Way of the Warrior
The Warriors of Nippon have a strict code which they live by. Anyone breaking this code is forever shamed and cast out of society. Consequently, the warriors of Nippon fight with seemingly unmatched determinism and valour.
Kenjutsu is the art of sword fighting practiced by the Samurai of Nippon. This allows each warrior to quickly follow up a successful attack with another, ideally overpowering their foes in a flurry of fast swings. When a Samurai is defeated in battle, thus dishonouring himself, he may choose to perform seppuku on the battlefield to cleanse himself of his shame, or to avoid being captured as a prisoner.
To a Samurai there is no weapon so revered as the Katana. Three to four feet in length and slightly curved, the Katana is a triumph of design, the midpoint between artistry and craftsmanship. Specially forged so that the blade is hard and the inside is soft, the Katana combines a devastating cutting edge with enough flexibility so as to not shatter when cutting into armour or bone.
While the wakizashi may only be worn by those of the Samurai caste, only warriors carry the Katana. Families pass the swords down through generations; carrying a famous Katana is an honour and pledge. A Katana is not only a weapon of war; it is an expression of the soul of its bearer.
Sashimono are small banners worn by Nipponese soldiers for identification during battles. The sashimono are usually fitted to the backs of Ashigaru, Samurai, and in special holders on the horses of some cavalry soldiers.
Horo Cloaks are stiffened cloaks fashioned of finely woven silk and wrapped around the body. Their primary purpose is to improve the visibility of the wearer on the battlefield, but they also serve as arrow catchers.
The Daimyo are the feudal lords of Nippon, outranked only by the Shogun and the Imperial family. Daimyo have almost total autonomy in the day-to of their territory, and it is therefore unsurprising that civil strife is common as Daimyo fight over resources and pursue personal vendettas. Though Daimyo follow the ‘Way of the Warrior’ like all Samurai, Daimyo tend to be more pragmatic about its application as they involve themselves in the politics of the Empire.
Although the Emperor owns all land within the borders of the Empire, he has granted members class the honour of protecting and overseeing his affairs, acting as his stewards over the vast majority of land in the Empire. Samurai that have oversight of a particular area are granted the title “Daimyo” and given permission to swear other Samurai into their service.
Rather than serving the Emperor directly, a Daimyo of this sort is usually appointed by and subordinate to the reigning Daimyo of the family or clan that controls the province within which his land falls. The primary responsibilities of a Daimyo of this sort are protecting his assigned territory and ensuring that the proper taxes are collected for the Emperor. In order to fulfil these responsibilities he is allowed to take a portion of the rice and other goods produced in his province in order to equip and maintain Samurai sworn to his service.
Each family recognized by the Emperor has a designated leader who is Daimyo of that family. Family Daimyo are the highest authority within their own family, although they are subordinate to the Daimyo of their clan. Family Daimyo are also the honorary heads of their family’s schools. The actual duties of running the schools are often delegated to someone more inclined to teaching, or in the case of families with multiple schools, someone who is more familiar with the lessons. Nevertheless, for any matter that would require the attention of the head of the school, the family Daimyo’s approval would be required, whether or not he has an active hand in the school’s day to day affairs.
The leader of a clan, whether a Great or Minor clan, is also given the title Daimyo, although they are more often referred to as the Champion of the clan. The clan Daimyo are generally also the Daimyo of their family within the clan. The clan Daimyo are the most powerful in the Empire, second only to the Emperor and Shogun, in both political and military might. Taisho is a military rank similar to a captain. A Taisho will have many Chui and their units serving beneath him, and reports directly to the Daimyo, who command the force in which the Taisho serves.
Most armies keep at least one Shugenja on hand, both as a potent weapon against the enemy and to call upon the blessings of the Fortunes for the battles ahead.
Once the battle is done, they give thanks to the Kami and purify the taint of blood and dead flesh that inevitably stains a victorious army. Shugenja stand out as the one exception to the Samurai’s usual aversion to surrender. As servants of the Kami, they are always treated with respect and offered the option of being taken prisoner when possible. Most Shugenja realize how rare and precious their gift is, and how wrong it would be to deny the clan their gifts, and accept the offer even if the idea of being held hostage is otherwise intolerable.
Magic in Nippon, is not simply a Shugenja bending the elements to her will, magic underlies all activities: the bird taking flight, and the Sun rising each morning. Man too comes from the confluence this magic projected in the blood and tears of the first Moon and Sun mixing together to create something new. Magic spirits dwell everywhere, simply waiting to be called upon. In a more common definition, however, magic is the art of Shugenja, and even the monk’s kiho. While the average Nipponese understands that magic surrounds them every day, it is still a holy practice, and something to be looked upon with wonder. Shugenja, the most common practitioners of magic, bring with their vocation the blessings of the Kami upon the Empire.
