Playing in the World of The Celestial Order
All of Rokugan is based on a hierarchical system knows as the Celestial Order. It is important for the Judge to understand this concept, and to convey it to his players, since so much of their social (read: role-playing) interactions will be dictated by this custom.
The Order dictates that all people are born into a position which is their destiny to fulfill. Thus, notions such as social mobility and egalitarianism are not found in Rokugan. There are three basic decisions of the Celestial order
The samurai or buke caste are the only "real people" of Rokugan, and stand at the top of the social order. They have complete power and rights over all below them. The samurai cast itself is, of course, strictly divided by Status ranks, with those of higher rank ruling and commanding those of lower rank. In general, a samurai is not permitted to question or oppose someone of a higher Status rank without the strongest possible evidence. Samurai always treat each other with extreme respect and politeness, even if they are actually bitter enemies. To fail in public manners would be to "lose one's face," and unforgivable social error.
Below samurai are heimin or "half-people": peasants, artisans, and merchants. These form the vast bulk of Rokugan's population, and are the ones who keep the nation and economy running. They are not permitted to use weapons (although some do so secretly anyway) and Samurai can demand anything from them without recompense. However the Celestial Order also dictates that there are responsibilities between the different levels of the order. So while it is the heimin's duty to produce and obey, it is the samurai's duty to protect and administer. Heimin are always respectful and obedient toward Samurai, but the Samurai who goes out of his way to fulfil his duties to the heimin caste will be rewarded in turn by extra loyalty and effort.
At the bottom of the social ladder are the hinin or "non-people," the Rokugani untouchables. These include tortures and those who must touch dead bodies, the eta. These people are considered less than nothing, and most samurai ignore them as much as possible. Nevertheless, these people perform a vital task by fulfilling the "unclean" jobs which no-one else will touch.
Most Heroes of Rokugan scenarios have large casts of non-player characters (NPC's). The GM should always read modules carefully and develop ideas for how to play the various NPCs. Always strive to present NPCs and vivid, complete persons with memorable personalities.
This is especially important when playing notable individuals such as the Emperor or a Clan Champion. PCs will have strong notions of what these people are like and how they should behave; the GM much strive not to disappoint them.
Following the Scenario
We do not expect GMs to always be able to follow every detail of an adventure to the letter. Players are creative and they can introduce wild and unexpected twists to the situation, forcing the GM to adjust and improvise. GMs are encouraged to reward creative players by tweaking the scenario where neccessary. Slavishly following the scenario text when the players have rendered it obsolete will make for a bad play experience. Likewise, we encourage GMs to adjust the challenge level of combat encounters to deal with parties which are unusually strong or weak (as outlined below in "Balancing Scenarios").
However, GMs do not have the power to re-write scenarios at their whim. You are a GM, not an author, and you cannot add entire new plot elements, change major NPCs, create new spells, or otherwise change fundamental elements in a scenario to suit your own whim. Players in Heroes of Rokugan are part of a larger shared-world experience, and that experience will be badly compromised if their adventures deviate radically from the same adventures experienced by other players. GMs who persistantly engage in such behavior will be expelled from the campaign.
Rokugani Law and Justice
Rokugani law is somewhat different from Western concepts. In Rokugan, all that matters is testimony and direct physical evidence; logical deduction and inference are not permitted, and the very idea of solving crimes or mysteries in such a way is unknown except in the very controversial Kitsuki family. Personal testimony is always the most important evidence of all, and the higher the Status rank of the witness, the more weight their testimony carries. Thus the testimony of a single samurai will outweigh any number of heimin or hinin, and a daimyo's word outweighs that of a low-ranking samurai.
It is important to remind players of this when they find themselves in situations where crimes have been committed. Even if it is logically obvious that the daimyo was murdered by his son, the son's testimony that he was in his room all night is sufficient to render him free from suspicion. Only if another witness comes forward to testify to the son's crime can he be questioned...and if that witness is of lower social rank, there had better be some conclusive piece of physical evidence (such as a bead from the son's obi) to support it.
Usually, once a criminal has been arrested, that criminal is expected to confess to the crime. A written confession is always considered the "closing document" of any criminal investigation. Once someone has confessed, the crime is solved and forgotten there is no mechanism for "re-opening a case" as there is in Western justice
It should also be remember that cases cannot be resolved "on the evidence" are often settled instead by duels. Once a duel has been fought and won, the matter is settled and no further questions can be raised.
