Legend of the Five Rings – Demographics of Rokugan

   The demographics of Rokugan seem to have been relatively static for many centuries; while there apparently have been occasional massive disasters, the population seems to quickly rebound to about the same level. There’s no serious mention of the clans opening new territories or falling back from old ones except on the Shadowlands front. Ergo, we can evaluate it’s demographics based on a steady-state empire. This particular analysis is based on the information in the third edition book – the most comprehensive set of figures that I can locate. In any case, here are the Demographics of Rokugan as used in the Tales of the Sunrise campaign.

  • The numbers in the book give a fairly consistent ratio of 17 peasants to 1 Samurai (18 to 1 if the “population” figure doesn’t include the Samurai, possibly up to 20 to 1 if it also doesn’t include Eta) throughout the empire. It is unclear as to whether the “samurai” figure includes retirees who become monks, but the basic ratio isn’t out of line for a pre-industrial agricultural economy with limited (magical) assistance.
  • While magic might reduce infant and childhood mortality below the classical (roughly 50%) pre-industrial levels, taint, monsters, wars, destroyed villages, training accidents, evil spirits, and various magical plagues and disasters might increase it even further. I’m presuming a net reduction to around 40%, simply because I find 50% unduly depressing.
  • Classical sterility rates ran as high as 1/3’rd, whether due to actual sterility (from disease, birth defect, misdevelopment, or injury), failure to marry, or simply due to avoiding having children. In Rokugan it may also be due to curses and contraceptive magic, but magic may be used to cure other cases. Of course, since all children of a Samurai are Samurai, assorted bastards via peasant lovers will help shore up the numbers again. Both factors fall under “insufficient data for Rokugan” (even if several emperors have had illegitimate children to demonstrate the possibility), so I’m going to assume that they roughly cancel out.
  • Thanks to monsters, taint, duels, death in childbirth, and constant skirmishing, the adult death rate (from gempukku at around 16 to retirement at 40) is also fairly high.
  • Those who survive such perils are, however, reasonably likely to make it to 50 or even 60 as respected elders. They’re no longer major targets and – if they survived childhood and disease to this point – are likely to be tolerably healthy.

   This implies that, in a steady-state empire, most samurai families will average about six children, of whom slightly under half will die in childhood and one of which will die violently as a fairly young adult – since violent death is fairly common and such casualties are always heaviest among the inexperienced. Furthermore, there’s a pretty good chance of having at least one retired or semi-retired elder about even in a nuclear family.

   It also implies that the average samurai woman MUST spend at least 6-8 years bearing children and will probably nurse them personally (doing otherwise unnecessarily is probably a violation of the celestial order anyway), extending that time another year or two. That will take them out of action for about ten years out of the 24 between gempukku at 16 and retirement at 40 (also a reasonable approximation of their reproductive years). Clans that interfere with this are sacrificing their next generation, and will not survive for long.

   Ergo, the samurai population listed includes about 50% children, 15% elders, 8% who are preparing for marriage/getting pregnant/pregnant/ recovering from giving birth/nursing (10 years out of 24 for one-half of the remaining 35% of the population), and – probably – at least 2% who are simply incompetent, permanently disabled, or otherwise out of action. That leaves 25% available for “active duty”.

   Out of that 25%, roughly 85% will be bushi , 10% will be courtiers, teachers, or simple administrators, 4.9% will be mystics – magical artists, alchemical dabblers, tattooed men, samurai with monk-style training, single-element spellcasters, shapeshifters with phony clan identities, and similar oddities, and roughly 1 in 1000 (.1%) will be shugenja. However, since peasant-born shugenja are commonly recruited as samurai, and shugenja die less often in battle or from lack of magical aid, their numbers can be roughly doubled as a percentage of the samurai population. Secondarily, they rarely retire and pregnancy is no real hindrance to most of their activities, meaning that they’re drawn from 50% of the samurai population base rather than 25%.

   The standing armies are unlikely to include more than half the theoretically-available bushi. They’re needed as guards, magistrates, local garrisons, law enforcers, teachers, tax collectors, yojimbo, and in many other roles as well. The Crab, Lion, and Unicorn are exceptions, at 75%. The real size can be quadrupled, counting ashigaru, peasant law enforcers, ronin hirelings, and the occasional non-bushi who participates. An all-out, total mobilization will add most of the remaining bushi and lots of virtually untrained peasant levies.

