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 not only put a stop to the endless warring, but ushered in an era of unprecedented peace – at a very bloody price.

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

Hussar

Legend
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.

While I’m certainly no fan of how Japanese history is presented in Japan, I have to say that celebrim’s take is certainly… unique.

I mean, valued life lower than other societies? 1500-1900? The height of colonialism and the slave trade? Seriously?
 

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Celebrim

Legend
It was a lively period in which society, the arts, and culture flourished, with one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

I don't deny that the arts flourished and the literacy achievement is remarkable.

I think you should read more about the caste system and the ronin problem and the peasant revolts. I think maybe also you should consider why in this supposed flourishing society the population was stagnant.
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't deny that the arts flourished and the literacy achievement is remarkable.

I think you should read more about the caste system and the ronin problem and the peasant revolts. I think maybe also you should consider why in this supposed flourishing society the population was stagnant.
Sorry, what do you mean by "population was stagnant"?

But, again, I find claims that Japan was somehow more of a "fascist dystopia" or lack of value of human life compared to any number of other contemporary states to be pretty baffling. We're talking a period of history where so many states committed unspeakable horrors on various peoples that make the 20th century look positively tame by comparison. Sure, yup, they executed their Christians. That's true. But, nothing even remotely on the scale of virtually anything any European nation committed either on their own people or on others.

I'm finding this line of hyperbole to be frankly baffling. How are you reaching this conclusion? At worst, Edo Japan was not really any worse than pretty much any other nation.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Sorry, what do you mean by "population was stagnant"?

I mean you have an 150 year long period of "peace" where the population stays between 30 and 31 million the whole time.

But, again, I find claims that Japan was somehow more of a "fascist dystopia" or lack of value of human life compared to any number of other contemporary states to be pretty baffling. We're talking a period of history where so many states committed unspeakable horrors on various peoples that make the 20th century look positively tame by comparison. Sure, yup, they executed their Christians. That's true. But, nothing even remotely on the scale of virtually anything any European nation committed either on their own people or on others.

That they executed the Christians makes them hardly different than any other nation or tribe of the period and isn't even remarkable or worth dwelling on. It's normal in human history for almost all of human history for every tribe and nation to consider the member of every other tribe or nation necessary to kill or even subhuman. Fear of the other isn't unusual. What is unusual in this time period is the degree to which they held their own life cheaply, not as a result of civilizational collapse, but as a cultural policy.

It's not like the negative aspects of the culture of Imperial Japan post the truly remarkable Meiji Restoration just came out of nowhere. Everything Imperial Japan did was just an extension of the good and the bad aspects of their own culture in the Edo period.

I'm finding this line of hyperbole to be frankly baffling. How are you reaching this conclusion? At worst, Edo Japan was not really any worse than pretty much any other nation.

Oh good grief. I had not meant to trigger a bunch of nationalist sentiment. Every nation has nasty skeletons in its closet. My respect for Japan is extremely high. It's definitely one of the most remarkable cultures on the planet. But for all the art and literature produced the Edo period isn't the golden age of Japan. The golden age of Japan is post-WWII.
 
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osarusan

Explorer
I don't deny that the arts flourished and the literacy achievement is remarkable.

I think you should read more about the caste system and the ronin problem and the peasant revolts. I think maybe also you should consider why in this supposed flourishing society the population was stagnant.
I mean, you're pointing out that there were legitimate problems. Sure, I'll agree with that. Of course there were. None of that comes close to the hellscape you painted in your first post though. You want to talk about the population growth? Sure, let's talk about it! It's a fascinating subject. For example, why did Europe's population grow so much between 1700 and 1800? Well, it certainly helped that the 17th century saw one of the most destructive series of wars in European history, which depopulated the continent to such an extent that it allowed for rapid growth later. Google the demographics of European countries and be amazed at how many millions of people were murdered in the 1600s to allow for that marvelous period of "growth" later on. You call Japan's population "stagnant," when the reality is that it was stable.

This isn't about nationalism. Although I live here, I am not a Japanese national nor do I have any sense of nationalism towards Japan. Nor is it about respect; you can respect Japan more than anyone else but still be dead wrong about its history. This is just about facts. By all means, let us discuss the goods and evils of Edo period Japan and compare them with what was happening in the rest of the world (tell me you'd rather live in Germany in 1630 than in Japan).

