A Falcon hunting phantoms through the trees of Shinomen Forest. A Lion trying to heal the wounded and avenge an ancestor’s death. A Unicorn riding out to free the spirits of corrupted kin from the shadows that have swallowed them. A Phoenix desperate to redeem his bloodline and himself before it’s too late. The land of Rokugan thrives in the light of the sun, but shadows creep in, and someone must stand against them. We’re telling another tale in the Legend of the Five Rings from Fantasy Flight Games with this haunted but ready-to-play party of samurai seeking honor and glory in the Shadowlands!
I’ll say this for the L5R sourcebooks from FFG: they’re more broadly useful than I expected. While I expected Emerald Empire to cover a broad swath, I expected Shadowlands – and Courts of Stone, and so on – to be a lot like the Career Sourcebooks from the Star Wars lines, highly focused on one aspect of the setting. In terms of setting information that’s true to an extent, but rather than merely featuring material for the Crab and Falcon Clans, all of the other major Clans got something as well! So, while the Mahō Hunters may be found anywhere the bloodspeakers are getting up to their messy brand of mischief, these samurai find their duty drawing them towards Shinomen Forest, the Kaiu Wall, and the Shadowlands beyond . . .
Clan: Falcon Family: Toritaka School: Toritaka Phantom Hunter
Status: 26 Glory: 35 Honor: 45
Giri: Send spirits back to where they belong, and learn from them along the way.
Ninjō: Show up the Kuni at every opportunity.
Air: 2 Earth: 2 Fire: 2 Water: 2 Void: 2
Endurance: 8 Focus: 4 Composure: 8 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Theology 2, Survival 3, Meditation 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Sentiment 1, Culture 1, Courtesy 1
Starting Techniques: By The Light of Lord Moon [Invocation], Cleansing Rite [Ritual], Commune with the Spirits [Ritual], Tea Ceremony [Ritual], Courtier’s Resolve [Shūji]
School Ability: Eyes of Yotogi
Advantages: Sixth Sense [Void], Curiosity [Fire]
Disadvantages: Haunting [Void], Loneliness [Void], Paranoia [Water]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, sanctified robes, Daishō (katana and wakizashi), scroll satchel, traveling pack, 3 koku, Finger of Jade
How Do They Stand Out: Drive [+1 Fire]
What detail do others find most striking: Infrequent muttering, as if holding a conversation with someone no one else can see..
Opinion of Clan: Positive Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent [+1 Survival]
Who have they learned the most from: A Kuni Purifier [Paranoia, +1 Courtesy]
Samurai Heritage: Lost in the Darkness [+1 Survival]
Death: Vanished without a trace in Shinomen Forest
Unmasking: Expose an Opening
Toritaka Mai is tasked with hunting down gaki and other hostile otherworldly creatures, and few of them can escape her. The Eyes of Yotogi mean that they treat Mai’s Vigilance as having been increased by her school rank; her school rank is also added as bonus successes to searching for them and in initiative. She has a Sixth Sense for the supernatural that even a Kuni might envy, and her Curiosity makes trying and learning new things soothing to her. By The Light of Lord Moon lets her scry for hidden and concealed objects, even magical ones. Cleansing Rite can remove spiritual contaminants from people and even land, and Commune with the Spirits lets Mai do just that. She is a steady hand at the Tea Ceremony, and Courtier’s Resolve allows her to spend Void points to remove strife equal to her glory rank.
Clan: Unicorn Family: Moto School: Moto Avenger
Status: 30 Glory: 42 Honor: 54
Giri: Sand against the Dark Moto and free their spirits.
Ninjō: Slay the fallen ancestor at all costs.
Air: 2 Earth: 3 Fire: 1 Water: 2 Void: 2
Endurance: 8 Focus: 3 Composure: 10 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Survival 2, Command 1, Courtesy 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Theology 2, Fitness 1
Starting Techniques: Grasp of Earth [Invocation], Tempest of Air [Invocation], Ancestry Unearthed [Shūji], Honest Assessment [Shūji]
School Ability: Hands of Earth and Sky
Advantages: Friend of the Nezumi [Water], Stories [Earth], Spiritual Protection [Void]
Disadvantages: Demon Wound [Earth], Fallen Ancestor [Void]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, ashigaru armor, wakizashi, scroll satchel, finger of jade, traveling pack, Unicorn warhorse, 6 koku, spyglass
How Do They Stand Out: Mysticism [+1 Void]
What detail do others find most striking: Bandages around his upper arm.
