Season for War
Battlefield Conduct and Forbidden Tactics
There are no tactics or weapons that Sun Tao excluded from use on moral grounds, although the Great General would be the first to admit that not all theories can be used in practice. This section discusses those wartime tactics and actions which the Empire considers to be at least shameful and, in some cases, wholly beyond the pale. Of course, a few groups such as the Scorpion Clan are known for their deliberate use of forbidden methods of war, both for the practical advantages and sometimes to incite rage in their foes.
The Crab Clan considers no tactic off limits in its ceaseless war against the Shadowlands, a foe wholly without honor and thus undeserving of honor’s protections. Moreover, even the most honorable clans have a few rogue commanders who seek victory by whatever means necessary, claiming they are motivated by duty. A common trick is to issue verbal orders for horrific actions and then later disavow any knowledge of subordinates’ disgraceful actions.
Deception is a near-universal tactic, utilized by even paragons of Bushido such as the Lion. However, certain types of deceptions are never used by honorable clans. For example, lying in one’s battlefield declarations and heraldry is considered altogether loathsome by the Lion Clan, who are mindful that Bushido requires a samurai to “own every word he speaks.” Other samurai have been known to use such tactics, however; for example, recounting a false lineage that serves to cow an opponent with the weight of history. Manipulation of heraldry is rare but also sometimes used, since a commander who shifts the banners and symbols of his units can trick his enemy into a fatal misstep.
Unchecked or deliberately ruthless destruction of lands and holdings is sometimes considered to cross the line into dishonorable or forbidden action, especially among the more compassionate clans such as the Crane or Unicorn. In its most extreme cases this can become a deliberate effort to render a land completely unusable to the enemy, crippling the production of goods and services by destroying mines and sake works, killing skilled artisans and craftsmen, and burning and wrecking houses, family shrines, watch posts, and castles. (Such tactics are rare but not wholly unknown, and have even been used in defense – during the Hidden Emperor era, for example, Daidoji Uji wrecked and salted the farmlands conquered by the Mantis in order to deny the invaders the crops.) At its most extreme, this approach can even lead to wholesale extermination of the enemy samurai population. Destroying major castles or other such ancient structures is considered especially heinous to most Rokugani because it represents an annihilation of history and tradition. In this regard, an especially damning action is the destruction of ancient texts, records of lineage, and other such written documents that detail the defeated side’s history and traditions. Few leaders are willing to allow such a travesty. This act becomes especially shameful in the twelfth century after the War Against the Darkness, in which the ancient Shadow sought to destroy humanity’s past with this very tactic.
Looting the field of battle is an action so shameful that even ronin must avoid notice when doing it. Still, a pragmatic commander may choose to turn a blind eye to such an act, especially if the war is a desperate one and every resource is needed. Normally, enemy daisho, banners, and other items of prominence are either exchanged after the conflict – an act of courtesy between samurai, so that the fallen are properly respected and their legacy passed on to their family – or kept as trophies, publicly displayed and admired. The latter option is especially popular for banners, and most great Rokugani castles have displays of enemy banners captured over the centuries. However, vindictive or ruthless generals have been known to order the destruction of all such items, either to deny resources to the enemy or to inflict humiliation.
Desecration of bodies (aside from the tradition of taking heads) is considered truly despicable, but more than one enraged samurai has stooped to such actions, hacking apart or otherwise shaming the corpses of his foes. It may be noted, finally, that Rokugani do not consider it proper to take other samurai as prisoners (except for shugenja, whose rarity makes them precious resources). Capturing a samurai is denying him the chance to die with honor, and any action which emphasizes his captivity is a further humiliation that shames both the prisoner and the captor. Even the Scorpion do not engage in such actions openly (although they have sometimes secretly captured enemy samurai for a variety of purposes). However, the infamous Hantei XVI violated this principle more than once, and a few especially heinous generals, ronin leaders, and bandit chiefs have been known to commit such violations. For example, a fifth-century ronin leader called Batan was able to win several battles by taking prisoners, roping them together, and using them as human shields against enemy archery fire.