Though the actual class system is detailed in the Cultures section, this is about how the government actually functions. The system used in the Empire is at once simple and deeply complex. On the surface, the Shogun is the final authority on all laws. The Empire belongs to the Shogun, who rules with the consent of the heavens. As the heavens put their faith in the Shogun, his word is absolute and carries the weight of all the kami. While this absolute power seems easy to abuse, it has only been perverted once or twice in the history of the Empire. The Shogun has always taken great pains to ensure that his son would do their name honor.
Since the Shogun is a busy figure, he simply cannot handle all affairs of justice. The shogun's highest agent of justice are the Censors, the chief enforcers of the law in the Empire. Under the censors are thousands of imperial police who roam the empire and the thousands of grunt officers below them, helping the censors fufill their awesome duty. Those who are appointed to the position are expected to act with the justice of the Shogun in mind, and nothing else. Imperial police must often put aside matters of clan or family politics or loyalty in order to stay true to their station. Clever policement, however, find ways to use their position to gain favors and honor for their clan without compromising the honor of their office.
Each daimyo also has a police force of his own. They carry out the law as well, but generally only winith their families' borders. These policemen are slightly lower in station than the others, but still command respect. The are considered the hands of their lord, and in most cases can act with the authority of the daimyo they represent. Unlike the Imperial Policemen, however, they almost never have to work in a manner that may harm their family or clan.
Another aspect that the Censors fufill is that of determining what is evil necromancy and what is not. They have their own inquisitors and are in control of the majo-kari. Though necromancy is a transgression of the law, the majo-kari are far better suited to handle such occult matters than the imperial police are.
Each bit of land is usually governed by a minor daimyo who has the duty of making sure that the peasants pay their taxes, and that the province keeps in line with the laws. These minor daimyo report to either a more important lord, or even the daimyo of a family. The faimly daimyo is responsible for all the lords under his command, and reports to the daimyo of the whole clan. These great lords only answer to the Shogun and the censors.
In recent years, with the death of the Shogun and the squabble of the heir to the throne, this system has crumbled. Though the daimyo are expected to follow the laws and obey the censors, many do not heed them or the imperial police at all. With no Shogun to pay homage to and to unite them, the daimyo have decided that their clan laws are more important, and that they are the final say.
Crime and Punishment
A violation of the Shogun's law offends the heavens and over a thousand years of tradition. In a society as fixated on order as the Empire, even the slightest transgression can bring dire consequences. Generally, however, smaller crimes can be forgiven with the proper procedures (and is the main reason that goblins and halflings have not become extinct). Like everything else in the Empire, justice, trial, and punishment are ritualized, and many times the outcome is already known before the mandatory matters of long, formalized etiquette are tended to.
In the Empire, people die every day. It is seen as a natural part of the cycle of the soul, so death and murder can be seen as an inconsequential matter, or a crime of degree varying with the circumstances. Honorless assassination is a crime punishable by execution, but if someone is killed in an honorable fashion, the offended family can call for a blood feud and little else. Almost any time someone is killed, the deceased's family may claim the right of vengeance. Duels are always considered the final say on such matters, and to carry on seeking vengeance or reparations after a duel is against the law.
In most other matters, the law of the Empire is severe and inflexible. Theft and forgery are punished by execution. Treason against the Shogun is the worst crime of all, and the offending party can expect to be executed dishonorably, along with his wife and children, while his house is razed to the ground (with the death of the Shogun, this law has lost all of its value). The names of such traitors are expunged from the history books and the Shogun almost always commands that the traitor's name never be spoken again. If a crime is committed by a child not yet past his coming of age, the consequences of the child's actions fall upon the father. A villager who commits a crime brings the repercussions down upon the village headman instead of himself.
In all cases, testimony must always be gathered before judgement can be pronounced. Evidence has little place in the courts of the Empire; as a Yokokiyo magistrate once said, "Any foll can leave a trail of bread crumbs leading to an innocent man." Some of the more radical clans use evidence, however, and is seen as a purer way of securing testimony. While still opnely mocked and ignored by many daimyo, it is slowly gaining respect among other clans. Confession from a criminal is testimony against himself, and such confessions are often extracted through torture. Testifying falsely is another crime punishable by death, as it violates the very method of justice laid out by Katzu.
Execution is viewed as honorless, and in many cases dishonorable. A clean death comes from the blade, and many samurai who wish to avoid death in such an ignoble manner claim the right to commit seppuku with their own wakizashi. This is considered an honorable and correct way to atone for one's crimes before departing to the land of the dead. If the crime and the criminal are deemed unworth of such an act, the samurai's lord will hand him a wooden blade in response to the request — an indication that the daimyo believes the samurai is too cowardly to perform a true seppuku.
