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The Gaijin's Guide to Rokugan

Part II: The Clans

A thousand years can change many things, and the Clans have changed greatly over that time.

The Crab Clan

For a thousand years, the Crab Clan has performed its duty of guarding the Emerald Empire against the horrors of the Shadowlands. Its samurai are among the most highly trained in Rokugan. Their schools teach the ways that a small army can defeat a larger one, for so often is the case that when the armies of the Shadowlands assault the fortresses of the Crab, that the samurai are outnumbered by at least three to one.

The Daimyo of the Crab Clan has always been from the Hida family, directly descended from the original Hida who fell from the sky, and swore to the original Hantei that his dynasty would protect the Empire from the foul armies of their dark brother Fu Leng. The Hiruma Family was the first to follow Hida to the Shadowlands. Their devotion to the Hida family is well known in the Empire. Often, the bodyguards of the Daimyo are from the Hiruma family. While the Kuni family does occasionally produce samurai, the family has devoted itself to discovering the secrets of the Shadowlands, and so most of their family don the robes of the shugenja. The history of the Yasuki family is a curious one. During the first Clan wars a thousand years ago, the family had sworn fealty to the Doji family. During the war, however, they betrayed the Crane and swore fealty to Lord Hida. It is a slight that has never been forgiven.

Unlike other Clans, the Crab do not value sincerity as highly as they do honesty. "There are no lies between allies on a battlefield," is an old saying that every Crab samurai knows and understands. They carry this philosophy from the battlefield into the court, and are quick to be drawn into a flash of red-hot temper when they feel they are being lied to. The Crab view the political situation in very simple terms. The strong have more right to rule than the weak. Those who cannot protect the Empire do not deserve to rule it. Because of the first Hida's defeat by Hantei, they view the Hantei dynasty with respect. However, if such a time arose where a Hida could take the throne from the ruling Hantei, then they would do so without question.

The Crane Clan

For centuries, the Crane have used political maneuvering to gain its position as advisors to the Emperor. When the First Hantei needed a bride, there was the Crane Clan with a host of beautiful girls for him to consider. When Hantei II needed a bride, there was the Crane Clan with a host of beautiful girls for him to consider. Every generation of Hantei has been married to a woman from the Crane Clan. But Hantei is not the only one. A thousand generations of Cranes have made their way into the dynasties of other Clans, thus providing the Crane Clan with sympathy in every Clan. Because the mother of every Emperor (and many Daimyo) has been a Crane, this has provided the Clan with many advantages. They are able to call upon favors on nearly every occasion from nearly every Clan.

The Crane Clan also managed to attract the finest swordsmen in the Empire to its dojos to train the Crane samurai in the art of kenjutsu, and now, the Kakita School of Kenjutsu is the pre-eminent kenjutsu (swordplay) school in Rokugan. Attending the school is considered one of the greatest honors a samurai can be given. Of course, attendance is by invitation only, which means many samurai must pay highly to have their sons and daughters receive the finest kenjutsu training in the land.

As the Emperor's political and economic advisors, the Doji are able to keep an eye on all the other Clans. They are the first to hear any news, the first to hear of troops being moved across provincial lines and they are the first to speak to the Emperor about his actions. The Asahina family were originally from the Phoenix Clan, but when an Asahina shugenja was saved by a Kakita samurai-maiden, a marriage was struck and the Crane inherited all the wisdom of a Phoenix shugenja family.

The Dragon Clan

There is so little that can be said with certainty about the Dragon Clan. They were founded by the samurai Togashi a thousand years ago, a samurai who refused to fight against his brother for the right to rule. His refusal was seen by Hida as an act of cowardice, but Hantei was wise enough to know that Togashi refused because he already knew the outcome: his own defeat at the hands of his brother. Togashi then retired to the mountains and built a monastery where he remained for many years. It wasn't until three samurai-Mirumoto, Kitsuki and Agasha-joined him in his temple that the Dragon Clan was actually born. Since then, the remainder of what is known can only be drawn from speculation.

There are rumored to be many secret Orders in the Clan. One Order, the Ise zumi, have gained great recognition in Rokugan. Their practice of tattooing their entire bodies with elaborate designs, symbols and pictures is better known than understood. Tales of the Ise zumi leaping over horses, breathing fire, spitting poison and shapeshifting are as prolific as they are entertaining. Their shugenja are equally mysterious. They use powers that no other shugenja can explain, and yet, when they speak to shugenja from other Clans, the other Clans say that the Dragons do not understand the basic principles of magic. The Dragon always seem to defy definition.

The Dragon Clan is also the first Clan to teach the "two sword technique." The Dragon samurai are famous for their katana/wakizashi style, and while Kakita School students may mock it, they do so out to protect the honor of their school rather than out of genuine disrespect for the style. Of all the Clans, the Dragon samurai are regarded as the most devout to the religion of Rokugan. They are literally "warrior-poets," masters of both the sword and the pen.

