The Living Darkness.
The Lying Shadow.
If you play the CCG, you know what it is. If you've read Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal, you know what it is. If you pay any attention at all to the Hidden Emperor story arc, you know what it is.
No-one's supposed to know about the Shadow. It's a secret, a rumour even to the Scorpion clan. The Unicorn have a few vague tales about it. The Phoenix may suspect a void in Void. Maybe Togashi glimpsed an emptiness in the world, once. Despite its supposed utter secrecy, most players are going to know about it if they play the CCG or pay attention to the CCG storyline.
"Oh, look, faceless corpses. Does that mean my character can know the Shadow steals faces now?"
This means that using the Shadow as written sucks. It's pointless doing a mystery if all the revelations are already known to the players. I know, you're supposed to draw a distinction between out of character and in-character knowledge. Just because you know that Togashi's a dragon and Ujimitsu's got Shiba's Soul doesn't mean your character does. However, mysteries and plots don't work well when they're entirely in-character discovery.
Such games become mere intellectual exercises, filling in the blanks in character knowledge until it equals ooc knowledge. It's on a par with the old gunpowder problem in AD&D (the one where a player asks if his character can invent gunpowder by experimentation with sulfur, salt-petre and whatever else is in gunpowder). The solution to the gunpowder problem is to change the laws of physics to ensure gunpowder can't be invented by an ingenious pc (assuming you, Mr. GM sir, really don't want gunpowder in your world).
So, what do we do about the Shadow? It's not much of a mystery, 'cos all the players know about it.
In fact, there are several other problems with the Shadow too. Although the Scorpion have been fiddling with it for a thousand years (and had Shosuro/Soshi herself/itself teach them about it) they know...er...nearly Nothing. Also, the Shadow seems to be nearly non-existant in the game world, but suddenly is all over the place in Hidden Emperor.
Shosuro's Bargain, or, what I did with my Shadow
Ok. Shosuro brought the Black Scrolls back to the Empire. She then faked her own death, and took the identity of Soshi. The Scorpion have had knowledge of and access to part of the Shadow for a thousand years. They've got three different Schools set up to use the Darkness.
The Soshi Shinobi school trains Shugenja, and studies the properties of Shadow. They can summon Shadow, slow or speed its takeovers, create Shadowbrands, and do all sorts of funky darkness-related magic.
The Shosuro Shinobi Assassin school trains assassins and Ninja. The first-rank assassins are those described in the Scorpion Clan Book - y'know, the loser ninja wannabes. From there, they graduate to full-fledged assassins (Aramoro-style black-pyjama ninja). Especially strong-willed or skilled students may be Shadow-branded or have other Shinobi-related stuff done to them.
Finally, the Shosuro Shinobi Hunter school is dedicated to one thing - keeping the Shadow under control. The Scorpion don't know every trick the Shadow has, but they know it can subvert the minds of those it preys on, and that it steals faces. They also know the Darkness has an instinctive animal-like desire to survive and spread. The duties of the Shosuro Shinobi school are like those of the Kuni Witch Hunters - they keep the Shadow from gaining too much power and influence. When a Scorpion assassin goes rogue and is in danger of becoming a faceless minion of the Shadow - the Shinobi Hunters get him. Yes, some Shinobi hunters are recruited from the Assassin school, and you can have Ninja Ninja Hunters.
The Shadow has several lairs (Ninja Strongholds) within the Scorpion lands. Various families who maintain Shinobi schools keep watch on these lairs/nests. For example, Bayushi Tsuyite's family owned the "Summer House", a hidden fortress in the forests. In a cavern below the Summer House was a lake of darkness, surrounded by faceless, silent...things.
Oh yeah - the Goju. Inbred, deformed freaks, Rokugani Igors. None of them have any intelligence beyond the "ugh...serve faceless ones". Nope. Not a one. :-)
So, the Scorpion draw on the Shadow's power, use it to enhance and train their own assassins, and keep it locked up in lairs. When the Shadow gets uppity, the Shadow Hunters beat into submission. That's how things normally work. It's something like a maho cult keeping an oni in the basement. The oni teaches you the power of maho, you draw on the oni's strength, and you keep the oni under control with jade and spells. Sometimes, though, just tapping the Shadow isn't enough. The Shadow's shapeshifting power dwarfs the abilities of Shosuro actors. The Shadow can be called on to form hordes of ninja warriors, uncounted legions of faceless darkness-spirits. In time of war, the Scorpion loose the bonds of the Shadow...
This doesn't happen very often - 'cos it's damn near suicidal. The Shadow is held by two things - Shosuro's love for Bayushi, which enforces Shosuro's Bargain, and the defensive and binding magics developed by the Soshi. Take away the binding magics in order to summon shadow-hosts, and your only leash on an elemental force of darkness is the loyalty of a long-vanished trickster to a dead Kami. The Shadow has escaped several times, formed its own nests elsewhere in Rokugan.
The Shadow is the Scorpion's secret weapon. The Scorpion army is no match for the Crab or Lion, and unlike the Crane, they have no allies. It is only through judicious use of their dark allies that the Scorpion have survived and prospered in Rokugan.
Using the Shadow in your game...
If you use the approach presented here, as opposed to the "canon" approach, then be aware of the following:
Your Milage May Vary. Find your own truth.
I'll write up Shinobi Hunter stuff at a future date.
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