Tales of Wuxia
A ninja (忍者) or shinobi (忍び) was a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, as well as open combat in certain situations. The ninja, using covert methods of waging war, were contrasted with the samurai, who had strict rules about honor and combat. In his Buke Myōmokushō, military historian Hanawa Hokinoichi writes of the ninja:
“ They travelled in disguise to other territories to judge the situation of the enemy, they would inveigle their way into the midst of the enemy to discover gaps, and enter enemy castles to set them on fire, and carried out assassinations, arriving in secret. ”
The origin of the ninja is obscure and difficult to determine, but can be surmised to be around the 14th century. However, the antecedents to the Ninja may have existed as early as the Heian and early Kamakura eras. Few written records exist to detail the activities of the ninja. The word shinobi did not exist to describe a ninja-like agent until the 15th century, and it is unlikely that spies and mercenaries prior to this time were seen as a specialized group. In the unrest of the Sengoku period (15th – 17th centuries), mercenaries and spies for hire arose out of the Iga and Kōga regions of Japan, and it is from these clans that much of later knowledge regarding the ninja is inferred. In the the following period, manuals such as the Bansenshukai — often centered around Chinese military philosophy — appeared in significant numbers. These writings revealed an assortment of philosophies, religious beliefs, their application in warfare, as well as the espionage techniques that form the basis of the ninja’s art. The word ninjutsu would later come to describe a wide variety of practices related to the ninja.
The mysterious nature of the ninja has long captured popular imagination in Japan, and later the rest of the world. Ninjas figure prominently in folklore and legend, and as a result it is often difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Some legendary abilities include invisibility, walking on water, and control over natural elements. The ninja is also prevalent in popular culture, appearing in many forms of entertainment media.
While the image of a ninja clad in black garbs (shinobi shōzoku) is prevalent in popular media, there is no written evidence for such a costume. Instead, it was much more common for the ninja to be disguised as civilians. The popular notion of black clothing is likely rooted in artistic convention. Early drawings of ninjas were shown to be dressed in black in order to portray a sense of invisibility. This convention was an idea borrowed from the puppet handlers of bunraku theater, who dressed in total black in an effort to simulate props moving independently of their controls.
Clothing used was similar to that of the samurai, but loose garments (such as leggings) were tucked into trousers or secured with belts. The tenugui, a piece of cloth also used in martial arts, had many functions. It could be used to cover the face, form a belt, or assist in climbing. The historicity of armor specifically made for ninjas cannot be ascertained. While pieces of light armor purportedly worn by ninjas exist and date to the right time, there is no hard evidence of their use in ninja operations. Depictions of famous persons later deemed ninjas often show them in samurai armor. Existing examples of purported ninja armor feature lamellar or ring mail, and were designed to be worn under the regular garb. Shin and arm guards, along with metal-reinforced hoods are also speculated to make up the ninja’s armor.
Although shorter swords and daggers were used, the katana was probably the ninja’s weapon of choice, and was sometimes carried on the back. The katana had several uses beyond normal combat. In dark places, the scabbard could be extended out of the sword, and used as a long probing device. The sword could also be laid against the wall, where the ninja could use the sword guard (tsuba) to gain a higher foothold. The katana could even be used as a device to stun enemies before attacking them, by putting a combination of red pepper, dirt or dust, and iron filings into the area near the top of the scabbard, so that as the sword was drawn the concoction would fly into the enemy’s eyes, stunning him until a lethal blow could be made. While straight swords were used before the invention of the katana, the straight ninjatō has no historical precedent and is likely a modern invention.
An array of darts, spikes, knives, and sharp, star-shaped discs were known collectively as shuriken. While not exclusive to the ninja, they were an important part of the arsenal, where they could be thrown in any direction. Bows were used for sharpshooting, and some ninjas bows were intentionally made smaller than the traditional yumi (longbow). The chain and sickle (kusarigama) was also used by the ninja. This weapon consisted of a weight on one end of a chain, and a sickle (kama) on the other. The weight was swung to injure or disable an opponent, and the sickle used to kill at close range. Simple gardening tools such as Kunai and sickles were used as weaponry so that, if discovered, a ninja could claim they are his tools and not weapons, despite their ability to be used in battle.
Explosives introduced from China were known in Japan by the time of the Mongol Invasions (13th century). Later, explosives such as hand-held bombs and grenades were adopted by the ninja. Soft-cased bombs were designed to release smoke or poison gas, along with fragmentation explosives packed with iron or pottery shrapnel.
Along with common weapons, a large assortment of miscellaneous arms were associated with the ninja. Some examples include poison, caltrops, cane swords (shikomizue), land mines, blowguns, poisoned darts, acid-spurting tubes, and firearms. The happō, a small eggshell filled with blinding powder (metsubushi), was also used to facilitate escape.
Shinobi or Ninja can be built using:
- Martial Artist, DF1: Adventurers pg 9
- Scout, DF1: Adventurers pg 10
- Thief, DF1: Adventurers pg 12
- Fast Guy, Action 3: Furious Fists pg 6
- Ninja, Action 3: Furious Fists pg 8
- Traceur, Action 3: Furious Fists pg 9
- Weapon master, Action 3: Furious Fists pg 11
Also the following templates can be combined to create a Shinobi:
- Assassin, Fantasy pg 117
- Courtesan, Fantasy page 214
- Engineer, Fantasy page 215
- Assassin, Martial Arts pg 32
- Movie Star, Martial Arts pg 37/Stuntman, Martial Arts pg 41
- Spy, Martial Arts pg 39
- Archer, Fantasy pg 116
- Bard, Fantasy pg 119
- Merchant, Fantasy pg 123
- Thief, Fantasy pg 126
Experienced Shinobi usually can add Instructor (Martial Arts pg 35), Doctor (Martial Arts: Gladiators pg 28), or Sorcerer (Fantasy page 218, magic built as innate or psionic abilities).