Honor and Steel
The Shadowlands south of the Kaiu Wall (or Carpenter’s Wall) is a veritable hell on Earth. When the nine kami fell from Tengoku to Nin-gendo, Fu Leng tumbled away from his brothers and sisters and his impact drove a hole through the mortal realm and into Jigoku, the Realm of Evil. This hole is known as the Festering Pit of Fu Leng. Jigoku has since been spreading outward into the mortal realm, corrupting everything with what is known as the Shadowlands Taint. Nothing is safe from it; not rocks, trees, the very air itself, and most especially people.
On your character sheet you will see a notation for Shadowlands Taint, and at the beginning it is usually zero (you can take some Taint as a Disadvantage). You contract Shadowlands Taint in one of several ways. First, you can simply come into contact with someone, or something, that already has the Taint; merely touching them is enough. You can kill a goblin, ogre, or some other Shadowlands creature, get its bloody ichor on you, and that could give you the Taint. You could be kissed by a Bog Hag, or afflicted with a Maho Spell. You could be near a portal to Jigoku, such as the Festering Pit itself, but there are others (such as the former capital of Rokugan, Otasan Utchi – Fu Leng invaded there prior to the Second Day of Thunder). Or, you could simply be in the Shadowlands (or some other desecrated area) without any protection from a finger of Jade; eventually, you will be Tainted.
If there is a risk of becoming Tainted, you roll a Earth Ring test against the source of the Taint. If you fail, you get one point of Taint. Ten points of Taint is equal to one Rank of Taint, and if you get five full ranks of Taint, you are Lost. You are a creature of the Shadowlands.
When you get that first point of Taint, it grows on its own, slowly at first, but faster the more Ranks you have. Further, the more ranks you have in the Taint, the more powers it may confer to you, through mutations and other things.
How do you get rid of Shadowlands Taint?
Well, that’s not true. There are spells that can get rid of it for you, but one destroys you, and the other transfers the Taint onto other people. The latter is a major ritual, and is not likely going to be performed on you unless you’re a very important person.
So what can you do when you get the Taint?
In Rokugan, anyone showing signs of the Taint must tell his lord about it immediately. He cannot keep it a secret; doing so is a major crime known as Harboring the Taint, sometimes punishable by execution (a disgraceful way to die). Once he tells everyone he’s got the Taint, he has one of two options: He can ask to commit seppuku, or he can live with it in the hopes of using the Taint against the Shadowlands in some way. If he chooses to live with it, his life has just changed.
Choosing to live with the Taint, the afflicted samurai has to keep his distance away from other people. He cannot touch others. He cannot get married if he isn’t already, and if he is he must distance himself from his wife (they usually divorce), or, if he has children, he cannot be near his children. He can’t attend festivals. He can’t attend tea ceremonies (well, he can have one by himself). He can’t go to the teahouse anymore. Even just having one point of Taint changes his life forever.
As soon as the empire knows of his Taint, he will be visited by Kuni Shugenja, the Witch-Hunters, of the Crab Clan. They are very odd, sometimes creepy men and women, who wear red and white kabuki make-up, who go around and hunt down those Harboring the Taint, Bloodspeakers, and Shadowlands monsters. They will monitor him, and give him Jade Petal Tea, a special and specific herbal tea (it doesn’t contain actual jade) made by monks. This tea will halt the progress of the Taint, and remove all powers and conditions associated with it, so long as the afflicted samurai remembers to take it every day.
Procuring Jade Petal Tea on one’s own in an attempt to hide the Taint from people is a good way of being discovered, and it is considered proof of guilt.
So it goes without saying that you never want to get the Shadowlands Taint. Ever. And you want to avoid those who have it.
Incidentally, the Taint is also one of the primary reasons why the Rokugani cremate their dead. If a person is Tainted, there’s a good chance that he could come back as undead. So they don’t take the risk.