respect led many to the Tao and its teachings, but few peasants actually knew the Tao rather than just stories about Shinsei. The Brotherhood began to sponsor festivals that performed plays based on events of the life of Shinsei, mixed with sermons and readings from the Tao. This led to the development of kabuki theatre, quickly a favorite among wealthy heimin and lower ranking samurai. As the writers got better, even ranking samurai began to accept it. The monks also spread the tea ceremony to all classes, even the geisha. Some samurai found this scandalous, but many priests argued that teaching the sacred ceremony was not harmful and would help cleanse the spirit of interaction with money. Today, geisha, wealthy artisans and merchants are the most common peasants to know the ceremony, as few farmers have much interest, though historically there have been major tea masters from among the peasant classes.

This was also the time in which foreigners first arrived in Rokugan, seeking audience with the Emperor Yugozohime. Before now, the only gaijin known to Rokugan had been the desert tribes in the west and merchants from the Ivory Kingdoms. These gaijin came from a distant land called Pavarre, a kingdom across the great Sea of Amaterasu, looking for trade. Yugozohime allowed them to remain for two years to see if they could learn to be civilized, bringing much fear and debate from courtiers and leaders. The minor Mantis clan were especially active in support of this, seeing a chance to grow powerful and rich, while others were put off by their strange and ignorant ways. After the two years, the Emperor decided she had grown tired of the gaijin, commanding them to cease all trade with Rokugan and to leave immediately. In response, the gaijin took up arms against the Empire; this doesn't count as war, we are told, because gaijin aren't people. They slew the Emperor herself, and as a result all gaijin in Rokugan were put to death in what has become known as the Battle of the White Stag due to the cliffs at which the fight took place. A few escaped in ships, but were confronted by Crane and Mantis fleets. If any got past that, they have not returned.

It is theorized that the gaijin brought about spiritual imbalance, which allowed a maho-tsukai, a user of forbidden blood magic, to grow in power. His name was Iuchiban, and he was first known in the beginning of the 500s, when the artisan Asahina Yajinden made several swords for the Crab, Crane, Lion and Scorpion. Shortly after, the Lion Champion attacked the Dragon in midwinter, the Crab Champion murdered his children and the Crane Champion confessed to an affair in front of his entire court. All three killed themselves with the gifted blades. Only the Scorpion Champion escaped, revealing the corruption of the smith and his membership in the Bloodspeaker Cult, led by Iuchiban, whose history is unknown. He led an undead army on the capital, for in that time bodies were buried rather than burned, but he was defeated due to the timely warning of the Scorpion. After Iuchiban's execution, he was buried in a tomb meant to prevent his spirit ever escaping, and he was the last human ever buried in the Empire, for after that the Emperor decreed that all corpses must be burned to prevent their desecration by evil magic.

After his defeat, the revival of the older No style of theater became popular, due to a number of plays written by Kakita Iwane about the lives of the Kami, giving a chance to return to a past more glorious than the recent tragedies. No became very popular among the nobles, though not the peasantry, due to its wide range of emotion portrayed with minimal action. Woodblock printing also became popular to spread prints of famous actors and characters, though samurai derided these as perversions of true art, without real soul. (Besides, actors are mere hinin, making it even worse.) The end of the century brought the reign and death of Hantei the Sixteenth, the only Emperor known to have lost the Mandate of Heaven, ever. He is remembered as the Steel Chrysanthemum, whose early years were promising before his descent into paranoia and violence. He executed thousands for crimes that never happened, and at last, after he ordered his own mother strangled to death before the Court, his son rebelled and led the Imperial Guard against him. The son's success is proof that Amaterasu had withdrawn her support. Hantei XVI's son then retired to the Brotherhood of Shinsei, and all of the guards involved in the revolt committed seppuku. The STeel Chrysanthemum's youngest brother took power, reigning well and in peace for a long time.

After centuries undisturbed by the Shadowland forces that had followed Fu Leng, most had forgotten the threat, outside of Crab lands. They were merely a historic thing, and it is believed that the reemergence of the Shadowlands and Iuchiban in the 700s was divine punishment, either for the Steel Chrysanthemum's actions or the blasphemy of his own guards striking him down. Still, not all was bad. Agasha Hyoutaru developed a new, more vibrant ceramic glaze, and Kaiu Naizen invented a new kiln flue to allow greater control of pot firing, which led to a boom in decorative ceramics. Still, the Shadowlands invaded twice in the 700s. In one event, a massive attack distracted the crane, allowing the Kinjiro no Oni to lead a second force to overwhelm a Crane garrison near Earthquake Fish Bay until the arrival of Daidoji Masashiga, daimyo of the Daidoji, who drew the forces of the Shadowlands into the bay at low tide, keeping them there until high tide destroyed both forces. Thus did the Daidoji earn the nickname Iron Crane, granted by the Crab survivors in honor of Masashigi's sacrifice.

The next year, the oni known now only as the Maw swept across the Crab lands, pushing so far north that the ancestral fortress of the Hiruma, Daylight Castle, was lost entirely. While the Hiruma and Hida, aided by the Kuni Purifiers and Witch Hunters, were able to stop the advance, the borders shifted. The Kaiu built the Carpenter Wall, which still stands even now as the defense against the Shadowlands. The Hiruma lands have never been recovered, the first territorial loss ever to strike the Empire. This was not even the worst, however, for in 750 IC, the spirit of Iuchiban escaped his tomb, possessing a body to replace the dead one it had lost. Iuchiban gathered an army of cultists and undead, attacking once more. He was stopped at the Battle of Sleeping River, where a Togashi Order monk trapped the sorcerer's spirit in his own body long enough for both to be sealed away. In the aftermath, it was found that many had defied the Imperial edict against human burial, and hundreds were harshly punished.

In 815, the Ki-Rin returned to Rokugan, and for the first time, the Great Clans nearly went to war with one another. Gaijin goods, unseen since the expulsion of the gaijin centuries before, poured into the Empire. Some wonder if this is the cause of the elemental imbalances of more recent centuries that led to earthquakes in 1120. Due to various magical happenings, the Ki-Rin returned through the northern Shadowlands, and in their haste to escape the wastelands, they actually used their cavalry tro force their way through crab defenses, and were not at first recognized. In their wanderings, they had changed their name to Unicorn and had taken bizarre clothing and customs, even losing the purity of their classical language. Their horses were amazing, however, and their tactics had never been seen before, allowing them to defeat Scorpion armies that came after them. As they forced their way through the mountains, the Lion moved to stop them, but were halted by winter snows. This allowed the Unicorn to make contact with the Crane, who recognized Lady Doji's fan, gifted to Shinjo. The Emperor forbade the Lion from attacking, giving the Unicorn their ancestral lands - which the Lion didn't appreciate, as they'd been given stewardship over the fertile farms of the Ki-Rin. However, they obeyed. Many saw the Unicorn as gaijin, despite the Crane testimonies, due to their strange names, manners and food - especially because the Crane had adopted the Moto family, who were kin to the Ujik of the west. Some argued that the Moto should be expelled as gaijin, but the Unicorn Champion appealed to the Emperor, saying that the Moto had been adopted by Shinjo's own command, and the Emperor agreed.

The Crane set about civilizing the Unicorn - as best they could, anyway. The Unicorn accepted much, but would not give up their foreign names, food, clothing or the custom of shaking hands. While Unicorn courtiers behave properly outside their own lands, the Unicorn territory is foreign still to most Rokugani. However, they also brought innovations in metalwork, leatherwork and dying of fabric, as well as, of course, horses, advanced riding techniques and stirrups. They also were quite wealthy due to trade with the nations they'd met outside the Empire, and possessed the unique name magic of meishodo, by which they bound spirits into talismans, allowing similar magic to the shugenja of other clans without needing to bessech the kami in the same way. Many still see this as blasphemy.

Next time: Opium.

Accidental Drug War

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Accidental Drug War

One of the herbs that the Unicorn brought back with them to Rokugan was the opium poppy, used to produce the opium drug. The Unicorn used it as a painkiller, and it quickly spread across the Empire - including as a recreational drug, one which reduced devotion and loyalty. This led to public outcry even as the Yogo family discovered that it grew excellently around the lands of Ryoko Oawari Toshi, and so the Scorpion Champion convinced the Emperor to make the growth and use of opium poppies regulated, and to give the Scorpion sole right over growing and making opium. Over ten years, the City of Lies grew massively with the opium trade, and while the Scorpion control of medical opium made them rich, it didn't stop much misuse of opium, especially as the Kitsuki discovered that the land used for opium poppies far exceeded the amount needed to supply legitimate opium. However, the local governor assured the Empire that it was simply to ensure a high quality supply, and that all low quality opium was destroyed. This is certainly and surely true, not to be questioned.

In the 900s and 1000s, urban areas expanded massively, in large part due to the innovations brought by the Unicorn, as well as improved agricultural techniques and greater crop yields which allowed taxes to be paid without need for so many workers, sending many youths to the cities. For some traditionalists, the rising mobility of peasant merchants is an offense against the Celestial Order, of course, but it is improper to speak of such things. The Lion, especially, were not happy with the changes, punishing peasants harshly if they tried to abandon their villages or sell their produce rather than giving it unto the lord as tradition mandates. Even now, the Unicorn city of Khanbulak represents a symbol of outsider influence in Rokugan, and has encouraged the Mantis to trade in gaijin goods. The official acceptance of the Unicorn has been taken as a tacit approval of the practices they brought, and so gaijin goods and even travelers have been slowly met with more acceptance - slowly being the operative word. Several ports grew massively in this period.

In the late 1000s, a monk from the Shrine of the Seven Thunders described a new and controversial doctrine that has formed the Perfect Land Sect. This monk was Yuzue, who believed that the conversation between Shinsei and Hantei had started an Age of Celestial Virtue that lasted eight centuries - one for each Kami that heard Shinsei's teachings - and that the ninth began an Age of Declining Virtue, full of corruption and problems following the Tao. To get Shinsei to return, Yuzue would endlessly chant a special mantra proclaiming total trust in the Little Teacher, and believed that if enough people chanted it sincerely, Shinsei would return. Yuzue's student, Gatai, founded the Perfect Land Sect shortly after her death. Gatai's work claimed that Shinsei did not return to the Void when he left Ningen-do, but instead lived in a Perfect Land in the Celestial Heavens of Tengoku. The sect now believes that those who chant the kie, Yuzue's mantra, can join Shinsei in the Perfect Land after death rather than facing the wheel of karmic rebirth. In the Perfect Land, they may study under Shinsei himself, achieving enlightenment without need for suffering. For many Shinseists, the Perfect Land is heresy, a defiance of the Tao and the Celestial Order. However, they are very popular with peasants, as they offer the chance at freedom from mortal trials and the suffering of rebirth. Many heimin believe the Age of Declining Virtue refers to corruption among hte samurai class, which has further led samurai to denounce the Pure Land Sect. By the mid 900s, the sect was illegal in Phoenix Lands, forced to seek refuge among the mountains of the Dragon.

The Unicorn innovaitons also sparked new progress in the fields of the arts, which had fallen to stagnancy in the late 700s, during which only one work, the journal of the duelist Ikoma Hanzo, titled The Days of Salt and Sun, had any literary value. We get a brief aside about why this book owns and you should read it from Miya Chinatsu. However, in the 800s, artists were forced to confront the Unicorn ideas and either accept or reject them, looking upon the world as new once more. Painting and novels thrived, as did poetic competition. For one thousand years, the Empire has been at peace, with no wars - only peasant grumbling, Shadowlands infestations and purges of gaijin. No war, do you hear me?

This brings us out of the timeline and into chapter one with a discussion of feudal governance. The feudal lords, down to the lowest regional daimyo, are based out of castles, both for reasons of symbolic power and because they serve as administrative centers. All taxes are brought to the local castle, and soldiers and magistrates operate out of them. Commoners that require a lord's aid must petition them at the local castle. Each Great Clan divides their territory into several provinces, each with a daimyo based in, generally, the strongest of the provincial castles. The Clan's champion and family heads may also use the best of these, or may maintain their own seperate castles. Each of these ranking lords officially rules a province, but generally delegate the job to a seneschal or hatamoto. Major cities also have governors, who usually live in a nearby castle, though not always - some prefer unfortified homes within the city itself. Still, a city or provincial governor has ruling authority over their lands, including the maintenance of law and order and the collection of tax.

Below the governors are the lesser lords, or shugo, who rule over chunks of the territory in the name of their governor. These are the lowest ranking daimyo, often ambitious and prone to fighting with neighbors over territory. Each of them, of course, has their own castle - without one, they would lose much face. As a result, there are hundreds of castles across the Empire. While a lesser lord may only role over a very small region, maybe even just one village, they are landed gentry with the right to collect tax, and stand higher in the social order than a border-guard samurai or member of the armies. However, such small lords are not daimyo and are far too weak to have castles, instead living in less fortified manors.

Rokugani castles date back to the earliest days of the Empire - indeed, the Isawa histories claim that the Isawa tribe built them before even the Kami fell from the Heavens. As a result, the traditions of design and construction are ancient, using styles based on those developed when Hantei founded Otosan Uchi and set forth the "correct" methods of building, expounding on the ideas of architecture and engineering. Typically, these design elements are considered to comprise of a sloped tile roof and wall-top, a vertical and pagoda-like structure for towers and keeps, and plastered, smooth and lightly sloped outer walls. Because Hantei's palace keep was ten stories high, no keep in the Empire is more than nine stories, lest its master be accused of placing themselves on a level with the Emperor. Castles serve as a center of power, to be sure, but they are also a symbol of needs, values and power for the clan. While all share the same basic design principles, they are each modified to reflect a clan's needs and aesthetics. Crab castles are practical, Lion castles austere and hightly traditional, Crane castles beautiful, and Scorpion castles full of hidden passages. Specific families and even individual lords also alter the designs based on their duties and beliefs, which may well diverge from the general tenor of the clan. For example, the Daidoju and Kakita family castles are extremely different, despite both being Crane designs.

The Unicorn castles, as you might expect, are significantly less conventional than those of other clans. Because the Unicorn were gone for eight centuries, they found many foreign influences in their travels. Their architecture merges these ideas with the classical designs of the early Empire, and only have gradually begun to adopt more modern standards. Far Traveler Castle, for example, is a huge three-sided keep, while Battle Maiden Castle has bell-shaped tower domes, and the Moto palace at Khanbulak isn't even a single solid structure, just a series of immense and beautiful tapestries hung between massive columns. Only one major Unicorn castle conforms to Imperial expectations - Great Day Castle, built for the specific purpose of good diplomacy with the other Clans.

Next time: What a lord is actually expected to do.

How 2 Feudal Lord

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: How 2 Feudal Lord

The main job any lord has in Rokugan is to maintain order. This means protecting their lands from threats - invasion, bandits, pirates, rebellions - and collecting taxes. To do so, they keep a force of jizamurai who serve as their garrison, patrollers and protectors. The more powerful and wealthy a lord, the more jizamurai they can maintain and the more secure their land, as they must keep the jizamurai properly armed and armored out of their own pockets. Lords will also appoint various lower-ranking officials, like tax assessors, magistrates and local landholders to maintain law in smaller portions of their land. In the case of war, a lord is also responsible for raising, training and arming the ashigaru peasant-soldiers used in battle. Any poorly defended or lawless land is the fault of its lord, who must fix the problem. Failure to do so is usually punished with public shaming or even demotion in rank - or, in the worst cases, seppuku. Lords must also maintain the welfare of their vassals, though the level of care varies by family and clan. Some will go out of their way to ensure all vassals live well even to the point of ensuring good marriages or giving gifts at any major event, while others only pay a monthly stipend and nothing more. Most are somewhere in betwene.

Due to its defensibility and centrality, a lord's castle is usually where all governance happens. Taxes arrive there each fall and are held securely until the proper shares are sent on to the Emperor, bandits are brought there for execution or the display of their heads as a warning, wars are planned and diplomats are hosted there. The duty of hospitality is vital to being a lord, who must provide safe and good housing to any visiting samurai guest, no matter their rank. Of course, what passes for hospitality varies by clan - Crab or Lion lords are usually just going to give you a room and some food, while a Crane will more likely go out of their way to make you comfortable and entertained. Likewise, clans vary on how important it is for a castle to serve as a center of culture, with more martial clans tending to minimize this job at best.

Lords must also coordinate and host religious festivals over the course of the year, working with local temples and shugenja to ensure observances are carried out properly and auspiciously. The Rokugani are a pious and extremely superstitious people, especially commoners, and lords that fail to venerate the kami and Fortunes or whose rule is plagued by evil omens will often face internal discontent. This is a problem because a lord's final duty is to keep order among the heimin and hinin, the peasantry. A lord that allows disrespect or lawlessness among the peasants or who fails to protect them from danger is failing in their duties, and may face a humiliating peasant revolt. In such a case, the castle is effectively a prison in which the lord and their vassals become trapped by the angry peasants.

All castles share a single decoration - anything else is variable. That decoration is the banner in the court chamber, which displays the symbols of the lord's clan and family on the wall above the dais, as well as any personal mon the lord may have. If guests of rank are visiting, their banners are hung across the chamber from this banner as a show of respect, though sometimes in ways that give subtle insult, such as ensuring they are slightly lower than the lord's or being put on a side wall instead of directly opposite. When hosting the Imperial Winter Court, the hanging of banners follows elaborate rules of etiquette. Tradition dictates that the Imperial banner with the chrysanthemum symbol of the Hantei is largest and hangs directly over the dais, flanked by the banners of the Seppun and Otomo, with the banners of the Great Clans hung on the side walls in an order based on the current placements in Imperial favor - traditionally, the Crane and Lion are closest to the Emperor, but if the Emperor is mad at them this may not be the case. Traditionally the Dragon are placed on the wall directly opposite the Emperor's banner, in honor of Togashi's refusal to participate in the Tournament of the Kami.

The court chamber is included, of course, in any castle that's more than just an outpost, even if it's small. This is where court is held, and court is where a lord listens to their samurai for discussion and advice, as well as pleasant conversation and diplomacy. By tradition, a court chamber is a two-story room with a balcony around the second floor level. The main room is largely unfurnished, but for a dais on one end, where the lord or their deputy sits. The upper level usually has some tables. Courtiers and diplomats use both levels to form various conversational groups, and any artistic performances or formal presentations are done in front of the dais. Ideally, a court chamber has room for 200 samurai on the main floor, but only a handful of castles actually manage that. More commonly, even both floors together can't handle that many, and additional rooms are used for large events, or they are held outdoors in gardens or the parade ground. Court is open during the day to visitors, but the lord is usually only present for the morning. Guests may ask permission to address the entire court, especially to announce important events such as marriages, formal alliances or declarations of war. This will usually happen before the dais, with the speaker addressing the lord but heard by all. Artistic performances may happen at any time in the day or evening, but outside of formal court hours they are often held elsewhere in the castle. When court is not in session, shoji screens are often used to subdivide the hall for other uses, such as to provide extra space for barracks or an infirmary in time of war.

The arts performed at court vary wildly by castle. Some lords like musicians on the balconies, while others display bonsai trees, shoji-screen paintings or ikebana flower arrangements. Jesters may be called in to reduce tension by humor or to goad visitors from rival courts. Wealthy or ambitious lords might even arrange for indoor koi ponds or plays, while poor or ascetic lords may minimize decoration, often with comments about Shinsei's teachings about worldly distractions. Jesters in Rokugan are unusual artisans, not like what we might think of from the word. They are masters of various artistic forms, including kabuki, dance, song and poetry, and they often are keen students of politics. Their job is simple: expose the hypocrisies and pretensions around them. They are a socially acceptable exception to the typical Rokugani rules of etiquette which dictate ignoring spectacles and being silent, being allowed to call out what others must endure. The idea apparently originates with the Crane, probably in the second or third century. Jesters are samurai, but need not be from any specific school or training - they just need to show skill with the job and be appointed to it. Acting as a jester without a lord's appointment and official protection is a good way to be disgraced or killed. A Rokugani jester is neither madcap nor cheerful, but typically sardonic, sour and biting. They often use double intendres, puns and riddles to make their points, drawing attention to dishonor and satirizing the careful and polite conversations around them. So long as they use this mockery, they may call out the behavior of others without much risk of a duel. Of course, they can only go so far - a Lion or Crab samurai is unlikely to put up with constant needling from a jester for too long, after all, and the wise jester learns when it's best to retarget.

Every castle also maintains a sizable population that is effectively invisible to the entirety of the samurai within - the servants that keep it clean, orderly and working. Servants never use the main doors, relying on special ones that are typically ignored and unnoticed by the samurai. In some ways, this gives them quite a lot of freedom - a samurai is restricted in where they may go in a castle by rank, with most being barred from places like the lord's personal chambers. Servants can go everywhere and no one cares. They see and hear just about everything that goes on. Samurai may be good at keeping secrets from each other, but they barely notice the servants at the best of times. However, this sort of social blindness also means that samurai rarely actually exploit that fact, either. Talking to a servant for any reason but to give orders is highly demeaning. That small group of samurai that are willing to lower themselves to do so, however, gain a significant advantage politically. Simple bribery, threats or blackmail, or even just charisma, can gain much useful information from servants, and servants' entrances are extremely useful if you want to get in and out without notice, for who would dream of a samurai using them? The Scorpion tend to be the most common of samurai that actually are willing to do this, though even they are not universally so.

Next time: Seven People You Meet At Court

Court Tiers

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Court Tiers

Courts are dominated by the minority of samurai known as courtiers, trained and specialized in politics. There are relatively few of them compared to the warrior samurai, and they overwhelmingly are part of the courts. There are many, many ranks within a court, but a few are more important or universal than others. Ambassadors are empowered to speak on behalf of a lord and make binding agreements. Not all diplomats are ambassadors, who have additional prestige, and the job is extremely demanding. If an ambassador fucks up or shows weakness, that reflects on their lord and clan. This is one reason why courtiers are so frequently found using veiled and indirect language. Speaking bluntly is rude or indelicate, sure, but for an ambassador it's outright dangerous - if they speak too clearly, they end up committing themselves unwisely, and because a samurai's word is their bond, that is as binding as a written treaty. Indirectness gives room to maneuver and withdraw as necessary without loss of face.

Karo, or seneschals, are those samurai assigned as senior aides to their lord. They can be advisors, but their real job is to manage their lord's affairs and serve as the castle's chief administrator and recordkeeper. Further, they are the lord's stand-in when the lord is away. Being named a karo is a huge honor and a show of significant trust, and the office is often hereditary. When possible, a karo will be a hatamoto as well, to ensure total loyalty. A hatamoto is a lord's personal vassal, and only the most senior lords, typically family daimyos or clan champions, may name them. Their loyalty is not to the office of lord but to the actual person, with no intervening distractions, after all. Socially, a clan champion's hatamoto outranks a provincial lord, as well, so they are often used as troubleshooters to deal with disloyal or problematic provinces.

Artisans are those samurai that focus on artistic pursuits by specific training rather than as a hobby to supplement more martial training. They typically operate within the court system because it's the best way for them to show off their work, as a form of entertainment for the court. Most lords that care about having a civilized court will attempt to attract at least one or two artisans to the castle and to get more prominent ones to visit and exhibit their works. Nakodo, or matchmakers, are used by samurai families to help arrange advantageous marriages. Nearly all samurai marriages are arranged, and a skilled nakodo is highly in demand. Any lord of real note will have a nakodo at court, and their services are a useful diplomatic bargaining chip. When not serving as matchmakers, nakodo are typically found doing the same work as any courtier.

Sensei, instructors, are the last common position found in most courts. Every castle has at least one training dojo, after all, and a large castle may have several. The most prestigious schools with the best sensei are always in major castles of a clan, so they are centers of learning as well. Even a minor castle will maintain a small dojo and a sensei to train the bushi, and sensei often also serve as advisors to their lord, especially if the lord was one of their students. Their words are always given considerable influence, for as trainers they are responsible for ancient school secrets.

We then get a description of what a routine day in the life of various castle inhabitants would be like. It is, as many things in Rokugan are, pretty formalized and standardized by tradition, but gives a surprising amount of free time, especially around the afternoon or evenings. We get another way a lord can insult their guests - if a lord is armed or armored when meeting them, it is a show of distrust, while a lack of even symbolic guards is a show of trust. Lords often offer 'sword polishing' services to guests, as being asked to leave your sword behind, while a legitimate request, is often seen as insulting, so leaving them with a sword polisher is a way to save face. Guests have very strong rights under the Rokugani rules of hospitality, and so even if you are in the midst of a blood feud, it is expected that a guest will be safe in your castle, to the extent that they can expect to leave their sword in their room unless they're a yojimbo. Further, it is forbidden to openly harass and mistreat guests, which is one more reason for the court's development of the art of the subtle insult - it can be done without violating a guest's rights. Crude insults or physical attacks are not only offensive but dishonorable and worthy of punishment. Guests, however, are also bound - they must not freely insult others nor disrupt the harmony of court, at risk of dishonor and possibly a duel or even expulsion from the castle.

Castles are one of the few types of building in Rokugan to make heavy use of stone in their construction, especially in the outer walls and foundations. Wood is typically used for the upper levels and interior, but the amount of wood to stone varies by local tradition and resources. The Crab make heavy use of stone, both in their massive castles and the Kaiu Wall, and the Lion use stone whenever possible to increase defensibility, while the Dragon do so because stone is much more common than wood in the mountains. The Unicorn, despite their martial bent, make very little use of stone due to their nomadic traditions and the large number of forests in their territory. Other clans use relatively little stone as well, finding wood easier to work with, and the Crane and Phoenix in particular tend to view their castles more as art pieces than martial fortresses.

Castles are usually placed along important routes of travel, like roads, mountain passes or rivers. Ideally they occupy an elevated position on a mountain or hilltop. If there is no available hill, they should at least be in an open area in which attackers cannot use the terrain for shelter. A castle built on a mountain is known as a yamajiro, a hilltop castle is a hirayamajiro, and the most common type, the castle on open ground, is a hirajiro. A castle will be designed by a single clan artisan with their own unique style, and often the artisan for a new castle is selected via competition. Each architect will be backed by a different patron, seeking power and rank in their clan by sponsoring the winner. Deciding on which architects to allow to compete may require weeks of secret negotiations and political maneuvering, and the sponsors and architects will also present gifts to the lords. In theory this is to demonstrate seriousness and dedication; in practice, it's bribery. This is not, however, a universal practice. The Crab and Lion rarely allow politics to play any part in a castle's construction - the new castle is simply too tactically important. The manner in which plans and designs are presented varies by clan, as well, and may be public or private. Crab architects are known for use of highly accurate scale models, while the Crane prefer artistic drawings, and the Scorpion discuss secret and delicate aspects of design with the lord in private. The actual work of construction is done by peasant labor conscripted from the locals. The architect and samurai artisans will oversee the work and select skilled tradespeople as assistants. The Crab are known to actually put heimin craftworkers in charge of some portions of the labor, which is viewed as highly pragmatic and distasteful. The Scorpion, on the other hand, often rely on the labor of condemned criminals, and many rumors claim that a large portion of such labor is buried in castle foundations.

All castles are known either as a shiro, or castle, or a kyuden, or palace. The distinction is, in theory, that a kyuden is capable of hosting the Imperial Winter Court. By tradition dating back to the first century, the Emperor never remains in Otosan Uchi over the winter, but will instead stay with a Great Clan for the season. To host the Winter Court is a huge honor, but extremely costly in both money and effort, and it is impossible to refuse the honor without loss of face. More than one Emperor has used Winter Court hosting as a way to punish people. The traditional requirement, established by the Seppun, is that a kyuden must be able to handle 250 guests at least - 30 from each Great Clan, plus the Emperor's entourage. However, the distinction is more symbolic than practical at this point. The decision as to whether a castle is shiro or kyuden is a matter of face, honor, symbol and politics as much as anything else. Many castles which should be kyuden are designated shiro on maps, even if they've hosted Winter Court, while other castles that are wholly incapable are called kyuden. Shiro Mirumoto, for example, has hosted the Emperor at least twice, and Pale Oak Castle in the Phoenix lands is famously an Imperial winter destination, but is still a shiro. Then there's Shiro Ide in the Unicorn lands, built for the express purpose of Winter Court, which is still not yet called kyuden. On the other hand, you have Kyuden Togashi, which is physically incapable of hosting the court due to being essentially a massive shrine complex in a remote location rather than a castle. (Indeed, no one can ever recall an Emperor so much as seeing the place.) Kyuden Hida is probably theoretically capable of being host to the Emperor, but it would be bizarre in the extreme for the Emperor to inflict the bleak and dangerous lands of the Crab on his court. (A novel claims that Hantei XXXI once did, but it has never been historically confirmed.)

Next time: The parts of a castle.

Castle Guts

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Castle Guts

The heart of any castle is the tenshukaku, the keep, built on a stone foundation. Typically a keep will be three to six floors high, plus the foundation and any sublevels, though a very high ranking lord may have up to nine floors, and Otosan Uchi's imperial palace has ten. The daimyo resides in the keep on the highest floor, both symbolically to demonstrate their station and because it makes it the hardest part for an attacker to reach. Shugenja also often claim it symbolizes the relation between Tengoku and Ningen-do, the Heavens and the mortal world. A lord that fears spies or assassins will often have nightingale floors installed on the upper levels - special wooden floors designed to creak and groan when walked on. Below the top floor will be guest quarters, audience halls, offices, libraries and studios. Most castles also include at least one shrine to the local spirits in the keep, and the sublevels in the foundation will include storage, archives, supplies, an armory and sometimes the barracks. If possible, the basements will also contain a well or cistern, to help withstand a siege. Most also have at least one hidden escape tunnel.

A castle is usually multiple structures, surrounded by maru, the outer walls. Smaller castles or those focused more on politics may have only one set of walls, while larger castles and more martial ones often have several, with narrow passages, isolated courtyards and gatehouses to make assaults harder. The outer walls are generally stone outside of extremely poor or extremely peaceful lands, but the size and thickness of the walls varies by clan and location. Traditionally, the walls are coated in an outer layer of plaster, usually painted white or off-white with clan color decorations, to show a beautiful exterior. Crab castles typically ignore this practice. Walls almost always have a few arrow slits, called yasama, for defensive purposes, though some see no real use. The walls are usually built sloped, with varying levels of steepness. No walls are purely vertical. While this could theoretically make a wall easier to climb, Rokugani masonry is tight-fit and has few handholds, with the smooth plaster being even more annoying to scale. Sloped walls are used because Otosan Uchi has them, and were probably originally meant to be resistant to earthquakes, which are a common issue in the Imperial City. The walls rarely have walkways built in, but heavy logs are incorporated that stick out several feet into the defensive side, which can have wooden planks placed on them to create positions. These removable parapets are known as ishi uchi tama, 'stone-throwing shelves.' While most castles have them, neither Crab walls nor the outer walls of Otosan Uchi's Forbidden City do, instead utilizing broad parapets incorporated into the wall.

Any truly notable castle will reinforce the walls with yagura, towers. There will almost always be two at the main gate, with more at corners and key positions. The more martial and practical the castle, the more towers you get. Kyuden Doji and Kyuden Kakita are notable for having only the two at the gates, while even small Lion or Crab castles may have upwards of five. Towers serve to allow a garrison to spot trouble early, outrange them with bows and use as strongholds in the case of assault or rallying points for a wall breach. The Crab are known to mount siege engines on their towers, but it isn't common in any other clan. A tower is physically much like the keep but smaller, with the lower floors used to house troops or food and the upper floors used as fighting platforms for archers. The bigger the tower, the more sophisticated it will be and the more troops it can hold. The greatest are those on the Kaiu Wall, each of which is practically a castle in its own right. Crane, Scorpion and Phoenix towers tend to the small side and are sometimes more ornaments than anything else. Unicorn castles rarely have many towers because they prefer plains fighting to wall defense.

Any good castle will include at least one barracks to house the garrison, and these are usually highly utilitarian living spaces. Only unwed samurai live in them, as do ronin employed by the daimyo. Most barracks include a small ancestral shrine and secondary armory as well, and they tend to be separate from the main keep, though a small castle may instead contain them in the bottom two floors. Large castles may well have secondary barracks to supplement the main ones. Barracks and other outbuildings are usually wood with a layer of plaster over it, making them more fire resistant than most Rokugani buildings of wood and paper. Each clan uses a different style; the Dragon include small meditation chambers with copies of the Tao of Shinsei, while Lion barracks are usually extremely austere, as they hold the samurai should only be there to eat and sleep, as do the Crab. Crane, Phoenix and Scorpion barracks often have some art and literature inside.

As noted before, any castle has at least one dojo, which technically can be any school but the term is usually used for those that train bushi. In any castle of real size, the dojo is rarely inside the keep but instead within its own seperate structure on the grounds, usually near the parade ground. Very large castles may even have more than one dojo. Typically, a dojo has a central building, a training courtyard around it and one or more student barracks, which connect to the center and are kept apart from the main soldiers' barracks. The main building is the dojo itself, usually one large chamber lined with practice weapons and plaques bearing the names of past students. Even the Crane keep their dojos simple and sparsely decorated, to prevent distraction. Most contain a small ancestral shrine dedicated to the school's founder and past sensei, which students must bow to whenever they enter. Students typically live on-site during training, in large, open dorms in the student barracks, with almost no privacy.

Samurai begin training between ages 8 and 10, training for several years to attain mastery, which is typically earned between ages 14 and 18. When they master their basic techniques, a coming-of-age ceremony called a gempuku is held. The gempuku is a critical moment in a samurai's life, and every family and clan has their own traditions for it. Three elements are common to all, however. Every gempuku involves a test or challenge in which the student displays mastery and dedication to their clan ideals, with varying degrees of difficulty. The Hida often send out their students to return with the head of a Tainted beast of the Shadowlands, but more often a challenge will be a display of kata or recitation from memory of a list of ancestors. Once the challenge is completed, young samurai undergo a ceremony in which they select their adult name, swearing oaths of fealty to their clan and family. Ranking samurai receive these oaths on behalf of the daimyos and champion most of the time, and the higher the rank, the more honor is given to the student and the more effort they will be expected to show. At the end, they receive their daisho, the pair of swords that are theirs by right. These may be new or inherited from an ancestor or family member, and they are the mark of adulthood as a samurai. Even courtiers and shugenja receive them, but their katanas are typically left at home on display stands in a place of honor, rather than carried as a bushi's is.

Next time: More castle stuff.

"Even the Inuit will smile and admit, 'for white men, the Rangers know our land well.'"

posted by Alien Rope Burn Original SA post

Rifts World Book 20: Canada, Part 7 - "Even the Inuit will smile and admit, 'for white men, the Rangers know our land well.'"

Northern Canada
The Yukon, Northwest, and Nunavut Territories, including Victoria Island, Baffin Island & all northern islands.

Though the tundra is seen as just wastelands to most, the locals benefit from the fact that there aren't many power players that interfere with life here. There are issues with monsters and demons, and rumors of demon worshipers (don't you just hate Canadian Satanists?), and also just the general harshness of the landscape. Most of the locals are the Inuit, who weathered the apocalypse pretty well due to their relative isolation, and D-Bees (like Mastadonids and Sasquatch, detailed later). The Inuit have made a "return to the old, traditional ways" which should surprise no readers at this point, but "half use modern M.D. Weapons". We're referred to Rifts World Book 15: Spirit West for more detail. Where do they get those weapons from, though, if they're so isolated...?

Well, nevermind that, it's time for our cover stars!

Welcome to Battleforce 2000.

The Tundra Rangers
By Eric Thompson & Kevin Siembieda

Founded by survivors of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who travelled to an advanced military base in the North because...

... yeah, 7,000 RCMP somehow coordinated, decided to go to this base, and help out. Well, maybe they got orders from somewhere? Whatever the reason, they worked and tried to start putting together a plan to restore order across Canada, but were snowed in for a year. And the end of that year, the snows stopped, and when they went out one day suddenly it was Summer! They figured out (somehow) that 265 years had passed outside while it's only been a single year inside. Still looking to help people, they decided to fight injustice and renamed themselves the Tundra Rangers because... uh... y'know. "Mounties" sounds corny to the authors, I guess? Also, you can try and copyright "Tundra Rangers". Maybe these were originally meant to be Canadian Rangers (aka Arctic Rangers), which would fit far better into this concept, but Siembieda decided to make them Mounties because Americans know about the RCMP? I just don't know.

Scouting out, they discovered the Coalition States- and immediately concluded they were "evil and dangerous as they were important to mankind's survival — and best to be avoided". Ah, the necessary evil of fascism. And so, they decided to get on their hovercycles and horses and go around righting wrongs in singlets or pairs! You know, like the Cyber-Knights. Or the Knights of England. Or the Bogatyrs. Or the Justice Rangers. Or the Cosmo-Knights. Or the... whatever they had in Spirit West. I know it was in there. You know. Every area in Rifts needs to have some generic wandering force of do-gooders. Apparently their training in working with indigenous peoples prepared them for working with D-Bees as well, and they're not particularly judgmental.

Also, have we mentioned they're like Cyber-Knights?

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

The Tundra Rangers are the equivalent of the old lawmen and gunfighters of the Old (and New) West, or the high-tech Cyber-Knights of the north.

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

Like the Cyber-Knights, the Tundra Rangers defy tyranny and tirelessly fight monsters and help people, from the ranchers and towns in the south to the inhabitants of a tiny farm or lone individual in the wilderness.

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

The Tundra Rangers have became something of living legends nearly on the scale of the fabled Cyber-Knights, and are the symbol (some would say living embodiment) of law, order and justice.

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

Tundra Rangers are always on the move, like enigmatic superheroes or knights old, and seem to appear wherever they are needed.

Or that they work with Cyber-Knights?

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

The constant and growing trouble with demons and monsters from the Calgary Rift is of grave concern to the Rangers, and they frequently exchange information and join forces with the Cyber-Knights in their efforts to contain and destroy the gathering evil.

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

Cyber-Knights and Tundra Rangers regard one another as close allies and have fought many great battles together.

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

One such battle involved a skirmish near Calgary where 500 Cyber-Knights and 4,000 Tundra Rangers are said to have fought and slain over 1,000 demons and their mortal minions.

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

Lone operatives, pairs and even squads are allowed to work with other lawmen, Cyber-Knights, adventurers, mercenaries and local citizens to resolve these problems and keep the peace.

Or they have a code? Codes are cool, right? Like a knight! It tells them to do good stuff and be honest and fair and stuff.

"And we will protect this ink stain by any and all means!"

They don't have cornball red uniforms but instead look like cool arctic ninjas with a Maple Leaf on their shoulder! They emerge from the snow and solve problems with guns and nobody knows where they come from, because their base is super secret! But they still fly the Canadian flag over their secret base and make people proud about the flag because reasons!

They do recruit new members, of course, and about 25% of them are "Native Americans" (er, Indigenous Canadians / First Nations). And 60% of those are magical!... the rest are "Modern Renegades" that use guns and don't even care about the spirits, mannn. Makes for some interesting times on the break room, I'm sure. (Also, that means like 15% of Tundra Rangers are essentially shamans of one stripe or another, though I'm not sure that's been really thought out given they use tech all the time.) They apparently got enough respect with the Simvan Monster Riders after battling them that some Simvan joined them, too.

"We're Tundra Rangers!... look, Siembieda couldn't be bothered to have somebody draw uniforms on us, just take our word for it...

Also, you'd better not mess with then because they'll bring you to tundra justice!

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

And everyone knows they are relentless in this task, and that the "Tundra Rangers always get their man!"

Of course, because they're tundra knights, they have their code, guides them to keep people safe, mete out justice, be tolerant of diversity, "never doubt the good we are doing", believe in themselves who believes in themselves who believe in them, keep their word, stay loyal, and-

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

• One person can make a difference. Never doubt it.
• A Tundra Ranger never stands alone.

Sure, makes sense.

We get a bunch of notes and numbers on them. About 9% die annually, 5% go missing, and 2% go AWOL. But then right after that we're told they're sent out individually to go be lone wanderers. Maybe you shouldn't do that, Tundra Rangers! Respect the buddy system! In addition, they're only expected to check in every few weeks to two months. If one goes all loose cannon, though, they become persona non grata and everybody hates them, so if you play one you better toe the line and follow orders or else the pass-aggy GM will get you! Even if you go out of contact for reasons not your own, you'll catch a bunch of shit because they'll try and search for you and they haaate doing that.

But enough of sticks, then we get some carrots. Like how well people treat Tundra Rangers and give them a warm meal and a soft bed and a temporary horse loan. In addition, they can requisition equipment, but-

Rifts World Book 20: Canada posted:

Other factors include basic supplies and the overall personality of the commanding officer (if he has a disliking towards the character, the availability of options may become very constricted).

The passive-aggressive officer always short-supplies his man!

You can tell they're a future ranger because goggles.

Of course, we also get some new classes. Also, since we have new saving throws, they get bonuses on saving against cold! Exciting. As always, the % is the chance to qualify to play one as a human.

The Trapper-Woodsman-Football O.C.C.

And now, a surprise interview with the Trapper-Woodsman O.C.C. (31%).


ARB: This is the Tundra Ranger section. Why the hell are you here?

TWO: Y'sure? I thought this was just a bunch of generic wilderness classes, figured I'd fit right in.

ARB: ... so I've actually seen like, a lot of survivalist character classes in this game. Dozens, maybe. What do you think you bring to the table?

TWO: Oh, I've got this new ability, eh? It's called track & trap monstrous animals, otherworldly creatures & demons. Ain't nobody got that!

ARB: How is that different from like, the normal tracking or trapping skills?

TWO: Well, I can apply it to monsters and demons, don'cha know?

ARB: Can't you already apply tracking or trapping to those?

TWO: This is specifically for catching those otherworldly buggers, though. I'm better at it than some old wilderness scout or hoity-toity Tundra Ranger!

ARB: How are you better at it?

TWO: I'm specialized!

ARB: Okay, do you do it faster, or do you know more, or-

TWO: I said, I'm specialized! That makes me better!

ARB: Fine, um, what's this - Forest-wise?

TWO: Get this, it's like streetwise. But for the forest.

ARB: Oh, get the fuck out. Get the fuck out of here. You're just another goddamned warmed-over treefucker-

TWO: Wait! Wait! Hold up! Sorry, just- don't be so quick to judge, I've got something to show you.

ARB: Nobody cares about your "+1 to save vs posession". Nobody. Literally noone. Not even Palladium devotees care.

TWO: I've got... baggies.

ARB: what

TWO: Says here under my equipment: "a box of 100 plastic sealable sandwich bags". Oh, I know you're impressed, but that's not all.

ARB: Why did they write- who on Earth cares-

TWO: Also: "a box of 100 large sealable bags" See? Let's see some Tundra Ranger pull out a storage solution like this?

ARB: Okay, no, seriously, I want you gone.

TWO: I have 4 "airtight (resealable) plastic containers"! It's tuppin'ware! I had to roll 1d4 to see how many I got and I rolled a 4.

ARB: I am- I am done! Here!... with having to comment on another roughin' it toughin' it generic mountain man motherfucker livin' off the land, we don't need another class with "Skin & Prepare Animal Hides" like anybody cares, and- what- what are-

TWO: *sobs* but I have tuppin'ware *sobs*

ARB: Shit. I- look, it's okay, I thought you had +2 to save vs pain, I guess- fuck, I thought you'd make that saving throw- look, let's just turn the mic off-

Next: Calgary, the heart of evil.

Ranbo - First Blood

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Ranbo - First Blood

A mizuki, that is a moat, is not universal to Rokugani castles, but does show up with decent frequency. Usually a moat will be placed outside the exterior walls or between wall layers as part of a multilayered defense. Putting it directly around the keep itself is both rare and highly impractical in most cases anyway. Most moats, however, contain no water, in favor of just being empty ditches. Some skilled architects do redirect mountain streams, however, to make for a clean and constantly renewed moat that relies on prayers to the stream's kami or wards on the foundation to prevent erosion. Bridges across moats are always designed to be easily collapsible during an attack. Moats are most common in Crane, Scorpion and Lion castles as well as those of the Imperial family. Unicorn, Dragon and Crab castles almost never have them, although the River of the Last Stand does sort of function like one for the Kaiu Wall.

Smaller castles will usually maintain their guest housing within the keep itself, but a large complex will have one or more outbuildings to be dedicated guest quarters. In any major castle expected to host significant diplomatic meetings or Winter Court, there will be seperate buildings for each Great Clan, to allow them to hold private meetings without being overheard. These guest houses will in essence be large normal housing for samurai, with all the amenities the host clan would offer to its own. Crane guest quarters are thus the best short of the Imperial Palace, while Lion and Dragon castle guest housing tends to the more austere. The Crab rarely have dedicated guest housing at all except in the Yasuki family palace.

All castles will have at least a small courtyard within the main gate, usually in front of the keep. This is the parade ground, where the soldiers drill, guests can leave their mounts and the lord can give speeches to their men. In a large castle, the space will be larger as well, and in massive castles such as Kyuden Hida or Shiro Sano ken Hayai, it is large enough to host a thousand soldiers at once - or more.

Every samurai's home must have gardens, including castles, to allow the samurai to seek harmony in the carefully curated natural world. In small or simple castles, there's usually just one small garden, usually in the first floor near the court chamber. Larger castles will often have secondary gardens, often with one on an upper balcony for exclusive use by the lord's family. Obviously these all take significant upkeep from the servants and sometimes a specialized artisan samurai, so they do cost. In a really grand castle, an entire part of the castle complex may be set aside for an outdoor walking garden with ponds, bridges, walkways and so on, probably even shrines to the Fortunes or ancestors. The most famous of these lie in Kyuden Bayushi and Kyuden Doji, but they are hardly alone.

While some castles stand alone, most coexist with a nearby town, or jokamichi. These towns form because the castle is both the safest place in the territory and the seat of government. The Crane encourage the practice, while the Lion discourage it in the belief that it weakens the castle's defenses. Castle towns typically draw in merchants, artisans and other skilled peasants, and most of the castle's servants will live there, though some live in the castle proper. Farmers are rarer, as most castles rely on imported food anyway. There will also be certain classes of hinin attracted by the local samurai - actors and geisha, mainly. Some towns grow large enough to become full cities with thousands of people, and when this happens the local lord will usually build a wall around the city for defense, separate from the castle's own walls, so that if the city is captured, the castle can hold out.

A castle will also always have a small stable at least for the mounts of the lord and their retainers. For those that regularly receive visitors, the stables will be much larger and have spare mounts for guests to use, as well as dedicated and skilled staff. Unicorn stables are, naturally, considered vital to any Unicorn castle, and will be far larger and more elaborate than any others, often with samurai on staff to train the horses.

We now get into the first example castle: Toshi Ranbo wo Shien Shite Reigisaho, Violence Behind Courtliness City. It was originally built as a small four-story castle, but it has been a focal point of Lion-Crane fighting for centuries and has grown to be very important. Its name comes from the constant fighting and subsequent diplomacy and peace treaties. Physically, it is a medium-sized fortress on flat land, four stories tall with its own separate barracks, guesthouses, small court chamber added by Crane architects, ancestral shrine and large shrines to Hachiman and Bishamon. It has a two-tower wall, and beyond the inner fort is a larger walled compound with its own gates and towers, plus extra barracks, training grounds, dojo and quarters for officers and servants.

Why is a minor Lion castle the focus of so much conflict? During the early Empire, the Crane were given control of Kintani, the Golden Valley, which is an isolated but valuable piece of land near the Imperial City. In the 400s, the Lion built a castle called Kita no Yosa, the Northern Fortress, to watch the Crane. The castle was granted to a minor vassal family, the Goseki, who spent 500 years fighting the Crane off and on. The peak of the conflict happened in the 600s, when the Crane twice made major attacks, one of which captured the town for eight days, though not the castle. The Lion went on a retaliatory offensive which nearly captured Kintani entirely. The castle town thrived enough to become the current city of Toshi Ranbo, but by the 1100s, a new wave of fighting made it shrink back to village size, with barely a few hundred people. This shrunken settlement was taken by Tsume no Doji Retsu, ruler of the Kintani and daimyo of the Tsume vassal family of the Crane. In a surprise assault, he utterly eradicated the Goseki family and claimed Toshi Ranbo for the Crane Clan, which the Imperial Court later upheld due to Crane political dominance. The Daidoji were given command of the castle, improving its defenses and adding gated walls around the cillage to ensure the Lion couldn't seize it back. Later Lion campaigns to retake it failed due to Crane politicking and losses in battle, with both sides escalating their military commitments to the region. In 1123 (IE, very recently), a major battle cost the life of the Lion Champion, Akodo Arasou, and so Toshi Ranbo currently has an outsized weight in current events, well out of proportion to either its size or its actual tactical value.

Every location given has several rumors and an adventure seed written up, plus a major NPC. The rumors may or may not be true as the GM desires.


Toshi Ranbo Rumors
  • A number of servants within the castle retain their age-old loyalty to the Lion Clan and await an opportunity to sabotage the Crane defenders from within.
  • Toshi Ranbo contains a number of significant documents and items that were hidden away when ownership of the castle changed hands violently.
  • Restless ancestral spirits sometimes wander the halls of the keep and the battlefields where they died many years ago.

Toshi Ranbo's NPC is Kakita Sukenobu, its steward. He is a handsome young man who is barely a few years past gempuku, with dyed white hair in the fashion of his clan. He never expected this position of power, but inherited it after the ousting of the castle's last steward, Daidoju Yoshiya. Sukenobu is an artist and romantic at heart, not a soldier, and few believe he's ready for the job. His court is full of angry tacticions and his castle is nearly always under siege. All of the advice he's getting is against what he actually feels he wants to do. He wants peace and art and leisure, but his duty is war. He's eager to create his own band of advisors and friends, particularly samurai with an artistic temperament or who are also repelled by the militancy of Toshi Ranbo's court.

The adventure seed is this: the PCs head to Toshi Ranbo shortly after the death of Akodo Arasou, who was slain by Doji Hotaru, the Crane Champion. Kakita Sukenobu is trying to prevent further violence, while the Lion are camped nearby, eager to avenge their lost champion. Sukenobu is spending a lot of his time with a ronin called Hanako, with scandalous rumors of romance flying around. As the PCs arrive, the court advisors are eager to prepare defenses for the Lion attack they are sure is coming. The PCs overhear Hanako talking to someone about a plot to help the Lion take the castle, and however the PCs decide to do so, they learn that Hanako is the last survivor of the Goseki family, who escaped Retsu's massacre as a child. She wants to let the Lion reclaim the castle so she can reclaim her family name, but has no plans to murder Sukenobu, and she genuinely likes him. If the PCs do not intervene, Hanako will use the information she has gathered as a guest and her excellent sword skills to aid the Lion in their next assault. The PCs must decide whether to warn the Crane or to help Hanako reclaim her name and castle. However, it will be impossible to admit publically that they heard about Hanako's plans without admitting they were eavesdropping, which is socially forbidden and a major breach of etiquette. Sukenobu's infatuation with Hanako also means he is likely to dismiss the claims angrily and even turn against the PCs if they can't give him convincing proof.

Next time: Kyuden Bayushi and Kyuden Doji

Lies and Courtesy

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Lies and Courtesy

Kyuden Bayushi is also known as Silk and Shadow Palace, and from the outside it looks pretty normal. It's nine stories tall, large, beautiful and apparently only lightly defended. However, as is so often the case with the Scorpion, this is a trick. The interior is indeed pleasant and comfortable, similar to a Crane castle. The servants are attentive and pamper guests. However, the interior contains no walls whatsoever except for those required to bear its load. All rooms and hallways are made via shoji screens and movable partitions, allowing the layout to be changed at a moment's notice - which it often is overnight, even with guests present. This is sometimes used to trick guests into embarrassment by getting them lost and unable to find important places, or just to keep them off balance. The keep itself is surrounded by an elaborate maze made of hedges grown over actual thick walls, called Bayushi's Labyrinth. It contains many moving paths and hidden entrances to the tunnel network under the castle's plateau, and while in peacetime it is mainly an amusement for guests to test their cunning against, in war the traps hidden in the labyrinth are turned on, making it a lethal obstacle. The parts of the plateau that aren't covered in castle proper are a gigantic garden, centered on an artificial pond and its associated streams, with various paths and bridges connecting the sections. Several ancestral shrines are found in the garden, all of them dedicated to Scorpions that managed to gain attention in the wider Empire.

Kyuden Bayushi's most notable feature isn't actually part of the castle complex, however. That'd be the Traitor's Grove, located just beyond the plateau. It is a haunted copse of trees, traditionally held to be the responsibility of the castle's lord to care for. It was made in the 5th century, when Bayushi Tesaguri sold three of the legendary Black Scrolls sealing Fu Leng to the Phoenix Clan; for this betrayal of his duty, he had his soul permanently bound into a tree in eternal torment. His belongings were hung from the branches of the tree as 'decorations' to warn visitors. Since that time, other traitors have met the same fate as Tesaguri. While the Scorpion hide many of their clan's traditions, the Traitor's Grove is not a secret at all, as they prefer to openly display what they do to those who are disloyal. (The ritual to do the soul-sealing, however, is a carefully kept secret.)


Kyuden Bayushi Rumors
  • Bayushi's Labyrinth was designed at the dawn of the Empire by Kaiu himself at Bayushi's request.
  • A network of tunnels riddles the plateau beneath Kyuden Bayushi. These tunnels extend throughout the Scorpion lands, linking all the clan's strongholds together in a secret network.
  • A mysterious glowing lake lies somewhere deep within the tunnels below Kyuden Bayushi. The spirit of Bayushi himself can sometimes be seen floating above the lake.
  • Anyone who steals personal items from Traitor's Grove is cursed with ill fortune.

Our NPC is Shosuro Sanae, Go Master. She's not even a decade past gempuku, but she's one of the best Go players in the entire Empire and often travels to represent the Scorpion in tournaments. She prefers to wear a full face mask that reveals only her eyes and mouth, and while she is charming, she hides inner conflict with glibness. While she believes, like most Scorpions, that Bushido is in many ways a luxury of idealists and is deeply cynical about people, she also envies and admires those who can actually be idealistic, and often seeks out such people for conversation. She is loyal if impressed by someone, but will never forgive any who betray their ideals, as she hates them for confirming her own cynicism. She has many contacts across the Empire due to her travels as a Go player.

The adventure seed: The Scorpion are hosting a Go tournament at Kyuden Bayushi, with several clans taking part. The favorites are Sanae and her longtime rival, Kitsuki Taizo of the Dragon. Others are using the tournament as a diplomatic excuse for political maneuvers and a chance to gain glory for their clan. The PCs get caught up in a scheme to rig the tournament, possibly more than one, with attempts ranging from bribery to blackmail to sabotage or subtle disruptions. At a key moment, Taizo falls terribly ill, apparently due to a poisoning. The Dragon delegates begin throwing accusations at Sanae for cheating. The actual poisoner is a third party, an obsessive rival of Taizo's who wants to both kill him and throw the blame on Sanae and the Scorpion. If the PCs can discover the rival's identity (chosen by the GM to fit their game), they can earn the gratitude of both the Dragon and Scorpion, and especially Sanae and Taizo personally. Of course, they may well prefer to to make the frame job succeed or just retarget it, depending on their own goals.

Kyuden Doji, seated on a high plateau overlooking a port city on the Sea of Amaterasu, is the pride of the Crane. It was not built for any military purpose, and indeed its walls are there largely to keep people from falling off cliffs. The keep is barely shorter than Otosan Uchi itself, and is designed for aesthetic beauty rather than defensive structure. It is a bastion of art and culture, not an actual bastion. However, because it is located deep in the heart of Crane lands, it has never been attacked, or even threatened. A small outcropping on the rocky shore below marks Lady's Rest, the most sacred location of the Crane, for it is where Lady Doji was last seen by mortal eyes, long after her husband Kakita's death. When she learned that Hida, the last of her siblings, had passed, she walked out onto the rocks at sunset and raised her arms to the waves. It is said the waters carried her away just as the last rays of the sun fell upon her. All Crane Champions are expected to spend a night at Lady's Rest, praying for wisdom and the guidance of their ancestor. On the day of the annual Chrysanthemum Festival, youths from across the Empire gather there to cover the rock in flower blossoms in Doji's honor.

