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Sengoku: Diary Of A Nobutoki #2

Meet Mr Tea

“Security is to surround oneself with friends and then to surround those friends with heavily armed men willing to commit brutal acts for a mere pittance, or preferably because they are also surrounded by heavily armed men who are glowering and sharpening their swords with purpose and intent. Diplomacy is to be history’s forgotten man, so obscure in your actions that your enemies do not know you are a danger until you strike. Honour is to present a smiling face to the world but, at night when alone, to weep for all the blood that must be spilled. This is the path of conquest. This is my path."

Nanbu Nobutoki, 1470

Previously on Diary of a Nobutoki is here. Not so much a recap as an introduction. The action in this, my first game of Sengoku, begins here. However, before Nobutoki unifies the northern clans, I’ve got some housekeeping to do. Although I aim to be the Shogun, the one ruler of Japan, I cannot rise to that position alone. I’ll need warriors to grind my enemies into submission and I’ll need farmers to feed those warriors. More close to home, I’ll need three Masters, members of my court who will handle the finer details of management and recruitment. I’ll probably need a marriage counsellor as well, but more on my continuing discomfort in that area later.

These Masters then. They’re all tied to one of the three main character attributes, so one way of understanding what they do is to label them the Diplomat, the General and the Intriguist. That’s the boring way though, the way that ignores the historical culture the game is trying to capture. So let’s give them their official titles: The Master of Ceremonies, the Master of Arms and the Master of the Guard.

The Master of Ceremonies can upgrade villages, which makes them more productive and stable. He also drinks a lot of tea and, in my mind at least, he makes a damn fine brew of his own as well. I actually think of him as Mr Tea, sipping and schmoozing with other clans, impressing them with his excellent palate and knowledge of obscure blends. I understand that the tea ceremony is long and complex, but my Master of Ceremonies doesn’t necessarily go in for that. He’s just exceedingly dignified.

So that’s established. Tea is how I’ll make friends and influence people. So far, so much like 21st Century Britain.

surveying all that is mine; my own castle

My Master of Arms will oversee the construction and upgrading of castles, which I’ll probably need loads of because we’re a small clan with big ambitions. The kind of big ambitions that are going to make us very unpopular. Especially because I’m already planning to poison most of the tea. Actually, scratch that, it’s not an option and it’d be cowardly anyway. If I’m going to unite the clans, I’ll do it honourably. I’ll still need lots of castles though. After all, being small and honourable will make me a very easy target indeed.

Oh, bugger it. I’m not going to be honourable at all, am I? Sure, I’ll present an honourable surface to the world – a sort of teflonour – but I’m going to be using every unpleasant trick in the book to chop the clans into messes before I unite them. I’m not going to be merging the clans so much as stitching their dismembered remnants together to create a whimpering parody of a nation state. And that’s largely because of the last appointed member of my inner circle, the Master of the Guard.

I know what you’re probably thinking. He’s there to guard me, to protect me from the evil done by others. Well, that's true. Kind of. As I see it though, the best form of guarding is garrotting, or any other form of alliterative murder. The best form of defence is defenestration, perhaps? But this isn’t Prague. It’s the northeastern tip of Honshu and I think most of my buildings are only one storey tall. So garrotting it shall be, once the Master of the Guard has found some ninja for me to hire. That’s what he does, you see. Hires ninja clans. They’re hiding out in the woods, roaming the land, and with his intrigue, the Master of the Guard seeks them out and pays them to do the clan’s dirty work.

The best thing about ninja is that once they’ve slit an enemy’s throat, they become one with the night, vanishing, untraceable, so no one can pin the unpleasantness on the person who hired them. Which will be me.

one of them is rubbish. look at the numbers. work it out.

"Shuriken don't kill people, ninja do."

Nambu Nobutoki, 1470

After checking the statistics of all my courtiers, I choose three to take on those roles. The only criteria are that they have a high rating in the stat linked to the particular Masterdom I’m assigning them to and that they seem trustworthy. The only difficulty might be if I had courtiers who excelled in several areas, making it hard to decide which of the three jobs was the most important. Thankfully, the three men I’ve picked for the highest ranked positions in the clan are at least vaguely good at what they do and not even jack at anything else. They’re idiot savants. One of whom is now an idiot savant roaming the countryside looking for some ninjas to hire. I’m assuming they live in trees. I don’t know why, but it seems fitting, so I’ll equip the Master of the Guard with a large butterfly net to catch them in. I imagine they perch.

