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.

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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

osarusan

Explorer
Let's not pretend you were in any fashion trying to understand what I was saying by going the route that you did.
You wrote something that seemed outrageous, and I literally asked you what you meant by restating what it sounded like you were saying. Your response was "Yes. That's exactly it." And to "do the research." I don't appreciate being called dishonest when I specifically asked for clarification and you decided not to give it.

So in all your reading you haven't come across mabiki? In all your reading you haven't dealt with the Edo execution grounds? In all your reading you haven't come across the burakumin, or perhaps it's just in your translations you haven't encountered such a "happy" euphemism? Did you think these were marginal problems just because they were marginalized?

I am familiar with all of those things. We're asking you for sources that support your hyperbolic claims, not a list of terms, or snarky aggression.

Sources.

This whole time we've been asking for sources.

I'll say it again: Sources!
 

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Hussar

Legend
Ok... so, I was starting the Edo period in 1500 not 1600. That's true. But, again, your claims of stagnant population aren't supported anywhere. The population of Japan doubled over that period of time. That's pretty much in keeping with nearly every other nation in the world. So, how is that stagnant?

And, sure, there were lots of horrific parts of Japan. Absolutely. But, welcome to history. EVERY country had horrific elements over those 150 years. The list of countries that weren't a horrific nightmare from 1600 to 1850 (ish) is far, FAR shorter than those that were.

In order to actually kill enough people to have a significant impact on the birth rate of your country, you have to kill tens of thousands of people per year when you have a starting population of about 15 million. To put it another way, if your normal rate of population increase is 1% per year, then you need to kill 1% of your population per year to keep it static. Where is the evidence that Japan was slaughtering more than 150 THOUSAND people every year?

So yeah, again, I'm going to need to see some cited sources other than "'cos I said so".
 
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MGibster

Legend
When I saw that Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai I didn't really have a lot of sympathy for the samaurai. I've never had an opportunity to take a course on Japanese history, but a quick look at Wikipedia indicates the early Edo period they experienced growth but it tapered off later most likely because of famines though some historians put forth a theory that there was a high number of infanticides. (There were actually a good number of infanticides in some parts of Europe as well.)

Damn, I really need to stop with the runoff sentences.
 

osarusan

Explorer
When I saw that Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai I didn't really have a lot of sympathy for the samaurai. I've never had an opportunity to take a course on Japanese history, but a quick look at Wikipedia indicates the early Edo period they experienced growth but it tapered off later most likely because of famines though some historians put forth a theory that there was a high number of infanticides. (There were actually a good number of infanticides in some parts of Europe as well.)

Damn, I really need to stop with the runoff sentences.
To be fair, the white savior complex in that movie is strong. :p Of course it takes a white man to teach the barbarian Japanese how to follow their own (ridiculously romanticized) ideals.

But it's true that towards the end of the Edo period, the shogun's strength was impotent and crumbling, and the government was unable to keep up with the times. There's a popular myth that Japan was completely closed off to the world during the Edo period, but that's not true. There was plenty of external trade, scientific, technological, and political intercourse; it was just tightly controlled by the central government. By the late 1700s, the bakufu was imposing tighter and tighter restrictions, censorship, and other futile methods of holding on to their control, and by the 1850s, it was completely untenable. Increased foreign trade was bringing new diseases to Japan, which were wreaking havoc across the country. The 1800s saw cholera epidemic after cholera epidemic, and regional governors were beginning to strongly doubt the bakufu's ability to manage the country. The "black ships" that Matthew Perry shocked Japan with were the straw that broke the camel's back -- or maybe more like a tree that broke the camel's back. The camel was going to break anyway after a couple more straws, but the impact of those steamships accelerated what was already an inevitable change. And they make for a great "Aha!" focal point for historians to point to. But really, the writing was on the wall.
 

MGibster

Legend
To be fair, the white savior complex in that movie is strong. :p Of course it takes a white man to teach the barbarian Japanese how to follow their own (ridiculously romanticized) ideals.
Every time I see that criticism levied at The Last Samurai I have to wonder if we saw the same movie. The titular last samurai was Watanabe's character not Cruise's. And Cruise wasn't the one who saved them he was the one who was saved by him. The more relevant criticism of the movie is its presentation of an idyllic vision of the samurai as noble warriors who were just trying to protect Japan from western control or some such nonsense. No. Those particular samurai were pissed off because they were losing their priviliged position in society.

Incidentally, I've always thought the peaceful Edo period was when we started expecting samurai to be poets, artists, and engage in other such activities. i.e. Peace has broken out and we need to figure out the best way for all these young men trained to kill to spend their time. After 200+ years of peace (more-or-less), as a whole, how good a warrior was the average samurai by then?
 

osarusan

Explorer
Every time I see that criticism levied at The Last Samurai I have to wonder if we saw the same movie. The titular last samurai was Watanabe's character not Cruise's. And Cruise wasn't the one who saved them he was the one who was saved by him.
I can see both arguments.

One the one hand, Watanabe Ken's character is "the last samurai" as he saves Cruise and teaches him their culture in a last ditch effort to cling to a vanishing noble cause.

On the other hand, Cruise's character is an incel's dream. A broken man who comes to Japan, gets saved by some samurai, marries the wife of the man he killed, learns how to "be Japanese," and then surpasses the samurai with his own "samurainess" and shames them into fighting to their deaths. It's a crowning example of white saviorism.

Interestingly, though, it is well loved over here!

The more relevant criticism of the movie is its presentation of an idyllic vision of the samurai as noble warriors who were just trying to protect Japan from western control or some such nonsense. No. Those particular samurai were pissed off because they were losing their priviliged position in society.
Agree 100%.

The movie is dripping with romanticism that is not historically accurate. I mean that's Hollywood. It is what it is. And to be fair, I still enjoyed the movie, even though I like to laugh at how heavy-handed it is.

Incidentally, I've always thought the peaceful Edo period was when we started expecting samurai to be poets, artists, and engage in other such activities. i.e. Peace has broken out and we need to figure out the best way for all these young men trained to kill to spend their time. After 200+ years of peace (more-or-less), as a whole, how good a warrior was the average samurai by then?
That was a real concern, actually! We usually say "samurai" to mean "warrior" in English, but "samurai" is a actually caste, and plenty of them were not warriors. The idea of being well-versed in literature as well as military was always a big thing, going back to ancient China, but the long peace of the Edo period definitely allowed for those pursuits to outweigh actual combat. Still, there were small conflicts throughout the Edo period that allowed for armies to get their practice, and Japan's military during the Meiji period leaves little question as to the ability of their soldiers.
 


MGibster

Legend
On the other hand, Cruise's character is an incel's dream. A broken man who comes to Japan, gets saved by some samurai, marries the wife of the man he killed, learns how to "be Japanese," and then surpasses the samurai with his own "samurainess" and shames them into fighting to their deaths. It's a crowning example of white saviorism.
Did anyone know what an incel was in 2003? I know the word was created in the 1990s, only because I looked it up, but I doubt many people in the audience was familiar with the term at the time.


Does that mean the TTRPG world is gonna have a long period of peace because WOTC/Dungeons & Dragons essentially has an iron grip on it???
Yes. But we're still going to have those minor fights like they did during the Edo period.

Dungeons and Dragons
Gygax casts his long shadow
Forever his thrall
 

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