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L5R Fan - Samurai Economics

L5R Fan - Samurai Economics

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Samurai Economics
An introduction to money and class in Rokuganby Scott Gearin
Barter
The most important aspect to recognize abouttrade and money in Rokugan is that the entire systemis based on barter. There is no absolute valueassociated with anything, including the coinage! MostRokugani conduct their business with direct trades:this chicken for that teapot and a handful of tea leaves.Coinage is only involved in several specific cases. Thefirst is between members of the merchant class.Merchants tend to deal in large quantities whendealing with one another, so they utilize money tomake the exchanges and perform bookkeeping.Merchants also use money to offer and track loans,both to other merchants and to samurai. These“banking” functions are an important part of keepinga rice based economy moving. Samurai, and PCs, usemoney to facilitate travel outside the domain of theirown lord, for the purchase of very valuable items, andto attract retainers.
Paying for Things
It is important to remember that a samuraidoesn’t HAVE to pay for anything possessed by apeasant. Traditions, based on the celestial order andcommon sense when unarmed in the presence of akatana, encourage the peasants to hand over anythingthe samurai wants. However, that peasant is really onlyholding the item for his lord, so the samurai may haveto answer to the local daimyo. While the samurai is inhis lord’s domain, this means he really has no need forcoinage. Everything that he needs will be freely given.His own better judgment prevents him from abusingthis privilege. Those that do abuse their lord’sgenerosity will eventually come to the attention of theirbetters, and then have to answer to their lord.While traveling the need for money becomesmore apparent. Peasants of other areas may suggest aprice once goods or service are rendered. Thepeasantry has a remarkably good eye for spottingsamurai not sworn to the local lord. In most instancesit is best to simply pay without comment. Hagglingwith a peasant is beneath a samurai’s dignity, as isasking the price in advance. The vast majority of peasants are honest folk who have no desire to angeranyone with the right to kill them, and ask a fair price.The samurai can of course refuse or even assault thepeasant, but such things have consequences. Shouldthe samurai feel that he is being cheated, he maysummarily punish the offender. Again, the localauthority may take a dim view of such behavior. Thelocal magistrate has considerable power over samuraipassing through his district, and has the authority toarbitrarily decide whether the samurai has actedappropriately. Not a person to irritate!The purchase of expensive items is anothertricky subject. Items like swords and armor aregenerally the product of craftsmen who also belong tothe samurai class. This means they may desire moneyfor their labors or may be highly offended by it. It isbest to simply wait for them to offer terms, then agreewithout hesitation. Craftsmen sworn to the service of the same lord as the samurai may make a gift of theitem to one who displays great fealty. Craftsmen whobelong to a different lord will probably have to be paid.Extravagantly so. Unless the samurai is very wealthy,very famous, or very well connected in the courts, heshould stick with his own lord’s craftsmen. War-horsesalso fall into this category. Unless received as a gift orprovided by one’s lord, they will prove terriblyexpensive. Even simple riding horses may be out of thesamurai’s reach.
Retainers
The real value of money to the samurai classis for attracting retainers. Officially, samurai are neverpaid to serve. That sort of thing is for lordless ronin. Areal samurai would never consider mere money to beinducement to serve; he is offering his very life!Instead he humbly receive rewards for his loyalty. Thishas some strange effects when viewed from westernsociety. For example, when a daimyo wishes to fill a50 koku position (captain of the Honor Guard oremissary to the Lion Clan perhaps) he does not selecta samurai with the appropriate skills and begin payinghim 50 koku. Instead he searches amongst his retainersfor one who’s previous loyalty and devotion haveearned him a 50 koku stipend and puts that samurai inthe position. A more skilled samurai who currentlyreceives 10 koku will be passed over for a poorly suitedcandidate who has proven loyalty or is from a betterfamily (thus already receiving 50 koku). Yes, gloryranks mean a lot more than school ranks! Somerecognition of skill can be made however. A highlysuitable samurai receiving 35 koku might be given andadditional allowance of 15 koku to fit him to the post,until his service there merits a permanent increase.Individual daimyo vary in their willingness to do this.
