The Way of the Magistrate, by Scott Gearin (in Imperial Herald)

Few other positions in the Emerald Empire so clearly reveal the complexity of politics as that of Magistrate. There are in fact too distinct types of Magistrates: the Imperial Magistrates and the Clan Magistrates. Each follows a separate (if similar) hierarchy while acting to uphold the law and to enforce the will of their lord. The situation is made more complicated by fact that while there are several Magistrate schools, service as a Magistrate is by appointment and samurai of any school may find themselves called upon to serve their lord (or the Emperor) in this way. Clan Magistrates are selected by a family daimyo or the Clan daimyo. Imperial Magistrates are chosen by the Emperor himself. Occasionally the Emerald Champion will "recommend" someone for a particular place in the Emperor's service.

The roles of Clan Magistrates tend to be narrowly defined and fairly consistent from Clan to Clan. Magistrates of higher rank (by birth or experience) serve as the judges, either in a specific region or city or wandering their lord's lands. They report to the daimyo's karo and are answerable to the karo and the daimyo. Lower ranking Magistrates are known as yoriki, or aides, to a more powerful Magistrate. These are the vassals of the Magistrates, and actually enforce the laws rather than sitting in judgment. Yoriki are hired by the Magistrate directly, and after a period of testing may be asked to swear fealty by the Magistrate. Clan Magistrates are almost always a member of that daimyo's Clan, but yoriki may be from any Clan dependent on the skills of the yoriki and the tastes of the individual Magistrate. It is not at all uncommon for a Crab Magistrate to attract a Scorpion yoriki to help him ferret out black market activity in his city or for a Lion Magistrate to hire a Phoenix yoriki to watch for maho amongst his peasants.

Imperial Magistrates are the enforcers of the Emperor's Law. Headed by the Emerald Champion, the Imperial Magistrates form a complex web of political favors and family politics. Like Clan Magistrates, Imperial Magistrates receive their post by appointment. Traditionally Imperial Magistrates are chosen only from the Seven Clans by the Emperor. Exceptions have been made for ronin of exceptional merit, or when the Emperor has wished to send a particularly pointed message of displeasure to the Clans. After he has chosen someone to join his service, the Emerald Champion determines the function each Magistrate will perform. Only a fraction of the Imperial Magistrates hear cases and decide upon punishment. Those that do are immensely powerful, determining the sentences of those brought before them. These Magistrates are often assigned territories: an entire Clan's lands, a family's, a single province or a city being the most common. This role is parallel to that performed by the daimyo's judges, but Imperial Magistrates hear crimes which occur between two Clans, or crimes which cover the territory of more than one Clan. Many more act as agents for the Emperor, gathering information on the state of the realm and acting directly to quell unrest. Others are assigned as aides or bodyguards (and discretely as spies) to persons in the Emperor's favor (or suspicion). The Imperial Magistrates are also charged with the protection of the Emperor's roads and the legitimate travelers there on. This last task requires enormous manpower.

As these appointments are made by the Emperor personally, who also has a hand in their assignment, the Imperial Magistrates are undoubtedly the Emperor's most powerful tool towards controlling the Clans. In a single stroke the Emperor can remove a threat by appointing a samurai to his service (refusal is nearly impossible) and then seeing to it that the samurai is dispatched to an area where he has no power-base, no friends, and is likely to stymie another opponent. Magistrates can be dispatched both publicly and covertly to watch troublemakers and provide a constant reminder that the Emperor is watching. The appointment also carries a large element of prestige, making it a useful tool in rewarding samurai who have promoted the interests of the Emperor. The Seven Clans put great stock in the Imperial Magistrates, and in seeing that the members of their Clan are appointed. Controlling a large number of posts in the service is an important part of the inter-Clan jockeying for position.

The position of the Emerald Champion is also filled by a member of the Seven Clans. When the previous Emerald Champion retires or dies a grand tournament is held to select a new Champion. The format is one used for many tournaments in the empire. A series of written and verbal tests weed out those who lack the minimal legal expertise to serve as the chief Magistrate of the Empire. Those who remain then perform a series of iaijutsu duels to determine the individual most fit to serve as the Emperor's hand. This process is presided over by the Emperor. One of the signs of the true power of the Clans over the Emperor rest in the fact that the Emerald Champion retains his names, both family and personal. He serves the Emperor but there is no implication that he is severed from his family or Clan.