The palace's gardens are the stuff of legend, originally formed from the personal garden of Lady Doji. The mixture of flower, sand, story and rock gardens now takes up more space than some entire villages, almost half of the area within the kyuden's walls. Master gardeners maintain it, making only the subtlest changes over the year to ensure that there is always something new being shown. While the gardens are kept beautiful purely for the sake of their beauty, the Crane are well aware that many samurai will pay dearly in favors just for the chance to gaze upon them for a time. The palace itself is said to have been designed by Lady Doji, made in tribute to the Emperor's palace in Otosan Uchi. In the centuries since, the Crane have made a point of ensuring that Kyuden Doji is second only to the Imperial Palace in beauty. To match it would be an insult to the divine glory of the Hantei, yes, but it'd be a terrible loss of face if Kyuden Doji were inferior to anywhere else. The palace has played host to more Winter Courts than any other in the Empire, such that there has actually been a dedicated guest house for the Emperor on the grounds for centuries, along with many other beautiful guest quarters. Even in years that the Winter Court goes elsewhere, spending the winter at Kyuden Doji is considered a high privilege, and samurai of other clans will often go to great effort to earn an invitation.


Kyuden Doji Rumors
  • Lady Doji herself can sometimes be seen at dusk or dawn wandering the gardens.
  • There is a secret museum of artistic failures hidden beneath the palace. It serves as a reminder of the cost of imperfection. New pieces are added only rarely, but to be featured is a fate worse than death.
  • Certain palace servants gained enough wealth to create new lives in distant cities by revealing secrets of upcoming trends in fashion and art to other clans.
  • Crane magistrates and their servants strictly monitor the port city below Kyuden Doji to ensure no disreputable elements mar the experience of worthy visitors.

Our NPC is Kakita Shijin, Famed Poet. He is an old man that has become one of the most beloved living poets of the Empire after a lifetime perfecting his art. He is thin and stooped, with a wispy goatee, and spends most of his time in the gardens of Kyuden Doji to meditate on their beauty and write poems. While he prefers to avoid politics, his long success as a poet means he's met thousands of samurai and has countless favors to call on. It is rumored that he now seeks a student, a personal protege that he can tutor in the ways of poetry. Whether this is true or not, it's made him the center of attention, with his infrequent appearances at court always having many samurai desperately seeking his attention and care.

The adventure seed: A great artistic competition is slated to happen in the gardens of Kyuden Doji between two prominent young artisans - Kakita Shiko, Shijin's daughter, and Kakita Torikago, who was recently honored with placement in the Crane guest home of Otosan Uchi. They are each competing to produce a work to be given to the Emperor's son - high stakes indeed, with many patrons lined up behind both sides. The two are, however, actually lovers. The night before the competition is to start, Shiko's collection of Torikago's love letters is stolen. Shiko and her father now seek allies to recover them without revealing the reason, for exposure of the affair will dishonor all involved. If the PCs can identify the culprits, they discover that the thieves are working for a Crane courtier who was snubbed in favor of Torikago's recent appointment. This rival intends to blackmail Torikago into losing the competition, hoping this will discredit him and have his appointment rescinded. Discovering the truth may also involve the PCs in conflicts of honor, for covering up the dishonorable affair is, itself, dishonorable. If the PCs decide to go through with it anyway, they could take any of several approaches to retrieving the letters - theft, counter-blackmail, whatever. Of course, anything that reveals who they are to the blackmailer is likely to earn them a longterm enemy.

Next time: Daddy's House

I Will Never Tire Of Calling Otosan Uchi "Daddy's House"

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: I Will Never Tire Of Calling Otosan Uchi "Daddy's House"

The Imperial Palace is the center of Otosan Uchi, protected by the enchanted walls of the Ekohikei. It is also called the Forbidden City, and it is irregularly shaped, surrounded by a low but thick and extremely well-defended wall. Only two gates let visitors in and out - one, the main gate, for the Emperor and noble visitors, and the other, the much smaller Necessary Gate, for servants and hinin. Only the Emperor, their immediate family and the handful of elites that run the Imperial Court are permitted to actually live in the Forbidden City. They reside there eight months of the year as hosts of the Imperial Court, receving the petitions of the Empire. all others, even the guards and servants, must live outside, entering each day to work and then leaving. At the heart of the Imperial City is the Imperial Palace proper, the Emperor's ancient residence - ten stories tall and larger than most entire castle complexes. It is built atop an artificial plateau known as the Imperial Mound, as are two smaller buildings managed by the Otomo and Seppun. The mound is accessible via several ramps, the most prominent of which heads directly to the palace gate under a series of immense torii arches, connecting to the Road of the Most High, an elevated main road the Emperor uses to enter and leave Otosan Uchi.

Every room of the Imperial Palace is a work of art, a masterpiece of the greatest possible quality, yet all in the most conservative and traditional of designs. Many parts of it remain entirely unchanged from its first construction. Servants labor constantly to keep it all impeccably clean and maintained, and Seppun shugenja do daily purification rituals to purge any spiritual contaminants. The rest of the Forbidden City, away from the Imperial Mound, is made of a large complex of gardens and official guest homes to the Great Clans. Each delegation lives in a guest house, which is a supreme honor offered only to a small handful of samurai, who are the political elite of the Empire and able to call on vast favors just by virtue of attending Imperial Court each day. The gardens are also home to the Temple to Hantei, built by his son Genji to honor the Kami Hantei. It has never needed any maintenance or repair in all its centuries. The shrine itself is very small, barely large enough for one person to stand in, and is located on an island in the largest pond in the garden, reachable by a long bridge lined with statues of each Emperor. As an Emperor dies and ascends to the heavens, the bridge is redesigned to accomodate a new statue.

Every winter, the Imperial Court leaves for Winter Court. In this time, the Forbidden City is nearly silent. Only servants, guards and extremely low-ranking bureaucrats remain, along with those very rare guest house inhabitants who choose to remain for personal reasons. However, the palace must still be watched over and kept pristine, which is handled by the Miya family. At the start of each winter, the Miya daimyo names a set of caretakers, called kanrinin, to oversee the Imperial Palace. Usually, they are low-ranking clan samurai that have earned the favor of the Miya somehow. For the winter, the kanrinin have full authority over the entire palace, in charge of the servants, guards and any samurai that are there. It's not especially exciting, as it mostly means going over endless servants' reports, inspecting the grounds over and over and overseeing any repairs. However, it is highly prestigious and honorable, and doing it well marks you as trustworthy to the Imperial family, able to be given more significant jobs. Failure, however, results in immense loss of honor and face - at minimum, you are disgraced for life, and usually these samurai will commit seppuku to spare their families the shame. Usually, failure and death are caused by earthquakes.


Imperial Palace Rumors
  • A secret door is hidden in the back of the Imperial Court Chamber, allowing the Hantei to enter and leave without notice and even to spy on the court from hiding.
  • A tunnel connects the Imperial Palace with the caverns and passages beneath Otosan Uchi. If an enemy ever managed to capture the Forbidden City, the Emperor could use the tunnels to escape.
  • The torii arches that stand over the steps to the Imperial Mound are protected by Scorpion wards. Anyone who ascends the steps without an Imperial invitation who is not of Hantei blood becomes hopelessly lost, unable to reach the palace.
  • Those who fulfill their duty to the Empire receive a great blessing when they visit the Temple to Hantei. One person even vanished from sight, taken up to the Celestial Heavens by Hantei himself.

The adventure seed: A memento left by the Emperor's late first wife goes missing from his chambers. The theft means that the member of the Seppun Honor Guard assigned to that part of the palace must commit seppuku. Seppun Ishikawa believes the guard is an honorable, capable woman who doesn't deserve this fate, seeking allies to quietly locate and retrieve the item before he must order her suicide. The item is a golden netsuke inscribed with the Hantei mon. It was stolen by a servant, taken out of the Necessary Gate. Tracking the servant down isn't hard, and he'll confess quickly and easily, but he no longer has the netsuke, having given it to the master of a gambling den in the outer city to pay his sick father's debts. The gangster, of course, is not nearly so cooperative, especially because he knows exactly what he has and the leverage it can give him. Worse - he's in contact with a cult of maho-tsukai who want the heirloom for their own purposes.

Seppun Ishikawa is our NPC, the Captain of the Seppun Honor Guard. He was born during a new year's festival in Otosan Uchi and from an early age showed mastery of combat. He trained with the Kakita, and after his initial posting in the House Guard, he drew notice from the Emerald Champion, Doji Satsume, who named him an Emerald Magistrate. After distinguishing himself there, he was made captain of the Honor Guard. He is an extremely plain-looking man with a gentle heart, noted during his time with the Emerald Magistrates for his consideration for the lower classes. He is a secret romantic, in love with a woman betrothed to another, but he knows those emotions could compromise his duties if they came to light. Despite this, he is an honorable and dedicated man that takes his job very seriously. His time as a magistrate has taught him the value of trustworthy allies, and he's always on the lookout for honorable visitors whom he can befriend and use to help the Empire.

Kyuden Gotei is the chief castle of the Mantis Clan, and is very much not an official kyuden. It is grandiose and garish in its wealth and opulence, built mostly of stone quarried on Gotei Island where it is built. Most of that stone is a strange dark green or rusty red, and the wooden parts are made of the island's exotic tropical trees rather than oak, pine or maple of the mainland. The roofs are coated in copper, not clay tiles. Inside, the place is even grander...and more grotesque, to traditionalists. Instead of narrow corridors, shuttered windows and low doors, it is wide and tall, with open windows and doors to encourage airflow and disperse the tropic heat of the island chain. It is decorated in precious and semiprecious stones, gold and silver plating, and displays of flowering plants or caged tropical birds and lizards.

There are many caves and tunnels under Kyuden Gotei, caused by ancient volcanic activity and then further expanded by the Mantis. Access to the passages and knowledge of which caves are actually safe is restricted to Mantis leaders and the elite soldiers known as the Storm Legion. Besides several covert routes into and out of the castle or the hidden ports where Mantis smugglers operate, the tunnels have access to Heaven's Bank Hold, a massive vault under the keep where the greatest and most infamous treasure of the Mantis are kept. Rumor claims that much of their wealth is gaijin in origin or nature, but no one knows for sure because the vault is kept so private. The castle and its associated city are actually qutie old - founded in the late first century. At that time, it was just a village and simple defensive keep of the new clan, called Kyuden Mantis. (By the Mantis. Imperial cartographers steadfastly use the word 'shiro'.) The name was changed from Mantis to Gotei at some point in the 5th or 6th century, at which point it had already grown into a sprawling, grandiose palace.

They forgot rumors for Kyuden Gotei, but we do have an npc: Koharu, Mantis Mercenary. She is a muscular, bronze-skinned woman who was born a ronin and grew up as a mercenary and pirate. She attracted other ronin to her banner with skill and charisma, and eventually drew the attention of the Mantis, who recruited the entire band. Koharu's lifestyle has changed little since joining the clan, she just has their support now if things go sour. She can be found across the Empire, working as a mercenary or raiding. She admires strength and success, and has contempt for the weak or anyone that harms her friends. Otherwise, she treats her work as merely business, free of emotion. She is not trustworthy as a hired ally, as she will change sides if paid to, but if her personal friendship is earned, she is loyal unto death.

The adventure seed: While visiting Kyuden Gotei, the PCs meet a weird old man who claims he's lonely and wants to tell them stories. He's oddly perceptive about them and knows more than he should about their lives and deeds. PCs with affinity for the spirit world may notice that he is a komori, a shapeshifting bat spirit native to the Islands of Spice and Silk. He will tell the PCs tales of ancient treasures lost in a cavern deep in the jungles of the Mantis islands; if the PCs realize what he is, they may well end up seeking out the cave to find the spirit's treasure. The cave he directs them to does, indeed, contain ancient pre-human artifacts, but also many dangerous traps and hostile spirits. If the PCs treated the komori with respect, he will warn them about these threats. The artifacts themselves may also be hazardous, for some are marked with the power of ancient, pre-human beings.

Next time: War (By Normal Or Other Means)

"They are known to raid towns and farms, attack travelers, kidnap people (especially children and young maidens), enslave mortals, engage in murder and other crimes, corrupt and manipulate humanoids, and generally torment humans and D-Bees."

posted by Alien Rope Burn Original SA post

Rifts World Book 20: Canada, Part 8 - "They are known to raid towns and farms, attack travelers, kidnap people (especially children and young maidens), enslave mortals, engage in murder and other crimes, corrupt and manipulate humanoids, and generally torment humans and D-Bees."

"Ayup, we're totally in Canada, pardners."

Southwestern Canada
Alberta & Saskatchewan

So, this is like the American West, but Canadian! With Cowboys! And- Indigenous Canadians! And ranches! And it's lawless! There are gunfighters! And country music! Look, pretty much read Rifts World Book 14: The New West and Rifts World Book 15: Spirit West, then imagine them as colder.

Bam, worldbuilding done, motherfuckers, Siembieda out.

We also get a list of monsters here, which are... monsters from New West and other earlier books. Well, it's an excuse to use Psi-Ponies again. And there are merchants, like Bandito Arms- you know, from New West, and Wilks- and Northern Gun- and the Colorado Baronies- and it refers us to New West every time. They even like the fake old-timey weapons here, just in case you didn't get the notion.


A noble and distinguished cyber-knight.

One different thing, at least, is the presence of the Calgary Rift which spews out evil fuckers in an incontinent fashion, and as such we have demons there who are willing to make a deal when they're not trying to murder everyone. These deals are intended to just tempt or corrupt or screw people, like you do, so don't think you can get one up on them, PCs! However, Cyber-Knights patrol the Calgary region to try and deal with the demons and monsters (of which we get a laundry list) that come out of the giant rift located there. Supposedly the rift in Calgary is where the Simvan Monster Riders and Xiticix came from, and now there is an apparent kingdom of demons forming around it. Needless to say, they're bedeviling (bedemoning?) the whole region, murdering and torturing and all the things that they do because eeevil is on their statblock. Everybody's very concerned.

Looking forward to the Rifts fighting game.

If that wasn't enough, we get a "notorious gang of bandits and killers" called the Calgary Highlanders that apparently has been running around to drink and rob and rhyme and pillage for over two centuries. They have a lot of eeevil supernatural members and raid Rifts World Book 16: Federation of Magic a lot to fill out their membership (The Corrupt, Mystic Knights, etc.), even though the Federation is half a continent away. Maybe you should buy that book.

Speaking of Rifts World Book 16: Federation of Magic, apparently there are Fadetowns in this region of Canada - those dimensionally unstable towns that warp out of reality every so often. Their description here is largely reprinted from there, though, so there isn't much to add.

So demons, cowboys, and demon outlaws. That was quick. See, that's my secret plan to reviewing the Rifts books in order: getting to say "yeah, we've covered that" around a half-dozen times per review these days, and save time!*

* no time was actually saved

Next: Robocolt.

Diplomacy Is War

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Diplomacy Is War

Most samurai are bushi, but all samurai are warriors. Bushido is the Way of the Warrior, and even shugenja, artisans and courtiers treat their role as one in which dominance is established by will, if not by force of arms. All samurai are a moment from death - even courtiers. Political struggle is the domain of the court, and every daimyo has a court. The higher rank and more prestigious the host, the more powerful and important their court. The Imperial Court, of course, is the greatest of all, and particularly the highly prestigious Winter Court. We get a sidebar on how two clans are always honored above the others as the Hands of the Emperor. The Left Hand of the Emperor is traditionally the Crane, and their duty is to draft laws and exert political influence in the name of the Emperor, supported by the Otomo, Miya and Emerald Magistrates. If the Emperor were ever to meet with foreign dignitaries, unthinkable as it might be, the Left Hand would be the representatives. The Right Hand of the Emperor is traditionally the Lion, and their duty is to serve as the Emperor's personal army. They settle skirmishes between forces of the Empire if the Emperor requires it, and they defend Rokugan against external threats such as the Yobanjin, supported by the Seppun and the Imperial Legions.

Courts develop their own regional traditions at times. Crab court is held during meals rather than before or after, to save time. Crane courts, after a tsunami, consider talk of natural disasters rude and will go out of their way to avoid it. Dragon court typically begins with the hosting daimyo presenting a riddle or koan for the court's attendants to interpret. Lion court is often held while observing military exercises or mock battles. Phoenix court traditionally has the daimyo leave the room after a meeting with advisors, that they might discuss things freely, then returning to listen to a designated speaker voice any concerns so the lord doesn't know who specifically has those concerns. It is traditional for the last guest to arrive at Scorpion court to drink tea or sake first. In the Unicorn city of Khanbulak, it is fashionable to recite modern poetry at the start of court. However, much of court is ruled by national tradition about appearances. Appearances matter in Rokugan. Perception is all. Courtesy to others earns you respect, rudeness can destroy you. Contradicting what appears to be true without proof or good cause is embarrassing for all involved, as it disrupts harmony. What matters is how you say things, probably more than what you say. Even accusing someone or pointing out their bad behavior must be done carefully to avoid dishonor. This is true in battle as well, even if some clans are better than others at avoiding brusque rudeness.

Court is not the sole domain of courtiers. Military officers of a certain rank are expected to attend as well if their duties allow - generals and captains in higher courts, sergeants and lieutenants in lower. Often, in higher courts, representatives from the various clan schools will be present as well, usually sensei. Temples may send monks, and major cities or strongholds will often send representatives, as may any other noteworthy group. Your rough order of importance of courts is city and provincial courts, then Clan family courts, then Clan courts, then the Imperial court. Other clans often send delegations to clan courts not their own, as may an Imperial representative. Minor Clan courts are in theory equal to Great Clan courts, but in practice they're rarely any more attended than a Great Clan family court, simply because Minor Clans control little land. Family court guests are usually from within the clan, with a few rare representatives from other clans sometimes showing up.

The Imperial Court is, of course, the greatest of all, even if the Emperor himself often does not attend. Representatives to the Imperial Court are empowered to make deals for their entire clans without needing to consult anyone, after all. When the Emperor is not in attendance, the court is hosted by the Imperial Chancellor, assisted by deputies and heralds to ensure protocol and etiquette as well as to steer the agenda. Recently, there has also been the creation of the informal rank of Imperial Advisor, a direct servant of the Emperor in whatever role required. Bayushi Kachiko is the first and so far only Imperial Advisor, with many believing she has undue influence over the Emperor, though as yet no open attempts to weaken her position have been made. Hosting Winter Court is a privilege most clans compete fiercely for, with the Crane clan and the Imperial Families of the Otomo, Miya and Seppun hosting the most over history, such that both Kyuden Doji and Kyuden Seppun maintain permanent guest quarters for the Emperor. However, all Great Clans have hosted Winter Court at least once over the centuries, and the minor Fox Clan is known to have hosted it twice in the earlier centuries.

Many traditions dictate what is and is not acceptable in a court setting, and being in court is as harrowing and dangerous as a battlefield if you are not careful. It is in court that Rokugani social customs are strongest, after all, and the weight of disgrace is heaviest. One particularly notable tradition is that of the shoji screen or paper wall. It is considered basic etiquette to ignore anything happening behind a paper wall, no matter how clearly you can hear it. To mention anything overheard this way is a breach of privacy, inherently dishonorable, and a shoji screen is merely a portable paper wall. The same rules apply. This is very useful for anyone wanting a private conversation in a crowded castle, of course. Less obviously, the paper fan has been treated the same way. Hiding your mouth with a paper fan indicates a private conversation, meant only for the person addressed. Proper etiquette insists that anyone overhearing must ignore it, as if it were heard through a paper wall. In practice this primarily limits people from admitting they overheard. Samurai often act on information learned through paper walls, a fact that many courtiers count on and make careful use of fans and shoji screens to encourage and control. Manipulating information and rumor flow is very useful, as anything said behind the wall can never be attributed to you, even if everyone knows you're the surce. Of course, courts also have genuinely private areas most of the time for the making of secret agreements or deals, but they are rarer and busier. Word of mouth is as binding as written treaties, and indeed few treaties in Rokugan are ever written down formally, as a samurai's word is their bond.

The practice of the hostage exchange, or hitojichi, is a major practice for the keeping of the peace. Typically, hostage exchanges happen after negotiations or as a consequence of war. Hostages are always treated exceptionally well by the clan holding them, and are always young, well before gempuku, and often of great lineage and talent. Sometimes, a hostage may even be enrolled in the host clan's school as a sign of great favor or as part of the deal. However, the primary purpose is to ensure their clan's good behavior. Of course, it's not a perfect guarantee, just another item weighted in the calculus of whether or not to break a deal.

Rokugani gifting traditions are a bit complicated, due to the fact that a lord is in theory supposed to provide anything their samurai need. Therefore, giving a samurai a gift with any practical utility is an insulting insinuation about their lord's ability. In theory, only a ronin or peasant would even consider accepting a monetary gift, though bribery still happens. Gifts are given for any number of reasons - celebrations, as part of meeting a new superior, during special events, as recognition of merit. While a gift is traditionally refused three times before it can be accepted, it is socially unacceptable to actually refuse a gift. Therefore, a gift can be used as a carefully made insult to the samurai and their lord. Giving someone something they should already have, such as a copy of Lies for a Scorpion or a copy of Leadership for a Lion, sends a very clear message indeed.

Marriage is a vital part of Rokugani politics and family alliances, as is adoption. Betrothals and adoptions are contracts carefully negotiated by the families involved, which may or may not involve any consultation at all with those to be married, adopted or doing the adopting. Most samurai will hire a professional nakodo to find a good spouse for their children or to identify prospective heirs for adoption and to handle the negotiations. Nakodo (matchmakers, remember) will consider a number of factors, such as temperament, age differences, sexual orientations and skillsets when preparing a marriage, but the most important factor is always a clan's political needs, not love or romance.

The desires of those involved come second to the needs of the people. Of course, a good nakodo does still consider those desires. Benten, Fortune of Romantic Love and Arts, is one of the Seven Great Fortunes, and no one can deny the power of love or passion. Benten does not discriminate based on class or gender in the love she inspires, and the Tao of Shinsei states that romance is a natural expression of human nature. However, free expression of love belongs to the peasantry; a samurai's first duty must be to clan and lord, with neither love nor romance playing a necessary role in a succesful marriage - though obviously there must be some lack of abject hatred. It isn't impossible for a samurai to marry for love, but it takes some luck to manage it, between the other family and the matchmaker. The most important part of a marriage contract is the bit that says which samurai joins the other's family. Usually it's whoever has the lower social station, and many families use this as a way to select talented samurai from the lower ranks, elevating them via marriage.

Adoption is equally important for solidifying political alliances. As with marriage, a nakodo considers age, temperament and other factors, but will outweigh them with political concerns if necessary. The adoption of young or promising samurai from vassal families or low-status bloodlines is common, honoring all involved. Adopted samurai take on the family and clan names of those that adopt them, and they are treated as natural children for all purposes. Adult adoptions are not rare, and they're often used when sexual orientations or existing marriages mean there's no possibility of biological offspring or marriage. Some families have other customs, of course. The Utaku forbid their women to marry any man of higher status, and the Matsu discourage it, while the Doji absolutely prefer marrying their children to higher-status spouses. Special adoption traditions are rare, which is another part of why it is often used as an alternative to marriage. No matter what, the higher status family will gain a new member and will traditionally pay the lower status family, which is another contractual duty the nakodo arranges. This often involves elaborate political concerns far beyond a simple (and rather shameful) exchange of currency, and exchanges of land, castles, servants, art or other rare commodoties may well be included.

Next time: Killing With Swords, Not Kindness

War Is Also War

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: War Is Also War

War is possible only in spring, summer and autumn. Marching in the heavy snow of winter is idiocy of the highest order, after all. In those areas where it does not snow, like the coasts or the Islands of Spice and Silk, it's still not easy to move armies due to thick jungle, rocky beaches, sand, cliffs and river deltas. Few battles happen in spring, due to ancient custom and wisdom regarding when honorable forces make war. Summer, with the high heat and humidity, has the most battles. Long campaigns may stretch into autumn, but the crop harvest and tax season give a strong incentive to end wars quickly. Battles are usually held on roads or outside castles, providing a chance for the losers to retreat more easily. Long sieges are rare, as they are very costly for both sides. Feeding an army costs, after all, and the logistics become near impossible in winter. Most armies aren't particularly suited to siegebreaking, either, and while the Crab have dedicated siege specialists, they're usually busy defending the Wall.

Armies in Rokugan are made primarily of conscripts and ashigaru, semi-professional peasant soldiers. Conscripts, on the other hand, are usually poorly equipped and worse trained, just handed a spear and sent to die. Many of the Great Clans have families of hereditary ashigaru that have served as guards and doshin assistants to the magistrates for generations. They are very proud of their work, but in war must rely heavily on luck and numbers to have much chance against an armored bushi - and then only with good leadership. Cavalry tactics are possible only with use of Unicorn steeds, which are larger and stronger than Rokugani ponies. The pony is simply not tough enough to support full-scale cavalry warfare, though it is used by scouts and mounted infantry. Since the return of the Unicorn, other clans have developed effective anticavalry tactics, usually as a result of a brutal defeat, but few use largescale forces of cavalry themselves.

The feudal society is the core of army organization. Each provincial daimyo is responsible for raising, training and equipping their own forces drawn from the villages and lords they rule, including any castle guards. This typically means a force is composed of spear-wielding ashigaru, sword and bow-using samurai, and possibly cavalry or shugenja. Each unit is led by a kashira, a designated leader that serves the general's will. Besides warriors, a unit will also have horn blowers, drummers and banner carriers, each important to the direction of the unit in battle or to identify the unit for tacticians overseeing the fight. In large armies, the number of warriors involved will require an expanded command structure of captains (taisa), sergeants (gunso) or both command the kashira. Many daimyo are warriors themselves, but may choose to defer to an appropriate general, such as one of their hatamoto, to decide on tactics and strategy for them.

When multiple daimyos combine forces, they fight together but preserve their original command structures, with each lord commanding their own subordinates. Regardless of size, formation is almost always predictable - ashigaru deploy in blocks, wider than they are deep. Archers form up in rows behind the ashigaru to fire on the enemy, and then once the forces meet, each breaks into large, brutal masses of combatants, thousands of tiny personal combats. This continues until one side surrenders, every soldier has died, or the peasants break and run. Fleeing samurai...well, it's not honorable. The number of foot soldiers and samurai that a lord can actually field is restricted by Imperial edict in an effort to mitigate the risk of open warfare, and violation of these edicts without permission may result in censure, loss of status or territory or even direct intervention by the Imperial Legions.

The Imperial Legions are unlike clan armies, as they are a single, unified force drawn from all clans, led by the Emerald Champion. There are and have always been ten legions, each able to field 10,000 soldiers, though their actual size has varied, and their full force has not existed in centuries. Each legion is subdivided into ten regiments, each divided into five companies, each with a varying number of platoons. Commanders are always Seppun or the best and brightest of the clans. Most of the forces of the legions are Lion, and any peasants that lords choose to send to fill out their ranks. The ashigaru of the legions are typically as close as a peasant can get to being a career soldier, as once sent they sign up for a renewable six year term and do not return home until their assignment is completed. The bureaucracy to maintain the Imperial Legions is vast by necessity, overseen by the Otomo with aid from the Miya and Seppun and additional support from the Great Clans (which varies wildly depending on how large the Legions are at the time). It is believed that there are twice as many bureaucrats working in the capital to support the legions as there are active soldiers in the field, and even more peasant support staff handling cooking, cleaning and maintenance. In peacetime, the Imperial Legions can be repurposed for public works, giving yet more reason for courtiers to compete for the attention of the Otomo officials and the Emerald Champion.

Ever since the Yasuki War between the Crane and Crab in the 300s, which did lasting damage to the Empire, Hantei Fujiwa ruled that Great Clans may not use their full might against each other. Since then, all conflicts between the Great Clans have officially been "minor" border skirmishes and limited wars. While the era is deemed the Thousand Years of Peace, battles are constant part of Rokugani life and the struggle for dominance between clans. Most wars are fought with relatively small armies - no more than a few hundred to a few thousand per side - but are nearly constant during late spring and summer. The full might of the Clans is unleashed only rarely, and then mostly against inhuman foes - Shadowlansd forces, the armies of the Bloodspeaker Iuchiban, or the gaijin. The Crab maintain a state of constant readiness, and the Lion cross the Empire to enforce the Imperial will when the Legions are busy or insufficient. The Lion Clan takes its duties to protect the empire very seriously, and has faced gaijin forces multiple times over the centuries, both in and outside the borders of Rokugan. It is rare for a year to pass without each Great Clan fighting at least a few skirmishes in the warmer months, often internal civil wars between clan families over territory or points of honor.

The earliest internal war of the Empire was the Lion-Phoenix War of the early centuries. The Lion exhausted their food sources, for they conscripted too many farmers to be ashigaru, and so their champion chose to expand into the Crane lands in late summer to try and claim their harvest. The Crane worked for months in the Imperial Court to force a nonaggression treaty, so the Lion promptly decided to invade the Valley of the Two Generals in Phoenix lands - which had been their real intent the entire time. Trapped by their own treaty, the Crane watched as their Phoenix allies were besieged at Shiro Shiba. The Lion slaughtered the remnant Ki-Rin, who had settled in the area after the rest of their clan left the Empire. However, the Crane did manage to come up with a tactic that has long served them well against the Lion: bleeding them dry in court and ensuring that surplus Crane rice gave no economic benefit to the Lion. By cutting off Lion supply lines in other clans, they forced the Lion to attempt a cross of Crane territory, then promptly cited a violation of the treaty and threatened war. Faced with a second front, the Lion called for a truce, restoring peace. The Lion were given the Ki-Rin lands, and the Ki-Rin survivors became the Fox Clan, given independent status and new lands elsewhere in the Empire. The war is also notable for a major show of compassion. When Isawa Tomokazu rode to seek vengeance on the Lion, the Crane Champion Doji Ritsuko went to stop him, but refused to duel. She endured Tomokazu's magical assault but would not fall, and after days of her passive defense, the kami at last refused to obey Tomokazu's pleas to smite her. Thus, the Phoenix forces lost all will to fight, surrendering. All three clans involved saw this as a masterful strategic victory, remembered as the Victory with No Strike, in which one's goals are achieved solely by breaking the enemy's will.

In the last years of the 300s came the Yasuki War between the Crane and Crab. Hantei Fujiwa sought many ways to check the power of the Gozoku conspiracy which had usurped his authority. He attempted to do it by breaking the internal unity of the Crane, one of the chief clans backing the Gozoku. This was done by driving a wedge between the mercantile Yasuki family and the courtly Doji. Under Fujiwa's instruction, the Crab expanded their borders, encroaching on Crane lands and emboldening the Lion. Open war erupted when the Crab seized the Yasuki family's land, claiming the Crane did not need them. However, Fujiwa's plot worked too well. The Yasuki daimyo had never liked the Crane Champion, and having been told repeatedly that he was, quote, "of no service to his lord," the Yasuki daimyo chose to interpret the comment as a command rather than an insult. He instead swore service to the Crab Champion, and the Yasuki family defected from the Crane entirely while all attempts at peace negotiation failed or were sabotaged. That war ended up as a gigantic economic drain on the empire, for the Yasuki and Crane locked down much of the Imperial rice crop. The war showed the power of open, full-scale warfare, and in the aftermath, Fujiwa issued the edict that prevents the clans from bringing full force against each other. Despite the longterm damage the war did, it also had no short-term benefits. The Gozoku were left unchecked, growing in power until Fujiwa was a mere figurehead Emperor. The Yasuki remain a Crab family even now, and the Crab and Crane still hold a grudge against each other.

The Imperial Histories do not include it, but if one were to examine family ledgers from the 600s, it would show massive decline of fortunes in each clan, both material and in loss of bloodlines. This was the Great Famine, a decade of disease, starvation and open warfare, made worse by a tyrant Emerald Champion and weak Emperor. When heavy rain destroyed the Empire's crops, the poor Dragon Clan requested a lien on their yearly tax to prevent starvation. In response, the Emerald Champion placed heavy fines on them, and refugees streamed into Lion lands seeking food. When the Lion confronted the Dragon on their failure to prevent this, the clan champion, Togashi Toshimasa, led an attack on the Lion, seizing huge amounts of food. The Lion, while already in trouble due to serving as peacekeepers and putting down a full peasant revolt, were able to easily defeat the invading Dragon afterwards, as the Dragon were not used to defending themselves in unfamiliar land. Only the intervention of the Phoenix kept the Lion from a full-scale counteroffensive, and the Dragon refugees were permitted to settle into the Phoenix lands.

Next time: Clan philosophies of war.

crab battle

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: crab battle

The Crab Clan is extremely militaristic, largely out of necessity. The monsters of the Shadowlands are exceptionally dangerous, countless hordes of creatures supported by near-invulnerable beasts, empowered by the insidious Taint. Crab military units are small, extremely close and wildly paranoid. They wear heavy Kaiu armor and wield large weapons such as the otsuchi and tetsubo alongside the katana. Their weapons and tactics are wholly designed to fight inhuman foes, and they honestly tend to adapt rather poorly to fighting other samurai. However, Crab bushi see more battle in a single year than those of other clans manage in entire decades. They are masters of siege, both offensively and defensively, but they rarely have any time to spare away from the Wall to make war on other clans. When they do, it is their raw strength and determination that are most terrifying.

The Crane Clan excel at the duel and in court, rather than the battlefield itself. This is reflected in their military doctrine. Crane commanders often favor challenging their counterparts to duels to deprive the foe of leadership while their forces maintain a defensive scorched-earth strategy and the courtiers focus on runing the enemy's economy in court. This, along with their highly trained heavy infantry, helps make up for their great weakness - low numbers. While the Crane are in general impeccably honorable, their scouts are infamous for use of questionable tactics, sabotage, laying traps for marching soldiers and poisoning supplies the Crane are forced to abandon.

The Dragon Clan's forces tend to be, more than any other clan, unique reflections of their commanders. Some daimyo focus on the Tao to gain victory, while others rely on the Agasha family's skill in metallurgy and smithing. Others focus on drilling for any environment or on deploying warrior-monks from the Togashi Order. Esoteric training and the tendency of Dragon bushi to train alongside shugenjas and warrior monks means that their small units tend to be terrifyingly skilled and unique foes. They usually rely on fast, powerful attacks to separate foes from each other and defeat individual units in lightning campaigns.

The Lion Clan maintains the only school in all the Empire that focuses solely on the study of war as an art and science - the Akodo. True to the Kami Akodo's ways, the Lion are the most militarized of any clan. Their army is immense, their drills endless and relentless, and their economy is built entirely to support war. Every aspect of a Lion bushi's life reflects this, with harsh duty rotations and daily kata practice mixed in with prayers to martial ancestors, broken only by training practice in Go or shogi to hone tactical and strategic skill. When the Lion call on their full forces, including vassals, their numbers are immense. They tend to overwhelm their foes with a mix of numerical superiority and classical, time-honored strategies. They are very proud of their martial accomplishments throughout history, but this means they are slow to innovate and discourage unorthodox strategies. However, they are extremely fast to develop counterstrategies once they encounter something new.

The Phoenix Clan vastly prefers peace to war. They fight only rarely and in limited capacities, focused more on ending the conflict with settlements and peace. However, if forced to total war, they wield nature as their weapon. The Phoenix Champions who are normally subordinate to the Elemental Masters rise to equal voice to the entirety of the Council of Five for these periods. The Champion and the Elemental Guard usually take to the field personally for important battles, unleashing the prayers of their shugenja and might of the kami on their foes, warping and permanently altering the land around their battlefields. The Elemental Guard are so skilled that they can even perform such feats in enemy territory. It is custom for all Phoenix to pray for forgiveness before any battle. In times of truly great trouble, entire units of talented shugenja are formed up based on their elemental proficiency. While it has not been needed in generations, they can call forth firestorms or tsunamis in truly terrible displays of might.

This is notable primarily because normally, shugenja have somewhat limited ability in war due to their reliance on the support of the kami. Because they are appealing to local spirits, shugenja are generally much more able to work defensively than offensively, simply due to having existing relationships with the kami of their own regions. It's pretty hard to convince the local earth kami to rain death on the people that give them regular offerings at local shrines. Further, the blood and death of the battlefield can attract the kansen, Tainted kami, as the battle goes on, disrupting the local elemental forces. There are some notable exceptions, however. Hachiman, the Fortune of Warfare, and the Fortunes of swords and bravery are all much more likely to answer the prayers of non-local shugenja and to intervene on their behalf than local kami are. Due to these limitations, shugenja are not and can't be treated as regular assets to most armies. Rather, they work closely with the commander and use their expertise with the spirits to determine how they can be most effective. A commander that tries to order a shugenja as they would a bushi will quickly learn that their miracles are limited entirely by the willingness of the spirits to do things, and that often the best way to use them is to let them act on their own discretion. Regardless of where they are put in battle, shugenja are nearly always accompanied by at least one yojimbo, dedicated to keeping them alive even if the rest of their attached unit doesn't manage it.

The Scorpion Clan rely on deception a lot, as you might expect. They use a lot of confusing false intelligence, diversions and ambushes. They also have excellent scouts of their own, plus a massive network of spies and informants that get them a ton of actionable intelligence. They are more than happy to rely on spies and assassins...but are required to do so in ways that can't be openly traced back to them. When they actually do fight open battles, they rely on a well-trained but highly traditionalist army, similar to a mix of Lion and Crane tactics except better trained for night combat and less perfectly elite.

The Unicorn Clan are militant and foreign, having absorbed foreigners like the Ujik-Hai, who were super aggressive to begin with. Since their return, they have never changed their tactics, but their skill at archery and cavalry mean they haven't really needed to. Cavalry tactics are the heart of their doctrine, and they're damn good at it. They use rapidly moving infantry and heavy cavalry charges to win battles, forming a spearhead of steel to slam into foes. Their talisman-wielding shugenja also work well to enhance their speed and mobility with slightly less reliance on local spirits, and the Utaku horses are the undisputed best in the entire Empire. Other clans have had to develop specialized anti-cavalry tactics essentially entirely because of the Unicorn.

The Minor Clans each have about the military strength of a single Great Clan family. Some are more martial, some less, but few can field anything like the strength of a Great Clan army, or indeed more than a hundred soldiers at a time. Only the Hare, Falcon, Dragonfly and Mantis have any sizable forces, and of those, only the Mantis Navy is anything like a match for the Great Clan forces. In large part, the Minor Clans are protected by Imperial edict, distinct from the other laws on military force, that was established after the Lion attempted to seize the lands of the Fox Clan. Without that edict or if a clan were to decide to violate it, the Minor Clans would be exceptionally vulnerable.

Next time: City Life

Sex and the City

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Sex and the City

Before the Empire, humans lived as nomads or small farming communities. Now, almost all important political, social and cultural events revolve around cities. Most Rokugani cities are walled, with samurai and peasants living inside the walls and hinin villages and exterior roads outside, along with any fields or paddies. Buildings are mostly wood and paper, as is typical in Rokugan, making them easy for disasters to destroy but also very easy to rebuild. Almost all cities also contain internal, smaller walls and gates to demarcate districts. Merchant, trade and even temple districts with many shrines or holy places are open to anyone except hinin, who must use hidden paths in the dense cities to move about. Moats and defenses may cut through castle towns, but those that live there usually have ways to bypass them. Cities are typically divided into parts for high- and low-ranking samurai, plus separate districts for craftspeople, soldiers and traveling merchants. That last usually sits by a road and is closed off by tents and tarps.

Cities are crowded. Millions live in the Empire, and the majority live in cities. Samurai will see all kinds of peasants, crafters, merchants and even heimin guards just by walking through. In such tight quarters, formality is necessarily somewhat relaxed, to avoid trouble. Samurai and peasants share the same streets, and they both have to deal with the massive crowds and avoid being run down by the litters of powerful lords or wealthy merchants. Most cities are built along north-south trade routes, and while samurai may not like monetary issues, merchants are recognized as a necessary evil of the Empire, able to turn koku into goods and back again across the Empire. Merchant caravans rely on travel papers and bright colors to be recognized, seeking out cheap goods to buy and move. They are not respected by the samurai, and the clans demand steep tariffs for movement through their lands, plus slow caravans are a favorite target of bandits. In times of war, merchants may be barred from some routes entirely or even have their goods seized for the military effort without payment. Merchants that work in a city's trade districts are usually safe from these fates, but they rely on traveling traders to get their goods still.

Cities have also become religious centers. Most have important shrines and temples, both of local import and famous. It's not rare for there to be an entire temple district. These places tend to be full of tranquil gardens and also monks. They are usually next to the noble sections, as a sort of buffer against the market districts and theater spaces. It's not subtle about it, either - Rokugani cities are deliberately built so that crude monetary affairs are kept at a distance from spiritual areas, despite the fact that the money often ends up going to the temples and shrines, which are often very wealthy. Temple district gardens are often a major focus of competition when the monks themselves aren't in charge of them, and even a small city will have an extensive display of ikebana and rock gardens. Dance studios and theaters are kept closer to the merchant districts than the temples, but the monks are known to allow performances of great piety within the public spaces of the temple district.

And then, well, there's the crime. Gambling houses and cheap brothels are extremely common in the peasant areas, mirrors of the more licensed facilities in higher-status districts. Opium dens are in every city, no matter what, and honestly, plenty of samurai head into them. Commoner gangs run these areas, sometimes even having influence over shamed samurai due to debts and crime.

We get a section on daily life in cities for various classes. Hinin villages are notable for being mostly outside the city walls and being honestly not terrible places to live if you can put up with being constantly shit on by everyone else in Rokugan. They are only spiritually unclean, not physically. Hinin life sucks despite that, as their lives are cheap and unlike those of normal peasants, can be ended on the whim of basically any samurai. Living in a village is safer than being alone on the road, though, since higher classes avoid them. Entertainers and criminals are also hinin, notably, but are treated differently. Geisha, for example, are the only people samurai can truly relax around, being not part of formal society. There's also a sidebar on the use of 'eta' as a slur in modern Japan and the care to be taken with the word.

Sidebar on theater - there's three types. No, kabuki and bunraku puppet theatre. Samurai love all three, and peasants would if they got to see No all that often. (Samurai rarely attend bunraku, for that matter.) No is the oldest and most respected. It's basically a long, chanted poem accompanied by music and sign from a handful of actors, using stylized movements and masks. They tend to be tragic or mythic in nature, and kyogen, short slapstick comedy skits, are performed between them to lighten the mood. No is a high art, suitable for samurai to perform, and day-long performances of No theatre are popular at festivals. Kabuki is younger and seen as more garish, as well as more popular with the lower classes. It evolved out of the kyogen, and despite its reputation, many lords patronize kabuki troupes and several samurai artisans have written plays for the form. Kabuki uses elaborate and beautiful costumes, dramatic action on stage and a mix of traditional stories and thinly fictionalized versions of current events. They tend to rely strongly on improv, with an actor's skill being equally as important as the script if not more. Bunraku is a puppet-based show, with a chanter speaking the plot to the audience while puppeteers hide behind a screen and use elaborate puppets to act out the story. The flexibility and size of the puppets allows feats impossible for humans, and elaborate mechanisms or pyrotechnics are often used, as are stories of supernatural beings, as the puppet form makes them easier to represent. While bunraku is the most lowbrow of all forms of theatre, it is wildly popular.

Heimin peasants, also called bonge, are the middle class of laborers, crafters, servants, merchants and other city-dwellers. Wealthy merchants often live in homes very similar to those of samurai, and Bushido requires that heimin be treated with compassion and courtesy despite the fact that they are, in theory, abjectly submissive to samurai. (Of course, ideals and reality differ.) Many heimin own their own homes, which for the wealthy may also double as businesses. Townhouses are usually narrow and deep, as streetfront is in high demand, and decorative alcoves, desks for the literate and sliding doors are common, in contrast to the very simple homes of the hinin. They do tend to be more informal than samurai homes, however. Peasant clothes are similar to those of samurai, but usually made of cotton with simple designs, or sometimes silk in a hot summer. Women try to have a colorful kimono for festivals, but most wear simpler, practical kimonos for day to day life, with shorter skirts to make labor easier. Men wear similar, plus a cotton overcoat called a haori. Both wear straw hats, especially if they work outdoors. Their work is essentially constant through the day, though shopkeepers or vendors may have more free time, as long as they always make themselves available when a samurai or their servant (far more likely) comes to call. While children can play, they must also work, and urban heimin are often educated in private schools run by generous lords or Brotherhood-run temple schools, as long as they can afford tuition. These schools teach literacy, math, theology and philosophy.

Rural heimin are usually much freer of social responsibility, but worse educated. They are, after all, far less likely to run into a samurai on any given day. While it is an overstatement to say that a poorly chosen word can kill a peasant, it is still difficult to interact with them, and most peasants take great pains to stay out of the way of their betters. In some cities, they will even take alleys and back streets to avoid bumping into samurai. Merchants typically have an easier life than other peasants, getting up early to prepare the store or move the goods, usually paying servants to do the carrying. Wealthy merchants may even travel in a cloth litter, called a kago. While still restricted in interacting with samurai, merchants may be exceptionally wealthy, moreso than any jizamurai and even some poorer lords. These merchants are renowned for their displays of (often tasteless) art at home and their love of ostentation that angers samurai. They eat fine foods more often than most peasants and will accept few challenges to their pride - even, sometimes, from samurai. Certainly not from other peasants.

City-dwelling samurai live a pretty routine life outside of winter, when the most prominent head to Winter Court. A city samurai's life is all about the governor's court, and typically involves either dealing with trade and war matters or protecting those who do. City courts deal with trade kind of sideways, via the status of merchant patrons. However, cities support a lot of samurai, which makes them politically powerful just by virtue of the powerful living there when they don't yet have holdings of their own. City samurai tend to be ambitious and talented, pursuing their own goals but facing a social ceiling unless they can find some great act to do for their clan, which means city court is always full of intrigue. Samurai homes tend to be closed off by small perimeter walls, a courtyard or garden and then walls of wood and paper. There is almost always a formal reception room for guests. The decor, of course, varies by clan. All but the poorest will have servants maintaining the household, often living in the home or a small outbuilding where food is also stored and made.

Samurai dress more finely than peasants do, with higher quality cotton and silk kimonos. Those that need mobility, such as bushi, typically wear a pleated and flowing skirt called a hakama that allows for easier movement, along with kosode robes that have smaller sleeves than a kimono, along with a single-color haori for warmth or to show allegiance. Daimyo and ranking courtiers favor an outer jacket or vest called a kataginu, and samurai in general will often incorporate their clan colors into their clothes. However, they are not restricted to those colors, and fashionable samurai often use design and color creatively to draw attention. They are, however, careful not to wear a clan's colors while in that clan's lands, which could be taken as insult. Unless, that is, they are deliberately intending insult, in which case they do wear them. City samurai tend to have a wider variety of clothes than rural or castle samurai, as they don't need to worry about travelwear. Traveling samurai in a town or city are expected to visit the local magistrate, lord or governor in charge, to announce their presence and intentions. It is very rude not to do so promptly. Powerful samurai are often carried about town in closed litters, called norimono.

Next time: Food

Rice Balls

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Rice Balls

Samurai in the cities eat well - vegetables, meat, fish and lots of rice. White rice is everywhere. Served in a bowl, used for sushi and rice balls, brewed into sake, and made into the rice vinegar used with nearly every meal. Brown rice is sometimes eaten or used for mochi, rice cakes or aromatic rice (a food brought in by the Unicorn) regionally, white is by far more common in nearly any samurai meal. Peasants get less variation, mostly eating barley, or millet for the poor ones. Merchants and other wealthy peasants of the city might eat rice often, however, and even get meat or fish sometimes. After rice, but not far after, are noodles of buckwheat or wheat flour, or sometimes yams. Seafood and especially fish is also common anywhere near the coast, as well as anywhere inland that can get ahold of river and lake fish. Poultry - mainly chicken, pheasant and more rarely turkey - is widely used for meat and eggs. Soybeans make up the rest of the proteins most Rokugani eat, as they can grow nearly anywhere. Most soybeans are turned into tofu, but it's also used for soy sauce and miso paste. Besides fish, seafood includes fresh and dried seaweed, and the common vegetables of the Empire are cabbage, kale, yams, burdock, carrots, radishes and onions. Plums, apricots, pears, cherries and apples are common fruits.

Red meat is held to be unclean, and most samurai refuse to eat it, especially along the coast. Most Unicorn ignore this rule, however, and the Crab can't usually afford to be picky about food. Besides, their view is usually that the unclean can just be purified later if it's more practical. The Dragon have been known to insist that the smoked and cured meats they eat as a delicacy is not, in fact, goat, but "mountain tuna." Individual samurai may well eat red meat by preference or circumstance, and the social results of this may range from mild disgust to loss of standing, depending on what company they eat in. Everything but soup is eaten with chopsticks or hands, and literally everyone has their own pair of chopsticks. While they're normally made of simple bamboo, the wealthy prefer those made of rare or aromatic wood, ivory or even jade. Spoons are used for soup and stew, though more often the solid parts are eaten with chopsticks and then the broth is drunk from the bowl. Knives are used in the kitchen to make food, but never at the table. There aren't any banquet halls - you eat wherever suits you, except for the kitchen. You never eat in the kitchen. Snacks on the street are usually sold on wooden skewers.

The most popular drink in the Empire is tea, called cha, and serving tea is basic hospitality. Just behind it, however, is sake, and sake has nearly as many rituals around it. It is often served in sake houses, a specialty form of bar. Sake is made from fermented rice and has been popular since well before the Empire even existed. It is usually served hot, but the best sake is chilled. You can also get the harsher and stronger shochu, made from sweet potatoes, barley or rice, but this is favored only by heavy drinkers, especially among the Mantis. Others often look down on shochu-drinkers. Other drinks are popular regionally. The Crane love umeshu, a form of plum wine, and the Unicorn like airag, made from fermented mare's milk, though no one else does.

Definitions! A city is generally defined as any single settlement of over ten thousand people, though not always. Legally, a city must have an appointed governor, and it isn't unknown for a town to have over ten thousand inhabitants but no governor, possibly due to a lack of strategic or economic import, political maneuvers or just bureaucratic inefficiency. Cities are the pinnacle of Rokugani society in most ways, with peasant farmers, miners and other rural laborers forming the lowest socioeconomic strata but the largest, providing the resources everyone else needs. These then head to various villages, where more resources are gathered and sent into regional hubs in local towns, and from there, to cities. At each step, the goods are refined and manufactured further, and taxes are collected.

The biggest factor in deciding where a city's going to grow is geography. Cities tend to be built on flat, accessible land with good drainage, especially if it's a defensible location, such as near a river, forest or mountain. Others grow up around castles or major trade routes. Roads and trade routes are a big deal, especially for cities not near farmland. Mountain passes and natural harbors also attract cities, such as Ryoko Owari Toshi, bult in the gap between the Spine of the World range and the Shinomen Forest. There are also cultural considerations; Rokugan is very much concerned with the supernatural, and this plays a major role in city siting, most obviously in Otosan Uchi, built around the Seppun Hill where the Kami fell to earth. (It is also in a natural harbor, but that's of lesser concern.)

Urban planning is not really a thing. Most cities grow outwards from a central core, usually a defensive structure of some kind such as a castle, where the local governor lives. This will usually form the core of the central, 'noble' district, which will then be surrounded by others. There will almost always be a temple district of holy sites and shrines as well as homes for the priests and shrine keepers. There will be one or more samurai districts, where lower-rank samurai live and are serviced by various sake houses, noodle shops, tailors and so on. There will be an entertainment district, with theaters, geisha houses and inns for wealthy travelers, as well as schools and workshops to support these places. There will be a merchant district, where trade is done and warehouses are stored. There will always be at least one commoner district to house the heimin, and indeed these are usually the largest part of a city. Hinin live in either their own district or a village outside the city. Depending on a city's wealth, walls may separate the districts. A city on a river or harbor will also have dock, harbor or fishing districts. As a city grows, while the original core usually remains orderly, the outer edges become full of alleys, winding roads, and narrow streets, especially in commoner areas.

Because most buildings are paper and wood, fire is one of the biggest dangers of the city. The best way to fight it is with a disciplined fire squad armed with sand buckets and a keen knowledge of the location of wells and water pumps, and the ability to demolish buildings to stop a fire from spreading. Most cities delegate this task to minor officials paid a small stipend to maintain a gang of heimin firefighters. In cities with lax order, firefighting gangs inevitably become involved in crime, gambling and prostitution. They are especially fond of protection rackets, requiring bribes to avoid violence at the hands of the firefighters or even arson while the firefighters stand around doing nothing. However, firefighter gangs also rarely allow anyone to encroach on their territory, so they are safe from other crime. Samurai are usually free to ignore all this, as firefighters aren't idiots. (Indeed, most are unlikely to believe the firefighter gangs do crime at all unless shown proof.)

Most city governors are appointed by a clan champion or local family daimyo. A governor is similar to a daimyo, but their jurisdiction only covers the city and its immediate area, running the city court and bureaucracy. The city court oversees public works, road maintenance, data collection on the city population and justice, which is specifically overseen by an appointed chief magistrate reporting to the governor. The magistrates manage taxes, law and the enforcing of gubernatorial mandates. In truly large cities, like Otosan Uchi, individual districts may have governors. The Imperial Court assigns Otosan Uchi's districts to senior samurai that report to a central council which reports to the Court.

Crime ranges from petty to sophisticated, and in big cities, bigger crime happens. Large syndicates exist, such as the opium cartels of Ryoko Owari, as they can hide easier in the bustle of the city. Ryoko Owari's firefighters are also infamously powerful street gangs, even if they also do genuinely fight fires. Most cities also have shockingly organized beggars' societies, coordinated groups of vagrants and urchins that practice petty crime and pool their take to benefit all members. Some cities are also home to blasphemous cults, but they usually prefer the anonymity of more rural areas. Plus, of course, there's the vast amounts of unorganized criminals - pickpockets, extortionists, blackmailers and so on. The magistrates work hard to prevent rampant criminality, but humans are human. Many magistrates actually maintain contacts throughout their city's criminal element and will often overlook minor crimes in order to better monitor and prevent large ones.

Next time: Townies

Town and Gown

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Town and Gown

A town is considered to be any settlement with a population between a few hundred and 10,000. Anything less is a village. Towns, while individually less influential culturally, are far more numerous than cities and as a result have about the same weight, taken as a whole, on Rokugani life. Towns tend to develop largely based on the needs of trade rather than defense, and are usually built on trade routes and rivers or near good farmland. Some towns are built around a defensive keep or watchtower, but most are villages that got big. While no more planned in their growth than cities, they are usually less chaotically laid out due to being smaller. They tend to be less cramped than cities, with fewer demands placed on their development by lords, and so buildings usually have some space between them. However, pedestrians usually stick to the alleys and back roads, as the main roads belong to cart traffic, which isn't safe to walk in. Towns are rarely subdivided by district, though some can be. The wealthy and powerful will live by the court and estate of the local lord or magistrate, usually the best defended area, while hinin will live in a seperate settlement, usually downwind of town. Buildings are smaller and less stone is used, with most being no more than two stories.

Cities are run by a local magistrate or feudal lord, with the prestige of the role varying with the town's reputation and the samurai's last job. Being put in charge of an obscure remote town is often a punishment for incompetent or untrustworthy samurai who have not actually committed major faults. Magistrates usually live in a manor house in town, to have better access to the locals, while samurai lords often live in an estate outside town or in an isolated part of the town, especially if they view their community as beneath them. Crime in towns tends to be smaller and more local in scale, but similar to that of cities. Large syndicates may have representation, but only for specific reasons. An opium cartel may be keep tabs on a town they use for smuggling, for example. Most crime is instead organized assaults or robberies. However, blasphemous cults are more often found in towns than cities, away from the more focused eyes of the Emerald Magistrates.

Now, specific locations! Otosan Uchi is the oldest actual city in the Empire, though the Isawa settlements predate it. It was originally a modest village where the Kami fell to earth, and is now the officially largest and most populous city in the Empire. Ryoko Owari Toshi probably covers greater land and has more people, mind you, but few would be rude enough to say so. The city is divided into three main areas: the Toshisoto ('outer districts'), the Ekohikei ('inner districts' which includes the Seppun Hill) and the Forbidden City. The inner districts are protected by the Enchanted Wall and date back to the first century, having been designed jointly by all the clans. They are more organized and structured than the more organically grown outer districts. An outer wall was begun, but never finished, and at this point has fallen into disrepair and begun crumbling in places due to the frequent earthquakes. The outer districts largely belong to heimin and low-ranking samurai, and have several criminal gangs, while the inner districts are dominated by high status samurai and their servants. The Great Clans maintain embassies in the inner city, all beautiful, and it is also home to the Imperial Museum of Antiquities, the Temple to the Kami and the Hito Water Gardens.