Opinion of Clan: Positive Opinion of Bushidō: Orthodox
Who have they learned the most from: Grandfather Moto [Spiritual Protection]
Samurai Heritage: Twenty Goblin Thief [+1 Theology]
Death: Overrun by the Dark Moto
Unmasking: Inappropriate Outburst
Moto Ganzorig shall have vengeance for his corrupted kin or die trying. Or both. Hands of Earth and Sky allows him to choose between ‘nourishing’ or ‘draining’ when he targets other characters with invocations, pulling fatigue from others to himself or removing fatigue from himself and giving it to his target. Friend of the Nezumi gets him some strange allies when he needs them most, Spiritual Protection has an ancestor spirit watching his back, and the Stories he can tell of these things keeps him free of strife. Grasp of Earth calls up the ground to crush Ganzorig’s foes, while Tempest of Air buffets them with wind to hurl them away. Ancestry Unearthed allows him to learn the oaths and secrets of another’s family, and Honest Assessment helps others overcome their disadvantages.
Clan: Lion Family: Kitsu School: Kitsu Medic
Status: 35 Glory: 40 Honor: 49
Giri: Preserve the lives of those who would fight the shadows.
Ninjō: Mount the oni’s head in the halls of the Castle of the Swift Sword.
Air: 1 Earth: 2 Fire: 2 Water: 3 Void: 2
Endurance: 8 Focus: 3 Composure: 10 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Tactics 1, Meditation 1, Theology 1,Command 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Martial Arts [Unarmed] 1, Medicine 2, Sentiment 1, Survival 1, Martial Arts [Ranged] 2
Starting Techniques: Striking as Water [Kata], Threshold Barrier [Ritual], Stonewall Tactics [Shūji]
School Ability: Field Medicine
Advantages: Paragon of Compassion [Water], Creatures [Fire], Light Sleeper [Water]
Disadvantages: Incurable Illness [Earth], Sworn Enemy [Earth], Haunting [Void]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, ashigaru armor, Daishō (katana and wakizashi), satchel of medicinal supplies, traveling pack, 4 koku, Daikyū
How Do They Stand Out: Passion [+1 Fire]
What detail do others find most striking: Ever-present shadows under her eyes.
Opinion of Clan: Negative [+1 Survival] Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent [+1 Medicine]
Who have they learned the most from: A cousin in the Crab [Light Sleeper]
Samurai Heritage: Vengeance for the Fallen [+5 Honor, Haunting, +1 Martial Arts [Ranged]]
Death: Carrying a wounded ally to safety.
Kitsu Tae is a warrior of the Lion, but she is also the healing hand that keeps her fellows alive. Field Medicine allows Tae to remove additional fatigue equal to her school rank whenever she makes a Medicine check to remove fatigue or a condition from a friendly character. She has a reputation as a Paragon of Compassion, is hard to get the drop on since she is a Light Sleeper, and marvels even at monstrous Creatures. Tae can bypass enemy defenses to reduce their resistance when Striking as Water, and can bar an entryway with Threshold Barrier. Finally, Stonewall Tactics means she can make targeting her allies in social encounters more difficult.
Clan: Phoenix Family: Asako School: Asako Inquisitor
Status: 27 Glory: 40 Honor: 35
Giri: Strike down the users of Mahō without mercy.
Ninjō: Conceal the shadowed past – his own and his ancestor’s.
Air: 2 Earth: 2 Fire: 2 Water: 1 Void: 3
Endurance: 8 Focus: 4 Composure: 6 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Theology 1, Culture 1, Sentiment 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Meditation 1, Performance 1, Courtesy 1, Skulduggery 1, Composition 1
Starting Techniques: Cleansing Rite [Ritual], Commune with the Spirits [Ritual], Divination [Ritual], Cadence [Shūji], Truth Burns through Lies [Shūji]
School Ability: Traces of Passage
Advantages: Dead Eyes [Earth], Secrets [Void], Seasoned [Void]
Disadvantages: Lost Name [Void], Reformed Mahō-Tsukai [Water], Fallen Ancestor [Void]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, sanctified robes, Daishō (katana and wakizashi), scroll satchel, traveling pack, 4 koku, finger of jade
How Do They Stand Out: Calm [+1 Earth]
What detail do others find most striking: An unblinking stare.
