RPG Evolution: The Final War

In the 1500s, Japan was roiled with a war that lasted over a century. But there was one man who...

In the 1500s, Japan was roiled with a war that lasted over a century. But there was one man who not only put a stop to the endless warring, but ushered in an era of unprecedented peace – at a very bloody price.

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The Sengoku Period​

The Sengoku period, also known as the Warring States period, was a time of massive civil wars and social upheavals that persisted throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. Two complicating factors kept the war boiling: the introduction of the arquebus in 1543 by Europeans; and the ongoing battle to end samurai rule by the Ikkō-ikki, a group of autonomous rebels backed by the Jōdo Shinshū sect of Buddhism.

The emperor was more a figurehead, with his shogun the de facto ruler. Regional feudal lords known as daimyo warred often, climaxing in the Ōnin War of 1467, which collapsed the feudal system of Japan under the Ashikaga shogunate, precipitating a battle between the various samurai warlords and clans for control of Japan.

For player characters, this is an opportunity to establish reputations. It’s a dangerous time, with the merchant class and monks shoring up castle defenses just to stay out of the fracas. There are plenty of opportunities for classes of all types to play a prominent role, particularly clerics, fighters, monks, and rogues.

Three Warlords​

The period culminated with a series of three warlords – Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu– who gradually unified Japan.

At first, it was Nobunaga who was dominant. He led a series of battles, court appointments, and castle constructions to consolidate power and put an end to the constant conflicts. When Nobunga was attacked by one of his generals in a surprise ambush, he committed seppuku. The subsequent power vacuum allowed Hideyoshi a chance to gain a foothold, consolidating power over the remaining daimyos but unable to only rule as Kampaku (Imperial Regent) rather than Sei-i Taishōgun due to his common birth. This was also the time of siege, including the Siege of Odawara, in which Hideyoshi eliminated the Hōjō clan by besieging Odawara Castle. The siege was mostly a battle of resources, with little actual conflicts. After three months, the defenders surrendered. One of Hideyoshi’s top generals, Ieyasu, was given the Hōjō lands, a steppingstone to his later ascension to power. Hideyoshi ruled Japan for 12 years, leaving his five-year-old son, Toyotomi Hideyori, as his successor.

PCs might align themselves with any of the three warlords are different points in their careers. Nobunaga’s influence keeps the other two warlords and their families from open conflict at first, but that tentative peace will not last.

The Battle of Seikgahara​

Hideyoshi’s death left a power vacuum. Ieyasu, at the peak of his influence, had the support of the regency government as well as many eastern warlords. Hideyori clan loyalists and western lords rallied behind Ishida Mitsunari, a samurai and military commander. With both sides making threats and building up their armies, war was inevitable.

It all came to a head at dawn in Sekigahara on October 21, 1600. Morning rain blanketed the area with dense fog, causing Ieyasu’s advance guard to stumble into Mitsunari’s army. Both sides retreated, but now aware of their rival’s presence, prepared for war. When a wind blew away the fog, what commenced was the largest battle of Japanese feudal history. The war was punctuated by sudden betrayals, daimyos refusing to accept commands, and a commander who was too busy eating to comply with orders. Ieyasu’s forces were victorious. Hideyori was forced to abandon claims to power, but he was allowed to keep lordship of Osaka Castle. Three years later, Ieyasu was shogun.

PCs can play essential members of Tokugawa Ieyasu's forces during the pivotal Battle of Sekigahara. Their actions and decisions on the battlefield can influence the outcome of the battle. After victory, they can help consolidate power for the Tokugawa clan, dealing with remnants of the opposition.

The Rise of Ieyasu​

Ieyasu knew he would have to structure his regime to last. Unlike his two predecessors, he took steps to ensure stability and control of his legacy.

The first step was to deal with the arquebuses which undermined the power of sword-wielding samurai. He requestioned a large proportion of Japanese-made arquebuses known as tanegashima and stored them in Edo, the capital.

He also instituted sankin-kōtai, in which daimyos had to live in the capital alternate living for a year in their domain and in Edo. No daimyo could have more than one fortress within his fiefdom, and many castles were demolished—material that was recycled to further fortify Ieyasu’s own castle in Edo.