In Imperial service the younger, more active Magistrates wander the empire dispensing justice where needed. These Magistrates are often present for annual festivals and gatherings, oversee the conduct of duels, and are given charge of the roads of the Empire. They share the powers of the judge Magistrates on a more immediate level. Both judges and traveling Magistrates in the Imperial service must remain cordial with the lord(s) of their districts, but are only answerable to higher-ranking Magistrates and ultimately to the Emperor. Imperial Magistrates also retain yoriki, though somewhat less often and fewer than the Clan Magistrates. This is primarily because the duties of the Imperial Magistrate are so much more changeable.

Yoriki are employees or vassals of a particular Magistrate and act as investigators and police chiefs for their lord. They gather individuals who have relevant testimony, record that testimony, and otherwise prepare the case for speedy consideration by their master. Yoriki also handle prisoners and conduct questioning which ranges from polite inquiry to outright torture. Yoriki do not share in the protection from the local daimyo that their superiors posses and must walk a fine line in the performance of their duties. The yoriki have considerable autonomy and are far more numerous than Magistrates, with over a hundred serving some powerful Magistrates. The yoriki also direct and oversee the doshin.

Doshin are the lowest rank of samurai in the Magistrate chain. Their dress clearly identifies them as peace officers and they patrol the streets and roads for their yoriki. They reduce crime with their mere presence, and can be quite skilled at intimidation. They have power to arrest, detain, and question anyone they suspect of a crime. In practice, a character with a much higher glory will be approached more gently or the doshin may simply relay his suspicions to his superior, avoiding a public scene.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the deputies. These are members of lower castes chosen and employed by a doshin to aid in the prevention of crime. They act as aides and informants for the doshin. They do not necessarily make public their service, which could interfere with their work as informants. many of these deputies come from the family of the village headman. In some cities service as a deputy has become hereditary. They may take action to end or prevent violence, but have no other powers to enforce the law.

Symbols of the Law

Imperial Magistrates carry a jade orb (about 4 inches in diameter) as a symbol of their office; their own mon and the Imperial crest are often etched on the surface. This orb is a symbol of authority, the purity of the Emperor's rule, and also a handy gavel, making an unmistakable sound when struck against a table. Clan Magistrates may carry a variety of symbols, but the most common is the mon of their lord worked in jade. Lower ranking officers (yoriki and doshin) of both services carry a jitte, as the symbol of their authority and a useful tool for quelling fights. The jitte may be as ornate or simple as the bearer likes. Traveling Magistrates promoted "from the ranks" often still carry their jitte for its practical value.

Court of the Magistrate

While the yoriki and the doshin perform their duties on the streets and roads, the Magistrates sit in judgment in special offices. The Magistrate's courtroom is generally an open yard in the middle of the court buildings. A raised dais on one side provides a shady and comfortable place for the Magistrate to sit. A scribe and a bodyguard are located close by. The other end of the yard is dominated by "the white sands of judgment:" a flat, cleared area several yards wide covered with pure white sand. The accused is brought before the Magistrate and kneels on the sands. Troublesome prisoners may be beaten until they kneel or fall. The court scribe reads the list of crimes with which the accused is charged, followed by his confession (see below). Then the Magistrate may question the prisoner if he wishes. This is usually done if the judge wants to clarify any points to determine more of the prisoner's character before passing judgment. At this point the Magistrate determines the sentence, which is carried out immediately.

The court buildings will include scribe offices, storage for legal documents, a library of legal texts, and barracks for the yoriki and the doshin. The Magistrate's home may be attached to the court complex or elsewhere.

As Magistrates are busy people they can not always get away from their court to meet with their yoriki or other characters. Characters of lower rank than the Magistrate may find that their audience places them on the white sands; an uncomfortable position indeed!