   Ronin are prominent in the game, but are actually relatively rare in Rokugan – especially with the Crab and recent imperial recruiting – so I’m not going to try to separate them out.

















































































   * The Shugenja numbers for the Crab have been quartered and those for the Phoenix have been quadrupled to reflect the books. The Dragon and Phoenix Mystic numbers have been doubled, in part due to the slowly- accumulating population of phoenix immortals

   # This is awkward. Per the book, the “others” include the imperial families (Miya, Otomo, Seppun, and Toturi), the minor clans (Badger, Bat, Dragonfly, Fox, Hare, Monkey, Ox, Sparrow, and Tortoise), and three ronin families (Kaeru, Tsi/Oriole Clan and Yotsu). Counting the four small groups (Toturi, Badger, Bat, and Tsi/Oriole) as a single group, allowing another for tiny independent factions, and doubling up on the older minor groups which haven’t suffered recent disasters (Fox, Sparrow, and Tortoise), this leaves a divisor of 17 – an average of about 2100 samurai each for the Toturi, Badger, Bat, and Oriole, 19,000 each for the Sparrow, Tortoise, and Fox (maybe more for the Fox, given their extended lifespans), and 8400 for each of the other groups. Since it’s noted that almost EVERY adult fox clansman is a shugenja, the Fox apparently have at least six times as many shugenja as the rest of the empire put together. This will require some tweaking, possibly by also making the Fox reproduce much more slowly, thus limiting their numbers much more dramatically. Even so, they’ll have a much larger magical role in Rokugan than is usually recognized. In Tales of the Sunrise many, or even most, of the wandering shugenja-priests, major temple keepers, shugenja-tutors, jade magistrates, and shugenja “on loan” to minor clans who need one are from the Fox. There’s a reason why the emperors have kept the Fox clan close to them for a thousand years.

   The Imperial Legions and mostly draw from the same pool as the armies (311k assorted bushi and 37K courtiers), and may host about 10% of that number – 35K. This really cannot be reconciled with the numbers from Emerald Empire – such as the unicorn having nearly 5000 militant shugenja to field in the Baraunghar and the emperor having a standing army of at least 100,000 samurai (both page 216), so the main book is taking precedence. Players considering their character backgrounds should ignore the numbers from Emerald Empire, although its information on organization is fine. Note that the Imperial Legions are NOT a part of the “Others” population figures: if they were, it would throw off the peasant-to-samurai ratios. They’re supported by taxation and are counted under the appropriate clan figures.

   The map of Rokugan – however inaccurate it may be in the details – shows a total surface area (including forests but exclusive of water areas and the shadowlands) of roughly 560,000 square miles. With a population of 26,200,000, it has an overall population density of about 47 people per square mile.

   Tokugawa-era Japan supported up to 30,000,000 people on approximately 144,689 square miles, an overall population density of 207 people per square mile. However, from the map, it looks like 30-50% – probably around 40% or 224,000 square miles – of Rokugans land is suitable for agriculture. Only about 15%, or 21,703 square miles, of Japan is so suited. Rokugan has less access to fishing resources, but it has ten times as much potential farmland as Japan did, including major river valleys – and Japan supported nearly 1400 people per square mile of farmland. On that model – even allowing for less ocean access – Rokugan could easily support ten to twenty times as many people as it does.

   The culture, lifestyle descriptions, and even illustrations all tend to indicate very high population densities, intensive farming, and an emphasis on defense – along with the intense focus on manners, social niceties, travel restrictions, and social control that such conditions allow. On the other hand, there seem to be plenty of areas where bandits, pirates, and other outlaws can hide – even just outside the empire’s largest city!

   Evidently vast reaches of Rokugan are almost entirely unpopulated – left to monsters, dangerous spirits, nezumi, naga, outlaws, and the elemental powers of nature – while the human population crowds into the most desirable and defensible 10% or so. Possible reasons for this include

  • Predation. On earth, a small group of humans living in the wilds is in little or no danger. Occasional animals may be foolish enough to attack individuals, but only natural disasters and other people threaten even the smallest settlements. On Rokugan, if there aren’t a few hundred people within the sound of your voice, you and your family may be destroyed by supernatural horrors at any time.
  • Resistance. On earth, people dominate the landscape. If you move in and cut down the forest, it has no defense. On Rokugan, the spirits of the land – and it’s many nonhuman intelligent inhabitants – will often offer serious resistance to expansion and may even reconquer small settlements.
  • Control. Like most rigid social structures, the Empire resists change – including contact with outsiders, expansion, altering its maps, and any other new development. You live in the village where your parents lived and you farm the lands they farmed. At least as importantly, unlike earth, Rokugani soils can be renewed with simple spells and ancestral bargains with the land spirits actually hold; there’s no need to change things. Most importantly of all, allowing the peasants to spread out over marginal areas makes it nearly impossible for the government to maintain control – as shown by the Yobanjin and others who fled the dominion of the Kami when the empire was founded.
  • Casualties. The empire has been relatively stable – and at constant war – for a thousand years. That isn’t natural: it should have imploded under the strain centuries ago, as small failures in one place threw extra stress onto others. Like a power grid, the occasional blackout is near-inevitable. Unlike a power grid, once the darkness gets in, it’s almost impossible to throw it out again. Evidently all the superhuman talents of the samurai are barely sufficient to maintain the empire as it is. Indeed, provinces have been lost and it could easily be argued that the empire has been slowly losing ground and population across the centuries – another reason to concentrate everyone in the smallest possible defensible area.