The Samurai caste holds the keys to the magic realm, proof that the greatest blessings of the Sun and Moon are reserved for the nobility. Occasionally, peasants have a strong affinity for the Kami and in all but the rarest cases this is the same inner path that the monks follow. The peasant then goes on to study among the peaceful Brotherhood of Shinsel. Peasants who show true magical affinity are quickly granted Samurai status and trained as Shugenja.
As a force, magic represents a tool and a blessing as a genuine gift from the Heavens. With the power of magic, a Shugenja can purify foul water, tell truth from fiction, hurl fire into their enemies, and convene with the wisdom of the Celestial Heavens. This immense power commands respect both for the Shugenja who wields it, and for the Kami who provide such strength. Shugenja do more than simply cast spells. They are the priests of the Kami, their very power a testament to the wisdom and truth of their beliefs. Shugenja record and keep the names of the Fortunes, act as intermediary between the world of mortals and spirits, and carry the wisdom set down by the Celestial Heavens. Though not the official keepers of the Tao of Shinsei, a duty held by the Brotherhood of Shinsei monks, almost all Shugenja are familiar with the text, and view it as a valuable guide to life.
Shugenja bless villages many times during a year, to help bring about a greater harvest, healthier livestock, and protect the village against threats both mortal and supernatural. They also commune with spirits of the dead, creating a link between the living and the ancestors of the family. Such a duty falls to them as both a great honour and a staggering burden. as many souls of the dead are troubled with unfinished business, and will seek a Shugenja’s aid for their wisdom. Shugenja tend be peaceful men. While most clans have their Shugenja trained for war and capable of casting impressive battle magic, the path of the Fortunes and Kami impresses a Shugenja with a strong reverence for life in all its forms. Shugenja believe life is a gift, and should never be squandered for any reason.
Those Samurai that distinguish themselves on the battlefield become part of a Clan’s inner circle in the form of Hatamoto.
A Hatamoto, or honoured retainer, is the official representative of the family name. It is the chief aid and advisor to a Daimyo. The position commands great respect and influence, as the Daimyo has chosen the individual for When a Daimyo travels, it is common for the Hatamoto to be left in charge of the Daimyo’s estate. To be a Hatamoto means his lord regards his advice highly, and the title is so that all will know he is one of his favoured subjects. Sometimes the title brings with it a certain amount of land, where the Hatamoto is expected to live and continue in the service of their lord. Hatamoto are similar to military titles, in the way that they bring great responsibility and glory.
In the absence of his lord he can speak with authority on his behalf, and even to agree minor contracts and negotiations for their family. Many of the Hatamoto spend their time perfecting their fighting skills and cultivating a full range of meditative and artistic disciplines, and many Hatamoto have brought honour to their clan as poets or painters. One of the first recorded Hatamoto in history was Mirumoto, who became the Hatamoto of the Kami Togashi. Around this time was also the founding of the Shiba Yojimbo School, which was inspired by the Kami Shiba kneeling before Isawa and pledging to protect the Shugenja and his tribe.
The main duty of the Hatamoto on the battlefield is to protect important members or allies who were not expected to always defend themselves. People such as courtiers and Shugenja were most commonly not only trained in the sword, and as such would require someone to protect them. In the case of duels of honour, a Hatamoto can often be someone’s designated champion, although this is not necessarily always the case. At other times, the Hatamoto is usually assigned to carry his lord’s banner into battle as his personal champion. These glorious standards are rich in colour and highly detailed, made from the finest silk available. The Hatamoto takes this honour very seriously, and would rather die than see it fall into enemy hands. Above else, the Hatamoto acts as the Daimyo’s bodyguard, both on the battlefield and in the castle.
The Hatamoto take his given task extremely serious, for to them there is no greater shame than failure. Failure to protect the one they have sworn means their life is forfeit, and there is no other solution than to take one’s own life, for a life in shame is completely unthinkable to them.
The Samurai assume the highest rank of the Nipponese social system, as decreed by the Celestial Order. The word “Samurai” means “those who serve” were born in this caste and were considered Samurai regardless of their occupation. The Samurai warriors make up the bulk of Nippon’s armies. Greatly skilled with both sword and bow, and wearing heavy armour, often with accompanying battle masks, these fearsome fighters are a match for any opponent.