Look, it's not my intention to quarrel or raise anyone's hackles. I only want to call out the hyperbolic and historically inaccurate picture of Japan you painted in your first comment.
 

Celebrim

Legend
You call Japan's population "stagnant," when the reality is that it was stable.

But there was no way to achieve stability. There was no oral contraceptives and live births didn't go down in the period - they went up. Where did all the missing people go? We're not talking about a small number of people either. It was a long period in history. We're talking tens of millions of people who had to disappear in order to maintain that stability. They didn't immigrate. They didn't starve. They didn't die in war. Where did they go?

Look, I'm not going to get into this deeply. I realized that people are making this a modern political issue, and I know about biases in Japanese education. I've talked to people from Japan before. And the last thing I want to do is get in a political fight.

Yeah, the world has seen a lot of nightmares and I'm not saying that anyone is better than anyone else. I don't look at history primarily to condemn the people who lived it but to understand exactly what is going on. Thirty years war was a brutal horrible conflict that resulted in the death of like a third of some country's population - six million people. I know that. I also know that under the reign of Henry the 8th, England experienced comparable or even higher rates of judicial execution and that the West was no less brutal or creative in carrying out capital punishment than the East. But I'm not using the descriptions that I'm making out of ignorance, sir.
 

osarusan

Explorer
But there was no way to achieve stability. There was no oral contraceptives and live births didn't go down in the period - they went up. Where did all the missing people go? We're not talking about a small number of people either. It was a long period in history. We're talking tens of millions of people who had to disappear in order to maintain that stability. They didn't immigrate. They didn't starve. They didn't die in war. Where did they go?

Look, I'm not going to get into this deeply. I realized that people are making this a modern political issue, and I know about biases in Japanese education. I've talked to people from Japan before. And the last thing I want to do is get in a political fight.

Yeah, the world has seen a lot of nightmares and I'm not saying that anyone is better than anyone else. I don't look at history primarily to condemn the people who lived it but to understand exactly what is going on. Thirty years war was a brutal horrible conflict that resulted in the death of like a third of some country's population - six million people. I know that. I also know that under the reign of Henry the 8th, England experienced comparable or even higher rates of judicial execution and that the West was no less brutal or creative in carrying out capital punishment than the East. But I'm not using the descriptions that I'm making out of ignorance, sir.
I'm legitimately baffled by what it sounds like you're saying.

You seem to be saying that there was no way for the population of Japan to stay stable unless there was some massive conspiracy involving the "disappearing" of tens of millions of people? This is "aliens built the pyramids" level of conspiracy theory. Just off the top of my head, without doing any research at all, a simple explanation would be something like the birth rate and the death rate were close enough for the population to remain at a stable number.

Further, I don't understand why you are making this out to be a "modern political issue" or bringing up the Japanese education system. That's a non sequitur. "I've talked to people from Japan before" also raises some bizarre red flags ("Some of my best friends are black!"). But this is not a political issue, nor is it somehow controversial. We're talking about centuries-past history, and we're all using the internet here and we have pretty much equal access to the same information. I don't know where you developed this bizarre idea of Japan's present and past, but it's not accurate. If you've got some reliable source pointing to a secret 250-year-long program by the shogunate to "disappear" tens of millions of people, please do share it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
...without doing any research at all, a simple explanation would be something like the birth rate and the death rate were close enough for the population to remain at a stable number.

Yes. That's exactly it. And there are no secrets here. You said it yourself. You can do the research.
 

osarusan

Explorer
Yes. That's exactly it. And there are no secrets here. You said it yourself. You can do the research.
So you won't provide any sources of this supposed 250-year-long secret program by the shogunate to "disappear" tens of millions of people, and your only answer is "do the research" (sounding again like the rhetoric used to support ancient aliens or anti-vax conspiracy theories).

That's disappointing.

More disappointing is that you won't go back and edit your first post to fix the blatantly incorrect, make-believe version of Japan you invented. I don't know where you got your misunderstanding from. It's not even pseudohistory, since pseudohistory still relies upon misreading actual historical records and legends. I just hope that somebody looking for information on the Edo period (to run a Japan-themed game or for whatever reason) uses a more reliable source than this thread.
 
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