 
The same principle applies at a smaller scalefor individual samurai who desire retainers. There is acertain expectation that a samurai of significant loyalty(and income) will attract followers and troops, therebyincreasing his value to his lord. The keeping of retainers adds to the samurai’s prestige, but requires askill with finances than few samurai possess. Thesamurai must perform a balancing act between thenumber and quality of his retainers, counter-balancedagainst his wealth. A retainer who has served for yearsdeserves greater reward than any three new bushi puttogether. And like a daimyo, if he cannot afford toproperly reward his retainers, he loses face. Further,well equipped and skillful retainers reflect credit ontheir leader, while scraggly followers are worse thannone at all. The upkeep of followers is in fact one of the most common uses of a samurai’s funds. 
Samurai Pay
There are three ways in which a samuraitypically receives his pay. Junior samurai and thefollowers of other low ranking samurai sometimes taketheir income as actual rice. Samurai who receive lessthan five koku annually may go to the granaries of their lord and receive a twelfth part of their incomeeach month. The samurai will generally trade part of this rice for coin or other goods and eat the rest. Theseallotments of rice are distributed on the last days of themonth. Mid-ranking samurai receive their income asa stipend of coin. This is made possible by thedaimyo’s merchants, who trade the rice harvest onbehalf of the lord and provide the coin to pay thevassals. The stipend is generally granted in threeuneven payments. Two fifths are paid at the start of thesummer, the beginning of the season of war. Anotherfifth is given at the end of the summer to prepare forthe winter court season. The remaining two fifths aregiven at the beginning of the Setsuban festival (NewYear’s Eve), when all debts come due. The finalmethod by which samurai are rewarded with income isthe granting of a fief. The samurai receives a parcel of land from his daimyo. What remains after thedaimyo’s and imperial taxes becomes the samurai’sincome. The effective management of the farms,villages, mines, fishing, crafts, and trade that a fief may include is covered by the Govern skill (see below).A samurai receiving a fief is being granted the mostsacred task of administering the Emperor’s lands. It isa mark of high favor from one’s lord. A samurai incharge of a small fief may also receive a stipend. 
Coinage
Three types of coins are commonly used inRokugan. The most valuable is the
ryo
, an oval shapedplate of gold about two inches by one inch. This is thebasic unit of exchange for expensive items and largetransactions. Each
ryo
is worth about five
bu
, a smallersilver coin.
 Bu
is actually short for
ichi bu no [silver]
,literally “one bu of silver”. A typical
bu
is a rectangleabout one inch by three-quarters of an inch.
 Bu
areused for the purchase of moderately expensive itemssuch as furniture. Each
bu
is in turn worth four to five“strings” of 
 zeni
. These are small (3/4” diameter)round coins made of copper. They have a round orsquare hole through the middle and are commonlystrung on cords to make cash strings. A standard“string” is 100 coins.
 Zeni
are used for all manner of minor items, like tea and food. Whole strings are usedfor items like clothing or liquor.For very large transactions either stacks of 
ryo
or a forth coin, the
oban
, are used.
 Ryo
are stacked inlots of twenty-five or fifty and wrapped in heavy paper.The stack is then stamped by the local magistrate’soffice and ready for use. The rarely seen
oban
is aheavy disc of gold. In weight and value they areequivalent to forty
ryo
.
Oban
are often specifically castfor a particular transaction, and have pictures or textcommemorating the event. They may become far morevaluable as historical items than for their weight of gold.The reason that descriptions and exchangerates are given only in general terms is that each Clanmints their own coinage. The symbols stamped on thecoins vary from place to place, as does the exact sizeand quality of the metal. Identifying the source of coinage and its relative value is just another part of theCommerce skill, a skill most samurai disdain.Paper money is not in use in Rokugan, at leastby samurai. Merchants sometimes use a system of paper IOUs amongst themselves. Samurai who hear of it consider the idea ridiculous.
