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Nachtphysik

Theology Time! (God vs. Man Trope in Rokugan)

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Hey guys! So as the topic says, I thought quite a bit about the story trope of Man vs. God in Rokugan. It started with me lore-sleuthing and getting caught up with Lord Moon and the terrible impact he had on mortal realm. It is quite clear that although a god and the father of the kami, Onnotangu is responsible for two of the greatest threats to Ningendo and to the downfall of his children. 
I'd like to point out here that the fight of Man vs. God in for example ancient Greece is somewhat common and ancient Greek society never saw the gods as inherently good necessarily but as forces of nature so to speak that could have a good impact but that wasn't necessary and people just assumed it was in the nature of gods to be whimsical. That is not something I really felt with L5R. Gods have a purpose and follow that purpose. If they punish you, it is YOUR fault not theirs. 
Yet Onnotangu is clearly evil and it took somebody who was really out there mentally (of course a Dragon Samurai) to challenge him and kill him and by that saving the Empire. Also Amaterasu the most revered Goddess (at least with a gigantic temple in Otosan Uchi for a long time) is by Samurai standards kind of a failure as she committed Jigai to not have to decide between her duty and her love for Lord Moon (who also tried to kill her children and succeeded with one directly and was kidn of responsible for the corruption for another and indirectly responsible for the downfall of the rest, because of the Lying Darkness). So Gods in Rokugan are from an objective level pretty flawed as well. (something the Greek can live with easilty) That already seems to be in Rokugani society kind of a powder keg. Yet now man comes into divine power and instead of reconciling with each other, Man and Divine Realm are still mad at each other which leads in the end to the downfall of the Toturi dynasty and Hitomi and Yakamo being replaced by dragons and the ancestral swords of the Kami being taken away. And somehow all the fault lies with mortal men and not with the fact that creation already was flawed and not only Ningendo but at least two gods as well. Of course I could be called by this point a Kolat traitor, okay fair enough. The problem is that if you as a Samurai love ancestors and the Founding Kami dearly (maybe not only one but all of them) then you would even then come the conclusion that Lord Moon was evil and would question the rule of Tengoku on many things. (Something Shinsei kind of did as he clearly favored mortals and lectured the Kami quite a bit)

(TL;DR) So you may rip my observation apart as much as you like to convince me, I'm totally wrong but my actual question (if you at least somewhat agree with me) is how would be the best way to implement in a society where the Gods are always right a God vs. Man storyline without the characters becoming evil or it ending in either a gigantic upheaval of the system or in the PCs being murdered for making too much sense. (In modern Rokugan another guy like Shinsei would probably be immediately killed for blasphemy sadly...)

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You're looking at it from a good vs. evil perspective vs order vs. chaos.  The gods (Tengoku) are not always good, but they are, including Onnetagu, always orderly.  Social harmony and the betterment of man nearly always comes from social and celestial harmony: everyone acting within their correct roles will naturally bring about peace in society and the betterment of life.  Tengoku is the realm of order, Jigoku the realm of chaos, and Ningen-do the place where these forces contest.

Now, order does not always have to be comfortable. It is not happy for those who have been organized into lower rungs of life, such as the hinin.

Hitomi did not bring down Onnetagu because he was evil, but because he refused to name (organize/place in the order) the Nothing.  He wasn't doing his job, so she did it for him.  This doesn't question the rule of Tengoku, which doesn't derive from the being, but from the order it imposes. The founding kami and ancestors, for their part, are all acting on the earth to try to recreate the same order that is in Tengoku on ningen-do. If that order were in place, then everyone would be living in peace and harmony.

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Thank you for answering!

I'd like to interject here though: According to Rokugani perception it seems that Order is pretty much the same as good or that which needs to be strived after exactly because as you mentioned it is the harmony mortal humans want to achieve in Ningendo. Yet it is clear that Onnotangu has from the beginning not been a force of order of any kind either and that led to the catastrophes (reinforcing the Rokugani perception of order = good) of the 12th century which was his demise. That being the case I haven't found any place where Tengoku tried reconcile with that fact after it became clear to everyone what was going on. Instead Tengoku assigns poor Shinjo to essentially lecture humanity for being bad mortals. (I'm being intentionally a bit crass here but that is how it seemed to me reading through the lore). And as I said Onnotangu wasn't alone in this. Amaterasu's Jigai (if she was mortal) would have been looked at somewhat pathetic by a Matsu Samurai-ko most likely. 

