Rokugan: Return of the Jade Raven
The mystical condition known to the Empire as the Shadowlands Taint is one of the deadliest threats Rokugan has ever faced. It is a physical and spiritual affliction that slowly and inexorably corrupts every aspect of the victim’s life. The Taint is nothing less than the influence of the dark lord Fu Leng. Just as his power has turned a once verdant land into the foul and twisted Shadowlands, so too can his will subvert and destroy even the most powerful samurai if they do not take the necessary precautions.
Fortunately, there are a limited number of ways to acquire the Shadowlands Taint. Unfortunately, many of those cannot be avoid for one reason or another. The most straightforward and common means of contracting the Taint is to enter the Shadowlands without suitable protection. Fu Leng’s power and influence extend to all things inside those dark lands, warping them to suit his foul purposes. Human being are no different, and quickly succumb to his power without protection. Protection most often comes in the form of jade.
For reasons unknown to the priests of the Empire, Jade offers protection from the corruption of the Taint, forestalling its corruption and protecting those who carry it. The longer jade remains within Shadowlands, the softer and blacker it becomes until it too us corrupted and useless. Once the jade a samurai carries is no more, then the Taint begins to consume the body and spirit. It takes surprisingly little time.
Another common method of acquiring the Taint is in combat with creatures of the Shadowlands or with Tainted Humans. Within the Shadowlands, any wound perceived will almost certainly fester and inflict the Taint upon its bearer without very specific and attentive care. Even far outside that dark land, the claws and talons of oni, goblins, ogres, and other such creatures tend to poison their targets with their corrupting influence of their lord. Tainted humans, while not usually possessed of the natural weapons needed to inflict corrupted wounds, often utilize weapons that achieve the same effect. Obsidian, in particular, is popular with maho-tsukai. Obsidian is the opposite of jade, and seems to have an affinity for Taint. It is not uncommon for a weapon crafted from obsidian to become cursed and corrupt those whom it strikes.
The corrupted sorcery known as maho is another means of acquiring the Taint. Steeped in blood and dark rituals, maho is the gift Fu Leng grants to those who would wield magic in his name. It is an insidious, blasphemous practice that results in an immediate death sentence for those who are found practicing it. Maho spells inevitably bestow Taint upon the caster, and many also have the potential to taint the spell’s target as well. This is only one reason that the Great Clans are so eager to root out majo users in their lands: a single maho-tsukai can result in far more corruption.
Sadly, there are other ways that the Taint can manifest itself that no one in the Empire can understand. Infants with seemingly pure bloodlines can be born tainted for no apparent reason, although this is exceptionally rare. In most cases, it is assumed that somewhere in the afflicted individual’s history is a dark secret awaiting discovery. Other similar occurrences have been documented, when individuals manifest the Taint suddenly and for no apparent reason. Although many of these cases remain unsolved, it is certain that some dark scheme of Fu Leng is being fulfilled by such events.
For each day spent in the Shadowlands without the protection of jade, a character takes 1d4 points of Shadowlands Taint. Once these points equal or exceed the character’s Wisdom or Constitution score – whichever is higher – the character is considered Corrupted.
A Corrupted character’s alignment automatically shifts to Evil. It is Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic evil based on its previous alignment. A Corrupted character also cannot cast divine spells, except for those bestowed by Fu Leng. Such individuals also have an aversion to sunlight, and suffer disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks while in direct sunlight or targeting individuals who are in sunlight.
The most sinister aspect of the Taint is not the physical corruption that can cripple even the strongest samurai, but rather then slow spiritual degradation that affects the victim. The more Taint someone acquires, the more he wants to use it to augment his abilities as detailed above. This, in turn, causes the character to become further and further tainted, and so on and so forth. It is a vicious, unrelenting cycle that almost always ends in death and dishonor.
A Tainted character can add his Shadowlands Taint score to any attack roll, damage roll, ability check, or ability save. They can choose to do so after the roll is made, but before the results are applied or calculated. Doing so grants 1 additional point of Shadowlands Taint to the character.
When spending hit die during a short rest, a Tainted character can also add his Shadowlands Taint score to the hit points recovered. Doing so grants 1 additional point of Shadowlands Taint to the character.
SYMPTOMS OF THE TAINT
Individuals with the Taint are rarely able to keep it secret for long, as the influence of Fu Leng can cause terrible changes in the body and mind. The changes are subtle at first, the sort of thing that only close friends and loved ones might notice. soon enough, however, they can become so severe as to radically alter one’s personality or warp the sufferer’s physical form into a hideous mockery of its former self.
With one or two points of Shadowlands Taint, a character may have uncomfortable rashes, discolored hair, nervous tics, frequent nosebleeds, boils, or muscle spasms. They often suffer from memory lapses, mild paranoia, xenophobia, hallucinations, repetitious speech patterns, or irrational fears of mundane items or circumstances.
With a number of Shadowlands Taint points equal to at least half of their Constitution or Wisdom score, a character may show extremely off-color skin, corpse-like appearances, profuse and constant perspiration, or hair falling out in clumps. They exhibit extreme paranoia, radical and frequent mood swings, wild hallucinations, speaking in unknown languages, or fits of extreme violence.
Corrupted characters show the most severe symptoms. They may have rotting flesh, additional limbs, new orifices, profuse bleeding from the poors, development of inhuman body parts (such as claws or bony plates), and persistent illnesses. They suffer from unnatural hunters, extreme psychosis, aversion to sunlight, clearly hearing evil voices, and delusions of identity.
Temporary treatments to contain the Shadowlands disorder are both uncommon and expensive, and all too often the only available way for a character to avoid becoming Tainted further is simply to resist the siren call of the dark power that lies at their fingertips. Sadly, it is a rare and exceptional individual who is able to demonstrate such incredible willpower.
One of the few reliable methods of treatment for the Taint is the administration of a special medicinal compoint known as “tea of jade petals.” This compound is brewed from a very rare herb. When administered regularly, the tea cna suppress and contain the influence of the Taint, but even it cannot completely eliminate it.
Mechanics: The Tea of Purification can eliminate most physical and mental symptoms of the Taint in the mild to moderate range. The tea must be consumed at least once every week or the symptoms quickly return.
Thus far, no one has found a reliable, consistent cure for the Taint. Throughout history a few rare individuals have stumbled upon some means to cure themselves completely of the Taint, but no method has yet been found that can be generally applies to large numbers of Tainted samurai. The closest means to a cure yet discovered is the ritual spell Blessing of Cleansing, developed by the Kuni shugenja of the Crab Clan. This spell absorbs the Taint from a number of targets into a single individual; the caster. Obviously, the considerable value of shugenja among the Crab restricts this spell to extreme circumstances.
Some in the Empire believe that the secret of curing the Taint lies with those creatures that are already immune to its effects: the Nana and Nezumi races. Neither race can ever acquire the Taint under any circumstances, tot he degree that neither has the potential to even work maho; it simply will not function for them. The Naga have an advanced system of magic that has been proven to excise the Taint from humans, but at a considerable cost: it drastically shortens the life-span, as members of the ronin brotherhood of the Unbroken can attest. The somewhat primitive Nezumi, on the other hand, have never demonstrated such an ability. More viceral members of the Kuni suspect that it might be possible to synthesize an antidode for the Taint from the blood of the Nezumi, but thus far this theory remains untested.