Seppun Hill is the most venerated location in the Ekohikei, a sacred and unspoiled hill where the holy woman Seppun met the eight Kami. Even by Rokugani standards, the architecture around it and the rest of the inner city is highly traditional and conservative. The Forbidden City, built for the first Hantei, is said to be manifest perfection. The city suffers frequent (if small) earthquakes due to the fact that the local earth kami are still agitated by the Fall of the Kami. This plus the ocean and occasional typhoons have caused natural tunnels to form under the city. They have been used by many secret groups of criminals, outlaws, samurai and even Emperors over the years. Many manmade rooms and complexes are hidden within the tunnels, including an underground lake that local criminals use as a market. The city's districts are each run by an appointed governor, with outer districts changing their names to match the governor's and the four inner districts remaining unchanged. They are considered equal in rank to provincial daimyo, reporting to the Sentaku Tribunal of the Imperial bureaucracy. The Otomo created the Tribunal in the 400s, and its most important job is controlling access to the Ekohikei and Forbidden City, ensuring the Court is not overrun with people. It has total authority within its domain, overridden only by the Emerald Champion or Emperor.


Otosan Uchi Rumors
  • The Sentaku Tribunal contains a number of criminal syndicate leaders in its ranks, each of whom is the cat's paw of a prominent Great Clan or Imperial courtier.
  • At the Sorrow's Falls, a young Ikoma samurai is said to have flung herself to her death in order to protect dark secrets of the Hantei line. Some claim her ghost still haunts the waterfall, while others believe her body (which was never found) carried records of the shameful secrets she died to protect.
  • There is a teahouse in the Karada District of the Ekohikei called the Field of Sharp Returns. It is a modest and rather cramped building, but the tea it serves is of unique and perhaps legendary quality, brewed from a plant that is grown only in the garden that surrounds the building. No doubt there are many who would love to get their hands on that plant.
  • The Imperial Museum of Antiquities contains the dried (or perhaps petrified) body of a mysterious creature, supposedly brought there by the museum's founder, Kuni Hazu.
  • A passage within the Imperial Palace leads to the Bay of the Golden Sun, but it is warded so that anyone not of Hantei blood will become hopelessly lost within it.

The Enchanted Wall, also called the Miwaku Kabe, was built during the First War by order of Hantei himself. He set the Crane, Crab, Ki-Rin and Phoenix to the task, to hold against the forces of Fu Leng. Its blessings proved effective, and ever since it has withstood anything the local earth kami have thrown at it. Due to the work of the Isawa shugenja involved in the construction, all four sides incorporate mystic powers that have kept them perfectly maintained. The Southern Gate is the main gate to the Forbidden City, a massive torii arch of pure, sacred crystal. It is said the arch glows in the presence of the Shadowlands Taint, but it is unclear if it is true; there have been no recorded instances of it glowing after the first century.

The Eastern Wall is said to draw strength from the glory of all those that have stood to defend it, and golden kanji inscribed on its surface bear the name of all who have died in its defense. Common belief holds that their spirits live within the wall, ready to defend the city in times of need. The Southern Wall was consecrated by the shugenja Isawa Naigama and his students, and when Fu Leng's armies assaulted the city, the wall is said to have come to life to strike them down, or at least made them vanish without trace. The Asahina artisans have tried to determine what actually happened over the centuries, but the spirits of the wall refuse to say anything about it. The Western Wall is said to contain the bound spirits of the Shadowlands monsters that died attacking the city during the First War, and sometimes the wall emits a faint wailing noise, audible in the nearby outer districts. Many shugenja have studied it over the centuries, but no one has ever been able to tell if it was dangerous or not. People prefer not to live near it. The Northern Wall was actually destroyed by the armies of Fu Leng and had to rebuilt. While it is officially equal to the other three in power and prestige, it has never shown any supernatural properties since its reconstruction. It was mostly built by the Crab, and it is full of tunnels, mazes, traps and ambush zones, serving almost as a prototype for the later Kaiu Wall.

We seem to be missing the adventure seed for Otosan Uchi, possibly because the Forbidden City got one last chapter.

Next time: Ryoko Owari Toshi and Khanbulak

City of Statistics

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: City of Statistics

Ryoko Owari Toshi has a lot of names. It is Journey's End, because it worked to stop the expansionist Crab in the 400s. It is the City of Green Walls, because of the green limestone used to build its defenses. It is the City of Stories, because of its cosmopolitan people. However, most often, it is the City of Lies, and its culture is largely based on the fact that it has a very powerful burakumin population tending the gigantic poppy fields outside the walls, and the extremely strong and corrupt firefighter gangs within. The Scorpion tolerate both in their rule over the city, which serves as the Empire's sole source of opium. The clan has had to organize the city into three massive cartels, each controlled by one of the Bayushi, Shosuro or Soshi families. The city is divided into six quarters - the Fishers' Quarter where most of the heimin live, centered on the wastern half of the Bay of Drowned Honor, the Merchant Quarter which handles shipping in three huge wharves, the Temple Quarter that is home to the immense Temples of Daikoku and Amaterasu, the Noble Quarter where most of the local Scorpion nobles hold court and live, the Licensed Quarter of Teardrop Island that serves as the city's pleasure district, and the Leatherworker's Quarter, which exists outside the southwestern wall and serves both to make leather and be a waste collection center and crematorium. The cartels run the entire city and most of the Empire's opium trade, with the rest being made primarily of Mantis and Tortoise holdings elsewhere.

The class structure that holds in most of Rokugan doesn't quite work properly in Ryoko Owari. Merchants and crafters hold power well beyond their social rank due to their wealth, and the firefighters run entire portions of the city. The merchants dare not complain too loudly of extortion, as everything is done with kickbacks to the elite Thunder Guard, the personal forces of the governor. They keep the peace, but do not enforce justice. Rather, they prevent riots, violence and disruption of life. Governor Shosuro Hyobu is fine with the rank corruption, especially because pretty much every guard and noble is making illegal money off it. Even the hinin are too powerful. Their job, moving the dung and trash out to fuel the poppy fields, means they have far more wealth and influence than any other hinin in the entire Empire. Some even dare sneer in the vague direction of samurai.

The Licensed Quarter is worth noting. It takes up the entirety of Teardrop Island, a densely populated island in the center of the city bay. It is open to anyone of any social status, and tradition says one protects one's anonymity by the wearing of basket hats. All weapons must be left at the dock, in theory for polishing. The island is home to many geisha houses, opium dens and sake houses, including at least one illegally run by gaijin. Of course, this is merely where it is legal and licenses; off the island, the opium still flows like water if you know where to look. The island is lit at night by red lanterns, giving the entire area a red cast that makes it feel unreal, to better allow samurai to drop their facades without shame.

Our NPC is Shosuro Hyobu, Corrupt Governor. She runs the place by virtue of her marriage to its last governor, but she is no less a Scorpion for that, and she is the iron-fisted master of the Shosuro cartel. The city is an unruly mass of chaos because she prefers it that way - a just, orderly city would not provide the same societal outlet that Ryoko Owari does, and would destroy the economic benefits of the opium trade, which could devastate the entire Empire. Hyobu is a patient woman, fiercely intelligent and highly protective of her son, Jocho. She is more than willing to overlook the minor excesses of her people and visitors, but she dutifully records them for her clan, just in case. She sees herself as the spider at the center of the web that is Ryoko Owari Toshi.

No rumors, but we do get an adventure seed! The PCs learn that Shosuro Jocho, son of Governor Shosuro Hyobu, has died of opium overdose. This is a deeply shameful death, threatening to undermine the influence of the entire Shosuro family in the city, for it is a sure sign of weakness. The circumstances of the death are unusual, however, and the PCs are tasked with discovering the truth. As they do, it becomes clear that someone is sabotaging their work. Witnesses are fearful, evidence goes missing, the PCs suspect they are being watched. Ultimately, via witness interrogation or examination of the body, they can learn that Jocho was poisoned, and may trace the poison back to his close friend, Shosuro Giichi. The truth is that Giichi murdered Jocho to weaken Hyobu's influence, knowing it would look awful for a Shosuro to die of their own product, especially the son of the local family leader. He hopes to fill the power void this death leaves while maneuvering for Hyobu's position. He will offer to reward the PCs if his plan succeeds, should they conceal the truth. However, if they don't accept, he will preemptively accuse one of them of the murder, which several of his influential Scorpion allies will testify to. The PCs will need not only to prove Giichi's guilt but also clear their own names, in a city where everyone has an agenda.

Khanbulak literally means City of the Khan in the old tongue of the Moto family, and it is their chief city, the beginning of the Sand Road and the westernmost city in all of Rokugan. Half of it technically lies outside Imperial borders, making it one of the only places in the Empire where gaijin merchants can legally trade their wares. The city is at least as large as the Shinjo capital city, and its prestige and wealth have fueled the growth of the Moto family's political and military power. Other members of the clan now wonder if the Moto will attempt to seize the title of clan champion, currently held by the Shinjo. The city's walls look over the empty wastes that eventually lead to the Burning Sands, al-Zawira and the Ivory Kingdoms, serving as the end of both the gaijin trade routes of the clan - the Sand Road to the Burning Sands and the Ki-Rin's Road to the Ivory Kingdoms. It is the capital of the Moto and seat of the White Guard, the official border patrol.

Within the walls are massive columns from which are suspended immense, beautiful tapestries, which form the walls of the Moto family palace. Despite or perhaps because the city is the seat of Moto power, it is considered a very hard post for Utaku or Ide samurai, who see themselves as closer to mainstream Rokugani society. The rare Great Clan ambassadors to the city consider it a dead end posting for their careers. Except for Crab and Dragon ambassadors, most are forced to find new lives in the city for themselves when their jobs end, for those that return home are inevitably viewed with disdain by their clan. While Khanbulak may have grown wealthy on trade, Rokugan remains an insular and xenophobic society, seeing the outwards-facing city as a clear aberration.

Besides the uncouth Moto, the city is also home to huge, shifting tent city outside the walls, the primary gathering place for both Empire and gaijin merchants, especially those from the Sand Road and Ki-Rin's Road, but even beyond. They mingle freely with the Moto, who station many of their more hot-tempered soldiers in the area to avoid offending the more traditional families of the Unicorn while allowing these fierce, passionate warriors to commune with their steppe heritage. Khanbulak is a harmonious mixture of civilized and uncivilized, much like its ruling family. While the Moto are samurai, they see little wrong with bargaining with merchants as their ancestors once did, and foreign goods and people are common. When the sun sets, all foreigners must move outside the walls, including the Ujik tribes that have not yet sworn themselves to the Moto khan and officially accepted the Kami Shinjo's offer to join her clan. It is considered a demand of honor, but is usually seen as a practical matter, making the city easier to guard. It is also an important way to handle the law. Gaijin are not, technically, legal in the Empire. They are officially barred, and the city's authority is legally considered to extend only to within its walls. The local priests bless the city every morning, proclaiming that all within the walls are citizens of the Empire in homage to Hantei. Any gaijin discovered inside the city after sunset are officially to be killed mercilessly.

Our NPC is Moto Rurame, Restless Commander. She is the Noyan of the Scarlet Banners and sister of Moto Ogodei, the khan of the Moto family. She sees Khanbulak as a shackle on the Moto. The Scarlet Banners are a mingghan of the White Horde of the Moto, patrollers of the city and the lands north and east of it, but she hates the stationary nature of the job. She is a Moto traditionalist, a believer that the family should return to their Ujik roots and ride out from the city to their ancestral steppe. She sees the Ide family as emblematic of the weakness of the Unicorn, sycophants who would give up everything that makes the Horde strong in order to pacify the weak and soft Rokugani. However, she currently remains loyal to her brother and oversees the safety of Khanbulak as though it were one of the traditional encampments of the Ujik. She encourages her soldiers to wrestle in the evenings and to cook and eat red meat.

No rumors again, but our adventure seed: While in Khanbulak for whatever reason one evening, the PCs run into a gaijin caravan officer with bodyguards. He has remained within the walls in blatant violation of the law and is meeting with a Moto and an Ide samurai. Honor demands that they and the PCs should report the gaijin and ensure he is killed. If the PCs confront the gaijin, the Moto pleads with them to allow things to slide - the gaijin is swearing loyalty to the Unicorn, the samurai says. The PCs should be able to tell that the location and timing are not exactly auspicious for such an oath and that everyone involved seems quite nervous. If the PCs refuse to accept the lie, the Moto will go as far as threats of violence, and the two samurai may offer to cut the PCs in on their deal or otherwise reveal the truth by accident - the merchant is selling them a large number of slaves, which are illegal in the Empire. The two Unicorn and the gaijin are all aware of the penalties for their crimes and will become desperate if the PCs won't take a deal. If the PCs have not gotten their names, the trio may flee, possibly leading to an evening chase through the Moto city. However, if they think the PCs can identify them for the magistrates, they and the bodyguards will grow violent. The gaijin trader has a bottle containing an alchemical mixture that, when broken, will create a cloud of obscuring smoke.

Next time: The Terror of the Kolat

What If The Kolat Sucked Less?

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: What If The Kolat Sucked Less?

Red Horn Village is located in the southeast of the Dragon Heart Plains. It is a minor center of trade and diplomacy between the Lion, Unicorn and Phoenix clans, and indeed takes its name from the constant Phoenix presence there. Samurai of those clans are frequent travelers in the area, as it forms a nexus of roads to more populated parts of their lands. The Isawa maintain a permanent embassy in town, a trade center named the House of the Jade Dawn. Red Horn is also seen as a vacation destination for certain types of people, as it has several gambling houses. It has a small hinin village and several noble houses for local samurai, forming a prosperous if not overly large town.

In truth, much of it is a facade, despite the large amount of legitimate business that goes through the town. The House of the Jade Dawn is named in reference to Amaterasu, but not in her honor - rather, it is referring to her as the greatest foe of humanity. The heretical alliance of sects known as the Kolat controls the village, with nearly all permanent residents playing some part in the conspiracy, whether they know it or not, from the hinin to the local Isawa and Shinjo nobles. The Kolat's members carefully watch all samurai that come to the village, subtly questioning them to determine their piety and their loyalty to the Emperor, to see if they might be useful to the group. The Kolat, like the Empire, date back to the Fall of the Kami. Where others bow to Heaven, the Kolat chafe under the rule of those descended from literal gods. Their ultimate goal is simple: overthrow the Hantei and create a world in which humanity rules itself, free of the rules and blood of the Kami. Thus, they have long established a network of spies, agents and assassins, protecting themselves with complex ciphers.

Perhaps the deadliest of the Kolat's tools are sleeper agents, who operate under assumed identities for years on end, even decades, to collect information and wait for orders to do something more dangerous. These spies are trained to resist torture, and Red Horn Village serves as the nerve center for their network of communications. No one is really sure how far the influence of the Kolat actually goes, however - even its members. They could be a tiny conspiracy or a huge one, but their secrecy and the fact that they're made of several different aligned sects means no one can be truly certain. Our NPC is Chinoko, Deceitful Geisha. She was born to poverty, taking easily to crime and intrigue to escape her lot. She despised the Celestial Order, which shat on hinin like her endlessly, and when she was offered a chance to join the Kolat, she jumped at it, learning the arts of espionage and assassination. She now disguises her muscular body in fine silk and exotic jewelery from the Unicorn lands, and her skills as a geisha are top notch, but this is merely a front for her true work. From Red Horn, she controls a small empire of illegal gambling houses, opium dens and prostitution rings, commanding a number of sleeper agents as her eyes, ears and occasionally knives across the north of the Empire.

No rumors again, but adventure seed: One of the PCs discovers a mysterious, ciphered message in their belongings, challenging but not impossible to decode. It is a Kolat message, containing an invitation for the PC to join their war on Heaven's order. It is a test and a trap. The Kolat expect that the PC will run to their daimyo and tell them about the Kolat. If they do, the Kolat spies in said daimyo's household will note the lord's reaction, carefully scrutinizing the group for sympathies to the Kolat. By having the lord semi-publically express disdain for a 'secret sect,' they may have revealed a few other samurai actually worth recruiting. If one or more PCs actually take the invitation, however, they could be given any kind of mission the GM desires. If they are particularly competent or placed well for the Kolat's needs, they may even be inducted as sleeper agents. The GM must determine, either way, what the sect's plans for the area and the PCs actually are, for surely it does not end here.

Now, we're going to talk about harbors. Harbors are safe havens from high water and pirates, and ports built at a harbor, river or sea, are vital protectors of trade as well as whatever their other focus is - fishing, defense, shipbuilding, that kind of thing. Many villages and even cities would starve within a few decades if not for port trade networks for shipping, and the harbor towns and cities are vital. Local daimyos will set the governors and magistrates to carefully oversee trade and licensing, and while many low-level bureaucrats can be easily bribed to overlook small infractions, magistrates are usually either more honest or more expensive. Most harbors are part of bustling towns or cities in their own right, providing plenty of jobs for heimin.

Port design is heavily influenced by local geography, and natural ports are often extended with breakwaters of wood or stone to protect against the waves, or even the building of seawalls to protect against storms and tsunami. Wharfs, docks and quays are made from wood or stone promenades along the natural coast or artificial basin of the harbor to allow ships to tie up, with piers used in shallow water or to increase the capacity of the docks extended out into deeper waters. When a ship arrives, the agents of the local magistrate will head out to inspect cargo and assess tariffs. After that, the dockworkers start unloading. Some ports will include warehouses and shops on small islands, to make the most of the coastline space, using wooden bridges to connect them to the mainland and each other. When these prove insufficient, buildings may be built on top of wooden stilts anchored underwater. Inland, the administrative facilities for licensing and flags sit, also serving to provide charts and maps to ships. Shops performing maintenance and providing parts for repairs are also available, along with storage facilities and merchants selling livestock, food and even soil or seeds. Heading further inland, you will find the businesses that cater to merchants and sailors, such as inns and bars. These are rarely visited by the upper classes, who see them as dishonorable and crude, and workers typically live in the town or city proper rather than the harbor district.

A port's main function will determine a lot of its form. Fishing ports, for example, will be designed for smaller craft. Rokugani commercial fishing primarily uses gillnetting and cormorant fishing. Gillnetters will head out with a net to catch saltwater fish, typically small schooling fish such as sardines, halfbeak or horse mackerel along coastlines and larger fish such as tuna, salmon and snapper out on the open sea. Cormorant fishers use trained birds to catch freshwater fish, usualy salmon and trout. Gillnetters use small boats, usually with 3-4 person crews, and will use chains of 4-6 gillnets, each upwards of sixty feet wide. The openings are sized based on the fish in season, as is placement. Cormorant fishing relies on small rowboats, usually with 2-3 person crews. A smoking torch is held above the boat, which sets out in the hours before dawn, and the bird handler will hold onto ropes tied to the necks of 5-10 birds. These are tight enough to prevent the cormorants from swallowing the fish, and the torch makes the fish disturbed and easier to catch. The handler will reel in a cormorant that gets a fish, retrieving it and sending the bird back out. With good handlers, this can net over 150 fish an hour. Fish rot quickly, so fishing ports have high docking capacity to ensure the catch is fresh and good, not rotting in the nets. Even so, they always reek of rotting fish. These ports will have extensive cold storage, salting and preservation facilities alongside the fish markets. Mountain river-fish ports will make heavy use of ice, as do some large Phoenix fishing ports, which get their ice from the practice of student shugenja calling on the kami of the air and water.

Military ports focus on providing security and deterring bandits and piracy. The soldiers will assist the magistrates in inspections as well. They have fortified and secured berths, so they have reduced room for merchant vessels, and they need to have barracks and armories. Most military river ports also keep a bridge gate downriver staffed with soldiers as part of their antipiracy efforts, while sea ports will have extensive facilities designed to stop pirates and hostile naval forces, such as fortified breakwaters with archer towers or battlements, or even (usually in Crab ports) catapults and other siege weapons. Military vessels will patrol the coast and sea lanes to find and fight pirates.

Shipbuilding ports are designed to allow for doing repairs even below the waterline. They may have drydocks, which differ from piers in that they are surrounded on three sides with rock and extend to the sea floor, with reinforced pitch-and-bamboo gates to seal in the ship. A large wheel built on one wall removes the water, lowering the ship onto blocks. Shipbuilding ports maintain large supplies of lumber, pitch, tar, sails, line and rope, plus specialized preformed ship parts in metal and wood. Their repair yards often maintain trained hull divers, who can hold their breath for long periods to scrape off barnacles or do other maintenance underwater. Often, unskilled heimin flock to these ports to learn a trade.

Most ports, however, are trade ports, and even other types of ports usually support trade. Trade ports will employ vast numbers of dockworkers to move cargo, with strong guilds of craftsmen for any number of commodities. Tariff magistrates will maintain small agent houses in every berth to not delay inspections and assessments, and the local markets generally have slightly better prices than inland, due to not needing to pay for transport. The vast amounts of goods and cash makes these ports very tempting for bandits and pirates.

Next time: Port Cities

Gotei's Finger

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Gotei's Finger

Most ports are run by a single clan, as with towns in general. They tend to have a bit more social mobility than normal, as the trade guilds send heimin to participate in the court. However, as heimin, they remain limited to observation, mingling between court sessions and handing in reports. Some ports are on clan borders, but because of how important ports are to the economy of the Empire, these ports are often ruled by direct Imperial control, to help avoid clan tensions and to encourage fair trade. Port towns tend to be far more diverse than other areas, with visitors from many clans and followers of many religious practices passing through. Most people in a port town will be strangers, and locals tend to be very wary of scams and thieves, which are common. Violence also becomes an issue, especially around areas catering to sailors.

Gotei City is the capital of the Islands of Spice and Silk, a day's sailing east of the Crane coast. It is easily the busiest of Rokugan's international trading ports, in large part because of the city's relative acceptance of gaijin. It also is one of the more socially mobile places in Rokugan. It's not common, but a heimin sailor can, in theory, become a ship's captain, and owning a ship in the Islands of Spice and Silk is like being a land owner elsewhere - it means you're noble. While the captains are still commoners on mainland Rokugan, all captains in the Islands are treated as minor nobility, period. However, the vast majority of Mantis ships remain controlled by samurai captains. For all that, the Islands remain Rokugani. If they weren't, the Mantis would have no claim to being a clan at all, and their piracy could be seen as an attack on the Empire rather than economic competition between clans. That means that, officially, the gaijin ban is in full effect. In practice, the ban is applied only when someone gains advantage from doing so. To avoid the perception of violation, however, the Mantis ensure that all gaijin know that, when speaking to an Emerald Magistrate or other Imperial bureaucrat, they must do certain things and answer certain ways. Most notably, they should always claim to be loyal vassals of the Mantis, whether or not that's true.

The Mantis are even more open and friendly to outsiders than the Unicorn, and especially so in Gotei City. Gaijin religions and cultures are incorporated into a loose set of superstitions informally observed across the city, and formal decorum is barely observed at all compared to the mainland. The Scorpion often joke that Gotei makes Khanbulak look like Otosan Uchi. However, while the permanent residents of Gotei City may lack in some social graces, they are largely honorable. The code of sailors may not always perfectly match Bushido, but on the whole, most of Gotei City adheres to some version of Bushido's tenets. That said, they consider the distinction between merchants and pirates to be rather fluid. However, no matter what, Yoritomo and his ancestors have always believed safe harbor to be an absolute. Serious or lethal crimes are harshly punished in Gotei City, and few happen there. However, no law exists on the open sea.

Gotei is split into two main areas. The Palace of the Mantis serves as a Mantis fortress and home for its samurai. North, past the Path of Thunder, is Gotei Harbor, where the sailors from all lands gather to trade. It is rowdy, but not usually especially dangerous. However, it is ugly as hell, with no unifying aesthetic and no plan whatsoever in its development. It is said the lanterns of Gotei Harbor can be seen from half a day's sailing away. The wharf is some 750 yards long and incorporates no less than six architectural styles, with variable height and materials. It uses a number of piers to increase capacity, and no two piers are the same. Gotei Harbor has neither harbor masters nor tariff assessors. The big players pay tribute to Yoritomo, but smaller groups are allowed to do as they please, paying tribute only when they need a favor or require an audience.

Notable places in the city include Gaijin's Path, a long street of shops, opium dens, businesses and religious centers run by foreigners. While Rokugani are, by a small margin, still the majority, many of the businesses on Gaijin's Path are run by and for gaijin. There are Ivory Kingdoms and al-Zawiran temples, teachers from many lands, all kinds of things in a concentration found nowhere else, even Khanbulak. There's the infamous brewhouse called Sen'in Brew House or the Napping Sailor. It is where sailors go to celebrate success, and it is always packed, no matter what time it is. The lower floor may have upwards of six crews drinking at once, either sake or the much stronger araki liquor made from dates, tea, honey and hot water. Upstairs is calmer and more relaxed. In a back alley along the Path of Thunder, you can also find the Library of Chartmaster Kanidoko Itte, marked by the symbol of the Paverrese compass rose. Itte is an old woman with a sharp cane and a sharper tongue, but she holds a secret fondness for many of the local ship captains, and most experienced captains will consult her before a major voyage. Rumor has it that her home has a basement linked to any number of secret passages that run to far off lands, and her visitors are described as anything from vicious gaijin to demons of shadow. One thing is definitely true, though: her underground complex houses a massive library of sea charts. Only her favorites are ever invited down into it, where she keeps the maps and rare charts that lead to distant ports. They are often hired to deliver messages or small cargos for her.


Gotei City Rumors
  • I saw Captain Fumiko with a map of secret passages between the Library of Kanidoko Itte and the Vault of Heaven. I think they're going to rob the vault!
  • Did you notice that all the Ivory Kingdoms ships left port? I heard they came to pay a debt to Yoritomo, but one of their treasure ships went missing last night. It seems every captain in Gotei City is trying to find it first!
  • Some ambitious new Emerald Magistrates have been asking a lot of questions lately. They're trying to enforce the Imperial laws against gaijin and shut down gaijin businesses and temples.

Our NPC is Captain Byakko of the Takarabako. Byakko is Yoritomo's fifth cousin, and as boys the two spent a lot of time together. Despite Byakko's relative inexperience, Yoritomo favors him and has given him the Takarabako, a three-master kobune, and has assigned Lady Aguri, a young but highly skilled shugenja whom Yoritomo's uncle has adopted, to watch over the young man and keep him safe. Byakko is much more interested in exploring than in piracy or running errands for Yoritomo, though he is extremely loyal to the Mantis Champion and desperate for approval. He wants to gain enough status to convince his cousin to fund an expedition southwards, to a rumored land of great deserts, endless reefs and strange creatures that drop from trees and emerge from the waters in hordes. Byakko wants to be the first to map its coastline.

Adventure seed: Captain Byakko is looking for samurai to guard Yoritomo's gift to the Emperor after his own retainers have gotten mysteriously sick. While he hates to trust outsiders with such a job, he believes the PCs can handle it due to their reputation. The cargo is allegedly the lost Kaiu Blade, sacred weapon of the legendary Crab hero Hida Daisuke, which may well improve the Mantis' reputation with both the Emperor and the Crab Clan. Byakko will lead the PCs to the Vault of Heaven, to get the blade with great ceremony and a stern lecture from Yoritomo. While the PCs escort the sword to the wharf, gaijin bandits wielding curved swords attack, apparently aware of the cargo. Further, ronin will block the path as the PCs finally reach the pier after fending them off. The ronin leader, a woman clad in all white, is an infamously disgraced member of the Crane Clan, accompanied by a Scorpion poisoner believed long dead.

Next time: The City of the Rich Frog.

Wealthy Toads

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Wealthy Toads

The City of the Rich Frog is one of the most important river ports in the entire Empire, at the junction of Three Sides River and Drowned Merchant River. It is a vital economic nexus for the Dragon, Lion, Unicorn and the minor Dragonfly Clan. In older times, it was just the Village of the Rich Frog, and even then it was one vital as a port. For centuries, the Dragon and Lion contested its ownership, and when the Unicorn returned, so did they. Weary of the fighting, the Emperor declared it an Imperial holding, sending an Imperial governor to run the port. Now, it is neutral ground. The governor relies on ronin deputies over clan samurai to enforce law and order, and because conflict is common, some of those ronin families have been in service to the magistrates and governor for generations. They have taken the family name Kaeru, and will accept any capable warrior or administrator into their ranks no matter what their past is. Despite the ban on fighting over the port, the clans still compete for economic advantage there, and it is not rare for them to conspire against each others' cargo or leak cargo manifests to bandits. The local ronin are another point of conflict, as each clan attempts to influence them and coopt them. The ronin make a great show of appearing neutral while playing the clans off each other for maximum profit.

The city is divided into three clan-controlled districts, each with its own security and facilities. The Imperial Governor maintains a manor at the center of the river junction, handling taxes and tariffs from there. The Unicorn District covers the entire west bank of Three Sides River, with a black granite wharf of impressive size. Most goods, usually coal, lumber and textiles, are immediately taken from ships to wagons, moving deeper into Unicorn lands for storage. They maintain a few purple-roofed stone buildings, including a tower on the southern end of the wharf which is tall enough to fire arrows all the way across the river. Iuchi Shichiro, an elderly samurai, uses the tower to oversee trade for the Unicorn clan. He's held the post for 20 years and has been talking about passing it on to one of his seven sons and heading out on one last ride. The Lion District covers the east bank of Three Sides, south of Drowned Merchant River. It is one of the most important Lion trade hubs, where they trade food and clothes for iron and stone . The ranking samurai is the young and eager Akodo Minami, who obsesses over security and prays to the Fortunes for any valid cause to send her 3000-strong forces across the Drowned Merchant to attack the Dragonfly. The Lion maintain no traditional wharf or warehouses, instead surrounding their part of the banks with a wall dating back to the more violent days. Instead of a wharf, they use an ingenious system of canal gates, using the river current itself to move goods into huge storage complexes for food and textiles that straddle the canals inland, where they can be unloaded safely.

The Dragon presence tends to confuse other clans. They give use of the profitable riverbank to the Dragonfly Clan, focusing instead on a small collection of shrines at the river junction. Fifty soldiers garrison the shrines, as if expecting some threat from the water. Their leader is Tonbo Kuma, a powerful Dragonfly shugenja whose family has run the local Dragon holdings as long as anyone can recall. They are a thin, androgynous shugenja who speaks rarely. The northern and eastern banks of Drowned Merchant River hold a modest wharf that is sometimes used by Phoenix travelers, with any goods they buy floated downriver into Phoenix lands. On the north side of Drowned Merchant is an artificial basin with eleven wharfs and one open side, with corresponding to a month of the year identified by animal statues and iconography. A large lantern is moved one step clockwise each sunrise, forming a communal calendar.

At the river junction itself, growing from the water, is the oldest and largest willow in the entire Empire, Saibanshoki. Its trunk is twenty yards across and covered in strange, centuries-old carvings. At the base are five small berths for boats and a staircase heading to the governor's mansion. Legend holds that the willow tree's shade hides the home of a mischief-loving frog spirit, the god of the river junction, and that the evening song of the frogs is that spirit's love song for the kodama spirit of the tree. The manor extends out over the river, shielded from the summer sun by the immense willow tree. Above the court chambers is the governor's office, where agents use flag signals to communicate with the tariff assessors and customs agents, as the sound of frogs can often make shouting impossible to hear.


Rich Frog Rumors
  • Iuchi Konomi, Iuchi Shichiro's daughter, was caught with Miya Tetsua - and she was promised to Tonbo Kuma already, no? For shame! Surely the marriage is off if the Dragonfly Clan finds out.
  • Have you noticed all the soldier activity today? I heard a ninja smuggled the Phoenix's Nest down the Drowned Merchant River!
  • Did you see all the floated Unicorn shipments today? I heard they found a new source of jade and are shipping far more than they can protect, just floating it downriver!

Our NPC is Miya Tetsua, Imperial Governor. He has been the governor for seven years so far. While his otokodate handle inspections and assessments ably, his time is full of the interclan disputes over river use, cargo damage and other tedium. The only thing that has kept from hurling himself into the river is his study of the arts and the presence of Tonbo Kuma. Tetsua tries to be impartial, but he is deeply fond of Kuma. The two play Go weekly, as Tetsua tries to learn more of the mysterious shugenja.

Adventure seed: The PCs are sent to a dinner with Miya Tetsua and several local clan representatives. While dining, the governor is told that a strange ship has gotten caught on one of the berths of Saibanshoki. There is no crew aboard, and the deck is covered in large chunks of jade. All present immediately lay claim to the ship, and after much debate, Tetsua asks the PCs to go investigate and determine which clan owns the ship. While the deck is laden with treasure, there is absolutely nothing below decks. However, when the PCs emerge from the ship again, they find it is now sailing through Gaki-do, the Realm of the Hungry Dead, and they are under attack by hungry ghosts! Eventually, the ship sails through some undefined organic mass and reaches a thick, rotting tree that looks like a dark reflection of the Saibanshoki, upon which is perched a large, phoenix-like bird spirit. The PCs may return to Rokugan by either healing or destroying the spirit tree, though its destruction will unseal a passage to Gaki-do hidden in the governor's mansion. Healing it will seal the evil away for another century.

The final part of chapter 2 is all about crime and law. The Rokugani justice system is a thousand years old, and it relies on a mix of unbiased investigation, subjective testimony based on social status, religion and pragmatic efficiency. The handling of a crime begins with a magistrate or team of magistrates investigating a crime, with the presiding magistrate typically making a judgment based on a combination of witness testimony (with credibility based on social status) and confessions (often gained by torture). Physical evidence, no matter how compelling it is, often has no real place in the process. When found guilty, criminals are given swift and often lethal punishment. It is generally considered that the safest way to live is to never interact with the justice system if at all possible.

Until the 100s, the legal system was handled by a largely arbitrary patchwork of law, with most conflicts between samurai handled via iaijutsu dueling (which is a tradition continuing to modern days). However, it was inefficient to duel over every offense. At last, Emerald Champion Doji Hatsuo realized the law was being applied haphzardly and without justice, and he turned to the renowned judge Soshi Saibankan to establish a consistent and comprehensive legal system for the Empire as a whole. From their analysis, they realized they needed fair and predictable enforcers of justice, and so they created the Emerald Magistrates, a group of samurai who would become the front line of the justice system, enforcing the law, investigating crimes and even executing judgments.

Next time: The Emerald Magistrates

Tough on Crime

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Tough on Crime

The Emerald Magistrates are the senior-level justice officials of Rokugan. They can be easily identified by their badge of office, a jade sphere, and their emerald-colored haoris. Their jurisdiction covers the entire Empire as defined by the Charter of the Emerald Magistrates, and they are thus a de facto national police force, reporting to the Emerald Champion. However, despite their wide-ranging powers, they rarely handle local crimes. Instead, their focus is on major crime and unrest which is seen to represent grave violation of Imperial law or which otherwise threatens the peace on a regional scale or greater. While the Charter is a substantial document, drafted by Soshi Saibankan, it can be boiled down to three major points.

Firstly, the Emerald Magistrates are concerned with major crimes - treason, crimes of a national scope or crimes involving organized blasphemy or the Shadowlands, fugitives crossing clan or territorial borders, or general disorder. If they become aware of lesser crimes, they are to inform authorities of the appropriate jurisdiction. Secondly, Emerald Magistrates are empowered to oversee Imperial tax collection and tariffs, issue Empire-wide travel papers and protect dignitaries. They may enter any location in the Empire and may arrest and question any person in the pursuit of their duties. However, if this involves a samurai of higher station or social status than the Magistrate, they must obtain a writ from the Emerald Champion or their target's daimyo or lord in order to do so. Thirdly, Emerald Magistrates may generally not address purely local law enforcement concerns, but may intervene in any crime in progress. They may not become involved in blood feuds, nor may they receive any gifts or compensation for their duties.

This means that Emerald Magistrates have wide-ranging but limited powers, usable only in relation to major crimes that hold Imperial implications. Thus, the Emerald Magistrates are appointed directly by the Emerald Champion on behalf of the Emperor, and are only chosen from those who have proven themselves worthy of the honor. They may be taken from any clan - even, in rare cases, a Minor Clan. While they retain clan affiliation, they are expected to work from the perspective of the Empire as a whole. While they often work alone, it is not uncommon for groups of Emerald Magistrates to operate as teams if significant crime is suspected. They generally are accompanied by a sizable retinue of assistants as well, and have limited power to levy troops if required as part of their duties. Local lords must assist them as much as possible, so long as the assistance is reasonable and conforms to the Charter. A team of Emerald Magistrates is noted as a great PC group, given they can be of many clans and are able to interact easily with senior officials as well as facing foes like criminal gangs or maho-tsukai cults. However, the GM is reminded that the Magistrates are bound by their charter, and that PCs will need to be careful not to overstep their admittedly broad authority.

There is an additional office of Imperial magistrates: the Jade Champion. This was a position made early in the Empire's history to fight illegal and blasphemous magic. A small contingent of Jade Magistrates was founded to answer to the Jade Champion. The position has been vacant for several centuries, however, and there are currently no Jade Magistrates as a result. The duties of the Jade Champion and Jade Magistrates are currently handled by the Emerald Champion and Emerald Magistrates, with assistance from groups such as the Kuni Witch Hunters, the Asako Inquisitors and the Scorpion Kuroiban.

Clan Magistrates are similar to their Emerald counterparts, but their jurisdiction is limited to within the lands of a single clan. Outside this territory, they hold no special authority. They are more likely to become involved in local crimes and investigations within their jurisdiction, but usually only if local magistrates are not available or need help. Most of the broad powers of the Emerald Magistrates are available to them within their area of jurisdiction, and the two groups often work closely together when the Emerald Magistrates are in the territory of the appropriate clan. This also serves as a way for clan leadership to ensure any investigation represents their interests and can keep aware of what the Emerald Magistrates are doing in their lands. Clan Magistrates are appointed by provincial daimyos, and tend to be assigned either to patrol assigned territories and holdings or to oversee important locations. The job is highly prestigious and generally reserved for accomplished samurai. While a Rokugani may well go their entire life without ever meeting an Emerald Magistrate, Clan Magistrates are a common sight and typically have a better understanding of local customs, grievances and viewpoints, as well as the lay of the local underworld. This can make them valuable resources to visiting Emerald Magistrates. Clan Magistrate groups are noted as less flexible for PCs, since they're single-clan, but can be useful for a single-clan game focused on that clan's lands. The main limit will be the territorial limits of their authority, after all. Starting PCs are more likely to serve as yoriki assistants to magistrates, of course, which gives them a chance to learn the ropes with a mentor before they get promoted.

Magistrates are in general accompanied by various subordinates, known as auxiliaries, that assist in their work. These include yoriki, samurai that serve as assistants to the magistrates. Yoriki hold limited judicial powers, typically revolving around the routine matters of common investigations of crimes committed by samurai, and they must report any findings to their magistrate. They hold more expansive power to deal with crimes committed by commoners, including, usually, the authority to render summary judgment and punishment. Doshin are deputies to the yoriki, and while they may be samurai, they are more often heimin. Like the yoriki, the powers of the doshin are restricted largely to routine investigation, and typically only to crimes committed by peasants.

Magistrates may occasionally have hinin assistants to perform specific duties considered inappropriate for a samurai to handle, such as the physical handling of corpses or the torture of suspects to obtain confessions. They may also temporarily draft samurai as yoriki or even form bodies of troops, but this is only done with consultation from local lords or governors, and only to deal with specific problems, such as a cult or criminal conspiracy that poses a threat beyond the normal capabilities of the magistrate and their retinue.

Once a crime has been investigated, assuming formal charges are laid, the matter then goes to a formal judicial court. Typically, the judge is the most senior magistrate available, but if the accused is particularly important or is a samurai of sufficiently high status, the judge may be a local governor or daimyo. However, normally the judge is of little consequence, as the accused has already confessed by the time the trial begins, either voluntarily or under torture, and the judge's role is primarily to bring formal weight to the proceedings and announce sentence. However, some magistrates, particularly those of the Kitsuki family of the Dragon Clan, will put aside custom and sit in judgment. This is very much an exception case.

In most cases, the only factor of consideration in addition to confession is the testimony of witnesses, and it must be assumed as a result of the Celestial Order that the testimony of those with higher status is "more true" than those of lower status. Thus, effectively, only the word of the highest rank in a case matters. In the early years of Empire, this was extended to testimony by kami and spirits, who were considered to be of the highest possible rank. However, this caused issues. Elemental kami view reality in a way fundamentally unlike humans do, and their testimony could be vague, confusing and heavily reliant on the interpretation of the shugenja serving as their intermediary, whose biases could unintentionally (or deliberately) color things. The practice of spirit testimony changed after the infamous trial over the murder of a Lion general. A Kitsu Medium summoned the ghost of the victim, who confirmed the Lion accusations against a Scorpion samurai. However, after the testimony, the Scorpion produced the Lion general alive. No one is sure what the Kitsu actually invoked, but it's known that after that trial, Imperial decree forbade all testimony by spirits and other nonhuman entities. The Kitsuki family of the Dragon tend to give considerable weight to physical and circumstantial evidence, and may base their findings at least partially on their assessment of evidence. This has caused a lot of debate and concern among the more traditional sorts, and some even call the Kitsuki's Method blasphemy, as it implicitly undermines the celestial order by suggesting that evidence may outweight the word of a samurai, impugning their honor and the status of Bushido. Outside of Dragon lands, however, use of the Kitsuki's Method is rare. To date, though, neither the Emperor nor the Emerald Champion has ever seen fit to forbid its use, so it continues to be valid despite the controversy.

Most judicial courts are handled wherever and whenever is most convenient for the magistrate and witnesses, most often in the magistrate's own receiving hall. Only a few places, mostly large cities such as Otosan Uchi or Ryoko Owari Toshi, have permanent courts. These usually take the form of open courtyards with a shaded dais for the judge, the judge's sergeant-at-arms and the court scribe. A smaller dais is prepared for witnesses and their retainers. The courtyard, called the white sands of judgment, is always a flat area of white sand where the accused kneels. The sand is meant to reflect the heat and intensity of the sun on the accused, symbolizing the role of the Heavens in overseeing judgment. In poor weather, any suitable location may be used instead. Trials are typically public, unless a judge has reason to rule otherwise. Once the accused kneels, the scribe will read the crimes they are accused of, followed by their confession. The judge may ask questions to clarify points of the confession or learn more about the accused, and they may allow witness testimony, which may influence the verdict. Judges that favor the Kitsuki Method may also examine evidence or even question witnesses. Once this is all done, the judge delivers the verdict (almost always 'guilty') and the sentence. All decisions are final and the sentence is carried out immediately, with one exception.

This exception is that when samurai are involved, if there is any doubt as to the guilt of the accused, either the wronged party or the accused may issue a duel challenge to the other. Unless the judge believes the challenge is issued flippantly or as a desperate move to avoid just punishment (which is itself criminal), they usually allow the duel. Duels of this sort are normally to first blood, but in grave crimes, a duel to the death may be allowed. The result of such a duel is considered to be the will of the Heavens and thus beyond reproach. If the accused wins, they are exonerated and immediately freed. If they lose, their guilt is irrevocable, and the sentence applies.

Next time: Judgment

Russian Novels Something Something

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Russian Novels Something Something

Once an accused is found guilty, the judge will announce their sentence and punishment. The form of punishment is normally based on the crime, but politics and favoritism may alter things, and sometimes a daimyo, governor or other party may influence a sentencing for their own purpose. Punishments are almost always public, as a deterrent to crime.

Minor offenses are those, primarily, conducted by samurai against those of inferior status or against commoners. This can include assault causing harm, gratuitous or unwarranted harm to a commoner, public brawling, minor property damage or minor cases of theft or smuggling. In most cases, the perpetrator is required to apologize and make restitution to the wronged party, but little else is done. Other punishments may include fines or house arrest for a period. In the case of a crime committed by a samurai against a commoner, even if it would otherwise be considered a serious offense, the magistrate may not even bother investigating or may perform only a cursory investigation before issuing a summary judgment. In these cases, punishment is usually little more than a requirement to make token restitution to the samurai to whom the commoner was a vassal. However, it should be noted that samurai sometimes favor certain peasant vassals, and a lord may be a patron to peasant merchant or crafter. If a crime is committed against a favored vassal even by a samurai and the lord is sufficiently influential, the matter may well be taken more seriously by the magistrate. However, it will still probably not be considered more than a minor offense.

Serious offenses are those committed by samurai which are not considered grave but which still require significant punishment. Usually, they will be committed against the accused's social betters or against those of equal status. Crimes against those of significantly inferior status are minor offenses at worst, usually. Serious offenses include murder, unwarranted assaults on other samurai that cause serious injury, theft or smuggling of goods of significant value or other serious property crimes, as well as avoiding or escaping lawful custody. A death caused in a legal duel or to an enemy during war is not a crime, ever, but a killing in an unsanctioned duel or a duel to first blood could be considered murder depending on the circumstances. A samurai convicted of a serious offense might be sentenced to death, but would almost always be permitted seppuku, and being cast out as a ronin for a serious offense is exceptionally rare. More often, punishments will be imprisonment, significant fines, restitution to the wronged, or a public reprimand. Reprimands require a samurai appear in public, announce their crimes, and offer apology to the wronged. Because Rokugani society is obsessed with appearances and face, this is a very heavy punishment. Commoners are executed somewhat more often for these crimes, but in general will still mostly face imprisonment, public flogging or other punishment tailored to their crime, such as the loss of a hand for theft.

Grave offenses (for samurai) are those crimes committed against the Emperor or their family, or against senior Imperial officials such as the Emerald Champion, Imperial Advisor, the Great Clan Champions or daimyo, or the daimyo of Imperial families or Minor Clans. They also include treason against the Empire and any crime with an Empire-wide scope, such as large criminal enterprises. Further, being involved in use of illegal magic or participation in blasphemous cults are always grave offenses, as is arson. Punishment for grave offenses is almost always death. The form of execution varies by crime and the character of the convict. For those of good character, a judge may mercifully order a quick death or even allow seppuku to cleanse the honor of the accused. However, for vile offenses or those perpetrators deemed of low character and morally deficient, slow and agonizing death is preferred, usually by torture, such as burning or boiling alive. As an alternative to death, a samurai convicted of grave crimes may be cast out of their clan and family, becoming ronin. To most, this is worse than death, for it is a loss of identity and place in the Celestial Order, consigned to the fringes of society and shunned by the honorable samurai of the Empire. Commoners convicted of grave offenses are killed, period. Usually, their deaths are brutally swift, as they are not worth the time of an elaborate death.

This brings us into Chapter 3 - farms and villages. No matter how sophisticated or powerful a civilization, it needs food, water and basic resources. The Kami knew this, and while each taught different lessons, all made clear: farm the land and learn to craft. That fueled the Empire and its population growth. Everything from that simple start. By ancient law, dating back to the first Hantei, all land belongs to the Emperor, its custodian on behalf of the Heavens. Of course, it is manifestly impossible for even the Emperor to directly administer all of the land. That would be silly. Thus, a system of tenancy was developed, in which the Emperor delegated control of the land to the clans, administrated by the clan champions. They then further subdivide the land to daimyos, who subdivide to their lordly vassals and on down. At the bottom of all this delegation are the common people, the farmers that manage the soil and crops directly. It is vital to understand that no matter where you go on the chain, all land is owned by the Emperor, despite all this delegation and allocation of it.

Now, obviously, not all land is equal for all purposes. Fertile land isn't rare, but tends to be concentrated in particular parts of the Empire - usually, along rivers and coastlines. Other areas might be too mountains, too wet, too dry, too forested or too barren for serious agriculture. However, such lands might be useful for other purposes, such as lumber, medicinal plants, minerals or stone quarries. Even then, it is the commoners who perform the labor that actually exploits those resources. More on that later; the key here is to realize that the bedrock supporting Rokugani society is the heimin. The farm is the building block of the Imperial economy, and farming is the single most common job in the entire Empire, simply because everyone needs food. The farms produce food and collect it in villages, where it is transported to the towns and on to the cities. In return, the villagers receive goods and services of various kinds, from finished products to military defense from banditry. This is what drives the Imperial economy.

Farms largely cluster around fertile lands, close to each other for mutual security and pooled labor. This is what ends up forming villages. Some villages grew bigger from there, into towns or cities, but most have not. Most villages remain small, relatively isolated communities made almost exclusively of heimin. Some farms never even got that far, located in isolated areas, and isolated farms scattered across the rural landscape between and surrounding villages is just how things are in much of rural Rokugan. Other villages may form around fishing, mining or lumber. Given the isolated nature of much of Rokugan, the clans and Empire rely on various methods to communicate their will to all of their people. Clans often dispatch their own couriers or get information from traveling samurai going about their business. The Imperial Heralds of the Miya family travel through the land to spread word of Imperial edicts and new laws. The Barefoot Brethren are a sect of the Brotherhood of Shinsei devoted to the worship of Koshin, Fortune of Roads, and travel the land to carry the messages of samurai and commoner alike as well as to spread news. Carrier pigeons are also occasionally used by pragmatic samurai. They were introduced first by the Crane and then later reintroduced by the Unicorn.

Most of Rokugan is of a temperate climate, enjoying the full range of seasons and temperatures. This is particularly true of the Lion and Scorpion territories. The Scorpion lands on the windward side of the Spine of the World tend to get more rain and snow, while the Lion lands are known for clearer skies, though with enough rain to nourish the wide plains. The Dragon and Phoenix lie in the cool north, with mild summers and terrible winters. The Phoenix lands on the coast are more temperate, while the high elevation of Dragon land is even colder, and some Togashi monasteries are snow-clad all year. Despite their lands being in the north, the Unicorn have warmer years than their neighbors due to the warm winds from the western side of the Great Wall of the North mountains and the Spine of the World. The southern lands, home to Crane and Crab, are generally the warmest, often reaching subtropical climes. The coast and the parts of the Crab near the Twilight Mountains are particularly wet and rainy, which some outsiders say is the reason the Crab are so humorless and dour.

Weather plays a huge role in rural life. Even the most careful farmer can't account for all changes of weather, and in the growing season, heavy rain can damage flood and damage fields, while too little is a drought that causes crop failure. Storms can destroy crops with hail. The elemental imbalance that currently afflicts the Empire has only made all this worse, threatening to turn what had been local weather issues into regional or even Empire-wide disasters. It doesn't help that several parts of the Empire are prone to natural disaster in the first place. The coasts are vulnerable to tsunamis, massive waves caused by underwater earthquakes. A mere three years ago, the Crane plains were flooded by a series of tsunami that contaminated vast amounts of land with salt and mud, forcing them to be left untilled. Earthquakes happen inland, damaging buildings or roads as well as the dikes and irrigation systems required for rice production. Volcanos erupt occasionally in the Spine of the World range or the Great Wall of the North, spewing ash over vast areas, and wildfires can ravage the forests and grasslands in the hot months of late summer. The heimin are always the ones hit hardest by such disasters, especially in the rural regions. They must rebuild entirely from nothing, often, and while aid may eventually arrive, it may take days or even weeks. Even then, it is reliant on the kindness of the local lord, the availability of resources and the importance of the area. War may also damage farms, as the movement of armies crushes them, or battles destroy property, either deliberately or by accident. Refugees may be displaced en masse, and they are no longer seen as productive servants of the Empire, but as a strain on resources. Bushido and practicality both mean that samurai try to avoid doing harm to the local peasants, however. It is not compassionate, and further it damages the resources samurai rely on. Unfortunately, sometimes harm can only be minimized in times of war. Further, aggressive or thoughtless samurai may sometimes deliberately target heimin in order to weaken the foe's ability to wage war logistically and economically. This is rare, but it does happen. Unsurprisingly, samurai tend to put a great focus on restoring peasants to productivity as fast as possible after wars end.

In remote villages, samurai are often only seen when they come to collect taxes. Even those in more traveled areas are rarely visited often, and then only by those passing through. Thus, a samurai's arrival in a village of heimin and hinin is almost always a major event for the locals, a sign of something big going on. Most villages refuse to be surprised by it, however. Except in the depths of winteR (when few travel anyway), heimin are typically at work in the fields around the village, and will use discreet forms of signaling (which vary wildly by community) to pass news back to the village of a samurai arriving before they actually get there. This generally prompts most of the heimin and all of the hinin to find a reason to not be in the village center, so as to avoid unwanted attention. Any villagers up to unsavory activities will almost certainly use this warning time to hide the evidence of their activities as best they can. They do not always succeed, of course, making for story hooks. The rest of the heimin, including the village leaders, will place themselves in position to greet the samurai and offer hospitality. All involved know the samurai will likely not accept it. If the samurai are magistrates and it's tax time, the taxed goods will be presented. The goal of the commoners will always be to avoid offending the samurai while giving them every reason to be on their way as soon as possible, so that life can return to normal.

Next time: Being a samurai in rural lands

Goshi Goshi

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Goshi Goshi

While the relationship between samurai and commoners may seem simple and brutal, it is more complex than it first appears. In general, samurai prefer to spend as little time as possible in rural areas, which lack the amenities to which they are accustomed and where they have few peers to hang out with. Most samurai tend to believe little of importance happens there, despite the fact that they know it's where food comes from. Most samurai do, at least, recognize that without the labor of the heimin and hinin, the Empire would collapse. Typically, a samurai in a rural farm or village is there because their duties require them to be. Those that serve as courtiers or messengers must travel, sometimes over great distances, which means passing through rural lands. For some, such as the Miya Heralds, this is even routine. They become used to the harships of the road, and some even come to prefer villages to the bustling, businesslike towns and cities, though they tend to be considered weird by other samurai. Samurai moving between castles also have to do this, but generally do so as quickly as possible. Magistrates are often found in rural areas as part of their duty to collect taxes and uphold the law. Some samurai are even required to live in rural areas, such as because they are a magistrate for a remove region. Usually, these assignments are a form of punishment for incompetence or wrongs that aren't actually illegal or don't warrant more serious penalties, or to neutralize embarrassing relatives or political foes. In times of war, samurai also spend a lot of time in rural areas, marching and fighting.

Samurai that reside in rural lands with commoners are known as goshi, countryside warriors. Goshi retain the status and authority of their rank, but it is not rare to find them working in the fields alongside the peasants they oversee, either. The most extreme example of this are the Sparrow Clan, whose entire membership is effectively made of goshi. Due to their more rustic nature, goshi are often mocked by more sophisticated samurai, and the term is often used as a slur. In some exceptional cases, a peasant may be given special privileges of the samurai caste and be granted the authority of a goshi. They may even be given the right to bear swords, have audience with their lord or use family name. These goshi are found only in the most remote regions, where appointment of a true samurai is often impossible. Goshi in general tend to be much closer to the heimin they supervise than other samurai would be. Because of this, the local heimin are often extremely loyal to them, and they often have a lot of power within their local area.

Samurai do not, generally speaking, pay taxes. Tax is derived from wealth, which is created via labor, which samurai do not do. In reality, of course, many samurai do engage in commercial activity, albeit usually via intermediaries. These enterprises are taxed, but that is only a small portion of the Imperial and clan tax revenue. Most taxes are paid as a proportion of the goods produced in rural lands. This is typically taken as a fixed proportion of produced goods, such as a farmer paying one out of every ten koku of rice they produce, with one koku being about five bushels. The actual amount will vary based on the amount of rice and other goods produced, the local weather's effects on the crops and the desires and needs of the lord involved, of course. Most lords make a real good-faith effort to balance the taxes they demand against the needs of the heimin, because overtaxing is counterproductive and can cause unrest. However, they are also uncompromising about what they do demand. Any attempt to avoid paying the full tax owed is considered a serious crime and will be punished severely, up to and including execution of those involved, as a deterrent to others.

Official history records only a few instances of peasant uprisings, generally described as local and quickly defeated. In truth, riot and revolution have been distinctly more frequent, some quite widespread. The most common cause of this unrest is poor treatment by samurai. The Celestial Order is great and all, but the heimin and hinin are no less resentful of ill treatment, poor living conditions and heavy taxes than anyone else. Further, the tedious life of commoners in the Empire is fertile ground for charismatic, populist leaders. Most recently this has been seen in the Perfect Land Sect, a heretical Shinseist movement that preaches equality among all castes via the salvation of Shinsei. Once the fires of revolution against injustice are lit, they can spread quickly indeed, leading to a full-on peasant revolt. Samurai tend to respond quickly and brutally to these revolts, as they are after all a crime against the Heavens themselves. Armies are sent out to put down the rebels, and all believed to be rebel leaders will be summarily executed. Most samurai recognize, however, that potential unrest is never really that far away, and that the cost of avoiding it is constant vigilance and merciless punishment of anyone that even contemplates rebellion.

