Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Chaos in the East

Sometimes you write a post and you've answered all your own questions about the subject and you can put it to bed, it doesn't rub itself around your ankle like a hungry cat anymore. Other times though you write a post and you end up giving yourself more to think about. People comment on your post and send you off on a voyage of discovery that means the first post is never going to be enough. This is what happened with my Cathay/Nippon post. What started out as an exhortation for gamers to explore setting their games in the east has developed into a rumbling background brain tease where I try to use logic to create an idea of how Warhammer would exist if it were based in Nippon.



Now, before we go any further you need to go away and read the articles in the brilliant Awesome Lies blog. Gideon (for that is the authors name) has done an excellent job of cataloguing the background information on Nippon from various WFB sources. He then goes on to explore the Tetsubo supplement in detail (and provides a link for you to go exploring yourself) and discusses the reasons it fails to reflect the Warahmmer world and the, in the last part, suggests how Nippon might look in the Warhammer world. I only discovered this blog after publishing my last post and it's this last part of his investigation that has had my head buzzing. The rest of his blog is well worth reading as well! Off you go an read it. I'll wait.


Finished?

Good.

First of all I agree with Gideon's first 3 points. Any fantasy analogue of Japan would have to include some level of historical framework and basing this on the Sengoku period (which still fascinates Japanese audiences in the form of manga, anime and films) seems like the obvious choice.
Secondly, historical accuracy can only go so far in producing a satisfying fantasy setting and that the Warhammer approach to Japan should be as loose and irreverent as it's approach to renaissance Germany.
And thirdly, Tetsubo had a lot of good ideas but failed to make a game that truly reflected the Warhammer world rather than being a fantasy Japan using the Warhammer mechanics. 

In his last article Gideon then goes on to suggest alterations to Tetsubo that would make it more suitable as a Warhammer setting. 

All I want to do here is yammer on about what his conclusions have me imagining within the setting.

Strap yourself in for some stream of consciousness nonsense.



The Sengoku period was characterised by a decline in the influence of the Shogun who himself was the powerful warlord exercising power on behalf of a puppet emperor. This decline in central power led to local warlords, The Daimyo, fighting amongst themselves for power, influence and land. This constant state of tension and warfare is a perfect background for a wargame. Daimyo retained a core of Samurai who were essentially a form of warrior nobility and acted as a sort of officer class, analogous to the european knight. Samurai have been relentlessly romanticised over the centuries to the point where they are seen as loyal to a fault but in reality the Samurai class would have contained all kinds of men capable of all kinds things. The actions of ambitious Daimyo and Samurai would make perfect backgrounds for games and campaigns. In fact the motivations of characters would be little different to those of their western counterparts. As a case in point, European morality plays can be transferred to a Japanese setting with very little difficulty. Akira Kurosawa filmed two versions of Shakespeare plays for instance. 



Throne of Blood (1957) translates Macbeth to Japan. An ambitious Samurai murders his way to the top after being advised by a spirit (more of that later) and urged by his greedy wife. The adaptation works perfectly and is actually one of the better versions of Macbeth. The fact that Samurai are willing to betray and murder, while not completely undermining their legend, certainly makes them more interesting as characters. And there is also the added McDeath link.



Nearly 30 years later Kurosawa directed Ran (1985). This time King Lear became a touchstone for an exploration of loyalty and conflict (although apparently it only entered the mix late on in the writing process). Ran follows an elderly Warlord who abdicates his position in favour of his seemingly loyal sons. What follows is the story of the destruction of the clans power from internecine squabbling. The film is beautifully filmed in full colour and the epic battle scenes will have you enthralled. 

To me it's fairly obvious how Chaos would come to have influence on situations such as the two in the films above and particular Khorne and Tzeentch. 



First of all Khorne. Samurai are the very epitome of the Martial spirit. Experts in all forms of warfare, they take great pride in their abilities and their accomplishments. As we all know, Khorne is the Chaos god who revels in warfare and mindless killing but there is also the side of him that encourages this martial view of life. In his article, Gideon, mentions the idea of the need to balance chaos and law like the ancient Chinese Ying-yang. This is quite an attractive idea. As Buddhism spread in Japan it gained a following amongst Samurai and it's teachings (which are too detailed to go into here) gave Samurai and a very philosophical view of what it was they did for a living to the point that some gave up entirely seeing killing as futile. Buddhists quest  to become fully enlightened could in fact be used as a vehicle for the Nipponese knowledge of chaos. Under the guise of the Orange Simca, the religion mentioned in some of the early Nippon background, we could assume that the teachings of the Orange Simca contain warnings about the temptation of chaos. This need to balance a Martial spirit with the knowledge that to cross the line into wanton destruction and blood lust, the joy of warfare and killing, would tempt the warrior into the arms of dark and angry god. Yet the temptation could always be there and when you are in a struggle for power any weapon may be utilised by a desperate man.