The Lion Clan

The Lion Clan was founded by Akodo, child of the Moon and Sun. When Akodo sought a bride, he did not seek out a pretty Doji girl, for he did not wish to be a servant to the Crane Clan. He found a beautiful strong-willed woman named Matsu and tried to woo her for his own. Matsu was a proud woman who would have nothing to do with the samurai and took his courtship as an insult. She challenged him to combat and Akodo agreed. The duel between Akodo and Matsu is a classic tale that is told again and again by storytellers and is often depicted in art and theatre. The winner, it is said, would also win the Clan. Each of the combatants, however, added a condition. Akodo added the condition that if she won, Matsu would have to marry him. Matsu added the condition that if he won, she would not have to marry him. The ending of the duel depends on who tells the tale, but the outcome is always the same: Akodo wins the Lion Clan and Matsu swears fealty to him, but does not have to marry him.

The Lion Clan are the traditional defenders of the Emerald Throne. A Matsu Lion samurai is known for his passion and his temper. He is quick to judge and quick to take insult, and he never takes insult lightly. An Akodo samurai is known for passion and courage, but they are also known for their knowledge of tactics and leadership. While the Matsu win with fierceness and fearlessness, the Akodo is the master tactician. Both are regarded as the bravest of all the samurai of Rokugan. A tale is often told to children about a famous ambush against the First Hantei. The Emperor's bodyguard-Akodo Sato-threw himself from his horse and gave it to the Emperor so he could escape while Sato remained to keep the enemy occupied.

The shugenja family of the Lion Clan-Kitsu-is not regarded very high in shugenja circles. They regard the Kitsu school as "old fashioned" and too entrenched in tradition. This complaint could be made about many Lions, however.

The Phoenix Clan

The mysteries of the universe are the domain of the Phoenix Clan. Long ago, before the little man who called himself 'Shinsei' arrived in Rokugan, the people worshipped the Seven Fortunes. They were fickle gods who were easily pleased and easily angered, who provided blessings to any who asked properly and curses to those who did not. The secret chants and rituals that were used to communicate with the gods were kept by an order of holy men called shugenja. These shugenja practiced their arts in a language known only to them, written on scrolls which were passed down from parent to child.

When Shinsei arrived in the Empire, the shugenja embraced his philosophy of the Five Rings and incorporated it into the religion of the Seven Fortunes. This fusion created an entirely new philosophy for shugenja to ponder, and no one ponders the nature of reality quite like the Phoenix Clan. There are three families in the Phoenix Clan, and only one of them has a school of bushido. The other two are devoted to the training of shugenja, and no other shugenja schools in Rokugan can match them. They are devoted to the search for knowledge. Of all the other Clans (even Crane), Phoenix is the least militant. They prefer peace over warfare and enter into it only if forced to do so. At least the Crane are willing to defend the lands of allies. A Phoenix shugenja will always look for a peaceful solution to a problem, even when his enemy is knocking down his walls with ballista. A Phoenix samurai, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story. The Shiba family is responsible for guarding the walls of the Phoenix Clan, and while they are also the Daimyos of the Clan, the real decisions are made by the five Elemental Masters of the Isawa family. Shiba samurai have often found difficulty in getting permission from the Council of Masters to use military force, so while the other Clans view the Phoenix as reluctant to fight, their attitude is only half correct. The samurai are willing to fight, it is the shugenja that are difficult to convince.

The Scorpion Clan

If there is something you do not wish to be known, some Scorpion somewhere knows about it and he makes certain that you know he knows. That is how they survive, by keeping the secrets of others. The Scorpion have never had the strongest samurai or the most skilled shugenja, and so they made up for the difference with the only advantage they had. They made certain that the other Clans would not trust them, and then they turned that lack of trust into a weapon. You never know if a Scorpion is telling you the truth, or if he is telling you a lie, because he can gain an advantage with either one. In a society that values sincerity over honesty, you can never fully understand the machinations of the Scorpion.

All Scorpions wear masks. Each mask is unique to the individual, but the intent is still the same. The mask is telling the world, "You cannot trust me." And yet, the Scorpion wield so much temporal power, many find that they must. There are many tales samurai who find themselves trapped in a Scorpion plot, and once they discover the truth, they commit seppuku to avoid furthering the scheme. But then the story ends to show that is exactly what the Scorpion wanted to happen.

With its reputation for treachery and deceit, one wonders why the Scorpion Clan still exists, why the other Clans simply did not rise up together and smash them. The simple fact of the matter is: the Scorpion have the Black Scrolls. After the Fall of the Children of the Sun and Moon, a great war was fought between the Clans and the Shadowlands army of Fu Leng. Only Shinsei and his Seven Thunders were able to destroy Fu Leng, and the secret of his demise is written on twelve scrolls that are guarded by the Scorpion Clan. Only the Daimyo of the Clan knows the location of all twelve Scrolls. Also, any samurai caught in a Scorpion plot would bring great shame on his family. Being tricked by a Scorpion is perhaps the greatest shame a samurai or shugenja could bring upon his family. Everyone knows that the Scorpion have something on everyone and no-one is willing to admit it.

Source: This is part 2 of a 4 part series by John Wick posted to the L5RStory listserver. Contents Copyright (C) 1996 by FIVE RINGS PUBLISHING GROUP, INC.



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