Shadows of Fate
Taint is the process of physical and mental corruption gained by entering or associating with the Shadowlands, Oni, Undead, or Maho – blood magic. It is the physical and spiritual manifestation of the Nigend-do’s connection to Jikogu – the realm of evil.
There is little one can do to avoid becoming tainted – aside from abstinence of contact with taint sources. Some powerful items and magic can help resist taint, but none can completely stave off it’s hold. Perhaps the greatest defense against the effects of Taint is Jade – this rare stone is said to be the tears of Watasumi, and is becoming rarer and rarer. A small piece, the size of a finger, can protect a man from the taint for about a week in the Shadowlands or an attack or two from a tainted creature. The jade, however, blackens as it absorbs the taint, and is soon rendered useless.
Effects of Taint
As the taint develops the person afflicted begins to show mental and physical signs of corruption. Skin can turn paler, hair becomes greasy and they often have the appearance of being ill. They can become short-tempered, quick to respond to any perceived threats, and if the taint is unchecked the person will lose more and more control over their actions. In the end the taint can completely overcome the person, turning them into a monster under the control of Yomi. Symptoms are individual to each case, but they all ended with the same result. While it is not illegal to be tainted in Sekai, it is illegal to conceal it. Any tainted people are kept under close watch by authorities, but were generally left to live in peace so long as the affliction was not dangerous to others.
Mechanically, Taint infection is represented by Ranks and Points, similar to the way in which Glory and Honor are traced, with each Rank divided into 10 points. When a character accumulates 10 points, he gains one Rank and his points reset to zero. However, where as Honor, Glory, and even Status can go up and down as events dictate, Taint generally only goes one direction: Up. There are 6 Ranks of taint, described later.
Gaining the Taint – Active Infection
The Taint is infectious and malignant, always watching for a chance to spread. Any time a character is exposed to the Taint, however briefly, he must make a Physique roll to resist it. The Difficulty of this roll depends on the severity of the exposure (sometimes it is a Defense against an attack, sometimes it is a passive opposition). In situations where multiple conditions apply, only roll against the highest difficulty. Failure means the character gains 1 point of taint, immediately.
|Source of Exposure||Difficulty|
|Traveling in the shadowlands without Jade (per day)||3|
|Injured while in the Shadowlands||3|
|Exposed to Tainted blood/ichor||3|
|Physical Proximity/Contact with a heavily Tainted creature||3|
|Using an Active Minor Shadowlands Power||4|
|Injured (bitten/stung/clawed) by a Tainted creature||4|
|Struck with a tainted weapon||4|
|Bearing an Oni Mark (per week)||4|
|Submerged in Tainted Liquid (water or otherwise)||4|
|Using a Greater Shadowlands Power (Active)||5|
|Eating/Drinking Tainted food/water||5|
|Swallowed alive by an Oni||6|
Gaining the Taint – Growth
Once a character has the Taint, it will attempt to grow, slowly eating away at his body, mind, and soul. Minor infection can be resisted fairly easily, but the Taint is persistent and never tires, and will seize on any moment of weakness. A character who is Tainted must make periodic Physique rolls to see whether his Taint has managed to grow. The frequency and difficulty of the rolls goes up as the Taint becomes stronger. On each failure, immediately gain a point of Taint.
|Taint Level||Check Interval||Difficulty|
A character who is drinking Jade Petal Tea on a daily basis gains a +2 bonus to these rolls. Living a life of strict piety, meditation, and moral and physical purity can also make it easier to resist the growth – adding a temporary aspect that may be invoked at the GM’s discretion. Many individuals who learn they possess the Taint choose to retire to special monasteries, administered by the Brootherhood of Shinsei and regularly visited by the Kuni Witch-Hunters, where they can live pure and simple lives, drink their Jade Petal Tea, and hopefully die without becoming Lost.
Protection from Taint
The chief protection against the Taint is the sacred substance Jade. Formed from the tears of Lady Sun at the dawn of creation, jade possess intrinsic powers of purity that resist the influence of Yomi. A character who carries a piece of jade on his person gains a +2 bonus to all rolls to resist gaining the Taint. Likewise, touching jade to a potentially Tainted wound within a minute of the injury will award a +2 bonus to the roll made to resist being tainted.
Jade does not protected against the growth of Taint that a character has, and over the time the jade absorbs more and more of the taint its protective qualities fade. It turns soft and brittle, discolors, and finally becomes corrupt and foul, eventually dissolving into black sludge.
When samurai enter the Shadowlands, normally they carry small peices of jade to protect themselves and their food and drink from the “background” Taint. These are referred to colloquially as “fingers of jade”, and are considered standard issue for anyone entering the shadowlands.