Tzeentch on the other hand is the god behind the ambition. Working on the wants and needs of powerful individuals and their loved ones. Giving their desires shapes and helping them to take the fateful step into planning the downfall of a superior. You could argue that the Sengoku analogue  period is entirely down to the machinations of Tzeentch, feeding the ambitions of individuals in order to create a chaotic political environment. I could be possible the tzeentch works through cults as he does in the west. High ranking officials advising their Daimyo to go war in order to gain influence in a certain area. A senior Samurai's wife convincing her husband to assassinate his superior. A secretive sorcerer calling upon tzeentch for the secrets to achieve a magical feat. 


Of course there is always the possibility that Tzeentch is known by another name in Nippon and that he is seen as a god of luck or good decisions and that his words can be interpreted using something similar to the I-ching ( the Book of Changes, wink, wink) from China. The idea that a book of divination used widely across the land was in fact given to man by Tzeentch himself. Even the Japanese divination traditions involving inscrutable old men using sticks and cut wooden blocks (also translated as 'Changes') to advise people on all manner of aspects of their lives could be used as a tool of Tzeentch. Maybe the god himself or some of his many Daemons effect the fall of the sticks and the arrangements  of the blocks in order to manipulate people and events. Maybe some of the Old men are secretly cultists and tell their clients what the Lord of Change wants them to hear. The divination's themselves are in fact the ancient plans of the God of Change and are simply small parts of his machinations, waiting till the right ear hears the right message.

From Stuff of Legends - Painted by Adam Skinner


In addition to the influence of the gods on men, there are also the creatures that owe their existence to the influence of chaos. Like the rest of the Warhammer world, the islands of Nippon would be host to Beastmen and Mutants. Where as in the old world theses creature are found in the deepest parts of the forests, it is conceivable that Nipponese beastmen and mutants could be hidden in the mountains, living out their lives as bandits and raiders. They may live in caves on inaccessible coastlines preying on passing trade caravans or merchants. Going back to the films of Kurosawa, imagine that the bandits who attacked the village in Seven Samurai were beastmen and mutants, obviously dressed in a fashion that reflected their Nipponese surroundings, but creatures of chaos nonetheless.

One of the difficulties that Tetsubo and Japanese mythology presents us with is how to reconcile the two with our ingrained understanding of the Warhammer world. It is a stretch of credulity to declare that there is simply an entirely different fantasy eco-system on the islands of Nippon that simply doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. What is more likely is that there are local variations of more widely known species caused by the unique position of the islands. This gives us a fair amount of scope to adapt already familiar Warhammer tropes to a more eastern setting. Mutants can be used to explain a lot of the more unique spirits and creatures that are described in Tetsubo and it wouldn't be completely out of line to actually ignore the vast majority of actual mythical beasts in favour of some that are instead analogous. Lets face it, Warhammer makes no attempt to recreate european mytholgical creatures but instead bases the majority of it creatures on tolkienesque invention. It is therefore likely that the best approach to populating Nippon would take the form of a similarly abstract approach rather than a slavish copy of mytholgy.

Whilst we're having a chat about the corporeal beings of the Warhammer world, one of the more obvious creatures of Japanese myth is the Oni. As i've mentioned before, the form of the Oni is borrowed from other cultures further west so it's fairly obvious that Oni would equate to Ogre's in the Warhammer world. They may be culturally dissimilar to their cousins on the continent but then so are the Nipponese themselves. Adapting Ogre's dress and practices to a more atypical of Oni is not an arduous task. In fact it's piss easy!


The most glaring difference between the Oldhammer world and Nippon is the lack of Greenskins. Orcs and Goblins are almost the archetypal bad guy in the warhammer Mythos. Until Chaos came along and stole their thunder, the greenies had it all their own way with rampaging and plundering. In Nippon however, it doesn't seem as if there has been any move to suggest that Orc's have any foothold on the islands. In fact I can't actually think of there being any mention of Orc's or Goblins in Nippon at all. However, just over the see, annoying Cathay, we have the biggest goblinoid empire the world has ever known. The Hobgoblins. The question is, how to be bring these villains (with they're obvious oriental trappings) into the Nipponese orbit?


Well there are a couple of real world analogues we could use. First of all, we established that the Hobgoblin empire is the fantasy equivalent of the Mongol Hordes that ruled over vast swathes of what is now Russia. The Mongols are unique in that not only did that get as far west as invading Poland but they also attempted to invade Japan as well. Now that is some stretch! The Mongols (and their allies) attempted to invade Japan twice and were defeated both times by typhoons (the Divine Wind - Kamikaze). Using these invasions as inspiration for Hobgoblin interaction with Nippon is fine up to a point but isn't satisfactory in the long term.


 An Invasion is a do or die moment with massive amounts of forces and a fixed goal. If we want to play a campaign, a player as Hobgoblins and another as Nipponese, then an invasion like the above would be perfect but as the setting for a background then they are a little to tied to a moment. The pedant in me is also irritated that the Mongol invasions happened 300 years before the Sengoku period so we could always temper this by writing the great Hobgoblin invasions into the history of Nippon. This gives us the opportunity to suggest that it wasn't a typhoon that saved Nippon but possibly a big pissed of Oriental dragon!


