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There really aren't too many seperate cultures in the Empire of the Rising Sun Campaign Setting. Heck, even its name implies that it takes place just in the Empire. However, the social structure of the Emerald Empire is somewhat more complicated than normal societies, especially because it takes place on a national scale.
The social structure of the Empire of the Rising Sun essentially forms a triangle, with the top positions being occupied by the least amount of people, and so on down the chain. From the top of the triangle to the bottom, the following status are: The central government, the provincial government, the various religious orders, the various arcane establishments, the farmers, the artisans, the merchants, and the outcasts.
The Central Government (Bakufu)Edit
The central government is made up of the shogun, the censors, the various finance commissioners, the town magistrates, and the Imperial Police. The government is currently operating "without a head," as it were, since the shogun has been killed.
The shogun sits atop the pyramid, on a throne of power that makes him the final say behind any new laws that are made, as well as any very important legal squabbles. Of course, this position is very hottly contested at the moment, for the current shogun was killed by agents of the emperor. Perhaps, with enough levels, the player characters can advance to this esteemed position (or at least one of them can).
The censors' job is less of actually controlling information, but more of controlling the lesser government positions. The censors are in charge of making sure the commissioners don't embezzle money, that the town magistrates don't abuse their power, and that the Imperial Police stay as straight as an arrow.
Of course, such a task is not without hardship. Maintaining control over the vast political establishments is an extremely difficult task, one that they mostly obtain through subterfuge. The censors have complete control over several clans of ninja, who they use to spy on the other political establishments and, if the situation warrants, assassinate those who would tarnish their position.
The commissioners are those that gather funds from the daimyo to be used either to finance the empire, or to build and maintain temples and shrines. It is a fairly powerful position, but one of little importance in actual game terms. If anything, the players may have to harass one to gain extra money to build their castle or something.
The town magistrates are interesting positions of power, granted to a family of farmers who is then in charge of running, funding, and taking care of the town. Most town magistrates are very rich, since they are also in charge of gatherin a city's taxes and giving them to the daimyo, and often keep excess money for themselves. Although they are not samurai, town magistrates are very proud of their heritage and, like the nobles, are able to list off their fathers and their fathers' fathers who had the job previously. The only time the PCs may need to interact with them is if they don't pay enough taxes, or perhaps if they are in charge of some sinister organization.
The Imperial PoliceEdit
The Imperial Police are those samurai and officials sworn to uphold the law. They excerise the shogun's authority, so many have a tendency to take advantage of their position. Those that do, however, don't live for long. Their job is to get rid of underground, dishonorable activity, or at least limit it. The Imperial Police prefer weapons meant for catching and disarming unruly samurai, mainly the sasumata, jutte, and sodegarami.
The Provinicial GovernmentEdit
The provinical government is made up of the territories owned by the various daimyo. It is the daimyo's job to collect taxes off his land, uphold the law, maintain an army, and be very unruly. Much of their power was limited during the forced peace of the shogunate, and now that such laws have no authority, most daimyo are warring with their neighbors.
The provincial government can be divided into two sections: The daimyo and his entourage, and the samurai.
The daimyo are a jealous, angsty lot who, as a general rule, only care for the well-being of their clan. They only seek alliances with powers equal or greater in strength than their own, and even then, working together is difficult. The daimyo is always surrounded by numerous advisors, attendants, cooks, and bodyguards (yojimbo). While the term "daimyo" is technically assigned to both the head a vassal family and the leader of the entire clan, only the clan-leading daimyo wield any sort of real power. Most heads of the vassal families are the yojimbo of the clan daimyo.
The the social classes, the samurai rank above most others. The symbol of the samurai's office is the daisho, the two-sword set of katana and wakizashi (most samurai choose the katana as their ancestral weapon). Only a samurai may own or wear a katana, though the lower, peasant classes can carry a wakizashi. Samurai are entitled to trail if brought up on charges by another samurai, but charges from the lower classes are simply ignored.
It should be noted that the social position of samurai has little to do with the samurai class. Anyone born into a samurai clan is a samurai, whether he actually takes levels of samurai or not. In fact, many samurai are knights or paladins, and some are even rogues and rangers. The samurai can further be divided into two subgroups: the kuge and the buke.
