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Reworking the Kolat
"We are not traitors. We are not maho-tsukai. We are the sword within the saya, the breath within the wind. We are the Kolat, the Empire's truest samurai. Our loyalty is to the throne, not to the man who sits there." - Akodo Kage
Those Kolat. They're wacky.

A lot of people aren't big fans of the Great Conspiracy version of the Kolat that developed during the Hidden Emperor story arc and was presented in the Merchant's Guide to Rokugan. While I'm fairly ambivalent about it, I do feel it needs some rewriting to be playable. So here's my rewrite. It's divided into three parts - firstly, a history of the Kolat; secondly, the current status of the Kolat, and finally what they're up to in my alternate Clan Wars with the Kisada Shogunate 'n' stuff. I've tried to keep as much of the current Kolat stuff useful while making it a bit more samurai-like...

Be seeing you.

The History of the Kolat Cult:

More than a thousand years ago, the blood of the moon and tears of the sun fell to Earth, and where the two fluids mixed humans arose. The greatest of these humans naturally became the leaders of the barbaric tribes that roamed the lands for a few generations. Then the Kami fell from Heaven, bringing with them wisdom and the path of bushido. The tribes flocked to the banners of the Kami - all but a few leaders and chieftains, who were unwilling to bow before the Kami. These leaders initially rallied around the strongest of them, the shugenja Isawa. However, when Isawa joined the Phoenix, the rebels realised that fighting the Kami would be a generation-long struggle.

The coming of Fu Leng, the Dark Brother, warned the nascent rebels that the Kami were more than rivals for power - the Kami were monsters, demons of the worst kind. If just one of them fallen to darkness could rouse the Shadowlands and bring hell on earth, then if any of the others fell into evil ways, the world was assuredly doomed. Weapons to defeat the Kami were vitally needed (and thus what had begun as a simple struggle for control became cloaked in the guise of a holy war). At any rate, no rebellion could take place while the Empire was fighting against the Shadowlands.

The organisation of rebel chieftains, which named itself the Kolat (and this word, "Kolat", is perhaps the only word of the original language of Rokugan that has survived...), divided into two. One half would remain in the Empire, and build a power base with which to oppose the Kami. The second half left the Empire with the departing Ki-Rin clan, to search for secret magics and unknown weapons to destroy the Kami. Once the Kami were destroyed, the Kolat would rule the Empire of Man, and usher in the Age of Mortal Men.

The Years of Growth

The "Eastern" Kolat (those who remained behind) - began to infiltrate the Emerald Empire. Almost immediately, two routes to power presented themselves. Some advocated seizing control of the underside of the Empire, embracing all that the Kami despised. The others believed the only route to power was by beating the Kami's followers at their own game. Many of the Kolat swore oaths of loyalty to the Kami, and became samurai. They intended to learn their enemies' techniques, and turn the wisdom of the Kami against them.

The underground stream of the Kolat - those who aimed for control over vice and villiany - immediately became involved in a shadow war with the Scorpion Clan. Bayushi's children were far superior to the Kolat in intrigue and black marketeering. Within a few decades, the underground Kolat were almost defeated. They were saved only by the Crane/Yasuki break. The mercantile Yasuki family were almost bankrupted by their exile from the Crane. When they tried to establish themselves in the southlands, the Scorpion struck at them, trying to eliminate their new rivals. Only an alliance between the Yasuki and the Yakuza-Kolat saved both groups. The Kolat became a hidden order of criminals, racketeers and thieves, with hidden ties to the Yasuki samurai caste. The Kolat maintained their vows to destroy the Kami, but other than building up a vast reserve of capital, they did nothing.

Meanwhile, the enemies of the Kolat vanished, one by one. Akodo fell in battle. Shiba died rescuing Shosuro. Bayushi and Doji vanished. Togashi and Hantei died. Without a single Kolat agent striking, the Kami were gone. The samurai-Kolat initially suspected that the Kami would one day return, but as the generations went by without a sign of their return, the samurai-Kolat became nothing more than a secret society amid the dojos and keeps of the nobility. The Lion and Phoenix were the prime targets of the Kolat, representing the most potent military and magicals forces in the Empire. The Crane also hid its share of agents. The Scorpion and the Dragon, however, remained almost totally free of Kolat influence.

