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Friday, February 29, 2008

L5R: The Shadowlands Taint

So, regular readers of my blog (and I know you all by name at this point) no doubt recall that when last we left our intrepid band of samurai, they had made the honorable-yet-insane decision to go out into the Shadowlands in search of a purportedly powerful yet dangerously under-described and nonspecific ancestral relic whose retrieval would tip the balance of the thousand-year war between the Crab Clan and the armies of Fu Leng.

This was of course the proper thing to do from a Player Character perspective. After all, I'd just shown them a flashing neon sign that strobed Plot Goes This Way and they obligingly followed it. It was, however, not the smart choice. No, the smart choice (from the perspective of the characters they played, at least) would have been to say, "Thank you sir; but no please. May I perform ritual suicide instead?"

Because, you see, while samurai don't fear death, and their lives belong to their Lord, their honor belongs to their families and a Tainted soul... well, it doesn't exactly go to samurai heaven.

The Shadowlands are, quite literally, Hell on Earth. They were formed when a god fell from heaven (which is much higher than geosynchronous orbit), hit the ground, and kept going until he punched his way into Jigoku, which is the spirit realm of pain, corruption, and pure evil. It is equal parts Lovecraft and Heironymus Bosch, with a fair amount of hentai tentacles thrown in. And it had a gateway to the mortal plane.

In the Shadowlands, the air smell like burning plastic. Your eyes sting and your mucous membranes are constantly inflamed. The weather is psychotically unpredictable and often supernatural. Fires burn only a weak, sickly green -- not hot enough to cook food or keep you warm, but bright enough to attract unwanted attention. Wounds don't heal naturally, and special care must be taken that contaminants don't get inside and cause infection. Sleep comes with terrifying nightmares and disgusting visions, so after 8 hours you're emotionally shattered and suffering from sleep deprivation. Predators eat other predators, and the ultimate Apex Predator are demons known as Oni, who come in three flavors:
  1. Significant Obstacle
  2. Fuck a Party Up
  3. Total Party Kill
Then there is the Taint, which is basically a kind of cancer of the soul. You can get it any number of ways: Eating or drinking anything you didn't carry in with you, having unbandaged wounds, or getting injured by one of the many poisonous creatures who live there are all common causes. If you're a shugenja, you can get it from improperly casting spells and summoning a tainted spirit.

Here's the thing about Taint: it never goes away. Ever. You accumulate it in points, and having as little as five means your complexion turns sallow, your hair goes greasy, and you start looking like those creepy people who haunt Wal-Marts at 3 am. At 10 points, you are well and truly Tainted, and you've started to sprout noticeable mutations. Even better, every day the corruption is going to eat away a little more of your soul. Past a certain point, if your character hasn't already become a gibbering cannibal with a vestigial twin growing from his abdomen... well, you've gone to the Dark Side, as they say in Star Wars, and you become an NPC and servant of Utter Eeeeeeeevil. Of course, much like the Dark Side, you can get a lot of cool powers by giving in to the corruption. Sure, you die or go mad that much sooner, but you can accumulate a LOT of raw power.

In short, the Shadowlands is NOT a nice place to visit, and my PCs went there. This is because, as I pointed out in a previous column, players like to suffer. I was more than happy to oblige them and spent the last 3 game sessions flogging them mercilessly. I'll be happy to tell you all about it in another blog post which I will title "Here, Carry This Anchor".

Oh, yes. Before I go, would you like to know the current Taint status of the group?
  • Crab Bushi: Untainted
  • Crab Shugenja: 1 point of Taint, and paranoid about getting more
  • Wasp Bushi: Untainted (and not for my lack of trying! Damn his high Earth ring!)
  • Scorpion Bushi: 5 points of Taint... even though he thinks he has 8.... *cue evil laughter*
  • Scorpion Shugenja: 20 points. This one is not just succumbing to corruption, but is practically diving in. She will definitely be a victim of this adventure.... the fun will be in seeing if she can drag others down with her...

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