Glory, Honor, and Status Awards and Penalties
Most published Heroes of Rokugan adventures will contain suggested Glory, Status, and Honor awards (and penalties, including Infamy points) for dealing with the challenges presented therein. However, at times the players may take extra actions which the GM judges worthy of additional reward - or punishment. The following may be considered as guidelines:
Performing an act of selfless, sacrificial loyalty to one's daimyo or clan: +1 point of Honor.
Abiding by the tenets of bushido when there is no gain in doing so and one could gain an obvious advantage by breaking them: +1 point of Honor.
Betraying or disobeying your duty, Clan, or family: lose 1-10 points of Honor and Glory, and possibly Status, depending on the severity of the failure. Gain the same amount of Infamy.
Crying out in pain when injured: lose one point each of Honor and Glory.
Using sneaky, underhanded, or treacherous methods when at an Honor rank higher than zero: lose 1-5 points of Honor. If caught, also gain 1-5 points of Infamy.
Using Low skills: lose a number of points of Honor equal to the Rank of the skill. Note that there are exceptions to this rule, and the GM can lower the penalty for members of inherently dishonorable Clans such as Scorpions.
Performing a socially acceptable public act of extreme courage and skill: +1 point of Glory.
Drunk, insulting, or otherwise ill-mannered in public: lose 1-5 points of Glory. For extreme abuses, also gain an equivalent amount of Infamy.
Playing entire adventure without doing anything of note: lose 1 point of Glory. (Note that this specific penalty cannot reduce your Glory Rank below your Insight Rank.)
Made ronin: Status removed.
Seppuku is the form of ritual suicide which samurai perform when they have been irretrievably dishonored. By performing the ceremony (and thus, dying honorably) the samurai wipes away the stain of dishonor and leaves his or her family name clean and untarnished. It is important to remember that the main purpose of seppuku is to protect the family, rather than the individual; in Rokugan a family is the repository of all the collective deeds and accomplishments of its members, and a dishonored person thus brings dishonor and shame to the entire family. By committing seppuku, the samurai spares the family from this fate.
The GM must be very careful with seppuku, since this is a concept which can easily be abused or distorted. Good taste must be observed at all times. Seppuku is not something a samurai can do at any time; permission must be gained from the samurai's daimyo, and witnessess and a second should be present. The second is there to end the ritual by beheading the samurai at the first sign of distress or hesitation, thereby ensuring that no cowardice or lost face stains the purity of the ceremony.
In general, seppuku should only be allowed when a player clearly understands the purpose of the ritual and has role-played convincingly. Aside from acting to preserve family honor, the only other form of permissible seppuku is to protest unjust orders from one's lord; this is known as kanshi and must still be authorized by the daimyo. Most daimyo don't care for such an act, but it is considered dishonorable and ill-mannered to refuse one's samurai permission to commit kanshi.
The Rokugani and Shame
The Rokugani have a very interesting attitude towards public spectacle. They ignore it. If a drunken samurai is acting out, those around him will tend to ignore the scene, hoping that someone of sufficient rank will put a stop to the activity. When this does occur, the samurai tends to give the offender a stern warning before he takes public action, thus allowing him a chance to save face.
The GM should use this technique when player character samruai get out of hand or decide to go on a Glory-smashing rampage. NPC daimyos or samurai of distinguished rank will allow them an opportunity to cease and desist before the GM wipes clean all that hard-earned Glory - or worse, inflicts Infamy.
Dealing with Problem Players
Rokugan is not forgiving to those who transgress against its rules and social conventions. However, not all your players will be familiar with those customs. Therefore, it is recommended that the GM try to warn the players before their samurai commit some grave breach of social etiquette that might cost them Glory, Honor, Status, or their lives. This is a game, and the goal is to have fun; players who lose their characters to some rule they did not know will be fustrated and unhappy.
There may, however, be times when players insist on breaking the rules of Rokugan whatever your warning. If this happens, the GM would be well advised to remember the rulebook's comments on the subject: confronted with an embarrassing situation, Rokugani usually try and ignore it, waiting for someone of higher rank to show up and control the transgressor. You can use this method in play, arranging for a daimyo or high-ranking NPC to approach and urge the offending PC to mend his or her ways. Such a warning will probably be accompanied by a small Glory penalty or Infamy award (a point or two) to drive the point home.
