Status In Feudal Japan

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Status In Feudal Japan

Status is important to everyone, but especially to the Japanese, for whom membership in a group might define their personality and attitudes.

Membership with a fire-fighting crew, or with a local builder’s gang, define how others view one, as well. Is the group well thought of? Is it full of lazy ne’er do-wells? Is it known to be a hotbed of illegal activity? Within this group or organization, what is the position—and hence the accountability—of the person in question?

The same holds with samurai, of course. A low-ranking samurai of a powerful, wealthy clan is going to get a lot more respect than if he had the same rank in a no-name clan.

Invoking One’s Status

In feudal Japan, one’s status is typically determined by one’s affiliation with a group. The more important an individual’s group or group leader is, the more important one is in the social hierarchy. Status is determined by one’s KAO (other’s perception of his personal honor) and his Membership Rank (MR) within the group.

To attempt to influence someone with status, roll (KAO + MR + 3D6). The character you are trying to influence also rolls his own (KAO + MR + 3D6). The degree of success or failure determines the outcome of the attempt. Subtract the result of the subject’s roll from the roll of the person making the attempt, resulting in the Effect Number (this number may be a negative) and consult the Status Effect Table (below).

When dealing with someone of a higher or lower caste, an adjustment is made to the roll. The person of the higher caste adds +5 for each “level” of difference in castes between the two characters (see Membership Ranks in Feudal Japan table below).

Membership Ranks in Feudal Japan


Level Importance Examples

1 Trivial Inferior/hinin caste groups (Franciscan order, small criminal gang, hinin village)

2 Minor Commoner/bonge caste groups (Society of Jesus/Jesuits, merchant house or guild, Shintô shrine, shinobi ryû (ninja clan), large criminal gang (or yakuza in Tokugawa era)

3 Moderate Small/lesser buke caste groups (small or medium-sized samurai clan, Buddhist sects)

4 Major Large/greater buke caste groups (large/powerful samurai clan, lesser kuge family)

5 Supreme Imperial kuge family

For example, suppose Kanta, a peasant farmer with a KAO of 3 and a MR of 2 in his village attempts to influence Morita, a high buke with a KAO of 3 and a MR of 4 in a major samurai clan. Kanta rolls KAO (3) + MR (2) + 3D6 (13), for a total of 18. Morita, however, rolls KAO (3) + MR (4) + 3D6 (10) plus he adds +10 to the roll because he is two levels higher in caste than poor Kanta, the farmer, making Morita’s total 27. Morita is almost guaranteed to “win” such checks because he is a member of a higher caste.

As you can see, a character’s Membership Level is nearly worthless when dealing with someone of a higher caste, and almost irrelevant when dealing with someone of a lower caste.

Nanbanjin are treated as one caste level lower than their Japanese counterpart for purposes of making Status rolls.

For example, a Spanish Jesuit priest of Portuguese soldier (i.e., warrior) would be treated the same as if he were of the bonge caste.

Status Effect Table

Outcome Result

-20 or more Refuses and draws weapon, claiming to be insulted; Hostile to asker

-15 to -19 Refuses, and calls for guards or defenders

-10 to -14 Becomes angry and shouts his refusal

-5 to -9 Refuses brusquely

-1 to -4 Refuses politely

0 to 4 Agrees but insists on never again asking such a thing

5 to 9 Agrees but insists on secrecy

10 to 14 Asks for some consideration in return (e.g., a favor or money)

15 to 19 Agrees in full, without conditions.

20+ Totally agreeable to this and any other suggestions; Provides more support than requested.

Modifiers to Status Roll

GM’s desiring a bit more complexity (and historical accuracy) in their games may apply the following modifiers (as many as appropriate) to rolls involving attempts to influence others with status (Membership Level).

Status Roll Modifiers

Factor Add to roll of person attempting influence

Same clan/ryû +3

Strange clan/ryû –1

Rival clan/ryû –3

Hostile clan/ryû –5

Nanbanjin –7

Non–human (tengu, etc.) –7

From same town +3

Old friend* +3

Old rival/enemy* –3

Subject is much poorer –1

Subject is much richer –2

Previously influenced subject +1 per influence

Previously failed to influence

subject –1 per previous failure

Request benefits requester more -3

Request benefits requestee more +3

Flattery used Complementary skill roll

Gifts +1 for bu equal to ML

of target (cumulative)

* (Note: A person may be both at the same time)

Invoking a Superior’s Status

PCs can invoke the name of their superior (e.g., samurai master, daimyô, a family or clan head, yoriki, or the head priest of a temple or sect) when the PC is performing official duties. In these situations the person acts with the full authority of their superior. The effective Membership Rank (MR) of the character becomes equal to their superior’s MR -1 when invoking their master’s name. This can be a significant jump if the superior’s status is much higher than that of the character invoking his name. This is, in some ways, similar to intimidation, but in this context it is socially acceptable, if not expected, and can be quite effective.

Note that if of a higher caste than the person being cajoled, it is likely to result in abject kow-towing as the person on the receiving end trips over himself attempting to placate the speaker. If of a lower caste, it may gain the person making the attempt no advantage at all, but still conveys the “righteousness” of his actions. In game terms, this tactic is most advantageous when used with someone of the same caste.

Yoshii, a samurai with a KAO of 3 and a Membership Rank (MR) of 3, is guarding prisoners and has orders from his superior (MR 5) to allow no one inside the jail until the superior returns. Along comes Hondo, a samurai of the same clan with KAO 5 and MR 4, who asks to be allowed to enter the jail. Yoshii refuses to let Hondo in, apologizing and explaining that he is acting on orders from his superior. Hondo becomes angry and tries to throw his weight around, ordering Yoshii to let him in. Hondo rolls KAO (5) + MR (4) + 3d6 (8), for a total of 17. Yoshii rolls his KAO (3) and his superior’s MR-1 (4) + 3d6 (11), for a total of 18. Yoshii stands his ground, despite Hondo’s verbal assault. The only way Hondo will get into the stockade tonight is if he cuts Yoshii down.

Had Yoshii failed to beat Hondo’s roll, Yoshii would have been convinced by Hondo’s argument (or been sufficiently intimidated by it) to let Hondo enter.

This procedure is appropriate for role-playing situations between a PC and NPC(s). For situations in which a PC fails his roll, the GM should tell the player that his character is intimidated and must acquiesce, but that the decision of how the PC reacts is ultimately up to the player.

Characters may add both the +10 per level bonus for being of higher caste as well as the bonus for invoking a superior’s status, creating a significant advantage. Of course, simply winning such a social contest doesn’t necessarily exonerate one from wrongdoing, especially if the superior finds out about his name being invoked and doesn’t like the reason it was invoked.


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Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Action! System Core Rules version 1.1 copyright 2003 by Gold Rush Games; Authors Mark Arsenault, Patrick Sweeney, Ross Winn.

Aesthetics, Kao and Piety Extension copyright © 2003 by Gold Rush Games. Author Mark Arsenault.

Status in Feudal Japan Extension copyright © 2003 by Gold Rush Games. Author Mark Arsenault.

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