While waiting for the new Legend of the Five Rings from Fantasy Flight Games to arrive here in the Philippines, I figured I might as well write up a fancy take on an alternate setting I’ve been playing around with in my head for it.
Classic L5R has always been in Feudal Magical Alternate Japan, so I figure remixing it to a cyberpunk setting would be interesting to see. Here are a few elements I’d use in the setting.
The kami play a huge role in Rokugan, and I don’t see that spiritual aspect of the setting going away with the advancement of technology. Instead, I see them working together, with Data or Information becoming recognized as an element. This won’t make it a Ring just yet, but enterprising sages and shugenja have discovered a means to commune with the data kami in order to compel the spirits of the machine to grant boons.
These can take the form of coaxing better performance from devices to even housing data kami intelligences inside shrine crystals laced with nanotech interfaces. These crystals glow when housing data kami and are often integrated into online devices such as cellphones and datapads. The crystals can also be slotted to things like power armor or weapons. Shrine crystals can be as small as an earring (a fashion popular among more courtly samurai) or larger ones like the fist-sized crystals used by power armor and the lantern sized ones that often power the siege engines of the Kaiu.
Th data kami are a true intelligence as opposed to “Virtual” or “Artificial” versions and require upkeep in terms of both prayers and offerings and a healthy and (ideally) positive relationship with their partnered companion. An interesting side effect is that these data kami can communicate directly to non-shugenja through the use of whatever interface they’re attached to.
Tradition x Innovation in Chi
In addition to the discovery of the data kami, technological advances have been combined with traditional Rokugani medical practices to result in some very interesting advances. Pioneered by the Agasha Family, the Dragon Clan have been able to use microscopic nanomachines in ink to print tattoos onto the human body.
These nanite tattoos draw on the person’s Chi as a source of their power. The more capable the user is with manipulating their Chi, the more efficient the tattoos become. These tattoos resemble a cross between traditional mandalas and a circuit board diagram and glow when active.
This process has enabled the Dragon Clan to improve upon their specialties, with an average Kitsuki Investigator now being capable of analyzing evidence samples by touch as a miniaturized forensics suite has been tattooed onto their hands.
The improved man-machine interface made possible by nanite tattoos lend themselves to a secondary innovation: Cybernetic prostheses.
Overcoming the Weakness of the Flesh
Not surprisingly, it was the Crab Clan that seized the opportunity to build upon the Chi interfaces to generate cybernetic limbs for injured samurai who lost limbs during their service to the wall. While initially a sign of favor from the clan, some of the more extreme of the Hida have begin to voluntarily replace healthy limbs to enable them to do their duty better.
The Kaiu Engineers pride themselves with the perfection of their cybernetics. Bolstered with the medical knowledge of the Kuni Witchhunters, the Kaiu cybernetics are some of the most advanced in Rokugan, featuring a feedback loop coursed through a data kami shrine crystal embedded in the limb to provide lifelike tactile sensation while remaining impervious to pain.
Each of the clans has spun off on the application of data kami towards their respective specialties:
The defenders of the wall have little use for aesthetic applications and have mostly focused on military applications of this technology. Data Kami are housed in large shrine crystals inside power armor and vehicles, while the Lord Hida’s Eye orbital satellite is practically a temple of data kami floating in synchronous orbit to monitor Shadowlands activity.
As mentioned above, their cybernetics are among the most advanced, with individual Kaiu engineers devising more creative means to hurt shadowlands creatures with built-in weaponry everyday, ranging from concealed monomolecular edged knives that deploy from underneath the wrist to eschewing traditional limbs altogether for guns or other implements of destruction.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the children of Lady Doji have largely avoided the more blatant aspects of this new technology. Cybernetics are unheard of in all but the Daidoji family, and most of the Asahina prefer to remain devoted to the five elements rather than delve too deeply in the nature of the data kami.
The Kakita Artisans, however, have been quick to embrace one aspect of change: that of being able to dominate the entertainment industry. Well aware of the effect of cultural dominance, the Kakita and the Doji have worked tirelessly to train a subset of data kami to specialize in being able to shape opinions and trends in society through the internet.
The Dragon have become a dominant force in medicine with the advent of the nanite tattoo interfaces, and they’ve devoted significant time and energy to finding even more means to blur that line.
Rumors persist that some of the Togashi Tattooed Order monks have been able to directly enter the infoscape with their minds in a technological version of astral projection.
Rather than obsess over specialization, the Akodo Family of the Lion Clan have directed the Clan’s efforts towards adaptability. Among all the Clans, the amber Shrine Crystals of the Lion are the most flexible. Housed in a universal frame, the Lion Shrine Crystals accompany the samurai everywhere on their swords, or upon their ashigaru light combat armor.
Each Lion Samurai is trained to work with his data kami from the first day of training. There are many like it, but this one is theirs.
The information from these individual Shrine Crystals are actually fed into a massive underground data center in the Kitsu Tombs, which is capable of projecting real-time positioning and health information Lion Clan command staff, allowing for unprecedented tactical maneuverability necessary to take on the threats of the modern age.
The Phoenix Clan excel in their own way. Unsatisfied with simply relying on technology, the Phoenix have rolled out a secret project: The Four Noble Beast Division. Chosen from their most loyal Shiba Samurai, each is subjected to extensive cybernetic reconstruction, essentially turning them into supersoldiers whose bodies house their own heart-sized Shrine Crystals.
Unlike most Shrine Crystals however, the kami that inhabit these are patterned after the Four Noble Beasts: the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermillion Bird of the South, the Black Tortoise of the North and the White Tiger of the West. This four-man team of samurai represent the very best that the Phoenix Clan can come up with, and are sworn to defend the Clan at all costs.
The Clan of Lies have their own innovations, focused mostly on the Data Kami themselves. Their Shrine Crystals are inert, capable of housing the Data Kami without letting off the tell-tale glow. This means that they are often nondescript, and almost mundane, such as a particular button in a suit, or a tie clip.
Their work has been focused on training their Data Kami in the art of infiltration and sowing disinformation. Soshi hackers are among the most feared for their ability to think around a problem and direct their data kami partners with near-surgical precision.
The Unicorn Clan’s appreciation for versatility and mobility is one that is reflected on their applications of this technology. All Unicorn clan vehicles have housings for Data Kami, that allow for automated driving and a host of stunts that would be something right out of a videogame. Most combatants would consider letting go of the handlebars of a speeding motorcycle to draw and fire twin sub-machine guns at a pursuer to be suicidal, but the Unicorn Data Kami allow for their samurai to pull off such stunts with ease.
The Ide on the other hand utilize Data Kami to break down language barriers, and have been using discreet scanners to identify telltale biometric signs of a person’s emotional state in negotiations to give them the upper hand.
Clearly this take on Rokugan can still go a LONG way, but this is a sneak peek into what I’ve got in mind if I ever get to run this!