Bushido Mechanics

Can’t spell Compassion without Passion,
Can’t spell Courage without Rage,
Can’t spell Sincerity without Sin,
Can’t spell Duty without … um … doh!
… back to the drawing board.

No, not talking about the RPG Bushido, though I do own it and met someone recently who ran/played it, much to my surprise – very hard system.

I’ve been thinking increasingly about distinguishing character facets by pulling out each of the L5R tenets of bushido.

Bushido Hierarchy

I have trouble seeing my HoR characters’ personalities.  Since I’m pro-Honor, I started thinking about which tenets they cared more about to act Honor-ably (try to up their Honor Ranks) during play.  It didn’t take long to realize that the obvious thing to do was to simply rank every tenet.  For the moment, not putting any numerical value on them but just seeing what was relatively more or less important.

My first pass was interesting.  I certainly realized that I didn’t really know for many of the tenets what they believed was important.  Also, I ended up with two very similar profiles, which seemed wrong.


Bushido Hierarchy:
Courage > Courtesy > Sincerity > Honor > Honesty > Compassion > Duty

I ended up redoing my hierarchy for my other character.  One thing that was throwing me was that I was using astrology, both Eastern and Western to aid forming these characters’ personalities and the keywords I pulled out for their signs pushed me into a lot of tenets.  At first, I had both characters caring little about Duty but realized that Duty was one of the most important aspects of my other character.

Of course, the higher one’s Honor Rank, the stronger the character feels in general.  The lowest tenet for one character may be more valued than the highest of another.  Which brings us to scoring.

Individual Scores

One of my characters is Honor 5 and the other Honor 7.  These are the averages of the rank values for the individual tenets, though I don’t think a lot of people really think about it from this direction.  While certainly people realize that Honor Rank is an average and that different tenets are ranked differently, that the average of those ranks should be the same as the overall can be surprising to look at.

A character may very well be 10 in Duty and 1 in everything else, a Scorpion say, and average out to a 2.  Not surprised?  Well, that’s a stereotypical case.  What about someone who is 10 in three tenets and 1 in the rest, averaging out to about 5.  This character is extreme, to the point where I couldn’t see it being all that reasonable.  Still, variance is an issue, though high Honor and low Honor characters are going to be much more limited in variance.


Bushido Hierarchy:
Sincerity – 9
Duty – 9
Courtesy – 7
Compassion – 7
Honesty – 6
Courage – 6
Honor – 5

This is, of course, my Honor 7 character.  What stands out to me isn’t the high end but that he’s really not all that Honor(tenet)able.  Just average.  Ignoring that Honor (tenet) and Honor (mechanic) get confusing, it helps me to realize what I can let slide.  There’s also a medium level of variance, in my opinion.  An Honor 8 character has to get into 10’s to have more than a slight variance.

It would be interesting to build more characters with one superlow number to really define the character in the setting.  Speaking of which, how do these numbers come about?

How To Score?

For my characters, I’ve given them astrological signs and went through my astrology books to pull out character traits.  Often, those traits correspond to tenets (or work against them).


Sheep – righteous, sincere, gullible, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, fashionable, creative worker, emotional, pessimistic, withdrawn, gentle, compassionate, forgiving, dislikes strict schedules, doesn’t take well to discipline or criticism, fond of children/animals, close to nature, homebody, subjective, food/shelter/clothing, lucky, survivor, placate/evade enemies, roundabout, worrier, romantic

This is for the second character.  Note that his Compassion isn’t all that high relative to other tenets.  Other tenets came up as important when looking at his Western sign.

But, not every character has had this much work put into it.  The mechanics of L5R, itself, help produce values or a hierarchy.  “Paragon of …” or “Failure of Bushido: …” should clearly distinguish tenets.  I’m working on a character at the moment with Paragon of Compassion and Failure of Honesty.  If I don’t score Compassion highest and Honesty lowest, I’m being inconsistent.

Then, there’s background and the more common stuff that players come up with for their characters.  My Sheep belongs to a family that puts in a lot of hard work and is very traditional but also went to a school that is very much into hard work.  All of this lends itself well to Duty being an important aspect, which was why I redid my numbers for the character to where, now, Duty is a 9.

There’s another way.  I don’t have much respect for random character creation out of a book – any system.  But, inconsistently, I find randomizing for my own benefit very helpful for coming up with a more fully realized (or weirder) character concept.  While building the new character, I hadn’t decided what Paragon or what Failure (if Failure at all) the character would have, so I rolled d10’s to give relative values for each tenet.  As the character is starting out with 7.5 Honor, I simply added two to each die result.  The average was right on.  The results kind of problematic.