Jade Petal Tea is an herbal concoction created from a rare type of blossom, cultivated by the Brotherhood of Shinsei in a handful of monasteries. It causes some of the physical and mental systems to go into remission (like discolored skin, bad odor, nightmares, etc, and temporarily deactivates any Shadowlands Powers. It does not, however, reverse any serious mutations. So long as the Tainted characters faithfully drink the tea each day, the protections remain in effect. Due to the well-known effects of the Tea, those who wish to keep their secret will often go to great lengths to procure it. The Kuni Witch-Hunters coordinate with the Brotherhood of Shinsei to keep track of who is receiving the tea and ruthlessly hunt down those who smuggle it. In fact, unauthorized possession of Jade Petal Tea is often considered to be proof of Taint.
Level 0: Seeds of Darkness
A character who has less than one full Rank of Taint is not actually considered to be Tainted. Such minor levels of infection show no symptoms, and cannot be detected by any known means – even spells like Jade Strike that specifically target Tainted individuals will not harm a person at this minor level of infection. At worst, the victim might experience a few bad dreams.
Level 1: Passive Infection
At this level, actual symptoms are still minimal – the character will experience occasional nightmares, for example, and will sometimes feel suckly or tired. However, jade will now burn the character’s skin, and Taint targeting spells such as Jade Strike and Ward of Purity will now affect him.
Level 2: Active Infection
Once a character’s Taint Rank reaches Rank 2 or higher, he is considered to be actively manifesting the Taint. He will begin to experience a variety of unsettling physical and mental symptoms, such as nightmares, nausea, and vomiting, muscle tremors, and mild hallucinations. His skill may become pale, and he may experience sudden sweats or chills, or he may develop excessive body odor. He gains one Shadowlands Power of the GM’s choice (typically Minor, but can be Major if the GM prefers).
Level 3: Consuming
The taint begins to consume and transform a character’s identity and nature. The character becomes increasingly paranoid and angry, seeing enemies everywhere. He will begin to hear whispering voices, urging him to unnatural or violent acts. Physical symptoms can include infected gums, bad vision, hair turning coars or starting to fall out, thick horny fingernails, and so forth. He gains an aspect representing the physical effects which can be compelled to hinder social interactions, and a Mutation and Power of the GMs choice.
Level 4: Deadly
When a character’s taint reaches rank 4 or higher, the Taint has nearly claimed him. At this point, he is an active focus of infection, capable of spreading the Taint to others through contact or sustained proximity. He may develop unnatural and blasphemous tastes, such as a desire for raw meat or a fascination with dead bodies, and begins to feel a powerful urge to travel to the Shadowlands. Physical symptons become worse and worse and can include blackened gums, deeply sunken eyes, coughing blood, and worse. The maddening voices of kansen fill his mind night and day. In any confrontation, he must make a Will roll with a difficulty of 3 or react with violence. By contrast, the call of Honor and proper behavior becomes increasingly hard to answer. He adds another aspect representing his taint. The character gains one additional Shadowlans Mutation and two more Shadowlands powers, chosen by the GM.
At this level, concealing the Taint becomes extremely difficult, and if it is discovered, the character will typically be forced to commit seppuku, or else simply executed as a lethal threat to the Empire. Some Kuni have been known to dissect commoners who are discovered at this level of corruption in order to learn more about the Taint’s effects.
Level 5: Lost
Typically, as soon as a characters Taint Rank reaches level 5 or higher, he is considered Lost, completely consumed by the Taint. However, characters of exceptional strength may hold out slightly longer. If the character has a Refresh of 10 or higher, he is not Lost until he reaches Taint Rank 7.
Regardless, once a character becomes Lost he is property of Yomi, and if he dies his soul will be sent to the Realm of Evil to be tortured and probably devoured by oni. While he still lives, his mind and body are utterly suffused with Yomi’s malignant power and will.
Several things, none of them good, can happen when a character becomes Lost. Sometimes the Taint completely overwhelms the body, which proceeds to mutate out of control. This is especially likely to happen to someone who becomes Lost while in the Shadowlands, or close to another major source of Taint, as the continual flow of Taint into the body completely destroys it. In such cases, the body gruesomely and agonizingly disintegrates, turning into a mass of twitching distorted flesh, finally ending as a puddle of lifeless sludge.
If the victim is spared this grisly fate he may simply go utterly and permanently mad, becoming and uncontrolled bestial predator who attacks everything nearby. The so called “screaming madmen” of the Shadowlands.
On somewhat rarer occasions, however, Yomimay find use (or amusement) in allowing its victims to retain their memories and knowledge even as it subverts their personality to the cause of evil. It is these latter beings, capable of subtle planning and organization in the cause of evil, which people typically refer to as “the Lost” (or sometimes Akutsukai, servants of evil). Those who become Lost continue to grow taint until it reaches the Ultimate maximum rank of 10, but they no longer have the ability to “embrace the taint” to enhance their physical rolls. Instead, they now continuously add half of their Taint Rank to the total of all their rolls that use physical skills. They gain 0-3 additional mutations, 0-5 minor Shadowlands powers, and 0-3 Greater Shadowlands powers, at the discretion of the GM. They can gain additional mutations and powers later if the GM thinks it is appropriate.
