Head Taking was an unusual custom among Samurai (and before them Chinese nobles) to prove that you killed someone of renown and gain a reward and renown in return. In the Sengoku Jidai, Samurai went the extra mile to make their heads presentable before a battle, so if it was taken, it would not offend the Lord in the ensuing head-viewing ceremony. Usually, then it would be sent back to the family, which at times would pay the delivering servant. It wasn't a custom that was followed at all times and even banned by some generals for some occasions.

However, is this custom a thing in Rokugan, and if it is, which clans do practice this custom? If it isn't head taking, is there some sort of similar custom taking a similar place?


2 Answers 2


I don't believe the practice is ever specifically mentioned in the books (at least in 4th & 5th edition) though some aspects of it do appear here and there; Kubi Bukuro (mesh bags used to carry and display severed heads) are listed in the core books and beheading is not an uncommon fate for samurai.

It is used across the empire as a punishment for severe crimes, your second will behead you if you must commit seppuku etc. Contrary to history it is perhaps used most commonly among allies, though not to prevent the head from being taken by an enemy. The Scorpion will behead traitors and leave their bodies to rot and the Crab will behead fallen soldiers to prevent them rising again as zombies before the bodies can be burned for example.

There is nothing preventing someone from demanding the head as proof of someone's death but unless the players or GM press the issue it isn't standard practice. This is perhaps because Bushido is more the social expectation in Rokugan than it ever was in Japan (expecting historical samurai to strictly adhere to bushido would be like expecting the same from knights and chivalry, or high school students and the code of conduct).

  • \$\begingroup\$ historical samurai did not follow a bushido close to anything we know under that term, the bushido we know is 20th century modern, and even Hagakure was written by a samurai of the Tokugawa shogunate, who was 3 generations away from the battle of sekigahara that ended the sengoku jidai. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Which is what the answer is saying, I think? Rokugan has a bushido not present in the consensus historical past? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil it is meant as a qualifier why that sentence is there \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:27

I will need to skim through the other books, but I would say in the high fantasy setting of Rokugan, the easy answer is No, they do not take body parts as trophies. First and foremost, in the fourth edition core rule book under "Day to Day Etiquette" (pg32) is the following:

Unclean things like blood, sweat, and dead bodies are considered off-limits in conversation, as are the behavior and duties of the eta.

That said, there are reasons for and against the practice if it fits your storyline and narrative.

Arguments Against

  • Low Skill : Touching, handling, and especially butchering a dead body would count as a low skill usage, and cost most samurai honor.

  • Breach of Etiquette: The more honorable the clan, the higher the level of etiquette should be considered breached by displaying viscera (minor, major, blasphemous)

  • Enduring an Insult to your Family or Clan: Displaying the remains of a dead samurai can demand honorable samurai related to them to act to defend the honor of someone they perceived to be innocent or otherwise unrelated to the (perceived) crime

  • Manipulating Someone into a Dishonorable Act: Displaying the remains as an attempt to force another samurai's hand - whether to make them break etiquette or endure an insult to their family

  • Glory Loss: Indifference to a dishonorable act

  • Maho: A dead body is the perfect host for a kansen to spread Shadowlands Taint

Arguments For

  • Avoiding "Disloyalty to a lord, spouse, or superior"
  • Avoiding "Disobeying a lord's command"
  • Following Orders Despite Personal Misgivings
  • Glory gains for public bragging

So while it could be possible that bandits, ronin, Spider Clan, and arguably Unicorn due to gaijin influence (even their use of leather is a push) could do it, the practice is not a part of the broad scope of Rokugani culture. In minor plots, there could be a magistrate who goes too far or a daimyo with a personal score to settle or some other plot, but those are exception and could still get those individuals in a fair amount of trouble.

The closest honorable equivalent still goes back to bragging. A samurai can boast about their victory in whatever fashion they find acceptable (Ikoma bards are a perfect example). They may also commission or create art to commemorate their victory or be recognized with a commendation from a superior, or even make up some facile feast day (but everyone knows why...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Head Taking has nothing to do with "keeping trophies" - the head is taken, presented, then sent back to the family of the deceased so they can bury it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish: I am citing 4e for rules. Your Medium article also specifically mentions trophy taking - including people lying about whose head hey took to gain fame. I did not watch the video because I was not in a place to, so I wrote my answer from there. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ The edition is relevant to the cited source, in case someone looks in an older or newer edition, thank you for naming it. The second article contains the part about that it was customary to return the heads after the ceremony, the first just describes the ceremony in detail. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish: I apologize for being vague, thank you for the quick edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 17:25

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