While the ninja-hunt is on, my villages are being improved with the addition of inns and marketplaces while the border with my hated neighbours is fortified with castles. That way, if the worst happens and war breaks out before my plots have caused their land to mysteriously become my land I’ll be well defended. It looks like all the clans to my south (which is to say ALL the clans in Japan) are mobilising thousands of warriors, which then march back and forth in their own territory. Just in case this is ceremonial or traditional, I immediately raise armies of my own and have them march back and forth as well. I instantly feel twice as honourable and half as rich.

tiny dots are armies; they're a lot more frightening up close

Fortunately, money is trickling in from my fancy villages. I get the impression I’m probably upgrading them a little too much but then I quite like the idea of having the prettiest villages in Japan. Maybe we’ll win some kind of award for our well-kept cherry blossom avenues, bonsai gardens and other effectively maintained cultural stereotypes. Those things aren’t really being built, by the way. It really is inns and marketplaces. But they are almost definitely surrounded by cherry blossoms and bonsai gardens.

The outside world is ignoring me though. Nobody has so much as looked in my direction as far as I can tell. It might be because, despite all the upgrades, my lands are undesirable. Not a month goes by without one settlement or another being hit by a drought. I could leave my people to suffer through these terrible times but I always pay to send aid and alleviate the harm. I bet they love me. They almost definitely do. The swankiest villages in the known world AND a drink of fresh water at least once every three weeks. If there were any justice, every peasant in the land would be revolting against his lord to ask for better treatment. I should start dropping flyers in neighbouring territories – “Demand Better, Demand Nanbu”.

I should probably send my Master of Ceremonies to drink tea with my biggest neighbours to the south. Make sure we can stay friends while I take out the smaller clans around me. I don’t think they’re going to start any trouble with me just yet but I really don’t want them expanding into the territories I’ve already got my eyes on. The problem with starting in a coastal corner is that it’s very easy to become boxed in so I’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Just as I’m planning to initiate diplomacy though, something rather distracting happens. My son and heir dies. The worst part of it is, I have to click on his character tab, now marked with a skull, just to check how old he was. I didn’t even know his name. I’d just assumed he’d become an adolescent and then I’d start shaping him to rule after me. But now he’s gone. His name was Nobuyoshi. He was seven years old.

Totally lacking in ruth

“Judge a man by the company he keeps and you will know his heart. The man who spends his time with zen masters is a man who craves understanding, the man who spends his time with warriors is a man who craves power and the man who spends his time with Chacha is a man who craves Seppuku.”

Nanbu Nobutaki, June 1471

I’ve only been grieving for a matter of days when Chacha gives birth to a new son. Handy that. If you didn’t read the introduction to this diary, you won’t know about Chacha. She’s my wife and she hates me. She actually has a character trait, Underhanded Rogue, and I just noticed something disturbing about that. Disturbing beyond the fact that she’s an Underhanded Rogue. The trait gives her +30% fertility. Now I may be jumping to conclusions here, but that kind of suggests this son might not have his father’s eyes, if you catch my drift. He’s the new heir, sure, but he also looks a lot like the ornamental pond cleaning guy.

The Ando clan, who are second on my list of people to overthrow, just sent me a message. Essentially it means they want to be friends. Or at least as close to friendship as we’re ever going to get. Here’s how friendship works.

Do you have a child or sibling that you love dearly? Me too! Why don’t you send me your brother and I’ll send you one of my sons. Now we’re friends! Me and your brother will hang out together, he’ll get to see a lot of the inside of my castle because he’s really not leaving it anytime soon, and if you do anything that annoys me even one little bit then I’ll smash his brains out, cut off a few recognisable bits of his body and face, then have one of my messengers deliver them to you. You’ll probably throw my son in a fire sometime around then and that’s the point when the friendship ends.

Family members are diplomatic currency in Sengoku rather than being repositories for compatible organs and blood like in the real world. Maybe it’s a good thing Chacha’s sleeping with half the staff then. At least it’ll give me a steady source of hostages to exchange. The children really are our future.

So I pack my only son and heir off to live with the Ando clan, receiving one of their lord’s many children in return. Apparently this makes me ruthless and Nobutaki develops that trait. It’s only a five year deal so I’m hoping when the little bastard comes back he’ll have toughened up. Nothing like spending your infancy as a hostage to put some hairs on your chest.

perched, as I knew he would be

“There are men who live in the shadows of the night and there are men who live in the light of the day. To rule, a man must control both day and night, stepping between these two worlds whenever it is required. It’s basically a case of sometimes making time for a power nap in the afternoon.”

