Several of the rules and classes use Honor as a new mechanic or game-rule. Using Honor in this way has a variety of benefits. In terms of roleplaying, it provides a useful scale to measure a samurai standing in the eyes of his peers. Those who possess Honor may rightly expect samurai of equal or lesser Honor to treat them respectfully. Mechanically, several class archetypes presented in this book possess class abilities related to Honor. Beyond this, certain feats and traits take advantage of an Honor score. Those who choose to use samurai characters are encouraged to understand Honor, from the samurai point of view, and heavily use it as a game concept, to better portray the nature of the samurai character.
The term samurai is derived from a verb meaning “to serve,” and the samurai code of personal honor is centered on the concept of serving. The samurai code of conduct, bushido, or the way of the warrior, has four primary virtues.
- Loyalty to king or emperor
- Loyalty to nation
- Loyalty to daimyo (or, in the case of ronin, to community)
- Loyalty to oneself
As samurai remain true to these ideals, performing acts of daring or duty for others, they rise in honor. As they act selfishly or cowardly, they lose honor. A samurai devoted to bushido would sooner die than be shamed and dishonored. Even ronin, those samurai who turn away from serving a particular nobleman, frequently seek out communities which they can serve, thus maintaining their honor. Samurai with no honor are considered less than dogs by their peers. Likewise, though two samurai may be sworn enemies, so long as their foe is honorable, they treat one another respectfully, even in the midst of death and combat.
Shame and honor are primarily samurai concepts. Commoners are too busy trying to scratch out a living to care about such things. The hinin [i.e. unclean] caste, excepting perhaps the yakuza who teach loyalty to the gang-family, generally consider such high minded ideals foolish. The nobles encourage bushido in the samurai, but, as the ones being served, often feel no obligation to practice it themselves. Some hengeyokai, the badgers and dogs in particular, may practice something akin to bushido, but never as strictly as the samurai. Thus for a character to have an Honor score, he must first belong to a samurai clan (either through birth or adoption) or be a part of the buke caste. GMs may allow some exceptions to this rule, but a character who does not belong to the samurai must conscientiously and actively pursue bushido.
Honor is determined by a numerical score, with 0 being the lowest. A character’s Honor can never be a number more than half his character level, unless the character has an ability that says otherwise. The only exception to this is 1st level characters who may normally possess an Honor of 1. The primary way to gain Honor is to fight and defeat a challenge in service to another. The challenge defeated must be at least 1 CR above a character’s level. Though it is never necessary for a character to defeat this challenge alone, he must contribute significantly to the cause. The one being served must have either requested the action or benefit significantly from the action. Thus a character that fights a powerful oni for the fun of it earns no Honor. But the character sent by either a daimyo or a community to fight the oni would gain 1 Honor if successful. Honor is always gained 1 point at a time. Alternatively, it is possible to earn Honor by making an extreme sacrifice for another, either monetarily or of one’s time. Monetary sacrifices to gain Honor require an amount of gp equal to 1,000 x the character’s level squared. Sufficient sacrifices of time are measured in months per character level. Characters lose Honor by failing a challenge in which the CR is lower than the character’s level or by running from a challenge in which the CR is equal to their character level. GMs may also choose to have characters lose Honor through actions which defy the orders of their superiors, or which bring harm to their lord. Honor should never be decreased more than a single point through any one action.