The rural population is still the majority, even with the massive growth of cities. Small villages cannot depend on irregular merchant traffic, and must become self-sufficient in most ways. While those near a major road may see frequent travelers, more isolated communities often go years without seeing any outsiders but the tax collector. With permission from the village head or local lord, a peasant might visit nearby towns for trade or to find a craftsman, but these journeys take time and danger that make them impractical for most peasants. The rural world is a small one, most of the time, and most peasants never travel more than ten miles from the place they were born. Neighbors become extended family over the generations, as the lack of travel means that most villages are heavily interrelated. Local food is the staple, and anything that can't be made or grown locally is a precious delicacy. Villages will differ heavily just based on what can be gained locally and what skills the locals have. The arrival of visitors may be cause for celebration or fear, depending on the region. In regions with poor security, after all, outsiders are usually bandits, and the locals are rarely welcoming. On the other hand, some isolated villages are more accustomed to outsiders being traveling merchants and welcome visitors, looking for stories of different lands. The local region's ruling clan also has an influence on these views - Crane villagers are often excellent hosts, while Crab villagers are brusque and standoffish.

Obviously every villager will show proper respect and reverence for the Imperial government, but often the idea of Empire has only limited practical relationship or relevance to a village. They identify first as members of their village, often far moreso even than their clan, as both clan and Empire can seem very distant for a rural peasant. In part this is from isolation, but it's also because they often get only limited benefits at all from the Empire's services. They pay taxes and, if ordered, perform military duty. In return, they get very little. In many parts of the Empire, the roads are not well maintained and the military does little to check the local brigands. Thus, the citizens often quietly resent the tax they pay, and it is only a mix of religious teachings and fear that keep them in line with the Empire. Regions that have a generous or sympathetic daimyo, however, tend to see more patriotic peasants. Heimin that are regular recipients of protection and aid from their lord are less resentful of their duties and taxes, and some villages even receive funding from samurai to improve the area, particularly for roads or irrigation. While this is rare, it often inspires deep and lasting loyalty.

Samurai visiting a village will generally start by stopping in with the local village leader, who will usually have a nicer home with a receiving area for guests as part of the payment for their added responsibility. For the duration, the leader will attempt to be a gracious host, drafting other villagers into service to help as needed with providing any comforts the samurai may desire. These will be limited by what's available, of course. Cuisine is usually limited to a single seasonal vegetable, any rice that's around and no real spices. The rice is itself a luxury, as most of the peasants will dine primarily on millet. The accomodations are also going to be limited. The village leader will have the best furniture in the village, but it will still be crude by most samurai standards unless a great craftsman lives nearby. Sleeping mats are probably uncomfortable, and any privacy is going to be from a simple paper screen. Few samurai, as a result, choose to stay in villages for any extended period. This is good, because extended stays will likely compromise the village's production ability, as many heimin will need to ignore their duties to play host. Fortunately, they can at least draw the goods used to serve the samurai out of the taxes set aside for the lord. Of course, if a visitor uses too much of this, the lord may seek compensation from the visitor's own lord, and the village leader will probably become worried about the tax, since they'll have to explain it to the tax collector. This is only exacerbated if the samurai involved is from a rival clan, making any reimbursement less likely. If a village's lord is not kind enough to accept the shortfall, the village leader may well be punished.

Monasteries are often deliberately located in isolated and rural areas, to give the monks more chance for reflection without intrusion. Many villages have a monastery no more than a few days away. Religious rites, funerals and weddings may well be blessed by wandering monks if no priest can be found. While many of the shrines that are central to a village's identity will have an assigned priest, it isn't always so, and a small village may not even have a shrine. Monks will regularly visit such places to provide for the spiritual needs of the heimin and hinin that live there. Because of their distinctive outfits, particularly the common saffron ones, monks can be easily recognized even from a distance, and so farmers will often spot them well in advance of their arrival. This gives plenty of time to prepare, often involving cooking a special meal, alerting the locals responsible for a village shrine or just cleaning up and getting presentable. The arrival of monks is usually cause for a small celebration, and monks are always honored guests. They won't be served with the same generosity as a samurai, but the villagers will not hesitate to feed and serve them well. The monk will be given a chance to visit the local shrines, meet with the village leaders and speak to the villagers as a whole. Those that seek special insights or blessings may meet with the monk privately, at their own home or a local shrine. Many villagers will continue work while the monk or itinerant priest is visiting, though, because the work still has to be done. They may have to wait until evening to meet the monk, using the time usually meant for prayer. Thus, visiting monks are much less costly than samurai.

A village's water supply will be a vital shared resource, usually a stream or reliable spring. Life for the heimin begins with fetching water for drinking and cleaning, and the water is also used for any local crops or gardens. The labor of each day is planned in advance, based on the season. In growing seasons, which are all but winter, the farmers will spend the day in the fields, which the village typically shares communally. As long as the sun is out, they will work to plant, tend and harvest. Tools are usually of shell and bamboo, as metal is very precious and will usually corrode if used in rice patties. As needed, the villagers will help each other construct new buildings, such as houses. If foraging or fishing are viable locally, heimin will work together on these tasks as well. In winter, the farmers typically maintain their tools in preparation for spring. Childcare is handled communally, with some villagers caring for the kids of multiple families so that more people can work in the fields or mines. This tends to mean that each generation has very close social bonds. Artisan heimin, like blacksmiths, brewers or weavers, will not take part in communal labor. They may assist with large construction projects or similar, but they typically work alone as their duties require specialized skills.

Every village has jobs only the hinin can do. Refuse must be hauled, fertilizer made out of poop, the dead must be prepared for cremation, livestock slaughtered, game animals hunted. Leather is a necessity, but only hinin can work a tannery. The hinin live lives of small miseries, their homes apart from the heimin villagers. They may get water only once all others have done so, or they may have a segregated well, further from the main water source. When doing their work, which often smells foul, they must avoid the heimin or suffer abuse. Because villages are small enough that everyone knows everyone by sight, there's no way to hide their status. Their work is exhausting and demeaning, and even during festivals, they suffer verbal abuse. Hinin will only be a small proportion of a village, as their work is not enough to support large numbers. In isolated farms, there may only be a single hinin, or a single family in small villages. This means they have very few peers they can interact with. Village hinin have no real chance to escape their lot, and can rarely even move away. Unless they marry a member of another caste from a different village, they are unlikely to be accepted far from home. Unsurprisingly, many hinin turn to banditry, their only real escape from their daily hells. The risk of death is lessened when your life is shoveling shit, after all. However, most hinin do not do this, and would never even think of leaving their community. The more devout among them believe that their only real hope for a better life is unquestioning duty, to reincarnate into a better life. The practical just know that survival outside the village is much less likely.

Next time: Village design

Buy The Farm

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Buy The Farm

Villages tend to focus on a single specific local resource, with most villagers harvesting that resource as their main duty. What they eat and have available is entirely determined by the region's resources, and a village that raises silkworms probably has more silk clothes than a mining village, say. Mountain villages often rely heavily on hunting and have scandalously common use of leather. Bamboo, of course, is found nearly everywhere, and gets used for just about everything. All buildings in a village will have a purpose, whether that's being homes, part of the village's main trade, or supporting the work of the village. A fishing village probably has a shipwright and simple drydock, while a mining village will often have a smithy to maintain the tools. A village's size will also often have an influence on what kind of things are available - fifty people don't usually need a dedicated smith, but 500? They sure do.

As noted prior, the most consistent samurai presence in any village is the tax collector. Often they are a magistrate, and when they show up, they assess the village's yield. A tax, often in the form of rice, even for villages that don't make rice, is then levied based on that yield. The percentages are based on the often confusing demands of the Emperor, clan champions, local nobles and bureaucrats. If no rice is available, the village leaders will negotiate with other villages to trade what they do have for rice, possibly at a regional market. Who the tax collector is will often figure highly into considerations, as the assessment is done after meeting with the village leader and reviewing village records. Diligent tax collectors may also inventory the village's assets personally, including food reserves. The frequency of tax collection varies by region and the preferences of local samurai. Annual visits are common in areas where storage is difficult due to infrastructure or climate, while every five years is more regular where significant changes in production are less common. That means you need fewer tax collectors, but the villages and samurai must both have more capacity to store lots of rice. Many tax collectors are fair and just, but not all. Some village leaders are also prone to cooking the books, for good or bad. In some villages, the tax collector's visit may be somber and stressful, as villagers worry their hidden reserves will be found or they may suffer a heavy tax. In others, it may be cause for a festival, as the villagers decide celebration and sake are the best ways to appease the tax collector's baser desires.

Samurai are rare in a village, but their rank gives them essentially infinite power over the residents. Sure, there's going to be consequences at some point for being dishonorable in your actions, but isolated villages have no real direct recourse. They can't refuse anything you ask, either. A samurai can justifiably expect to be able to just wander into a village and shout at people until their demands are met. They can expect a prompt response and gracious service, and if they don't get it, they are empowered to punish the villagers as they desire or take anything they want. While an honorable samurai would never damage a village while visiting, not all are strict adherents to Bushido, especially if there's no real chance of getting caught. There's only very limited security or oversight in rural areas, and it's up to an honorable samurai that witnesses dishonorable actions in rural areas to fix things, because no one else is going to.

Because samurai are rare in rural areas, banditry is a major problem. Bandits who live carefully and prey on well-chosen targets while staying hidden or on the move can go unpunished for decades. Some villages even tolerate it, seeing it as just another tax to pay. Others, however, recognize that the bandits lack the divine mandate of rule and understand such complicity is impious. Without samurai, the job of fighting bandits falls to the doshin, the peasant law enforcers. While magistrates must appoint doshin, they typically do so with advice from the village leaders, and a leader may appoint acting doshin in some cases if magistrates stop by only rarely. Doshin have authority to wield weapons and gather enforcers, especially to eliminate bandits. They have to enforce the law in the area, after all, at least for heimin and hinin.

In most villages, homes will cluster in a single area around a common road, to maximize arable land. Most shared buildings will also be in that cluster unless there's a reason for them not to be, such as a shrine requiring some specific piece of local geography. Butchers, smithies or other bad-smelling places may also be put farther away. All residences will probably look similar but for minor decorations, except that of the village leader, which will have more than one room. Shoji screens are commonly used to subdivide these homes. In poorer villages, homes often double as living space for livestock, but in wealthier villages, this job will be done by barns, unless the weather is nice enough most of the time to just let them sit in pasture except during extreme weather events. Nearly every village will have a shrine or temple, as peasants are deeply tied to the land and vulnerable to the forces of nature. In very small farms, this may just be a nook where prayer is offered, but in other places it may well be the biggest building in the village. Large shrines will often have a dedicated priest or shrine keeper who doubles as a local spiritual leader, and truly exceptional shrines may even draw in local pilgrims. The shrine will always serve as an emotional and spiritual center for village life. Some villages may also have shops, maintained out of the home of the shop-owner, but they will usually sell only things that are locally relevant. There are often other places for locals to gather socially, as the shrine is not appropriate for everything. A village near hot springs may have a bath house for the community, or one along a major road may have an inn. Only very large villages will have more than one or two of these places, however, as they are expensive to maintain.

Almost all villages farm at least a little unless the geography absolutely doesn't allow it. Most rely heavily on irrigation systems, such as artificial ponds and canal systems to redirect local water. Some even use complex networks of wooden pipes to reduce water lost to evaporation. A very rare few may even divert enough water to provide in-home water access in the form of flowing pools or basins. This is very labor-intensive to maintain, and is considered a shared job, with the village often gathering to do maintenance. In the case of an emergency failure, the entire village will work to make repairs.

Common crops vary by region. Beans are a critical protein source for much of the Empire, and most villages grow some soybeans, just because it's easy and everyone eats them. Mung and red adzuki beans are also common. Beanstalks are grown, then dried and threshed, sometimes processed into miso or tofu. Most villages grow some rice because it's used for taxes, but if water is too precious for a rice paddy, they will have to trade for it. Wheat, barley, buckwheat and millet are common grains through the Empire, and most are easier to grow than rice, requiring less water. However, they are also less tasty to Rokugani and much less valuable. Barley and wheat are more often used for fermentation, and villages that grow them may rely on brewing for income. Most villages have a few fruit trees, but some support entire orchards. Plums, apricots, peaches, persimmons, apples, pears, melons, various citrus and cherries are common fruits. Fruit trees rarely need much watering due to deep root networks, but they are still well cared for because they can last for generations. Fresh vegetables are important food, and cucumber, squash, cabbage, kale, yam, burdock, carrot, radish and onion are all common crops. Many are easy to grow in small gardens, even for non-farmers. Preference is often for those that, like onions, can be easily stored for long periods. Tea leaves are a vital crop, but they need dedicated plantations and a lot of processing. Tea plants can produce for generations, though. They are grown densely, cropped to waist height, and harvested biweekly for the entire growing season. This requires a lot of labor, and processing must be done quickly, before the leaves degrade. Farmers also often grow fibrous crops for textiles, such as hemp, cotton, flax or bamboo (which can also be used for construction and food). Mulberry leaves are used to feed silkworms, indirectly being considered fiber crops. Fiber farmers often spend a lot of time on spinning thread and weaving as well.

Rokugani farmers don't really rely heavily on livestock. Poultry is most common, especially chickens. Oxen and cattle are primarily draft animals, as their meat is believed to be unclean. If a village has a tannery they may have more cattle than normal, but even then, not too many. The other major form of livestock is silkworms, critical to the production of silk. Farms with large silkworm populations also grow a lot of mulberry leaves for them to eat.

Next time: Specific villages.

Bug Town

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Bug Town

Buzzing Fly Village is a small village in the Kitsu family lands of the Lion, in Rugashi Province. It is only a few days out from Rugashi City, a major trade hub of the region, and gets fairly regular traffic, especially from merchants heading out from the city. The Buzzing Fly Brewery is known for a distinctive sake that has gotten a lot of attention from traveling merchants, its brewing method a secret but known to involve an unusual strain of rice not shared with outsiders. Merchants celebrating success or drowning sorrows often visit the brewery and attached sake house, usually spending some of their profits on cases of sake to give as gifts. The success has grown the brewery and increased its capacity and workforce, but they're running law on farmland to grow their special rice, which is limiting batch sizes. The family that runs the brewery is now negotiating with their neighbors to get them to also grow the rice. The village was originally a farming community, and it still is mostly farmers. However, the brewery's expansion has caused the village to swell to over 500 people. It is centered on a small stream crossed by a wooden bridge. The brewery and mill sit on the stream, drawing water from it, and the combined building is the largest in the village. The village is surrounded on all sides by rice paddies, on both sides of the river. The smell of steaming rice and fermentation are extremely strong, as is the sound of the grindstones turned by the waterwheel. In the evening, the sake house fills up with laughter and raunchy singing.


Buzzing Fly Village Rumors
  • Those who offer a bottle of Buzzing Fly sake at their favored shrine are certain to enjoy good fortune through the following season.
  • Late in the night, someone has been searching the wares of merchants visiting Buzzing Fly Village. Nothing seems to be missing, but goods are often disrupted and poorly repacked. It is unclear who is doing this or why.
  • Bandits have been preying upon merchants near Buzzing Fly, but oddly, only those who do not belong to the Lion Clan.

Our NPC is Brewmaster Reiha, head of the brewery. She is the proud inheritor of recipes dating back twelve generations, and the recent success and expansion of the brewery has been a challenge. She is reluctant to break from tradition to make even necessary changes, fearing that the additional demand will be only temporary, but has overseen some expansion. Sales have kept up with production for several years now, and she is being forced to consider other ways to expand. She is reluctant to take risks, but feels she may have to. One big factor pushing her need to expand is the Scorpion spymaster that currently has her under his control. When she initially began expanding, she needed capital and made some poor and unscrupulous decisions about how to get it. Somehow, the Scorpion learned this and is now blackmailing her to gain secrets about any passing merchants or Lion samurai that head through the village. Reiha is very reluctant to keep up this charade, but she is terrified of the dishonor she would suffer if anything was revealed.

Adventure seed: While heading through Rugashi Province, the PCs encounter a Lion bushi on the road. He's quite pleasant, happy to speak of the virtues of the region and eager to invite the party to drink with him at the Buzzing Fly Brewery, which he claims is the best in all the Lion lands. Over the course of the stay, he drinks far too much and begins to spill secrets about Lion deployments. To the party's surprise, Reiha keeps the booze flowing, apparently encouraging this irresponsible action. The party must decide if they want to protect the Lion's honor or figure out Reiha's motives. The Lion warrior will not appreciate efforts to sober him up or preserve his honor, and will drunkenly challenge those who try for questioning his stamina. If the PCs accuse Reiha of some trickery, she may attempt to poison them in order to preserve her secrets and her business.

Anbasukai Village is in Senseki Province, and it's a nice if isolated mining village near the Great Wall of the North range. The village is centered on a beautiful shrine, the Earth's Heart Shrine, dedicated to the local mountain kami. The main danger of the area is earthquakes and landslides, but most agree that without the regular care and sacrifices of the shrine, it would be much worse. The high altitude means it is chilly even in midsummer and viciously cold in winter, which sometimes draws summer pilgrimages. The village appears to have more residents and homes than it can actually feed, because more workers are needed for the mines, and so it depends heavily on imported food. Further, there is a disproportionate number of people in the village that move like warriors even if they work in the fields or mines. This is because Anbasukai is one of the most valuable Unicorn holdings in the province. The vast cave network under the village is rich in iron ore, and the Unicorn use concealed defenders to keep the mine going. More than half the village are actually soldiers that work the fields and mine when not training. Their training is performed inside the tunnels of the mine, to keep them concealed. Heavy security is sent with every ore shipment, and these security forces often return with the caravans bringing in food and tools. The village was founded only after the Unicorn discovered the vast wealth of the land, when Utaku Anbasukai stumbled across ore samples when trying to find the mouth of a stream. He was shocked by the mineral reserves and quickly reported it to his clan, with the village getting founded shortly after.


Anbasukai Village Rumors
  • Anbasukai Village has suffered tremors and landslides that keep growing in severity. The kami who resides in Earth's Heart Shrine seems displeased, and its temper must be soothed.
  • Anbasukai Village is seeking caravan guards. The work is relatively low risk, and the pay is remarkable for work within secure Unicorn holdings.
  • Within Anbasukai Village, there is a secret dojo. Its teachings encompass powerful gaijin techniques that cannot be learned anywhere else in Rokugan.

Adventure seed: After visiting Earth's Heart Shrine, the PCs learn the village needs guards for an ore shipment coming up soon. The original guards were injured in a landslide and can't travel. The mine's leader asks the PCs for help, and it's clear no one else is available to do so. The ore is intended for Shiro Ide, which will be a long trip. The ronin Uchida will be part of the security detail, but he does not have honorable intentions. On the trip, he approaches the PCs about his plan to divert the shipment to Ryoko Owari Toshi and ship it downriver, to the Kaiu Wall. He intends his Crab contacts to put it to use immediately. Uchida explains that the Crab need iron far more than the Unicorn do, and that they could use this ore to make weapons and armor to keep the Empire safe. Ultimately, though, this is definitely Unicorn property, and no one has legal authority to take it. If the PCs work with Uchida, they will have failed in their duty, and this could be a grave dishonor. Alternatively, if they personally deliver the ore to the Crab, they will be honored as heroes for it...but if the truth about how they got it comes to light, their heroism will be tainted by dishonor.

Uchida is the NPC, a ronin hired by the Unicorn to serve as one of the guards at Anbasukai. He has worked tirelessly in the mines to keep up the appearance that he's just a simple peasant, remaining upbeat despite the work and showing great skill in the secret training drills. However, Uchida is in fact a former member of the Crab Clan, and while he is ronin now, he believes fiercely in the necessity of the Crab in defending Rokugan. He fears the use of the iron by the Unicorn will be frivolous, and feels it is his duty to divert some of the ore resources he can manage to get to better service to the Empire.

Next time: Fish and Tea

Fish Town

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Fish Town

Swirling Pool Village is a Crab Clan fishing village along Earthquake Fish Bay, one of the many such villages that the Crab rely on for food. The dried fish these villages produce feeds the Wall, as the land around the Shadowlands produces no plants worthy of human consumption. Swirling Pool sits at the junction where four streams feed out from the Sunda Mizu Province hills into Earthquake Fish Bay, and it is run by the Yasuki family. The houses are built on the very edge of the shoreline, standing on wooden piles sunk into the seabed. Each home has its own small dock and working area for nets and fish cleaning, with the tide drawing waste back out into the sea. The scent of drying fish is palpable, and the houses sit about ten feet above high tide, so they remain secure even in storms. The village maintains the Shrine of the Four Gifts, in celebration of the four stream kami that join the inlet, and the shrine has one statue to each kami, each on one of the four walls. Traditionally, residents must make equal offerings to all four, to avoid them becoming jealous of each other. It is said that the village prospers most when all four are content and willing to work together harmoniously. Everyone depends on the success of the village fishermen, either because they are those fishermen or support the work of the fishers. Uniquely, the village pays its taxes in dried fish rather than rice. Visitors are often impressed by the quality and taste of the fish, especially when it's fresh, and most of the fishing fleet works the bay directly with gillnets, though some use cormorants.


Swirling Pool Village Rumors
  • The town's daily catches have been consistently bountiful ever since a fisherman at Swirling Pool recovered an unusual statue in his nets last season. The town has begun work on a new shrine to celebrate the statue.
  • A colony of goblins has begun to establish a settlement on the shore a day's travel to the south. No one is safe traveling along the shoreline.

Our NPC is Murata Hisao, the young and enthusiastic priest that maintains the Shrine of the Four Gifts. He believes the kami influence all aspects of life and will happily offer his insights and anecdotes to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, he is absolutely awful at keeping secrets and is not particularly good at being insightful. As a result, he often comes across as boorish, and he has more than once accidentally revealed things told him in confidence by visitors and locals alike. The community has about hit the limits of their patience with him.

Adventure seed: The PCs arrive in the village to the scent of rotting fish, and the locals appear gaunt and miserable. They soon learn that many of the fish caught recently have been sickly, rotting even before they could be dried. Murata Hisao believes that a cleansing ceremony must be done for the bay. He asks the PCs to come with him, sailing out several hours travel to cleanse the fishing waters. Along the way, the waters grow treacherous, and dead fish can be seen floating on the surface. When the ritual begins, the group is attacked by a sea hag, who wishes to stop the rite. She has taken up residence in the area, and it is her presence which has contaminated the fish. The PCs must either defeat her or convince her to leave the area in order to restore the proper fishing.

Kaori Tea Farm sits in the Uebe Marshes, an inhospitable part of Anshin Province ruled over by the Hiramori vassal family of the Daidoji. The scent of rotting vegetation is constant, and the dense foliage blocks any breeze. Some communities survive in the forests and swamps, but farming is very difficult there. Further, it is near the cursed site of Dark Cloud Village, which keeps most visitors away. Despite this, a family of farmers has turned just over 50 acres of land into a tea farm over the past decade. They work the land, trying to force the tea to grow in the very damp weather. The temperature is good for tea, but the soil is too wet. To fight this, they have gone to lengths to import sand, which they have been mixing with the soil. It's working, but it may take a generation or more for the farm to thrive. Their limited workforce doesn't help matters. The farm is worked entirely by the members of a single close family - Hirotaka, Noriko, their seven children, and Noriko's sister, Kotomi. All of them work to keep the farm going, and it's clear that there is sometimes far more work than workers. They don't have the resources to hire anyone or even to feed and house any volunteers. Their clothing is patchy and worn, often poorly fitted. Their farm has only one house and one outbuilding where the tea leaves are dried and processed, and both are poorly made and maintained, built entirely out of materials easy to harvest from the marshes and with shortcuts taken in construction. The only animals on the farm of any value are a few chickens kept in a small pen next to a vegetable garden, the produce of which is often sickly. A small stand of bamboo grows nearby, and it is harvested almost constantly.


Kaori Tea Farm Rumors
  • Tea leaves from the Kaori farm have unusual restorative properties, due to growing in the Uebe Marshes. Village healers might pay a substantial price for them.
  • Something is preying upon travelers along the road near the Kaori farm. It ruined the last two shipments of tea leaves. The farm may not survive if it cannot get a return on the next shipment.
  • Recently, a traveling fortune teller insisted that one of the farm's workers was fated to transform the Crane Clan. Of course, fortune tellers say things like that all the time, and it's probably nothing.
  • "Beware of the Kaori farm. There is something wicked and unnatural there. Nothing good can come from the swamps, where death is a constant fixture of the land itself."

Our NPC is Hirotaka. He, his wife Noriko, their children, and Kotomi work the farm. He's happy to see any visitors at all, anxious for news beyond the farm. He is quick to invite them to eat, but he has only limited resources to serve visitors with, and they may well notice his children missing a meal or sleeping outside to make room for them. However, he is also shockingly well educated, able to speak cogently on philosophy and military strategy at a high level, though he seems to know very little about agriculture. While the family is clearly struggling to maintain the farm, anyone can see that they are cheerful and deeply love each other. All of the adults give the kids chances to take part in discussion and are both very polite and always looking to find a teachable moment. Many of these lessons focus on philosophy or religion rather than anything relevant to farm work, though.

Adventure Seed: Any PCs who have spent time in the capital realize, after they arrive on the farm, that Hirotaka's face is extremely familiar. They will eventually realize that he was once a noted member of the Imperial Court and a prominent figure in the Daidoji Family. He fled the court following accusations that he had redirected resources to help a friend rather than to serve a military installation that needed them. Of course, the PCs must confirm Hirotaka's identity. Once they do, they must then decide whether to leave him in this obscure, honorless life in a backwater or force him to return to the capital to face punishment for his crimes. Hirotaka has definitely accepted that his current rural lifestyle is the consequences of his past actions. If the PCs do want him to face justice, they will have to recognize that his wife, children and sister will probably not survive without him - every member of the family is absolutely required to keep the farm going. However, if they were brought back with Hirotaka, they would certainly suffer after the man was punished. If the children learn of any plans for the family to leave the farm, some of them will flee into the marshes, which are dangerous and full of predators.

Next time: How samurai deal with peasants

Your Betters

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Your Betters

While Rokugani caste structure is deeply engrained, samurai still have to interact with peasants, and their relationship is more complex than it might seem at first. Commoners are taught to be deferent to samurai from an early age, and more importantly, to avoid samurai whenever possible. They are respectful and quiet and avoid eye contact and get out of the situation as quickly as they can. To do otherwise is to implicitly act against the Celestial Order, a grave blasphemy and crime. At the very least it will earn censure - and that only if the samurai is merciful. Far more likely, they will be beaten or even killed, and it will not be considered a crime to do so. At worst, the samurai may have to pay recompense to the local lord - assuming they aren't that lord. Thus, most commoners are essentially terrified of samurai. Typically, they will never speak except to answer questions and will not initiate any exchange...which can mean they don't volunteer important information, either. It is not uncommon for samurai to be surprised by crises the commoners have known about for quite some time. Regardless of a samurai's status, commoners will always address them with the 'sama' honorific, and typically use only their family name or the word 'samurai'.

However, despite these rules of etiquette, there are complexities. Almost all samurai are extremely aware that the Empire requires the peasantry to function at all, that there are many tasks that samurai are simply not capable of which keep society running. Thus, most samurai are careful to treat commoners with a sort of civil indifference, recognizing their work but ignoring them entirely unless they have a reason not to; it is comfortable that way for everyone involved. Some samurai go even further, taking the tenet of Compassion beyond its broader sense of protecting the common folk from large-scale harm. They apply it in personal dealings as well, treating commoners with polite courtesy or even working to protect them from abuse. These samurai are rare, mostly found among the Phoenix and Unicorn, and are often seen as strange by their peers, or even ridiculed for the peasant sympathies. However, they are much beloved by the common people, often becoming renowned as heroes of the people.

On the other hand, some samurai treat commoners with contempt, seeing their status as less human in the Celestial Order as justification for cruelty. Some will answer any slight, real or imagined, with death. This is a failure of Compassion, of course, and against Bushido. It has consequences, too. Killing commoners can easily anger their lord, who will demand compensation or even pressure a samurai's lord to punish them. Other samurai may also take exception to their actions, as killing servants of the Empire, even lowly ones, is wrong. And, of course, if the common people are aggravated enough, they may overcome their ingrained subservience and form a mob, driven by anger. A mob of peasants with farming tools is more than capable of overwhelming, injuring and even killing even skilled bushi by weight of numbers, even if they'll face dire consequences afterward. Most samurai understand the work of the peasantry and how they benefit from it, though. There is a sidebar saying that players should be cautious about playing cruel asshole samurai - if the table is made uncomfortable by you beating up random peasants for minor misdeeds, don't do it, asshole. RPGs are supposed to be fun and making your friends uncomfortable isn't fun for them! Talk about this stuff before the game!

Samurai tend to recognize the heimin as valuable to the Empire and therefore possibly valuable to themselves. The peasants of highest value and status are, of course, farmers and fishers - those that produce food. Without food, everyone would die. Thus, lords tend to be extremely protective of their farmers, treating them well (or at least not badly) and often rewarding those who work hardest or produce best. This ensures sufficient food. Most will even treat the farmers of their enemies well. Wanton murder of farmers is frowned on heavily by both other samurai and Imperial authorities, even if it would provide military advantage, and doing so means you risk your enemy retaliating by doing the same. Further, if you manage to win, not hurting the farmers means you get their land with a minimum of disruption of work. Bonus! Thus, samurai tend to treat farmers well, no matter who they belong to. In return, most farmers are accomodating and will readily offer food and lodging if required, as well as medical aid if someone is injured. Those that mistreat farmers often find poor accomodation, are told the locals have run out of food and do not get much aid even when they need it.

Just below farmers are the craftspeople who produce the tools needed for life. They are nearly as valuable if they are skilled, for their work enables the farmers. Weaponsmiths are also considered especially valuable. They do not make katana or wakizashi, of course - that would be forbidden, and no samurai would dream of wielding a heimin-made weapon. However, they make the many weapons used by most ashigaru. For a samurai lord, well-made tools and weapons are not just vital to the functioning of the land, they are an important source of trade income. Thus, most samurai treat crafters well, as long as they are properly deferent.

Merchants produce nothing of value, dealing only in the goods of others, and this makes them the lowest of the heimin, yet the ones with the most complex relationship with the samurai. On the one hand, commerce is distasteful and to be disdained or treated with contempt. On the other, wealth is nice, and skilled merchant vassals brings in wealth. It is not rare for a samurai to hate merchants for their crass commercialism yet also maintain close relations with them to benefit from their work. Not all samurai hate commerce, either. The Daidoji, Yasuki and Ide all have samurai traders, and other clans usually have a few samurai that specialize in such affairs. Even then, heimin merchants play a major role as the people who actually do the negotiations on price and directly oversee the movement of goods. The samurai tend to act as patrons, giving them broad direction and support, while the merchants drive the bargains and make profits for their masters. This allows the samurai to maintain a polite distance from the act of business. More traditional samurai still look on this kind of thing contemptuously, however. They often fail to realize or deliberately ignore that wealthy samurai have better lives and are often more influential.

The hinin, the lowest form of commoner, do the unpleasant but necessary tasks. They dispose of trash, handle and cremate the dead, make leather and so on. They are treated with far more contempt than the heimin are by samurai, and are not generally considered to be human at all. They are property. It is very rare that a samurai will ever interact with a hinin, and when they do, it almost exclusively ends poorly for the hinin. Killing a hinin is, at worst, a form of minor vandalism, which most lords will not care enough to do anything about. However, Compassion still requires some things. The wanton slaughter of large numbers of hinin can inconvenience their lord and reflects poorly on a samurai doing it. Most samurai instead ignore the hinin, as if they were objects or animals. Most hinin prefer things this way, because they are terrified of samurai, and for good reason, as samurai are unpredictable and dangerous and getting involved with them can be disastrous for the hinin. However, it also means that if the hinin are suffering, only the most compassionate samurai are going to help - or notice at all. There are, however, some specific exceptions.

Geisha, literally 'artful person,' are a unique role in society. They are hinin, legally not people, but because of this, samurai may seek their company and relax the normal emotional control they are expected to show while in their presence, and it is not seen as shameful, as if they were showing emotion with no one else present at all. Geisha can be of any gender, and their training requires years of dedication. They are skilled in conversation and various forms of artistic performance. Beginners must show skill to an extremely high standard to become apprentice geisha, much less full geisha, and many do not make the cut. The best of those that do can become extremely sought after, mostly gaining the patronage of powerful samurai, who benefit from the prestige of having such a skilled vassal...plus the not inconsiderable wealth they bring in. Despite what gaijin often think, geisha are not courtesans, though. Some samurai become enamored of or even fall in love with skilled geisha, due to their ability at being entertaining companions skilled at drawing forth emotional release. It is not unknown for samurai and geisha to have children together, and in most cases such children are not legitimized or acknowledged and grow up as hinin. Some samurai, however, may choose to acknowledge or even adopt these children, or arrange for their adoption elsewhere. In some instances the child may even be raised as a samurai, though the circumstances of their birth must be kept a careful secret if so. Some geisha even rise to become trusted advisors to their samurai clients, becoming influential far beyond their status as hinin would suggest. Some use this to gain their clients' secrets, which they use for spying and blackmail, and few are even trained to do so, particularly by the Scorpion. More than one samurai has had their life disrupted or ruined by a secret revealed in the presence of a geisha.

Torturers are also worth noting. To obtain a conviction in court, confession is normally required. Magistrates and judges prefer voluntary confession, but if not, well, torture of the accused until they confess is fine. Because no honorable samurai would ever do it, and it is unclean and beneath even heimin, torturers must be hinin. The torturers are an important part of a magistrate's retinue, and they must be much more than simple brutes. The job is to get a confession, not cause unnecessary suffering, after all. A skilled torturer is, in their own way, seen as an artist, and the best can draw forth a confession merely under the threat of suffering. Because of their deep understanding of the human body and how to harm it, some torturers are also extremely handy to have during criminal investigations, as they can determine the type and sequence of injuries on a murder victim, among other things. These skilled torturers are highly sought after by magistrates, and can become quite influential in their own way.

Next time: Travel

People That Don't Exist

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: People That Don't Exist

Gaijin are notable - they are anyone that either is from somewhere that isn't Rokugan or, in the case of the Yobanjin, are from Rokugan but decided not to follow the Kami at the start of the Empire. Gaijin, no matter their origin, have no place whatsoever in the Celestial Order. They are less than hinin, and this is what fuels Rokugan's rampant xenophobia. Most samurai avoid all contact with gaijin if they can, but not all can. The Unicorn and the Mantis have the most contact, particularly with the foreign powers of the Ivory Kingdoms ('not India'), Pavarre ('not Europe') and the Mweneta Empire ('not sub-Saharan Africa'). The Unicorn, Dragon and Phoenix have also met some of the various nations that lie beyond the great deserts of the north and west. The Phoenix Clan is also known to historically have had interactions with the Yobanjin, although they publically disavow such actions. Gaijin are usually the ones to initiate contact, seeking trade and diplomacy. Most samurai ignore such offers, seeing only risk without value by interacting with beings that have no place. More progressive, curious or opportunistic samurai, however, are sometimes known to engage with gaijin, and some even go so far as to learn the ways and languages of the gaijin they meet. Traditionalists see this as blasphemy or close to it, and may believe it to be criminal, though legal enforcement varies. It is always best to handle dealings with gaijin with the utmost discretion, or to be too powerful to attack over it.

Now, travel! The kaido, or highways, of the Empire are built for many reasons. Crab and Lion lands have roads designed to support rapid troop movements and supply trains, while the Unicorn favor soft dirt tracks made more by horse travel than any engineering. The largest and best-traveled of the Imperial roads are known, collectively, as the Five Highways or the Emperor's Road. These stretch into all clan lands. Branching off from them are many smaller paths meant for individual clan use. These roads are essential, but bandits are a danger on them, and heavy rains can make them nearly unusable. Others, as in Crane or Dragon lands, are intentionally dangerous. Crane roads are built with blind corners and sudden turns to slow down enemy armies and give chances for Daidoji skirmishers to strike and fade against larger forces. Dragon Clan mountain roads are also treacherous, with narrow passage and steep climbs designed to make up for the Dragon's low numbers if attacked.

The Five Highways and most major roads have toll and way stations dotting their lengths, giving travelers places to stop for the night in safety. Roadhouses are simply buildings with futons, firepits and a well, and it is considered dishonorable to leave a roadhouse in poor repair for future guests. Most are maintained by a nearby village or town, and are legally part of those places. Most towns and villages are built along a road or close to one, after all. Well-traveled roads will always have teahouses in the villages along them, of varying size. The Emperor requires the Great Clans maintain the roads in their lands, and this is a duty no lord or daimyo would ignore. However, it is very expensive both cash and labor-wise, so most clans do only what they are required to and no more. Along the borders, many roads fail to meet Imperial standards, which Great Clan representatives are always quick to assure the surveyors is merely temporary, due to bandits or weather and not willful neglect.

Travel times will vary wildly even along the same route just based on weather, and maps aren't generally super accurate. The Imperial cartographers do their best, but their technology, the terrain and time constraints all conspire to make accurate measurement very difficult. Worse, some suspect that the bureaucrats have deliberately hidden things on the maps, leaving villages unmarked or displaying shortcuts where there are none, in order to protect or harm political allies or rivals. However, officially, all Imperial maps are approved by the infallible Emperor, and pointing out any inaccuracy is rude to the point of possibly being fatal. If something is not an official map, better to pretend it doesnt exist. To deal with these issues, local lords often have their magistrates and spies make detailed, proprietary maps of their provinces, which are kept carefully hidden from Imperial officials to avoid implying that the official maps could be lacking.

Roads are damaged by usage, requiring repairs, requiring money. This is handled by the issuance of travel passes, which are received in exchange for donations to the upkeep of the road system being used. Shrines, temples, inns and other businesses may issue tsuko-tegata to common peasants traveling for business, pilgrims and even some samurai in times of peace. The issuers might be responsible for road maintenance or may pay the fees to the local lord. A tsuko-tegata, literally 'passage wooden pass', is a reusable wooden tablet inscribed with information, sealed in red by the issuer. No laws govern their use, and no one is required to accept them. Their authority extends only as far as a magistrate recognizes the issuer's seal and approves. Most samurai instead use a passport or travel papers from their lord or those lords of the lands they pass through. Emerald Magistrates, certain Imperial bureaucrats, clan champions and family daimyo all have authority to issue travel papers across territories of many clans. Clan magistrates, provincial daimyo and governors may only issue more limited travel passes for specific locations or purposes (though they have total freedom to give passes for within their own lands, of course). It is no surprise that many greedy lords or magistrates make quite a profit or trade many favors in exchange for travel papers.

Travel papers are proof of identity, describe your outfit and appearance and weapons, and specify where you're coming from and going to. Every time you pass through a checkpoint, your pass is signed or stamped to track your progress and to ensure they can only be used once. Toll stations are often checkpoints and usually have a way station or inn nearby. The frequency of checkpoints and patrols depends on the local lord's desires and resources. In practice, travel papers are sometimes a political tool. A daimyo that wants to keep a guest from returning home may withhold return papers, often by referring a samurai to a subordinate that can't be found or who will just assure them the papers will be ready "soon." Horse hooves damage roads more, so their use requires special, more expensive travel passes, which most clans only issue a limited number of per year. The use of travel papers and tsuko-tegata are most enforced along major roads that show up on Imperial maps. Peasant tracks are usually too poorly maintained and dangerous for magistrates to police, especially without local guides that know the paths and how not to get lost on them. Finding a trustworthy guide can be difficult sometimes, as bandits may pose as guides for a chance to ambush travelers. Many merchants and travelers that must leave the Emperor's Road hire ronin to protect them when they do.

The kawa, rivers, of the Empire are natural highways in their own right, carrying both trade and armies. When the weather is good, boat travel is faster than any road, and so many trade hubs sit on the rivers, as do many cities. Rivers give water and fish as well as travel, and many heimin make their living on them. River travel depends heavily on the season, weather and the whims of the kami. It is also harder to do while avoiding way stations and checkpoints than if you went inland, and can be vulnerable to blockades or attack from the banks. However, there's often little choice. Some rivers are too fast or dangerous for boating, and these serve as natural boundaries. Rapids can extend for miles, leaving little but to march for hours in search of safe crossing. Fordable shallows are of vital strategic importance, and usually fortified on one or both sides. Most bridges are simple, narrow wooden things that have room for no more than two or three people to walk abreast, and often have high tolls. The Dragon are known for their great suspension bridges in the mountains, though, which hang over thousand foot drops.

Notable bridges include the great Tidal Landbridge that connects the lands of Crane and Crab, one of the great natural wonders. It crosses the mouth of Earthquake Fish Bay, exposed only at low tide. Control of it has been contested for centuries, for it is a vital shortcut, and both clans maintain garrisons on their end of the landbridge, officially for the registration of travelers. In 715, the Hida garrison was attacked by Shadowlands forces and was saved only by the intervention of Daidoji Masashigi, commander of the Crane forces over the bridge. He died fighting on the landbridge as the tide came in, and the Crab have erected a shrine in his honor. In the Isles of Spice and Silk, the Mantis grow living bridges in the tropical forests, which can take years to develop via vines planted on either side of a ravine or river that are encouraged to grow together. Their construction is usually done by monks, who view the task as a form of meditation and honoring certain earth kami.

All Rokugani rivers are home to one or more powerful water kami, and so having a shugenja on board makes journeys often safer and faster. A weak or angry water kami's part of a river may be prone to shifting sandbars or drying up in droughts, and a fire kami may enjoy churning up rapids or an air kami may cause visions to appear in waterfall spray. The river spirits have had great influence militarily, as well. In a river battle, flat-bottomed boats fight over narrow space, trying to pin each other for boarding. After an enemy is boarded, fighting happens hand to hand. In these battles, shugenja can use the kami of the river to shift currents quickly for maneuvering, raise sandbars to pin the foe or call forth waves that can capsize boats entirely.

Next time: Papers, Please

The Post

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: The Post

Way stations are also called post stations or post towns, and in theory, they exist only to support travelers, primarily those on Imperial business. They provide food, rest and shelter, maintained by the Clans and Imperial bureaucracy in the name of the Emperor. Many will have porters, stables, inns and homes nearby. They are a place that merchants, ronin and peasants mingle with traveling samurai, making for a network of local knowledge difficult to find elsewhere. Magistrates may use way stations to find reputable ronin to hire as yoriki or yojimbo, may stop there to update official maps, or just rest and be entertained. Way stations also serve as checkpoints and toll collection points, either formally or because the local proprietor wants to pay for the facilities even if it's in theory free. Most way stations sit on the routes between major towns and cities, or at important intersections. Specialized ones also exist along high-traffic rivers.

Way stations are bigger than mere inns or roadhouses, and must be self-sustaining. They may well have extensive gardens, priests or scholars that know how to treat injuries and other amentities. Often they will have a small guard garrison in case of bandits, but the banner of the Emperor has historically stopped almost all bandit attacks by itself. Way stations are also very dangerous for those who have no official papers. They are, after all, the most prominent Imperial presence on the road, and part of their job is regulating travel. Sometimes, a traveler may be able to bribe or charm their way out of trouble, but it's often safer to just go around. Unofficial way stations are illegal, but they're typically tolerated for the usefulness of their services outside the range of Imperial way stations. Often they exist far from official roads, in treacherous areas that serve as shortcuts for the desperate or alternate routes for those without papers. These stations typically attract gambling dens, brothels and black markets, and high rank is no guarantee of safety at an illegal way station, as the proprietors typically have no care for anything but money. Despite their reputation, these stations are popular with ronin, heimin and others often unwelcome in official stations. Even honorable samurai may need something from the black markets at times, such as forged documents, opium, poison or other illicit goods.

Adventure seed: On a small side road, there is an unofficial way station. There have been recent reports of strange, possibly Tainted artifacts being traded on the black market there, and the PCs have been tasked to investigate it by the request of...whoever is convenient for the GM. A disgraced ex-Dragon ronin shugenja runs the place. She swears up and down that she no longer has the ability to speak to the kami. Instead, she practices Perfect Land Shinseism, and she believes her way station is an extension of its philosophy. On the first night, the PCs hear screaming as a brawl gets vicious, with peasants tearing each other apart. As things start to spiral out of control, the PCs must find the source of the Taint before it drives everyone else at the station to maddened, senseless violence.

The wide, flat plains of Rokugan can be a great temptation for travelers to leave the road and head straight for their destination directly. This is especially common among the Unicorn, who view the plains as a useful shortcut when time is short. Other clans tend to avoid travel on the open plains, however. While they may seem mild and easy, they are quite dangerous. Wild beasts may attack, out of fear or instinct, and wildfires can spread extremely quickly from lightning or stray sparks. In some areas, the grasses grow higher than even a Crab's head, and these areas can spread for miles around, nearly impossible to navigate and lacking any real landmarks. In the areas farthest from civilization, the spiritual landscape can also be wild. Areas of desecration may go unnoticed for years, and the local kami may be very unaccustomed to listening to shugenja. There are many stories of old, powerful spirits out on the plains, best left undisturbed.

In Lion lands, there is a tale of a great boulder in the Plains of Battle. No grass grows near it, just a barren ring, and animals that approach it die, falling and rotting where they lie. Even birds that fly above it will fall from the sky, and bones are thick on the ground. Tales of it are often told from the perspective of a traveling priest, often the friend of a friend of the storyteller, who saw something on the stone. It is always a spirit, sometimes a nine-tailed fox or a weeping woman. Some say the spirit is chained to the stone, others that it paces across the circle reaching out for help, but always killing what it touches. It is said that the stone is the final remains of an oni that plotted to kill the Hantei, centuries ago. It was slain by an Emerald Champion, who local legend claims was Lion. The Champion cut out its heart, burying the corrupt object in the plain and burying it under a great stone. Perhaps it is the heart's legacy of corruption that calls strange, shadowy figures to camp on the edge of the field of death.

Kin no Kawa, the River of Gold, is a slow river with headwaters in the mountains of the northern Scorpion. Its name comes from its former role as one of the Scorpion's primary trade routes. The waters are clear and bright until the river reaches Ryoko Owari Toshi, then widens into the Bay of Drowned Honor before it heads south. Legend has it two samurai met to duel on the Moment's Edge Bridge crossing the bay in the north, but a storm rose and a wave blew one over. The other jumped into the bay to finish their duel, and both of their bodies washed up the next morning. Less romantically, the bay is where all of the city's shit goes. The bay is lined in docks and warehouses, helping river trade - legal and illegal. In the south, the river forks, with one branch heading east, to the sea, while the rest goes south. The Fox Clan palace is built on the river junction, and their inability (or unwillingness) to stop Mantis raiders heading up the river to raid the Scorpion has been a sore point for generations. The final navigable stretch ends at Clear Water Village, which is actually a city and the best Crab trade port. Below that, the river is a mess of rapids and waterfalls. The city is heavily fortified, with land walls surrounding it and the Kaiu Wall securing the harbor from sea attacks. Many towns and villages have sprung up between the two river cities to profit off the trade. Many mix trading with plundering due to the sheer amount of wealth going by, and every season, Bayushi and Yasuki merchants must raise funds and ask their daimyos for aid to fight the river pirates. With the Mantis raiders growing ever bolder, the two families have been forced to work ever more closely together. The Bayushi use their vassal family, the Rokugo, to control the gaming parlors and black markets along the river, profiting off the very pirates they fight publicly.

We get an NPC writeup for Yasuki Nobuko, Merchant. She moved to Ryoko Owari Toshi in hopes of making a name for herself, and has...kind of succeeded. She has used the skills she learned among the Yasuki to become a central figure of the city's black market. She can usually be found in a teahouse and opium den called the Blooming Flower, near the docks. She runs her business from there, taking cash for delivery by nightfall. She is a severe woman with a weakness for fine sake, and she doesn't like the city much, calling it the City of Dung while drunk. Despite her criminal ties and work, she considers her personal honor to be beyond reproach. She is doing a valuable service for her clan, after all, sending money and information home that would be beyond their reach. This has given her a place in polite society, especially because she is sincere in her dealings with other nobles if not necessarily above board or honest. Her skill as an actor in both parts of society has made her a popular contact for honorable samurai and criminals alike, and she has been able to cover for a number of major members of city life doing less honorable deeds.

The Emperor's Road is the name used to refer to the five great highways of the Empire, greater in scope and prominence than any other. These move through the lands of the Unicorn, Scorpion, Phoenix, Lion and Crane, linking important holdings. They were built in the early 600s under Hantei XVI, the Steel Chrysanthemum. He was paranoid, and so he ordered the daimyo of the Empire to perform a number of massive public works projects in order to drain their funds. It may have extended his reign, but ultimately his own guards killed him for the good of the Empire. The locations of the roads were also chosen with Imperial control in mind, connecting loyalist areas to areas known for rebellion, to better enable police actions. Since then, many of the cities connected have grown into their roles as local extensions of Imperial authority, which the Clans have suffered in various degrees of annoyed silence. Imperial edict continues to keep them maintained at clan expense. The roads are broad, level and well-guarded, often with many way stations. Imperial agents are more common on them than anywhere else. Almost no trade uses the Emperor's Road, however, as merchant wagons and carts are forbidden to use it. They must rely on other trade routes. Instead, the Road is mostly used by courtiers, magistrates, pilgrims, scholars and other honorable travelers.

NPC: Asako Tenshi, Itinerant Scholar. Tenshi is a peerless scholar with a reputation among the Asako for tenacious and creative research and a desire to uncover the truth, no matter what it is. He was, as a result, expelled from service in the Asako Libraries after he discovered a fragment of a letter written during the reign of Hantei XVI that would, if revealed, greatly shame the Imperial line. He has taken this in stride, and is an upbeat little fellow who loves traveling. He doesn't know it, but his preternatural skill is in fact not entirely his own, but instead fostered by a spirit bound to him. The spirit, Manjigen, constantly whispers to Taishi of his grand destiny to one day be known across the whole Empire. Taishi believes he is traveling the Emperor's Road on a whim, gathering folklore and songs. Libraries are open to him wherever he ends up, and he seems able to memorize nearly infinite amounts of information.

Adventure seed: Taishi has gotten into trouble. Two of the groups he's been traveling with have been attacked, and he's sure the attackers were after him. He is afraid to leave the way station the PCs meet him at without a capable escort, like them. On the road, Daidoji skirmishers attack the group, trying to retrieve something from his pack. What they want is a history of the Emperor's Road that contains some information that throws doubt on the Hantei line, or whatever other heresy or scandal best fits your campaign. They don't want to kill anyone, but will fight the PCs if they interfere. Taishi wants to present the document at court, and Manjigen also wants it, more than it cares about Taishi's safety. However, the consequences of the revelation could be drastic, and the PCs are now caught up in the situation.

Next time: Hyozenshu


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Shriners

Hyozensho, the Outpost of Ice, is buried in the heart of the Unicorn-controlled Kobaku Province, a hard and desolate land even in summer's height. In winter, the ground freezes solid and the snows are pushed by howling wind. Other way stations overlook roads or trade routes. Hyozensho does not. It is rarely host to Imperial agents, either. It sits atop a tiny hill on the wide plain, and in summer it sees little use at all. The freezing and thawing of the land makes it treacherous, with soft patches to break horse ankles or collapse and swallow a man whole. Most of the native plants are tough grasses, barely suitable for grazing, and the land is not fertile. The occasional messenger passes through, seeking a fresh horse and warm food from the outpost warden, Utaku Sabuteki, who serves out his meager rations of rice and hunted bird meat. While the scent of burning peat is constant, it does little to fight the chill. In winter, however, the Battle Maidens arrive with thundering hooves. They bring with them coal and enough food to last out the year's end, plus wood for arrows and iron for horse shoes.

The frozen wastes, you see, are a perfect training ground for the elite Utaku cavalry. Utaku Kamoko leads her maidens in formation drills, beautiful and deadly. Hyozensho is far larger than might be expected, because it exists to service the Battle Maidens every winter. It has a smithy and extensive stables now, not just the simple watchtower it was originally built around. While it is empty most of the year, it could easily serve as a staging ground for a major military operation, like an attack on the Lion in the south. While most clans would prefer to avoid the wide stretches of wilderness between Dark Edge Village and the Drowned Merchant River, the Unicorn see them as shortcuts, thanks to their horses. The Battle Maidens, if supplied with enough horses, could easily cross the distance in a day and a night of hard riding and still have fresh mounts for the attack.

Utaku Sabuteki, Outpost Commander, is a distant cousin of Utaku Kamoko. He maintains the Outpost of Ice in constant readiness for war, which has made his cousin fond of him. While she is a gallant leader of battle, he is a master of logistics that understands the importance of food and fresh mounts to any cavalry force. He is a stablemaster of great experience, and while any Utaku man would consider that an honorable job, it was his intellect and reliable nature that led Kamoko to assign him to head Hyozensho. Unlike most of the Utaku, who tend to be known for speed and intensity, Sabuteki is a measured, methodical, even stoic man. Some of his family find him frustrating as a result, but Kamoko thinks he's the best for the job. While others might see the work as without glory, Sabuteki understands that by remaining in the isolated way station all year and ensuring its readiness, he is vital to any future war effort.

Adventure seed: The PCs are traveling when they find a group of bandits, possibly ronin, picking through some corpses of travelers, which includes at least one samurai. The PCs will presumably drive off the corpse-picking bandits. When they do, all they find of any note are some dead horses, which indicate the samurai to have been at least Unicorn (and, based on its quality, possibly even a Battle Maiden), and a strangely warm egg. The nearest Unicorn outpost is Hyozensho. The inhabitants are grateful to have the chance to reclaim their fallen comrade, but in the night, the outpost is attacked by the returning bandits, now in greater numbers and some armed with maho magic. They seek the egg. In the height of the battle, the egg will begin to hatch. What emerges is a creature with the tail of a snake but the face of a human. The samurai might treat it respectfully, returning it to the forest they found it in, in hopes of earning the goodwill of its strange race, or they might treat it as a monster or demon, risking making enemies of the strange creatures.

With this, we enter Chapter 4 - the sacred shrines and holy places of the Empire. Shrines predate the Kami's fall by quite some time. All Rokugani understand the idea of sacred and foul, and that the sacred shrines are a place for important life events, such as birth, marriage or death. They connect the living and dead. They tie Rokugan to the greater universe of spirits. To understand all that, however, we're going to have to understand that greater universe and cosmography. The physical part of Rokugan is also called Ningen-do, serving as a crossroads for various spiritual realms. Except for Yume-do, which follows dream logic and exists inside human thought, these realms are not alternate universes or planes. They occupy the same world as Ningen-do, above, below or beside it, as if the world were a sheet of paper folded over itself, fraying and crumpled and torn and repaired. The transition between spiritual realms might be gradual in some cases, as one perspective shifts to another, or you might be just grabbed and hurled into another part of reality.

The passage of time has confused some things. Ancient tales speak of the underworld being a gateway realm, called Meido, and the final resting place of the ancestor spirits, the sorei, was called Yomi, and a forgotten part of the world where oni lived, called Jigoku. Yomi was seen as the whole of the underworld by humans of the past, and its borders kept Jigoku in check. However, Fu Leng's fall into the underworld ruptured Yomi's borders, allowing evil to taint Yomi. Fu Leng festered as he lay in Jigoku, absorbing its foul nature and growing in power, and because of this, Jigoku encroached further on Yomi, even capturing several sorei, who suffer there even now. Then came the Day of Thunder, and because they so loved the Thunders that they wished them free of the risk of Jigoku's taint, the Kami petitioned the Heavens to allow the souls of the Thunders to reside in Heaven with them.

The lords of the Heavens did even more - they took the whole of Yomi and all of its sorei into the sky, where Jigoku could not reach. Yomi was safe, but all the underworld was lost to Jigoku entirely, save for Meido. Emma-O and his Kings of Hell, aided by their loyal mazoku, descended into the underworld to reconquer it. They seized the levels now known as Meido, Gaki-do and Toshigoku from Jigoku's forces, but controlling all but Meido has proven vexing even for a god as great as Emma-O. (A sidebar notes that while Rokugan has verified this set of cosmological theories as best they can, other cultures have their own beliefs on reality which they also have verified as best they can, and which one is objectively right is up to the GM...if it's just one. They suggest that the answer may be multiple choice depending on what part of the world you happen to be in.)