Salary and Gifts

Servants of the Emperor receive a salary commiserate with their station. Average salaries are listed in the table below. These salaries may seem high, but Magistrates are expected to attract loyal vassals out of their own pockets. The wages listed for yoriki and doshin vary more, depending on their Magistrate's salary. Magistrates and lesser officers can also expect to receive gifts from the daimyo of the region they protect. These gifts (often fine clothing bearing the daimyo's crest) are not seen as bribes, but as the rightful reward of diligent service. No mere material goods should sway a Magistrate from his dutiful service to his lord or the Emperor. Magistrates and lesser officers convicted of taking bribes (or rewards for false service) can expect a lingering, shameful death.

A Word about Torture

Before an accused criminal may be tried, a confession is required. If the criminal will not confess willingly, a confession may be extracted through torture. This is both a legal and proper way for a yoriki to gain a confession. Torture, however, involves both blood and dead flesh. This makes it very distasteful to the samurai class. Magistrate judges will have a number of eta retainers who are practiced in this unpleasant skill. When a yoriki wishes to employ torture on an accused criminal he must petition his master to use the eta. This situation requires the yoriki to present a thoughtful, well-conceived petition to a superior, justifying the use of torture while keeping the spiritual pollution and possible loss of honor from reaching the yoriki (and keeping the use of torture firmly in the hands of a NPC/the GM). In this case, even though torture is both a low skill and repugnant in our society, it is being used in the service of the character's lord with both the lord's knowledge and permission. In Rokugan it is better to confess quickly.

Rank and the Law

A rough guide in comparing a character's glory rank and position in the Magistrate hierarchy is provided below. Particularly senior or respected servants of the Emperor may have a glory rank one (or rarely two) higher than their position would indicate. Glory rank is very important at the higher levels as a defendant may appeal the decisions of a Magistrate of lower rank than himself. Appeals are considered a wasteful process, so the case is usually placed before a Magistrate of sufficient rank in the first place.





Chief Magistrate of a Clan

5000 koku


Chief Magistrate of a Family

1000 koku


Chief Magistrate of a Province

400 koku


Traveling Magistrate

120 koku



40 koku


Minor Yoriki

15 koku



10 koku



7 koku




Playing as a Magistrate

The process for creating a Magistrate character is essentially the same as for creating a bushi. Select a Clan and a family, then select a school. Families with popular Magistrate schools include the Asako (Phoenix), Shinjo (Unicorn), and Kitsuki (Dragon) families. They way of the Dragon sourcebook describes the Kitsuki Magistrate school. The others are described below. Once a school has been selected, write down your first rank technique and kit, then complete the character as you would a bushi. Unless the character has purchased additional glory, they will most likely begin as a doshin. Remember that being a Magistrate is also simply a matter of filling a post, so you may have a "Magistrate" character who was not trained by a Magistrate school. Bushi and shugenja Magistrates are common, and although they do not attain any of the abilities of the Magistrate schools listed below, their knowledge of other areas often proves of great use.

Running Magistrates

Having one or more characters serve as Imperial Magistrates is one of the most simple and handy ways of explaining why characters from multiple Clans are working together in close concert. If you choose to use this device, it is helpful to understand the types of service such characters are expected to perform and who they will be reporting to. "Magistrate campaigns" are both mobile and colorful. Play up the glory aspects and spice with a few "bad seeds" and vicious battles. Vary the duties required of the players regularly as well as the location. They may even live long enough to see the entire underbelly of Rokugan.

Playing as Clan Magistrates can be equally rewarding. A yoriki balancing allegiance to his Magistrate, the local lord, and his own family has a challenging life indeed. Such characters are less able to roam. Focus on a single locale and develop the atmosphere. Intrigue as well as complex, slow building plots are the meat of such campaigns.

Remember that Magistrates come from many different schools and every Clan. The opportunity for mixed groups cannot be over-emphasized. Characters with an appointment to serve should consider at least one level of law, but otherwise anyone's favorite concept can be adapted and quickly brought into the group. When a Lion works hand in hand with a Scorpion, woe betide any enemy of the Emperor.

Shinjo Magistrate School from Imperial Herald #10
(The above-mentioned Asako Magistrate school was never released)