In the west, those who had gone with the Ki-Rin hid from the divine Shinjo, and formed cells and cults within the train of the roaming Ki-Rin. The barbarian magics of the desert sorcerers were among the most promising weapon they had yet encountered, and almost a third of the Kolat left to seek the masters of these magics. In centuries to come, these would become the Qolat cult of the Burning Sands.

Those who remained with Shinjo's followers lived in a dangerous shadow-realm. With a goddess and her children in the midst of the Clan, the Kolat cultists had to be constantly on their guard. Many were caught and killed by Shinjo. Only the most deceitful and paranoid survived her purges. Their hate for the Kami festered and grew.

The Conspiracy Splinters

By now, the four shards of the original cult - the Yakuza-Kolat of the Yasuki, the samurai-Kolat (who were mainly in the Lion, Crane and Phoenix clans), the Qolat, and the Unicorn-Kolat - had been separated from each other for nearly two hundred and fifty years, and only the Unicorn-Kolat were still in contact with the Kami. Each shard moved along its own path, which in the majority of cases led away from the original intents and beliefs of the Kolat.

The Yakuza-Kolat continued to be the dark side of Rokugani commerce. Occasionally, the lingering contacts between the Yakuza and the samurai-Kolat helped one or the other to prosper - a samurai Lord might allow a suspect barge pass through his lands without being searched, or an assassin might remove a rival warlord - but the two factions were now at opposite ends of the social order, and held little loyalty to each other. The new breed of Yakuza-Kolat were fundamentally businessmen and criminals. The ancient oaths of the order were nothing more than cant to impress new members.

Their samurai cousins, meanwhile, were now among the finest warriors in the land. However, by embracing the techniques of the Kami, they also learned the virtues of Bushido. While some still swore oaths about destroying the Kami and seizing the Empire, the conspiracy had lost all its drive. The Kolat became a hidden society of like-minded samurai which linked the Great Clans - a society similar to the Masons. Being a Kolat meant you could rely on allies in rival Clans. Loyalty to their Clans far outweighed most members loyalty to the Kolat; the Kolat was little more than a society.

The wars with the Gaijin and Iuchiban changed the focus of the samurai-Kolat. The initial rebellion had been postponed because of the first war with the Shadowlands. These latter wars showed that the Empire was vulnerable. A group of loyal samurai, with access to the resources of multiple clans and the determination to do what was needed no matter what...such an order could make all the difference in another attack on the Empire. With the various Clans divided, and the Imperial Bureacracy weak and ineffective...it was virtually the Kolat's duty to form such a group.

Around the year 720, the six Kolat Masters (two from the Lion Clan, one from the Phoenix and Crane, one from the Otomo, and the last, a Ronin spymaster) met to lay down the foundations of this new Order. This new Kolat would be a hidden order, loyal to the Empire above all. Within a few years, this new Kolat had proved its worth by eliminating several rebellious warlords. The Yakuza-Kolat were sent an invitation, but no representative arrived at the meeting.

In the Burning Sands, the combination of Rokugani spirit-magic and the strange gaijin sorceries had made the Qolat a dangerous force. However, they were utterly cut off from their cousins, and had nearly forgotten their origins.

Finally, the Unicorn-Kolat hid until Shinjo fell to the Living Darkness. In the confusion following her disappearance, they murdered several key Unicorn nobles and seized control of much of the Clan. With an army at their back, they turned for home. They expected to return to an Empire still ruled by the remaining Kami.

The Return of the Unicorn

Two hundred years ago, the Unicorn returned.

The fanatical Unicorn-Kolat immediately began trying to recontact their loyal brothers. Their shock at finding that the Eastern Kolat were now either gangsters tied to a minor merchant family or samurai loyal to the status quo was...considerable. The first meeting between the Masters of the East and Masters of the West ended with swords being drawn.

The Yakuza sent the messenger of the Unicorn-Kolat back in with his head in a box.

