My review of the core rulebook for Legend of the Five Rings was my first experience with the samurai-focused RPG and it was love at first nerd, so when I received Shadowlands and the Mask of the Oni adventure module, I was eager to dive back into the world of Rokugan. Luckily for me, Fantasy Flight Games seems dedicated to supporting their Japanese-inspired setting with sourcebooks that expand upon the setting and give additional player options to their characters, as well as adventure modules to help lazy or overburdened game masters. And after reading through both of these add-ons, my love for the world of Rokugan has only grown.
Whereas the core rulebook focused on the themes and mechanics to run the ultimate samurai campaign, Shadowlands and Mask of the Oni are a deep-dive into the Southernmost part of Rokugan. In this part of the world, things are controlled by the brash and courageous Crab Clan, who defend the lands from the horrors that exist south of the wall. Everything here revolves around the epic struggle between good and evil, which makes the politics and wars of men happening elsewhere seem distant and petty by comparison. By default Legend of the Five Rings is about the internal struggles of samurai as they carry out the will of their lords, but in Shadowlands such themes take a backseat to the heroic efforts of those brave enough to dive into the throat of evil, never knowing if they’ll make it back alive, or worse still, if they’ll return the same people they left as.
The more substantial of the two Shadowlands-focused add-ons is the Shadowlands sourcebook, a 144-page guide to running a campaign in the most dangerous part of Rokugan. The cover features a quite grim illustration of what to expect beyond the Crab Clan’s protective walls and the back warns that in reading these pages you’ll learn of Rokugan’s greatest evil. In addition to all the new material, within the book’s pages you’ll find some of the darkest, creepiest art to be featured in Legend of the Five Rings, and the stylistic Japanese design that serves as the game’s hallmark. Here’s what you can expect to find inside:
Chapter 1: Dark Histories
The first 74 pages of the sourcebook are dedicated exclusively to expanding upon the setting details of southern Rokugan. Chiefly, you’ll learn about the book’s namesake, the Shadowlands, an evil, corrupted land filled with vile monsters and wicked apparitions. You’ll get a glimpse into some of the places you can visit, like the False Lantern Grove, an illusory shrine that masks a morbid graveyard, or The Lost Library, a profane archive of the world’s most forbidden knowledge. You’ll also read about the most powerful clan in the area, the Crab Clan, who has dedicated itself to the task of defending the wall their ancestors built, and traversing the Shadowlands to strike back against the darkness that corrupts the area.
Each of these areas is greatly detailed, and includes tips for incorporating these areas into your campaign, including dozens of adventure seeds to use as a jumping off point for GMs afflicted with writer’s block. Equally useful are the NPCs provided in some of these areas to serve as possible characters your players could meet along the way. One of my criticisms of the core rulebook for Legend of the Five Rings was the fact that it was a bit light on setting information, and this sourcebook corrects that shortcoming and then some, by providing a wealth of information on one of the setting’s most captivating areas.
Chapter 2: Honor Against Demons
This section will likely be a favorite of players more so than GMs, as it serves as the sourcebook’s section dedicated to player options — and there are quite a few to speak of. The most significant addition are the details the chapter provides on the Falcon Clan, one of the minor clans mentioned in the core rulebook that didn’t have specific rules for playing. You’ll find a wealth of information about the clan’s history and philosophy, as well as the families and schools you can belong to, if you want to play as a member of this clan.
Beyond that, there are also new options for advantages and disadvantages that are specific to the Shadowlands, which have some fairly creepy implications. For example, you can take the advantage of “dead eyes,” which means your character has seen so many terrible things that they’re no longer very vulnerable to fear. Or you can take the “Shadowland Taint” disadvantage, which means your character has been corrupted by the evil of the Shadowlands, giving her leathery corpse-like skin and other downsides. And of course, you’ll also find new heritages, equipment, and techniques geared around playing in the Shadowlands, giving you more tools of the samurai trade to play with.
Chapter 3: Out of the Shadow
The final chapter of the sourcebook is geared towards game masters, and offers tips, advice, and tools for running a campaign in the Shadowlands. One important component here is the extensive section that discusses how to alter the campaign to incorporate elements of horror, which details some specific examples on how to make your stoic samurai players quake with fear unbecoming of their role. The tools found here are equally useful, including some additional monster stats and descriptions to use in the Shadowlands, as well as new rulesets to use south of the wall.
Much like the core rulebook, the main component missing here is any kind of fleshed out adventure module to use in a campaign. Sadly, it seems the makers decided to sell the module separately, which became Mask of the Oni. I’m all for buying adventure modules separately, but I think for a $40 sourcebook, it would be nice to at least include a short self-contained adventure that goes beyond the “adventure seeds” that are provided as jumping off points throughout the book.
Mask of the Oni Adventure Module and Shadowlands World Map
Sold separately as a $20 bundle, the Mask of the Oni Adventure Module is a 31-page journey that takes players into the Shadowlands on an odyssey to confront their deepest fears. The adventure is designed to be played in the aftermath of the Dark Tides adventure module found in the Game Master’s Kit. The quest begins when the players learn about a formidable evil at Daylight Castle, a ruined palace located well-beyond the wall separating the Shadowlands from the rest of Rokugan. Within the castle, players discover a dark plot that threatens to destroy them all.
A map is included with this package. On one side is a zoomed-in view of the southern section of Rokugan, with many more details on the locations and natural barriers of the area. The other side has two illustrations of Daylight Castle, one which shows the structure from the outside, and one which peels back the walls to reveal the rooms and details within, presumably to be used as a visual aid during your session.
The adventure is incredibly detailed and provides a ton of history behind the events leading up to the adventure. The fact that it serves as a follow-up to the Dark Tides adventure module makes it incredibly easy to integrate into an existing campaign, especially ones where the group’s interest lies in more grand spectacles than the minutiae of daily life as a samurai. That said, it’s pretty brief for a $20 price tag, and doesn’t come with any additional player options or references that could become useful once you’ve run the adventure. The map, on the other hand, is extremely high quality and could be an invaluable resource for groups who intend on spending a lot of time in this region of Rokugan.
Legend of the Five Rings: Shadowlands
Shadowlands and the Mask of the Oni are worthy expansions to a stellar game. Though the adventure module is briefer than I would like, and the sourcebook leaves out crucial elements that have to be purchased separately, both are essential items for those hoping to run a campaign in the Shadowlands.