To understand the relationship between the spiritual realms, you need to understand the nature of karma and the soul. Every human, demon, animal, ancestral spirit and god has a soul that is eternal, which has always existed, reincarnating whenever it dies. On reincarnation, the karma of the soul, the spiritual weight of its most recent life's deeds, determines its next form and destination. The worst lives are reborn as demons or hungry ghosts in the underworld, those of middling virtue become animals or humans, and the greatest and most virtuous become sohei. While Fortunist and Shinseist faiths are formally united and reconciled by Imperial edict, they view karma differently. Fortunist belief holds that karma can be good and bad. Positive actions produce good karma proportional to their effect and the effort they required, while bad karma is the same for negative actions. Shinsei, however, taught that all karma is 'bad,' in a sense. Every action, he said, generates karma, which binds you into the cycle of reincarnation. Actions motivated by fear, regret or desire generate more karma. So far, no one has ever proved one of the two theories right, and it is likely that doing so is impossible.

Next time: Heavens To Betsy

Heaven Is A Place Slightly Above Earth

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Heaven Is A Place On Slightly Above Earth

The Heavens float over the earth, above the clouds. Some mystical beings such as dragons and ki-rin can fly to the Heavens and, should they choose to, could presumably carry a rider, but few mortals could ever even dream of being judged worthy of such a gift. The most direct route doesn't involve convincing a magical being to carry you, though - it's a sky ladder. A sky ladder is any feature, natural or artificial, that would allow a person to climb to or come down from the Heavens without flying. The best known sky ladders, of course, are divine gates guarded by the servants of Tengoku. Others include magical artifacts, typically in the form of folding ladders, chains, grapples or sacred feathers, but even some tall trees will work. Many seem to exist only when the Heavens are properly aligned, however, as revealed by the light of the stars or moon.

Tengoku is the realm in which Lady Sun, Lord Moon, the greatest of the Fortunes, the Elemental Dragons, certain famed and accomplished past Emperors and their staffs of shinzoku servitors live. Tengoku is full of towering pagodas and constellation bridges, rising from dark clouds that also serve as rice paddies for the inhabitants of those that live above. Shrines of gold, jade and stone receive the offerings sent on from the earth below. The Imperial bureaucracy follows the form of Tengoku's, in which Lady Sun and Lord Moon rule over a pyramid of courtiers and administrators. Obviously, the petty quarrels, inefficiency, poor assignments and other imperfections of bureaucracy ar reflected above as well, but by and large Tengoku is committed to the orderly working of the universe and the progress of all life towards wisdom and high virtue. The current debates of the celestial courts typically concern the question of what to do about Jigoku.

Long before the fall of the Kami, Jigoku was a place of just reward and rehabilitation, but it devolved into an evil place, where corrupt demons use the nature of the realm for selfish and destructive ends rather than obeying Emma-O. Telling which mazoku are just and loyal and which are villains is challenging even for the Fortune of Death, however, and his constantly growing workload means he visits Tengoku less and less every year. Also, because Tengoku is the literal top of the sky, one of its biggest functions is to oversee weather. The Elemental Dragons manage immense divine machines that order the seasons, adjust heat and cold, bring rain and snow, clear the clouds away and cause natural disasters as needed.

Yomi, ever since the Day of Thunder, has been a precinct of the Heavens, a province of Tengoku. The sorei walk its halls and manors, serving as tutelary caretakers. Typically, this means they watch over the families of their more recent lives, but occasionally a sorei might oversee a region or organization. For example, there is a woman called Chifune who was a merchant with no living blood relatives, who devoted her entire life to a large ship construction business, treating her employees and clients with perfect fairness and paying her staff generously. After death, she became a sorei, watching over her business and taking on the role of protector of similar shipyards, enjoying their veneration and sacrifices in return for her wise grace. Yomi's buildings all glow a sulfur yellow, as a reminder of the Yellow Springs beneath the ground from which they originally took their name.

The realms that are closest to humanity are, oddly, the least understood. They are known as Senkyo, a word meaning either enchanted country or immortal country. These are the forests and highlands beyond the normal world, where strange and unpredictable beings wield mystic powers to unknown ends. Legends and folktales speak of humans that wander into the back country of Rokugan, where wild beings trick them or help them, depending on the story. These talking animals may take on the shape of a beast, a person with bestial features, or something in between, or may shapeshift. Souls whose karma places them above normal animals but below humans might be reborn as these creatures, whose nature tempts them to mischief and chaos, often preventing a higher rebirth.

The territory of these beings is usually called either Chikusho-do, the Animals' Path, or Sakkaku, Illusion. In truth, these are not specific places, but political categories, though each tends to control certain territories. The animals of Chikusho-do are dedicated to living a virtuous life and helping others be virtuous. They know that this will help them be reborn in better lives. Many, especially their leaders, are lay followers of the Tao of Shinsei or even ordained Shinseist monks or priests. The followers of Sakkaku, on the other hand, believe their animal incarnations are perfect, ideal forms, and by embracin their animal nature and the chaos they cause, they may puruse immortality in their current life and be done with all this ridiculous reincarnation business entirely. The two groups treat each other as foreign courts, openly neutral and diplomatic, but undermining each other with trickery, social engineering and occasional violence. Each, while made of individual beings rather than land, dominates some of the Rokugani wilderness and avoids the strongholds of the other, struggling to claim the contested land. Some animal spirits swear to one or the other, while others try to walk between them or play them off each other for their own benefit. Historically, each court is ruled over by a Great Tengu, though sometimes the role is taken by another species of spirit. According to the oral traditions of Chikusho-do, one of these Great Tengu renounced his name, answering only as the High Shinseist Priest after learning the Tao of Shinsei directly from Shinsei and Shiba, that he might bring Enlightenment to the animals. Sakkaku, on the other hand, claims that the High Shinseist Priest did it all as an elaborate prank that Chikusho-do has yet to understand.

Yume-do is the realm of dreams. It is popular now due to the fashionable and growing activity of yumeji, the pursuit of mystic wisdom through dreams. Spirits of all kinds, good or evil, great or small, have used dreams to speak to the Rokugani for millenia, though the time when a samurai might sleep and awaken to find a magical bow as a gift from a spirit is long since over. Dreams still provide an escape from the conventions of police society, however. In Yume-do, all are equal. A beggar may wander into the memories of an Emperor's palace, a general may speak as equal to a child. Even lucid dreamers with only a little pracitce can easily conceal their identities and appearances by will. Mazoku might dream themselves as humans, humans as animals. Rumors even exist of spies and saboteurs traveling into dreams to steal secrets. As to whether a dream is merely a figment or a legitimate communication is fascinating for the practitioners of yumeji, who study the techniques of lucid dreaming and divination to better explore Yume-do. The greatest of the practitioners are the Dreamweavers of the Kaikoga family of the Moth Clan, who have explored the dream realm for centuries, long before the practice become popular. However, as the hobby has grown, the veil seperating Yume-do and Ningen-do has begun fraying. Stories of yokai born of dreams, long thought to be fiction, such as the baku that either torment sleepers or fight off nightmares, have been growing - especially tales of evil baku escaping into the waking world to torment the innocent. The Kaikoga are greatly troubled by these stories, as they may ultimately be the only people who have the power to clean up the mess that careless dabbling in dreams can cause.

Underneath the ground, deep below the surface, even further than the mines and the sea floor and the laval beneath, deeper than anything - that is where you will find the underworld. It is ancient, predating any human civlization, but none can say what happened there before its current state. It is layer upon layer of regions stacked on top of each other, like the crumbling floors of a ruined tower. A soul weighed down by evil karma at the end of a selfish life is reborn as a demon, banished to a realm of cruelty and pain. These demons must struggle to remain virtuous despite their tortured existence if they are to have any hope of a better rebirth. Many kinds of demons and many hells make up the layers of the underworld, most far too remote and unpleasant to be worthy of any consideration. The greatest demons, the best and most virtuous of these worst of beings, call themselves mazoku, demonds that serve Emma-O and the Kings of Hell in keeping the underworld working efficiently and with justice. They are typically depicted as humanoid, but with red or blue skin and sharp claws, teeth and horns. Mazoku are jailers, torturers, prison guards, judges, scribes and other such things in service to Emma-O, and if they serve well and honorably, rejecting the savagery of their vicious realm and occupations, they may hope for rebirth as an animal or even a human.

Jigoku, according to ancient documents and apocrypha, was once more than the maze of torture it is now, a place of rehabilitation rather than damnation, which scoured the souls of the oni to rid them of villainy and prepare them to start over. However, Fu Leng and Jigoku brought out the worst in each other, and the oni have conquered their former prison. Now, it is not a prison - it is a fortress. Technically, all of the present underworld is Jigoku, but in practice the word refers not to the three realms over which Emma-O rules, but the uncountable strata of pain beneath them, lost forever to Fu Leng, his oni servants and the evil spirits that obey their will. This is the foulest of the many realms of the underworld, where the oni plot to ruin the world above, to undermine it both literally and metaphorically, and consume it with corruption. It is said that one day, heroes equal to Shinsei and the Seven Thunders might head into its depths, to seize the underworld from the grip of its demonic tyrants and reshape it into a place of proper order and justice...but as yet, no such heroes have arrived.

Meido is the realm to which all Rokugani dead go before their eventual reincarnation. It is a gateway realm and the seat of power for Emma-O, Fortune of Death and Judge of the Dead. In MEido, the dead souls form up to be counted, recorded and judged. From there, they are sent to an appropriate reincarnation. Emma-O is aided in this by his nine Kings of Hell - Shinko, Soko, Sotai, Gokan, Benjo, Taisen, Toshi, Byodo and Tenrin. They or their subordinate judges read the karma of a soul and assign it to a reincarnation and realm that fits it. The mazoku serve as guards, scribes, judges, bailiffs and aides to this procees, hoping to earn a better rebirth by loyal service in a hellish job - literally. However, the mazoku can stray, just as humans do. Fu Leng has agents influencing even Meido, offering power to weak-willed mazoku, or trading favors to influence the processing of certain souls. In this way, a great hero could be sentenced to a life deep in Jigoku, or a paperwork mix-up could be arranged to cause an evil soul inclined to serve Fu Leng to be reborn as a samurai rather than a hungry ghost. Emma-O must find and purge this corruption, which only makes his job even more stressful.

Gaki-do is the realm reserved for souls thoroughly corrupted by desire. These souls are known as gaki, 'hungry ghosts,' though a gaki is not, technically, a ghost or shade that has failed to pass on. They have been to Meido and found mediocre. Their misdeeds are not so violent as to be sent to Toshigoku, nor so evil as to be banished to Jigoku, but neither have they done so well as to warrant a new life as an animal. Instead, they enter a massive underground slum that surrounds Meido, which is austere and well-appointed. Gaki-do, on the other hand, is a realm of shitty weather and precincts the size of Rokugani provinces overseen by mazoku magistrates, full of stale air and poor living. The gaki live, work, eat and fight in this miserable, sprawling world of crap. Emma-O does not admit it easily, but Gaki-do actually is far too large for his mazoku to properly administrate. It is extremely easy to escape Gaki-do, and the edges of some of its precincts blur and merge with the worst portions of Ningen-do - mass graves, sites of battlefield massacres, defiled tmeples, the worst parts of the wilds and the roughest parts of the cities. There are many rumors that if a traveler gets lost enough in the most corrupt neighberhood of a big city that they might accidentally wander into Gaki-do, where only determination and luck will allow them to find a mazoku magistrate willing to even hear them out before the gaki kill and eat them. While some local gaki are shrewd and virtuous enough that they might show you the way out, probably as part of a bargain, most are afflicted with a terrible hunger, and the living smell very tasty indeed.

Toshigoku, the Realm of Slaughter, was created by Emma-O as a special division intented to rehabilitate the far too many Rokugani dead who were slain in unjust and unproductive wars. He cleared out a particularly shitty part of Gaki-do, built a castle there, and appointed one of his most competnet mazoku, Mujoki, the Ghost of Impermanence, to be its warden. The legions of the castle have swelled with the ranks of those dead by pointless violence. However, unknown to Emma-O, Mujoki has fallen to treachery. Fu Leng sent clever oni to break into Gaki-do, infiltrate Toshigoku Castle and kidnap the true Mujoki. An imposter shapeshifter now rules in Mjoki's place, sending lies and falsehoods back to Emma-O, who is far too busy to check on what appears to be a loyal servant. The false Mujoki is a sadistic oni that enjoys violence for its own sake, and who know trains the legions of Toshigoku in brutal martial arts and vicious tactics. Fu Leng's servants seek out the most ruthless warriors of Ningen-do, trying to manipulate them to bloodthirst and carnage, that they may find themselves sentenced to Toshigoku in death. The souls there do not realize the truth - that they are being trained as the shock troops of Fu Leng, when he eventually makes his move to drive Emma-O out of the underworld entirely.

e: I should note, all of this stuff is new for this edition. In past editions, the spiritual realms were literal other dimensions and were not really usable for adventuring unless the GM did a lot of work.

Next time: Ancestor worship.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Lucky

While many ancestors do not in fact ascend to Yomi to become spirits after death, basic practice in Rokugani religion ensures that their descendants will honor all but the very worst of them as if they had. Every family, even peasants, maintains a small altar with memorial statues or plagues to their ancestral dead, and wealthy homes may have a niche or an even an entire room dedicated to an ancestral altar, while in less wealthy families it will still occupy a place of honor. Even those few Rokugani who have no interest in either Shinsei or the kami will maintain a family altar to the dead, appeasing their spirits via clapping, prayers and offerings. These are in addition to the cemetaries that Rokugan maintains. Of course, burial mounds are not often made in modern Rokugan, but ancient ones, often small but sometimes full of elaborate mausoleums and clay grave goods, can still be found across the land, diligently cared for by the locals. Ever since the Imperial mandate of cremation, burned remains are usually interred in graves under a stone block that bears the name of the deceased and sometimes a death poem. Families visit their ancestral graves to clean up and remmeber them every so often, especially during the yearly Bon festival.

Graveyards also sometimes have statues, but these statues do not represent the dead. Rather, they are of Fortunes or major Shinseist figures, particularly the Fortune Jizo, who is said to roam the underworld doing his best to comfort the dead. Families may decorate Jizo statues with clothes, jewels or toys to honor children that died before their time. Jizo, as a wandering Fortune, also served as a patron of travelers and his statues ca be found in many small roadside shrines. Ancestors themselves, however, are extremely personal, and a Rokugani will rarely bring up another person's ancestors unless they are very close. Partly, this is practical - suddenly mentioning someone's dead family may make them depressed. And partly, it is philosophical, in that the living cannot match the wisdom of the elder dead. This courtesy is even extended to your enemies. Any remark along the lines of 'you shame your sohei' or similar would reflect poorly on the speaker, not the person being insulted, and would likely summon the wrath of the speaker's ancestors.

We also get a sidebar on the Tenth Kami, of whom the people of Rokugan know nothing. He resides in Meido, and his name is Ryoshun, the first of the Kami to be devoured by Onnotangu, and the only one to die before Hantei could free him. When Emma-O descended into the underworld to reclaim Jigoku from Fu Leng and the oni, he discovered Ryoshun there, wiating. Now, Ryoshun manages the defense of the boundary between Jigoku and the rest of the underworld, but the oni believe he could be a vital and powerful ally, if they could find a way to turn him against the Heavens. Ryoshun, in original continuity, was kind of an asspull that didn't make a lot of sense, so it's interesting to see that they're trying to incorporate him from the start here.

Fortunes are a form of powerful kami who rule over a concept rather than a specific place or natural feature. They might be the kami of strength, or of cats, or so on. Fortune is a contraction of their full title, which might be translated along the lines of 'God of Fortune' or 'Lucky God.' The Fortunes have been around, watching over Rokugan, since the beginning of time, alongside the other kami. Shinseism has changed how most people think of them, however. Per Imperial edict, the Tao of Shinsei and the seeking of Enlightenment are supreme law over kami and human alike. The Fortunes are important still, but as exemplars of Shinseist wisdom. Despite this, the festivals and traditions that honor them have not changed much over the millenia, and Fortunism, ancestor worship and other esoteric traditions remain powerful, even if Shinseism is dominant in many regions. The Fortunes divide their time between Tengoku and Ningen-do. From Tengoku, they oversee the land as a whole, descending to Ningen-do via their sacred places - shrines, mostly, but also regions that express their purview clearly. Their time in Ningen-do is used for when they must take a personal hand in earthly affairs. Like other kami, their earthly homes are typically within natural, geographical or human-made features called shintai, which are the focus of most shrines. Fold tradition holds that hte Fortunes may take on human form as one of their shintai, and the myths of the Fortunes often describe their lives as humans, either in Rokugan or in some mythical land to the west. In life, they performed some act of supreme excellence, which allowed them to ascend as Fortunes, blessed human souls among the kami. A modern human might still become a Fortune, by legendary effort or virtue, but few Rokugani tend to think often of these stories, and the odds of running into a Fortune disguised as a human are fairly low.

The Seven Great Fortunes are the most widely worshipped in all of Rokugan. Benten is the Fortune of Arts and Romantic Love, appearing as an elegant woman with dark-brown skin and wet black hair. She rides on a five-headed dragon, her symbol is the biwa, and rivers are sacred to her. Benten is especially popular with young samurai before their gempuku, when they are in the midst of their education and often overwhelmed by poetry and calligraphy, and who also are teenagers and thus prone to romantic feelings for other teenagers. Playwrights, actors, puppeteers and other entertainers also worship Benten as their patron.
Bishamon, the Fortune of Strength, appears as a male figure in ancient armor, carrying a giant halberd in one hand and a Shinseist temple full of sutras in the other. Cynics may debate over how much Shinsei actually means to the Fortunes and their servants, but Bishamon at least is known for his honest and devout study of Shinseist doctrine. When the common people meet him, he is frequently in the form of an armored warrior, but he has also been said to appear as a wandering Shinseist priest with a backpack of books and scrolls. He is always depicted smiling widely, to represent the joy and satisfaction that comes from balancing physical fitness and wisdom.
Daikoku, the Fortune of Wealth, is a god of contradictions. He is cheerful, even jolly, with plump and lucky earlobes, yet his skin is smeared with grave ash. His massive wooden mallet showers golden coins when it strikes, but his associations with death and cemeteries serve to remind all that wealth cannot follow you into Meido. He sits on top of fat rice bales, representing wealth and plenty, but they are always gnawed at by ratys, to remind that wealth is nothing if not defended and invested. Merchants and farmers revere Daikoku the most, and Fortunist monks of Daikoku often remind wealthy samurai that their wealth must not be taken for granted, and that while money cannot buy happiness, poverty can certainly buy sorrow.
Ebisu, the Fortune of Honest Work, is Daikoku's friend and ally, but far more mercurial than the cheerful lord of wealth and the grave. He teaches that luck comes to the diligent, appearing as a wandering fisherman, for fishermen are the oldest of workers in Rokugan, predating agriculture. He wears archaic clothing, carrying a great fishing rod and a big fish he as just caught. Fishers that find a stone among the fish in their nets will venerate it with offerings of food and drink, for legend has it that these stones are Ebisu in disguise. Ebisu is the only one of the major Fortunes whose shrines have no shintai. There are icons of him, but he does not live in them, preferring to take the form of a whale and live in the seas. While Ebisu has shugenja that serve him, he does not speak to them in his voice and he is hard of hearing, so he is not called on by prayers spoken aloud. Rather, they use clapping and the ringing of bells. Ebisu's monks, while in theory paying lip service to Shinsei, are the furthest from orthodox Shinseist practice.
Fukorokujin, the Fortune of Wisdom, is held by popular legend (though not the teachings of the Phoenix Clan) to have once been a mortal who mastered the Way, learning to subsist on the breath of the universe instead of food or drink, anmd thus ascending to divinity. Martial artists often revere him as the incarnation of the wisdom they seek through combat skill. He appears as an old, bearded man, stout but small of stature, with a high and conical forehead. He leans on a long staff and carries a great book of lore. He is always seen with a turtle, crane, black deer or combination of these animals. His holy symbol is the needle, and tailors are his most devout followers. It is said that Fukurokujin knows how to revive the dead, but that he never uses or teaches this knowledge, for fear it would be misused.
Hotei, the Fortune of Contentment, is like Daikoku in that he is a fat, jolly man with big earlobes, but he is not covered in grave ash. His symbol is the sack, also called a hotei, which is full of toys and gifts for deserving children. He is one of the most popular and beloved Fortunes, and the only one believed to have personally met Shinsei. Legend has it that before any knew who Shinsei was, an eccentric old monk appeared at the Imperial Palace, walked into the throne room, sat down in a corner and began to meditate. The Emepror stopped the guards who went to arrest him, and personally brought the monk food and tea each day, but otherwise ignored him. When Shinsei arrived, the monk stood and went to greet him, and they bowed to each other as old friends. They spoke briefly, and the monk listened quietly as Shinsei spoke of the Way, then left with Shinsei and Shiba. As the three parted in fron of the castle, the monk saw a small boy playing nearby, and he removed from his sack a kemari ball far too large to have fit inside it. He kicked ito the boy, who thanked him and ran off, and it was then that everyone realized he was Hotei in human disguise. When they asked Shinsei if he knew Hotei, Shinsei said he did not, but that he seemed familiar, and he was sure they'd meet again. Hotei's was the first monastic Fortunist order to be founded, well before the fusion of Fortunism and Shinseism by Imperial edict.
Jurojin, the Fortune of Longevity, appears as an old, thin man who lives in a constellation that resembles him in the southern sky. He is always an old man leaning on a staff, accompanied by a deer, turtle or crane, but unlike Fukurokujin, he is thin, rather than fat. Jurojin is the patron of all visual arts, and the Fortunist monks sworn to his service are universally painters and sculptors whose works, great and small, are sold to wealthy patrons in order to fund their monasteries.

Other Fortunes may not receive the same level of worship as the Seven Great Fortunes, but there are many of them. Emma-O is said to have been the first human ever to die. He journeyed alone from the land of the living to the underworld of Yomi, which had not at that point been taken over by Jigoku, and in doing so he became the Fortune of Death and Judge of the Dead. Some tales say he beuilt all of the underworld's facilities personally, others that he discovered them already built even though he was the first ever to enter it. After Yomi and the sorei were taken to Tengoku, Emma-O entrusted them to the gods of the sky and returned to conquer Meido and Gaki-do, on the logic that if someone didn't do so, Fu Leng would win. He seems to have been largely correct in this belief, but all who look on him know that he is a very, very tired Fortune indeed. His face is red and scowling, with sharp tusks and fangs. He wears a hat that has the character for 'king' written on the front, and he always carried an antique board to which he fastens the records of a soul before judgment. He has priests, but few prayer ot Emma-O, as prayers are said to annoy him, for he is so overworked that he'd never have time to get to them and so they will merely clutter up his office. 'Emma-O will get to your prayer eventually' is a saying that means 'your efforts are earnest but pointless.' Many bureaucrats and administrators adorn their offices with images of Emma-O, whose face is meant as a defense against corruption.
Hachiman, the Fortune of Battle, is probably the most popular of the Fortunes among samurai. As a human, he was born wearing an archery glove, and he is honored as the inventor of mounted archery. Even today, many archers will mutter a prayer to him as they fire their first arrow each day. The monks of Hachiman maintain in his greatest shrine a library of texts, poems and letters said to have been written by the Fortune himself, and if read closely, many seem to predict the coming of Shinsei centuries later. It is said that if an invading fleet from beyond the Empire ever lands on its shores, Hachiman himself will descend from Tengoku in the form of a tornado to drive them back.

We then get a sidebar on how, yeah, the Fortunes and kami are in fact often just direct lifts of real-world religious figures, and that discussing them as game figures could actually offend folks to whom they are not fictional beings but actual religious figures, or that it could be uncomfortable to treat nonfictional religion as entertainment, and that people may or may not feel safe voicing this discomfort. It's actually a very good sidebar on how good intentions aren't always wenough, and you have to make an effort to ensure that when characters in the game are critical or reverent about religion, you shoudld always make it clear that it's in character and not an out of character criticism or debate, and that it may be better to not go into specifics and shouted invective of IC religious debates to avoid hurting feelings or sounding like you're denouncing actual religious beliefs. Describe mantras, don't chant them, and while outside research on Asian culture will be popular, keep in mind that drawing on non-Japanese sources may be inappropriate for purely Japanese figures, even if they might fit those that have, say, Hindu origins such as Benten or Daikoku. In short: be respectful.

Would it surprise you if I said that no edition before this one has had anything like this sidebar?

Next time: Shrines.

The Scottish Rite

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: The Scottish Rite

Shrines are vitally important to the life of every person in Rokugan, regardless of their rank. A shrine’s ceremonies keep the crops healthy, prevent disease and ward off natural disasters. Visits to shrines accompany every birth, every marriage, every death. At the fifth birthday, a child returns to the shrine to receive their childhood name and be formally introduced to their ancestors. A visit to a shrine can cleanse a soul of most stains. The shrine is, in short, the turning point for just about all life events. Every village, no matter how small, has a shrine of some sort, even if it is merely a single statue flickering with some dim light. It is considered an essential thing to live no more than a day’s travel away from a shrine, for entirely practical reasons. Without a shrine, the natural world is out of balance, and the lesser Fortunes would be blind to the people. There would be no way to cleanse the stains of daily life, which would accumulate and bring terrible events. The services of a shrine are vital to any community. Shrine attendants often serve as midwives, often the only ones available for a village, and the shrines keep records of births and astrological charts associated with them, which are handy tools in marriage arrangements. Happy marriages are often owed to the diligence of the shrine’s keepers, and their divinations often bring vital insights, no matter the question, even when they are not directly petitioning the kami enshrined within.

The clergy occupy a special place in the social order. They are above the heimin, but most are considered to be lower rank than samurai, with the exception of shugenja, who are samurai by virtue of birth. There is also a distinct hierarchy of status within the clergy themselves. The highest ranking of all is the Emperor in his role as head of the Shintao and, by extension, all religion. Beneath him are the shugenja, then the priests, then the shrine keepers that serve as their assistants and protectors. Monks, while technically clergy, have no formal place within the social order whatsoever. Most shrines are managed by at least one shrine keeper. While they are of the lowest clerical rank, they are necessary for shrine maintenance, keeping them clean and holy. Shrine keepers can perform basic rituals, herbalism, lesser divinations and generally a collection of folk traditions known as mikodo. Further, protecting the shrine from danger is their duty, so most are trained with bows and naginata. Often, shrine keepers are the children of ashigaru or jizamurai, due to their martial duties, but this is not a requirement, and they may arise from normal peasants. If they do, it is considered a great honor to their family, as it is one of the only ways that they may rise in social rank.

Priests serve as the administrators and primary caretakers for most shrines. They perform most of the ceremonies, assist visitors and give advice. They lack the close relationship with spirits that shugenja enjoy, but are capable of performing basic blessings and auguries, and may occasionally request aid from the kami via rituals. Anyone can, in theory, become a priest, but it isn’t easy. A priest-to-be must show deep spiritual knowledge and also demonstrate a rapport with the enshrined spirit of the shrine they are joining. Shugenja are the samurai-caste priests, and all have been embraced by the kami. They can sense the invisible, spiritual world, sensing and communing with the kami and the Fortunes and the ancestors. Priestly rituals are just a shadow of what a real shugenja is capable of, and shugenja are rare – no more than one in a thousand children will have the gift for it, and that gift must then be cultivated from youth. If done properly, the shugenja wields great power, as they may directly call on the kami for aid. Shugenja are not bound to specific shrines unless they choose to be.

Spiritual cleanliness is central to the Shintao. Things become spiritually dirty over time and interaction with unclean things, and shrines are not an exception. At any given time, a shrine is always being cleaned, repaired or even rebuilt. Wards, ropes and icons must be replaced regularly, and at least once a year the kami must be released to allow the keepers to clean the shintai. Parts of the shrine with no visible problems may still need to get torn down and replaced, and some shrines will go so far as to build an exact one to one replica shrine and move into it, ritually disassembling the old one. The constant need for maintenance means shrines are very expensive in materials, and so some of the poorer and more rural clans, such as the Sparrow and Hare, must instead use hokora, miniature shrines that resemble stone dollhouses.

Of course, commerce is spiritually filthy, as is concern over money and worldly goods. Priests are to be above such things. It is uncomfortable for most that shrines must rely on outside funding to operate, as a result. It would be an unbearable disgrace for a priest to conduct commerce directly, and might offend the enshrined spirits, especially those of ancestors. This means they have to get creative. Coins are a commonly accepted offering, and additional materials are “borrowed” as needed. Wishing wells are also commonly used for income, and most shrines expect a modest donation in return for major services like conducting weddings, although they would never dare to ask for it directly. Major shrines also often enjoy the patronage of a Great Clan family. The Shrine to Hotei, for example, is funded by the Bayushi in all things. This is common – funding the shrines makes the samurai appear pious, and in return they get valuable spiritual services. One of the biggest income sources from samurai is the so-called Training of the Sainensho, the youngest born. It is custom among some samurai families to send their youngest heir to be trained as a priest along with some money for expenses. The sum is determined by the shrine and never questioned, and many shrines compete for students (and their funding). Just one student might provide enough money to keep a shrine going for several years.

We get a day in the life of the Mezameta shrine, outside the city of Ukabu Mura, the Floating Village. It is the shrine of the kami of Kanawa Lake, which feeds Drowned Merchant River, and legend holds that Shinsei once drank from the nearby waterfall, which awakened the waters’ spirit. While the shrine is important, it’s pretty small and has only one priest and a few shrine keepers. The actual day is fairly calm and peaceful by Rokugani standards. A lot of busy work cleaning and praying and doing some rituals, sure, but low on the hard labor scale (the worst thing someone has to do is wash a lot of laundry) and there are only a few times when a samurai shows up with the potential to be a huge asshole; in each case, they choose not to, out of respect. Shrines pretty much rely on the good graces of the shugenja to not be dicks.

Of course, the Fortunist practices vary widely across the Empire, so what’s done in Mezameta is hardly universal. Every clan has its own flavor of worship, and local folk traditions can be very influential. Debates between various shugenja philosophies are frequent, as well. Some basic practices are universal, though. First, you worship an enshrined spirit the way it wants you to. The shrine keepers and priests are there to tell you what that is, and you can rely on a few things. Before you enter the shrine, you will pass through a torii arch to cleanse yourself spiritually. Bypassing this is an innately foul act, like entering a house with muddy shoes on. After you pass the arch, you wash yourself at the cleansing pavilion, rinsing your hands and feet and mouth, then the ladle you used. Now you can walk around. Prayer is usually assisted by the local clergy for strangers, but locals usually need no help. You typically kneel before the icon of the spirit and present an offering they’ll appreciate, varying by what you’re offerin to. Ancestors like stuff they liked in life, Tenjin (Fortune of Stories and Secrets) likes secrets written on paper that are burned at his altar, and Sadahako (Fortune of Artists) likes foundation makeup. Kami tend to like stuff that aligns with their element. You always bow twice – once to pay respect, twice to prove it’s genuine. Then you need to attract the spirit’s attention, so you clap twice, ring a bell, sing or dance, depending on the shrine. (Clapping is most common, with the others mostly done by priests or shugenja.) Then you bow again, pray, bow again, and leave.

Abandoned and unattended shrines are challenging, because you don’t know how to not offend the spirit. It can be risky! The safest bet if you anger the spirit is to be humble, keep your eyes and head low, apologize deeply and offer amends. Honest mistakes are often forgiven by the kami if you’re deferent.

Next time: How to be Clean

Mister Clean

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Mister Clean

The biggest religious concern of most Rokugani is spiritual cleanliness and purity. The soul is easily stained by dirtiness, known as kegare, and a dirty soul is offensive to spirits of all kinds but particularly kami and ancestors, thus attracting bad luck. To keep your soul clean, you have to avoid a lot of things. Sweet, blood and other bodily secretions are dirty, and so to be avoided. This is why priests and samurai do not perform manual labor. The consumption of meat is dirty, with poultry and fish being the least so and thus acceptable socially, while red meat is the most dirty and so reviled by most. Some other foods, such as spicy food or fungi, are also dirty if eaten in great amounts. A little is okay, though. When your soul comes in contact with filthy things or events, you must be ritually purified. Samurai purify daily, and priests typically try to avoid the need – many are vegetarians and leave all manual labor to the shrine keepers. Commoners are assumed to all be somewhat dirty due to their jobs and status, so while they still perform ritual purification, they do so far less frequently than samurai simply because they’re going to be dirty anyway. Some only purify at festivals.

Quite possibly the most spiritually filthy thing anyone can do is handle dead flesh. Death is a major source of kegare, and it’s the kind that sticks around. A samurai that died while tainted by touching dead flesh, even accidentally, would not be permitted into Yomi. However, even this filth can be cleansed via more complex rites. All shugenja know this purifying rite, as do most priests. The ritual involves a torii arch, a ritual bath and a symbolic rebirth in the presence of an enshrined spirit. Hinin, meanwhile, who often handle dead flesh daily, are simply not allowed on shrine grounds at all, for fear they will offend the enshrined spirit and drive it off. Commerce also stains the soul via entanglement with the material world. However, money itself is fine – Daikoku is a Great Fortune, after all. It is regular trade, gambling and obsession with transient material wealth that stain. Pious merchants undergo regular purification to cleanse themselves of this. Negative emotions can also cause spiritual stains. The three big ones are fear, desire and regret, which attract evil and misfortune. Shrine purifications not only cleanse the body and soul, but also help to calm the mind and release such thoughts.

If an object can be inherently filthy, can one be inherently pure? Yes. There are three substances that are more sacred and holy than any other, as they were born of the gods directly. First is jade, created where Amaterasu’s tears struck the earth. It is a source of innate spiritual purity due to its simultaneous ties to Ningen-do and Tengoku, and it repels Shadowlands creatures and many beings of the spirit realms, protecting against Shadowlands Taint and kegare. Second is crystal, formed where Amaterasu’s tears solidified in the air. This captured the Sun’s essence, and so crystal is able to dispel darkness and repel evil or corrupted beings. The final material is obsidian, formed from the blood of Onnotangu. Obsidian is the most potent bane there is against spiritual beings of any type, but contains within it a hint of Lord Moon’s insanity, which may possess those who carry obsidian for prolonged periods. (This is something of a shift – before, obsidian was inherently tainted, though still formed the same way. Here, it is presented as holy-but-dangerous, which frankly makes more sense because Onnotangu is crazy but is still divine and holy.)

Purification methods vary by shrine and spirit. Typically they will involve washing the face and hands, then meditating under guidance from a priest or shrine keeper, who will wave a wand covered in paper streamers at you. The wand attracts the impurities in you, as a feather duster attracts dust. Then you take the wand and burn it, symbolically cleansing yourself. Other methods might include sprinkling with salt to absorb impure essence, then sweeping the salt out of the shrine while chanting a sacred mantra, or the popular water-based ritual called misogi. After fasting for a time, you will sit naked under an ice-cold waterfall while chanting sacred mantras. This washes away negative thoughts and impurities. Misogi can also be done in icy-cold still water, and most shrines thus maintain a well for that purpose. It is believed that the elements, in their purest forms, may also banish impurity. Shugenja often purify themselves via feats of endurance in the raw elements, such was walking over hot coals, plunging hands into boiling water or meditating naked on a cold, windy cliff. These are most useful when a shrine is not available.

Bushi can’t help but become spiritually dirty by their work, as warriors so often come into contact with blood or sweat. Further, the stress of killing can be spiritually imbalancing. Thus, they purify regularly to avoid misfortune. Often, they will also heavily venerate their ancestors and seek their guidance. Clan founders and legendary heroes are common figures of samurai worship, calling on them for supernatural aid, regardless of courtier or bushi. Every samurai home has a small shrine for ancestor worship, and ancestors may also be sought at local shrines for divinatory guidance. A displeased ancestral spirit might send curses or evil luck, or even haunt you. An ancestor who has no living descendants to worship them may feel forgotten, transforming into a muenbotoke, a sort of unguided ghost that haunts and curses the living. To avoid this, samurai may worship ancestors not their own out of admiration for their great deeds. Because this honors their history, it is noble even though you have no personal tie to that ancestor. Samurai are far less likely to worship the kami or Fortunes, except in seeking specific blessings, such as Hachiman’s favor in battle, Benten’s for a performance or Jizo’s in helping an ancestor get through Meido.

While peasants are typically more superstitious than samurai, samurai aren’t exactly without them. Crab samurai often believe that lightning is a good omen, that leaving your door open in the night invites ghosts in, and that whistling at night is bad luck (because it might make a ghost think you’re also a ghost). Crane samurai think you can get rid of bad luck by tossing seven peas into a well and fasting for the day, that tickling a baby’s feet will make them stutter when older, that a tailor who pricks themselves with a needle will one day be unfaithful, and that if you break your sandal strap, you will soon suffer bad luck. The Dragon say that bowing to a vengeful ghost will make them pause and that a blacksmith must never let their forge fire die or else their blades made there will fail. The Togashi are also known for making shit up and teaching it to peasants to see what superstitions catch on. The Lion say that a general must lead with the right foot, to awaken their martial spirit, and that battles must only ever be held under good stars or specific omens, and that spiders are lucky and that killing one must never be done, for it will haunt the home it dies in. The Phoenix often believe that the first day after the first snow of the year is a lucky one, that spirits cannot cross an arched bridge, and that if you hear steps behind you but no one is there, you should get out of the way and let the ghost pass you or you will have nightmares. The Shiba also say that tracing a kanji character over a diagram will give you the virtue represented by that character. The Scorpion believe that if you have no hatred, no one can detect your intent to kill, that if you dry laundry where others can see it, your secrets will be exposed one day, and that being shat on by a bird is good luck, because the slang for ‘dung’ can be read as the word ‘luck.’ Also, if you drink a rooster’s blood, they say, your indigestion will be cured. The Unicorn hold that you should never cut hair under a full moon or you will go bald early, that a promise made on horseback must never be broken on pain of death, and that you should bow to wild horses, as they might be disguised ki-rin. Also, they say that if you write a Fortune’s name on your right arm, the Fortune will bless you.

Religious matters for peasants are typically quite simple. When they need help from a Fortune or spirit, they go and make an offering at the shrine. If something goes wrong, they get the priest to tell them who they pissed off and make another offering. They don’t have to learn texts or rites – the priest and shrine keepers handle those. They just take part in festivals, make offerings and show reverence. They typically have no concerns that are not immediate and local, and as a result their view of the Fortunes is usually simple and transactional. Worship of the Fortunes lets them ask for blessings and gifts or appease them when they are angry. Peasants do perform ancestral worship, but mostly in a preventative way. They leave offerings for the dead to keep them out of the land of the living, and seeking guidance from their ancestors would be unthinkable. Peasant souls, after all, do not go to Yomi. They have far too many worldly concerns to allow that! Peasant dead head for Meido for reincarnation or punishment. Thus, peasants tend to be fearful of their ancestral ghosts, who usually show up only to throw curses around.

Next time: Two Weddings and a Funeral

Shrine Time

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Emerald Empire: Shrine Time

Shrines are the site of many major life rituals. Weddings are a big one, for example. Wedding ceremonies vary wildly by region based on local custom, clan tradition and the nature of the enshrined spirit, who is of course always in attendance at the wedding. However, there is a common foundation. For samurai, the shrine often plays a major role in the matchmaking process, as shrines keep all records of births and corresponding star maps. These are vital for the nakodo matchmakers, who use constellations and birth dates in their calculation of appropriate matches. Marriages must always be reported to and approved by a clan or Imperial nakodo, a task that shrines generally perform for people. Peasant weddings are typically led by the priest, but samurai weddings are almost universally overseen by a shugenja. The couple is usually bathed and purified with salt as part of the ceremony before putting on the traditional wedding outfits. The spirit is released to join the ceremony, and the priest or shugenja will lead the oaths of commitment. There are three oaths, exchanged with three shared cups of blessed sake. The pair then approach the altar, make their marital vows and show gratitude to the spirit and leave it offerings.

At the start of a wedding ceremony, the one who is leaving their family for that of their betrothed wears white, to symbolize the “death” of their former family. As the ceremony continues, they remove this outer layer to reveal red beneath, to symbolize rebirth. This layer is shed as well, revealing the colors and mon of the family they are now joining. For peasants, these clothes are supplied by the shrine and will likely be the best clothing they will ever wear. After the ceremony, a banquet is then held in the couple’s honor. Unlike the wedding ceremony, guests may attend the banquet, and speeches, artistic performances, poetry and games are common.

Each Great Clan has its own take on the wedding ceremony, and most priests keep track of how these versions differ to avoid giving offense to anyone involved in a wedding. The Dragon rarely use shrines or temples for their weddings, instead preferring awe-inspiringly beautiful natural settings. Phoenix weddings are typically held in Fortunist shrines, usually those devoted to Hotei (as it is believed that a content marriage is more important than a romantic one). It is considered disgraceful to laugh or show levity during the ceremony itself, but Phoenix banquets after are prone to spectacular displays of joy. Scorpion weddings are always overseen by a Soshi shugenja, as those overseen by the Yogo are held to be very unlucky. Exchanging masks is a traditional part of their ceremony, and by traditional, Scorpion wedding banquets are open to all, even peasants, although the classes still don’t mingle at them. The various Minor Clans also have their own traditions. Dragonfly marriages are never arranged, ever. Sparrow weddings are held in the home, as there are no shrines big enough in Sparrow lands. Centipede weddings are always held at sunrise. Mantis weddings are universally performed on water, whether at sea on a ship or on a raft in a river, and are often officiated by a ship captain rather than a priest or shugenja.

Funerals are also important, as death is, in Fortunist tradition, one of the greatest spiritual stains. Death clings, making things unclean. Shinseist tradition disagrees, encouraging contemplation of death. Thus, funerals are typically overseen by monks, not priests, and are held in temples, not shrines. Never shrines. Fortunist funeral tradition is practically nonexistent, and last rites are almost entirely done per the Tao of Shinsei. This protects the shrines from the residual influence of death and the displeasure of the associated kami of the shrine. Shrines are to be places of life, not death. However, Fortunism still has an important role in the funeral due to the priests of Emma-O. Sects in service to the Fortune of Death travel the lands exclusively to ensure the souls of the dead can make their way to Emma-O’s judgment.

Every Great Clan has a sect of Emma-O’s priests in their lands, and so do some Minor Clans. While all serve Emma-O, they typically honor local customs and traditions as well. They rarely staff shrines, preferring to travel and carry their sacred objects with them. Rokugani do not typically worship Emma-O, instead directing their prayers to Jizo, the Fortune of Mercy, and so the priests play the important role of honoring him so that no one else need attract the Fortune of Death’s attention. Shugenja in service to Emma-O are exceptionally rare, and are identified early on by signs of his blessing, such as jagged birthmarks. They wear white robes and ceremonial shoulder guards, called sode, and they train to commune with Emma-O and interpret his (rare, often cryptic) replies – or even to call on his terrifying favor. The greatest power is their ability to sway Emma-O on the appropriate destination of a dead soul. As the monks of a temple perform a funeral, a shugenja of Emma-O will sit in silent witness, dressed as the Fortune to remind all of his presence. Only once all guests depart after the rites will the shugenja step forward and invoke the Great Judge, performing a ceremonial trial in which they argue on behalf of the deceased, recalling their deeds and asking for a lighter ‘sentence’ from the Fortune of Death, such as a briefer stay in Meido or even delivery unto Yomi.

While the priests and shugenja of Emma-O are universally respected, they are never close to people. The people of Rokugan avoid them, due to the nature of their duties. The unclean influence of death is always on them, and while they are honored and given gifts for what they do, they are also quickly shooed away after a funeral, and their presence in any other circumstance is considered very unlucky. Peasants avoid them, the superstitious fear them, and only the most foolish or desperate seek them out for aid. They are lonely, but they must exist, to perform the duties no one else can or will.

We only get one special clan funereal tradition: the Lion battlefield funeral. After a battle, hinin will gather and cremate the dead samurai, after which their ashes and belongings will be returned to their families. Most clans then hold a typical funeral for them. The Lion do not. To die in battle, after all, is the greatest goal of any Lion samurai, anointing the land with their blood and mixing their ashes with the soil. In Lion tradition, battlefield funerals are overseen by priests of Emma-O, using a ceremony kept closely guarded by the Kitsu shugenja of Emma-O. In the absence of their family, the shugenja summon the ancestors of the dead instead, to judge the departed soul. If the ancestors judge the dead worthy, they will accompany their spirit to Emma-O and argue on their behalf directly. The Lion do not comment on what happens to those fallen who are found unworthy.

Next time: Festive Times

Feeling Festive

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Emerald Empire: Feeling Festive

Shrines run the many annual festivals of Rokugan, both the national ones and the hundreds of unique local ones in each province. Even the most remote village will have a unique festival celebrating something important locally. Some of these festivals predate the Empire itself, while others are more recent inventions. They mark the changing of the seasons and memorialize important local historical events, and they are often held in honor of the Fortunes, major local ancestors or other spirits. While all festivals have unique customs, most are done similarly. The priest or local shugenja will perform a ritual purification of the shrine and the path the spirit of the shrine is expected to travel. Shugenja will also perform grueling and painful purificiation rites, such as putting their hands in boiling water or standing on hot coals. Then the spirit of the festival is called on, told why they’re being invoked and invited to enter the shrine’s shintai. Once the shintai is confirmed to be inhabited, it is put in a portable container and paraded through the village or city, where the locals greet it according to local custom and perform for its entertainment.

All festivals have different entertainments for the spirits, often using No theater, dragon dances or fireworks displays. Benten is said to love kabuki, while Bishamon enjoys sumai and Hachiman likes battle reenactments. The locals often enjoy these displays, but they are primarily performed for the spirit, not the locals. The spirits enjoy seeing mortals frolic and enjoy themselves, however, so the entire village will join in the revels, eating unique festival foods and playing special games. With the spirit in attendance, the shrine may also offer special services otherwise not possible without special timing, such as fortune telling, treatment of spiritual conditions or granting of spiritual consultation. At the end of the festival, a great banquet is usually held in the spirit’s honor, a communal meal shared by all. Blessed sake is often used, as are foods that are normally forbidden. The Festival of Hida, for example, is the only time when Crab samurai may eat crab flesh.

Once the banquet ends and the spirit is (presumably) in a good mood, the shugenja and priests will petition it for favor for the year – stuff like good harvests, protection from plague and so on, along with a long life for the Emperor. Then, the final ceremonies are performed and the spirit is sent home, wherever that may be for them. Regional or minor festivals may break from this traditional pattern, as may those of unusual origin. The Festival of the Moon’s Wrath, celebrated in the first week of Winter Court, offers no pleas to Onnotangu, the spirit which it honors, nor any performances or shows of joy. Instead, businesses will close, and courtiers will not speak or sing for a full cycle of night and day, silencing the land in honor of Lord Moon. Any who break the silence risk the wrath of the potent kami. This is not the only somber festival, even if most are joyous occasions.

The Bon Festival is held on the final day of the Month of the Dog, to honor the dead and appease any wandering ghosts. It is the greatest of all ancestral festivals, celebrated across Rokugan and used to recall the greatest deeds of the ancestors. On this day, Yomi and Ningen-do are united, to allow the blessed ancestors to visit and join the festivities. Families will leave offerings for the dead, and often a regional dance known as the bon odori is performed in their honor. At the end of the festival, attendees will release floating paper lanterns into rivers and streams, each containing the name of someone that died in the past year. It is done in the hopes that the lanterns will reach the sea, so that those souls that cannot cross the Bridge of Lights might follow them to the next world instead.

The Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the most popular, marking the beginning of the flower-viewing season known as hanami. Local traditions surrounding it may vary, as does the day on which it is held. The festival honors Kan’o and Nagameru, the twin Fortunes of sakura trees. Nagameru is given special care, as this kami is fickle and known to ruin the event with storms if unhappy. While Nagameru’s name means ‘to gaze upon,’ it is a homonym for ‘it rains a long time,’ see. One of the main activities of this festival is the viewing of cherry blossoms, often with picnics under the trees. Attendees will often leave sake and poetic offerings to the oldest trees, especially those believed to be home to kodama spirits. Priests will use the festival to divine the proper dates for upcoming plantings by scattering cherry blossoms, and flower viewings often last well into the night.

Shouting Day is a festival held on the fourth day of the Month of the Tiger, honoring Osano-wo, Fortune of Fire and Thunder. However, rather than pleas or entertainments, participants stand upon a stage and shout complaints at the top of their lungs. Any complaint is allowed, no matter how scandalous, and it is socially expected that anything, once said, will be immediately forgotten. Peasants use the day to gripe about lords, farmers and fishers about poor weather and bad harvests, married people about their spouses, children about parents, and so on. Sometimes, the devout may even complain about the Fortunes. The litany of complaints amuses Osano-wo and gives everyone an outlet for the past year’s worth of stress. Most nobles do not attend or observe Shouting Day, as it is considered beneath the dignity of a samurai. However, some Minor Clans do take part, and it is not unknown for samurai to disguise themselves as commoners in order to take part.

Local festivals can be quite variable, as well. Crossroads Village holds a yearly Barefoot Festival in honor of Koshin, Fortune of Roads. Coastal villages often celebrate the Suijin Festival to honor the Fortune of the Sea. Friendly Traveler Village is famous for its yearly sake festival. The Great Clans also hold their own unique festivals, often to honor major ancestors or important historic events. The Festival of Hida is celebrated by the Crab alone, on the third day of the Month of the Boar. In addition to allowing its samurai the aforementioned crab meat, the clan also honors its founder with the biggest competition of bragging in the entire Empire.

Next time: Notable shrines.

From Sea to Shrining Sea

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Emerald Empire: From Sea to Shrining Sea

Every shrine is designed to reflect the spirit enshrined within, and you can learn a lot about a spirit from its shrine. You can find shrines pretty much anywhere, because spirits can be pretty much anywhere. Multiple shrines may share grounds or even be part of a Shinseist temple, or they may be in the homes of samurai. The main thing is that all shrines have a shintai, an object or natural feature that may contain and house a spirit. Some shintai are made by shugenja, but most are natural features such as ancient trees (oaks, especially, are known for housing kodama tree spirits), waterfalls or in one case, Sengen Mountain, home to the Fortune of the same name. For natural features, a shrine is usually built nearby to draw focus to the natural wonder the spirit lives in.

Some things are nearly universal to shrines. The torii arch will mark the shrine’s entrance, where normal crosses over to sacred. Going through the arch helps prepare the mind and body for purification. Visitors must enter via the torii arch, and some shrines put up fences to ensure there’s no other way in. Sometimes the path will go under multiple arches. Torii are usually built out of blessed wood, but can be made of stone or plated in rare metal. Often they’re deliberately simple, just two columns capped in two horizontal beams. The simplest are just the columns, with the lintel beams replaced by a blessed rope. Torii can also be highly elaborate and decorative. If painted at all, they are almost always bright red, to repel evil spirits. Beyond them is the honden, the most sacred building of the shrine. It is where the shintai is kept, along with the sacred artifacts. The honden is the home of the spirit of the shrine, and only priests, shrine keepers, shugenja and the Emperor may enter a honden. Others might accidentally offend the spirit. Sometimes, the honden will be built into the shrine’s worship hall or set into a natural feature, such as a cave or pond. Rural shrines may not have a honden, such as the Shrine of the Ki-Rin or the Shrine to Sengen. In such cases, a statue or similar object will fulfill the same role.

The main worship hall, or haiden, is where ceremonies are held. Typically it will be connected to the honden by a hallway, large shoji screen or other such thing. Usually, the haiden will have a main hall and several smaller inner shrines for visitors to worship privately, often with icons of local Fortunes and ancestors. Some may also incorporate defensive structures like ramparts, escape tunnels or other things, especially shrines to Hachiman or Bishamon, or rural shrines whose wealth risks bandit raids. Nearby, most shrines have a bell tower, or shoro. These are lucky buildings, because bells repel evil spirits. Most are barely towers at all, no more than two stories tall, and some are incorporated into the main entrance gate, as in the Shrine to Hotei, or built into one-story cages, as in the Amaterasu Shrine of the Moshi family.

Shrine keepers live in communal living quarters on the grounds, using shoji screens to make modular rooms, and priests often have their own single-room houses elsewhere on the grounds. These tend to be simple and sparse, to avoid distracting them from their devotions. Shrines may also include a library, a dojo and a kitchen. Rarely, they may have guest quarters, but most often guests may not enter a shrine at night, especially during the Hour of the Ox, when night spirits are most active. Fortunists hold that the twilight hour is when the borders with the Spirit Realms are at their weakest, so many shrines try to get people to leave at sunset. When they must host people, it is usually either in the bell tower (because spirits avoid the bell) or in the living quarters of the shrine keepers.

Many shrines have a stage, because performances to entertain the spirits are a part of daily life. Here, the shrine keepers dance or sing or put on plays. In larger shrines, the blessed stage may even be a fully equipped No theater. Just about all will also have a cleansing pavilion, called a chozuya, where guests may purify themselves before entering the shrine’s main areas. This will usually just be a shallow well with a roof, but may incorporate a stream or other natural water source. Shrines also usually have gardens for meditation, which will reflect the enshrined spirit. Martial spirits prefer rock gardens, while nature spirits like flowers, ancestors prefer sand, and so on. Shrines to the Seven Fortunes often make their gardens resemble the landscapes of the spirit realms, to make the Fortune feel more at home. There may also be a reflecting pool, symbolizing the illusory nature of the world. These are very hard to clean but very popular. They will reflect the entire shrine, but the merest ripple will make the reflection vanish entirely, as a reminder that the Spirit Realms are always present. Shrines also usually have guardian statues in the form of animals. They usually sit at the entrance, but may also be found on roofs, in corners or standing at the peak of curved bridges. They scare off unwelcome spirits and protect against curses. Many are held to come to life when evil ghosts appear, to fight them. The animal used varies by region, but the most common are the komainu lion-dogs, foxes (especially at Inari shrines) and boars.

Kami shrines are usually fairly simple and often built around specific landscape features that serve as the shintai. This might be as simple as a lantern at the foot of a waterfall or a tiny replica of a larger shrine. The marker for the sacred space is almost always a yorishiro, an object which attracts and pleases kami and other good spirits. These will usually blend with the surroundings, preserving their natural harmony. Kami shrines are often remote and have no torii arches or purification basins, but sometimes they are incorporated into larger shrines, often to the Fortunes. Fortunist shrines tend to be the most consistent and similar, though still with variance by clan. The Greater Fortunes have shrines throughout Rokugan, but each has a primary shrine, from which all others to that Fortune derive their teachings and layout. Fortunist shrines are often the largest of all, sometimes rivaling temples in size, and they always have at least one torii and a honden to contain the shintai. The shintai is usually an object once held by the Fortune, or at lesser shrines, sometimes an icon of them. A path or stair will lead to the torii arch, and most of the other structures will be within an enclosed square space. Fortunist shrines attempt to be unobtrusive among their natural surroundings, often with creeks passing through them or built around a sacred oak or stone, or even carved into a mountainside. Shrines to the Seven Great Fortunes are often incorporated into smaller shrines, usually in the form of tiny, shrine-shaped, birdhouse-like structures that contain miniature versions of everything a normal shrine would have.

All major shrines will have a small space devoted to ancestral worship, usually an empty altar onto which visitors will place an ancestor’s shintai. Said shintai are usually wooden tablets carved with the ancestor’s name. Every samurai family will also maintain an ancestral shrine in their grounds, either in a quiet place or directly in the home. These shrines are small and humble and contain likenesses of the ancestor, usually in the form of statues or paintings. They will also contain at least one object that belonged to that ancestor, which attracts the ancestor’s presence. Great Clan families also maintain shrines to their founders. These are the grandest ancestral shrines and often very similar to Fortunist ones in layout and features. Shrine attendants will seek to embody the philosophies of the family founder and emulate them. The largest of these shrines, of course, are to the clan founders and, naturally, the Shrine of the Hantei.

Some families also keep a kamidana, a miniature household altar to a kami or Fortune. These will be kept in a small alcove in the home that is just big enough to kneel or on a shelf, and will include small sculptures, charms, blessing ropes and often a tiny, humble shintai. Most Rokugani homes do not have kamidana, as samurai and peasants both usually reserve these spaces for ancestral shrines. However, urban shugenja often find a kamidana useful so that they can commune with the kami without having to go visit the city shrines. Samurai that work closely with shugenja or are very reverent of the kami, such as the Shiba family of the Phoenix or the Mirumoto family of the Dragon, also often have kamidana in their homes. Kamidana can also be found on boats, especially Mantis ones, so that sailors can still worship the Fortunes.

