Yakohama - The Sunrise Mountain Realm (TBZ)
Tenra Bansho Zero Setting Primer
The world is an Earth-like planet named Tenra which was colonised by humans several millennia ago. In that time, the colonists have forgotten almost all their technology and all their history aside from the fact that they originally came from the stars. Tenra has a monoculture and a single shared language – it’s Japan and Japanese, basically – thanks to the machinations of the Shinto Priesthood. Whether naturally or because of terraforming, Tenra is remarkably earthlike in geography and weather, and Earthlike plants and animals are present – there are rice farmers and goat herders, for example. There are a few notable native lifeforms: annelids, which are a hundred-odd species of parasitic insects and worms; the Oni, the planet’s original sapient lifeform who are very humanlike aside from their horns and Jedi powers; and the ‘spirits’ which inhabit the wildernesses of Tenra. These range from godlike entities down to tiny demons.
Geographically, the populated areas of Tenra consist of four continents and a few outlying islands. These continents are divided up into geographical regions called provinces and these provinces are further divided into kingdoms called domains. Provinces themselves do not have rulers, nor are there confederations of domains. Each domain has an autocratic ruler called a regent who is given approval by the Shinto priesthood – these tend to be dynasties very much like medieval kingdoms. Each continent has roughly the same climate and weather patterns, and similar native flora and fauna.
Tenra is a world dominated by the controlling Shinto Priesthood. They alone have access to space-age level technologies which they usually present as magic, and keep records of the true history of the world. They control the world through technological superiority and clever scheming – they dripfeed advanced technologies to regents to exert control over them and anyone who rocks the boat quickly finds dozens of new enemies popping up to take advantage of the Priesthoods’ displeasure, with new advanced weapons in tow. The Priesthood have set up the current system of provinces and regent-led domains. They carefully balance the scales of power to prevent any one domain from growing too strong or too weak. Tenra technically has an “Emperor/Empress” which is simply a high-ranking member of the Priesthood, but until very recently their identity was kept secret and they never really did anything.
In previous centuries, Tenra was a peaceful land with war between domains forbidden by the Shinto Priesthood but for reasons unknown they waived this restriction 400 years ago and began subtly encouraging conflict. In true Crusader Kings 2 style, Tenra exploded into thousands of wars of varying intensities and has remained in a state of constant turmoil ever since. Alliances between domains form, shift and break all the time and no region remains completely at peace for long. Most wars are inherently local, however, due to the limitations of technology and the machinations of the Priesthood. Most provinces war within themselves.
Politically, provinces do not exist as an entity – they are simply convenient geographic boundaries denoting separate regions of each continent. Due to these boundaries, however, most politics tends to be restricted to the domains within provinces. Within a domain, life exists invariably under the feudal system. A regent parcels out his land and power to noble vassal lords who rule their fiefs in the name of their regent. The exact power disparity between the vassal lords and their regent varies wildly from domain to domain and intradomain wars are not infrequent. However, simply conquering the land by force of arms does not make one the regent – a victorious lord would have to contact the Priesthood and ask for their blessing.
The rest of society is a vaguely caste-based feudal system much like medieval Japan – peasants, skilled craftsmen, warriors, nobility. Aside from warriors being generally more valued, a person’s birth status is much less relevant than their actual power and kekness, outside the inheritance of noble titles.
Each domain has at least one large town or city, but most people live in small towns or farming villages. Much of Tenra is wilderness which varies from pleasant countryside to totally untamed, monster-infested ancient forests. There is very little in the way of urbanisation. Travel is highly restricted, and dangerous, although the Priesthood has ensured that there is an extensive network of well-maintained highways crossing the continents. Border patrols and checkpoints are frequent, bandits and monsters are rife and people are suspicious of outsiders. All vassal lords have some sort of fortification, and wealthy domains tend to cultivate large castles.
The Oni are a special case – they are seen by most people as savage monsters and by domain rulers as sources of wealth so they have been hunted almost to extinction. There’s a very Native American vibe to the persecution of the Oni and they tend to live in isolated villages in remote locations. However, one or two domains have given an amnesty to Oni and include them as citizens. Additionally, there was a bit of an Oni jihad a few years ago and now there’s an autonomous Oni domain in the northeast of the central continent operating with the tacit blessing of the Priesthood – with all of its neighbours gearing up to annihilate it.
The most important event in recent memory was the Fall of Jinrai and the splintering of the Priesthood. The Priesthood used to have its main headquarters at a place called Mount Jinrai in a prosperous domain on the central continent. Jinrai had a space elevator stretching up to one of the Priesthood’s secret orbital installations. There was an enormous disaster with the space elevator which the outside world remembers as a mysterious object called the Phantom Star falling from the heavens. Mount Jinrai was totally annihilated along with the entire kingdom and tens of millions of people. There was a two month long permanent night globally, all technology stopped working for the duration and there were a whole bunch of opportunistic wars as well as the Makuu Nindo Revolt (the aforementioned Oni jihad). Where once there used to be the Priesthood’s capital and the most prosperous kingdom in the planet, there is now a new sea. The Priesthood went dark for these months, not communicating with anyone and not being involved with the affairs of Tenra.
