Next up for today, we have another player contribution – in this case another installment of Ninsei’s private musings. The topic is systems of government in the Empire and on Rokugan’s world in general.
I think I am beginning to realize the full scope of the problem facing Rokugan. While it maybe easy to set up what seems to be a benign government that is moderately effective in running things, it looks like it is far more difficult to create one that is both stable enough to endure and yet remains dynamic enough to react to outside pressures.
It looks like any reasonably competent and charismatic individual can create a system that works reasonably well so long as they are around to help give it focus. The Yodatai system was just one such experiment along these lines. One Emperor managed to work out a way to not only make sure that those people most capable of performing a function got it, but also to guarentee their loyalty at the same time. He set up a network of magical links which kept everyone organized into the desired social order. This worked insofar as he was able to keep the system focused on a single goal – loyalty to their empire.
Unfortunately, that focus was on him, personally, as head of the empire – and once he died, the bonds which kept everyone coordinated and working together continued to work, but people reverted to personal loyalties – and, ultimately to loyalty to themselves. Seizing control of the empire became the only goal for the masses, and expanding it became the only goal for whoever was in control. Even the Yodatai gods apparently eventually lost patience with the Yodatai inability to focus on anything beyond themselves.
The system became a headless beast thrashing around the world conquering and enslaving everything in it’s path. And with the spirit binding ensuring that enslaved people could be pulled into the Yodatai afterlife to reincarnate as more Yodatai, this quickly set up one of the worst case scenarios I can see trying to face; an ever growing army of highly competent and fanatically loyal soldiers that must continue to feed itself and justify it’s existence by an endless war of conquest. And every soldier in this army is solely concerned with proving himself and moving up the ranks, even at the expense of their superiors. I am fairly certain that this is not what that first Emperor had in mind when he started this.
The Yodatai system is remarkably stable in it’s own way. It is also completely out of control even for those supposedly calling themselves Emperor. It was so unable to adapt that when it finally ran into resistance that could threaten it’s existence – apparently a possible future version of my more ruthless self – that it proceeded to wipe itself out against my forces to the last man, woman, and child. This is far from ideal.
So being stable is not enough. We – that is, everyone working on the problem – need to ensure that whatever system we come up with is responsive to change and that no one individual can get enough power to threaten its existence. Conversely the system cannot be dependent on any one person regardless of how powerful or long-lived that persona may be; it must be stable enough to not have these safeguards break down.
First off, Stability:
By selectively recruiting people that are rationally loyal and competent, we can ensure that the system that works and can maintain itself as long as it works to start with. We can also teach these people to not fall into the temptation that leads to the corruption of power. In this way we avoid the Yodatai trap: the system is not dependent on any one individual nor is it run by a bunch of insane zealots willing to sacrafice everyone beneath them just to make their own lives better. The Mandate of Heaven will have good application in this. I think it would be prudent to overhaul the Emerald Magistrate system to include the Mandate of Heaven school as one of it’s central cornerstones. In this way we can ensure a system of competent, loyal, and uncorrupted magistrates out to enforce Imperial Law in a fair and unbiased way.
After some time (several generations I would suspect), the system should largely be running itself with little input required from me or from anyone else. Replacements should be chosen from among those most qualified and best psychologically suited to the tasks, given the training needed to work effectively at their jobs, and then sent out and do what needs to be done. Less and less intervention would be required, until at some point, whether I am Emperor, or even if anyone is Emperor is largely a moot point – as long as a sufficient number of competent individuals are available.
We also need to install safeguards to prevent powerful individuals from being able to just plow their way through the system as they please. This applies just as much to powerful foreigners like the Asuras and Yodatai Emperors as much as it does to the occassional Super Evil Maho User or homegrown renegade. The problem is, the current system relies on the having a trump card – in the form of the most powerful individual currently available – on it’s side. And when this is not the case, such as with Fu Leng, the system breaks down and it’s existence is threatened.
The Merenae answer to this appears to lie in the historical accident of firearms. By creating weapons that almost anyone can use, including eta, it becomes possible to kill even the most fearsome of opponents by throwing enough people at the problem – even if they have only minimal training and a few pieces of equipment each. While this works in keeping the people with a great deal of personal power from imposing their will, it also means that the ultimate arbitor of things becomes the uneducated masses. I am not certain that the wisdom of the mob is on par with making decisions of state. Not to mention that this changes things from requiring would be dictators to possess vast personal power, to the possession of vast personal charisma – and that is one of the situations we wish to avoid, as someone with enough charisma to lead an army of peasants may not necessarily have any idea what to do with it other than cause chaos. Not a good idea.