A disadvantage of random results, which is why I’m against being forced to be random, is that you get results you aren’t comfortable with.

I also randomly rolled d12’s for astrological signs, getting Ox and Pisces.  That was less problematic, though, going with this will force me to stretch some as a role-player.

But, why does this all matter?


I see the tenets being rather confusing.  In particular, sincerity and honor are confusing.  What’s amusing is that L5R doesn’t really try to define honor, even though that only makes it worse for players and GMs.  At least there’s some attempt to separate honesty and sincerity.


Not much of an issue here.  Though, it’s interesting how much of Rokugani society is predicated upon the idea that your lessers aren’t even people when the encouraged philosophy says to be nice to them.


Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is making fear your bitch.  However, fear, itself, is considered a weakness in Rokugan, which is also inconsistent when courage can’t exist without it.


Okay, be polite at all times.  But, it’s no biggy if you murder someone for disrespecting your sword?  Okay, kind of weird.  Metagamewise, anyone accidentally touching your blades, you, or whatever should be left off the hook so that you look compassionate and courteous.  Though, see honor.


Simple enough, until you get into Scorpion “loyalty”.  Is loyalty just duty or something more?  Do Scorpion even make sense?


I get the distinction between honesty and sincerity when it comes to speaking.  When it comes to philosophy, it’s messier.  So, just being truthful, in and of itself, is honorable, yet being dishonest in a sincere way is also (partially) honorable?


Big problem of definition in L5R because Honor is a mechanic as well as a tenet.  I did a dictionary search of honor for guidance.  Very interesting in that it went in a direction I don’t think about for L5R.

Respect, esteem, privilege, exalted position – these all tie heavily into Status.  The idea that honorable actions are actions worthy of praise or reward is different from the internal concept of integrity, which seems to be what L5R is going for.

Killing an oni is?  Dutiful?  To an extent.  But, really, it’s honorable in the sense of doing something that should be esteemed.  Yet, the game would think of this more as Glory-ous.  Similarly, everything under Glory would tie into honor if you look at honor externally as something to be proud of.

If you look to define integrity, once you get past honest, you get into a definition loop.  Moral, righteous, virtuous – it all ends up being the same thing.  Correct action.  But, that’s circular.  What is correct?  Can only know that by knowing what is honorable/virtuous.


At least honor seems like something we comprehend even if we can’t define it.  Sincerity’s problem is honesty.  Again, it’s simple to distinguish the two when it comes to what someone says.  If someone speaks truth, then honest.  If someone lies or hedges, dishonest.  If someone sounds truthful, then sincere.  If someone sounds dishonest, then insincere.

But, that just means that honesty and sincerity are differed by perspective.  That’s not entirely the distinction with sincerity that L5R is going for.  There’s a concept of sincerity of action that honesty doesn’t really apply to.

Being one in action and word gets mentioned multiple times.  What does this mean?  There’s an element of believing in one’s actions, including one’s speech.  There is no try, there is only do or do not.  Even if try is more honest.

How does this apply to playing the game?  Sincerity, to me, is very much about the lack of doubts, whether internal or external.  Credulity, believability.  Overconfident types aren’t sincere even if they have no internal doubts as they aren’t believable in what they think they can accomplish.

Actually, I’ve been trying to come up with a good model for opposing the Three Sins of Rokugan:  fear, desire, and regret.  Courage clearly opposes fear.  Duty clearly opposes desire.  What opposes regret?  I thought about honor, which also fits with seeing duty/honor/courage being the “action” tenets to compassion/courtesy/honesty/sincerity being the “social” tenets.

While sincerity’s lack of doubts lends itself to opposing fear, I can also see lacking doubts being anti-regret.  Then, compassion could have some element of overcoming regret, like courage overcomes fear, by being compassionate to oneself.  Maybe it’s easier to apply every tenet in some way against the Sins than I thought once you get into this line of thinking.


One Response to Bushido Mechanics

  1. Azel says:

    I too found honor and sincerity problematic. As written in L5R 4e they sound more tautological than anything else. The easiest separation I found for Sincerity v. Honesty is sincerity is “with feeling.” But not too much feeling, otherwise you’re failing your duty to resist desire.

    I still can’t make heads or tails out of honor, however. The best I can surmise is steadfastness to ones ideals. But the estimable interpretation is very tempting…

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