Nanbu Nobutoki, October 1472

My first ninja! They’re bloody good as well, scoring a nine in general ninjenuity. But there’s another stat as well and that’s a three. It’s stealth. I thought stealth was the main part of BEING a ninja? Oh well. I guess they’re good at doing the ninja things but not very good at getting away afterwards. And presumably they’re going to be shouting my name the whole time they’re trying to escape, or carrying a massive great scroll with my signature on it beneath the words “Kill them all, especially the children, but keep my name out of it”.

This is a serious problem. I’m not ready to be linked to the assassination of a clan leader but I do want these ninja doing something. After all, what’s the point in having them around if they just perch in the back garden all day trying and failing to look inconspicuous?

My eventual plan is so shameful that it’s hard to share. I’ve got these trained killers and masters of the shadow arts lurking around the place and I send them deep into my rival’s territory to…wait for it…lower his honour rating. I can only imagine they’re walking around his court, whistling nonchalantly, and occasionally stopping to tell random passersby that “I hear Lord Namioka is frightened of hawthorn bushes and his calligraphy skills are mediocre at best” or “Lord Namioka is grossly flatulent, particularly when aroused”.

Pathetic as this is, if the Ando clan hear rumours about Namioka’s dishonourable parping they might be less inclined to frown at me if I murder him and his entire bloodline. It’s worth a shot. I just have to hope my clumsy ninja don’t get rumbled and spill the beans about the source of these vile lies.

A clan's eye view of all that's left to conquer

"People never expect the Nanbu, mostly because people don't know we exist."

Nanbu Nobutaki, November 1472

They didn’t get caught, so that’s good. But they also failed completely and vanished with my money. I guess no one believed them. My Master of Guard is looking for another ninja clan to continue my smear campaign and in the meantime, I’m sending the Master of Ceremonies to get chummy with the Kasai. I’d quite like to be on good terms with them. I briefly considered sending them a hostage but realised I don’t have any relations that I can part with. The solution is to hire six studly gardeners and leave Chacha alone with them all day while I drown my sorrows in one of the fourteen thousand inns that have popped up over the last year.

It's happening!

"Battle is dehumanising, painful and dangerous. The faces of the dead are never forgotten and the stench of spilled entrails is quite memorable as well. Really unpleasant. That's why I mostly draw arrows on maps and leave the nitty gritty to my loyal followers. Good people."

Nanbu Nobutaki, December 1475

There’s been good news and bad news. The good news is that the tea-drinking with the Kasai was just swell. They think I’m great and I don’t have to worry about them burning down my lovely villages. Unfortunately, everybody else does have to worry about them burning down their not-quite-as-lovely villages. The Kasai are raging, warmongering brutes. Remember my friends the Ando, the ones who are holding my only child as a hostage? The Kasai are tearing them to bits.

It gets worse.

Before the Kasai started attacking from the south, the Ando launched their own attack to the north, trying to take the land I’ve already planned to cover in model villages. My hand was forced. As soon as the Kasai attacked from the north, the Ando’s armies were all pulled back to deal with that threat. I was poised and so were four and a half thousand troops. We marched, we cut down 800 men who stood before us and we laid siege to Lord Namioka’s castle. They’ve got eight months of food left, then I’ll have a castle full of emaciated corpses to call my own.

except with more screaming peasants and piles of corpses

"When the battle is won, it is time for tea. And marriage."

Nanbu Nobutaki, August 1476

I am the Daimyo. Or a Daimyo. I thought it would feel good but it doesn’t. While I was laying siege the Ando ceased to exist. Not in any sort of peaceful or transcendental fashion. They ceased to exist in as much as they were all murderised by the Kasai who seem happy to carve their way to the north coast. That’s worrying because I’m the only thing between them and the north coast.

Well, me and my revolting peasants. All the original Nanbu territories are as happy as can be. They should be; I’ve spent a fortune on them. My new lands are miserable though. So miserable, in fact, that I don’t actually want them anymore. It’s a lot of responsibility and they’re very demanding. Do I actually want more territory? Things were so nice back when it was just me and Chacha, glaring at each other, ignoring our children so hard that they died from lack of love.

Now things are complicated. I think I’m going to grant a title to a member of my court, let them share the burden of leadership and raise my own honour rating. And I’m definitely going to find a new wife. Those studly gardeners worked out though. I’ve got three children now, two of them boys.

Before anything else, I’ll have to calm things down though, stop the rioting. I’ll probably build some inns.

wise words. can you name the film?

“There is no problem so complex that it cannot be solved by liberal application of saké.”

Nambu Nobutaki, 1476

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About the Author

Adam Smith

Former Deputy Editor

Adam wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun between 2011-2018, rising through the ranks to become its Deputy Editor. He now works at Larian Studios on Baldur's Gate 3.