Magic is rare in Yamato, but not unknown. It’s like nuclear power in our world – few people have seen it in action, and even fewer understand it, but no one questions its existence.
Most arcanists in Yamato are wizards, and belong to the Arcane Academy, part of the bureaucracy, reporting directly to the Emperor. Common people generally treat them with a mixture of awe, respect, and fear. Technically, their social status is equivalent to nobles (and in fact, many wizards are nobles), but in practical terms their political power is limited, and samurai tend to look down on them.
Magin and Bushido: the samurai consider magic beneath them – not exactly dishonorable, more unmanly. The study of magic is prohibited amongst the samurai clans; a samurai who is discovered practicing, or even studying, magic is disinherited and cast out. Best case, he can be “adopted” into the Arcane Academy; worst case, he becomes a ronin.
Other arcane traditions in Yamato
Witches – practicing ancient traditions that predate the founding of the empire, witches can play many roles in the villages and rural areas of Yamato: seer, healer, wise woman, wicked pariah. The Arcane Academy has declared them outlaws, and witchcraft carries a penalty of death. Good witches, though, can be incredibly useful to a small community, and many villages are happy to keep the powers of their local wise woman secret.
Sorcerers – sorcerous bloodlines are extremely rare in Yamato, but they do exist. The Arcane Academy claims a monopoly on arcane power, however, and does not tolerate freelance sorcerers. Unlike witches, however, sorcerers can be recruited into the ranks of the Arcane Academy, although they can never rise very high in the ranks. Some sorcerers choose this path, or even seek out the Academy when their mysterious powers manifest (usually at puberty). Others choose to walk their own path, but must tread carefully, lest they fall afoul of the Academy and the law.
There is one other place where sorcerers can be found outside the jurisdiction of the Arcane Academy: amongst the ninja clans. There, ninja with the tengu bloodline use their powers to complement the stealth and skills of their clansmen.
Summoners – summoners in Yamato are treated as wizards for all purposes outside of game mechanics. They are a specialist branch of the Arcane Academy, with all the rights and obligations thereof. Most people don’t even draw any distinction between the two.
Alchemists – alchemy is practiced primarily in the cities and academic institutions. There is a branch of the Arcane Academy devoted to alchemy and potions, and many alchemists are members of the Academy (with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, although like sorcerers, they can never rise to the higher ranks of the organization).
Not all alchemists are part of the Academy, however. There is a tradition of folk alchemy that’s evolved from traditional practices of herbalism; in terms of game mechanics, they are identical, but in terms of flavor, these folk alchemists use more primitive equipment and ingredients. For example, where an Academy Alchemist’s mutagen might be a liquid blended from various extracts and chemicals, a folk alchemist’s mutagen might still have bits of leaf, half-crushed berries, etc.