Shadows of Fate
The land of Sekai has a fairly strict caste system. Those ranked above one another not only have the power to command those lower, they generally have the authority to take a lower classes life in most situations. In fact, blatant evidence is often nullified if a superior simply states it is incorrect or offers an alternative statement.
Eta are outside of the society of Sekai and as such are unable to progress upward. They are considered unclean, and it is considered an indignity to have to speak with them. They are never to address a samurai and are to deal with peasants with great respect. They often dress in rags and live in their own slum villages connected to larger cities by winding dirt roads. They do the work that is so detestable that no one else will. They work leather, prepare the dead, clear battlefields, and other loathsome tasks, almost all of which involve touching dead flesh. Because they may be killed with impunity with almost no consequences, they are usually rightly terrified when forced into a confrontation with anyone of higher station. Criminals are also considered eta.
Slightly higher than Eta, but still outcasts, are the hinin. This class included actors, wandering bards, prostitutes and courtesans, including oiran, tayu, and geisha. They were ranked against one another by beauty and accomplishment.
Heimin are the peasants, tradesmen, and merchants of Rokugan. They farm the lands, do household chores, and perform much of the actual work in Rokugan, and as such their role is respected by their superiors, even if they are relegated to a role of abject submissiveness. The main exception to this are master craftsmen, particularly those who forge masterpiece quality katana. These elite craftsmen often enjoy a considerable social advantage, occasionally (though quite rarely) above samurai at least under certain circumstances.
Within the Heimin there is a sort of mini-order as well. Farmers and fishers were the highest rung of heimin. Though poor financially, religious ideals placed a high value on those who produced food. Next came artisans – those who create things that contribute to society – weapons, clothing, homes. Finally came the merchants. Merchants are considered the lowest of Heimin as they do not contribute to the production of goods, and instead profit off the work of others.
While monks (with a few exceptions who are samurai) are technically heimin, their role as teachers and close students of the religions of Sekai place them in a position where everyone including samurai pay them the deepest respect and at least make a great show of listening to and heeding their council. Certainly it would not do to mistreat a monk in any way.
Expected to give their lives at any moment for the safety of their people, the warriors of the samurai caste are the most revered subjects of Sekai. They live by a formal and rigorous code of conduct called bushido, and their adherence to these codes determines how they are treated by their fellows, or even whether they are commanded to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), which any samurai may be commanded of his lord to do at any time.
Samurai are to be fearless, courteous, unemotional, and selfless. They always carry their two swords, the katana and wakizashi a shorter sword of identical styling together in their belt, the two swords being called their daisho. Every action performed by a samurai is a reflection on his family and clan, for good or ill, and so samurai tend to try and life exemplary lives, though not all succeed.
It should be noted that while we traditionaly think of Samurai as warriors this is not always the case – they fill many roles in society. Warriors are known as Bushi, while there are also Courtiers and Onmyoji. It is merely a social class and not a definition of one’s skill.
Though only about 10% of the population of Sekai belongs to the Samurai class, they wield all the power. When a samurai passed, members of the lower classes were required to bow and show respect. If a farmer or artisan refused to bow, the samurai was legally entitled to chop off the recalcitrant person’s head.
Samurai answered only to the daimyo for whom they worked. The daimyo, in turn, answered only to the shogun and Emperor (or Empress now). Should a samurai be released from service from his daimyo (either through the daimyo’s decree or death with no heir) the Samurai becmoes a Ronin. While of the samurai class, they are not treated with the same respect and are forced to survive with no support – often turning to crime.
While there is little actual social difference between a Samurai and a Kuge, it is a distinction worth knowing. Kuge are members of the Imperial Court. They are not technically samurai, as to become Kuge one cuts ties with his Family and Clan, but they receive many of the same benefits and social status. Generally, they are gifted with the use of land – often times by their former family – for their homes for the status that keeping a Kuge near affords a Daimyo.
Among Samurai, disputes sometimes escalate beyond calm words. In these scenarios, a Samurai can challenge another Samurai to a duel, with victory determining the outcome of the dispute. Likewise, a superior can order two samurai under his charge to duel. Duels between allies are normally only to first blood – one would have to grievously offend somebody for allies to duel to the death. Duels to the death are more common between warring, hostile, or neutral factions.
Sekai takes cleanliness very seriously. To not keep oneself and ones belongings clean is an affront to the kami. People of Sekai bathe regularly, do not wear sandals inside homes, and dispose of waste responsibly.
Magic has always been a thing of fact in Sekai, though most go their lives without witnessing its effects. Practitioners of Onmyōdō are well respected in their communities for the help they bring.
Blood magic. however, was in the past a secret of the kansen. It’s practitioners were the boogeymen parents told their children about to scare them. When Matsuoka Ayane became empress, however, Blood Magic became all to present of a reality. It currently holds a tense place in Sekai – while the Empress and many of her Magisters utilize blood magic, the vast majority of the world still views it as dishonorable. As such, it is often discussed in a negative light – but even mentioning it in front of somebody loyal to the Empress could lead to death. In those situations, it is simply ignored, as if it was not witnessed and does not exist.