   Small children (up to age 8), characters in intensive training, and apprentices in the “learning” portion of their apprenticeships (usually up to age 12) gain 1 XP per month. Characters who train while distracted by other duties get 1 per two months and those who are working a job or struggling to get along get one per three months. Thus, by age 16 most samurai characters will have acquired (16 x 12) or 192 XP – of which 88 go to acquiring base traits of “2” (all children are born with Earth 1), 2 go to speaking their native language, 12 go for a Family Trait Bonus, (roughly) 45 go for the trait, technique, and skills taught by their School, and 45 more are available to spend during character creation*. Unfortunately, unschooled ronin, peasants, and other self-taught types generally lose out on nearly four years of intensive training – dropping into the default “working a job” or “struggling to survive” categories after an apprenticeship, and thus missing out on (roughly) 30 points – leaving them without the benefits of a School, but with a total of 60 points to spend during character creation.

   *Most samurai also get Social Status 1 (5 XP) and Wealth 1 (2 XP), but these are gifts from their family and come with a variety of duties and responsibilities.

   Veteran status – Rank 2 – normally takes about 50 XP (24 for Traits, 25 for a Technique or for a level of Spellcasting and some Spells), or until characters are in their early 20’s, to attain via training and general experience. Of course, surviving a few battles or other adventures can hurry things up considerably. Gaining Rank 4 – Elite Status – will require at least another 120 XP, more if the character spends many on skills or unbalanced traits. Barring battles and adventures – and their accompanying special XP awards – NPC’s will hit Rank 4 about the time that they retire. While battles and such are fairly common, they’re also very dangerous: few NPC’s ever get beyond rank 6.

   This implies that the Rank distribution in the empire will be something like 20% Rank 1, 35% Rank 2, 25% Rank 3, 15% Rank 4, 4% Rank 5, and 1% Rank 6+. While Shugenja may average a bit higher since they don’t generally “retire”, it still implies that, out of the roughly 1500 active Shugenja in the empire (disregarding any Rank 5+ Phoenix Immortals who are also Shugenja and the soon to-be-retconned Fox) less then a hundred can use L6 spells – and almost all of those can only use them within their Affinity element.

   Ability Comparisons:

  • Skills: 1) Basics, 2) Advanced Student, 3-4) Professional Mastery, 5-6) Expert, 7) Renowned Master, 8) Inhuman Expertise, 9) Legendary Mastery, and 10) Divine Skill. Remember that, unlike in reality, a character who achieves skill 10 and has an appropriate emphasis has learned everything there is to know on a subject. There literally isn’t any more. That’s why swordsmithing and such hasn’t really improved since the earliest days of the empire: there’s nowhere for it to go.
  • Ranks: 0) Children, 1) Adults, 2) Veterans, 3-4) Elites, 5-6) Masters, 7) Champions, and 8+) Legends.

12 Responses

  1. Your article is truly (and positively!) hallucinating. I think I’ll come up with a demography counter argument on one of my player one of these days.

  2. This is one of the most deep, smart and useful analysis about fantasy demographics I have ever spotted. It is really a great aid for someone that’s making a more specific or special version of Rokugan.

    Thanks you very much for the effort!

    • Well, I’m glad you liked it!

      If you’d like some of the other material, do let me know; some of it’s not available online (mostly due to time shortages), but I did make a campaign handout PDF for the players with the school creation system and such.

  3. Love this information !

    Are there any known numbers about the Nezumi and / or Naga population in Rokugan ?

    • Well, this was for a third edition game, so the various clan populations, the occurrence of Shugenja, and most of the other figures were from the 3’rd edition RPG books – mostly, as I recall (it has been quite some time), the basic book and the Emerald Empire sourcebook. The same goes for the calculations of the area of Rokugan; that edition contained a map and a scale. A good deal of the other stuff was interpolated from historical sources.