Next time: The Shrine of the Ki-Rin and Benten Seido

Magical Space Horses

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Emerald Empire: Magical Space Horses

The Shrine of the Ki-Rin sits on a remote mountain in the western edge of Phoenix lands. It isn’t large, and would be easily missed if not for the gigantic torii arch which can be seen easily from anywhere nearby. Some say that the ki-rin still linger in small herds in hidden glades and rapids in the area, and those that seek their favor leave offerings at the shrine, hoping for a glimpse at the mysterious beings. Little is known of the history of the shrine’s founding. Local folklore claims that Lady Shinjo herself rested on the small cliff before she headed out of the Empire, and that as the sun set, she saw a ki-rin, one of the mysterious, horse-like beings of Tengoku. A statue has been erected on the site where this is said to have happened. The Ki-Rin’s Shrine is now a common destination of Unicorn pilgrims, marking an important place in the clan’s history, and they have brokered a longstanding agreement with the Phoenix to allow these pilgrims to visit the shrine as they please, even in times of strife and warfare, without need for travel papers.

The Shrine is about half a day out from Shiro Gisu in the mountains of the Asako-run provinces. It is a rough, forested and rocky climb around a network of rapids and valleys. Only the torii can be seen from a distance, and there isn’t a great road. The path is marked by stone lanterns, but guides are often needed to find them. At dawn or dusk, you might hear the taiko drums from the mountain peak. Eventually, though, the ground smooths out into a path as the air grows colder. The forest gives way to stone and single pines, and the path passes under a smaller torii and on to the huge arch at the rounded peak. Beyond this is a plateau that offers an amazing view of Phoenix lands and the Dragon Heart Plains. However, the shrine is not the elaborate and grand structure most expect from the Phoenix. It is a humble shrine, just a few buildings circling the plateau shelf. Most are living quarters, plus a single room administrative office. There is no worship hall, garden or honden. The shrine proper is just one statue, a marble ki-rin surrounded by flames, facing the Great Wall of the North Mountains. On the pedestal are carved the words ‘Look to the horizon, for the visions there are footsteps of the future.’ Offerings are left at the statue’s feet, generally sliced cabbage, polished acorns, dishes of sake and incense cones. The shrine keepers are few and close, led by the head priest Hinoki, a middle aged man only recently risen to his new rank. He is a peasant, but in charge of a fairly major shrine, which is a bit of a political balancing act. Recently, a new shrine keeper has arrived – Kaito Hinowa, a rustic member of the Kaito family. The Kaito are pledged to prevent spiritual imbalance in the shrines of the Empire, and their traditions have led Hinowa to the Shrine of the Ki-Rin. She believes the kami want her to remain there and protect it, and of course no priest would ever deny a Kaito’s offer of protection. Hinoki rather wishes he could, however, because while Hinowa is well-meaning, she has no experience with the shrine’s customs and has become something of a nuisance. He dares not turn away a samurai, but his patience is growing thin.

The ki-rin are one of the least understood mystical beings in Rokugan, as a note. They are believed to be native to Tengoku, but roam all the Spirit Realms in herds. Local folklore around the shrine suggests that they only appear to the most virtuous and most wicked, blessing the former and cursing the latter. Most commonly, the ki-rin appear in the form of a horse or deer wreathed in flame and smoke, with the head of a dragon and the tail of a tiger or ox. Some say they have a single horn from the forehead, while others say they have two backwards-pointed antlers. The Phoenix texts claim that ki-rin can gaze into mortal hearts and know their karma, and Unicorn folklore says that the ki-rin are so compassionate that they walk on air so as to avoid harming even a tiny blade of grass.

Ki-Rin’s Shrine Rumors posted:

  • The ki-rin appear to someone nearly every day, but only when they are alone.
  • Strange cloven tracks were discovered near the shrine. They were burned into the ground, leaving scorches on stone and embers in the soil. But the next day, no trace of them remained.
  • The border patrols from Shiro Gisu grow more frequent while Unicorn pilgrims are being shadowed by Shiba scouts. Effects from the rising tensions between the Phoenix and Unicorn are felt even here…

Utaku Takeko, Wistful Pilgrim, is our NPC. She is a young samurai, mere months past her gempuku and the youngest of six children. She feels lost and purposeless, and she has come to the Shrine of the Ki-Rin in hopes of spotting the legendary beast and finding inspiration in its divine majesty. Anyone that could show her a purpose to devote herself to would have her undying loyalty forever.

We get an example local festival: The Setsuban Festival. It’s actually celebrated throughout the Empire, a complement to the Setsubun Festival of spring. It is held in celebration of the shift from summer to autumn, for summer is the war season and so the evils made in summer must not be allowed to follow into autumn, tainting the crops. Across the Empire, shrines will symbolically summon ‘demons’ to focus the evil and ill will of the year, ‘slaying’ them in ritual performances by the priests to ensure summer’s evils die with them. The demons are, of course, just other priests in costume, their defeat just an act, but the festival is vital to the harvest. The Shrine of the Ki-Rin puts on the most elaborate Setsuban Festival, and in their festival, they put on the biggest kito display in Rokugan. Shugenja across the land travel to the shrine to compete in a massive tournament, with each offering up an artifact or scroll of teachings from their home dojo, temple, monastery or library. The shugenja then compete in ‘battles’ of invocation, displaying their power in order to terrify the summer demons. The winner receives all of the anted scrolls and artifacts, plus massive acclaim. Because losing one of your scrolls is a shame that no one can live down, most of the competitors in the tournament are one or more of confident, foolish and desperate.

Benten Seido is the largest and greatest of all of the Empire’s shrines to the Fortune Benten, located in the Crane lands. It is the first shrine to Benten ever made, as well. Like Benten, whose virtues are meant to be ignored by samurai, it is somewhat unusual. It was built to appease her after a Crane Champion forced his daughter to choose between her lover and her own life. She chose to die, leaping off a cliff over a raging river, but legend has it that a gust of wind rose from the river, carrying her back over the cliff and into her lover’s arms. The Champion saw this as the judgment of Benten and, despite his embarrassment, arranged their marriage and built the shrine to the Fortune in thanks for her intervention. Ever since, it has been a popular stop for love-struck pilgrims and artists seeking inspiration.

To reach the shrine, a pilgrim must head through Cold Wind Pass, up the easternmost of the Seikitsu Mountains. Despite its popularity, the road is not well maintained, covered in stones and weeds. This is deliberate, as the path to true love is never easy. The climb takes a full day and passes under a tunnel made of 108 torii built over the steep steps. Written confessions, flowers and discarded poetry litter the stairs, and reaching the top will bring you to a lake surrounded by maple and cherry trees. The wind smells of incense and the trees are full of birds. The bridge over the lake has no guardrails, and leads to the small island where the shrine is built. Benten Seido itself resembles a resort more than it does most shrines, in part because of the hot springs that feed the lake. The many visitors have also forced them to expand the guest halls, which now serve as a hotel in practice, which funds the shrine (as do the many coins thrown into the lake for wishes). The shrine buildings are made on uneven ground, connected by rope bridges and suspended flights of stairs, while the honden is a cave with a stream flowing through it, made from the melting ice of the highest peak of the Seikitsu range. The cold and hot water mixing forms a steamy fog that flows out of the cave. The shrine’s assistant priest, Kawana, is a very old man who is openly unhappy with the shrine’s pivot to commercialism, which he will complain about to anyone that will listen. He believes the hotel and hot springs taint the sacredness of the shrine. He is often found playing the biwa and reciting mantras outside the guest gardens, to remind guests that they’re in a shrine. The head priest is the orphan girl Tsubaki, whose position was given to her inexplicably at the instruction of the last head priest. While she’s only received basic shrine keeper training, she has proven to be an excellent shrine head. She is always joyful, patient and rather amused by Kawana’s anger about the commercial parts of the shrine; she calls him ‘grandfather’ exclusively.

Benten Rumors posted:

  • One of the enshrined relics in the sacred cave is the biwa Kakita crafted from a piece of driftwood, thereby “bringing the dead to life” and attracting the love of Doji herself. It is kept wrapped in cloth and almost never removed.
  • The priest Kawana was once a Kakita noble and a flagrant playboy. He left a trail of shattered hearts until something made him realize his cruelty. Ashamed of how he abused Benten’s blessings, he now lives a life of atonement at her shrine.
  • One of the shrine keepers is actually Benten in disguise, but no one is sure which one.

Suzume Hinagiku, Wayward Heart, is our NPC. She is a poor Sparrow Clan samurai who should be getting ready for a long life of adventure…which is why it’s rather confusing that she spends all her time sadly hanging out in the worship hall of Benten Seido, speaking to none. She smiles only rarely and wistfully, sighs often and deeply, and speaks only briefly if at all – quite unlike the endless rambling the Suzume are usually known for. She refuses to say why she has come to the shrine, but she refuses to leave, either.

We get an adventure seed! Governor Daidoji Haranobu’s son, Hisao, is to be married soon, and Haranobu is very proud. His son’s wife-to-be is a Seppun who will bring his house a lot of honor, so he has secured Benten Seido to be the wedding site at great expense. Unfortunately, the wedding has been delayed by nine straight days of rain. Haranobu is very distressed and is seeking skilled samurai to investigate what has so offended the spirits and how they might be appeased. High Priest Tsubaki will confirm that the storm is unnatural, and she thinks that Benten may be angry for some reason. She’s not sure why, though. Hisao, if questioned, will grudgingly admit that he feels nothing for Meiko, his bride, but is prepared to do his family duty regardless. He may, however, let slip that he has feelings for his childhood friend, Suzume Hinagiku, who has been moping around the area. Hinagiku, of course, wants to not speak of it at all, but it can be learned, with care and patience, that she wrote a love letter to Hisao a while ago and was rejected. Clever investigation and questioning or lying will allow the PCs to discover that Haranobu intercepted the letter and forged the reply scornfully rejecting Hinagiku. Now, Benten is incensed that Haranobu would dare to hold a loveless wedding at her shrine after such an act, and may well visit further misfortune on his family line for his audacity. Severing the marriage, however, would greatly insult the Seppun and make Haranobu and his family lose huge amounts of face. The PCs must decide if they are willing to risk dishonoring themselves and their patron by revealing the truth or if they can find some way to save the wedding.

Next time: The Shrine of the Willow-Healing Kami and DARK HERESY

The Oldest Shrine

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: The Oldest Shrine

In Clear Water Village, the largest Crab port city and trade center, lies one of the most ancient shrines in the entire Empire: the Shrine of the Willow-Healing Kami. The shrine sits on a rocky outcropping just beyond the docks, and consists mainly of a stone lantern set at the foot of an old willow tree, easy to miss. Without the spirit enshrined within, however, the city wouldn’t even exist. While now far larger than any village, Clear Water Village was once nothing but a tiny fishing settlement on the mouth of the River of Gold, right on Earthquake Fish Bay. Despite its small size, it was vital to the Yasuki family, providing them the fish that fed them. It is not clear, historically, how the locals managed to offend Ekibyogami, the Fortune of Pestilence, in the 2nd Century, but they very clearly did. A terrible plague swept through the area, causing fever, pus-filled bumps on the skin, pains, weakness and, eventually, death. Even the fish were stricken, and the priests gave daily offerings to beg the Fortune’s mercy. All would be last, were it not for the actions of a single kodama, the spirit of a local willow. When the kodama’s daily visitor, a young and playful girl who loved the tree, got sick and near to death, the kodama approached Ekibyogami alone, bargaining for the village’s lives. It is unknown what the spirit traded for the mercy of the Fortune, but the disease miraculously vanished, and the tree’s once-strong boughs sagged, its bark turning soft and grey, its leaves pale white. It has remained so ever since.

The shrine sits on an outcropping that splits off a busy dock, so the only real way to approach it is the water. A blessed kobune ship, covered in paper streamers and bearing a torii arch, is maintained for the purpose of letting people get to the shrine, and most consider the boat part of the shrine itself. On the far side of the island, the shrine sits in the form of a knee-high lantern at the foot of the willow tree, which is itself about seven feet tall. The tree is constantly in bloom, with splotchy pink flowers and white leaves that gently fall into the sea. A thick shimenawa rope circles the trunk to designate it as the shintai. Few visit the shrine, however. There’s not a lot of reason to come out to see the Willow-Healing Kami, and the spirit hasn’t manifested in a long, long time. Some still leave regular offerings, though, usually incense and sake in thanks to the kodama and to ask for its continued protection.

Willow-Healing Kami Rumors posted:

  • To appease Ekibyogami, the kami offered its good health to the Fortune. The spirit grows weaker every decade as a result, and in fact may have died long ago. The tree is now empty, and the prayers spoken there are heard by no one.
  • When there is an earthquake, an ancient water dragon is arguing with Suijin, causing the underwater volcanoes to erupt. Things would be much worse if the Willow-Healing Kami weren’t there to calm them down.
  • During the Willow-Healing Kami Festival, the kodama takes human form and mingles with mortal attendees.
  • The shrine keeper is vexed by poor luck that always interferes with his friendships and potential romances. It’s as if he’s cursed!

Kuni Kayo, the Willow Gardener, is one of our NPCs; the Willow Kodama is the other. Kayo is descended from the original shrine keeper, and he is the lone caretaker of the shrine, as was his father, his grandmother, and so on before him. Fortunately, the kodama keeps him company. The kodama speaks to him fondly, and their endless conversations often make many stare at him and think him strange. Kuni Kayo is a determined, smart and only slightly offputting (by Kuni standards) shugenja who secretly yearns for greater things, but could never abandon his duty – or his kodama friend. Kayo is unmarried and has no children, and while he wishes for betrothal, his poor luck and obscure duty keep it from happening. He has no idea what to do, and the kodama seems unconcerned about it, even jealous, if marriage is brought up around it. It almost seems as if it doesn’t want Kayo to marry, for fear of losing his attentions. Kayo is able to summon the kodama, though he has never done so, and the spirit has in fact not manifested physically in generations. When it does take on a physical form, the kodama appears as a hunched figure with long, white hair, gray skin that is gnarled and made of bark, and kind eyes.

Not all shrines are good, just as not all follow the orthodox Shintao faith. Cults exist that worship Onnotangu, Lord Moon, who despises all mortals. They hope to empower him, that he may judge the world and wipe it clean. Others, the Bloodspeakers, use forbidden blood magic in order to unbind and resurrect Iuchiban. Still others bargain with oni for power or wield terrible curses for self-aggrandizement. And, well, some spirits are just assholes. Oni spread the evil of Jigoku in Ningen-do, of course. Some spirits are afflicted by the perils of imbalance, like the cursed dragon P’an Ku, who became trapped within Ningen-do. And others, like Ekibyogami, the Fortune of Pestilence, merely have terrible duties to perform.

Those latter are feared but still revered, as any other. The Clans maintain shrines to them alongside the benevolent spirits, and offerings are still made to them. These shrines are even common; the Doji have more shrines to Ekibyogami than any other, and sacrifice a portion of every crop to the terrifying Fortune, that he might not claim it personally. The Agasha, in Dragon lands, maintain shrines to the spirits of Gaki-do and Toshigoku, to maintain balance with the shrines that honor the more benevolent spirits of Meido and Tengoku. Some wonder why anyone would maintain such cursed shrines, but these forces can’t be defeated – they must only be appeased, that their wrath does not roam free.

While all Fortunes have mercy and wrath, the darker Fortunes favor the side of wrath. They are the ones that villages try to avoid drawing the attention of, who receive offerings to appease them or hurry them on rather than gain their blessing. These include: Ekibyogami, Fortune of Pestilence, who spitefully spreads disease and blight. Ekibyogami is servant to Jurojin, the Fortune of Longevity, maintaining the balance so that life never completely overwhelms death. Hofukushu, Fortune of Vengeance, who is said to be older than the Fortune of Justice. He is prayed to by those who have been desperately wronged…and by those who are desperately guilty, to keep him away. Kamashi-Okara, Fortune of Sorrow, whose duty is to ensure mortals remain aware that their time in Ningen-do is limited. She makes sure they do not waste what little time they have. Kirako, Fortune of Torture, was in life Suzume Kirako, who protested the torture of a samurai under the Steel Chrysanthemum. As her punishment, he had her tortured to death and then elevated as the Fortune of Torture, that she would forever embody and witness that which she most despised. Onnotangu, Lord Moon, is the father of the Kami and husband to Amaterasu, but he believes himself betrayed by his family, and all know that he despises Ningen-do above all else.

Other shrines are considerably less useful. These are secret shrines, dark shrines that honor the enemies of the Celestial Order and, indeed, all life. These shrines are maintained by heretical cults; some are nihilistic cults, others devoted to corrupt philosophies, and yet others just desperate and disillusioned with the Fortunes. These shrines are utterly disruptive to natural harmony and the spiritual health of the Empire, and must be destroyed wherever they are found.

When a normal shrine falls into disrepair, its enshrined spirit may flee or a blight may be invited into it. This causes a formerly good shrine to become corrupted. This can also happen when Gaki-do and Toshigoku flow into a shrine, superseding the normal rules of Ningen-do. When this happens, malicious spirits can take the place of the enshrined spirit or even warp it into an evil entity. Corrupted shrines are very hard to spot – to anyone who cannot sense spiritual corruption, they look entirely normal. However, the air is stale, the waters tepid, and no matter how much sweeping is done, the shrine is never truly clean. The grounds resist efforts to consecrate them, for the Fortunes and ancestors abandon the land. Bound kami are not able to do so, however, and they often grow angry at the state of the shrine…or even transform into kansen, the Jigoku-Tainted evil kami. While a shrine can fall into disrepair if not cared for, that’s almost never enough to corrupt it. Corruption comes from outside, sometimes by accident (as when a person bypasses the torii arch and enters the shrine unpurified) but more often it is due to evil forces, such as maho magic. The corruption of a shrine can be reversed if you’re wary and catch it before it’s complete, but once a shrine has fallen completely, it is far, far harder to cleanse. If the Shadowlands become involved…well, that shrine’s probably just fucked forever.

Another issue you might run into is a haunted shrine. Technically, every shrine is at least a little haunted, but usually by friendly or at least benevolent ghosts. When people talk about haunted shrines, they mean haunted by angry spirits that drive out the living. This can be caused by a few things – botched funerals, angry ancestors, the escape of a spirit the shrine was meant to imprison, that kind of thing. No matter what, a haunting causes the shrine to become infested by ghosts that prevent consecrations and drive out the proper enshrined spirit. This makes the shrine completely useless, which has wide-ranging consequences on harvests, festivals and so on. The Fortunes value their shrines, and will often try to reclaim them if they become haunted. They’ll send earthquakes, floods or storms to try to drive out the ghosts, and these attempts invariably cause collateral damage to nearby settlements even when they work. Therefore, it is the best interest of any shugenja to exorcise haunted shrines, thus sparing innocent lives and probably winning a Fortune’s favor. Not that exorcisms are easy – few ghosts can be directly punched, and many must be appeased before they’ll go away.

The most vile shrines are the profane shrines of the Shadowlands, erected by maho-tsukai to the oni or kansen. These shrines are always far from civilized lands, hidden that they might continue to empower the forces of Jigoku by creating places where kansen are strong and oni may manifest themselves. The corruption of the Shadowlands is palpable, and those that worship at these shrines always leave Tainted. Corruption and filth are the goal, so dirty things such as blood or bone may be incorporated into the architecture. Living beings may be sealed in the foundations, their torture raising otherworldly guardians in service to the dark forces enshrined within. The purpose of any Shadowlands shrine is to provide a power base for a maho-tsukai, where they may perform their dark rituals and vile experiments undetected. Enshrined oni may be lobbied for audience safely, bargained with for power, even offered a supplicant’s name in exchange for a fragment of its dark ability. Libraries of forbidden knowledge can often be found in these shrines, as well as cursed objects. The Kuni Witch Hunters, Phoenix Inquisitors and Scorpion Black Watch seek out these dark shrines. When they find them, they destroy them utterly, salting the land they stood upon. It may take decades for the land to be usable for anything again, generations before it can be consecrated – if even then – but a spiritually dead place is far preferable to the vile corruption of a Shadowlands shrine.

Certain religious practices have also been declared by the Emperor to be heretical. Engaging in them is treason and a great offense to the Celestial Order, shaming your family and your very existence. Performing any of the following heresies is cause for being killed on sight, erased from clan records and deliberately forgotten. However, some will risk them – generally in the name of vengeance, which is always a very good motivator. Curses are…well, any reoccurring problem caused by supernatural stuff. Curses might be caused by spirits following a cursed person around and being jerks, or they might be tied to your karma and manifest based on specific behaviors. Really powerful curses can last generations and hit entire bloodlines. Because most methods of cursing people are based on folklore and superstition, they typically have little to do with shugenja and their studies and are officially outside of sanctioned Rokugani religious practice. Folk tales tell of all kinds of ways to curse people – drive nails into a tree that you’ve drawn the target’s picture on during the Hour of the Ox, leave ashes of the hearth on their doorsteps for several nights in a row, or make a deal with a trickster spirit or ancestor. Curses laid by shugenja are the most feared, as they can directly bargain with spirits. Their curses often affect the victim’s karma and last multiple lifetimes – possibly forever, as in the case of the Yogo family curse, laid by Fu Leng because Yogo thwarted him. Now, the Yogo family must always betray those they love most, and they never know when the curse will manifest itself, nor how small or large the betrayal will be. The curse has lasted a thousand years and shows no signs of abating or skipping any Yogo. Back in the 8th century, the Grand Master of the Elements found the Kakita Palace gates closed to him, so he laid a curse on them – any child born within the palace while the gates were closed would doom the Kakita family if they ever drew steel. To avoid the curse, the family has ordered the gates be left open in perpetuity. Despite this, a few unfortunate souls have been born while the gates were closed for one reason or other, and these Kakita are never taught the ways of the family or even allowed to touch a blade.

The worst and most profane heretical practice, however, is maho, blood magic. Maho is explicitly forbidden, unlike curses, which are just outside official religion and forbidden by logical extension. Maho involves calling on the kansen, Tainted kami, and wielding the forces of Jigoku itself. Using it, a sorcerer can raise the dead, summon demons, curse people or gain favor from evil spirits. Whenever maho is used, it draws in the forces of Jigoku and invites them into Ningen-do. You don’t even need to be a shugenja to use it. Just say the right prayer to Fu Leng and offer up fresh blood – your own or another’s. Blood is unclean and filthy, but for Jigoku, it is the supreme offering, bearing the essence of life. By giving their own blood, the maho-tsukai compel the kansen to profane acts, and by blood rituals, they embrace the vile power of the Shadowlands. Like an animal that has tasted human blood, the maho-tsukai crave the use of their power. It is a terrible, dangerous power that comes at the cost of addiction, Taint and service to Fu Leng.

However, blood is not the only gift humans can give to Jigoku. Names have power. Oni, you see, are born formless and shapeless, without identity. They come from the most profane of places and bear no names of their own. Instead, they take the names of mortals. Gaining a name massively increases an oni’s power. Some people are willing to trade their names for access to an oni’s power. A samurai’s name belongs to their ancestors, so giving it up is a betrayal of their entire line, forever darkening and tainting the name such that even writing it out invites bad luck and filth. In exchange for the giver’s name, the oni becomes linked to them, allowing them to use the oni’s powers and to summon it whenever they like. The two can hear each other’s thoughts, and they cannot disobey each other. Nothing can break this bond, save for the banishment of the oni or the death of the name-giver…if they’re lucky.

Next time: Monks

Who Am Shinsei

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Who Am Shinsei

We’re now into the monk and Shinseist chapter. Shinsei, also called the Little Teacher, revolutionized Rokugani thought. He was a prophet that explained the cycle of life, death, the elements and society. However, his cosmological teachings were only the background for his great lesson on judgment and choice. Humans, he said, were not pawns in some great war of good and evil. They were responsible for their own lives and improvement, and for the improvement of society, via compassion and thought. Enlightenment, he said, was greater than any kami, Fortune or demon.

Everyone knows that Shinsei was a philosopher and teacher who traveled the Empire to share his truths. His most famous sermon is, of course, the conversation he had with Hantei, recorded by Shiba in the Tao of Shinsei. It began with an explanation of the five elements and their cycle, then went on to speak on how people could improve themselves and society, ending with an explanation of karma and reincarnation and their effects on the soul, although Shinsei was always clear that focusing yourself on bettering your reincarnations was a counterproductive waste of time. Shinsei and Shiba also had private conversation as they left the palace, but they never shared the details. Many apocryphal documents claim to reveal them. After this meeting, Shinsei gathered the Seven Thunders to face Fu Leng on the Day of Thunder. At the end, when the battle was won, he wept.

That is all anyone can actually say about Shinsei’s life. A common saying is ‘Everyone who has ever told you who Shinsei is has lied to you.’ Another, rather more cynical one is ‘Everyone who has ever explained Shinsei has murdered Shinsei.’ These both refer to the difficulty in understanding Shinsei’s teachings and the years upon years of commentaries, interpretations and explanations offered by various monks, emperors and scholars, despite Shinsei’s preference for brief statements. And now, interpretations of Shinsei. This is, incidentally, the first time any version of L5R has actually explained what Shinseism is actually, y’know, like.

The conservative interpretation of who Shinsei was and what he believed is called Shinsei the Philosopher, which is closest to the text of the Tao, is that Shinsei was a logician who spoke about human existence out of compassion. This view’s adherents believe the heart of Shinseist practice are Shinsei’s ethical lessons, and that he was merely a philosopher. This doctrine holds, most firmly, that all phenomena have a cause. This is known as the ‘doctrine of dependent origination.’ Each of the four manifest elements (Air, Earth, Fire, Water) is born from another element, and all elements find origin in Void, while the Void that will come when all ends is born from the four elements. However, the division of elements is illusory, as is all of Ningen-do. All comes from and returns to Void, and therefore Void is all. Thus, all existence is linked, and all distinctions are an illusion. The cycle of rebirth, which requires suffering, is born of the accumulation of karma on the soul. Karma is born of fear, regret and desire. The view of Shinsei the Philosopher maintains that the solution to all problems therefore lies in discovering the source of the problem and eliminating it. The path of Enlightenment is in realizing that life is an illusion, that suffering is born of desire and that there is, in truth, nothing to desire, for all is born of and returns to Void.

Take the example of a daimyo who loves alcohol, which affects her health and judgment. A weak and clumsy interpretation of Shinsei the Philosopher would say that a loyal samurai should perhaps remove the source of the problem – the alcohol. And so, the samurai run themselves ragged ridding the daimyo’s castle of shochu and sake. The daimyo then obsesses over alcohol and hiding her consumption. Greater understanding realizes that the source is not the alcohol, but the mind. Why does the daimyo need to drink? Why six cups over three – it can’t be that much more satisfying, can it? Is it a coping mechanism for depression, or tied to a bad habit the daimyo wishes to break? Is she being pressured by a friend? The classic answer of the Shinseist is that the answer isn’t about drinking or not drinking, but about finding the middle way, reaching a place where the need to drink or not drink no longer holds an effect on one’s judgment.

Adherents of the interpretation of Shinsei the Philosopher tend to be thoughtful, introspective sorts, either via common sense or academic learning. They meditate on the truths of his teachings, debate or talk about them with likeminded people and attempt to emulate the thoughtful exchanges of ideas between the Emperor and Shinsei. This, they believe, allows their souls to thrive and find escape regardless of their reincarnation. Thinking too hard about reincarnation, after all, just builds up karma and makes your next one worse. This interpretation is most beneficial for samurai, rich merchants, monks in monasteries and others who have the resources, free time and literacy to actually get the most out of it. Their authority tends to also mean they face ethical dilemmas that test their logic and philosophy. The interpretation of Shinsei the Philosopher enjoys the strongest following, for samurai, among the Crab and Scorpion, who appreciate its contemplative and no-nonsense approach. Adherents sometimes perform meditations based on repetitive artistic or martial practice, and in recent years, meditative archery has become quite popular with samurai and monks alike, which has led to this interpretation of Shinseism being associated with the bow, as well as associating the weapon with quiet, demanding and uncompromising thought.

One of the more popular interpretations of Shinsei is Shinsei the Hero, which derives from the widespread document known as Dialogue with the Thunder Goddess of the Perfect Center, more commonly called the Thunder Dialogue. While it is significantly less read than the Tao itself and was written significantly after Shinsei’s life, it purports to show the events that led to the Day of Thunder. It says that Shinsei climbed Kite Mountain to speak of the Way to a goddess of thunder and a congregation of listeners. The Dialogue is extremely hyperbolic – the sermon takes longer than the entire recorded history of Rokugan, and all listeners achieve Enlightenment. The listeners include not only the goddess, but also every known Fortune, plus a number of monks, priests and teachers exceeding the current population of Rokugan. It has proven entirely impossible to figure out when the Thunder Dialogue is set, historically, and any connection between the Thunder Goddess and the Day of Thunder also remains entirely unclear. She has never appeared in any documentation since.

This version of Shinsei is not the soft-spoken man of the Tao. He claims that while the Tao is adequate for Enlightenment, it is inferior to what he will now describe. Rather than focusing on freedom from the wheel of reincarnation, his new method focuses on a life of right action and compassion for others. He speaks of wandering the land, doing miracles to help the oppressed. Monks that follow Shinsei the Hero tend to emulate this, wandering the land to help others, especially the poor and weak, rather than hide away in a monastery. Monastic orders devoted to this philosophy are usually more involved in politics and war than others, intervening directly when they feel it is for the good of the people. Shinsei the Hero is much more popular with the common folk of Rokugan than Shinsei the Philosopher (despite that interpretation’s greater historicity), as well as with certain samurai. Statues, plays and other art depict the Thunder Dialogue’s Shinsei channeling the elements, radiating divine light and facing down demons representating fear, regret or desire by hurling lightning at them. For many, the message of compassion and civic duty actually takes precedence over the Tao’s orthodoxy, as even illiterate farmers can understand the value of helping others, and the philosophy also rewards teamwork and group commitment.

The framing of the Thunder Dialogue also brings Fortunism into Shinseism. Because the Fortunes are present for the sermon, they are implied to be important, but primarily as successful Shinseists. This claim about their true significance was an important backing for Hantei Genji’s reasoning in asserting that Fortunism and Shinseism were in fact a single faith. The common folk, of course, barely noticed – they were already practicing different faiths without seeing much contradiction. Shinsei the Hero is popular among the Crane, who vocally and loudly promote the philosophy and donate generously to Heroic Shinseist temples and monasteries. They have created a large corpus of literature on how to conform Crane ideals with the teachings of Shinsei the Hero. The symbolic weapon of Shinsei the Hero is the naginata, due to its association with large groups of low-ranking people. Heroic Shinseists also favor the bisento (literally ‘brow blade’ for its edge’s resemblance to an eyebrow).

The final major interpretation is Shinsei the God. While long considered heretical, it is easily the fastest-growing version of Shinseism currently. Many popular interpretations attribute superhuman understanding of the universe to Shinsei, for he foresaw the Day of Thunder and helped lead the fight on Fu Leng. He showed mystic powers on Kite Mountain if, as many do, you take the Thunder Dialogue literally. Therefore, many claim that Shinsei was in truth a living shintai for the Fortune Kongoten, who they claim transcended the distinction between man and god via Enlightenment. Enlightenment, they say, reveals the destined divinity of the soul, and by following Shinsei, all can be gods.

This claim aligns with the heretical Perfect Land Sect, a populist movement which teaches that Shinsei watches over humanity from a “Perfect Land” within Tengoku, where loyal followers can join him by chanting the mantra ‘Shoshi ni kie’ often and sincerely enough. Not all Perfect Land Shinseists are comfortable calling Shinsei a god, but many are. The strict dogma of the sect merely claims he is an immortal that guides and blesses humanity from Tengoku rather than Yomi, which is not incompatible with him being a god, after all. Shinsei the God is a popular interpretation with the Unicorn, and in private, Shinjo Altansarnai herself has spoken about how Kongoten may refer to a prominent sky and storm god from the lands her name came from. Many young Lion also like the philosophy of Shinsei the God as a dynamic counterpoint to their clan’s firmly entrenched traditions.

Many samurai currently scandalized by the Perfect Land heresy would push for its outright eradication if they were to learn of the sect leadership’s vision of a commonwealth government run by populist preachers and peasant elders. The warrior-monks in service to the sect are not monks in the traditional sense of the word, and while they wear the white headscarf and uniform of a novice monk, most are illiterate and poorly educated in theology and philosophy, even of their own religion. They care only about wielding the spear, naginata or kongosho in service to their vision of Shinsei and defense of what they view as the first province of the Perfect Land in Rokugan. Their unshakable faith in this cause leads to acts of extreme bravery, for they know that any death in its service will lead to a higher reincarnation.

The main thing that unites all Shinseist interpretations is the understanding that any perceived differences between the Five Elements is merely illusion. All is born of and returns to Void. By embracing the unity of elements and seeing through illusory divisions, one begins the path to Enlightenment. Shinsei introduced a number of important concepts to the Rokugani understanding of reality, even for the Kami. He taught that, as ki comes from and returns to Void, the human soul does not linger forever in the underworld, but exists in a cycle of rebirth. Only by Enlightenment can anyone escape this cycle and the suffering it entails.

Next time: Becoming a monk.

The Other Priesthood

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: The Other Priesthood

In theory, the Tao and Fortunism are united as the Shintao. In practice, most holy people focus on one or the other, with priests and shugenja doing kami no michi – the worship of gods and spirits – while monks focus on Shinseism. The monks form the Brotherhood of Shinsei, which is kind of a religion within the greater religion. The Brotherhood welcomes all genders, not just men, and is made of many holy orders. A holy order is typically devoted to some specific perspective on or aspect of Shinseism. Academic orders write, debate and teach wealthy people, martial orders study combat and tactics to defend vulnerable or pacifist Shinseists, medicinal orders maintain public infirmaries, and exorcist orders hunt demons and evil spirits. Some monks work outwardly, rather like priests, to minister to the lay flocks, lead festivals and funerals, counsel people, and maintain public temples. Others focus inward, sequestering themselves away in monasteries to devote their lives to contemplation of Shinsei’s lessons, copy texts, or otherwise meditate and improve themselves. Most monks occupy a space between these two poles, working both to further their own understanding and to spread knowledge to others.

Any person can become a monk at any point in their life – especially samurai, whose wealth offers them the luxury of choice. Monks-to-be must swear vows of nonviolence, poverty, chastity, honesty, temperance and austerity, though individual orders may add or remove specific vows. They must shave their heads, wear white, brown or saffron, and dedicate themselves to study under a teacher. Monastic vows are usually permanent but don’t have to be, and monks that find the life disagreeable can depart without any stigma and may even try to return later in life…in theory, anyway. The monks don’t mind. However, bushido is less flexible, and samurai who become monks and then decide to leave often have no choice but become ronin, unable to return to their old lives.

In theory, only faith in Shinseism should motivate a choice to become a monk. In practice, there are any number of reasons, not all of them selfless. Samurai may be fleeing bad family situations or bad marriages to join a respected order of holy people, or may wish to gain the respect of a specific Shinseist group, or might just be tired of politics and seeking to avoid them entirely. However, these last would do well to research the monastery they’re joining; many prominent priests and monks are major players in Rokugani politics. The role of Shinseism in politics is furiously debated – on the one hand, Shinsei spoke at length on the link between personal conduct and social good via compassion, and humans are inherently social beings, such that their practice affects those around them. Many of Shinsei’s parables discuss, at least on the surface level, ethical interaction with feudal authority, or concepts such as whether just war is possible or the proper response to a rebellious or unruly populace with valid grievances. Thus, it is traditional that Shinseists at least advise rulers, as the Tao does. On the other hand, many Shinseists believe these parables and discussions are meant as allegories about what truly matters – your individual path to Enlightenment. They point to the errors of monks that get involved in politics or business and get drawn into violence or treachery as proof.

While the vast majority of monastic orders are extremely similar except for what specific activity they focus on, a few are more notable and distinctive than ‘these are the monks that brew sake/shoot bows/paint screens/raise dogs’. Bishamon Monks are the embodiment of the contradictions of the Shintao. Their patron is Bishamon, Fortune of Strength, so they are Fortunist monks, embracing the duality and unity of the Shintao to its fullest by focusing on two interrelated duties. First, they must study, meditate and create art, in the tradition of Shinseist monks in general. Second, they must uphold and conduct the traditional rites of the Fortunes, including shrine maintenance. Their headquarters is based out of Bishamon’s Divine Library, in the highlands near Otosan Uchi. The Bishamon Monks are particularly notable for their habit of protesting political decisions they don’t approve of.

If the Emperor appoints a widely disliked priest or abbot to some position of authority, the monks will remove Bishamon’s shintai from the library, put it into a traveling housing to carry on the shoulders of several muscular monks, and then march out of their monasteries en masse, chanting slogans or sutras and waving weapons and rosaries. They will crowd the local towns and cities around wherever the thing they don’t like happened, drawing in huge crowds of commoners. There, the loudest and maddest monks will shout at length about the sins involved in the decision, the doubtless horrific consequences of it on the Empire’s future, and the inevitability of the offending authority’s reincarnation as a flatworm or other repugnant creature. Intimidating them into leaving is very difficult indeed, since even warriors that could stomach beating up monks are unlikely to want to offend Bishamon by marching at his shintai, especially in full view of the common folk they depend on for food. Typically, local lords and even Emperors have been known to send enterprising, charismatic young samurai to find solutions to Bishamon protests instead.

The Order of the Seven Thunders maintain the Shrine of the Seven Thunders, with their monastic practice being based on the image, personalities, stories and meanings of each Thunder. The Thunders and their relationships with each other, as well as popular thoughts about them, are studied and written about extensively. These are the nerds that hang out wondering what it really means to emulate Matsu or Mirumoto. While the monks of the Seven Thunders have a huge academic interest in the Thunders, it is even more important to them to make religious art to honor the Thunders and their relationship with Shinsei. They are style-setters for art of all forms, emulated by many samurai artisans across the Empire. Their art, studies and tendency to wander around have secret significance, however. They are preparing for a day that they are certain will come, though they do not tell outsiders: a second Day of Thunder, when the Seven Thunders reborn will need to face Fu Leng again. This could be the end of the world or beginning of a new one, and they don’t know which. Therefore, their study is also practical – they want to spread knowledge of the Thunders as much as possible, as evocaticely as possible, to influence those who will, they hope, be destined to become the next Thunders.

The Monks of Osano-wo follow the traditions of Osano-wo, son of Hida, who would become the Fortune of Fire and Thunder. Late in his mortal life, he founded a school of martial arts to pass on his great knowledge, making a fine dojo using timber he cut personally – simple for a man so large and strong. He lined its walls with his favorite arms and armor, then waited for students. The first to arrive was a tiny old monk, a woman with no prior combat training whatsoever but who traveled frequently and wanted to be able to defend herself. At first, he offered a two-handed weapon to make up for her poor reach and power without overtaxing her muscles, but it proved awkward for her short build. Then he gave her two swords, but their weight was too great. Finally, he suggested boxing. This proved an excellent choice. While Osano-wo was fast, the old monk was so tiny that she could easily duck around him, flanking him no matter how he moved. He had to adapt his techniques, designed for huge, burly soldiers, to her size and shape. He taught her to use the hard parts of her body to strike at the soft parts of others, to damage small bones, soft tissue and muscles by careful aim. She had to be extremely precise to make it work, but she practiced endlessly until she was able to do so. Eventually, she was able to learn to use the larger and heavier weapons, but her favorites were always small knives or concealed weights in her clothing or hands – perfect to even the odds against the overconfident.

Legend has it this monk, Tamadora, was the second headmaster of Osano-wo’s school after his death. It is said she expanded the school into a full monastery, not to be confused with Osano-wo’s temple in the Mantis islands, in honor of his memory. Newcomers to the school, attracted by Osano-wo’s reputation, are often frustrated by the intense precision the style requires, requiring even the biggest and strongest of brawlers to fight as if they were small and weak, and which cannot be learned except by endless repetition and practice. Most who come to study quit, learning to fight equally well from styles more suited to their strengths. Tamadora-ryu, however, allows more physically limited fighters to keep up with those who are bigger and stronge, if they are willing to put in more work than anyone else. It may not be invincible, but it is a chance they would not have otherwise, and forms an excellent foundation for further study. The ethical lessons of the monastery parallel its physical ones. As Osano-wo learned to figure out how to help someone that lacked his physical advantages, so do the monks of Osano-wo study the compassion of Shinsei and the might of Osano-wo by helping the strong uplift the weak, the clever educate the foolish and the small defeat the large.

Next time: Temples and monasteries in the Empire as they are spoke.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Templestuous

Shinseist temples serve as community centers for locals as well as spiritual centers. They teach religious doctrine to the laity and offer various services – officiating at offerings, scripture readings, assisting in festivals and weddings, overseeing funerals. They offer spiritual and mental counsel, and traveling monks carry news and mail. However, they do more than this. Nearly every temple or monastery of any size grows grains and even trade goods, and many also work as brewers. The crops and commodities are stockpiled to serve the local community when there is surplus, minimizing the need to rely on outside patrons. The fields are sometimes worked by novice monks, while the senior monks tend to more proper gardens according to ancient manuals of sacred plant arrangement or experiment with vegetables to find new ways to prepare delicious food without meat. Rich monasteries with large fields, however, often hire peasants to work them. In times of natural disaster or war, peasants often seek out the monasteries and temples for handouts. Large, well-run monasteries have an easier time gathering resources to serve these people, but even then, they can run out fast if things get bad. When this happens, the monks usually head to the local magistrate to request subsidies, sending the requests up the chain of feudal life.

Natural disasters also often destroy Rokugani buildings. Temples, made of stone and well-joined timber, are often the strongest buildings in town as well as the most beautiful, and the locals will flock to them when rain, wild beasts or other problems threaten their homes. The fortified monasteries of a martial order are the best protection, as they are often equipped to withstand siege and prepared for attack, plus the hot-tempered young monks that join such orders are usually convinced that dying in defense of other Shinseists is a shortcut to a better reincarnation. Even bandits and army scouts prefer to avoid tangling with that kind of monk. The temples and monasteries of most orders are also storehouses of knowledge and scholarship. Priests and monks are almost universally literate and speak many dialects, spending much of their time traveling or copying texts. Monastic libraries often end up collecting vast numbers of scrolls on many topics, from poetry to fencing, and the monks often occupy themselves with medical research or study of nature. Their infirmaries lie open to anyone, no matter what, if they are in poor health. Some temples and monasteries even explore the idea of mental illness and how to treat it, as well, using Shinsei’s doctrines of dependent origination and analysis of the causes of suffering to identify psychological causes of problems. This is used to augment the normal counseling that priests often provide, along with meditative exercises and mindfulness teaching, plus herbal treatments.

Shinseist monks, unlike Fortunist priests, are not really worried about death as a problem. They are, in fact, the Empire’s greatest experts on the process of dying, because in the Tao, death is not seen as inherently evil or unclean. It is just part of the natural cycle. One of the practical jobs of the Brotherhood, in fact, is to give retired samurai a way to prepare for their deaths by meditating on impermanence and serenity. Because of this, Shinseist monks handle funerals. (It’s also practical, as many samurai retire to spend their final years as monks, so they are usually at a monastery or temple anyway when they die.) The funeral ceremony is derived from the teachings of the Tao, with only slight regional variance. The main job of the ceremony is to sever the karmic influence of death on the family of the deceased and to provide them a way to mourn without loss of face. It is occasionally said that Shinseist funerals are primarily for the living, not the dead. The funeral is always held four days after the death, as those days are spent by having hinin prepare the body under monastic direction, outside the temple grounds. The body is washed, anointed with oil and rubbed with salt, and a featureless mask is placed on the face to keep any lingering spirit from recognizing its body or trying to reclaim it.

On the day of the funeral, the temple gives the family a wooden marker bearing the dead person’s name and deeds. The family dresses in white, the color of mourning, and is given a modest meal of special funereal food, called otoki. Imperial decree forbids burial, so the body will be placed on a funeral pyre, with the family witnessing the cremation. It is widely believed that too much sorrow during this part of the ceremony causes the spirit to be troubled and remain behind, so mourners will conceal their grief behind veils and maintain grim expressions, to avoid dooming their late relative to endless wandering. After, the family picks the bones from the ash using ceremonial chopsticks, passing them along the line of family and into an urn while monks light candles to symbolize rebirth. The funeral may have some variation due to regional beliefs; the Crane exchange funerary gifts, called koden-gaeshi, typically small items of personal meaning, which the mourning family will later recompense. The Crab can rarely afford formal funerals due to the proximity of the Shadowlands threat, and all Crab funerals are held indoors, but with all windows open to allow the soul to escape, save for windows that face south, which are sealed.

We get a sidebar on the real-world beliefs that figure into Shinseism: Buddhism, proto-Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism. It explains a few historic figures that play into the portrayal of Shinsei himself, and then talks about stereotyping and the dangers of treating the philosophies as abstruse, mystical and impossible to understand, rather than practical. It talks about the harm of stereotypes, and the fact that monks aren’t in fact going to speak entirely in koans – or even rely much on crypticism. Monks want to be understood by people, so they can teach their lessons of compassion, moderation and good citizenship, and the best way to do that is by giving practical lessons and parables that the people they’re talking to actually understand. It also reiterates that you should definitely avoid making people umcomfortable and stop doing things if they ask you to, and that you should avoid chanting actual mantras because those are real religious things. Good sidebar. (Fun fact: past editions have basically entirely presented Shinseism and monks in general as pseudo-koans.)

Monasteries and temples also often serve as neutral ground for negotiations between samurai groups in conflict. That said, most monks and priests can’t really be said to be truly politically neutral. Senior monks and priests have significant influence, due to their educated opinions and wide connections – and, of course, the threat of protesting monks which the Bishamon Order wield so well. All most samurai can do in response is to threaten their agricultural holdings, or change who they donate to. The Tao officially states, explicitly, that all must follow the same path to Enlightenment. In pursuit of the Way, an Emperor, a Fortune and a peasant are all equal. Shinsei mentions passingly that privileged birth indicates a lighter karmic load, and also that greater privilege carries greater civic obligations, and greater chance both for heroism and failure. Later commentators are the ones that emphasize the connection between karma and station more aggressively. Technically speaking, at a sutra reading in a temple, rank should not matter, and all should be treated as equals. In practice, prejudice and stereotypes are no less likely there than anywhere else. Samurai that enter holy orders typically advance faster than peasants, due to established connections or prior education, having already learned the academic and social graces expected of a monk. Priests, due to the etiquette they learn before ordination, typically cater to those whose caste matches the priest’s, and aristocratic congregations are more able to donate money, so those priests tend to have more influence. Many ranking clergy born as samurai are not very comfortable with the legitimate populist reframing of Shinsei put forth by the Perfect Land Sect, as they enjoy the comforts of class even if they don’t always admit it.

Likewise, clan and family rivalries can carry over into monastic life. Holy places are no less prone to cliques or factions, and differing approaches to Shinsei can also cause discord, though shared views can smooth over rivalries based on background or political origin. Lion and Unicorn, for example, are often shocked to find themselves comrades in those rare Perfect Land congregations that admit nobles, and Crab and Lion that get along in all other ways often learn not to talk Shinsei over drinks. The Phoenix are often held up as the Keepers of the Tao, in recognition of Shiba’s recording it. Most clans defer to them on Shinseist theology, and their approach to study of Shinsei is usually considered the orthodox, proper method. When people talk about Shinseism or the Tao, most assume they’re referring to Phoenix interpretations unless otherwise specified.

While the lives of monks of different orders may vary, monastic life is generally one of routine. Routine maintains harmony, makes sure duties are performed and keeps the monks dedicated to the order’s ideals. Most monks wake well before dawn, starting the day in quiet reflection and using the daylight hours to work in the gardens, repair the monastery, copy texts, study and do other work. Worship is part of every activity, with rituals performed as part of daily tasks and group chanting of sutras being common at set times. In some orders, music or dance may be used to celebrate Shinseist virtues or to honor the Thunders. All work is spiritual when done in the right, mindful way. Most orders include some level of physical training in their daily routine, which may well have martial applications; more on martial arts in a moment. Orders of sohei (warrior-monks that wield weapons) spend much of the day training, but even peaceful orders train. Shinsei taught, after all, that the separation of physical and spiritual is illusory. Even the most meditative monk must master their body and remain fit, to do their duties properly and control the flow of their inner energy, ki. By becoming aware of their ki and that of the world, monks can achieve apparently supernatural effects via kiho techniques as well as understand the world.

While some monks never fight and while sohei sometimes wield weapons, monks have a reputation for mastery of unarmed fighting. This is largely due to common folk tales of apparently harmless old people demonstrating shocking skill when threatened on the road. Nothing impresses the common folk like seeing a pompous samurai in full armor laid out by the little old monk they insulted. The spread of these stories has provided all traveling monks with a certain level of protection, as they are treated with caution. Some orders avoid violence at all costs, and while they may train with martial exercises for self-mastery, they learn no practical fighting techniques. However, that’s pretty rare – most peaceful orders still teach self defense and the protection of the weak. With proper training, monks can disarm foes without harming them, or disable them long enough to escape. Many orders also consider fighting for a just cause, like defending a monastery, acceptable. Some even teach outsiders, though typically only commoners who are forbidden to carry weapons and therefore have no other means of self-defense. Yamabushi, wandering warrior monks, are a special case. They seek Enlightenment by communing with nature, often in wilderness isolation far from roads or villages. They are so toughened by their life and their commitment to training that even samurai sometimes come to them for help when desperate, though any petitioner must prove their worth to the yamabushi to get any help. The first task is finding the hermit, which is rarely easy, then persuading them of the value of your case. Either way, the average person of any rank is likely to assume any monk they meet is capable of self-defense, which provides a certain level of safety to even pacifist monks, especially if the monk carries a weapon or bears tattoos like the ise zumi Togashi order.

Monastery meals are communally grown, prepared and eaten at set times, which vary based on how many meals the monks get daily. Most monks are strict vegetarians or even vegans, avoiding animal products and foods born of death or decay, such as mushrooms. Most monasteries are at least partially self-sufficient, with gifts supplementing what they cannot grow or make on their own. Most orders maintain vegetable and herb gardens plus some fields, with some even working to make enough to supply local communities. Some monasteries are also known for ceramics, metalwork or sake brewing, or are known for their healing, scribal or other skills. All services are given freely, without charge, though often there is an expectation that recipients will donate in return. Those who don’t are unlikely to receive future gifts and probably hit some karmic consequences.

The most important part of any monastery is the shrine, temple or relic repository. The monks have a sacred duty to tend to and care for this place, and it is the focal point of their devotions, connecting them to the spiritual world. Monasteries also set aside space for training and study, with the training ground or meditation hall often serving as a secondary focal point. If meditations are done while laboring, the forge, brewery or other workstation will instead hold that position. The least important place is always the dorm rooms, individual or communal, which never have any comforts not required to meet the monks’ physical needs. Temples, on the other hand, are built for all people, to provide a worship space. They are usually much more open and accessible, though they may be in hard-to-reach places for various reasons. Larger temples need more care, and monks often live within them, while small ones rely on traveling monks and priests or even local volunteers to care for them. Most, however, will have at least one resident monk to care for them.

Temple monks often have much less private lives than monastic monks, as they must be available for visitors. A private space may be provided in large temples for meditation, but not always. Not all temples get many visitors, however, due to remote or secret locations, and some worldly monasteries function more like temples. Either way, the resident monks burn incense to ensure air purity and maintain the sanctity of the shrine or relic repository. Many temples are built for the sole purpose of maintaining this sacred space. Visitors and pilgrims dropping in may be granted overnight stays in return for donations, and while all are welcome, the monks are quick to expel those who lack in temple etiquette. This requires removal of hats, shoes and weapons before entry and speaking only very quietly. Temples often serve a major community role, with residents making frequent visits to pay respects. The monks or priests may perform daily public rituals, or reserve them for feast and festival days. Depending on the temple and what it is dedicated to, it may serve other purposes, but the main job is to give people a place to worship, and they contain all the tools needed to do so, like incense and prepared offerings. One of the chief jobs of the monks or priests is to teach the lay people about whatever the temple is dedicated to, as well.

The monks also maintain the temple’s elemental balance, and many temples are designed such that each side represents an element, with the roof being Void. No element must ever overcome the others, to maintain the temple’s viability as a sacred space. Representation of elements is typically symbolic – colors and images, usually, though in larger temples there may be pools for Water, braziers for Fire, incense for Air or salt bowls for Earth. Each must be kept full or burning constantly, if so, and all can be used for ritual purification, which monks perform whenever they enter the temple and visitors use before approaching the temple icon.

Next time: Specific temples.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Template

Most temples are devoted to a specific Fortune, Thunder or aspect of Shinsei, though some larger ones are dedicated to multiple Fortunes, all of the Thunders, or Shinsei’s lessons in general. Temples open each day to let people in to pray, leave offerings or ask for guidance. The monks perform various rituals on their own to maintain temple sanctity, and sometimes lead group rituals for festivals or holy days. Parades might begin inside the temple, but most public rituals are done outside. Blessings for the dead can be done inside, but ashes are put in the nearby cemetery, where the local samurai might have a family shrine on site. Temples are places for quiet contemplation, and being quiet and reverent is highly encouraged. Temples often share common features – tower gate entrances, pagoda-style architecture, a main hall containing an object of worship and a meditation hall are all common. There may or may not be a shrine or shrines inside, as well as candle-lit altars. There will be at least one incense bowl, to catch the ash of daily offerings. Sacred objects will be kept in private rooms, away from visitors.

Pilgrims may travel the entire Empire – or may come from just one town over. Pilgrims may be of any class, motivated by any cause. Monks often make pilgrimages because they are told to or because they want to. Large temples often provide basic housing for pilgrims, who must otherwise rely on the charity of strangers or their own wealth. Pilgrimages aren’t easy, but the journey is seen as important, as much so as the destination. The journey is a chance to prove devotion, and it is not rare for a monk to join a pilgrim and support them on their way, offering encouragement if they weaken or tire. Making sacred journeys earns respect from most people, and the honorable will offer hospitality to pilgrims – food, water, a place to rest, some company. However, because some travelers abuse this and claim to be pilgrims despite traveling for other reasons, some people are suspicious of all pilgrims. Thieves may also target pilgrims traveling alone, especially those forced to sleep outdoors.

While the Brotherhood of Shinsei is not poor, they rarely finance a temple’s construction by themselves. Temples are expensive, but many daimyos and lords consider the blessings earned from it worth far more than the money spent. Building a temple in your lands raises your prestige and helps your karma, and many families finance temples for this reason alone. Often, these temples also hold special meaning to them of some sort. Temples are rarely as self-sufficient as monasteries, but often find ways to increase donations. They will produce the items of worship, such as incense or candles, offered in return for donations. This also ensures the objects are made correctly and are of good quality, and often making them is considered a reverent act. Temples may be built around an existing shrine, on the site of a miraculous event, or in a newly founded or grown town in need of a place to worship. New monastic orders also raise temples for their own use and to draw eyes to the Brotherhood, often in places of pure or natural beauty or in well kept parts of a city. Being south of a mountain, north of a volcano or west of a body of water is especially auspicious. The better a temple is planned and maintained, the more blessed it is, and even commoners can sense the sacred aura in a grand temple.

The Brotherhood maintains quite a few relics. The greatest would be the original Tao of Shinsei, but they don’t actually know it is currently sitting in the hidden Phoenix city called Gisei Toshi. Several prominent temples have extremely old copies of the text, however, which are highly revered because it is held that the closer the text is in the chain of copies to the original, the more true it is. There are countless other kinds of relic, ranging from texts of wisdom to weapons used by the Thunders or other great heroes to magical statues to clothing worn by the Kami to special funerary urns of holy people. Great legends surround some relics, especially old and mysterious ones, and many of these legends are as old as the relics themselves. Others are made up by witnesses to otherwise unexplained events, or invented by monks keen to spread the fame of their temple. The Brotherhood maintains extensive records on its relics and their abilities, but these records are constantly being altered and updated. There is no system for determining the authenticity of a relic or its magical status, either.

Temple gates are built as towers for symbolic reasons. They mark the boundary between the normal and spiritual, with the most elaborate being two stories and highly decorative, sometimes with alcoves for guardian statues. The guardians at the gate are vital to keep unwanted spirits out, and depending on the region these statues may be komainu, lions or dragons, especially in areas of the Lion or Dragon clans respectively. Beyond the entrance is typically a path through the temple gardens, which may well meander or circle before reaching the main building, to give the visitors time to meditate and clear their heads and to confuse any spirits that slip past the guardians. The garden is itself sacred, and everything growing in it serves a purpose in the design of the temple. Not all temples have a garden, but those which do will use it as an extension of the temple proper, a place to tell stories and meditate. Larger temples will often have the main building built in pagoda style, with each floor representing an element. In some temples, the hall near the entrance can be opened up to connect the garden and inner rooms. Wooden temples are most common, but remote temples often use stone to minimize maintenance needs, as do those temples built in areas of harsh weather. Some stone temples are so old none can remember who made them. Some temples, especially Crab ones, resemble fortresses; few would actually dare to forsake honor and attack a temple, but the Crab always consider attack to be possible in designing a structure.

Shinden Kasai is one of two major temples to Osano-wo, Fortune of Fire and Thunder. Osano-wo, second son of Hida, is surrounded by legend. His mother is said to have been the Thunder Dragon, patron of heroes. He is a legendary figure, heroically strong, honorable and brave. While he was Crab Champion, he led his clan in war against the trolls, nearly obliterating that ancient race of creatures. He had two sons, each by a different mother. The elder, Kenzan, was his heir, and it is through Kenzan that the Hida trace their lineage back to the Kami Hida. His other son, Kaimetsu-Uo, left the Crab to found the Mantis Clan in the Islands of Spice and Silk, and many Mantis sailors claim descent from Osano-wo, including Yoritomo. The Mantis built the other great temple to Osano-wo, Shinden Sanda, in Inazuma Province. Shinden Kasai, meanwhile, was made by the Crab on the Plains of Thunder. It is unusual for a temple in that many of its monks are retired Crab samurai. The temple is surrounded by storms all year and is a fortress of limestone, which visitors must clamber over huge rocks to reach, through a maze of deadly traps, which is also used as a training ground for the monks. This ensures that only the best become full Thunder Sohei. Lightning rods along the temple walls create blinding displays during the frequent storms. The master sensei of Shinden Kasai is a former Lion samurai, now called Kusuburu. He is smaller than most Thunder Sohei, but regularly fights and defeats them all to maintain his position. His scalp is red and heavily scarred, and he goes bare-chested, wearing only a red hakama, to show off the many welts he’s earned in his long stay at the temple.

The temple was built two centuries after Osano-wo’s death, when the Brotherhood of Shinsei requested that they be given the Fortune’s ono battle-ax for safekeeping, as the Hida were not using it. They wanted to place it in Shinden Sanda in Mantis lands, but the Hida were unwilling to send the weapon so far away, and so they assigned the samurai Kaiu Tomoki to build a temple to rival Shinden Sanda. The Plains of Thunder were selected as the best location for it due to the storms, and Tomoki led a team of engineers and bushi to construct a temple worthy of protecting the ono. The bushi never left, becoming the first martial monks of the temple. Since then, many warriors from all clans and castes have chosen to join their order rather than retire to a more quiet monastery. The Brotherhood was satisfied, even though the Thunder Sohei largely remain set apart from the rest of the temple to govern themselves.

Rumors of Shinden Kasai posted:

  • The Kaiu engineers installed large metal rods atop the temple to harness the power of lightning itself, using it to power traps that incinerate those who stumble into them. The senior monks can use the lightning as a weapon!
  • The monks claim to keep Osano-wo’s ono for his safe return, but no one has ever seen it. Maybe they don’t have it at all, and the weapon is lost.
  • The monks scar their bodies, purifying themselves with flame. Many would-be monks don’t survive the initiation process, and their burnt bodies are offered as a sacrifice to the Fortune.
  • Some of the monks were dangerous criminals once, murderers and thieves who escaped justice by joining the order.

Shrines to Osano-wo and associated Fortunes exist in the bowels of the temple, lit only by flames kept perpetually burning. The monks train and sleep only in barren stone rooms, their rituals physically intense and their training grueling to the extreme. Even the successful initiates are burned and scarred by the experience. Almost all of the temple’s relics and artifacts are weapons, the most precious of which are locked in the same vault as Osano-wo’s personal ono. The Thunder Sohei train with the ono battle-ax as their signature weapon, but they are also masters of jiujutsu, seeking Enlightenment by reverence of the Fortune of Fire and Thunder and adherence to his martial philosophy. Because the Thunder Sohei are functionally a battle-ready army, several commanders have petitioned their aid in the past. Few manage to persuade the master sensei that their cause is worthy of such intervention, however. Only the Emerald Champion can regularly count on them, for the monks hold that victory in the Emerald Championship demonstrates Osano-wo’s blessing, and that the Emerald Champion is therefore Osano-wo’s chosen, to be obeyed unquestioningly. Small groups or individual Thunder Sohei may leave the temple to fight in the name of the Fortune, but never has the Empire seen the entire army of sohei together.

Our example NPC is Takeshi, Sohei. Takeshi was a Crab samurai that lost his leg in battle against the Shadowlands, retiring to Shinden Kasai to re-learn how to fight. He’d have returned to the wall once he was done, but Osano-wo came to him in a dream, so he chose to remain in the temple to teach others, taking on the monastic name Takeshi. He is a large, frightening monk who has completely accepted his new life, considering himself deeply fortunate. He has a prosthetic wooden leg and is rather more acrobatic than either his great size or false leg would normally indicate. He trains hard alongside the other sohei, remaining constantly ready for battle in case he is ever needed.

Our adventure seed features Takeshi’s family wanting to reclaim ownership of a relic he brought to the temple, a Kaiu blade. They say that he should have left it with them, and that he gave it to the temple only after he became a monk, when it was no longer his to give. They want the PCs to get it back for them – but quietly. They will provide an inferior replica sword to leave in its place. Sneaking in will require the PCs to get past the deadly maze that guards Shinden Kasai. If they announce themselves and convince the monks to let them in, the sohei will guide them through it, but that means they’ll have to speak to Takeshi. Takeshi won’t even let them view the weapon, which is locked in a temple vault that only the master sensei can access with a key he carries with him at all times. If pressed, Takeshi will admit he could get the key for them, but only if they defeat him in a duel to prove their worth in the eyes of Osano-wo. The vault is full of many sacred items, and without Takeshi, it would take a long time to identify the correct blade. However, if he notices the PCs making the blade swap he will immediately attack them. As in the duel, defeating him will, to his mind, prove that they are in the right, having received the favor of Osano-wo in battle. Alternatively, the PCs might be able to convince him diplomatically, but if so, they must appeal to him as a monk, not a Crab – he has entirely abandoned his former samurai self.

Next time: The Temple of Listening Ghosts and the Four Temples of Shinsei

Monk Key

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Monk Key

Monasteries, unlike temples, aren’t meant to be public. (Mostly.) Rather, they exist to house monks that wish to study and learn. In some orders, a monk may go their entire life from joining to death without ever setting foot outside the monastery, and such buildings will need the space and facilities to provide for them and their quest for Enlightenment. Other orders value real world experience, and will offer only what is required to shelter through the winter or survive an illness. Some orders have hundreds of members spread through several monasteries, while others have so few members that they only need one. Some monasteries are large, generations-old complexes; others are just a few huts and a shrine. While a monastery provides for monastic physical needs, this is purely so that the monks may focus on more important spiritual tasks, and spiritual health is considered far more important than physical. Likewise, the order as a whole is more important than any individual. This is why so many samurai retire to monastic orders to prepare for death.

A monastic initiate usually changes their name when they leave their old life behind. It may or may not be required that they do so by their order; that varies. Likewise, they may get to choose their new name or it may be assigned to them, as in the case of the ise zumi monks of the High House of Light, where initiates are typically assigned the Togashi family name. Monk names often are quite simple and are largely chosen for personal or symbolic meaning. A Shinseist monk may go by Hideaki, meaning ‘wise,’ while a Fortunist monk devoted to Benten may select Ai, ‘love,’ and a monk following Isora, Fortune of the Shore, might go by Kishi, ‘beach.’ The new name is honestly less important than the fact that the old name has been abandoned, though. Changing one’s name marks the end of the old life and the beginning of the new.

Most monasteries, particularly the large ones, are supported or even founded by wealthy patrons, typically daimyo looking to impress the Brotherhood or gain spiritual favor and virtue. Some of the small ones, though, are founded cheaply when a monk or group of monks feel the need to form a new order. These monasteries are still connected to the Brotherhood, but the more isolated ones tend to prefer fending for themselves as a spiritual family. The head monk of an order is usually referred to as an abbot, while other monks call each other siblings, to reinforce that they have left their old families to join a new one. The importance of family cannot be overstated in Rokugan, and the use of familial terminology here reminds the monks of where their responsibilities are now. Monks of different monasteries may argue, but within a monastery, it rarely gets worse than friendly debate. The Brotherhood is generally quick to remind everyone that all monks are siblings following Shinsei together, regardless of any differences of opinion. Every monk knows their ‘family’ shares their worldview and goals, thus demonstrating the ideal of the Rokugani family, with all members working towards a single purpose. The larger the order, the more likely the abbot will need to settle arguments and discipline those who act against the order’s principles. Expulsion from the Brotherhood is even possible for serious crimes against it, and this is considered a fate worse than death. Typically, infractions are dealt with more internally by assigned extra labor, physical pain or periods of fasting and contemplation.

Even monasteries devoted to study of the Tao often bear many of the features and architecture of Fortunist shrines, thanks to the mixing of the faiths in the Shintao. Monastery gates always, stone or wood, bear quotations from Shinsei and riddles designed to confuse and drive off evil spirits, warnings against impurity or koans to stimulate the minds of monks. This is on top of the torii arches that will guard any shrine entrances in the monastery itself. All monasteries have spiritual defenses, even if they may not always have physical ones. Most monasteries have a gong, bell or drum tower to mark the changing of the hours, call the monks to order, wake them up and send them to bed. They may also be used to communicate danger, speak to the kami or draw a Thunder’s attention, though that requires extremely careful handling and specialization. The monks assigned to that job develop their skills over years of study as apprentices and masters. In the hands of a true master, a drum can be made to sound like a storm, a gong can be used to induce meditative states and a bell can aid in focus.

Even a monastery for a sohei order is likely to have a library of sutras for study, and may also have a scriptorium for the copying of texts. Shinsei’s teachings are spread on the written word, after all, and learning the texts is vital to any monk. There may be a separate room for training initiates or locals in the wisdom of Shinsei, as spreading his teachings is one of the great duties of the Brotherhood. Original texts may be kept in a relic repository as precious, which different orders handle in different ways. The wealthier orders are proud to let people know of their treasures and increase visitors by doing so, as people will want to be close to the holy items even if they can’t see or touch them. Smaller monasteries, however, often keep them hidden behind shrines or locked away in secret rooms. It is nearly inconceivable that anyone would put their karma at such grave risk as to steal a sacred relic, but chaotic thought or desperation have driven people to worse. Most monks would die to protect the relics, and losing any would be a terrible blow to an order and to the local community, whose spiritual wellbeing is tied to the monastery’s.

While monks lie outside the social order, the influence of the Brotherhood is immense. Peasants and samurai both trust them as guides and spiritual advisors, no matter what. The Emperor, as head of the Shintao, is theoretically immune to being undermined by monastic criticism; no one else is on spiritual matters. And really, what isn’t a spiritual matter? Still, while monasteries provide no income, daimyos welcome them invariably, at least in public. Privately, daimyos may well consider an influential head monk to be a threat – and may well be correct. The Four Temples Monks in particular consider it their sacred duty to follow and to influence politics, with representatives in every major court. They’re even the only order willing to try and direct the Emperor himself, offering their advice whether requested or not. They work not to just spread Shinsei’s teachings but ensure they are followed, and the most effective place for that is the Imperial Court, where Shinsei began his teachigns. Warrior-monks can also prove influential, if in a different way – they might show up and turn the tide of a battle or protect an otherwise undefended village. The motives of these sohei are not always obvious, and they rarely remain in one place long enough to explain themselves and their decisions.

Pilgrims often seek out monasteries to prove their devotion or to find answers to spiritual questions. However, they aren’t the only visitors that a monastery might get. Even a casual visitor to a monastery often feels relief from the pressures of the wider world in a place where rank has little meaning. A welcoming monastery is a great place to seek peace and time to think, even if you don’t intend to actually become a monk. Ranking samurai often enjoy the chance to relax in relative obscurity, while those seeking to hide enjoy the privacy of monasteries. More introspective orders are unlikely to question them much, and if a criminal is tracked to a monastery, they may still be able to offer themselves as an initiate and become a monk before they get arrested.

We also get a brief aside on meditation. All monks meditate. By doing so, they learn truths that cannot be gained merely from study and they attempt to approach Enlightenment. How they meditate, however, varies wildly between orders and even just individuals. Some monks chant sutras, focusing only on the sound of the words and their meaning. Others empty their mind of thought, trying to abandon the world by will. Some focus on a specific image, such as a statue of Shinsei, a candle or a scenic view. Some sit, some balance, some meditate while doing labor. In some monasteries, meditation is highly structured and taught to initiates in specific ways. In others, it is left to the monks to decide how to meditate privately.

Next time: The High House of Light, the Silent Ones Monastery and the Plain Winds Monastery.

The Monk with the Dragon Tattoo

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: The Monk with the Dragon Tattoo

The High House of Light is located on the side of a mountain, deep in the Togashi provinces of the Dragon. It looks unreachable from a distance, and those that wish to reach it and join the Togashi Order must find and climb the thousand steps to reach it, through snow and ice and spiritual dangers. Those who wish only to request the wisdom of Togashi Yokuni or his followers can request a guide at the small hamlet at the mountain’s foot, though whether they actually get one or not depends on the whim of the monk they talk to. Togashi Yokuni is both Dragon Champion and head monk of the Togashi Order, and is often found meditating in or around the monastery, always in full ceremonial armor and helmet. His answers to questions are much more cryptic than those of most monks. Other notable inhabitants include Togashi Gaijutsu, a blind tattoo master. His body and head are covered in images that seem to shift and change on his flesh. He tattoos the ise zumi, as the Togashi monks are known, in courtyard of his workshop. He never works for money and cannot be bought. He occasionally receives mystic visions, which he freely describes to anyone who cares to ask. Togashi Umu lives in the hamlet at the mountain base, and while she is not tattooed, she otherwise dresses and acts like she is one of the ise zumi. She can often be found chopping wood outside her hut or digging in the garden, and she seems to enjoy physical labor. She doesn’t speak much, but will answer questions asked very directly, usually with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and no further explanation.

The Togashi monks pursue Enlightenment by thought, meditation and study of the Tao – and any other methods they consider to be appropriate. They train mind and body, for mastering both is required to become ise zumi. The monastery’s interior is a maze of cold, bare rooms without decoration or furniture, easy for visitors to get lost in. Whatever mysterious force makes the stairs to the monastery so difficult to find seems to guide the monks through the interior while confounding anyone else. What is actually contained within the High House of Light past the many shrines on its upper levels is known only to the monks. (I am also going to note here that at least in past editions, Togashi Yokuni was the latest alias of the still-living Kami Togashi. It is unclear if this remains the case, but likely.)

Rumors of the High House posted:

  • The ise zumi can call down the elements, leap over mountains, and breathe fire.
  • The ise zumi are maho-tsukai. Their power comes from blood magic. They represent a danger to the entire Empire!
  • There’s some strange force inside the monastery, something you can feel even without going inside. Perhaps it is a captive spirit, a portal to another world, or a being older than humanity.
  • If you sleep in view of the monastery you dream of the Celestial Dragons. The monastery must be blessed. Maybe the monks can travel to Tengoku itself.

Our NPC is Chikako, Initiate Monk. She is a girl devoted to the Tao and determined to enter the High House. Chikako is her actual, given name, but she refuses to use her family name at all. She feels called to the monastery and is certain she is going to join it. She was raised as a samurai and has some knowledge of both court and combat, and while she is small and quiet, she is fast and strong-willed. Despite her youth, she has a noticeable aura of spirituality, and fate seems to bend in her favor. She speaks with the wisdom and confidence of someone far more experienced than she actually is, and she isn’t afraid to fight for her beliefs. She is a bit of a fanatic, however.

The adventure seed reveals her family name: She is Zurui Chikako, the young daughter of a local lord. Her father has no idea where she is and believes her kidnapped, and her mother wants the PCs to help. Lord Zurui has dismissed the rumors that a girl matching his daughter’s description has been seen near the High House of Light. When the PCs go check it out, Togashi Umu appears unexpectedly to question them. If Umu thinks the PCs are genuinely concerned for Chikako’s safety, they’ll find a path after speaking to her. Otherwise, they will become lost in the mountains for a time, facing large ravines, crumbling cliffs, predators and even dangerous spirits before they reach the path. Either way, the path will lead them to a hamlet, where Umu is waiting for them. If they ask Umu’s aid directly, she (though for some reason the seed thinks she’s male now) will reveal that Chikako has entered the monastery, and will lead them there. At the monastery, the monks make no efforts to hide Chikako, but the monastery itself is a maze, difficult to navigate without a guide. Chikako, when found, is shaving her head, having been accepted into the Togashi Order. She explains that her family would never have allowed her to go, so she snuck out, and she wants the PCs to tell her parents that she’s where she’s meant to be. The PCs must now decide whether to respect the girl’s wishes (and face a possibly angry lord) or try to convince her to return to her old life.

The Silent Ones Monastery is devoted to Tsugumu, Fortune of Secrets, and is hidden near the City of Lies. Scorpions whose secrets weigh on them go there to unburden their souls, bringing messages or journals containing their secrets in order to feel themselves less isolated. They also often bring donations in thanks to the monastery for keeping these secrets safe (and possibly burning them as offerings). The monastery is a small, walled complex built into a hillside. It is easily missed, and while the monks are still part of the Brotherhood, they practice some rather unique traditions. Most of them wear black, for example, including a black cloth worn over the mouth. The head monk is easily spotted because of his scarlet robes to distinguish himself from the others. He is a lean man with an unflinching gaze that can discomfit even the bravest bushi, and he loves learning secrets. He has a way of getting people to talk to him and reveal their hidden knowledge without ever saying a word. The actual historical details behind the founding of the Silent Ones Monastery are deliberately removed from all records. Some say that even the engineers and builders involved were brought to abrupt deaths after building the place, to ensure its structure remained secret.

Rumors of the Silent Ones posted:

  • The monks don’t burn the secrets they receive; they hide them inside their monastery, stuffing the statues of the Fortune with them. If anyone got their hands on even one of these statues, they could blackmail half the clan, but nobody would risk stealing from the temple.
  • The monks are completely silent: they never speak, and even their feet make no sound. They’re like shadows, or shinobi. They leave their monastery when they haven’t been given enough secrets and spy on everyone in the City of Lies.
  • The monks don’t speak because they don’t have tongues; they cut them out when they’re initiated into the order. Then, they burn them as an offering to Tsugumu.

Outsiders often find themselves lost and confused when visiting the monastery. Rather than tranquility, the place has an atmosphere of unease and anxiety. This is not caused by any spiritual power, but rather the techniques used in constructing the monastery and the actions the monks take to conceal and mislead people. The interior seems much larger than the outside, due to concealed passages and hidden rooms, with entire stories hidden underground or between floors, and many puzzles and traps are spread throughout the place to confuse and disorient. All of the statues of Tsugumu are identical, so many rooms look exactly like the others. Any of the rooms the monks use for sleep, training or eating are hidden, isolating visitors, who wait in small chambers with thick tatami mats and shoji screens in the colors of the Scorpion. Eventually, a single monk will come and lead them to a statue, where they may confess their secrets.

Our NPC is Aotara Akira, “Pilgrim.” Akira acts like and claims to be a noble courtier. He wears the red and black of the Scorpion, never answers a question the same way twice and often makes people suspicious with both his desire to avoid attention and his general sliminess. He changes out his mask more often than most people change clothes, and if anyone questions him too closely he may attempt to poison their drinks or even brush poison onto their skin. He has a wakizashi but no katana, and many knives hidden in his robes. His true aim is to reach the Silent Ones Monastery, become a monk and escape justice for his many crimes, and he is a kleptomaniac. He literally cannot resist any chance he sees to steal things.

Plains Wind Monastery is a practical place, devoted to Kuroshin, Fortune of Agriculture. It is focused on helping the local community, and the monks work alongside the local peasants in the fields and rice paddies. The monks also raise healing herbs, and they store as much surplus of all crops as possible, in order to supply Unicorn forces with food and healing plants when required. The monks also learn how to fight with farming tools. When the Ki-Rin returned to Rokugan as the Unicorn and eventually gained some land, they made a small shrine to Kuroshin in the hopes that the Fortune would bless their farmlands. Adjusting to farming was not easy for the nomadic clan, and so they decided to build a monastery around the shrine so that the monks could ensure the Fortune’s blessing. The monastery was made hastily, but was one of the earliest steps of the Unicorn in trying to befriend the Brotherhood of Shinsei. The monastery is a large wooden complex full of storage barns, an infirmary, a barracks for the monks and an open-air training area. The buildings focus on the shrine at the center, which is in the middle of a large garden of exotic herbs. The monastery sits between a peasant town and their fields, so peasants pass through the grounds daily.

Plains Wind Rumors posted:

  • All manner of strange plants grow at Plains Wind Monastery, including ones that produce poisons no Scorpion’s ever heard of. It’s a dangerous place.
  • The monk Dai can heal all sorts of ills, but at a terrible cost. She invokes foreign gods, and her strange rituals risk the patient’s soul.
  • ”It’s not all about farming at all. There’s a whole Unicorn garrison hiding there, pretending to be peasants and monks. They have no honor.”

Dai, Fortunist Monk, is our NPC. If the place had a head monk at all, it’d be her. She is descended from the original monk that suggested the Unicorn build the shrine in the first place, and she is the community’s leader. She treats the sick using recipes passed down from the Unicorn since the days outside of Rokugan, and has learned to grow foreign plants despite the different soil. The herb garden around the shrine is her personal project. If anyone tries to fake illness, she sees through it easily but rarely says anything, instead “treating” them with unpleasant but harmless herbs. If anyone tries to force information from her, the entire community would fight for her, but she’s generally generous and cooperative if approached politely.

Adventure seed: A Lion daimyo wants to know the truth of the Plains Wind Monastery and the rumors surrounding it, and he’d like someone to pose as a peasant and go uncover its secrets. He considers the job to be beneath an honorable samurai in his service, so he’s offering it to outsiders – the PCs. He tells them that the monks offer food and shelter to the sick, and hints that they might try faking illness. As they explore the place, the PCs could find any number of secrets for the daimyo – poisonous plants in the herb garden, plants none of them can recognize at all, stores of food for Unicorn military forces, an infirmary prepared to treat battle wounds. It’s when they try to leave that the PCs learn they’ve been watched the entire time. Dai prevents them from leaving so she can speak to them. She doesn’t appreciate lies, and does have herbs that will induce truthfulness, if the PCs resist talking to her hard. If they negotiate, she explains that she doesn’t mind the Lion knowing some things – she wants them to know the Unicorn are strong, and even suggests exaggerating the Unicorn position. If the PCs attempt to fight their way out, they will find that not only are the monks prepared to fight back, so are the farmers, in defiance of Rokugani tradition.

Next time: The Wild Places

Where The Wild Things Are

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Where The Wild Things Are

We are now in the wilderness chapter! There are vast stretches of land in the Emerald Empire where no human rules, where all there is is wilderness. These places aren’t even far away, even. The forests, isolated valleys, the mountains and the sea are all magnificent, beautiful wilderness – and dangerous. Samurai, of all the classes, are perhaps the most likely to have to pass through the wild lands. Ambushes, communion with forest spirits, artistic inspiration, ill-advised shortcuts – there’s all kinds of reasons.

The eastern coastline has extensive beaches in white, gold and black sand, often with high cliffs. The coast is over a thousand miles long, ruled over by the Crab, Crane and Phoenix, and much of it does have fishing villages and harbors. Other parts, though, are too rocky or storm-prone for settlement by anyone save perhaps heimin hermits or small families looking to be left alone. These remote coastal people survive primarily on subsistence fishing, though they may be able to make a living quarrying sandstone, limestone, salt or chalk from the high cliffs, or even dive for pearls. They may also gather niche resources for trade, such as algae, shells or animal inks. These people are usually poor heimin, but shipwrecked sailors, samurai who have gone into exile and shugenja or priests seeking to commune with water kami or make a shrine are not unknown in these areas. Pirate groups often build secret harbors or lairs in the rough inlets, relying on the high seas and the coastal caves to hide their ships. The ningyo, an ancient, amphibious member of the Five Ancient Races, are rare, but these coastlines are where their underwater cities are most likely. Trolls also sometimes dwell in the coastal caves, usually endangering everyone nearby.

The vast forests of the empire are both required and feared. They are very dangerous, full of poisonous plants and ravenous beasts, yet also provide healing plants, food, clothing and more. Perhaps their most dangerous quality, though, is their mysticism. Forests are notorious homes of spirits, close to the Spirit Realms. Ancient evils and irritable spirits lurk within them, leading people to ruin. Ogres, tengu and kansen all make their homes in the wild forests, far from man, and all are easily made violent if disturbed. Despite this, the risk can be worth it for those seeking to commune with powerful, ancient kami. The forests obviously provide much lumber for the Empire, with conifers in the north and deciduous trees, bamboo and fruit trees more common in the south. The island forests are similar to the southern ones, but with lighter woods, palms and many more kinds of fruit. Wood is a vital resource for all kinds of trades, so most forests do have small villages along their edges, dedicated to harvesting it. Forests can also provide berries, mushrooms, herbs, flowers, leaves, bark and insects for food and medical components, and hinin hunters and trappers hunt meat, fur and leather in the deep forests. Forest game may include deer, antelope, hare, wild pig, squirrel and pheasant.

The forests are surrounded by superstition and legend. Folktales warn of all the dangers within, both to keep children away and as a metaphor for the untamed wild that lives within the human soul. Despite the fear and respect most Rokugani have for the forests, some do still live there. Some are exiles, others hermits that seek solitary life away from society. Shugenja may travel to or live within forests, building shrines deep within to appease local kami and spare the nearby villages their wrath. Some shugenja schools even train in the forests, teaching young shugenja to hear the spirits and make their scrolls from local wood. Bandits are also common in forests, as the people’s fear of their depths helps the bandits avoid detection. They make their homes in the trees or natural clearings, where they build small support villages. Ronin camps can also be found at the forest edges, seeking serenity while remaining close enough to villages to be hired to defend the locals from bandits, ogres and so on.

Rokugan has three main mountain ranges – the Twilight Mountains of the Crab that holds back the Shadowlands, the Great Wall of the North that spreads across Unicorn, Dragon and Phoenix lands, and the Spine of the World, a thin but tall range that splits the empire in half, running through Unicorn lands to the border of the Scorpion and Lion, then on through the Crane. The mountains are dangerous to travel in without sufficient food or warm clothing, and the stone itself can be a danger. Rockslides can easily start avalanches without warning, and in the rainy seasons, the southern mountains suffer from mudslides. The Northern Wall has been known to shake and spew forth ash and magma, as the volcanic mountains seem to actively resist travelers. The higher you go in any range, the more sparse the wildlife – and the more dangerous, ranging from bears to mountain lions.

Despite the dangers, the mountains are also rich in resources. Pine wood, river fish and some of the best and cleanest water in Rokugan are common there, and of course most mountain-dwellers are involved in mining. Basalt, granite and marble are all extracted from the mines, along with veins of iron, copper, silver, gold, platinum, sapphire, diamond and crystal. Jade can be found in mountain boulders in the foothills, and the caves are often home to rare minerals and gems. Rare flowers and other useful medicinal plants can also be found in the mountain passes and on their peaks. Most of the people that live in or near the mountains are miners or people who support or run the mining operations. Iron and jade are vital military resources, while others are massive economic benefits, after all. Mining towns could be nothing but a few heimin to large, permanent mining complexes with thousands of workers. Monks also are often found in the mountain monasteries, where they may meditate and attune to the world without distraction. Hermits, elders and exiles also often live in the mountains, preferring the natural dangers to those of life with humans.

Abandoned ruins are also considered wild lands, including ancient cities, abandoned temples and lost shrines. Ruins are fairly rare, usually found deep in the forests or high in the mountains, or occasionally in other hard-to-reach and out-of-the-way places. While they tend to be collapsing, this is the least of their dangers, as many are home to ancient threats that predate the Day of Thunder. Ruins are often concentrated sources of spiritual power and mystic energies. When ruins are newly discovered, the clan that finds them is likely to keep them secret or even build a temple inside them or nearby to take advantage of them. Ruins are also a source of potentially lost or forbidden knowledge, and many shugenja have recovered ancient techniques by studying scrolls found deep in ancient temples. The lure of artifacts often draws in both bandits and explorers, hoping to find things that lead to wealth and glory.

Because many ruins are still abandoned, a lone monk, shugenja or scholar might live in one for weeks at a time without being noticed. Caravans of priests, monks or shugenja sometimes visit certain ruins in pursuit of relics or legendary tales, to commune with specific kami or even to hunt for passages into Meido. These could be groups of a half dozen adventuring samurai or convoys of several hundred, depending on their funding, and they’ll tend to be guarded about their goals, though they will be courteous to fellow samurai. Ruins, whether underground, underwater or on the surface, may also be home to enclaves of the Ancient Races – the zokujin, tengu, trolls, ningyo or kitsu, who may all have dwelled in these places before they fell to ruin. Some may yet remain, guarding ancient secrets. The spirits and ancestors of the former inhabitants may also linger, unwilling or unable to pass on to Meido without help.

Survival for samurai traveling in the wilds often requires compromises. It’s practically impossible while maintaining strict adherence to Bushido, after all. Samurai must not touch dead things, but doing so may become necessary. They may have to fish or hunt for food, or make leather for shelter or clothing if lost for an extended period. Because of their social restrictions on behavior and hygiene, samurai in the wilds must often choose between strict adherence to Bushido’s tenets and survival. Those traveling with lower castes can easily delegate such unclean duties, while those traveling alone can pragmatically forgo Bushido, as the Unicorn often do, without anyone witnessing their shame. The big problem is when groups of samurai travel together without heimin or hinin with them. Social pressure from their peers to follow Bushido makes it hard to do what it is required to survive, and often samurai in these conditions are forced into introspection about what they are willing to give up if it is needed to live.

Next time: Five People You Meet In The Ass End Of Nowhere

You Make My Heart Sing

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: You Make My Heart Sing

While samurai are some of the most common travelers in the wilderness, they rarely remain there long. Most pass through it on their way to their next destination and little more, typically relying on caravans with a handful of heimin or hinin along to perform the tasks forbidden to samurai. They may spend days on horseback, talking to their fellow samurai or to monks or priests. Most tasks will focus on improving the odds of surviving the journey, usually by focusing on route safety, food and when to rest. Samurai also handle any threats and are expected to entertain any other samurai the caravan runs into. Of course, sometimes samurai go into exile. Many ronin spend their time in the wilderness, seeking a purpose. Some may even settle there to stand watch over some threat, protect a village or just have a place to stay. Their life is almost always a mix of quiet contemplation and desperate struggle to survive.

Monks and, more rarely, priests may spend part of their lives in the wild lands, studying or communing with the elements, Fortunes or spirits while living off the land. Priests may travel to distant shrines or temples to train and meditate, sometimes for months or years. Monks may remain in seclusion in the wilderness for a very long time indeed, sometimes their entire lives, studying the Tao and seeking Enlightenment in solitude. Most monks practice self-denial or heavy labor as part of their study, and the dangers and discomforts of the wild are often considered to bring them closer to Enlightenment. The more punishing and grueling a task, especially to help others, the better. Other monks may travel the wilderness instead of settling in a specific place, seeking out lost teachings or spreading the wisdom of Shinsei to the people of the wilds. Priests and monks may well join up with a caravan, as above. If no one of higher status is present they will be expected to lead, but otherwise serve as advisors to the ranking samurai, often in the form of divinations or the reading of omens. Shugenja may even petition local kami for guidance, or seek the blessing of a Fortune to ease the journey.

Most heimin work in villages and towns for mutual protection, but some farmers or miners must brave the wilds due to the nature of their labors. Others serve the traveling priests or samurai with menial labor or cooking. Even crafters, at least the eccentric ones, might decide to visit the wild lands for inspiration. The unique resources of the wilderness are sometimes worth taming the land and creating new villages or towns, though some are merely harvested by small groups of heimin laborers in camps too small to be considered proper villages. These camps are often seasonal, with the workers traveling to and from their hometowns, which may be weeks away, to man the camps for the harvesting season and then going home again. Typically, they try to focus on gathering enough to support their families for the off season and pay for the next trip out. Merchants also sometimes need to travel the wilderness. Caravans often must move along unprotected roads, and many merchants become experts in basic survival skills, though they usually bring food with them rather than hunt it. Their convoys form a tempting target for banditry, and without a protective escort, these merchants must rely on speed and secrecy to be safe. Other heimin travel as the staff of a samurai on business – armorers, attendants, cooks, laborers, wagon drivers and so on. They will also typically manage any hinin in a merchant or samurai caravan. Crafters are the least likely to seek the wilds, though some take sabbaticals to find inspiration in nature. Sometimes, an artisan may even develop secret techniques (and accompanying paranoia) that drive them live like a hermit, far from other people, to deal only with their most trusted apprentices and patrons.

Hinin are easily the most common of the types of people that live in the wilderness, often in order to avoid the wrath of higher castes. A smaller number work as career criminals or bandits, forced into the wild lands to escape justice. Others work with traveling caravans, using their low status to perform the duties others cannot. The hinin of cities or towns may also be forced to go into the wilds at least some of the time to do their jobs, such as hunting, charcoal burning or waste disposal. Some of the hinin that live in the wilds do so for their own sake. Many of these are from villages ruled by cruel or callous lords who might execute them on a whim, and so they prefer the less personal dangers of the deep woods or the mountains to the more certain threat of death by samurai. These hinin can often manage a rather more comfortable life on the fringes than if they remained in the dangerous village they hail from.

Criminal hinin also thrive in the wild lands, using them to evade capture and consequences. Con artists hide out there, and entire bandit villages can go undetected in the deep woods or hidden coves. Most bandit camps struggle to get enough basic necessities to survive, though, and the threat of the local wildlife is hard to deal with. Tales of supernatural danger may keep pursuers away, but many bandits also worry that these tales are true – ghosts and angry spirits are worse than magistrates. Larger camps may even go so far as to invent new stories and fabricate token evidence to make a safe place rather than risk finding one that’s actually haunted. Despite all this, the fact that hinin are the only ones who can easily perform certain survival tasks like skinning game or gutting fish means they’re invaluable for traveling groups. Further, on rare occasions a samurai may even bring a favored geisha with them, or other entertainers.

While gaijin go virtually unseen for generations in civilized lands, there are a number of gaijin enclaves in the Northern Wall mountains and the Islands of Spice and Silk. The northern mountains are home to the gaijin tribes known as the Yobanjin, who dress in animal furs and are generally considered, like most gaijin, to be nonhuman beings that live outside the Celestial Order. However, their intricate and beautiful rugs are secretly favored by some Rokugani, especially the Unicorn, who tend to see them as just one more fascinating culture to learn about rather than as barbarians. The Islands of Spice and Silk are practically home to as many gaijin as Rokugani, most of them foreigners from places like the Ivory Kingdoms. They may live in their own island settlements or even alongside the Mantis. In the islands, they can freely trade and exchange ideas in most circumstances.

The mountains of Rokugan were once bringers of catastrophic change, but now, they are mainly slumbering hulks, nearly impossible to cross without a pass. They define borders, both externally and internally, but they aren’t just barriers. The mountains keep many secrets, sheltering those that want to hide in their many valleys and caves and concealing vast amounts of precious mineral wealth. Scaling them can offer spiritual revelations, and it is impossible to know even a single mountain in one lifetime. While the mountains may slumber now, they still affect pretty much everything around them. The Spine of the World shreds the ocean winds, sending cool and moist air back down on the eastern coast and making it rich and fertile. The rains that flow off the mountains are the main source of water for the Lion plains, collected in cisterns. These rains also come through Crane lands, arguably making them too wet. The Uebe Marshes cover thousands of acres in the south, overflowing during storms. Mudslides threaten the farms near the mountains, and in Phoenix lands, the mountain rains come as freezing blizzards. While dryer, the western side of the Spine is not completely dehydrated. Unlike the east, the west retains its rigid, volcanic soil, with rivers of snowmelt flowing down towards Earthquake Fish Bay and the Shinomen Forest. The Scorpion and Crab rely on these waters to irrigate their fields, but not all of the waters that flow from the mountains are safe. Marshes of toxic gas seep through the rocks in parts of the mountains, and the Scorpion harvest the plants and venomous animals of these marshes for their toxins.

The mineral wealth of the mountains fuel the war engines of the Clans, though few would admit it openly. The Dragon range of the Great Wall of the North is full of rich veins of ore, including the wealthy Serpent’s Tail Mine, which provides gold, iron and jade. Indeed, the mineral wealth of the Dragon is so great that most of their food comes from trading their ores for it, as their farmland is meager at best. There is one mineral the Dragon refuse to trade, though, far rarer than gold. Once per year on the summer solstice, the forge on Iron Mountain is full of chanting shugenja. They use clay blast furnaces known as tatara to layer iron sand with a mysterious substance. Most forges rely on charcoal made from white pine when forging steel, but the Dragon rely on something older and far more potent: a highly refined charcoal known as Dragon’s Blood, which is found in the Dragon mountains in air-tight volcanic chambers. When heated with iron, Dragon’s Blood creates a uniquely durable steel, perfect for blades, and this steel – but not the Dragon’s Blood that is required to make it – is one of the most valuable trade resources of the clan. In the Spine of the World, the Crane have discovered a massive iron vein of extreme purity. Legend has it that this extremely long vein was actually a weapon hurled from the sky by the Fortune Bishamon, and so the Crane refer to it as Celestial Ore. This ore, brought to Steel Crane Forge, requires only a few folds before it is rid of impurities and ready to become a sword, and the unique grain of the Kakita blades made from it includes beautiful whorls that resemble crashing waves.

Not all clans are so lucky, however. While the Crab blades are some of the best, it’s because of tenacity, not rare ores. Most Rokugani iron, besides the Celestial Ore, is found in rusted bands that are contaminated by sulfur. Removing the impurities is tedious, and what doesn’t melt off in the tatara must be kneaded out by a series of folds of the metal. Like all master smiths, the Crabs at the Kaiu Forge make each blade from three types of steel – durable hagane for the edge, flexible shingane for the core, and kawagane as a skin between the two. Each requires a different preparation method, overseen by a specialist. Many Kaiu smiths dedicate their entire lives to one step of the forging process. And not all smiths work in steel, which lacks the beauty of copper or gold. The Blazing Forge of the Lion specializes in these two metals, and its products are widely considered the most beautiful metal goods in the Empire. Massive crucibles melt down the ore to rid impurities, then the metal is poured into ingot molds. The process of copper purification also leaves a beautiful, glass-like green slag that Lion artisans carve into decorative inlays that resemble gems.

Next time: Dangers of the mountains.

Born To Be Wild

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Born To Be Wild

Mountains are nearly impossible for most travelers to cross. It takes days to go around a mountain range at best, but it’s safer than going over. Because of this, trade in Rokugan is entirely reliant on the mountain passes. There’s a number of gaps through the Spine of the World, and more passes are likely to be found by explorers. However, they come at a cost. Passes funnel merchants into a small, twisty area that is easy hunting grounds for bandits. Many thieves are based out of the caves or abandoned watchtowers near the passes, benefitting both from the easy prey and the fact that a pass is a territorial morass, where samurai are hesitant to overstep their bounds for fear of starting an incident with a rival clan. In Beiden Pass, the Scorpion and Lion are far more concerned with each other than any petty banditry, for example. Besides the bandits, the passes are also prone to natural disaster. South of the Phoenix lands are the Mountains of Regret, cut through by the Treacherous Pass, which is named that because it’s plagued by beasts, mudslides and floods. Only the most desperate would use it rather than take the time to just go around the mountains.

Scaling the peaks is even worse an idea. In the Great Wall of the North, not all of the mountains slumber. The Wrath of the Kami is one of several active volcanos, and in winter, the snows are stained black with ash and soot, while its tremors cause frequent avalanches. A similar shaking occurs in the far south, in the Ocean Mountains. These small, blunted peaks are broken by the unstable quakes of Earthquake Fish Bay, leaving deep ravines and dangerous footing. And even when still, a mountain is no easy foe. The Spine of the World infamously is near impossible to scale from either side – the storm-buffeted eastern cliffs or the bladelike, jagged heights of the west. The sheer size and height threatens explorers, and even smaller peaks are perilous.

The sheer scale of the mountains means mapping even a single peak in detail could take a lifetime. The Hiruma have spent generations scouting and surveying the Twilight Mountains, which are easily the best documented range in the entire Empire. Despite this, Shadowlands creatures still find secret paths out of Crab lands through them. Miners are often interrupted by tunneling beasts trying to bypass the Kaiu Wall, and once in Rokugan, these creatures make secret colonies where they can. The Spine of the World is home to several goblin tribes, and terrible hags can be found on isolated peaks across the Empire. Deadly beasts are hardly unique to the Twilights, either. Any mountain road could become home to a chimi, a sort of malevolent spirit that surrounds itself in unnatural mists and manifests as one or more grotesque animals with human faces. Surviving a chimi encounter isn’t enough, either – they are able to inflict deadly illnesses on their victims. The mountains also commonly become home to omukade, giant man-eating centipedes that nest in caves. Their exoskeletons protect them from all harm except for their single weakness – human saliva. Any weapon coated in human spit will make short work of the centipedes, at least. Less common but rather more terrifying are the onikuma, demon bears. These are immense, fast and highly territorial beasts that can tear horses apart like paper and crush armor as if it wasn’t there. In the Great Wall of the North, all kinds of humans and spirits live apart from mainstream society. The forested mountains are favored by tengu, and lone Great Tengu are said to dwell on some peaks. The common game meat that sustains the Unicorn also allows the survival of the Yobanjin tribes, who descend from the humans that rejected the rule of the Kami, as well as the hidden settlements of the Perfect Land Sect.

The Jade Mine of West Mountain Village is absolutely vital to the work of the Crab. Over winter, the mine freezes over, but come spring, the ice thaws and the work begins anew. The miners come to purge the mines of darkness that set in during winter – leopards, bears, even hostile spirits might take refuge in the caves, and the tremors from Earthquake Fish Bay often loosen the supports. Once the mine is lit and the tunnels deemed safe, the mining begins. The miners work with cloth tied over mouth and nose, chiseling apart the huge slabs of rock to reveal the jade hidden within. It’s tedious but unquestionably vital work. The miners are hailed as heroes, for they supply the tool used by Crab warriors to strike down the Tainted monsters of the Shadowlands. Without them, all would surely fall.

Jade Mine Rumors posted:

  • Up north, iron miners dig into an abandoned underground city unlike anything else in Rokugan. The miners collapsed the tunnel soon afterward, and they refuse to speak of what they found.
  • In the tunnels, miners have been hearing voices that sound like they are coming from inside the rock.
  • Many of the West Mountain miners are really murderers and other criminals who have fled to the isolated mountains to escape justice.
  • Most of the other jade mines have run dry. Only the West Mountain jade mine is keeping up with demand. If anything happens to the West Mountain mine, it would be dire for all of Rokugan!

We get two NPCs. First up, Kuni Haruna, Sinister Witch Hunter. Haruna is one of the tsuki-sagasu, the Crab witch hunters, and has studied the Shadowlands since childhood. She worked as an apprentice to a skilled witch hunter and has proven herself as an excellent warrior. She is a plain, even ugly woman with a lanky body and a tendency to sneer, smirk and snarl. Her face is covered, like most Kuni, with red and white Kabuki-style paint, which only accentuates the darkness of her eyes. She is always analyzing her surroundings and takes a vicious glee in killing her targets. She is brash, vulgar and rude, and she often mocks social niceties. If she thinks she’s being lied to, she badgers and bullies until the truth comes out. However, while she comes off as malicious, she is dedicated – both to truth and her job. She has seen terrible things, and like most Crab, she’s dealt with it via desensitization and acceptance. She thinks that, in forcing reality onto people, she’s doing them a favor. Of course, she doesn’t need to cackle and snort while she does it, but telling her that is rarely a good idea.

Second, Asako Takahiro, Insightful Inquisitor. Takahiro is a small, lithe man with high cheekbones and a handsome face. He bears the mark of eyes tattooed on his palms, the sign of an Asako Inquisitor, and he tends to smile serenely regardless of what’s happening. This is designed to calm and comfort people…and it’s a trap. He plays at being a naïve, gentle fool to get his targets to drop their guard and incriminate themselves, and once he takes someone in, he enthusiastically monologues about his deductive genius and how he realized what was up. His greatest flaw, of course, is his immense pride. While he is usually an excellent investigator, he recently convicted an innocent woman, only discovering his error after her execution. Since then, he has worked to commit himself to the Noble Silence, a Shinseist practice of keeping silent whenever possible. He hopes this will cleanse his soul and open him to cosmic truths, though he cannot always resist speaking. Even without speech, however, he is highly expressive, with flexible eyebrows, dramatic expressions and exaggerated body language that easily get his feelings across and probably go against the spirit of the Noble Silence. Whoops.

Adventure seed: The West Mountain mine has suffered a cave-in after a strong earthquake in Earthquake Fish Bay. A miner asks the PCs for aid rescuing his fellows, who are trapped on the other side of the collapse. At least some are sure to be injured. After the PCs clear out the rubble, it becomes clear that some of the miners are missing. The rest say that over the past few weeks, they’ve heard voices behind the stone, and they think the quake may have unleashed something terrible. Following the voices will lead the PCs through the mines and out into a natural cave system, where the missing miners are hanging out with Kuni Haruna and Asako Takahiro. They had been pursuing a maho-tsukai cult when the tremors opened a passage into the mines. Now that the tunnels are clear, they want to find those cultists, and want the PCs’ help. It is not difficult to track down the Bloodspeakers, who are at work diverting an underground river in order to flood the jade mine, using a pretty shitty, janky dam. Haruna wants to split the group, with Takahiro leading some of the team to distract the Bloodspeakers while she and the rest of the group destroy the dam. If the dam is not destroyed, the jade mine will become unusable relatively quickly, which will compound the current jade shortages.

Next time: Lizard Places

Rock The Dragon

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Rock The Dragon

The Dragon Mountains are immense, even by the standards of mountains, and many would-be mountain climbers have returned home in embarrassment after just seeing their vast scale and realizing the audacity of what they had planned. The climb begins in the forests around the mountains, using tree roots and boulders to assist the climb. The woods are full of life, rich in deer, macaques, pheasants, hares, boar and leopards. However, they end abruptly, with the trees thinning out as the mountains rise ever higher, and the path becomes far more treacherous. A single misstep can kill, and in winter and spring, brittle ice and huge rivers of melt are common. However, the view is unmatched by anything in the entire Empire.

Dragon Mountains Rumors posted:

  • There is a colony of kitsu in one of the secluded northern valleys. They shapeshift into humans to conduct trade.
  • Hunters have spied a large apelike creature, but they are unsure what type of monster they’re dealing with. If the beast is a hihi, the ape will have huge lips that c url over its eyes when it laughs, giving its victims a chance to escape. However, if it is a satori, it will quietly stalk travelers and read their thoughts. Satori will not attack if their prey maintain a clear mind.
  • There is an evil spirit called a yuki-nobo masquerading as a benevolent yuki-onna, a snow maiden. The spirit approaches travelers asking for water, then kills them once the request is fulfilled. A person can survie this encounter if they give the spirit hot tea instead.
  • The Great Tengu named Sojobo lives atop one of the tallest Dragon mountains. If anyone ever finds him, he will take them as his pupil.

Our NPC is Agasha Susumu, Scholar and Guide. He’s a small but wiry man with sloping shoulders and has begun going bald. He travels the Dragon peaks tirelessly, studying and experimenting with all kinds of herbs. He is tanned dark by the sun and is always happy to discuss his studies with anyone he meets. He also often works as a mountain guide, though he’s rather distractible and tends to ask the folks he’s guiding to wait while he heads up a cliff to get some interesting plant. He is happy to lecture on just about any subject (and will hint strongly to people that he’d like to), though botany is always his greatest love. Recently, he's been focused more on finding herbs than experimenting with them. When among his clanmates, he tends to start debates about the Perfect Land Sect, which he considers heretical; he’s very tired of his clan’s tolerance for them. If he had his way, they would be chased from the mountains by any means necessary to prevent their heresy from tainting the holy heights.

From here, we’re off to the forests. Forests are alive, each unique, and surviving in them without understanding them is nearly impossible. However, the Empire relies on the forests heavily for lumber, which is vital to almost all activities. Everyone needs wood for something, and so the forests most be harvested. The Crane have many forests in their lands, and with the exception of Needle’s Eye Forest, Crane woodlands tend to be full of helpful spirits that allow them to harvest the wood as needed. Osari Mori is noted for its beauty and, hidden within a ring-shaped grove of sakura trees, Shizuka Toshi, the home of the Doji Diplomat School. In the south, Akagi Forest has silver-leafed bamboo groves, used by the Kakita duelists for the testing of sword blades and as sites for meditation. Other clans have more limited options. The Lion have only one forest, the Heart of Vigilance, and it has shrunk over the centuries due to logging. By care, restraint and reforestation, they’ve begun repairing the damage, and the Crab and Scorpion are even worse off. Few forests grow west of the Spine of the World except one – the ancient Shinomen Forest, which neither clan dares to provoke. Its spirits are wild, ancient and unpredictable, and the logging towns around the Shinomen are used to very strange events. Every so often, a settlement will just vanish, devoured by the forest. Even with such risks, however, wood must be taken. The Unicorn use it for yosegi, a form of woodcrafting that uses the Dragon’s Heart Forest trees to make wooden mosaics, using slats of wood from different trees to produce different colors, all without need for dyes. The Phoenix rely on the trees to produce the best parchment (e: yes, it's not parchment, but the book calls it that) in Rokugan, calling on kami to help them produce sacred scrolls when they use the marbling technique called suminagashi, which relies on the spirits to move the ink in a bath of water, soaking the design into the fibers of the paper.

A forest’s personality is determined by the spirits that live there. While manmade satoyama groves tend to have little spiritual activity, they are simply lines of trees planted around field edges to prevent erosion and provide a minor wood source. They are felled while still young, because after a tree turns thirty, its grove will tend to gain some spirits. Kodama spirits prefer to live in mature trees, and loggers must always check to be sure they don’t cut down a kodama’s tree, for this will kill the spirit and curse the woodcutter. Kodama are a common form of forest kami, but not the only one. Many kami dwell within undeveloped nature, subtly affecting their mortal neighbors. While in normal lands, torii and temples are used to mark the presence of a kami’s shintai, a forest has no need. Everyone knows the wild woods are full of spirits, much like the mountains, and it would be insane to enter a forest without expecting them to do anything. Senkyo, the spirit realm, bleeds into Ningen-do, the mortal realm, in these wild places. The spirit beasts of Chikushu-do and Sakkaku are not rare in the forests, and the wary traveler will spot seemingly impossible trails, trees from distant places or strange weather when the spirits grow restless. Travelers may become lost in time or space, due to trickster spirits or simply the strange nature of the spirit realms. It is said that if you make the mistake of eating spirit food, you will be trapped forever.

Needle’s Eye Forest in Crane lands is infamous for the Sakkaku spirits within it. In the full moon, the tricksters become so energetic that the trees themselves glow with the force of their presence. Fortunately, the spirits largely keep to themselves and can even be benevolent, if treated well. The Needle’s Eye was the childhood playground of Hantei XXIII, who was known to sneak out of the Imperial Palace to play with an ethereal silver fox. When he became Emperor, he declared the Needle’s Eye to be sacred, forbidden to be touched by loggers and hunters, and it has remained so to this day. In the south lies Kitsune Forest, where the Fox Clan share a similarly friendly coexistence with the spirits of Chikushu-do and Sakkaku.

Kitsune Forest was once part of the Ki-Rin clan’s land, when they rode out after the Day of Thunder. However, the remnant were too weak to fend off the Lion invasion that followed, and the Emperor himself intervened to declare them a Minor Clan, and thus under Imperial protection. The remnant, now the Fox Clan, were given the land around Kitsune Forest, taking on the name to reflect their new home. However, their luck didn’t really hold out. Hantei Genji had given them land he had no authority to give, for it was claimed by spirits. The Fox Clan had to adapt to the rules of the forest, and it was only with the aid of kitsune spirit-foxes that they survived at all. In return for the reverence of the Fox Clan, the forest spirits protect the clan now. Few forests are as beautiful as the Kitsune, which is full of dappled light, tiny flowers and flowing streams. The Fox Clan keep it clear of deadfalls and heals any sick trees, bringing forth a vibrant life among the plants and beasts. The plants form natural arches and patterns, and everything seems animated by a playful intellect. Travelers are watched at all times, but rarely feel threatened by it. The spirits can’t usually resist pranks, but their pranks tend to be mostly harmless, and if they are handled with good humor, the spirits tend to bestow gifts on their victims. (Which is mechanically reflected – if you’re in Kitsune Forest and weird shit happens, you can make a Theology check to figure out if it was a kitsune’s fault, and can spend Opportunity results to regain a Void by taking it in stride respectfully.) Villages near Kitsune Forest all know the story of the imikotoba, the forbidden words. Long ago, the spirits requested that humans avoid certain words. Death is referred to as “slumber,” illness as “rest,” tears as “salty drips,” blood as “pain sweat,” meat as “mushrooms,” and graves as “dirt piles.” Further, they forbid discussion of cutting, sawing, hacking or snapping, for it stressed the kodama.

Kitsune Rumors posted:

  • Kitsune spirits are known for their love of gems. There are surely treasures stashed throughout the forest.
  • There is a village of tanuki (racoon dogs) who throw wonderful parties. Their sake is fantastic, and their pranks and performances are hilarious.
  • Troublesome kawauso (river otters) are mimicking people’s voices and reveling in the ensuing confusion. Some especially tricky youngsters appear as attractive humans, flirting with travelers then running away in a fit of giggles. No harm will come from ignoring them.

Our NPC is Ha Iwa, Kitsune Spirit. He appears as an extremely androgynous human with a masculine voice, a long face, slanted brows, high cheeks and close-set eyes – a fox face, or kitsune gao. Occasionally his tail can also be noticed peeking out from under his green kimono. Iwa doesn’t usually try to pretend to be anything other than a kitsune, though – he enjoys shapeshifting and walking along tree branches without snapping them. When he speaks, he is formal in language but acts like a drunkard, breaking out into laughter at the slightest joke and encouraging flattery. He loves being the center of attention. If not indulged, he grows frustrated and his façade starts to crack, causing his form to take on more and more fox aspects. He becomes unnaturally loud in his rants about disrespect, and when he returns in full to his fox form, he punishes whoever has angered him.

Adventure seed: The party is traveling through Kitsune Forest when a mysterious figure approaches. Anyone with any theological knowledge can tell the figure is a kitsune, but they aren’t even trying to hide it from anyone anyway. If asked for a name, they glance around obviously and offer up: Ha Iwa, literally ‘leaf rock’ and clearly taken from just the first shit the kitsune saw. Iwa insists the party play a game with him – hide and seek. He does not want to take no for an answer. If indulged, he changes into various forms to hide, though like any kitsune he cannot conceal his tail with shapeshifting. If the PCs play along and are respectful, he will reward them with gems – and while an offer of money may be insulting, turning him down is ill-advised. If the PCs refuse to play or otherwise anger Iwa, he will follow them wherever they go in the woods, pranking and tricking them incessantly – and some of his pranks may be quite dangerous to mortals. One of his favorite tricks is to impersonate members of the party and spread mistrust and animosity.

Next time: Less friendly forests.