There was just one loose end: Toyotomi Hideyori. Finding a pretense to attack Osaka Castle, Ieyasu besieged it not once but twice. The second time, nearly all the defenders were killed, including Hideyori, his mother, and his infant son. Only Hideyoshi’s wife Senhime, a granddaughter of Ieyasu, was spared.

PCs might be tasked with enforcing Ieyasu's policies, including the control of firearms, fortification reduction, and the "sankin-kotai" policy. They may also encounter opposition from daimyo resistant to Tokugawa rule. They can also participate in the Siege of Osaka Castle, the final confrontation between Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Toyotomi clan. They must navigate the complex political landscape of the time, which includes loyalty tests, betrayal, and the ultimate battle against Toyotomi Hideyori's forces.

Peace, at a Price​

Ieyasu passed away at age 73 in 1616. In life, he was alternately feared and venerated. A savvy political operative and military commander, Ieyasu was loyal to those who served him but was merciless in destroying those who opposed him. He never forgot a slight, and wasn’t afraid to execute women and children if they were on the wrong side of war. He personally participated in 90 battles.

Unlike the deaths of his predecessors, no great civil war erupted from Ieyasu’s passing. His dynasty would usher in the Great Peace, which would last for centuries (see the above picture to comprehend how long it lasted and just how it compares to other countries). It came at significant cost, including the loss of several freedoms of the people he ruled. For PCs who started their adventures at about the time as when Ieyasu came of age in 1556, it’s an opportunity to retire their characters in an era less tolerant of adventurers.
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Celebrim

Legend
Well, as long as you don't consider peasant revolts, revolts by landless nobility, widespread banditry by the landless nobility, and the widespread murder of the peasant class to be an interruption in peace, then yes the Shogun bought peace. But I have to agree with Quark here, "That's the sort of irresponsible spending that causes so many business ventures to fail. You're forgetting the third rule of acquisition." One way to look at the Shogunate would be a period of peace. The other way to look at it would be one of the most perfect fascist dystopias that humanity has ever managed to create - a stagnate culture defined by a sandal pressed down on every throat, a culture that valued human life lower than almost any other society because with limited land, a stagnate economy, and no need to defend from outsiders what was one peasant's life among others. One less mouth to be fed was just an opportunity for someone else. The scary thing about is that it could have potentially been stable nigh indefinitely. Rational policies combined with ruthless murder tended to prevent any of the disgruntled parties from having the power to do anything about it. The only thing that broke it was stagnate technology created an excession crisis in which they rulers eventually realized they'd fallen three centuries behind the rest of the world in power, something intolerable to a master race supposedly superior in every virtue to the barbarians over the seas.

It is a fascinating period in human history though, and the Meiji Restoration is probably one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened in human history. Very much gameable though, at least if you aren't a peasant. Blades in the Cherry Blossums sort of thing.
 

talien

Community Supporter
Well, as long as you don't consider peasant revolts, revolts by landless nobility, widespread banditry by the landless nobility, and the widespread murder of the peasant class to be an interruption in peace, then yes the Shogun bought peace. But I have to agree with Quark here, "That's the sort of irresponsible spending that causes so many business ventures to fail. You're forgetting the third rule of acquisition." One way to look at the Shogunate would be a period of peace. The other way to look at it would be one of the most perfect fascist dystopias that humanity has ever managed to create - a stagnate culture defined by a sandal pressed down on every throat, a culture that valued human life lower than almost any other society because with limited land, a stagnate economy, and no need to defend from outsiders what was one peasant's life among others. One less mouth to be fed was just an opportunity for someone else. The scary thing about is that it could have potentially been stable nigh indefinitely. Rational policies combined with ruthless murder tended to prevent any of the disgruntled parties from having the power to do anything about it. The only thing that broke it was stagnate technology created an excession crisis in which they rulers eventually realized they'd fallen three centuries behind the rest of the world in power, something intolerable to a master race supposedly superior in every virtue to the barbarians over the seas.

It is a fascinating period in human history though, and the Meiji Restoration is probably one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened in human history. Very much gameable though, at least if you aren't a peasant. Blades in the Cherry Blossums sort of thing.
Absolutely. And incidentally, the era makes it a very gameable world for adventurers ... and then one that is highly intolerant of them, which is why I recommend the conclusion of the campaign.

It's a fascinating model for any fantasy culture though. If there's been a long peace (I think of an elven nation, for example, with centuries of no war), it's a price paid in blood and freedom.
 