My point was that Tengoku seemed to be a bit biased here as you also said, Lord Moon wasn't doing his job and humanity picked up the slack and got punished for doing so. If that is how heaven works, what would stop Emma-O of going on his own quest, ignoring his job and stopping therefore the cycle of reincarnation and pretty much smashing the celestial order right there? The mid 12th century just felt really off from a lore perspective (yet also incredibly interesting as it opened up on a whole new level new possible dramas for a Samurai). So I am really curious how others see this and how they would tackle (if at all) a divine vs. mortal plot. 

I might just be a bit confused why in the Toturi dynasty there was no reconciliation with Tengoku and it took Heaven to pretty much lecture humanity quite harshly until it somewhat 'normalized'.

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I wouldn't try to organize by Old5R later lore...it made no sense anyway.

Emma-O did go off on his own quest...even in new5R he's kind of overwhelmed.   Toturi wasn't approved by the heavens anyway because he killed the Emperor....by default, disorderly.

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Yeah okay, so it seems I am at least not alone with being confused 😅 So best method would be (if I start from for example the start of the Iweko dynasty) to just ignore the specifics of the history between Clan War and the Tournament?

That's true, the new Realm (Maigo no Musha) is definitely kind of a pain for him on one hand but on other hand it was a relief, so hmmm...

And yes the Toturi thing is again something that is weird because letting Fu Leng take over the last Hantei and the Thunders not fighting him would have been worse as Jigoku then would have conquered Ningendo. So that is a lose-lose situation right there (kind of normal for samurai on one hand, I guess) and another reason for me making this thread. So yeah, because of all that, I was thinking about storylines about Man vs. God so a samurai questioning certain specific decisions of Tengoku. (Which happens with Ancestors from Yomi quite a lot who then go to save relatives from Toshigoku or want to be reincarnated into Ningendo to help their Clan/family once again) Yet still I'm unsure how that would really work in Rokugan.

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Since the dawn of time (in the real world) societies have grappled with the question of why “bad things” happen. This gets complicated quickly when you have supposedly benign and wise God(s) looking over you. Different cultures settle on different “workable” solutions that they can live with. For the ancient Greeks, the Gods were far from perfect & I would say had the souls of overpowered adolescents. The Norse Gods were at war with Giant-kind. Modern Christianity has concepts like original sin and the devil.

In Rokugan the most commonly accepted answer to the question of why “bad things happen” is probably that there is disorder to the world at odds with how the Heavens want things organized (or that threaten the Divine Mandate of the Hantei Dynasty). As with A LOT of other topics in Rokugan I believe there is plenty of daylight between what is public ally acceptable to say and what is “true”. And there are potential adventure seeds and RP opportunities in exploring those differences.

You say you want to explore the ideas of a campaign where the Gods/Celestial Order is always right. Okay. How do you want to treat the cannon of the setting? (A)Is it all correct ? (B) Are parts of what people think they know false? Or (C) is it mostly a pack of lies?

If you want a campaign world where the Divine is always right, then you have a problem generating drama and adventure. After a Fortune speaks the debate is over and your chances for drama and adventure decrease. You need friction to drive a campaign.

so my thought: If the Gods are always benign true and good you need other villains to oppose them. This takes me to  B or C. Perhaps the Hantei line has lost the Mandate of Heaven somewhere and the Empire is opposing the Divine will in order to hang on to secular power. That’s a pretty big breach of the usual campaign cannon. But it gives your PCs a powerful foe to overcome. They have to learn about how and when the Imperial Line lost the Mandate of Heaven, find the true heir under the reckoning of the Heavens, and seek to empower them as the new Emperor or Empress. Obviously Rokugan will get torn asunder and the Great Clans will pick and shift sides. So even after the new Emperor is put in place there’s also going to be some clean up....

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Looking at the real world inspirations for culture in Rokugan, keep in mind that there are three overlapping circles in this particular Venn diagram: mythology, religion, and science. Mythology consists of the narratives by which people make sense of their identity with respect to their origins. Religion consists of the ritual actions people undertake to bind themselves together. And science consists of the systematic abstraction of natural phenomena into explanatory and predictive models. On top of that, at least in Japan, the myths came before and were never completely synthesized with the later religious and scientific imports from China.

I would also note that, in contrast to Old5R, Nu5R is much more reticient to admit to the existence of the kami as bare “historical facts.” The myths about Lady Sun and Lord Moon have thus far been portrayed as just that. One of the key aspects of mythology is it’s ambivalence — it cannot easily be pinned down to mean one clear thing. Culture in Rokugan at large is also characterized by a degree of ambivalence.

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