The lost are often mistakenly perceived as being self-willed. In fact, although they retain intelligence and self-awareness, their desires, beliefs, and intentions have been completely transformed by Yomi. Thus even though they may seemingly retain the same personality they possessed before becoming lost, they are completely evil entities, incapable of doing or thinking anything that goes against Yomi’s quest for corruption, cruelty, and death. In game terms, the Lost are NPCs, since they no longer have true volition or self-will. Encountering one of these Lost who was once a friend or family member is a deeply horrifying experience, and most people attempt to destroy such blasphemies immediately.
Calling on the Power of Yomi
Part of what makes the taint so sinister and seductive is that it can seem to offer benefits to those who have it. The most obvious is unnatural physical strength, speed, and endurance, which the Taint grants those who embrace its power. Anyone with at least Level 1 infection will be able to sense a new power within them, waiting to be used.
You may call on Yomi’s power at any time. The character declares that they are “Embracing the Taint” on any skill roll that relies on strength, speed, or endurance. Any time he does this, he immediately gains 1 point of taint, but in return, he gains a +1 bonus to the roll. Lost cannot use this ability (they continually add half of their Taint to their rolls, rounded down).
- Albinism: Your skin and hair become deathly pale, perhaps even stark white. This is very unsettling in appearance, but you can conceal it with cosmetics. You suffer a -1 penalty to social rolls if your true appearance is known.
- Beast of Fu Leng: The most terrible of mutations, this causes you to completely lose human form, distorting into a bestial or monstrous body – typically a quadraped or a bloated, ogre-ish humanoid. This severe deformity cannot be hidden, and anybody who sees you must make Will check at difficulty 3 to take a temporary aspect of Fear.
- Demonic Eyes: Any time you are in darkness or shadow, your eyes glow with an unnatural blue light. This allows you to see through darkness or other visual impairment (such as smoke or fog)
- Discolored Skin: Your skin turns an unnaturally pale or dark shade. This can be explained away as the result of an indoor or outdoor life, but regardless, each scene your aspect for your tainted appearance can be invoked once for free by an enemy in a social contest.
- Distorted Limbs: One of your arms or legs, randomly chosen, becomes misshapen or twisted, rendering it useless. This is an obvious deformity that is extremely difficult to conceal, though it can probably be explained away as the result of an injury. If the deformed limb is a leg, you gain an aspect of “Lame”, or if it is an arm, you gain the aspect of “Weak [left or right] Arm”.
- Extra Digit: You sprout an additional finger or toe. This is an obvious but minor deformity. It does not automatically suggest the presence of Taint, but it does make those who notice it uneasy. Each scene your aspect for your tainted appearance can be invoked once for free by an enemy in a social contest. If the digit is cut off, it will re-grow within 48 hours.
- Extra Eye: An additional eye sprouts somewhere on your body. You gain the aspect “Extra Eye”, which cannot be invoked unless it is uncovered (and thus possibly noticeable to others).
- Extra Limb: Your character sprouts an additional arm or leg. The limb is obviously Tainted, with discolored skin, claw-like nails, etc. It is 50% likely to be non-functional, hanging limp from the body, in which case the resulting obstruction and clumsiness is represented with an Aspect.
- Forked Tongue: Your tongue becomes long and forked, like a snake’s tongue. Concealing this mutation while speaking or eating requires a Stealth roll with a difficulty of 4.
- Foul Odor: You manifest an exceptionally putrid and disgusting body odor, impossible to ignore. No amount of bathing or perfume can suppress it. Each scene your aspect for your tainted appearance can be invoked once for free by an enemy in a social contest.
- Yomi’s Blood: Your blood becomes black and foul smelling. Anyone who sees you bleed will recognize this as an obvious symptom of the Taint.
- Tentacles: You sprout one or more tentacles, which you are able to partially control. You can use them to pick up small objects, to make attacks with small weapons, etc. Anyone seeing these tentacles will immediately recognize you as Tainted.
- Tough Hide: Your skin becomes rough and leathery. This causes you to appear unnatural or diseased. Each scene your aspect for your tainted appearance can be invoked once for free by an enemy in a social contest. However, your unnatural skin does provide some resistance to harm, granting you Armor:1.
- Undead Visage: You gain the outward appearance of being undead, with deathly gray skin, visible skin decay, and deeply sunken eyes. This deformity cannot be concealed, and anybody seeing you must make a Will check with a difficulty of 3 to avoid being feared.
- Vile Teeth: Your teeth become distorted and/or discolored, to the point of appearing inhuman. They might become pointed or jagged, sprout animal-like fangs, turn a deep brown or sickly yellow color, etc. Concealing your grotesque teeth while talking or eating is difficult, requiring a Stealth roll of difficulty 4.
When activating a power with an active effect, the character must make a Physique check, with the difficulty equal to their Taint rank, or gain a point of Taint.