The Ivory Kingdom’s answer lies in the fact that the Meditations of Unity provide an awful lot of really skilled powerhouses running around and that some of them have gotten bored with running amok. Now I imagine that most of the Asuras mean well in their own way, but the fact remains that the Ivory Kingdoms are only protected from powerful people by the very people they are being protected from. It seems to work, on the other hand, the collateral damage from personal grudges that can span millenia can wipe kingdoms of the face of the earth on occasion. We just watched it happen. The system works only because the place is so decentralized that the loss of an entire kingdom can go unnoticed.
Rokugan’s answer has historically been the Jade Magistrates. Now admittedly, when it comes to chasing down Maho cults and dealing with the Tainted, they do reasonably well. The problem gets to be that this is not going to cut it for much longer. Asuras, Yodatai loons, Priests of Madness from Senpet, Rakasha, and whatever else may be coming in are going to overwhelm the system shortly. What we need is the ability to quickly analyze weird troublemakers, tear down whatever defenses they may have, and then defeat them. Nothing like that really exists as a formal system within the Imperial system.
We ran across a possible answer unexpectedly in the unruly countryside of the Scorpion Clan borders. A Ronin looking to make a claim for himself had managed to cobble together a school that enabled him to kill a demon of no small power. He was able to analyze the demon, find a way to negate it’s defenses, and then kill it. This is especially remarkable when you consider the fact that this man has probably never had to kill a demon before in his life. Now he also had functions of his school that better enabled him to function as an administrator and these could prove useful to the Emerald Magistrates, but the techniques to kill weird supernatural creatures with only a bit of study could be a very powerful tool for the Jade Magistrates.
We need to use the talents of the Asuras, Devas, Yodatai Emperors, and whoever else to help us through this difficult period confronting us. But we must also revamp the Magistrate system to give them the tools to govern effectively and to keep these allies of necessity in line. The system can no longer be dependent on a powerful individual being Emperor or Shogun to keep things going, it must run itself and defend itself from the rest of the world. We may need a new type of Magistrate: someone who brings back concepts from the rest of the world – or acts to contain them if they are too disruptive. Perhaps Obisidian Magistrates?
Another one of the current problems both here and elsewhere, is that most of the systems running around whether – Rokugani or Gajin – tend to be very static. The Yodatai are a great example of this, although Senpet and Rokugan both have their own variants of the problem. Clinging idly to traditions millenia old while blatantly ignoring the change around you is a recipe for disaster. The Yodatai, being unable to think beyond the idea of conquer everything, eventually met an opponent capable of threatening their entire existence if they continued on their path. Instead of stopping at the cliff and deciding if a change of course was in order, the entire people leapt over the edge of the cliff with a battlecry. Now – a thousand years into yet another possible future – the Yodatai have been extinct for eight hundred years.
Rokugan isn’t quite as bad, but then again, it has been stated by the elder gods of Senpet that we are stuck in some sort of infinite loop. Is that why we repeat the clash of philosophies every thousand years? Have we never learned to reconcile them or make a full choice?
A good place to start is to start looking at other cultures and peoples, and start making a list of what does and does not work from a cultural and governmental standpoint. Borrow the things that work, avoid the things that don’t. While the Crane are the clan of tradition, there is a need for a clan to find new things and try them. It occurs to me that this might be one of the better ways to try and integrate the Unicorn Clan back into Rokugani society. By giving the Unicorn a focus for using the knowledge they have learned (and could still stand to learn) from the outside to change the traditions of society and help to discard old tradations no longer useful, we could break out of this loop we have managed to get stuck in. We cannot allow the gajin to get an advantage on us by coming up with a new set of traditions or ideas that put us in a weaker position.
While it is good to look to others for ideas, we are also going to have to come up with our own if we wish to be truly an independent society. Somehow we are going to have to come up with a system that comes up with new ideas, tries them in some fashion, and then evaluates the results. I am not aware of any such system, no can I conceive of how such a system might be built or organized. Whatever the gods of Madness are doing is too haphazard for me to really call a “system” per se; they seem to just throw things together and watch what happens. This is one that I am going to have to think on, look for inspiration, and hope that I come up with something before my time inevitably comes to an end.