Only in the most extreme circumstances should the GM consider inflicting enough Infamy on player characters to reduce them to Ronin. In general, this would require something on the order of disobeying a direct order from a daimyo, publicly insulting the Emperor, refusing to commit seppuku when it is required, or something of similar spectacular nature. Of course, PC's do not have to accept Ronin status; they can commit Seppuku instead.
There may be occasions when a player actually commits an action grave enough to warrant execution. This should be extremely rare, and the GM should alway try to find some other punishment (such as Glory or Honor penalties, Infamy points, reduction to Ronin status, etc.) rather than take such a drastic step. In general, the death penalty should only apply if the character takes an action which is so grotesque that Rokugani justice can accept no other punishment: Physically attacking a daimyo (or worse yet, one of the Imperial family) would be the obvious example. Try to give the player a chance to back down before something so irrevocable takes place. You can also offer the chance for an Honor-salvaging seppuku.
If execution does take place, it will be carried out immediately, probably by a high-ranking champion NPC stepping forward and removing the offender's head. There is no rolling of dice and no returning from the dead.
Ronin are a different matter; they have already forsaken the protections of normal Rokugani society, and live on the sufferance of the Samurai around them. Any Ronin who commits a serious breach of the social order will be immediately hunted down and executed by the local troops. They are not offered the chance to commit seppuku.
In Rokugan, there is no raising from the dead. The very idea is considered a foul perversion of the Celestial Order, since it interferes in souls' progress to their next incarnation. Therefore, death is permanent and irretrievable.
Hopefully, most Heroes of Rokugan players will be aware of this going into the campaign. However, habits from more Western-styled RPGs may still affect their play. The GM should try to remind the players of Rokugan's different standard before they commit themselves to some irrevocable deadly or dishonorable action.
When a player character does perish, it should be a serious occasion. The Rokugani never treat the death of a samurai casually or flippantly, and neither should you or your players. Death, like life, should have meaning and purpose.
Certificates of Honor
Certain Heroes of Rokugan events (not all of them) will contain certificates ("certs"), called "Recognitions of Honor," which represent special gifts and rewards which PC's can recieve for success in the adventure. These might be political appointments, special Advantages, rare spells, or even nemuranai (magical items). The GM should NEVER give out a cert unless the PC has fulfilled the conditions listed in the adventure. If a PC earns a cert, the GM should write the PC's name in the blank space at the top, and sign the cert at the bottom. Make sure to do this in ink, not pencil. CERTS CANNOT BE TRADED, GIVEN AWAY, OR OTHERWISE SWITCHED FROM ONE CHARACTER TO ANOTHER. If a GM discovers a cert which is not in the hands of its original owner, or is not signed by a judge, confiscate it.
If the GM is running an on-line game, s/he should find out the addresses for any players who earn certificates, so that the signed certificate can be mailed to them.
Most Heroes of Rokugan scenarios are designed for a fairly broad range of character power levels, such as School Rank 1-2 or 1-3. In the event that a part is "tilted" toward the upper or lower end of that power range, the scenario may end up being either too easy (therefore boring), or too challenging and deadly (a bad thing in a game where combat is always dangerous).
Most scenarios include play-balancing adjustments in their opening sections, and GMs are required to use these adjustments. However, in some unusual cases the party will still be too strong or too weak even after these adjustments are applied. (For example, a Low-End party which contains all brand-new characters.) The GM is encouraged to do a small amount of additional "tweaking" in these unusual situations. The following may be considered as a few basic guidelines.
If the party is extremely "low-end" - composed mostly or entirely of new, inexperienced characters, or with an unusually high number of non-combatant characters - the judge should consider a slight scale-down of the module.
Reduce the number of enemy "thugs" by one or two
Don't have the opponents spend Void
Reduce a powerful enemy's Wounds by one per Rank
If the party is "high-end" - composed entirely of potent characters at the extreme upper end of the module's power range - the judge should consider a modest scale-up:
Add one or two more "thugs" to combat encounters
Raise a unique opponent's Earth Ring by one (with a corresponding jump in Wounds)
Make a Shadowlands monster Invulnerable which would otherwise be vulnerable to normal weapons.
The Ultimate Rule
Have fun. The game is pointless otherwise. Whether the players are enjoying themselves or not is more important than whether you've remembered some obscure rule or game mechanic. If it works and keeps the game moving, go with it.