At the dawn of the Empire, Katzu commanded that roads be constructed to connect the Imperial City with the palaces of the great clans. These roads were designed for the Emperor (and later the Shogun) himself to travel upon. Where the land will support them, trees canopy the roads, protecting the Shogun from foul weather and shading him from the midday heat of the sun.
Along these roads are way stations staffed by younger samurai, usually the apprentices of imperial policemen. These samurai serve as scouts in the case of invasion, and help defend in the event of bandit attacks. They are generally charged with assisting travelers and keeping order in the general area, and have one or two spellcasters on hand at any given time, just to be sure.
Though these roads were intended for the Emperor's ease, they're just as useful to the clans and their samurai. As they are the most direct and carefully maintained across the Empire, they are capable of moving large amounts of people at any given time. While this is good for those who wish to travel, it is not so good for those who wish to keep secure borders (an everygrowing concern as of late). In order to travel the length of the Shogun's Roads, one must carry travel papers from the daimyo that presides over the road you are traveling through. These papers are checked each time a traveler passes a way station or crosses a border between clans. Higher-ranking daimyo (or their advisors) have jurisdiction over greater lengths of road. Imperial police may travel the Shogun's roads as their duty commands, and may write temporary travel papers for anyone they deem worthy.
Traveling off these roads is a risky matter. Close to the Burning Sands, one can easily run afoul of horrible beasts spit forth by the Steep Slope of Shadow. Even away from this hostile desert, one runs the chance of being waylaid by bandits. On top of these two complications is the simple matter of terrain. Another advantage of traveling on the roads is that you're in plain sight of the family whose land you're traveling through. Someone caught sneaking around the fields of the Ota without papers will be dealt with much more severely than someone who attempts to enter the Ota lands by road, but with no papers.
Despite the importance of truth in both the Empire's texts and laws, it has customarily been more concerned with appearance than with facts. Those who speak sincerely are believed over those who speak the the truth poorly. A character's on (which loosely translates to "face" or "respectability") is a measure of how well-tended a character's reputation is. This is something a little different than honor or concerns of glory. Though Ota Nobuyuki may be an honorable man and known as a capable general, if he is seen as a stammering, stuttering fool in court, his on suffers.
By contrast, a worthless, dishonorable samurai can still command respect if he keeps up appearances with the right people. The battlefield of the courts is where on tends to be most important, as a man's reputation can kill another before the chance to engage in a formal duel even appears. Those whose on carries a reputation of impressive ability are rarely challenged, as their opponents do not wish to risk appearing foolish, and a samurai with a reputation as a highly skilled duelist can laugh off challenges from those who are perceived as lesser opponents, even if his reputation is in no way justified.
The customes and protocols surrounding honor and bushido could take up volumes. Of all the questions in the Empire, the most debated questions are "What is enlightenment?" and "What is honor?" Both are similar in the fact that mere words cannot fully grasp the idea. Those who are enlightened simply know it, as are those who are truly honorable. The chosest words come to defining the concept are the Seven Tenets of Bushido set down by one of Katzu's top samurai.
In the Empire, truth is a way of life. Even the coldest Yokokiyo knows that in order for a lie to be effected, he must first know the truth. Adhering to the truth is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the samurai's life. However, it is commonly accepted that those who lead an honorable life and carry a pure soul have nothing to fear from that which is true.
The burdens of those in the noble caste are not always easy. Althouth they lead a better life than the peasants toiling in the field, they face far greater dangers than a simple farmer may ever know. Samurai and spellcasters place their lives on the line for their lord, and even those in the protected heart of the capital must take risks that could lead to the downfall of his house and family. Fear touches the heart of all who must stand for what they hold dear, but what is important is that the samurai stands above his emotion.
A truly wise person tempers the power that he holds over others with compassion for them. A great leader is not the one who overworks and taxes his peasants until he has the most lavish palace in the land. So, too, are the wisest samurai who understand that mercy is a fundamental principal of the Heavens and the law.
Though strength of arms in the place of the samurai, it is not the only aspect of their lives. What separates sentient beings from the lesser beasts is our ability to create culture and act civilized. Respect is important, as it keeps us in line with the traditions of our ancestors, and can bring peace where needless bloodshed would otherwise reign.
All dealings within the Empire revolve around the concept of honor. It is the binding force of honor that keeps society together, and allows those of the samurai caste to focus their minds properly. Barbarians have no concept of honor, and thus are not as elevated in the eys of the Heavens as are the denizens of the Empire.