Exchange Rates
You may have noticed that samurai are paidin
koku
, but the coins are
ryo
,
bu
, and
 zeni
. A
koku
isliterally five bushels of rice, or enough to feed oneperson for a year. Samurai who receive a stipend arereceiving
ryo
for their rice at the current exchangerate. Given an average rice harvest brokered by anaverage merchant, the samurai receives one ryo foreach koku. The GM is free to modify that exchangerate to reflect current conditions. When the rice harvestis poor, the value of rice increases and the samurai’sallotment of rice fetches more coin. When the harvestis good the reverse is true. The skill of the lord’s
 
merchant is also a major factor. An incompetentmerchant may end up selling low and buying high,while a crafty Yasuki manages to squeeze every lastzeni out of the harvest.Poor samurai who take their pay in rice mustbarter the excess themselves. The quality of the harvestonly affects that small part of their income. Those whoreceive a stipend (the vast majority) are entirely at themercy of the kami (and the GM). Those who have beenfortunate enough to have been granted a fief will findthat the income from their farms is fairly stable interms of 
ryo
. When the harvest is bad they have lessrice, but it is worth more and visa-versa. These forcestends to cancel out, giving a consistent value in
ryo
.
Loans & Banking
For one reason or another a samurai may findhimself in need of money that he doesn’t have. In suchan instance he may choose to seek out a merchant fora loan. The terms of loans are fairly consistent: onepercent interest per month, all debts payable in fullbefore New Year’s Day. Merchants have found thatsuch simple terms are best when dealing with samurai,so as not to confuse or anger them. Samurai whocannot meet their debts on time will be shunned byboth merchants and samurai alike. Such a failing canrapidly blossom into an obligation or dark secret.Generally the samurai’s word is the only collateralrequired. In fact, some unscrupulous merchants willcheerfully loan more to a samurai than he can repay.Bullying or killing the merchant will only make thingsworse, permanently staining the samurai’s honor.Merchants also act as money-changers. Asamurai may need to convert
ryo
to strings, or
bu
to
ryo
. A traveler with the forethought to change hismoney to that minted in the lands he will be travelingin will also seek out a merchant. Again the rates onsuch transactions are consistent: five
 zeni
for every
ryo
exchanged. This may seem like a laughably smallamount (about one-quarter of one percent), butmultiplied by the volume some merchants deal in andit amounts to a tidy sum for no effort at all.The Emerald Empire has no equivalent tosavings accounts. Those who have money simply holdon to it. Investment is also a very inexact science. Eachdeal must be negotiated separately.
Gambling
There is of course one other way that moneychanges hands: gambling. Gambling is a commonpastime in Rokugan, from the lowest heimin to thehighest courtier. Games are played with dice, tiles, orcards. The most commonly played dice game is knownas “Fortunes and Winds”, and the rules of this gameare presented in the Way of the Scorpion. Members of the court and respectable samurai turn up their nosesat such “common” pursuits. They prefer to wager onthe outcome of hunts or other contests. Those whosuffer a string of loses may amass considerable debt.While merchants are content to wait until the new yearto be paid, gamblers are far less forgiving. Should thegambler even be allowed to leave the table (which hemay not be) all debts are due by sunset the followingday. If the samurai cannot secure a respectable loan, hewill be faced with a shameful obligation or worse.Those who cannot meet courtly wagers are subject toa great loss of face in addition to being obligated to thewinner. The winner may choose to be gracious,preventing the glory loss, but making the loser doublyobligated. Such favors and obligations are as much apart of Rokugani economics as the exchange of money.The simplest advice is true: “If you gamble, beprepared to pay.”
Ronin
While ronin are part of the samurai class,their relationship to the economics of Rokugan is quitedifferent from other samurai. Because they have nolord to shelter them, they have to pay for thingseverywhere they go. Because of this, unlike mostsamurai they have an appreciation for the value of their coin. Ronin may learn and use the Commerceskill without penalty. While it is in poor taste, they caneven haggle.Ronin lack the steady income of their Clancounterparts. Some few are wealthy while others mustscrape from meal to meal. Many resort to gambling tomake ends meet. This lack of fixed income means thatmerchants are more reluctant to give them loans, andthe ronin may find himself paying with his service.Ronin will often seek employment with a merchant if they cannot find it with a traditional lord. Merchantsregularly need guards or shugenja advisors and aides,and have the money to support a few samurai. This isnot a bad life really. They have the privileges of thesamurai class without the obligations that come withfealty. If Clan samurai look down on them, well...They learn to live with it.Some ronin have too much honor or pride toaccept paid labor for a mere peasant. Those whocannot find their way into the graces of a daimyo maychoose to become shugyosha, “student warriors” whofollow the Way of the Sword. This is the beginning of a spiritual quest to achieve enlightenment throughbushido. Many ronin claim to follow the Way of theSword, but for most it is simply a lie to preserve
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