The kuge are the elite of the samurai class, those who have inherited nobility and powerful positions of the government. The kuge are the samurai that actually own the land, and the daimyo technically fall under this class. Technically, the daimyo of the minor clans are supposed to have the same rank as the major daimyo, but in reality this is not the case. The great daimyo have an extraordinary amount of political influence, and are simply more respected.
Below the daimyo of the clans, the daimyo of the major famillies rank just below them. They have less power than the clan daimyo does, but they are often allowed to vote on clan measures of great importance, and they collect their own taxes. They are about on the same footing as the daimyo of the minor clans.
The lowest-ranking members of the kuge are the immediate families of the leaders of each clan family. They own land and collect their own taxes, but have little political power other than providing heirs for when the head of the family dies or steps down. While many samurai are allowed to carry the name of a noble house, only a handful——the kuge——are actually members. The rest are merely servants who compromise the buke.
The majority of samurai are members of the buke: samurai who have no land or titles, but serve another household. Samurai in service to a house typically bear that house's name. While there are only a few dozen members of the Oda family, there are thousands of buke who bear the Oda name. Though these "vassal families" may maintain their own family names, few are so bold, or so stupid, as to use any name but their lord's while acting in an official capacity.
The highest ranking samurai of the buke are bureaucrats and military personal. This includes officers, hatamoto (honored advisors), and the karo (advisors to the daimyo). While the Imperial Police and town magistrates may be of the samurai class, their position is actually of a higher rank than the daimyo's. These are the most experienced warriors who have earned positions of importance. Lesser sons and daughters of noble houses are relegated to the rank of buke by default. As they have no inheritance, and serve no direct purpose, they must prove their worth to receive the same respect as their more fortunate siblings.
The rest of the buke is made up of rank-and-file samurai. Many of these are ji-samurai (half samurai). These are members of vassal families who have not yet earned the right to carry their lord's family name. These samurai are expected to increase their holdings and earn the respect of their lord. As a result, many ji-samurai are extremely ambitious warriors.
The absolute lowest-ranking members of the class are the ashigaru, or career soldiers. Ashigaru tend to be ill-equipped and ill-trained in comparison to samurai, but are far more reliable than conscripted peasants. Most houses have several families of hereditary ashigaru (who take their heritage just as seriously as any samurai), and they serve as guardsmen, doshin (soldiers serving the town magistrates), and scouts during times of peace.
The Militant ClergyEdit
Bridging the gap between the samurai and the heimin, the clergy is made up of divine spellcasters and monks. The clergy used to be an extremely powerful force, ruling lands of their own, but now they are kept on a short leash. They preach the teachings of the elements and of the Way. The clergy's role is detailed in the Religion section.
Jumon is an umbrella term that applies to all those who practice arcane magic, or have spell-like abilities that aren't tied to the divine. Elementalists, storm lords, fire magi, and warlocks all fall under this category. Jumon refers to anyone of any heimin class that discovers magic abilities; those within the samurai clan are used to their best potential.
Jumon are outcasts, but not as much as the eta are. Their abilities are feared, but even they admit that their power comes from the kami in some form or another. Their power is undeniable, and this is what keeps them above the average commoners.
This class comprises peasants, merchants, and craftsmen occasionally referred to as the bonge. The highest rank of commoner is the farmer, whose labor feeds the Empire. The farmer is followed by the artisan, and finally by the merchant, who creates nothing and is thus the least worthy.
A heimin may file charges against another heimin if he feels he is wronged, but a heimin wronged by a samurai has no legal recourse. A samurai wronged by a heimin need not bother with a trial, as he may technically execute heimin if they feel they have been wronged in any way, and the definition of "wronged" is left to the samurai's discretion. As such, heimin are usually ver polite to samurai.
The farmers make up a substancial part of the population, definitely outnumbering the samurai, and are in charge of growing the food. Farmers are very important, for the more food your province can grow, the more wealthy you are. The farmers are actually very sneaky, hiding food in their basements and in shacks so that when the samurai think they are starving the peasants, they actually are being deceived.