Well, as long as you don't consider peasant revolts, revolts by landless nobility, widespread banditry by the landless nobility, and the widespread murder of the peasant class to be an interruption in peace, then yes the Shogun bought peace. But I have to agree with Quark here, "That's the sort of irresponsible spending that causes so many business ventures to fail. You're forgetting the third rule of acquisition." One way to look at the Shogunate would be a period of peace. The other way to look at it would be one of the most perfect fascist dystopias that humanity has ever managed to create - a stagnate culture defined by a sandal pressed down on every throat, a culture that valued human life lower than almost any other society because with limited land, a stagnate economy, and no need to defend from outsiders what was one peasant's life among others. One less mouth to be fed was just an opportunity for someone else. The scary thing about is that it could have potentially been stable nigh indefinitely. Rational policies combined with ruthless murder tended to prevent any of the disgruntled parties from having the power to do anything about it. The only thing that broke it was stagnate technology created an excession crisis in which they rulers eventually realized they'd fallen three centuries behind the rest of the world in power, something intolerable to a master race supposedly superior in every virtue to the barbarians over the seas.

It is a fascinating period in human history though, and the Meiji Restoration is probably one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened in human history. Very much gameable though, at least if you aren't a peasant. Blades in the Cherry Blossums sort of thing.
The Edo period was far from stagnant, the economy flourished and there were major innovations in trade and finance. One of the major reasons why the Meiji restoration happened so quickly and relatively smoothly was that the shogunate system was already on its last legs. Even without foreign intervention there would likely have been a major shakeup in Japan in the late 19th century.
 


talien

Community Supporter
Just wondering if you can include your references and in particular where the visualisation came from. Thanks.
Good question! I took it myself while visiting a museum. Took some searching to find it online, but it was actually at the Yale Peabody Museum. The exhibit was Samurai and the Culture of Japan's Great Peace. I updated my source to reflect that, but you can read more about it here. The whole thing is worth a read but you'll see page 33 specifically has the chart: https://japanesehistory.yale.edu/si...at_peace_exhibition_catalog_-_watermarked.pdf
 

Moonmover

Explorer
My current Bushido campaign started in 1500, and has now continued into 1501. Your post is making me regret not setting it further into the Sengoku Jidai. But, the ruleset didn't have guns and I didn't want to make up rules for them.
 

osarusan

Explorer
Well, as long as you don't consider peasant revolts, revolts by landless nobility, widespread banditry by the landless nobility, and the widespread murder of the peasant class to be an interruption in peace, then yes the Shogun bought peace. But I have to agree with Quark here, "That's the sort of irresponsible spending that causes so many business ventures to fail. You're forgetting the third rule of acquisition." One way to look at the Shogunate would be a period of peace. The other way to look at it would be one of the most perfect fascist dystopias that humanity has ever managed to create - a stagnate culture defined by a sandal pressed down on every throat, a culture that valued human life lower than almost any other society because with limited land, a stagnate economy, and no need to defend from outsiders what was one peasant's life among others. One less mouth to be fed was just an opportunity for someone else. The scary thing about is that it could have potentially been stable nigh indefinitely. Rational policies combined with ruthless murder tended to prevent any of the disgruntled parties from having the power to do anything about it. The only thing that broke it was stagnate technology created an excession crisis in which they rulers eventually realized they'd fallen three centuries behind the rest of the world in power, something intolerable to a master race supposedly superior in every virtue to the barbarians over the seas.

It is a fascinating period in human history though, and the Meiji Restoration is probably one of the most remarkable things that has ever happened in human history. Very much gameable though, at least if you aren't a peasant. Blades in the Cherry Blossums sort of thing.
I'm sorry, but what???

Not to be hyperbolic, but this is the most misguided take I have ever read about Edo period Japan. A perfect fascist dystopia??? A stagnant economy??? Falling three centuries behind the world in power??? Stagnant technology??? And some kind of master race theory??? None of this reflects the reality of the time.

Please, for the sake of people who might read this comment as it is the first one in this thread, read some history books and get a better understanding of the Edo period. It was a lively period in which society, the arts, and culture flourished, with one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Practically a golden age, compared to the rest of the world at the time. Its reputation suffers a great deal from very bad Western scholarship in the mid-20th century which has perpetuated a number of false myths, but your post almost could not be more wrong about it.
 

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