The Samurai wield a variety of equipment in battle, and can adapt to any situation. They represent the height of human martial prowess, and fight according to a strict code of honour, displaying fanatical bravery and loyalty on the battlefield. Unlike Old World nobles, Samurai tend to live frugal lives with little interest in riches and material things, but rather in honour and pride, though as privileged persons in society much of their needs are supplied, and respect and honour fearfully enforced. Samurai are expected to not only be great warriors but to be well versed in more classical arts such as calligraphy, mathematics, and song and dance.
However, it is often the case that these pursuits are overlooked. Though it is their duty to wear the Daisho and lead troops into combat, Samurai are more than mere warriors. They are direct vassals of the Emperor, the ruling class of the Empire. The Kuge and Buke classes enforce the law of the Emperor, and hold domain over the lesser classes. Samurai are professional warriors, members of the noble class who are trained in the arts of warfare. They are not only trained for their role in society, they are born for it – born into a system of allegiance, loyalty, and honour that influences every stage of their lives. A Samurai’s loyalty to the emperor and his local feudal lord is unsurpassed, and a Samurai that becomes master-less either from the ruin or fall of his master, after the loss of his master’s favour or privilege, or otherwise through his own will becomes a ROnin outcast mercenary for hire.
A Samurai’s first responsibility is obedience to his Lord, usually the head of his family. This is simultaneously an endless source of adventures and a potential hindrance to a life of adventure. A low-level Samurai’s lord may command him to investigate a mysterious occurrence or subdue a gang of bandits. If he performs these duties well, his lord will call on him to deal with more significant problems. However, a Samurai usually cannot simply disappear on an expedition without his lord’s command or at least permission, and if a Samurai’s lord has an important mission for him, he must make that his top priority.
Samurai are distinguished from ordinary fighters by their adherence to bushido, a code of honour, loyalty, and obedience. To a Samurai, dishonour is worse than death, and the loss of his swords is possibly the worst dishonour imaginable. Bushido, the code of the Samurai, demands strict obedience to standards of behaviour and honour. Samurai learn their combat techniques and the principles of bushido in established, well-organised schools. The only measure of a Samurai that matters is living life in strict accordance with the code of bushido. This ancient code was established during the dawn of the Empire, and although the interpretation of the individual virtues it describes has changed from time to time, the code itself has endured the centuries virtually unchanged.
Cavalry warfare is traditionally the preserve of the Samurai. Only they have the skill to wield a sword while steering a horse into battle. Being a mounted warrior requires wealth and position to sustain the expense of horses, armour and servants. Despite the fact that most Samurai go about their business mounted, generally merely as a sign of their station, only a very few have truly perfected the art of war from horseback.
The mounted Samurai are truly deadly warriors and the scourge of any commander foolish enough to incur the wrath of a Nipponese army. They eschew the heavy plate armour and cumbersome barding favoured by the knights of the Old World in favour of increased speed and flexibility. They attack in combination with infantry, using their excellent horsemanship to outmanoeuvre and strike the enemy from multiple directions at once.
Bows, spears and Katana are all used from horseback and, if a Samurai is wealthy enough, he usually has an assistant to carry and hand him his weapons as needed. The Katana, although traditionally used with two hands, can still be effective when used in a one-handed grip by a horseman. Swung downwards onto an enemy foot soldier, the sharp, curved blade could easily cut through a man. Samurai Cavalry are swift, and can deliver a devastating charge thanks to their spears, which they focus all the power of their fearsome charge into the points of as they smash into enemy cavalry and infantry alike. Samurai cavalry are extremely well trained and the weight of their steeds adds to the power of their charge.
Their speed over a battleground comes in useful when chasing down fleeing troops, or when they are needed to deliver a final blow to wavering enemies. After a charge, they remain mounted and can engage the enemy with their Katana keeping a height advantage over foot soldiers. Samurai Cavalry demoralise, harass, and cut down the enemy ahead of the foot soldiers. Units of specially trained mounted Samurai are also famous for running daring night time raids on enemy camps and fortifications, using their lightly armoured horses to cross rivers and move quickly through woods and mountains, before striking at the flank unprepared enemy.
One of the most famous cavalry charges was seen at the Battle of Xenyong, where the Nipponese cavalry charged straight into the Cathayan formations through a rain of crossbow bolts and steel tipped spears. Even though the Nipponese suffered horrible casualties, their unwavering morale managed to break the Cathayan formation, securing victory.
