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During a L5R game, the players ended up in a situation extremely complicated from an Honor point of view.

While running after a suspected murderer, they stumbled upon the Empress' brother, buying firearms and powder from gaijins (highly illegal and dishonorable behavior). They have not been noticed yet.

They started struggling with what to do, as they can't find any course of action that isn't dishonorable. Which was great, as that was what I wanted them to feel. They then all turned towards me and asked "what would the honorable thing be?" Which is less great, as I have no idea.

They are mainly hesitating between attacking (not honorable), confronting (might be killed), running away (not honorable), or telling someone (might not be believed). I would prefer the question to not be completely specific to my current crop of PCs, but they are a Crane bushi, Mantis courtier and Dragonfly shugenja.

So, in this kind of situation - seeing someone from a highly superior rank doing a highly illegal thing and ready to kill to keep his secret - what would a L5R samurai do?

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That's quite a mix, honor-wise. As I mentioned before, the Crane can challenge anyone to a duel with honor. If they think they can win (against any champion that may be placed against them). The dragonfly wouldn't have any part in this, most likely. The Mantis, on the other hand, are there to defend against gaijin, and so could report the story, pretending they hadn't recognised the "mystery Samurai" dealing with the Gaijin. This wouldn't become an honor issue. It should be possible to get an Emerald Magistrate to appoint them to investigate from there (so they do the work themselves). –  Ryno Aug 21 '13 at 21:03
@Ryno Please answer in answers, not comments. –  mxyzplk Aug 23 '13 at 14:04
+1 for which is less great for I have no idea. –  LIttle Ancient Forest Kami Aug 8 at 12:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 32 down vote accepted

Well, I don't know about bushido, but in Rokugan, I think the answer of what they should do is "nothing", at least by themselves. Now, let me explain:

The brother of the Empress is way too high in the social scale for them to affect him in any honorable way, at least under normal circunstances. Possible outcomes:

  • Should they try to take justice in their own hands, challenging him to a duel, attacking him or arresting him, then they are traitors and will be executed as petty criminals if found out, no honorable seppukku, but execution. And their families too. And their daimyo too. Well, maybe their daimyo will be allowed seppukku.

  • Should they publically denounce him, it is for naught. In Rokugan, proofs have no value in law, no matter how irrefutable. Judges only take in account testimonies, and those testimonies must come from someone as honorable and/or high in the social scale as the denounced to have any value. Since we are talking about the Empress's brother, they will need no less than several clan daimyos to back them up, and even then, they may still be branded liars and traitors, and end up like above.

In Rokugan, when one is aggravated or observes a dishonorable behavior by one of superior social status and believes that something should be done, the politically and socially correct way of act is to go to one own daimyo and let him know of the facts. Then forget about it until their daimyo order them otherwise. He will then decide what to do, and if he deems it necessary, he will scalate the case up in the hierarchy.

As Ryno pointed out, the proper option is not really an option if you do not have the support of your daimyo, and can end really bad if you are in bad terms with him. In those cases, I think the best word for a samurai in that situation is screwed. In those cases, assumming that a samurai in that situation really want to address the problem, but want to remain true to the code and the tradition,there are some alternatives:

  • As explained before, you may not touch him, and your word against him has no value. On the other hand, as Kethryweryn mentioned, in the court a samurai is his own worst enemy. You may not stop him, but you can force him to make a mistake big enough and public enough to make him bring his own downfall. You will need to thread ligthly, however, or you will end up with the consequences I mentioned before. This is good if you have high political skill or have very good, influential, friends (or better, both of them). It is an adequate option for Crane and Scorpion clan samurai.
  • If you have no skill for politics, but are a really honorable samurai and your sense of honor compels you to do something, then go to your daimyo and (preferably in a very public situation) ask him for permission to commit seppukku as a sign of protest against his attitude about such dishonorable acts (sensible samurai should leave out the details of what acts, and who commited them). In such a situation, the daimyo can either concede and allow the samurai to commit seppukku, or refuse. The rank grants him the right to do the latter, but tradition says that refusing such petition would bring bad luck to the house and displease the ancestors. In both cases, the samurai has publically (and what is more important, honorably) shown his disagreement with his daimyo position and brougth attention to the issue. He may die honorably, or continue living under the shadow of a probably vengeful daimyo, but his attitude is irreproachable, and his willfulness to sacrifice himself may attract the atention of the adequate persons to the case. Before doing this, however, writing some missives to high rank imperial magistrates and to anybody that you think may be able to do something can be a very good thing to do, so that you can put them on the track in a discreet way, without risking your honor by making yourself the accusations. This way of action is appropiate to very stricts followers of bushido, like the members of the Lion clan.
  • Finally, for samurai that has no time nor patience for politics or other traditional or indirect ways of solving the problem, but they want to do something, there is the other way. As Jeff pointed out, you cannot touch him, but their gaijin allies and non-samurai underlings... they are not so lucky. While you cannot expose him, you can prevent him and other for bringing such shame to the samurai caste, by ridding the empire of that scum. The better part is that the law and the code are on your side on this, and even the most spiteful daimyo would have to recognize it. This may be the more appropiate solution for the less subtle clans, like Unicorn and Crab.
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I like your last bullet point - kill the gaijin, maybe even pretending to defend the Empress' brother from an alleged ambush. The Empress' brother is given the chance to save face and play along. There is of course the possibility that he will bear a grudge on the samurai afterwards and make their life quite miserable or testify that they were trading with the gaijin and only when they spotted him they "came to their senses", resulting in a quest for the samurai to restore their honour etc... –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 21 '13 at 7:25
+1 for "In Rokugan, proofs have no value in law, no matter how irrefutable. Judges only take in account testimonies," A very important and often forgot piece of setting information –  Oxinabox Jun 21 at 9:19