For 170 years, the three branches of the Kolat had as little to do with each other as possible. The Unicorn made an occasionally attempt to rally a rebellion against the descendants of the Kami, but had little success. (Togashi stepped on their best agents). Thirty years ago, Akodo Kage became the youngest Kolat Master in history. He saw that the Hantei dynasty was weakening. Inter-Clan divisions and warring was bringing the Empire to the brink of chaos. The Lion and Crane were at each other's throat. The Crab were increasingly rebellious. The Scorpion were rapidly gaining in strength due to the lack of opposition from the Crane. The Unicorn were heavily influenced by a dangerous group of extremists. The Phoenix were tied to the Crane, but their effect on a war would be utterly unpredictable. Only the Dragon remained stable - and they did nothing. Someone had to take the reins of the Empire, enforce order and stability.

Kage needed the full resources of the Kolat to achieve his goal. He re-opened communications with the Western Kolat, and with the Yakuza. He promised them wealth. He promised them power. He promised them the Empire.

He promised the Western Kolat the head of a Hantei.

The Kolat today

Kage is an ambitious man, but his loyalty is not to the ancient oaths of the Kolat. He seeks to ensure that the Empire remains strong and stable, and to do that, he needs a strong but malleable Emperor on the Throne -  a Hantei raised by Kage himself. Under Kage's leadership, the Kolat have become a secret alliance between various influential samurai to influence and control the destiny of the Empire. With their Yakuza contacts, they have a surprising advantage over rival factions in Court.

However, the Unicorn extremist faction still desires the death of all children of the Kami. Kage must check their increasingly irrational demands for action without losing their loyalty. The Unicorn Kolat have far more influence in the Unicorn Clan that the Eastern Kolat do in the rest of the Empire, and Kage needs the Unicorn's strength for his plans.

Kage walks a razor path between a new and stronger Hantei dynasty, and the utter destruction of the children of the Kami.

-o-

Using the Kolat in a campaign

Ok, as written, the Kolat are an uber-Illuminati with lots of sleeper agents and kewl spy stuff, not to mention a Sekret HQ. I have no idea how the hell you're supposed to use that in a samurai game full of honour and drama. It just doesn't fit. However...it's still vaguely interesting. It's different, at any rate. So when I was thinking about how I wanted to use the Kolat in my game, I looked around for another inspiration.

And found it in Battletech. The Draconis Combine are a faction of "space samurai" (ok, that sounds cheesy, but it's done fairly well. Have a look for Robert Charette's Heir to the Dragon or Wolves on the Border/Wolf Pack.) Anyway, the Draconis Combine are ruled by House Kurita -  but Kurita's power is supported/checked by the charming group of secret police/space ninja called the ISF (Internal Security Force). The ISF is headed by the Smiling One, a Kage-like figure called Subhash Indrahar. I like these guys. They've got style.

So, my revised conception of the Kolat is of a secret order of samurai, loyal to the Throne, but not necessarily to the man on the Throne. Samurai who are willing to compromise their personal honour to protect and serve the Empire. Self-created rivals to the Scorpion. As written, the Kolat are BAD GUYS. There is no way a "normal" samurai would be able to even tolerate, let alone support, the Kolat agenda. They're Eeeeevil.

There's enough unambiguous evil in L5R. The Shadowlands, Bloodspeakers, Shadow, Gaijin...I wanted something with a few more shades of grey. Something that would trigger moral dilemmas, not insta-seppuku. So, my reworked Kolat are a secret order who recruit honourable but flexible samurai, and offer them the chance to support the state in a way their clans cannot. As a reward, they offer quicker advancement and contacts in all the Clans.

They're a source of new adventure hooks. They can be a power bloc in a political game, to oppose or support an ambitious PC. My Kolat are a part of Rokugan, as opposed to its enemies.

Of course, the Unicorn Kolat are still enemies of the Empire. Fine. More bad guys, ones who are human for once. And the Unicorn are supposed to be different, anyway.

The Kolat in the Chrysanthemum Road Campaign

Well, in my game, the Kolat have instantly taken the place once held by the Scorpion. Kage's agents have purged many of the spys and ninja agents the Scorpion had placed in the Loyalist Clans. Meanwhile, Kage is tightening his grip on the Imperial Court. When this war is over, the Hantei will be utterly dependant on the Kolat. The Empire will be his...

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