After this, the Priesthood publically schismed. The Southern Court of the Priesthood announced their return in the nation of Hinnomori, renamed it New Jinrai and rebuilt an enormous temple-fortress there. They refer to themselves only as ‘The Priesthood’, revere the pre-Fall Emperor Washin and have continued their previous policies of shadow rulership and withholding technology.
The big change came from the announcement of the Northern Court of the Priesthood, when they built a 30km2 floating city as their new capital and for the first time introduced their Empress to the world without a mask, instead of hiding her away. More importantly, they announced an end to the old, secretive Priesthood and began to release their advanced technologies to the masses. This changed the entire world radically. Both Priesthoods are at war and domains have to decide which Priesthood to acknowledge, or to be ballsy and attempt to play them off against each other for more power. This has only escalated the perpetual war on Tenra and added yet another dimension to it. Plus, with the new technologies becoming more widespread, wars are deadlier than ever.
The world remains stuck at medieval Japanese level for almost all purposes. There is no advanced medicine, no running water, no steam power or electricity, no chemistry and no advanced metallurgy. The common people do not have access to long distance communications or rapid travel. The Priesthood have access to all of this and occasionally allow people to benefit from it – the people of a village might ask their local shrine maiden what the Kami think the weather will be like this season, and she might check with the weather prediction satellites, for example. The only exception to this is technologies to do with war. For some reason the Priesthood are happy to release these to regents around the world.
On the battlefield, gunpowder weapons are becoming increasingly common, with many domains replacing the spears of their conscripted ashigaru with gunpowder rifles, cannons and heavy machineguns. Metallurgy and architecture for war purposes are more advanced, with good steel, concrete and machining being relatively commonplace. Body armour is practically non-existent, being totally useless for protecting oneself against rifles and advanced melee weapons.
Much of the advanced technology of Tenra relies on something called sha energy. Sha is the name given to an invisible energy field which permeates the whole planet and gives rise to the natural abilities of the Oni and the planet’s other native life. Sha can be manipulated directly with the disciplines of Taoist sorcery and Buddhist magic, but also forms the basis of much technology which uses it as an energy source – generally in the form of sha-infused batteries called soulgems or power sources called heart engines.
Historically, four pieces of advanced technology have held great importance to Tenra: the meikyo mirror, scarlet steel, soulgems and heart engines. Meikyo mirrors are insanely valuable, uncopiable electronic devices bestowed very, very rarely to regents who have pleased the Priesthood (like half a dozen or so a year, worldwide.) With proper training and a VR headset, someone can suck their soul out and project it into the mirror, entering a kind of cyberspace which the Priesthood and the regents use for instantaneous long-distance communication. The Priesthood have a network of meikyo mirrors in shrines worldwide and in the hands of their travelling agents which they use to keep informed of the global situation. More important than this communication, however, is the fact that a Taoist sorcerer can use a meikyo mirror to build Yori Armours and Kongohki, immensely powerful bespoke war-machines which can fight off whole divisions of scrubs by themselves. Armours are passed down from generation to generation within noble families, thousands of lives are sacrificed to reclaim meikyo mirrors from wrecked Armours and much intrigue is had in the pursuit of more of them. Armours are so expensive that even the wealthiest domains will have a dozen or so at most.
Recently, the Northern Court released information on how to make meikyo mirrors to the public. These non-Priesthood mirrors, although mass-producible, are not the same thing as Priesthood issued meikyos. They are more like portable computing devices which can be used as calculating devices or as the basis for inferior, mass-produced Yoroi and Kongohki. A hundred giant robots powered by these ‘kimen’ mirrors are still better than not having any giant robots, however, and simple economic power and industrial capacity can produce them instead of kowtowing to the Priesthood. Additionally, kimen mirrors are starting to see use as calculating devices for other purposes.
Scarlet steel and soulgems are rare and valuable commodities mined out of the ground on Tenra. Scarlet steel is basically mithril – it’s stronger and lighter than any other metal and forms the basis for Armours, Kongohki and the most expensive swords. Soulgems can be mined out of the ground or refined from scarlet steel with the help of magic, and are small spherical gems which can be used as batteries for sha energy. Particularly dangerous melee weapons can be made by combusting soulgems and using them as steel beam melting jet fuel for more powerful swings – or they can be used as ammunition for particularly dangerous ranged weapons. Alternatively, implanting soulgems in a human allows them to use dangerous supernatural powers.
Heart engines are, unbeknownst to the vast majority of people on Tenra who think they are made by the Priesthood, the actual literal hearts of the Oni people which are ripped out and placed in a scarlet steel container to be used as an infinite power source for advanced technology like Armours. Heart engines are rare and incredibly expensive, but infinitely reusable if they are not damaged. They do not produce heat or sound as waste byproducts, do not fluctuate and last forever.
Aside from giant robots and meikyo mirrors, the other main advanced technology on Tenra is Kijin mechanica – cybernetic enhancements surgically installed in human beings. These are permanent and obvious, so are generally used to revive people who would otherwise have died of grievous wounds. It is becoming an increasingly common practice to recover the bodies of the best soldiers, give them extensive Kijin augmentation and send them back into battle as elite warriors.