The absolute lowest ranking members of the Buke are Ashigaru, or career soldiers. Technically peasants, they possess far keener training than the average peasant or carpenter. While hardly comparable to Samurai by any stretch of the Imagination, Ashigaru are nonetheless skilled warriors in their own right.
Many Ashigaru have served their Samurai lords for generations, and conduct themselves with fierce pride and loyalty comparable in many respects to actual Samurai. Most houses have several families of hereditary Ashigaru, serving as guardsmen, Doshin (soldiers serving magistrates), and scouts during times of peace. The majority of most Nipponese armies are composed of Ashigaru. Unlike the levies of the Old World though, the Ashigaru are armed with high quality weapons and are well drilled for battle. Though they cannot equal the martial prowess of their Samurai masters, they are effective troops. Their preferred armament is the Yari spear, but they may also march into battle with the Yumi bow and the matchlock arquebus.
Ashigaru occasionally prove to be deadly when given sufficient direction and purpose by a competent leader. After all, arrows in sufficient numbers may maim or even kill the most highly trained, armed, and armoured Bushi before he gets close enough to even wound anybody. Even then, however, most Samurai look upon the Ashigaru as mere tools: as Tsuruchi Nobumoto says, “What we do is art. What peasants do is merely adequate.”
Monks occupy a tenuous position In Nippon’s social order. As a rule, they are not forthcoming about their past, and it is considered almost blasphemous to inquire. A monk has left his old life behind. The fact that some were peasants and others Samurai makes interacting with them difficult, as one never knows what station should be afforded a monk. Given the uncertainty of their position as religious figures, the honourable thing to do when interacting with a monk is to treat him with respect and admiration. This mindset is common to all but the most dishonourable Samurai.
While Samurai feel some uncertainty when interacting with monks, the peasants simply revere them. Monks are teachers as much as anything else and they treat all people equally. Also, many monasteries send their adherents into villages and towns to aid Heimin and Hinin with menial tasks. Monks represent the entirety of Nippon’s religion which is a surprisingly diverse, eclectic, and elaborate institution with three distinct facets. While an Imperial decree technically links two of these facets together, and the third is so widely accepted that none dispute it, the truth is that the three do not fit together particularly well. Generally speaking, the average individual, including monks, selects an aspect he finds most desirable and uses that as the basis of his devotion.
Deep in the inaccessible areas of Nippon lie the many mountain retreats of religious warrior monks. In these martial monasteries, monks not only study religious and academic texts, but also a variety of martial arts. The studying of martial arts is seen as a means to improve oneself mentally and spiritually, not just physically, and these monks show a skill and dedication that surpasses even the Samurai of the military aristocracy – and indeed many Samurai abandon their feudal lord to learn from these master monks. Warrior monks are the de facto private armies of the secluded monasteries, and are fundamentally similar in many respects to the religious Templar’s of the Old World.
They are more militant than holy, and receive very little religious instruction. Instead they are trained in the art of fighting. Warrior Monks defend their monastery against attacks and advance its political claims in the outside world. They are subject to the leader of their temple. They are often charged with defending their temples in times of conflict, but they can also expect to strike against enemy incursions, to hunt down evil monsters terrorizing the countryside, or to recover a relic that is sacred to their order. They welcome all challenges as tests of their prowess and, secondarily, their faith.
Warrior Monks mix martial prowess with divine power that grants them the ability to heighten their strength and speed in battle, and protection from mental and bodily harm. Very experienced Sohei can shrug off physical damage and ignore certain magical effects. Warrior monks live a life of strict discipline and obedience to their orders. Many join their orders as children, and become Sohei when they demonstrate strength of both body and mind that lends itself to the temple’s defence. Often, though, young men and women who show little promise for the contemplative life of the monk are the ones selected to become Sohei.
Nippon is inhabited by a people who feel bound to their land by a sacred ancient duty. The structure of society is rigid; and so too are Nipponese religious observances. In monasteries scattered across Nippon shaven-headed acolytes toll brazen bells over silent courtyards. A life of study and ritual under gingko trees and behind paper panels has gone unchanged for many, many long years.
The early history of the priesthood is lost in the mists of time. As far as the peasants are concerned, the moss grown roads of heavy stone leading to the temples of the gods have existed since time began. The people of Nippon know of their religion through hearsay and grandmothers’ tales; the monks keep a certain distance from all the rest of the Nipponese, especially the peasants. Some monks wander round and preach, going barefoot from town to town, or even overseas and are fairly universally respected.
