TERRA INCOGNITA: NIPPON, PART FOUR

This post continues the discussion that started here.

So what should a Warhammer Nippon setting look like?

The starting point, of course, has to be historical Japan. Specifically, it is clear from the material reviewed in part two that the Warhammer authors had in mind a setting similar to Japan’s Sengoku period. During that time political control was fragmented. The Emperor was a ceremonial figure, and the Shogun lost influence over the local daimyos, who fought each other for land and influence. Such a setting would seem to provide rich opportunities for both role-playing and tabletop battles.

It is also obvious, though, that there is no need for strict historical accuracy. As discussed in part one, there were diverse influences on the setting. Notions of feudal Japan blended with ideas from chopsocky movies and other sources. In any case Warhammer had always used history as loose inspiration, which could be subverted or adapted as necessary.

Tetsubo put together a pseudo-Japanese setting, but failed in a number of respects that I pointed out in part three. It failed to “subvert and adapt” the historical setting enough to make it distinctive and consistent with the rest of the Warhammer world. With modifications, however, I believe it can provide a good foundation for a Warhammer Nippon setting.

LAW AND CHAOS

The first modification that is required is to weave Law and Chaos into the setting. These concepts were core to the WFRP1 setting, and Chaos has remained at the heart of Warhammer ever since. In Tetsubo, though, Chaos felt bolted on. It was an isolated and external threat, confined to the island of Shompo. In my opinion Law and Chaos should be as much a part of Nippon as they are of the Old World. There should be beastmen in the forests, as well as samebito in the seas. Tzeentch and Khorne (in their Nipponese guises) should be driving Nippon to revolution and war. A daimyo might enter into a pact with Khorne for an advantage in a war with a rival. Another might conspire with a Tzeentchian demon to assassinate his enemy.

Yin Yang

Law and Chaos could, nonetheless, be given a distinctive oriental character. They could, perhaps, be dealt with like the concepts of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy. There might be a certain acceptance in society of the gods of Law and Chaos as necessary components of balance. Neither Law nor Chaos would be desirable in itself, but both be necessary parts of life. In such a scenario, reverence of the gods of Law or Chaos would not be proscribed, but pursuit of an imbalance between the two forces would be considered wrong.

RELIGION

Tetsubo‘s material on other religions also needs some revision. The two religions it presents are close replicas of real-world religions. Even their names, Bukyo and Shinto, are simply the Japanese words for Buddhism and Shintoism. Although many of the gods of the Old World draw on real-world myth for inspiration, they are generally not direct copies. In my view there needs to be a little more distance between Tetsubo‘s gods and those of history.

The extracts in part two of this series referred to a religion based around the Orange Simca. This features nowhere in Tetsubo. It could be that Tetsubo ignored it because it was decided that this was perhaps a pun too far. I suspect not, though. Tetsubo has enough idiosyncrasies (for example, the name Yamato) to suggest the authors were heading in a different direction from the start. Personally I like the pun. (And it’s not Warhammer without a pun.) The religion of the Orange Simca could form an alternative to Bukyo that is further from historical roots.

Tetsubo‘s account of Shinto also lacks detail. It lists different categories of kami that are revered in Shinto, but does not name or describe any kami specifically. This omission is presumably another result of Tetsubo‘s incompletion. However, one of the problems in expanding this account of kami is that Warhammer never got to grips with animism. I have set out some of my own ideas (and rules) on animism in a previous post. I would seek to accommodate kami within that framework: celestial kami would be equivalent to gods and goddesses and other kami would be nature spirits, like those of Kislev.

THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Although Nippon is an insular society (figuratively as well as literally), WFRP1 conceives it as having incipient connections with the Old World.

Although trading contacts have recently been established [with the Old World], outsiders are not always welcome.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, first edition, p261

It is an idea that Tetsubo briefly picks up on:

Old Worlders … have been arriving in Yamatese ports for the last twelve years or so. This followed the discovery by both Bretonnia and the Tilean city-states of a navigable sea route south-east of Cathay. New opportunities for profit have become possible now there is no need to brave the dangers of the Silk Road and the taxes charged by the Emperor of Cathay. Old World merchants bring furs, firearms (teppo), silver and iron to Yamato and buy silk, porcelain, perfumes and oil to fill their holds for the voyage back.

Tetsubo

More should be made of this. Trading contacts fulfil two important roles. They provide, of course, a rationale for the presence of Old Worlder PCs in Nippon. More importantly, though, they connect Nippon to the broader Warhammer world and create a more consistent and realistic feel.

As discussed in part one, I think it is clear that the inspiration for these ideas were the historical English navigator William Adams and his fictional counterpart in Shogun, John Blackthorne. Based on these examples, it is easy to imagine trading posts from Albion, Marienburg or Estalia competing with each other for trade and political influence. Proselytising Old Worlder missionaries could become a source of religious tension. There could be a rich tapestry of cultural, religious and political conflicts among different local and foreign powers.

BESTIARY

The creatures of Nippon should capture the characteristics of Japanese myth and legend, but at the same time should not conflict with ecology and metaphysics of the Warhammer world. Tetsubo fails to walk this fine line. It lacks enough familiar creatures to convey the impression that Yamato is part of the Warhammer world. Its new additions miss Warhammer‘s naturalism: too many have a fairy-tale quality that is at odds with Warhammer‘s grittiness.