      Unfortunately, as far as I can recall, the 3’rd edition, and such earlier edition material as I happened to have access to, focused heavily on the Clans. I can’t recall any hard figures on the number of nonhumans running about. from what I can remember though…

      The various Shapeshifters were apparently fairly common around the Fox clan, and fairly rare elsewhere. There were, of course, no actual figures since they were pretty much always special characters and generally did their best to blend into the human population.

      It was strongly implied that the Nezumi were a lot more numerous than anyone thought, and that their population might equal or exceed the human population overall – especially in the areas that were only lightly settled by humans.

      The Naga were apparently very rare to start with and were strongly discouraged in play since they really disrupted most of the social aspects of the game. It was kind of implied that there might be a few small settlements hidden (whether mundanely or magically) around Rokugan’s borders, presumably centered on ancient magical secrets.

      If I come across anything I may add it here, but – by the time we were done – we’d rewritten an awful lot of stuff. After well over a hundred sessions we’d long ago gotten past the breaking point of the basic rules and had had to print and bind a bunch of copies of the revised rules handouts so everyone would know what they were doing.

  4. Thanks for the reply. Our own current campaign is centered around the rise of a player-driven minor clan next to the Shinomen Forest. As such I’m very interested in any details about the Naga (and the Nezumi too).

    Sadly I never found any numbers about Naga or Nezumi. But then again I don’t own too many books beside a couple of “Way of the…” Clan books and a few different editions of the basic rulebook.

    As far as I understood it, the Naga don’t “own” the forest but are confined to a few cities within that area with most of them being asleep most of the time.

    Personally I’m estimating the Naga and the Nezumi each to be at least the size of a major clan. The Nezumi however would be broken into lot’s of different factions and not nearly as well organized, trained or equipped as a regular clan. The Naga are much closer to normal clan in terms of organisation (I think) but usually the biggest part of their numbers slumber away.

    I’d love to hear opinions and ideas about those two factions, especially about their numbers.

    • Well, last time around for us the players eventually realized that the Nezumi warrens entered and traversed Yume-Do – and so the Nezumi occasionally wandered across time or from world to world, making any meaningful count impossible (and inspiring several schools – the Taimushifuto-Mugen Courtier School, The Walking Dream Courtier School, and the Ronin or Nezumi Technician Bushi school).

      The Naga were a more-or-less a maintenance crew working for the powers that had created Rokugan (and countless other worlds), and were quite prepared to call in additional assistance if they needed to – although most of the time they just called on assistance from Senpet, which preserved more of the old traditions than anywhere else.

      Would you like me to Email you a copy of the campaign PDF? It’s for third edition of course, but there might be some stuff you can use in it.

      • That would be very nice !

        I’m assuming you can see the mail-adress that I left here ? I’d rather not post it on a forum as I get enough spam-mail as it is :)

      • Yes I can – and no one else of course. I shall send it along. For future reference do let me know what you think of it; sometime we will probably get back to L5R and feedback is always useful.

  5. I love the analysis. Very detailed an in depth.

    One factor touched on that I feel a need to point out is that Japan’s soils are volcanic and as such are extremely lush. One explanation in the difference in population densities is that while Rokugan has more farmable land, its soils might not be as productive as Japan’s unless most if not all of the mountains are volcanic in nature.

    • Well, I’m glad you liked it!

      I’m not sure volcanic soils would make much of a difference over the long term though. Volcanic soils are exceptionally fertile due to their being rich in various necessary trace elements – iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium in particular – and often contain basaltic rocks that break down and erode under surface conditions to slowly replenish the supply. Unfortunately, the supply of trace elements is not infinite, and intensive cultivation will soon deplete it unless efforts are made to renew it. In some areas that occurs naturally. As an example, the regular inundation of the Nile deposited silt from erosion in the mountains over the fields, resulting in thousands of years of good crops.

      The classical approach in China and Japan (and most of the rest of the region) is to return materials to the soil – treating manure, old cloth, bone meal, and more as precious resources. My usual reference on that is a book entitled “Farmers Of Forty Centuries” (it can be found on Project Gutenburg Australia), which examines how farmers in such areas have maintained and improved the soil fertility across thousands of years.

      Of course, Rokugan seems to be an Elemental Physics world ( https://ruscumag.wordpress.com/2008/12/04/elemental-physics/ ) – so ideas like “trace elements” may be irrelevant anyway, with the major factor being how well the local farmers placate the local land-spirits. That is extrapolating well beyond the data from the books though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: