torsdag 28 september 2017

Rokugan Basara IV: Basara Era


Weak central authority leads to strong regional great clans forming out of smaller family clans and becoming de facto countries in their own right

Minor border conflicts aside, peace reigns for much of the era and the arts thrive - though this time, in the wake of the Akodo Shogunate and the return of the Unicorn (and the rise of the merchant class), both heavily influenced by warrior culture and with a tendency towards tacky, ostentatious fashion and a fascination with foreign imports.

Notable inventions of the era may include firearms, "bulletproof" nanban armour, and eyeglasses.

Alliances are made, tensions rise, and it all eventually explodes in a string of conflicts.

The era ends when all of Rokugan returns to true centralized rule under a pseudo Tokugawa system, after other rulers have tried and failed to hold power. The "uniter" can come from anywhere, but I am partial towards them rising from obscurity.

Shugenja are already becoming rare (except in the Phoenix) and grow rarer still as the wars rage on.

Rough timelines


Hantei rule:
- generations of smaller conflicts and relative peace
- clan war begins
- Second Day of Thunder
- new shogunate
- Dragon civil war
- Dragon/Phoenix war
- Shinjo returns
- war against shadow
- Daigotsu+Iuchiban
- final Shogunate

Akodo rule:
- the Akodo reshape Rokugan in their image, delegating power to their allies, dealing with their enemies, exercising extensive religious oppression
- as soon as things calm down, the shogunate declares war on the Dragon
- Dragon / Shogunate war goes on for years before the mountains are taken and the high house of light disappears (see Dragon section below)
- Second Day of Thunder
- war against shadow
- Shinjo returns
- Daigotsu+Iuchiban
- final Shogunate

Shinjo rule:
- Rokugan opens completely to foreign trade and ideas
- Second Day of Thunder 
- Dragon civil war
- Shinjo returns
- war against shadow
- Daigotsu+Iuchiban
- final Shogunate






Notable Political entities:


Crab:
Back on the wall. The war has left the once green-ish Kuni lands the barren Kuni wastes - the only tree of note kept walled in and protected by the castle, its branches used exclusively for witch hunter medallions. Their pragmatism helps them rapidly rebuild their numbers, even as they send their children to the wall, but the lack of wood, which causes regular unnecessary deaths, eventually drives them to march on the north.

There is a perception among them that the Empire has forgotten, that in refusing to provide them adequate amounts of wood and other resources the other clans are saying that they value the beauty of their gardens far more than the Crab lives regularly sacrificed on the wall for their safety. The once impressive wooden facade of the carpenter wall is all but gone.

If the Khanate lasts, they do not march on the north until long after Shinjo returns. Pre-return Unicorn make the Shadowlands a priority, which results in further deforestation, but keeps the Crab happy. Post-return, Shinjo's priority is purging her own clan, and she's more interested in strengthening their hold on the north than in the Shadowlands.
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Crane:
Obsessed with awards and titles and assorted vanities. Given to wild hedonism when they're not honing their skills. Harbors a particular heresy (the Doji cult - the belief that Lady Doji was the rightful Emperor, that the Hantei are dangerous and clearly unstable, but hopefully improved through interbreeding with the Doji, and that almost everything good in the Empire begins with Lady Doji) which is particularly popular with the Daidoji.

If Hantei is restored:
   The Doji reclaim their king of the hill political status, hiding behind their now slightly less puppety Emperor. If the dynasty was restored from an Akodo Shogunate, they are instrumental in pardoning the Unicorn and allowing them into the Empire, earning great gratitude and friendship in return. If the dynasty was restored from the Khanate, the Unicorn will forever view the Crane as two-faced traitors. The Lion will view them with some roughly even mix of scorn and admiration regardless.
If the Shogunate lasts:
   The Akodo send the Daidoji to fight the Shadowlands alongside the Crab. Their reasons are primarily the humiliation and metaphorical castration of the Crane (as they will have no army left to speak of, and what soldiers they have will frequently acquire the taint), but as an unintended side effect the Crab and Crane develop a mutual understanding and an unlikely friendship.
If the Khanate lasts:
   The Shinjo respond to the attempted Hantei restoration with brutal suppression and purges (more on that in the Unicorn section), leaving the Daidoji all but wiped out and taking all the children of the highest Crane nobility hostage, sending them to the steppe to be raised with the Children of Shinjo, turning them into de facto Unicorn.
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Dragon:
Have, in the eyes of the Empire, been completely isolated from the other clans (except for the mother of Togashi Hoshi) pretty much since Togashi first climbed the mountain. People have gone up there, but they never return. Some have even gone there to spy, but they never return.
The reasons for this are twofold.
- You never meet a Dragon outside Dragon lands because they turn into Dragonfly. The actual Dragonfly family has maybe 20-30 members at most, but whenever a Dragon leaves the mountain, for whatever reason, they tell everyone they meet that they're a Dragonfly to preserve the illusion of complete isolation.
- The Kitsuki are brutally efficient at rooting out spies and converting (/brainwashing) people into joining the clan, a job made easier by the fact that it's impossible to accurately brief potential spies on Dragon culture before sending them there. The only reason Hoshi's mother slipped through the net is because Togashi personally allowed it.
Flora and fauna are strangely oversized and mutated by rokugani standards, a direct result of Agasha manipulation. Mirumoto cavalry (and everyone else for that matter) favour Dragon-bred sheepgoats over horses. They're big, fluffy, brilliant for mountainous terrain, and often euphemistically referred to as "mountain tuna" to confuse outsiders and to hide that much of the mountain folk eat meat. Most Dragon clothing is made from their wool.
Dragon dueling has few rules, and the Mirumoto school emphasizes playfulness and creativity. While the existence iaijutsu is known, it is rarely used. The Mirumoto venerate their founder as a "heretic of the sword" and have an irreverent attitude towards tradition for its own sake. They still have traditions, but they only last if they find them useful and/or funny. Mirumoto dojos have long legacies of injokes, all maintained through tradition.
The humour of Dragon culture is often lost on outsiders.
Most Dragon practice a form of Bharata that is virtually unknown outside their lands, a result of both isolation and syncretism with the Togashi-cult. Notable elements include:
- Ritual use of fire
- Veneration of the High House of Light as a sacred site
- High regard for frenzied and euphoric trance states as well as meditative ones
- Celibacy is allowed, but not expected or encouraged
- The Togashi canon, which includes a number of texts written by Togashi monks that have never seen circulation outside the clan
- Elements of Fortunism (including the divinity of the children of heaven), yet Fortunism as a separate entity is largely dead among the Dragon
- The magic tattoo
- Some degree of cult-like secrecy, where more information becomes available to you the closer you are to Togashi's inner circle

If the Dragon is attacked there will be no maps for the attacker, no sense of where things are or how many castles they have, and the Dragon will fight back primarily through guerilla tactics, raining arrows and fire from their sheepgoats and running away. It will be a slow war, but if the attacker makes it to Togashi Mountain, it will explode.
Or at least that's what it'll look like. The tip will be severed and fly into the air, being kept as a floating island through the continued concentrated effort of Togashi. It'll remain floating in the air until the second day of thunder. This is a last resort on Togashi's part, but one he prefers to physical confrontation. The enemy could, after all, get lucky.
If invaded and defeated, Hitomi (unless replaced entirely) either turns to leading a guerrilla band of disenfranchised Mirumoto around the mountains, or joins the enemy, rising through the ranks of the shogunate. Regardless, the bitterness and fury that define her personality remain intact.

The Agasha will likely invent firearms at some point during this era. This will happen earlier if they're invaded (maybe about halfway through the invasion) and later if not (likely during Hitomi's rule and the civil war that follows). They will, however, not invent the prohibitively expensive nanban armour that's later developed to counter them.
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Mantis:
Cultural fondness for hats, tobacco, and fish-based dishes. They have Crab machismo without the Crab's history of being whipped by everyone. The Mantis are free in a way that the Crab will never be. There's a lot of tension between the two of them.
Despite their lack of proximity to the western border, the Mantis are uncommonly open to foreign ideas and are second only to the Unicorn in terms of religious diversity. This openess also makes them early adopters of the musket, even though it disseminates into Rokugan from the City of the Rich Frog - literally the opposite end of the Empire.

I'll keep the Moshi as a title - a name bestowed upon you when you join the Priesthood - rather than a family proper. You cannot be born a Moshi, you can only become one. Even though the Priesthood of the Sun is exclusively female, I'm tuning down the matriarchal overtones (there's way too much ladyland in Rokugan for a setting that's supposedly gender equal by default) and making the Sun cult the default religion of the islands, possibly inspired by Atenism.
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Lion:
While fiercely anti-religious in general, they accept Fortunism (since it supports the divinity of Akodo, which in turn props up the caste system) and embrace Ancestor Worship. Regardless, the dominant faith in the Lion is in War - faith in its ability to not only solve dispute, but to carve its participants into better, more noble versions of themselves.
Lion culture is defined by military values, maybe more so than any other clan. The ideal person is the ideal soldier. Strict hierarchy is observed and asceticism is widely pursued for pragmatic rather than spiritual reasons.
If his brother is in charge, Toturi is a happier and less conflicted man. He and Tsuko both advice the hot-headed new Shogun. Toturi often does most of the unglamorous administrative work, while his brother and his Matsu wife fire up the masses and play political games. All three are entirely satisfied with this and complement each other well.

I've long since reimagined Matsu Tsuko as Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with a giant blonde wig. She still disdains Toturi, but is a much more confident, subtle, even-tempered person. Though an able fighter, she is defined by a calculating intelligence, a will to power, and a wicked sense of humour. I even made her the Lion Thunder and, eventually, the Empress. Long story.

I play Kaneka as a bitter, brothel-raised criminal element who hates the higher castes. He owns the broken ancestral blade of the Akodo, a memento of his father, and grew up stealing and killing to support himself. If the Akodo go ronin, they flock around him and he forms the mightiest mercenary army of his time. In the campaign where I used him, he'd already aquired the Bloodsword Passion, which caused him to descend into unchecked hedonism.
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Phoenix:
Primarily Fortunist, culturally and politically dominated by the Isawa Shugenja, and "pacifist" in the sense that they avoid open army-vs-army war. Defined by hubris and an exceptional amount of internal bickering.
The ishiken void mages are heavily infiltrated by the Kholat. All ishiken above apprentice level know this, whether or not they are Kholat themselves, but will never tell outsiders or do anything about it. They generally rationalize the Kholat as not being all that bad, whether they join them or not, but also fear what it would do to themselves and the clan if it was openly known.

The Phoenix is largely unaffected by who's in charge, but may find themselves drawn into conflict with the returned Shinjo, as she tightens her hold on the north and purges it of Kholat.
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Scorpion:
If the Unicorn remains in charge, the Scorpion officially disappears, becoming a Kholat-esque secret society. If this is not the case, they likely retake their ancestral lands, including the Green City / Journey's End, and become the commercial and cultural centre of the Rokugan inlands.
While officially anti-foreign and traditional, the Scorpion exhibit a number of divergences from mainstream rokugani culture:
- Scorpion have a fondness for spicy food (chilies, garlic, pepper...)
- Scorpion tolerate the highly profitable drug trade
- Scorpion always prioritize results over ideals (but are still image-conscious)
The wearing of masks is a central part of Scorpion culture, with its own code of etiquette. Visitors are not expected to understand the subtleties of mask use, but to not even try is viewed as ignorant at best, possibly insulting. Uniforms, which are common for a wide array of professions in Scorpion lands, almost always have a particular style of mask associated with them. Most festivals have associated styles of masks. Courtiers choose their masks very carefully, their symbolic significance far more important than their aesthetic value.
Treat this much like you would any other vaguely defined school of lore - Scorpion players are expected to just "get it", and their mask use is always assumed appropriate (though not particularly impressive) unless they're specifically trying to break decorum. For advanced mask use, introduce a Lore:masks skill, almost exclusively used for impressing high-ranking nobles in Scorpion lands.

Greenwall (Journey's End/ The Green City/ City of Lies) under Scorpion rule excels, above all, in performing arts - particularly in theatre, but also in dance, in music, and in storytelling. No other city is its equal in live entertainment.

Shosuro is still a person rather than a family, although it is unclear if it's a single person or a number of people pretending to be a single person, and how the name is passed on. Some believe it's still Shosuro, the original Shosuro, but that's clearly impossible. Probably. Either way, Shosuro is in charge of the most extensive network of spies the era will ever see.
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Unicorn:
The only real change in the Unicorn from the previous era is the continuous process of rokuganization. As a reaction the Children of Shinjo, a group of Unicorn sent back to the steppe to learn the "Born in the Saddle" advantage, are formed.

In the Shogunate timeline they're all but exiled from the Empire and only found in the City of Heaven's Judgement. In the Hantei timeline they're just another clan. In the Unicorn timeline they tear the empire asunder and rebuild it in their image.
Upon defeating the restoration, the Unicorn leader will confront the Hantei and demand he fall to his knees and bow. When he refuses, they cut his legs off at the knees. The Hantei is publicly tortured and humiliated for his insolence, then thrown in a dungeon, to be kept hostage. Several resistance/terrorist groups emerge with names like Warriors of Heaven and Children of Piety. The countdown to the Second Day of Thunder starts when one of them finally manages to free the Hantei, in a sequence of events vaguely reminiscent of the final episodes of the original Berserk anime.
This, as well as their merciless subjugation of the Scorpion, means the Day of Thunder will probably happen earlier in the Unicorn timeline.

The most important historical event of the era for the Unicorn is the return of Shinjo. She will be released at whatever time the Shadow feels most in need of a diversion (or whatever time the GM thinks would be most entertaining). I would recommend portraying the Unicorn leadership of this era as mostly sympathetic, as she's going to cut a river of blood through them regardless.

Shinjo is tall, about two meters or more, and flexibly muscular, more gymnast than body builder. She has prominent canines, dilated pupils, and a thick black head of hair with roots stretching from the top of her skull and halfway down her spine.
Her most noticeable supernatural ability is her gift for riding anything. She can get on top of virtually any creature and make it move the way she wants, adjusting its direction with her thighs and/or heels if needed. This includes humans, though they're a bit fragile for her taste. Her balance is borderline supernatural and her toes strong enough to hang off a cliff without falling. She is often seen riding standing up, sometimes with one animal per foot.

In the old days, before the prison, she held to a code of brutality among enemies and friendship among allies. The latter has since been tempered by increasing paranoia and a tendency to see enemies in every direction.

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