Those who say something are bound to their word. Sincerity is different from truth, because someone can mean something that is not true. It is then their duty to make it true. Sincerity is also absolute and true blief in what you say. In the Empire, sincerity is important because customarily it is a measure of truth. Though something may be impossible, if it is said in a sincere manner, it may very well be believed.
Finally, what defines the life of every being in the Empire is their duty. Everything serves something, and it is against everything the Heavens have dictated if something should refurse to accept their duty, and their place. Even the Shogun and daimyo must bow before the might of the Heavens.
In the Empire, etiquette is all-important. A samurai with no notion of etiquette can meet his end just as quickly and as brutally as if he took his place on the battlefield with no knowledge of the sword. Despite appearances to the contrary, the courts of the Empire are very much a battleground, and words are the weapons wielded by some of the greatest tacticians the Empire has ever seen.
The basics of etiquette are taught to all samurai beginning at an early age. Failure to display proper etiquette to one's peers and superiors will result in dishonor,and in the Empire there is no greater stigma than dishonor. The following are very basic elements of courtesy that all characters of samurai birth know, and adhere to if they know what is good for them.
Bowing and Kneeling
It is customary when greeting another samurai to bow. This is a show of respect and trust, although many bow merely as a formality when such emotions are not actually present. This practice began during the dawn of the hobgoblin empire, when samurai would bow or kneel before their lord with their hands held to their sides. This was a way to demonstrate their loyalty by offering their unprotected neck, and thus their lives, to their liege. The practice has continued to this day.
Bowing is a show of respect between two individuals of equal social standing. Bushi and most spellcasters both bow to one another. The lower the bow, the greater the respect is shwon to the person to whom one is bowing. Bowing only ver slightly to another is a sign of distrust or disrespect and is commonly interpreted as a thinly veiled insult.
One kneels before a person of obviously superior rank. Samurai always kneel before their lord, just as they would to any daimyo of a family or clan, regardless of their affiliation or relation to that clan. Even if two clans are at war, a samurai from one clan still kneels, or at least bows very deeply, to a daimyo of the other. Doing otherwise would be very risky indeed. It goes without saying that everyone bows before the Shogun, just as the peasants of the heimin class bow before all samurai.
When Meeting a host or superior for the first time, it is customary to offer a gift. Gifts are also given to demonstrate favor or to reward loyal service. The more personal and sentimental the gift is, the more meaningful it is. A daimyo that gives his loyal retainer a pristine gift clearly purchased from the market could be expressing his disfavor or indifference, but the same lord awarding his retainer a battered and stained sword-guard which had been worn by his own father would be showing extraordinary favor to his servant.
It is considered bad form to purchase a gift. A gift should be specifically chosen because of some meaning it has either for the individual giving it or to the recipient. The gift of a weapon or armor to another can actually be taken as an insult, implying as it does that the recipient either requires protection or that their lord is unable to meet their needs accordingly.
When accepting a gift, it is customary to refuse the gift two times before acquiescing. This allows the person presenting the gift to demonstrate their sincerity by continuing to offer it. A person who offers a gift once and then stops clearly was not particularly interested in parting with the object in the first place.
There are two distinct methods to learn a trade in the Empire. The first and most common among samurai is attending a school or dojo. When a samurai reaches a suitable age, normally somewhere around seven years old (although some families choose to wait until considerably later), he is sent to a school that will teach him the skills he will require to serve his family and clan with honor. The vast majority of samurai attend bushi schools, where they gain the martial training they will require to serve their clan as soldiers, magistrates, and sentries. A small number go to various clan-specific schools for courtiers, yojimbo, or even merchants. Finally, a tiny handful are blessed with the ability to tap into spellcasting powers, and undergo the rigorous training that will allow them to serve their clans. Whatever the training, these schools usually teach their students for at least six years, sometimes for as many as nine, before granting them their gempukku (graduation and coming of age) ceremony.
A samurai taught in a dojo continues his education throughout his liftetime, even though he may leave the school for extended periods of time.It is generally accepted that students who return to their sensei and demonstrate a certain level of skill and proficiency with the secrets of the school that they have thus far mastered are ready to advance. Such students are taught more intircate and complicated secrets of the school's style, increasing both their individual prowess and their value as a servant of their clan. Understandably, the sensei of a clan's schools are highly respected individuals who may have hundreds of different students serving the clan in various positions.
The other primary system of instruction, less common among samurai but used exclusively by the heimin and hinin classes, is that of master and apprentice. Samurai craftsmen and artisans pass on what they have learned through this system, choosing suitable apprentices to study with them for years and master the techniques they have spent their lives developing. Among the lower classes, various types of craftsmen employ similar methods to ensure that their talents do not die will them, but that their village will continue to have such skills at its disposal.
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