The Legend of the Five Rings setting is a fantasy world loosely based upon the cultures and mythology of Japan, China, and other Asian cultures. The setting focuses on the sorts of Samurai stories seen in Akira Kurosawa's work, among others, with social, military, and moral conflicts. The setting also includes a certain amount of magical flavor in the form of priests who can speak to elemental spirits and ancestor spirits, as well as a tangible force of spiritual corruption which has created a tainted land of monsters and demons to the south of the Empire called the Shadowlands.

The culture and mythology that the game follows most closely is that of Japan, but there are certain differences. For instance, the game designers made the choice to create a world without the major gender inequalities present in historical pre-modern Japan. Women in Rokugan can be Daimyo, or noble rulers of a family, just as easily as men, and are as likely to be warriors as not. While knowledge of Japanese etiquette and culture can be helpful as a starting point, it is not necessary to play the game, and don't be surprised at the differences between the game world and historical Japan. This is a setting where Goblins, Skeletons and Demons throw themselves against a massive wall bent on destroying all that is good, while pirates prowl the seas and the Gods of the Heavens look down upon their children on earth

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