Besides their ability to affect the gods themselves, and popular opinion and morale besides, the monks’ abilities as warriors encourage the Samurai clans to keep as many monasteries as possible on their side. Monks in the monasteries are principally scholars, but train bare fisted and barefooted. They can be called on to go into battle if lands near their monastery – or their monastery itself is threatened. More deadly, up in the mountains of Nippon various warrior sects known as Yamabushi train even more rigorously and more violently, slaying Oni in the blackest depths of the forests. Their rituals include walking across beds of red-hot coals, chanting while sitting under ice-cold waterfalls and hanging from their feet from the edges of cliffs. The peasantry and even the normal monks regard these men with great respect, and fear their supposedly magical abilities.
These hermits are like wandering lay-priests who live alone in secluded mountains. Those with a smattering of Nipponese might suppose that “Yamabushi” means “mountain warrior”, but in fact the second character is written differently and means “one who walks in the mountains”. He seeks mastery of certain arcane combat techniques and magic arts, the lore of herbs and nature, and ultimately satori, or Enlightenment, through the study of Zen.
These men and women trace the origin of their tradition as a militaristic religious order back to hermits who went up to the mountain regions in search of divine inspiration and supernatural powers. They are more tactically astute and combat trained than their generally non-martial brothers, but are no less stubborn in defence of their religion. Their training as warriors helps teach them the ways of discipline and control of the mind, and this is looked on well by the Daimyo classes and Shogunate – for differing reasons.
In Nippon, a woman’s caste – not her gender constitutes her position in the Celestial Order indeed any woman who so wishes may become a Samurai, earning the same rights and respect as their male counterparts. Battle Maidens are treated with the deference due a lady of their station, unless they are dressed and prepared for war. If a Battle Maiden is dressed in ‘mannish’ attire, she is referred to with her military title. Female Samurai are treated with the same respect as their male counterparts though they are typically expected to be softer-spoken and more lady like in most clans.
This varies from clan to clan, with some families being strictly matriarchal. Some have in fact higher standards for their Battle Maidens than they have for their men, an expectation of chastity and honour not held to many men in the Empire. One of the favourite stories of Nipponese poets is of the sister of a murdered Samurai who put on her brother’s armour and took up his sword to avenge him. “Hitomi’s Tale” has moved many young women to become Samurai, and has justified the act in the eyes of many Daimyos. The Samurai ritual of changing one’s name has brought many Battle Maidens female Samurai – to take the name “Hitomi” upon taking the Daisho.
One of the vows that some Battle Maiden take during their initiation ceremony is a vow of celibacy, as a Battle Maiden cannot he devoted to both a Daimyo and a lover or husband, after all. If a celibate Battle Maiden is found to have a lover, she often renounces her station and joins the ranks of a monastery. Of course, the key word is “discovered” There are many Battle Maidens who take lovers, and every poet’s repertoire has several stories of Samurai and Battle Maidens who doom themselves for love. Battle Maidens are treated as Samurai warriors in the Celestial Order. They are no different from male Samurai in that regard.
Battle Maidens are usually armed with the Naginata, a long pole arm that is tipped with a deadly curved sword-blade. They favour a defensive strategy over assault. Since they lack the physical strength of the men, they have instead become very proficient at holding their foes at bay with their Naginata until reinforcements can arrive and finish them off. Nipponese women are trained to defend their homes in times of war but few take part in open battle. Those who do though, quickly become legends.
The Yabusame are a special caste of Samurai that excel in the art of Kyudo archery. They train tirelessly daily to improve their skills while firing from galloping horseback, and hold great tournaments to find the greatest of their discipline. This is done by riding past three targets and shooting at them at high speed. They wear traditional hunting attires while doing so, both in tournaments and in battle, as a way of signifying their station as masters of the bow.
The Nipponese bow is asymmetric; far longer above the grip than below, to make it easy to use on horseback while retaining power. The bow can be swung from side to side without getting tangled up in saddle furniture. It has a composite of a wooden core, covered in layers of lacquered bamboo, making it strong yet flexible, capable of shooting a wide variety of arrows. Its beautiful simplicity disguises the fact that this was a weapon that required tremendous skill, strength and grace to use effectively.
With both hands occupied by aiming and firing a bow, these men must use their knees to control and steer their mounts. Nippon has a long tradition of mounted archery and these troops remain invaluable despite the introduction of gunpowder. Matchlocks may be powerful, but they are also unreliable and inaccurate, and the Ashigaru who use them simply lack the skills and mobility of mounted Samurai. These cavalry archers can quickly move to the flanks of an enemy, or harass the enemy at a distance before retreating away.