Opinion of Clan: Negative [+1 Courtesy] Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent [+1 Skulduggery]
Who have they learned the most from: (Former) Fellow Mahō-Tsukai [Seasoned]
Samurai Heritage: Tainted Blood (-3 Status, Fallen Ancestor)
Death: Honorable seppuku under the eyes of the Kuni.
Unmasking: Panicked Retreat
Asako Kenzan is tasked with hunting those who would use mahō across the length and breadth of Rokugan. Traces of Passage eases this task, scrying for the use of supernatural abilities across a wide area within the last day, and reducing the TN of such checks by his school rank. Those who notice Asako’s Dead Eyes also notice he is often inured to fear. While it cost him his love of Secrets can still bring him some respite, and he’s Seasoned enough to have some hard-earned wisdom. Cleansing Rite can remove spiritual contaminants from people and even land, and Commune with the Spirits lets Kenzan do just that. Divination allows for a glimpse into the future, Cadence for the passing of secret messages, and Truth Burns Through Lies finds the loose threads in a story.
These characters were built using Shadowlands, the core rulebook, and a splash of Emerald Empire. The errata also came into play! Ganzorig was horseless until the most recent update, if you can believe that. I also know what some readers might be thinking: Shadowlands party, and no Crab? Well, I already had a representative from the new-to-this-edition Falcon Clan, and everyone else fit the theme as well . . . and it seemed a more interesting choice to have this party have to deal with the Crab Clan without having any internal influence to work with. Now, we know what they can do, but let’s talk about . . .
Who They Are
Toritaka Mai has spent her life since gempukku walking the shadowed trails of the terminally haunted Shinomen Forest, sending spirits back where they belong – after making sure to learn more about them, first. Such is the way of the Falcon Clan, but while it’s an honorable enough life it can be a lonely one – Mai’s only constant companion for many years has been the spirit of an ancestor shadowing her steps. It’s also not an orthodox life, which has caused more than one run-in with the Kuni Purifiers of the Crab Clan. While Mai wishes to continue her work, she also wants to know something more – and to put the Kuni in their place. This is her forest.
Moto Ganzorig is by no means the first member of his clan to venture out into shadows, but he’s lived longer than most who ride out to face their corrupted kin. Although he’s taken wounds in his journeys that plague him, he’s forged alliances with the Nezumi, gained a reputation for boisterous stories, and seems to literally having an ancestor watching his back. A direct ancestor of his was also an avenger, however, and fell to darkness. A personal grudge with this one Dark Moto threatens to take Ganzorig’s eyes off of the bigger picture, which may cost him dearly . . .
Kitsu Tae may be no shugenja, but like many of her family she has always a great tie to her ancestors. Some of those ancestors found themselves drawn to the dangers facing the Crab Clan, and intermarried there . . . and one of them has started dropping by as a restless spirit, telling Tae of the oni that slew them. The suffering of those who fight the shadows calls to her heart, and the suffering of a restless ancestor calls to her pride, so Tae has made her way south to heal the hurt – and hunt down her ancestor’s nemesis.
Asako Kenzan stared into the darkness, and the darkness stared back into him. It had all been for the greater good – purging Rokugan of true Mahō-Tsukai while also redeeming his bloodline for the sins of ancestor. The forces arrayed against him seemed so insurmountable that fighting fire with fire seemed wise at the time. Eventually, though, he came to realize just what he’d become. Kenzan killed as many of his fellow monsters as he could reach before heading towards Crab and Falcon lands, reporting back that he was ‘redirecting’ the focus of his work. Perhaps he can redeem himself before the truth inevitably comes out . . .
How They Interact
This is a party that all came to the most haunted and shadowed places in Rokugan separately, from widely different Clans and for their own personal reasons. It’s possible that, aside from Mai, some may have met one another on the road south . . . but I don’t think I like that for this time around. I think this is the kind of party that starts off in session one meeting one another when some crisis or target draws them altogether. So the important thing to remember is this: they’re all ostensibly united in their efforts to fight the darkness encroaching on the Emerald Empire . . . but each also has a personal grudge that may very well pull them from the ranks.
Will Toritaka Mai, Moto Ganzorig, Ketsu Tae, and Asako Kenzan succeed against the shadows and put the alarming number of ghosts following them around to rest? Will they perish with honor? Will they fall (back) into darkness, and require another band of heroes to put them down? As always, that’s for you (and your dice) to determine!