The peasants have a menial existance, waking up early each day to grow and tender their crops, and only going to bed when the sun sets. The only time that they don't work is during the winter, partly because of the heavy snowfall, and partly because they're too buisy trying to stay alive.
The daimyo draw much of their armies from the farmers, who are conscripted into service as cheap, expendable distractions on the battlefield. While being doomed on the battlefield is bad, it isn't nearly as hard as tending a farm, so most farmers see war as a blessed break from the growing season.
The farmers don't rebel quite nearly as often as they should, mostly because of the imperial edict that prohibits those of a lower class than the samurai from wearing and using any sort of longsword. But the peasants, being very resourceful, have turned many of their farm impliments into deadly weapons. There are numerous instances of groups of samurai being defeated by farmers armed only with whatever they could find.
Artisans get the short end of an already pretty short stick. While their work isn't as backbreaking as the farmers', it certainly requires a longer time to master. Since they rank below the farmers, however, they are often underpaid, despite their usefulness. This has left many artisans embittered, and many are part of the political underworld.
Since they cannot carry swords, the artisans have become even more resourceful than the peasants, and have perfected the arts of the staff and fighting unarmed. They are also masters of the wakizashi and fan.
The merchants are even lower than the artisans, which righteously annoys them since there are a ton of bandits roaming the towns just waiting to steal their stuff. There isn't really that much to talk about here, except that they don't like their social status, and that they always need bodyguards.
This non-group is comprised of hinin (non-people), those whose professions cause them to be considered "unclean." This includes any person whose work regulary involves contact with blood or flesh, criminals, entertainers, and assorted ne'er-do-wells. Eta are not seen as "real people," so even heimin tend to be abusive toward them. Killing an eta is not a crime. Eta are not allowed to speak to samurai unless the samurai commands it; as such, they try to avoid samurai as much as possible.
As with any rule, there are always exceptions. The following are the general exceptions to the rules.
Ronin are a big exception, as they don't really fit in anywhere. They are feared by the daimyo, despised by the heimin, and are simply outcasts. Because of the way the system works, ronin are technically of buke status, ranking just above the ashigaru. Ronin literally means "wave man," for they are said to be waves on the sea of life, tossed here and there with no real home.
Because they have no land and serve no lord, ronin as seen as the embodiment of failure, a scourge that needs to be gotten rid of. Most brash, young samurai take it upon themselves to kill any ronin they see, since it is seen as a national service. This hatred hides a deep seated fear, however, in the hearts of the daimyo. Ronin contingents can make or break an army, and only clans who know how to handle the unruly ex-samurai to their advantage will ever succeed.
Usually there are around 400,000 ronin at any give time, and they are divide into three major groups, with those wealthy retainers who have voluntarily resigned their positions at the top, followed by those who have been "fired" by their lords, as a result of momentary discord for which many try to make amends in order to be allowed to return to their posts. The third group, at the bottom, includes warriors dismissed for personal errors or greed who cannot reveal the names of their former masters.
However, there are other ways to be labeled a ronin. First of all, a man can be born a ronin if he were the son of a masterless warrior who had never renounced his warrior status. But an affiliated member of a clan can also become a ronin, due to certain changes of circumstance. A samurai may request to be dismissed in order to be free to embark on an adventure which could conceivably discredit his former master if he had not severed his clan ties.
In addition, some samurai become ronin so that they can venture round the Empire on an adventure to gain more skill. This is usually done as some sort of spiritual and ritualistic journey that most samurai undertake during the course of their lives.
Being the outcasts that they are, ronin are eager to take any job that they can. Many find work as yojimbo for town magistrates, merchants, and other wealthy patrons. Ronin have something to prove; if they didn't, they would settle down as farmers or monks. Some wish to regain their clan status, others want to make up for their dishonor, and some just want to be excepted.