A sprinkling of classic Warhammer creatures would help. Goblinoids, especially the hobgoblins often mentioned as inhabiting Warhammer‘s Far East, are an essential addition. Likewise in my opinion there have to be mutants and creatures of Chaos. They can include several local variations, such as Tetsubo‘s samebito and tengu, but there also need to be plenty of creatures that would be just as at home in the Old World.

Other creatures need to be explained in terms of familiar types. Oni cannot simply be described as “demons or ogres”: they need to be one or the other. I would prefer them to be a local species of ogre, subject to mutations. The many creatures with physical abnormalities, such as rokuro-kubi (a human whose head detaches), mujina (a faceless human), or futakuchi-onna (a woman with two mouths) can be explained as mutants. Ghost-like spirits, such as gaki and yurei, would become ethereal undead. Other spirits (like raiju or yuki-onna) would become nature spirits.

The many shapeshifting creatures of Japanese legend (for example, kitsune) pose something of a challenge, as again Warhammer never presented a system to explain creatures that can transform their physical appearance. They are probably best treated as one-offs, like doppelgangers or were-creatures.

Kuniyoshi Oiwa

OVERALL

It is a challenge to blend the very different mythological traditions of western Europe and Japan in a way that captures some of the essence of both. I have, however, tried here to identify some ways in which it might be possible. Obviously, though, it requires a huge amount more work to turn this into something substantial. That is not an undertaking I intend to take on at this point, but there has already been an impressive attempt for WFB by Mathias Eliason, who has produced an army list for WFB8.

What is really required, though, to convey the character of Warhammer‘s Nippon is an adventure. It was WFRP‘s scenarios that created its distinctive feel, more than its world guide.

Title art by Utagawa Kunisada. Internal art by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

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6 thoughts on “TERRA INCOGNITA: NIPPON, PART FOUR

  1. It is an interesting conclusion, and I have to agree with many of the points made.

    Perhaps there is another approach to reconstructing a WFRP Nippon, which seems to have been overlooked in both Tetsebo and the WFB8 fan army book – looking at the ‘orientalist’ miniatures that Citadel had already produced as a way of informing the shape of the background design.

    Off the top of my head there are Aly Morrisons DL1 Oriental Heroes and DL2 Hobgoblin Warriors boxed sets which may indeed indicate an important role played by ‘goblinoids’ – although note these are not at all like Orcs or Goblins as presented elsewhere, nor the later Chaos Dwarf Hobgoblins, but something quite different. The C18 Undead Samurai – which might indicate necromancy being the dominant supernatural threat rather than Chaos but could also manifest as ghosts. Jes Goodwins C23 Ogres includes an Oriental Ogre, which could be expanded upon and there is the OH Oriental Heroes with lots of human samurai. I think there is a samurai dwarf in the Adventurers range, and no doubt others as well, but Oriental Dwarves are a must! Can’t think of any Elves. We can certainly see material and folkloric analogues with the Skaven as well.

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    1. That’s an excellent point. Much – possibly most – of the Warhammer world was built around the miniatures. I don’t know the miniatures nearly as well as you do. Perhaps this is one for the Realm of Zhu? I’d be very interested to hear your take.

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    2. There is an index of Citadel’s oriental miniatures here:

      http://www.collecting-citadel-miniatures.com/wiki/index.php/Orientals_-_Collectors_Guide

      Unfortunately one or two of the links are broken and the miniatures are undated.

      They are for the most part generic samurai and ninja. The DL2 hobgoblins, with their Mongol styling, are interesting, as are the oriental Chaos warriors, but for their existence, rather than their appearance. The C23 oriental ogre looks unremarkable to me. As I said above, I would prefer oriental ogres to look more like oni.

      The presence of oriental dwarfs, elves and halflings is noteworthy. I am not sure they work well in the setting, but the figures do exist. It is ambiguous whether they represent natives or assimilated foreigners.

      The figure Yamato Takishi in Bryan Ansell’s Heroic Adventurers has some background in the accompanying flyer, but nothing that really helps us here.

      I am not sure what to make of the undead samurai.

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  2. I agree with the idea of looking at the early Citadel miniatures for inspiration – this approach fits with my desire to draw from the earliest sources for inspiration. When it comes to the religious and spiritual angle, I think my Womb of the Gods article in Warpstone holds some ideas. I can’t put it all down here, but the key point is that the spiritual elements of the setting (gods, daemons, elementals, nature spirits, undead, magic) are formed from the Warp/Aethyr not merely by emotion but also by cultural belief. Emotion gives power, belief gives shape (damn, I wish, I’d used that phrase in the original; maybe I did). This way you can have some things that are very specifically Nipponese in flavour, but underpinned by the same cosmology.

    One point regarding my previous post. I said I’m quite happy to see a Nippon with Vimto monks and other bad puns. One has to be extremely wary of things like that coming across as mockery of another culture. Some bad puns may prove to be unpalatable.

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  3. The Leadpile blog has written a great follow-up to this post with more thoughts on what a Nippon setting should look like. Click on the link below to read about ronin champions of Khorne, wokou reimagined as hobgoblin raiders, the I Ching as an instrument of Tzeentch, etc:

    https://theleadpile.blogspot.com/2018/07/chaos-in-east.html

    The Leadpile’s preceding post on Nippon is well worth a look, too:

    https://theleadpile.blogspot.com/2018/07/far-flung-cathay.html

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