Don't solve your player character's moral conflicts

Telling your player what they should do is boring. They should confront their own moral conflicts, and take their own options and carry their consequences. All the samurais codes can't prevent any kind of situation, in the end, any individual must take the action that he thinks is less dishonorable.

I can't remember the name of a film I saw recently (help would be appreciated here), in which there was an evil emperor, and some samurais confronted other, as they were divided between the duty of serving the emperor and the duty of protecting the people. Neither side was more dishonorable than the other, they simply had different views about their greater duty.

There's also a legend, but I have also forgotten the name, about many samurais that faced the same conflict: should they follow their evil shogun, or should they rebel against him. Either choice were dishonorable and a failure to their duty. So they chose the only way they thought appropriate: they killed their master and then committed suicide. (I don't think your players would be happy with this option).

But don't tell them which option is best. Let them figure it out. Some people will understand them, and some will censure them. At the end of the day, who can say he has the absolute reason?

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Unless there is an obvious answer that you know (and they do not due to lack of experience with samurai lore), this is not a question to ask you but a question they should fight with themselves. I think this is what Flamma is trying to say, and I agree. –  sergut Aug 20 '13 at 17:58
Ok, I see. But yeah, they are not asking for me to solve their moral issue, nor do I want to do it. They are asking for info on what a character in that setting would think - in another game they would probably already have killed them and looted the guns - and I have to agree that I am not sure either. So yeah, not asking what they should do, what is the correct decision, but what the code says about this kind of situation. –  Cristol.GdM Aug 20 '13 at 18:23
@Scrollmaster I don't think the code solves this situation, so the answer you should offer to your players is "The code tells you to serve your master, but it also tells you not to be part of unlawful acts. You must decide what to do". If they go for the suicide option, extra honour points! (but don't tell them). –  Flamma Aug 20 '13 at 18:37

This first thing to realize here is that there is no correct answer. It will depend of a lot of factors.

They obviously can't stay silent about this of course, but neither can they attack another samurai. After all, the Imperial might just be doing his duty, even if said duty isn't honorable. And ambushing a samurai is definitely not the honorable thing to do. So they can't just attack the guy on the spot. However, they can confront him.

There are 2 solutions I can see :

They confront the guy. If he attacks them, they can defend themselves. But if they kill him they might get into a lot of trouble. However, if the Imperial says this is not of their business and he acting for the good of the empire, there is nothing they can do about it. However the guy is now warned.

They could also report this to their superiors or to a magistrate of the lands they're in. If they're clearly outranked, the magistrate won't be able to act on their testimony though, even if they bring proof. Material evidence is nothing compared to the word of a high ranking samurai.

Asking the help of an emerald magistrate would be the better course of action. He will have the authority to organize a search and to condemn the Imperial if something is found. He will also have the necessary contacts to know if the Imperial actions are authorized or not.

However, if nothing is found, the PCs will be in a bad situation... the Imperial might pull a few favors to make life for the PCs very difficult (called back to their land, papers to travel or cross territories refused, etc).

To find your own answer, you should :

  • decide why the imperial is doing this. Is this for duty ? Personnal Profit ?

  • is he alone or is it larger than just him ?

If he's alone and doing this for profit, the emerald magistrate will be able to guide the PCs to a law abiding solution, finding proof and having the authority to deal with the imperial.

However, if the Imperial was doing this for duty... The NPCs will probably have a lot of problems.

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The magistrate part seems appropriate, though I personally dislike having my PCs just relying on someone else. Unfortunately I can't give information about the Imperial's motivations, as my players are reading this. Also, the Imperial is very close from the Empress (her brother) and as such, would revealing publicly his behavior affect her reputation? –  Cristol.GdM Aug 20 '13 at 17:12
If the Imperial is the brother of the Empress, this changes things. Even an emerald magistrate won't have enough status to deal with this. I would edit but MACN said everything already. –  Kethryweryn Aug 20 '13 at 22:41

It would be entirely in keeping with Honorable behavior for them to attack the man who is illegally selling the merchandise, but not initially involve the Empress's brother.

This could avoid many problems - they are not accusing the brother of the Empress, they are simply bringing a dishonorable gaijin to justice.

If the brother has plans, it may set them back, but is unlikely to foil them. They are therefore potentially aiding but not substantially impeding the legitimate business of the Imperial family (aiding if they slow a traitorous plot, not impeding if it is a legitimate reason).

The brother of the Empress will be a canny enough politician to have a reasonable excuse, especially if the samurai do not explicitly point out his involvement (assuming they can Honorably do so).

Then, of course, they will be obligated to report everything to their daimyo. It is then in his hands.

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