Geisha are a special case: though they are eta, they are expected to speak to samurai. In fact, in the company of a geish a samurai is allowed to show emotion and unwind. Geisha are primarily entertainers, skilled in conversation, dance, and music. They are not prostitutes—if they were, it would take business away from the Oiran (the real courtesans). How a geisha chooses to involve herself with a client is her own business, however, and there are numerous instances of illegitimate samurai born of a geisha. So long as the samurai keeps his affairs discreet, he may do as he wishes.
Though they are technically artisans, swordsmiths (and some skilled armorsmiths) are treated as if they were of samurai. This is largely due to the unofficial cult of the sword that exists ingrained into the Empire's culture. Making weapons was seen as a holy art in the past, and it mostly continues as if it was.
That coupled with the sheer amount of time and energy it takes to make a good katana means that they are revered and in high demand. Skilled armorsmiths are also valued, for they create the means by which the samurai protect themselves. Most swordsmiths are 7th level fighters, using their forge lore to create awesome stuff.
While the Empire of the Rising Sun covers almost all of the known world, there are some spots that have escaped its influence and thus have their own culture. There are several natural borders that surround the empire, home to many Yobanjin (barbarians). Here are the following known civilizations.
The Drow MonarchyEdit
While the Goblin Empire controls just about everything under the sun, the underdark was left untouched by their hands. This is partially due to an alliance created during the Great War, and partially because the Empire is too buisy fighting itself to spend money on armed incursions into the caves. Most of the daimyo don't think its worth it, and they're right.
Drow society has changed little. While their level of technology has slowly increased over the years, they have nothing special. The drow also have their own problems within their own empire. While their society somewhat mirrors that of the Empire, they are more concerned with assassination and do not care for honor. They are dangerous enemies, but have not made any surface raids in several decades, probably due to the decline of the elves.
The drow trade infrequently with the Empire, mostly exchanging poisons and technology for expertly made weapons and armor. As an offering of good faith, several drow have gone to the surface and joined some of the clans, though many get kicked out and become ronin. They seem to have found their niche as members of the various ninja clans, but it is unknown whether they are genuinely there to serve, or just acting as spies.
The Frozen WastesEdit
To the very north of the Empire lies a great mountain range, beyond which lies a great glacial plain. Known colloquially as the reito-butsu (frozen wastes), they are an expanse of nearly inhabitable tundra and ice that few dare travel to. Despite this, the reito-butsu is home to numerous tribes of yobanjin, though they are far behind the Empire in terms of warfare and technology.
Orcs make up most of the nomadic tribes, exiled to the frozen plains for their brutality and lack of honor long ago. Some primitive humans also call the northern wastes their home. Because of the large mountains that seperate them, the denizens of the Empire rarely have to deal with the barbarians of the reito-butsu; even if they did, they have far more soldiers and far more strategical know-how. Few explorers from the reito-butsu ever make it to the Empire, and those that do are treated with such extreme prejudice that it isn't even worth the trip.
Expeditions into the reito-butsu are rare and have only proved that the cultures to the north are useless. If you really want to have a campaign lead there, be sure to get the book Frostburn. It'll help with rules for the cold.
The Burning SandsEdit
While the frozen plains of the north are bad enough, there is another geographical horror to the southeast of the Empire known as the burning sands. It is a vast, barren wasteland that stretches for miles and miles across the horizon. The Nakamura clan was banished across the sands aeons ago, but were allowed to return a century or so ago. All of the Empire's knowledge of the burning sands comes from their documentation.
From the Nakamura clan's records, it can be seen that there are great civilizations across the sands. The mysterious nomads known as the Harad often roam from oasis to oasis, and farther still there is the enigmatic kingdom of Saqqara. The Saqqarans are a strange, tan-brown people who have little use for honor, and who focus mostly on the worship of the river that keeps their land fertile.
The sands contain many dangers apart from barbaric nomads and alien cultures. Many exotic, long-thought-extinct species have taken up residence in the burning sands, and there are countless monsters that await. But the worst terror of the sand is, by far, the terrible crag known as the Steep Slopes of Shadow.
