SoheiSōhei (僧兵 literally “monk warriors”) were Buddhist warrior monks of feudal Japan. At certain points of history they held considerable power, obliging the imperial and military governments to collaborate.

They were similar to the mountain ascetic yamabushi warrior monks, but unlike the solitary yamabushi, sōhei generally organized into large armies or mobs. A famous monastery is the Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei, just outside Kyoto.

The sōhei shared many similarities with the Western lay brothers, members of a monastic order who might not have been ordained. Much like warrior monks of Germany (see Teutonic Knights), or other religious orders, such as those involved in the Crusades, sōhei did not operate as individuals, or even as members of small, individual temples, but rather as warriors in a large extended brotherhood or monastic order. The ‘home temple’ of a sōhei monastic order might have had several, if not tens or a hundred, smaller monasteries, training halls, and subordinate temples.

Sōhei were quite varied in their armament. The naginata is the weapon most often associated with them, though in legend as well as history many warrior monks are known to have been proficient with everything from bow and arrow to tantō and wakizashi (dagger and shortsword). Many fought on horseback, and many with the Ō-yoroi armor of the samurai.

The obi, or belt, of the kimono would often be supplemented with a heavier sash, so a sword could be slung from it. The tachi style of sword was probably the most common, though many monks may have carried tantō as well. Many monks were also accomplished archers, and used bamboo-and-rattan bows, called daikyū, with bamboo arrows. The most traditional weapon of the monk, however, was the naginata, a weapon much like the European glaive or halberd. The sōhei were also trained to use the heavy kanabō, which was a large staff or club forged of solid iron. Although deadly, this weapon was generally used to defeat an opponent without bloodshed.

Warrior monks, like most other Buddhist monks of related sects, wore a series of kimono-like robes over one another, usually white underneath, and tan or saffron yellow on top; this style has changed very little since the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 7th century. Footwear traditionally consisted of tabi socks and geta (wooden clogs), or waraji straw sandals. Warrior monks would often fold and tie the white headcowl to cover more of their head, or would substitute a hachimaki headband. Finally, many warrior monks would wear some form of samurai armor.

To build a Sōhei use the following templates:

  • Holy Warrior, DF1: Adventurers pg 7
  • Knight, DF1: Adventurers pg 8

Both with elements of Monk, Martial Arts pg 37.

Also they can be built as Legionary (Fantasy page 216 as an infantry soldier) or Warrior (Martial Arts pg 42) with Monk (Martial Arts pg 37).


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