Tsurukoku is a strictly feudal society that follows a caste system. Noble landowners, known as daimyō, act as landlords for farmers (the largest segment of the population) who produce rice, wheat and livestock. Artisans, who produce weapons, armor and everyday items, are considered lower in the caste system than farmers, and merchants are the lowest of all.
There is an “untouchable” caste considered lower than the merchants. These people are usually tainted in some manner, often by dealing with the dead.
A small segment of “casteless” people, such as Shintō shinkan and Darumist monks, enjoys the freedom associated with being outside of the caste system, but they also lack the societal guarantees it provides.
Tsurukoku is a nation of 12 million people, with an average population density of 34 people per square mile. The Tsurukokans are an extremely homogenous people, with minority ethnic groups representing only 1% of the total population.
The vast majority of humans are descended from the people known as Tsurukokujin. This group originated in the western lands along the sea and spread east as the population grew. Tsurukokujin have dark hair, which ranges from brown to black, dark eyes, which have the same tonal range, and skin that ranges from dark to light. They have rounded faces, almond-shaped eyes and are of a generally slim build.
Tsurukokujin peasants generally wear brown or grey robes made of washi, a thick, cloth-like paper, and sandals made of woven straw. Wealthier Tsurokokujin wear colorful silk robes known as kimono, and wooden sandals knows as geta.
The foreign nation of Xin is regarded as an enemy of Tsurukoku, but a small number of Xin merchants, scholars and adventurers do live within its borders.
The Xin typically have darker skin and longer faces than Tsurukokujin. Xin peasants wear shirts and pants made from inexpensive, woven cloth, and straw sandals. Xin nobles wear belted robes lined with silk and leather slippers.
Two classes of nobles hold sway in Tsurukoku: kuge, aristocrats who serve in the Mikado’s court, and daimyō, warlords who swear fealty to the shogun.
This group of nobles is comprised of men and women whose families ascended to power when the imperial court ruled Tsurukoku. While they were once the most wealthy and influential class of nobles, the past seven centuries of military rule have left them without much political power.
Though their political influence has waned, their position in the Mikado’s court has enabled them to maintain a significant cultural influence.
Under the shogun, warlords known as daimyō govern areas of land known as han. The daimyō act as landlords for farmers, merchants and artisans, and it is through the labor of their people that they become wealthy.
A daimyō’s wealth, and thus power, is measured in the amount of rice that his land is able to produce: a koku is the amount of rice necessary to feed one man for a year. Only those nobles who have an income of over 10,000 koku are considered to be daimyō. There are over one hundred daimyō in Tsurukoku.
Daimyō employ armies of samurai to protect their lands and, occasionally, to seize the lands of others. In times of trouble, daimyo are also required to provide troops to the shogun’s army.
Those nobles who swear fealty to the shogun, but whose income is less than 10,000 koku are known as hatamoto. Like the daimyō, the roughly ten-thousand hatamoto govern han and act as landlords for farmers, merchants, and artisans. Unlike the daimyō, hatamoto are not required to field armies or supply the shogun with troops.
While the hatamoto nominally serve the shogun, most hatamoto ally themselves with powerful daimyō. In exchange for protection, the hatamoto will often contribute troops to the daimyō’s army and pay tribute.
Beneath the hatamoto are the gokenin. These members of the samurai class have an income of less than 500 koku per year and are not direct vassals of the shogun. Instead, they serve as subordinates to daimyō and wealthy hatamoto.
Life as a peasant is not easy, and the typical Tsurukokan experiences enough hardship toiling in the fields, laboring in the forge, or traversing the Mikado’s highways peddling wares to advance in level during his life.
Some peasants, such as a wife of a wealthy merchant, lead less stressful lives, and therefore advance at a slower rate. Others, however, lead much more dangerous lives, such as farmers in areas populated by fearsome creatures.
From samurai, to ninja, to onmyōji, to monks, Tsurukokans from all walks of life take up the mantle of the adventurer. Some adventure to advance the cause of their clans, while others are more concerned about achieving enlightenment. Some adventure to amass wealth and power, while others seek retribution and vengeance. Some seek the answers to mystical questions, while others simply want to see the world.
Whatever the reason, Tsurukoku has a rich history of adventure. People from all segments of society wander the land, engaging in duels, fighting the forces of Yomi and bringing honor and glory to those to whom they owe their allegiance.
Considered the final step in a student’s training, the musha shugyō, or “warrior’s pilgrimage,” is a Tsurukokan tradition whereby young warriors leave their families and monasteries and travel the land, fighting in duels to hone their skills and promote the names of their martial schools or fighting styles.
While this tradition began with young samurai, adventurers of all types now embark on the musha shugyō. Around age 15, monks, ninja, yamamori and even shugenja leave their masters to hone their skills or die with honor.