When Kuraigami (lit. dark god) fell from Tengoku and into the earth, he fell through the burning sands and into Jigoku itself. The Steep Slope of Shadow is home to many evil outsiders and undead, and it holds a permanent portal into the heart of Jigoku itself. Worse still, the Festering Pit has a cruel necromantic intelligence, a literal extension of Kuraigami's mind into this world. Unlike most necromantic intelligences, this one cannot be destroyed by ordinary means; the entire crag must be filled with stone and earth for the portal to truly close forever.
It is a terrible place, a rip in reality itself, and only the most foolhardy or powerful heroes seek to descend into the dark. The Slope itself is well guarded, for it is always spawning demons and undead. To make matters worse, it is surrounded by shadow sand (Sandstorm 25), black sand (Sandstorm 20), and constantly patrolled by devil dunes (Sandstorm 21). It is the main source of evil in the world, and the majo-kari wish to destroy it above all else.
Being an extension of Kuraigami itself, the Festering Pit, Steep Slope, and, to some extent, the entire desert want little more than to eradicate all the nations of the world. Every year, the sand spreads farther and farther into the south of the empire. Whether this is normal natural occurence or the will of Kuraigami, no-one knows.
Sometimes the nations from across the sands send parties of explorers intent on trading and learning from the empire. They are tolerated, if only for their odd clothing, goods, and customs. They offer a unique, exotic experience that breaks the monotomy of everyday life.
Despite numerous crusades against the Steep Slope and the visiting of many yobanjin, the Burning Sands still remain an enigma. Even the Nakamura know only a fraction of the secrets it contains. Dozens of civilizations lie beyond the sands, all foreign to the ways of the Empire and with their own dishonorable sorceries and practices. The only truth the denizens of the Empire can be certain of is this: the Burning Sands are a treacherous, deadly, and often evil place where honor means little or nothing. In short, it is no place for a samurai.
The lands across the sands allow you to incorporate other cultures, species, and campaign settings into the world which houses the Empire. They can also be the stage for deadly danger, as an untold amount of undead and demons from Jigoku gather around the Steep Slope.
The Dwarven Kingdom RebornEdit
Anyone who was raised in the Empire knows that, in the time leading up to the the great war, the dwarven kingdoms and their long history was eradicated by Katzu's united goblin forces. Well, unfortunately for them, they were wrong.
See, the dwarves always have a contigency plan, which involves spiriting a bunch of females and a few males into secret places in the Underdark and letting them rebuild society. This was one of the few times they actually needed to use it, and it came to a beautiful (and terrible) fruition.
The dwarves are on the march, and they aren't happy. In the many centuries of the Empire's existance, technology has remained rather stable. That is to say, no new radical weaponry was invented. The dwarves, on the other hand, the dwarves have been taking their craft to new heights, creating projectile weaponry that the might daimyo would only be able to dream of. And with this new technology, they plan to take vengeance on the Empire that eradicated their kind.
By now, all the dwarves from the past have evolved into deep dwarves, and many have interbred with the existing duergar so that now neither race is good or evil, they are all one. They also happen to war with their drow neighbors fairly often.
The Underdark has not been nice to the dwarves, and those old, joking fellows you knew before (think Gimli) are gone. Instead, the dwarves are fixed with a single-minded purpose: destroy the Empire of the Rising Sun. To that end, they will go to hell and back, and in many ways, they already have. The dwarves' goal of destruction is one shared by the residents of Jigoku, and it was only a matter of time before they made an alliance. The Dark God has promised a great chunk of the surface world if the dwarves help him plunge the Empire into darkness, and the dwarves readily agreed.
With their strong ties to darkness, most dwarves are necromancers or warlocks, and many of their number are fiendish or half-fiends. Those that are gifted with dark inheritances often take levels of true fiend, fiendish brute, or conduit. The dwarves have also perfected the arts of necromancy and summoning. Needless to say, they are quite a force to be reckoned with.
Or at least they will be, when the time comes. Kurai-kami has requested that they hold their invasion plans for a time, stating no particular reason. It's possible that he wants time to consolodate his forces at the Festering Pit, or that he is waiting for a sign from his agents in the Empire. Then again, it's also possible that he will warn the Empire, simply because it would make the bloodshed so much more splendid.
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