Welcome To Hell Forest

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Welcome To Hell Forest

While places of mischievous but overall benevolent spirits are one kind of forest, others are infested by kansen, as Jigoku works to corrupt all things. In the dying of the light each evening, a time known as omagatoki, the spirit realms are unbound and free to roam, and these dark forests become horrors. Underneath the Tower of Kalet is the Dreamer’s Forest, a Tainted stronghold of the kansen. Every evening, the woods seek victims. The kansen wish to escape, and many maho-tsukai would love to get into the forest to bargain with them. The Unicorn maintain a barrier that goes both ways. Each night, the priests must walk the deep trench that has been dug around Dreamer’s Forest, chanting and waving their wands to purify the land. The path is dotted with komainu statues that sit in pairs, back to back. As the priests approach, these statues growl, then fall silent in recognition of allies. Weak spots are fortified by lesser talismans that must be replaced each time they are triggered.

The Traitor’s Grove in Scorpion lands is no less dangerous – the imprisoned ghosts sealed into the trees will wreak great evil on anyone they can, languishing as they do in constant torment. And even the Phoenix clan struggle to manage the dangers of their woods. While most of the Isawa Forest is peaceful, in its depths lies Mori Kuroi, the Dark Forest. The kami are not corrupted, but they were long ago traumatized by some forgotten encounter with humans. They use illusions to drive travelers into danger or even directly attack them. All attempts by the Phoenix shugenja to calm the kami have failed, and they refuse to even voice what has made them so enraged. This is the worst that can happen when the woodlands are mistreated, and the Phoenix protect it as an example of what should never happen, for any forest could become like the Mori Kuroi.

Shinomen Forest is larger than some entire clan territories, large enough that it covers multiple different ecosystems. It is ancient and unbreakable, with humanity never truly piercing its depths. It was there before the Five Ancient Races and it will outlast the Empire. Even the ancient towers built within it by some lost civilization are dwarfed by the trees, both in size and age. The air does not move and always carries the musty scent of decay. The trees grow far larger than their species should, and the forest’s mood can shift without warning. The Shinomen is not like the Mori Kuroi or the Dreamer’s Forest – it is not an evil place that aims to trap mortals. It just doesn’t care about humanity, and nor do most of the beings that live within it. It is also home to one of the stranger races of Rokugan – the nezumi ratfolk, who are not spirits of Chikushu-do, but are not animals, but are not one of the Five Ancient Races. They walk like men, have their own language and culture. Individual nezumi have short lives, but due to their patient Rememberers, their cultural memory stretches farther than humanity has existed.

Shinomen Rumors posted:

  • Somewhere in the Shinomen Forest is the stronghold of the Forest Killer Bandits.
  • On the Shinomen border, an entire village sometimes appears. Its inhabitants are always in the midst of a festival, wear incredibly outdated clothing, and believe it is the year 735. It is pointless to try to convince them otherwise. Multiple accounts suggest that the villagers are reliving the same night and do not remember prior encounters.
  • Bog hags are luring travelers to their death with illusionary inns.
  • Okuri inu are stalking the paths. If you find yourself being followed by a black hound, take extra care not to lose your footing. If it sees you falling, the apparition will maul you to death. To avoid this fate, pretend any misstep is intentional. Call out “I’m tired, so I’m going to lie down now!” or try to pass off your tripping as an unsightly dance.

In the eastern part of the forest, the ground is made of a porous black stone left from the volcanic birth of the Spine of the World. Hemlock is common, and the needles of the plants rot into a gross slime. Onibi, floating orbs of blue fire, drift across the ground in great numbers by twilight. In the west, it grows softer and is mostly broad-leafed trees. Maples are an ill omen, for their red leaves outside of fall are a symbol of blood. In the north, the forest is hilly, with many streams, and is dominated by evergreens. In the winter months, there is often snow. Frozen lakes by summer or thawed lakes in winter are caused by spirits. The southern forest is full of fruit trees of all kinds, baiting in travelers. However, it is said that any mortal that eats of the fruit of these trees is trapped by the spirits, unable to ever leave the Shinomen. Immense camphor trees sit amongst them, their branches wide enough to build houses on. On the eastern border lies the black Shadowland Marshes, a corrupted and festering blot of mud full of cypress and mangrove. This is the site where, centuries ago, a Shadowlands army was destroyed by mysterious, serpentine guardians they awoke, and the tainted souls of the monsters still writhe in the muck, corrupting all nearby.

Rules Posted In A Shinomen Logging Hut posted:

  • DO NOT answer the door after dark. NO exceptions.
  • If it’s going to be a full moon, scatter roasted soybeans and repeat “demons outside, good luck inside” AT LEAST two dozen times.
  • NEVER forget to bring your omamori talisman when out working.
  • If the eyeless girl stands by the window again, just throw salt at her.
  • Make sure all ofuda paper blessings are up to date and that one is placed on the ceiling, door, and EACH wall.
  • If a tree wasn’t there yesterday, DO NOT TOUCH IT.

Our NPC is Iht-Zyk, Nezumi Forager. She’s a small, clever nezumi who has carefully learned the lessons of the Tattered Ear tribe’s Rememberers. She is a skilled forager, but has grown ambitious after meeting humans. She ran into a Crab logging camp on the eastern border of the Shinomen, and they found her as interesting as she found them. While unable to speak each other’s language, they shared their food and she brought them wild nuts for several days. She found an elder among the Tattered Ear who could teach her human language, and while she studied it, she found love and became mother of several pups. Her loving nature extends to all creatures that lack the Taint of the Shadowlands, and she is immediately friendly to anyone she meets, caring more for their safety than her own. If she spots a wound, she will attempt to soothe the injured party by stroking their arm, treating them as one of her own pups. She may seem like a pushover, but she is an extremely skilled survivalist and guide.

Adventure seed: The PCs are trying to get through the Shinomen Forest, but find their path blocked by a cypress tree. They look around and realize the land itself has changed on them – they have passed through the spirit world and into the Shadowlands Marshes. They hear a voice crying for help, and a nezumi scurries out, with two pups strapped to her back. She begs them for aid in broken Rokugani, seeking the PCs’ help in finding her third child. In return, she will lead them out of the woods. Without the aid of Iht-Zyk, the trip will surely be much more dangerous, and she can help them avoid dangers like the strangling fudoshi vines, the poison tsumunagi eels and the nukarumi, a filth-covered ghost found in the Shadowlands. Tracking the pup leads to a group of goblins surrounding a mud mound topped by a white-blossomed apple tree. An ethereal stag charges around the tree, and the pup has climbed into the branches. The PCs may join the stag in protecting the nezumi pup. If they fail, the pup will fall from the tree onto the stag’s back, and it will flee into the forest, because the authors aren’t going to subject you to the death of tiny baby rat person. If this happens, Iht-Zyk is grateful that a spirit is at least protecting her child, and will go back to hunt for the pup after leading the party out. If the goblins are defeated, the stag will stand aside and allow Iht-Zyk to reclaim her pup. She will not just lead the PCs out of the Shinomen, she will also speak of their heroism to the Tattered Ear, who will surely become loyal allies.

There is also an in-character letter written from a patrol guard, Shinjo Kazue, at Shinomen Watchtower, about the bizarre snake ruins in the forest. They are unlike any architecture used by Rokugani, and must be immensely old due to the dirt and plant growth over them. They depict people with the features of snakes, and there is even a temple containing blasphemously serpentine depictions of Amaterasu. While the author has heard of a Snake Clan eradicated centuries ago for dishonor and blasphemy, they don’t believe the ruins were made by any human, and thinks they probably predate the Empire itself. Egg shells have been discovered recently – the broken remnants of something hatching. They resemble snake eggs, except they’re bigger than any snake known to exist.

Next time: Ruins

What Came Before

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Emerald Empire: What Came Before

The memories of past inhabitants and the pain of decay suffuse ruins, giving each its own distinct atmosphere and personality. Stone ruins usually remain strong despite their disrepair, often left by abandoned castles or estates. They crumble but remain as landmarks and refuges, and a village may even be built around old walls, giving the ruins new purpose. Wooden ruins can be darker, for they decay and rot. Rotting shrines and temples typically go with tranquility and grace, though, as their priests would. Mighty, majestic trees often grow from them, and travelers can sense the serenity even once all manmade things are gone. The oldest ruins, of course, are packed earth or burial mounds, barely distinguishable from nature landscapes. They tend to be subtle, unknowable and ancient. Even a burial mound need not be evil, though – the dead may just sleep and dream, awakening only if disturbed or given offerings. Few of these mounds remain after Iuchiban’s defiling, though, between him and his Bloodspeakers raiding them for corpses.

The spirits of some ruins, usually lost villages, want little more than a simple offering. Others have stronger demands, or worse ones – they may seek to force villagers to live there, to give up blood, or even to bury bodies in violation of Imperial law, that the spirits may have company. Forgotten ruins often become detached from Ningen-do, flowing into the spirit realms, with the more benign approaching Yume-do or Chikushu-do, the resentful ones approaching Sakkaku…but for most, the flow is towards Gaki-do, as the ruins yearn to belong to something. Their hunger sucks out the life and energy of mortals, demanding ever more attention. Token offerings will usually keep a benign ruin satisfied or even earn small boons, but any lapse can cause the spirits to misbehave all over again, usually in greater intensity than before. Continuous attention over time may settle a ruin into slumber, at least, and some architects have even managed to make new things on pacified ruins, integrating the old spirits into a new place. This is best done with caution, as the ruin spirits may well continue to cause trouble. A good architect will hire a priest or monk to offer a cleansing before getting to work, and a blessing when finished.

Heimin tend to avoid ruins if they can, fearing them as a source of tragedy and monsters. However, they will frequently tell stories about any nearby ruins, which may be as much fiction as fact. The wise traveler can use these tales to find useful truth, if they are good at sorting out the false legends. Often, it is the unhappy stories that are most true. Vanished people, those that return from the wilderness changed, or those afflicted by an unexplained depression, mania or hallucinations are all good signs that a supernatural element is involved somewhere. This supernatural power is a reason that most clans value ruins, or at least respect them as dangers. If a ruin can remember the past, a priest might be able to plead with the spirits there for lost history and knowledge, or even rebuild the place as a shrine to gain valuable treasures or relics.

Of course, magic isn’t the only reason to care. A ruin of the clan’s own history is a sign of despair and ash, as a good building is a sign of pride. The Crane think they are ugly eyesores, to be cleansed, purified and cleared away. The Lion look at their own ruins as symbols of failure. The Crab see them as an insult to their architectural skill. For the Dragon, they are places of power, to be tamed or forced to serve. Reclaiming a wild ruin and remaking it under a clan banner shows commitment to history and allows it to be made a whole place once again. Indeed, restoring ruins has in the past entirely reenergized clans that were on the point of falling into irrelevance. Further, ruins can be sources of literal treasure – documents, jewels, weapons. They might provide clues about a family inheritance or hidden heritage due to genealogical records, surviving descendants hidden in local villages or proof of a lost title on lands. The ruins’ secrets may also be revealed to foes that approach with proper offerings, if the ruins are not controlled. While a haunted ruin may only threaten local heimin, it takes stout will and mind to fight off or appease the spirits. If left alone, the haunting may spread, ruining the peace of a local woodland or village. Cultists may even end up drawn to the unchecked power. Samurai also seek out ruins in search of esoteric answers, for everyone knows that a ruin is tied to the spirit realm and can grant knowledge if you are careful. Even without spirits around, a ruin might grant wisdom – if nothing else, it’s a great place to meditate on the ephemeral nature of life.

Wild animals often make their home in ruins, coexisting with local ghosts or spirits most of the time. (The exceptions are spirits of deep hunger, rage or pain, which may draw the ruin towards Toshigoku. Animals avoid these.) Spirits often influence the animals, using them as guardians or servants, which an attentive traveler might notice. A troll or other monsters might even take up life in a ruin, haunted or not, in order to be isolated from humans. In some such cases, the troll will rebuild part of the ruins as a labyrinth, to give them the advantage if anyone comes after them. Troll culture provides a pattern to these mazes, of circles within circles, based on the design of their ancient cities. Naga lairs and cities are also hidden from humans, and these cities have usually fallen to ruin. Naga ruins are usually carved directly into mountain or cliff stone, with many geometric patterns in their carvings, images of naga life and depictions of celestial bodies. There will never be stairs or ladders, so most humans tend to not be able to get to any but the base floor of the cities. Any naga that happen to not be in hibernation can easily avoid human intrusion by ascending or descending the specially carved spirals cut into columns or the stone protrusions on the walls.

The Temple of the Burned Monk lies near the ronin village Nanashi Mura, on the Dragon border. Warriors with unresolved thoughts test their discipline there by meditating overnight in the ruined temple. A long time ago, a monk refused to surrender to bandits, so they burned him and the temple. The monk sat calmly and silently as the place turned to ash. The bandits rode off, leaving the local villagers alone, for their bloodlust had been sated. When the villagers emerged to clean things up, they found the monk alive, if covered in soot, and the place smelled of flowers, not smoke. However, the moment someone touched him, the monk turned to ash, according to local legend. The story spread, and a ronin decided to prove her bravery was equal to the monks, inadvertently beginning a Nanashi Mura tradition. When a ronin needs to show they have the discipline to serve and the control to obey orders, they meditate for one night in the temple grounds. Most encounter nothing, but find it calms their tempers. Some meet the ghost of the monk, rededicating themselves to Enlightenment. A few flee in fear and disgrace, never to be seen again. The original ronin emerged with new purpose. She shaved her head, renamed herself Hasu, and became a wandering monk that fought bandits and spirits in order to help the powerless and oppressed.

From the exterior, the temple appears bare and empty. Only a few support beams remain, scorched black. The plot is surrounded by stones placed by local villagers, both to show respect and to ensure the temple’s spirit doesn’t disturb the village. Sometimes, they will leave a stool or mat in the plot, but most villagers haven’t the nerve to cross the boundary, thanks to the smell of burnt wood, the sounds of chanting or whispers of fear, darkness and fire. The Dragon Clan’s leaders aren’t sure how to feel about the place. One good bushi has disappeared after visiting, but another, after a night in the temple, inspired a band of ronin to swear themselves to the Dragon. Discussions about the ruins and the village of Nanashi Mura have offered ideas ranging from burning the village down entirely to officially bringing it into the clan’s holdings, and the leadership of the clan is deadlocked, so there are no current plans to raze, purify or rebuild the site at all.

Our NPC is Kaiu Tsuneko, aka Shibito. Tsuneko always felt constrained by her family’s history. Her work didn’t fit tradition, so she decided to study not only Kaiu architecture but the ancient works of prehumen civilizations. Each discovery only fuels her desire to learn more and more about weirder and older ruins, and unsurprisingly she has entirely abandoned her family labors to go exploring. While she was once merely interested in construction techniques, her health and luck have gotten worse since encountering something near Morikage Toshi. She won’t discuss it for fear of supernatural retribution, and she has been disowned by the Kaiu, her name stricken from their records. Despite this, some of her family want her back, as long as her delusions can be cured. The local villagers call her Shibito, and she considers this and Kaiu Tsuneko to both be her names now. She believes the dead remember things she needs to know about old buildings, and she spends more time with them now than the living. She is emaciated and pale, her hair long and uncared for, and unless she’s found an offering at a grave or shrine recently, she’s usually forgotten to eat and drink. She has little concern for most people and can usually be found talking to herself, or possibly spirits. While she is extremely weird, she remains a scholar, and will happily talk to anyone that can teach her something about spirits, architecture, history or craftwork.

Adventure seed: A lost Crane samurai, Kakita Sakura, has been spotted in Dragon lands. Once refined, she is now loud and foul-mouthed, prone to emotional displays, and refuses to go home. The Dragon want to know why, and her lord believes her possessed by a spirit, seeking her return for purification. The locals of Nanashi Mura will tell the PCs that Sakura spent a night in the Temple of the Burned Monk to prove her bravery. At the ruins, Shibito is hanging out and will only tell the PCs what she knows if they can stay overnight. The night is full of terrifying visions, but in the morning, Shibito says she witnessed Sakura’s purity and is certain she achieved Enlightenment. She then points the group to a Crane village named Musume Mura. In the village, the PCs find Sakura secretly training the locals to fight and tutoring the heimin in the tenets of the Perfect Land Sect. The PCs must decide how to deal with her. Should she die to avoid rebellion? Can she be returned to the Dragon or Crane? Is she in fact Enlightened?

Next time: The Forgotten Village

Troll In The Dungeons

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Emerald Empire: Troll In The Dungeons

Wasureta Mura, the Forgotten Village, sits in the Valley of Spirits between the Shinomen and the Twilight Mountains. It has been dead for a very, very long time, and it calls out to its neighbors, trying to get them to come and live there. Villagers see beautiful people beckoning them, childlike figures running in the woods, the images of long-dead friends. Whatever the spirits think will get them to come. Rumors say it was called by anything from bandits to curses, but no one really bothers to find the truth. People sometimes vanish in the valley, especially those with troubled hearts, who are disappointed with their lives or feel they don’t belong. They hear the call of Wasureta Mura more clearly, the deeper they go into the wooded valley. Those who have strong connections with other people, are content with their lives or have strong passions or commitments in the living world have trouble finding the village. Their ties to the living keep them from sensing the ruins. This makes it hard to get rid of the spirits – the sheer determination needed to do so makes it hard to find them. Samurai who have suffered terrible wounds, lost loved ones or become fascinated by death have it easier finding the village…and a harder time escaping it. A few bushi have tried to purify the place, but some do not return, suffering from the terrible ennui that the village engenders and thrives with. The others say they only saw a ruined village briefly, or caught voices on the edge of hearing.

Local priests believe that the nearby villages may contain salvaged construction from the Forgotten Village, which invites spirits and nightmares. A simple purification can solve this, but most of those affected refuse to allow one at all, as they claim their dead relatives are speaking to them. Some misguided villagers make annual sacrifices to the Forgotten Village. Most send volunteers to do so, though the social pressure to volunteer can be strong. Some villages have fallen into violence selecting unwilling “volunteers,” and a few are too eager to do so, strengthening a burgeoning maho ritual. Things get worse if the volunteer finds that Wasureta Mura doesn’t want them – they are now homeless and rejected, and will face even worse violence if they return to their original village as a failure. It is only as they embrace despair that the Forgotten Village invites them home.

Forgotten Village Rumors posted:

  • If you see flames among the ruins or at the forest edge at night, run far away.
  • Bringing offerings of toys to the ruins can improve your karma.
  • Offerings actually tie the spirits more closely to this world and reflect poorly on the giver.

Our NPC is Kasai, Mountain Troll. Kasai has seen many of his people die due to humans, and he has come to the Valley of Spirits to get away from them. He is scarred and broken by his experiences, having seen many of his kind fall to the Shadowlands, the ravages of time and encroaching humanity. He remembers all of it, all of the betrayals and pains. While his a misanthrope, he deliberately avoids attacking humans. He dresses in rags and attempts to appear as a spirit to drive them away instead, howling in the night to scare people and leaving rotting animal carcasses around to press the message home and to force people away with the smell. If anyone actually gets him to talk, he calls himself an animal, despite clinging to the trappings of civilization. He keeps the scrolls and books he finds on dead travelers or dropped by people fleeing in terror, and he builds himself small huts out of wood and stone. If someone listens, they might hear his low, guttural songs in the night – terrible and lonely. He wants to seek out other trolls, but that would mean leaving the Valley for human lands. He hates humanity, and his hatred battles his discipline. He refuses to become a monster and kill his way through, and so he remains isolated, angry and lonely.

Adventure seed: A local priest has gone into the Valley of Spirits to set up more talismans against the spirits there, but she hasn’t returned. The villagers need her for the normal blessings they require, but are not brave enough to enter the wood. The PCs may follow the trail of new wards to find a mutilated deer corpse that is drawing in a pack of starving wolves. After that, there is a haunted tree that is imprisoning a lost villager. After that, they run into Kasai. He has been stalking them, and while he will ambush them and attack, he will withdraw before he does any serious damage. Finally, the PCs will reach Wasureta Mura’s ruins, but the priest there won’t leave. While she was kidnapped by Kasai, she believes she can convert him to the Shintao and end his pain. Kasai’s anger and hatred of humans isn’t helping her work, of course. When some mercenaries show up to kill Kasai, the PCs must decide what they value among the priest’s safety, the troll’s health and the possibility of a huge fight between the troll and the ronin mercenaries.

The coastline is not usually thought of as wild lands – but that is because the coasts that are settled are the accessible parts. The cliffs, crags and broken shores are all isolated, uncivilized places. The northern coasts tend to be rocky, sheer cliffs and stone stands with strong winds and chilly water. The coast gets better as you head south, as the water warms and the weather improves. One of the more famous beaches in this area is the sacred Fields of the Morning Sun in Shinkyou Province, where all violence is forbidden. The islands of Spice and Silk have both kinds of beach, due to volcanic activity, and the subtropical climate brings frequent rains and storms, which can change the coastline on an almost monthly basis. The sea is simultaneously a source of life and death.

Natural disasters in general strike the Phoenix Clan less than any other, because the Phoenix command the Elemental Masters, shugenja of immense power that are able to prevent the coastal disasters that more often strike other clans. This is part of why Phoenix peasants are so much more devoted and pious than others – they know where their blessings come from. The Phoenix coast also produces a lot of salt, which priests rely on and consecrate in exchange for use of it. Even in Phoenix lands, though, a traveling priest must be careful not to overtax village resources when they visit. If their blessings fail to bring prosperity, heimin may even grow angry and bar the priest from coming back – or even attack them. Demands for their work lead many to travel up and down the coasts, leaving them vulnerable to attack by many bandits, pirates and wild beasts. The Crane lands are rather more vulnerable than the Phoenix coasts, as demonstrated by the tsunami that devastated their coastline three years back, and they still haven’t totally recovered. The displacement of Crane refugees has disrupted Crane food production and tax revenue, and while the Daidoji Trading Council has provided some aid in rebuilding, it suffers from nepotism, incompetence and neglect, so every report of damage must be inspected carefully, slowing things down.

The Mantis, uniquely, live and die entirely by the sea. They have mastered water, earth and fire, learning from the many volcanos of their islands, which often bring steam, earthquakes and hot springs. As yet, none of them have erupted and threatened the clan, which has meant their wealth continues to grow. Trade and piracy fuel their ambitions for Imperial recognition, and the Mantis have excellent schools, high rate of literacy and education that doesn’t lose compared to the Major Clans, all on the fuel of the sea and the elements.

Sea life is often dangerous. While fish, urchins and cuttlefish are good food, sharks, octopi and other predators are a constant threat to fishermen and pearl divers. Stories of impossibly immense variants of these beasts taking down entire ships are common. Water and air kami are also threats along the coastline. If offended, they can cause terrible damage, and it’s not always easy to tell a natural storm from the wrath of the kami. A giant squid might well be the physical form of a spirit, as well, and sailors under attack often pour sake, blessed salt or rice into the sea, praying as they do. Many fishing villages maintain shrines to the air and water kami for the same reason. Villages that are cared for by the kami not only receive great fishing and protection from the elements, they may also receive valuable knowledge of the coast or be protected from pirates by a spirit defender. Sailors speak of other sea creatures, part human and part fish, which are not kami. No offering or blessing will attract their aid. They swim in the wake of ships, watching drowning sailors, and they have no interest in cargo. Villagers have reported these creatures inland as well, in places like White Shore Lake among the Unicorn territories. Some stories say these creatures are called ningyo, that they live in the ruins of cities and palaces under the sea, such as the lost Kyuden Morehei. It is believed that if a mortal eats the flesh of a ningyo, they may become immortal. Ningyo sightings often draw in desperate or greedy hunters, whose presence inevitably brings chaos and misery.

Next time: The Cave of the Stone Children and the Summerlands.

Pirates of Penzance

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Emerald Empire: Pirates of Penzance

Ishiko no Dokutsu, the Cave of the Stone Children, was discovered after the tsunami of 1120 destroyed a shrine near Akagi Mori. The shrine, once used for good luck offerings and the blessings of children, had its name scrolls and placards wash up in a cove alongside small stones whose pitted markings resembled a sleeping baby’s face. A peasant couple named Asaji and Taketoki heard about these stones and believed them to be reincarnated children, so they went to the cove in hopes of finding their own lost child. They took the stones, scrolls and placards, putting them in a cave entrance near the cove. In their grief, they have come to believe that all of the “stone children” belong to them, and they now lurk in the area to ambush travelers, whom they fear will kidnap their “family.” The two have also taken to stealing food, offerings and clothes from local villages, and a few of the villagers have disappeared, murdered by the couple. All of the vanished had lost children, and most of the locals think they committed suicide in the ocean. Questioning Asaji and Taketoki about them isn’t super helpful, but the pair are starting to think about kidnapping real children, though they haven’t decided if they plan to sacrifice the kids or raise them.

The cove is a rocky, treacherous place that is not easy to explore. It would be very easy to twist an ankle or fall on sharp rocks. The place never seems to see the sun, and even by daylight it is hazy, muted and sickly. The waters have strange currents that wash up detritus but can drag people underwater easily, into the tunnels full of sharp rocks. Many, many sharp rocks. The water is unwelcoming, and using it to bathe leaves one feeling sticky and unclean. The cave in which Asaji and Taketoki live goes deep into the cliffs, and within the air becomes foggy and ashy, though there is no heat or flame. Some of the tunnels are flooded, and all are tiny and claustrophobic. Even the couple haven’t explored much of the cave system, but if they did, they would start to hear the voices of children, laughing and whispering to them to continue their thefts and murders, until all children have died and joined them.

Cave Rumors posted:

  • There is a certain rash that affects nearby villagers. It is a curse by the old, giant fish that sleeps in the cove.
  • A kami saved a boat of drowning fisherfolk by turning them into ocean waves, but its neglected shrine keeps it from returning to free them.

The Summerlands are wet marshes in Wakiaiai Province, full of reeds and cicadas. Travelers often visit at the end of spring, to hear the loud cries of the insects, and it is especially popular for scholars, priests and poets seeking inspiration – enough that a small cluster of inns have been built for them. The nice weather and flat land make for spectacular sunrises, and it’s a lovely retreat. Those who seek true solitude, though, head deep into the marshes to be surrounded by the sound of summer. Con artists often sell maps into the Summerlands, and most of them are just harmless fakes that lead nowhere in particular. A few, however, lead to bandit ambushes, and it is not especially rare for explorers of the marsh to find the skeletons of those who came before, slain by bandits or getting lost and starving. The marsh bandits are rather strange people. Some seem starved and frenzied, like maddened beasts rather than humans. Others are desperate, asking travelers what year it is and attacking when they don’t like the answer. A few even resemble the dead, pronouncing great dooms while dragging foes into the marsh.

Maps are useless to begin with, as the marshes change annually with the growing of the reeds, and some say the land itself even shifts with the seasons. The muddy earth may suddenly become a deep pool that consumes an unfortunate traveler, and a more favored method of exploration is to join a team exploring. These teams head out in strings, each remaining in sight of the one just behind and the one just ahead, so that any of them can follow the line back. However, the drive to discover the new causes many to avoid such safe methods, wandering alone in the marshes. Every lone explorer tells a different tale of the Summerlands. One might speak of finding perfect torii arches that lead to Enlightenment, while others talk of finding a city of people that were half human and half snake or dragon, polite and welcoming but unable to tell what a human was. Others claim to find strange and unique treasure – silver chests, rare and perfect rice strains, swords made of dreams. However, no explorer has ever found the same thing twice.

Our NPC is Uranaishi no Manami, Ambitious Pirate. She is one of the best pirates the Mantis have, but she hates it. She hates her own reputation and that of the Mantis, and she desperately wishes she could just be a normal, legitimate samurai. She is torn between three warring impulses – first, to be a simple fisher and sailor, second, to provide for her family and clan by continuing her piratical raiding, and third, to earn the respect and recognition of other clans. This means that while she is very smart, she is also extremely grumpy, basically all the time. She prefers to choose a single large, wealthy target over more smaller and easier ones, as this minimizes the amount of blood she must shed. If challenged on her decisions by her crew, she tends to grab and wrestle whoever started the problem, using her small but stocky and powerful body to prove her might. Her successes have proven a surprising amount of tactical skill, and she is rarely questioned any more. When the tsunami struck the Crane a few years back, she chose not to raid the villages and steal from the dead. Instead, she began rescuing survivors. While she has told her crew that she thinks the Crane may pay ransom for them, she has been treating her “prisoners” very well indeed, integrating them into a village near Toshi no Inazuma. There has been no ransom as yet, which may well be a harm to her reputation, but her crew remains loyal and well fed, so they have not complained. The Mantis as a clan, however, have mixed feelings about her act of mercy and particularly for taking responsibility for peasants that think of themselves as Crane. Some doubt Manami’s dedication, both to piracy and the Mantis Clan. Those jealous of her often bring up her softhearted ways, fearing her ambitions. She has openly discussed the idea of sending tribute and representatives to Otosan Uchi in order to have the Mantis raised to Major Clan status, and with each successful raid, Yoritomo is more likely to listen to her – and to select her as representative.

Adventure seed! The PCs learn of a tsunami victim, the Crane courtier Asahina Hisayoshi, when a merchant delivers one of his netsukes, a sort of carved decorative button, from the wreckage. The Asahina desperately desire his safe return or at least information about his fate, and would like the PCs to help. When the PCs head out in search, however, strange things start happening. Winds push them off course, storms threaten their ship, water spirits attack in the night. Adrift at sea, the PCs will eventually manage to speak to the spirits, learning about Hisayoshi’s death. A Mantis pirate rescued him from the sea, but he demanded that the pirates also rescue heimin children swept up by the tsunami. The pirate refused, so Hisayoshi lept back into the sea to save them himself, perishing under the waves. The pirate and the spirits nearby were moved by this sacrifice and pledged to protect the children. These children, along with a small handful of adults, have been living on a Mantis island ever since. While the pirates have treated them well, the Mantis Clan is growing impatient, for no ransom or benefits have been forthcoming. Further, if the Crane learn about Hisayoshi’s death, they may now seek retribution.

Next time: Player options.

How 2 Imperial

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Emerald Empire: How 2 Imperial

Our first new player option is the chance to play Imperial characters…sort of. The Imperial Families option is effectively a clan, but it does not include the Hantei. The Imperial Families, in this case, refers to the families that support the Hantei. They are often seen as mere adjuncts, for they are small in number and hold little land, but their power and influence is immense. They are directly tied to the Hantei, much more close than any Great Clan is. The Hantei proper are only the Emperor and their direct, immediate family. The three Imperial Families that are actually playable are the Seppun, the Otomo and the Miya. All have ties to the throne by a mix of blood, duty and history, and all have immense political and cultural power that stands well out of proportion with their numbers or wealth. All members of the Imperial Families are kuge, senior nobles, and so they stand apart from most samurai. They have greater access to the Emperor and the ranking Imperial authorities such as the Emerald Champion or Imperial Advisor, and what lands they do hold are protected from attack or seizure. Regardless of the status of whoever speaks to them, they must be addressed as ‘-sama’ and given the respect due to a samurai of higher status…with the exception of other members of the Imperial Families, senior Imperial officials, or the Emperor, of course.

All PCs of the Imperial families automatically know generally about Otosan Uchi politics and can name Imperial family leaders, ranking bureaucratic officials and other notable figures in Imperial leadership, plus their political positions and allegiances. They automatically know Imperial history pretty well, especially as it applies to the deeds of the Emperor and the Imperial Families. They automatically know all proper etiquette and protocol in the Imperial Capital. The virtues of Bushido that they hold most dear are Duty and Loyalty, for these drive all they do. The ties of blood and service bind them to the Hantei line and hold them together. They hold Compassion to be least important, for the good of the Empire must always outweigh all other needs, no matter what. All three have high Status for starting PCs, plus pretty good Glory, and provide access to social skills (for the Miya and Otomo) or religiously-themed skills (for the Seppun).

The Miya Family are the youngest of the three Imperial Families, formed after the death of Hantei. Miya was a loyal follower of Otomo, known for being a quick-witted and charming man who was quickly a court favorite. When the war on Fu Leng was won, it was Miya that delivered the news to Hantei as he lay dying. The Emperor ordered that Miya should continue to spread the news of the war’s end across the Empire, and as he did, he and his retainers helped in rebuilding the Empire, leaving hope and purpose wherever they went. When Miya returned to Otosan Uchi as a hero, the cunning Otomo saw an opportunity and convinced the new Emperor, Hantei Genji, to allow Miya, who was still loyal to Otomo, to found his own family. The Miya have ever been the smallest of the Imperial Families and the ones with the least direct influence on the throne. However, they are widely beloved across the entire Empire. Miya Heralds carry the edicts of the Emperor across the land, while Miya Cartographers survey the lands to make new maps that properly define the holdings of the clans. Thus, the Miya are trusted and welcomed essentially everywhere, even places where the Seppun or Otomo might be treated with wary fear.

This makes the Miya the eyes and ears of the Imperials, recording what they see with a minimum of bias. Their generally guileless, open nature gives them unparalleled access to the entire Empire and also tends to mean they’re pretty safe when traveling. The Miya are often found serving in the Imperial Legions or the Emerald Magistrates, and their reputation both for loyalty to the Emperor and impartiality in dealing with the Clans helps in both jobs. Miya are also often found as arbitrators or judges for the same reason, overseeing anything from land disputes to duels to complex trials. The Imperial Herald is a hereditary Imperial office traditionally held by the Miya daimyo. The Miya also serve to deliver the Emperor’s Blessing, as the original journey by Miya has become known. It is now a formal event of rebuilding, annually carried out by carpenters and crafters drafted for the job and deployed to wherever the Empire most needs them, usually areas harmed by war or natural disaster. Competition to receive the Blessing is fierce, but its final decision sits entirely with the Emperor in consultation with the Miya daimyo.

The Otomo Family were the second Imperial Family, after the Seppun. Otomo was the younger son of a tribal warlord, known for his clever tongue and his subtlety. Due to his formidable manipulative prowess, he was an expert at ending conflicts that threatened his tribe. His wit and cunning proved a great value to Hantei in uniting the many peoples that would become the Empire, and he was instrumental in the creation of the Miya family, which only enhanced his standing in the Imperial Court. His subtle, indirect approach to all parts of life has been the family’s trademark ever since. The job of the Otomo is simple: spread chaos and discord among the Clans. Several times in Imperial history, conspirators have tried to control the Chrysanthemum Throne, and in order to prevent the clans from ever uniting to gain influence or seize the throne, the Otomo employ many methods that are terrible, angering and harmful – even, sometimes, to loyal samurai. They are never malicious for the sake of malice, however. They see a greater good: security of the Hantei. That is what they have utterly devoted themselves to. They use flattery, favors, bribery, lies, blackmail – anything that will do the job.

Many samurai consider the ruthless and manipulative actions of the Otomo to be unworthy of samurai and Bushido. The Otomo, however, consider themselves entirely essential to the Empire, keeping the clans off-balance and focused on their own rivalries so that they never threaten the Throne. There are no records of how many inter-clan conflicts have been pushed along by the Otomo, but it is surely many. The great danger, of course, is that the Otomo are imperfect humans, and so they may themselves succumb to the temptations of power and ambition. The family denies that such a failure has ever occurred, and acknowledge that it could, so they have put measures in place to prevent it. Certainly, some of them must watch each other, and most imagine life among the Otomo is constant intrigue and paranoia over each other, which the family never denies. Many Otomo serve in key positions in the Imperial bureaucracy, and the family is rival even to the Crane in being cultural leaders of the Empire. They know that every piece of art serves a political purpose, and they wield art as a weapon. Beauty is just another tool in their arsenal. It is a vitally important Imperial custom that any children of the Emperor that do not inherit the throne adopt the Otomo name after the Ritual of Abdication. These young Imperials typically join the Otomo family proper in a gempuku performed regardless of age. In this way, Otomo helped to preserve the Hantei line, so that if an Emperor ever died without heir, it would be possible to trace the blood back to the next most direct relative. This would almost always be an Otomo, who would then reverse the abdication and assume the throne as a Hantei. In this way, the Otomo maintain their subtle but powerful grip on power.

The Seppun Family date back to the dawn of the Empire. When the Kami fell to earth, the place they landed came to be called Seppun Hill, for the first mortal to meet them. She was Seppun, and she was so moved by their arrival that she offered herself and all her followers as servants to the Kami. Hantei accepted her offer, and they were the first mortal followers of any of the Kami. While others may seek the favor of the Emperor, the Seppun have it merely by virtue of their blood. Some Seppun are courtiers or bureaucrats, but the most famous role of the family is to be the Emperor’s protectors. When the Kami fell, they took on some of the vulnerabilities of mortal form, and so the Seppun made it their duty to guard and protect the Kami. This has lasted until today, and the Seppun are some of the best bodyguards in the entire Empire as well as the greatest defenders of the Emperor. They are always prepared to die in place of the Emperor. This is not mere fanaticism – it is their family’s duty and reason to exist. To facilitate it, the Seppun have established two types of guard: the Palace Guard, also called the Seppun Honor Guard, who are the Emperor’s personal bodyguard that guard against physical threats, and the Hidden Guard, who protect against spiritual and supernatural threats.

The Palace Guard stand amongst the finest warriors in the entire Empire, and focus all of their skill on the sole duty of protecting the Emperor. Defense is their ultimate purpose, and all of their tactics and techniques are to facilitate this. Even their mighty skill in iaijutsu is not intended for dueling but only to allow them to draw their weapons quickly in case of surprise attack. The Hidden Guard, on the other hand, are bushi and shugenja who devote themselves to study of the kami and Shinsei. They are no less ready to die for the Emperor in combating spiritual harm than the Palace Guard are in physical combat, and many of the Hidden Guard are masters of wards and spiritual defenses. They maintain close but discreet ties to the Kuni Witch Hunters, the Asako Inquisitors and the Scorpion Kuroiban. As with the Otomo, the Seppun do other jobs besides their primary one, and many bureaucrats are Seppun. They are also notable for their devotion to Shinseism, and Seppun herself was a fervent disciple of Shinsei. After her death, her children founded four temples in honor of Shinsei’s teachings, and to this day, the Seppun are among the foremost and most devoted Shinseists in the Empire. They also maintain an Imperial Library focused on thoughts, feelings and emotions of those involved in historic events rather than on strict history. These documents are highly subjective, but much can be learned from them about the people of the past.

Next time: Imperial Schools

Making Maps

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Making Maps

The Miya Cartographer is an Artisan/Courtier school. They travel through the Empire to gather information and update the Imperial maps. Of course, Rokugan doesn’t use any standard coordinate system, so they have to develop their own methods for accurate measurement of distance and direction, usually involving pacing and landmarks, star positions and so on. Their maps are more works of art than exact charts, and the margin of error usually increases the further they get from the capital. Either way, the Cartographers have standing authority to travel anywhere they want, regardless of clan borders or other boundaries, and often spend a lot of time in remote or uninhabited areas to make their observations. They are self-sufficient, though they often travel with retainers or yojimbo, and not only study academic topics like writing or art but also athletics, stamina and survival skills. They must always be ready for privation and hardship, given how much time they spend in the wilds. They get excellent scholarly and social skills mixed with some survival skills, and are able to learn Kata, Rituals and Shuji, with a focus on Air and Earth Shuji plus Katas as their mainstays. This gives them a solid mix of martial and social skills that are generally usable in any situation they may find themselves in. They also have decently high starting Honor, at 50. They also get either a free servant or a free pony.

Their basic technique is Well Traveled. They always know which way is north, and can always find a landmark useful for navigation. Further, when making any check to remember or gain geographical, political or societal information, they may add a number of kept dice set to any combination they choose of Success or Opportunity results to their roll equal to their school rank. Their capstone ability is Emerald Explorer. Once per scene as a Support action, they can make an easy Survival check targeting someone in the scene. That character, plus one more per bonus success, can ignore all negative terrain effects until the end of the scene. The basic technique is, I think, the more useful of the two – there are a lot of rolls that it applies to and they’re usually quite helpful ones. Emerald Explorer’s a bit niche, but capstones are allowed to be – hitting rank 6 is basically its own reward, and rank 6 Well Traveled is itself already completely fucking insane.

The Miya Herald is a Courtier school. They serve both as messengers of the Emperor and as historians, as it is their duty to strictly and objectively record everything they experience. More than a few samurai have attempted to deceive them or conceal things from them, only to be horrified to learn that the Miya recorded exactly what they were told and what they saw – including all attempts to deceive and obfuscate. The duty of the Miya is to move through the Empire, delivering messages accurately and in succinct form. They may cross any border and must not be delayed in their duties, and while they learn self-defense, their primary focus is on speed and evasion, to better be able to arrive early and without harm to themselves or their messages. They speak with the words of the Emperor, giving them great authority, and only the most influential or foolish would ever openly say they were lying or wrong. They get good social skills and decent survival skills, and have access to Kata, Shuji and Rituals, with a heavy focus on Shuji of all types except Fire. They have few personal combat skills, though they don’t entirely need them due to their school technique being very handy in combat. They also get Honor 50, and like the Cartographer, a free attendant or pony.

The basic technique of the Herald is Voice of the Emperor. Once per round, after anyone nearby succeeds on an Attack or Scheme action, the Herald can give them [school rank] strife. Which is amazing. The Herald doesn’t even have to be in the conflict to do it, as far as I can tell! All they have to be doing is standing nearby. A Herald on your side during a duel can just keep dropping sick burns on your opponent until they check. I think? I’m not sure if the rules actually work for that but as a GM I’d certainly allow it. Their capstone is Blessings of the Emperor. Once per scene, they can make a Scheme action and a difficult Command check targeting a number of characters in the scene based on their Glory. If they succeed, then until the end of the scene, all targets must forfeit a lot of Honor and Glory to target the Herald with an Attack action, and the difficulty of Attacks on the Herald goes up by 2, lasting until either the scene ends or the Herald attacks one of the affected targets or their allies. The Herald can also spend Opportunities on the Command roll to apply the effects to attacks the targets make on allies of the Herald. Both of these techniques are extremely good, though Blessings of the Emperor isn’t an easy roll without a lot of Command skill and Air Ring.

The Otomo Schemer is a Courtier school. They are the ultimate politicians, attending courts across the Empire to advance the agendas of Imperial politics. They are ruthless manipulators, using their great skill to earn favors, gain allies and destroy foes. The ends of preserving Imperial power justify any means, almost always. This is the credo of the Otomo. They get excellent social and knowledge skills and…look, these guys are pretty pure social. It’s their one job. They get access to Kata, Rituals and Shuji, but they’re never going to be really great at fighting. They focus mainly on Water, Air and Fire Shuji, and their Honor is surprisingly high – 45, rather than sub-40. They get a free attendant (but no pony).

Their basic technique is Necessary Actions. First, an Otomo Schemer never loses Honor or Glory when lying or deceiving others for the good of the Emperor and Empire – as determined by the character’s beliefs and opinions. However, they lose double the normal amount of Honor and Glory when lying for their own personal gain…again, as determined by the character’s own beliefs and opinions. Therefore, they are encouraged to ensure that their own gain and the good of the Empire are the same thing. Second, whenever anyone has to stake or forfeit Honor or Glory to act against the Schemer’s desires, the Schemer can increase that amount by their school rank. This is a powerful technique – as long as your foes care about their Honor and Glory. Which most will! It actually functions especially well against low-Honor foes, because no one actually wants to hit Honor or Glory 0 and get a ton of disadvantages; even most low-Honor or low-Glory characters want to hover just above that position most of the time. Their capstone is Majesty of the Throne. Once per scene, they can make a Scheme action and a Command check targeting any number of characters nearby, with a difficulty based on the highest Status among the targets. If the check succeeds, all targets become Dazed (+2 difficulty to Attack and Scheme actions) and Disoriented (+2 difficulty to all Movement and Support actions). This is pretty powerful, and essentially lets an Otomo Schemer drop a giant bomb on foes during a scene, especially low-Status foes, to allow their allies to then handle them all easily.

The Seppun Astrologer is a Shugenja/Artisan school. They are the face of the Hidden Guard, protecting the Imperials from spiritual threats. They learn and study all manner of magical practices, but specialize in astrology and divination so that they can predict and anticipate threats rather than working purely reactively. Besides astrology and calling on the elemental kami, they also utilize kawaru (divination by casting and reading the patterns of small objects), omen-reading and other esoteric practices. They also work extensively with wards to protect against magical intrusion, and coordinate heavily with the Palace Guard. They get good knowledge skills and access to Invocations, Rituals and Shuji, with a focus on Water, Earth and Air Invocations above all else. They are the lowest Honor of any Imperial school, at 40. No servant or pony.

Their basic technique is Just As Predicted. At the start of each session or during any downtime period, they can make an easy Theology check. If they succeed, they can then set aside up to their school rank in kept dice. Until the next downtime or end of session (whichever comes first), whenever anyone makes any skill check using the same ring as their Theology check they can replace any amount of kept dice with an equal amount of dice of the same type that they reserved from their prediction. This is extremely powerful if somewhat limited by what Ring you use and which dice you pick, because it can function either to buff allies or debuff enemies. Their capstone is Foreseen in the Stars. Once per session, they may spend 1 Void to reveal that they have foreseen an event in the scene. They can then retroactively declare any preparations they have made, subject to GM approval, though if any of those preparations would require a roll (like having a ward prepared) they have to make the rolls to see if they worked.

The Seppun Palace Guard is a Bushi school, the personal bodyguards of the Emperor and many Imperial officials. They are utterly devoted to protecting their charges, unhesitating in their willingness to step into danger even at the cost of their own lives. To do this, they train until they are among the greatest warriors of any in the Empire, able to react to anything, no matter how sudden. They are eternally patient, trained to stand motionless for hours on end but remain perfectly aware of their surroundings and ready to act at the first hint of any threat. They get access to Kata, Rituals and Shuji, with Katas being their main focus. They have excellent combat skills and decent if limited social skills. No pony, no servant. They have good Honor, at 50.

Their basic technique is Speed of Heaven. When they succeed on an Initiative check in a skirmish or duel, they get bonus successes equal to their school rank. This isn’t flashy, but it is very good – going first is an extremely powerful thing, always, in any L5R edition. Their capstone is The Clouds Part. Once per round, they can spend 1 Void to add bonus successes based on their Honor to any successful Attack or Support action check. That’s very good, though limited by Void points, and means that when they really need to, they can ensure they get what they need to do done.

Next time: Monks and Liars

Making Monks

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Emerald Empire: Making Monks

Besides the Imperials, there’s a few other new schools. Two new monks and two…well, we’ll get to them. The Fortunist Monk is a Monk school, and our first option for being a non-Togashi or Kaito monk. They are monks that focus on worship of the Fortunes, from the highest to the lowest. They are not shugenja, and so cannot sense the kami with the ease that shugenja can, but they are devoted to serving and understanding these divine spirits regardless. While they may lack in the secret lore of the shugenja families, those that bear the favor of a Fortune may often find the kami obeying their prayers regardless, granting them access to powerful elemental effects. They get a mix of social, knowledge and combat skills, and access to Katas, Rituals and Shuji. They do not get Kiho, which remain the province of the Togashi ise zumi and the Shinseist monks. They begin with only Honor 40, because…monks. They focus on Air, Earth and Water Shuji, plus some Katas…in theory. In practice, they’re going to rely a lot on Invocations. How? Their techniques.

Their basic technique is Blessing of the Fortunes. They select one Fortune that is their primary one, and get one free Invocation appropriate to that Fortune which they meet the rank prerequisite for. The game gives lists for the Seven Great Fortunes as examples, with GMs intended to come up with lists for lesser Fortunes if the PC wants to serve one of those instead. Each time they rank up, they get a new free Invocation. Further, any time they make a check to use one of their free Invocations, they get their school rank in bonus successes. This means they’re basically the best at using whatever Invocations they have, but their selections are much more limited than a shugenja’s. Their capstone is Favor of the Fortunes. Once per scene, they may importune for an Invocation they don’t already have without the normal costs or difficulty increases for doing so, and may use Meditation rather than the normal skill required for that Invocation when doing so. Because, y’know, why wouldn’t you want to be a kung fu wizard?

The Shinseist Monk is a Monk school dedicated to the teachings of Shinsei, the Little Teacher. It is rather more inward-focused than worship of the Fortunes, seeking Enlightenment within. All came from Void, and to Void all shall return, so all distinction is in truth illusory, if you can but overcome your limits. Therefore, the Shinseist monk can tap into the elements to produce apparently supernatural effects solely by their understanding of the world. This is oneness with the universe – and so it is natural, not supernatural. If you ask the monks, anyway. They have access to Kata, Kiho and Rituals, with focus split between Katas and Earth, Water and Void Kiho. They have good social, knowledge and combat skills, like the Fortunist monk, but will end up a bit more combat-focused because of their Kiho. Like the Fortunist Monk, they are Honor 40.

The basic technique is Embrace the Void. When they spend Void by the normal Void spending rules, they can use their school rank in place of the skill they are using. If their skill would be equal or better, or they have the skill at 5, they instead get one free Opportunity result on their roll. This is pretty decent – it lets them be competent at basically anything if they want to spend Void on it, and as monks they probably have high Void. Their capstone is One with the Void. Once per scene, they may use any Kiho they don’t already know, using Meditation in place of the normal skill required for it. This essentially means that at rank 6, they know every Kiho, because the way Kiho work is that you can only have one active at a time, and they give a single effect when activated and then a buff that lasts until the scene ends or they use a different Kiho. They thus get more versatility than the Togashi monks, who get bonuses to using the Kihos they do know instead.

The Kitsune Impersonator are a Courtier/Shugenja school, but are not members of the Fox Clan or Kitsune family necessarily. Indeed, there are no rules for playing as a Fox Clan samurai! This is a school for playing a literal kitsune, a Chikushu-do fox spirit that chooses to live among mortals as one of them, perhaps because they have fallen in love with a human or are descended from such a pairing. In human form, they usually appear as beautiful or handsome and generally youthful. They have strong senses of humor and are usually very inquisitive, even to the point of rudeness and prying. Further, they have a fox’s tail or even multiple tails, depending on their power, and these can reappear even in their human disguise. The eldest and most potent kitsune have nine tails. Kitsune PCs, despite being trickster spirits, follow the same Honor rules as normal samurai; they must adopt the Code of Bushido in order to maintain their human disguises, even if they don’t agree with the code entirely. They have to forfeit 1 Honor when using their powers to appear as samurai of higher Status than themselves, on top of any normal Honor lost for lying or other actions they perform in that guise – more on that in their technique. Kitsune have a good mix of social and combat skills, plus access to Invocations, Rituals and Shuji. They focus on Air Invocations and Shuji above all else. They have very low Honor, at 30, and must take the False Identity Disadvantage to represent that, well, they aren’t human. They pick a different school to get the gear from, representing the identity they are embodying as a human, but get none of its techniques, because…kitsune, they get the kitsune techniques.

Their basic technique is Fox Spirit. Their true form is either a large fox with up to eight tails, if they are a pureblooded kitsune, or a human with fox traits if they are part human. As a Scheme and Support action, they may transform between human and their true form, or into any silhouette 1-2 natural creature that the GM allows, which is humans and any animal or critter human-sized or smaller, though they can’t become a specific person. Anyone with Vigilance of their (Performance+school rank) or lower cannot spot any flaws in the illusion. However, if they become Compromised, the disguise slips, revealing their true tails, ears, feet or shadow. Their capstone is Nine Tail Ascension. Their true form now has nine tails, and while in it, they increase their Resistance to both physical and supernatural damage by 2. When in their true form and making any skill check, they may swap any one die containing a Success result to one containing a Great Success result. Further, while in their true form, they can spend two Opportunities when taking any Attack action; if they do, and the action resolves with their target becoming Unconscious or Incapacitated, they may choose to either devour or banish the target’s body or soul, instantly killing them. Because you’re a fucking kitsune, and in your natural form you can just eat people.

Last, we have the Kolat Saboteur, a Shinobi school. The Kolat are, we recall, a criminal conspiracy in the empire made from an affiliation of various subversive sects dedicated to ending the Celestial Order and placing humanity in charge, with all divine spirits slain or taken to heel. The Saboteurs serve as assassins for hire most of the time, but when the Kolat calls, they serve as its hands. The Kolat makes most of its money from crime, and the Saboteurs pursue many ends for the various sects that make up the conspiracy, which may come into conflict with each other. Overall, though, the shared mission is to end the age of gods, and the Saboteurs’ purpose is to perform the missions assigned them by their Kolat handler. The identity of the handler may or may not be known to the PC, as many members of the Kolat use cover identities. Including all Saboteurs, who like the Kitsune Impersonator must take the False Identity disadvantage to represent their double life. They have excellent combat and sneaky skills, and have the lowest Honor of any starting school – 20. They can learn Kata and Shuji…and not Rituals, which is odd, since basically everyone can learn Rituals. That seems like a typo to me. They also get access to Ninjutsu via their curriculum.

Their basic technique is Professional Saboteur. Once per session, at the start of a scene, they can reveal that an NPC in that scene is the target of their current assignment. The GM will then tell them what the assignment is – sabotaging their work, framing them, murdering them, making sure they survive, whatever. Until the end of the scene, they can reroll up to their school rank in dice on any skill check targeting that NPC. Their capstone is Usher In the New Age. During downtime, they may automatically overcome or bypass any NPC guards or security measures to get access to an NPC, then make a Skulduggery check based on the NPC’s stats. If they succeed and the NPC is a minion or adversary that the GM decides is not essential to the campaign’s plot, they automatically succeed at whatever they wanted to do – murder, delivering a threat, whatever. If the NPC is a plot-essential adversary, they instead get to confront the NPC, alone, in a solo conflict scene. They can spend Opportunities on the Skulduggery check to ensure no one notices anything they do but their target, or to make sure that if the target dies, it appears to be an accident or natural causes. Basically, being a Kolat Saboteur lets you tap the GM on the shoulder and go ‘I want the spotlight now.’ Which…is fine, as long as the GM can handle juggling it for the other PCs.

In all cases, the Kolat Saboteur and Kitsune Impersonator are noted to need collaboration of everyone involved to ensure they are appropriate to the campaign. It’s not rare for L5R characters to keep secrets from each other in character, so that should ideally not be an issue. However, out of character, everyone should be on board for the fact that, well, narratively both schools represent a sort of outsider to regular Rokugani society, one that is fundamentally different from normal samurai. We get some new example Advantages and Disadvantages, but because these are so freeform, I don’t think they’re really useful to have unless you’re not good at making up your own based on the examples that already were in the core. False Identity is noted to have optional rules to say that once you hit rank 2 in the school you actually are, you can spend 2 XP to learn the basic technique of the school you are pretending to belong to. However, you can only use it once per session, you always use it as if you were Rank 1, and can never get more than one “false” school technique this way.

We get a pair of new Shuji designed for the Kolat and Imperials – Spin the Web, which lets a Kolat member recruit NPCs as assets for aid in later scenes, and Awe of Heaven, which lets Imperial characters apply Silenced (+3 difficulty to Intrigue actions and checks to use Invocations, Maho or Shuji) to people based on a Command roll once per scene. We also get Titles. A lot of them. Titles were in the core – basically, they’re kind of a secondary School you can pick up, which gives you access to a curriculum of techniques you might not normally have access to, a boost to your Status and, once you complete the curriculum, a new ability based on the title’s job. So here we get stuff like Advisor, which gives access to a bunch of Shuji and lets you, once completed, give extra bonus dice to anyone you assist on a Scholar skill check. The titles are: Advisor, Clan Magistrate, Daimyo, Gunso (‘military commander’), Monastic Acolyte, Priest, Spy and Yojimbo. Each lists what kind of character can assign them, and this matters because while NPCs can hand out an unlimited number of titles, PCs are limited. A PC daimyo can hand out Advisor or Gunso titles to other PCs as appropriate, for example, but PCs are limited by their Status on how many titles they can hand out total to other PCs.

The End!

For my next thing I’ve decided I’m gonna take a step away from trying to sell settings and instead look at one of the funniest things I can think of for nWoD: the Bloodlines books, which are just giant collections of Vampire bloodlines, many of which are not well-written and have extremely silly or broken powers. Do you want to see:
Bloodlines: The Chosen (Bloodlines selected as winners from a fan submission contest, including the Emotionless Vampires and the Sound Vampires)
Bloodlines: The Legendary (Bloodlines surrounded by rumor and legend, including the Clown Vampires and the Sparkly Vampires)
Ancient Bloodlines/Ancient Mysteries (A pair of books built around providing historical settings and weird stories for Vampire, and the Bloodlines that went with them, including the Sun-Worshipping Vampires and the Actually For Real Christian Vampires; not nearly as insane and silly as the other books)
Bloodlines: The Hidden (Bloodlines that try to remain secret and unknown, including the Drugs Vampires and Dream Vampires)