The people which the humans call “Oni” call themselves the Lu-Tirae: The Caretakers. They were the original humanoid lifeforms on Tenra when the humans arrived thousands of years ago. Things haven’t been going to well for them ever since.
The oni are the native peoples analogue for the culture of Tenra. Depending on where you (the reader) come from, you will see elements of your own land’s native and people in them, whether it is native American, Aboriginal, Ainu, Bunun, Adivasi, and so on. The story of natives displaced by the newcomer culture to get at resources is a story globally known. In the world of Tenra, those people are the oni.
Oni, as you’re probably well aware if you’re reading this, is the Japanese word for “Demon”, usually portrayed as red-skinned, horned monsters with ferocious weapons, multiple (or single eyes) and an appetite for human flesh. It was a name that the humans stuck on the swarthier, horned people who lived peacefully in their agrarian communities because their appearance conjured images of the fabled demons of the old world.
Unfortunately, they were judged upon by their horns and their alien culture, as well as the mysterious and inhuman powers they manifested, and thus were killed when they came into contact with human civilization. At the beginning it was fear and hysteria that drove the killings, but later it was cold, calculated machinations of regents and lords that engineered their murder. The oni had a peculiar secret, and once it was discovered it changed the face of Tenra.
There are fantastical machines on Tenra: 3-meter-tall yoroi armours, beasts of steel in human or animal form; Kongohki, peerless killing machines created from an alliance of Buddhist corruption and technology; Kijin weapons like massive cannons of energy; land and flying vehicles which tore at each other over the battlefields of the land. All of these larger machines are powered by Heart Engines, steel spheres of spiritual energy that act as limitless batteries.
The name “heart engine” is not only descriptive of the life they bring to these feats of technology: Heart engines are the actual living hearts of the oni people, cut out of their bodies and encased in steel. Taoist sorcerers discovered this power of the oni people and told their lords. The lords quickly surmised the worth of having a collection of the extraordinarily expensive power sources for the technology which provided military power to their kingdom. The hunt was on. While the people were kept in the dark, the lords pushed their people to action:
“Beware! An oni village was found just three ri south of the village at Barren Forest. We are recruiting all able-bodied warriors – veteran or amateur – to kill them off. Slaughter them all before they kidnap and eat any more women and children from the village. Bring their hearts back as proof, you will be rewarded 1 ryo per Oni heart collected!”
The oni have since been hunted down, mistrusted by the people save for a very few lands. The oni people each live for hundreds of years, and are part of a small tribal culture which had always been isolated and peaceful in general, and so fighting back on a large scale was an alien thought to them. However, the younger generation is watching their numbers dwindle to the point of total extinction, and through interactions with human society have started to learn their ways. They’ve started to learn anger.
Some quick facts about the oni:
* In their own language they are the Lu-Tirae, which means “The Caretakers”. They have been tasked by their God Yi-Yil to watch over the planet until He returns. He is said to have left generations before the humans arrived, and there have been no signs that Yi-Yil will ever return.
* Oni also worship Dii-Go, the Earth Speaker. They can receive missives, visions and messages from Dii-Go (usually while asleep or in a trance), vocalized messages which are surprisingly clear of meaning.
* The oni horn is the source of their power of Alu (heaven). With it, the oni can communicate wordlessly with each other or sometimes with animals and humans. It was only recently that the oni language became vocalized. Some of the younger generation exposed to human culture find it hard to communicate in this way with their fellow oni. In fact, is was also only recently that oni developed a word for “I, Me”, as the power of Alu kept the tribe organized as a selfless commune with very little concept of individual identity.
* The oni heart is the source of their power of Dii (earth). With it, the oni can sense the invisible gossamer-like power called “sha” around them, and manipulate it. It is a form of telekinesis, which allows them to move matter. It also is the gateway which Dii-Go uses to communicate with the oni people.
* The oni fetters and body markings are both a rite of passage but also indicate their status and individuality within the communal tribe.
* Some oni simply can’t deal with being hunted, and thus try to live in human society: They file off their horn, adopt a Tenran name, and turn their back on their culture. These oni are called “Nussa”, and while they can no longer use the powers of Alu to commune with their people and nature anymore, their hearts still hear the throbbing hum of the heartbeat of Dii-Go.
The oni as a character option are one of the most compelling character types. They are either outright hunted if not simply discriminated against by almost every man woman and child on the planet. Their cultural ties bring drama to the game: Do they stick to their traditional ways, do they adapt to the ways of the human, or do they try to live in the middle ground which offers both but also brings stress and turmoil? Oni can of course also become samurai, shinobi, kijin, annelidists, Buddhist monks and so on. In fact, while there is very little “concrete backstory” in the setting provided in the Tenra Bansho RPG Book, the recent past is dominated by events set in motion by the mysterious oni monk Makuu Nindo (“Temple of the Void”) who spearheaded a revolution which led to the recent creation of the first oni-ruled nation. Characters might choose to be followers of Makuu Nindo, or perhaps inspired by him they look to create trust in the world between humans and Lu-Tirae. Maybe they come from a horribly cruel domain and are dominated by the desire to see Makuu Nindo’s oni nation for themselves, or perhaps they cynically look upon Makuu Nindo’s nation as fleeting while they aim to take back the land wholesale from the humans.
The oni lives are filled with tragedy, but also potentially with hope.