Another avenue to explore is the Wokou. Wokou means 'Japanese Pirates' and is in fact a phenomenon where pirates (who may or may not have been Japanese, its a hotly debated subject), operating from bases around the Japanese islands, attacked various places on the Chinese and Korean mainland. These raids went on for a period of time and included kidnapping and extortion. They were such a nuisance that the authorities form Korea actually launched a substantial fleet to go a deal with the pirates in their hideouts. 
Reversing this state of affairs would give us a much more flexible explanation for the appearance of Hobgoblins on Nipponese soil. Rather than being the raiders, the Nipponese would be the victims of the piratical harassment form the Hobgoblins. Their raids might take the form of a single ship and crew landing next to a village and raiding and plundering or you might have a group of ships threatening and entire area and striking in land to desecrate a shrine. Whatever the precise plan, having Hobgoblins as ship borne pirates that are a constant threat and harassment seems like a rather neat solution.


So there you go. Those are the kinds of musings that are keeping me up at night. I hope I haven't been too disrespectful to Japanese culture but, as I have already said, Tetsubo shows that slavishly copying Japanese culture and folklore into Warhammer doesn't really make for a satisfying result. Let me know what you think and feel free to throw your own ideas in to the ring.

Cheers.













18 comments:

  1. That's very interesting thoughts, and well thought out too.

    I rememeber reading in one of the old anthologies (or possibly one of the Konrad novels) about someone fighting a chinese/cathay sorcerer worshipping "Tzin-tzich" or something similar. It wasn't spelled out but obviously the chinese name for Tzeentch.

    Apologies for not being more precise, but it was along time ago and my mind is even cloudier nowadays.

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    1. A very similar conversation started on last post, i think the character appears a couple of times.

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    2. *goes to check*

      Yes, that's the one I'm thinking of!

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    3. Anime such as the classic "Ninja Scroll" would be good fodder for mutants and the influence of Chaos, as it features a group of supernaturally empowered villains known as "The Eight Devils of Kimon", all of whom have bizarre mutations that make them deadly in combat (plus, eight is the sacred number of Choas Undivided).

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  2. Have checked out the Bob Olley samurai dwarves and goblins? Forlorn Hope Games sell them via eBay

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    1. My good chum Captain Crooks has painted up several of the gobbo's. They are lovely

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    2. He sure does http://funkywenisrodeo.blogspot.com

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  3. More delightful musings. Tzeentch seems a particularly appropriate God, delighting in the labyrinthine intrigues of Nippon society. A Khornate Samurai warband has my hackles rising though, it could be epic. Khorne style Mempō masks, yum. Ronin warbands could be particularly susceptible. I've always intended going the undead route with Nippon, but a chaotic force suitably themed makes my mouth water.

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    1. Chaotic Samurai warbands are definite sweet spot.

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  4. Oni should be demons rather than ogres, and they are not all that big-even the Dai Oni is only 8ft tall.
    In terms of Warhammer i would say simply use any available models that look the part or convert your own.
    There is no reason that any of the existing WH creatures would not be present in small numbers or raid by ship, it does not have to be a full scale invasion, in fact how many of us even have big enough tables to play a game with dozens of ships and thousands of troops?

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    1. I see your point but as I mentioned, that was the approach that Tetsubo took and it didn't really create a Warhammer setting as much as a Fantasy Japanese setting. I think in order to be successful there have to be some concessions to Warhammer rather than recreate Warhammer to fit Japan.

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  5. Right now thinking of getting back into Warhammer because of this!

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  6. Look at 40k mandrakes for a very Japanese looking daemon

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  7. Very interesting read. I think a Hobgoblin pirate, Seven Samurai scenario sounds like just the ticket.

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  8. Clan Eshin are just over the sea in Cathay, so there could be a Skaven presence. I can imagine the sybaritic Imperial court hosting a hidden Slaaneshi cult, and desperate peasants turning to Nurgle after their fields have been burnt one too many times - in fact, you could maybe tie them in with the Ikko Ikki (Icky?).

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  9. This is a really excellent take on what a more developed Nippon in the post-RoC WFB3 setting, and perhaps even later era might look like. I think you've hit a lot of right notes with this, and navigated the pitfalls of 'Just The Empire in Oriental Drag' and the 'Oriental Folklore Setting not really recognisable as Warhammer' with expert timing.

    Ah, so! I've still not got my Easthammer (groan) blogpost finalised, but as you mention the Oni, I thought I'd mention Citadel released a very small range of Oni miniatures, which can be seen on Pete Armstrongs blog here. One of the conceits I'm using in my blogpost is that if Citadel made a miniature, it must be canonical somewhere in the Warhammer world, so Oni, rather than being Ogres (who are just Warhammer Ogres in an Eastern dress and cultural milieu) are... Nipponese Halflings!

    With that in mind, I don't think GW were all that concerned about being respectful or faithful to Japanese culture, any more than Golden Wonder were when they magically transformed ramen into Beef and Tomato flavour Pot Noodles, but that's OK because the Japanese took revenge with their edition of Deathtrap Dungeon.

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