THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A NINJA!
Almost since the beginning of the Empire, rumors and tales have spread through Rokugan of mysterious, shadowy killers called “ninja.” They are silent, black-clad assassins who slip through the heaviest defenses, steal precious treasures from behind locked doors, and murder lords while their samurai stand guard outside. They can pass through walls, take others’ faces, vanish into the shadows in a heartbeat. Such stories are found most frequently among the common folk, but samurai hear them too. Most samurai scoff at tales of ninja, deriding them as mere peasant superstition. An easy claim to make in daylight, but harder to hold on to when one is standing midnight guard on a castle wall, squinting into the darkness and wondering if it is moving…
Accusations of “ninja” are likely to fly any time a theft or murder contains mysterious or inexplicable elements, and there have been plenty of times through Rokugan’s history when samurai have reported encounters with strange assailants in black clothing. Magistrates investigate these cases as best they can, executing the rare criminals they can actually catch. The Kitsuki family in particular has dedicated itself to investigating the ninja myth and learning if there is any truth behind it.
In reality, the legends of ninja derive from the activities of many different covert groups. Foremost among these, unsurprisingly, is the Scorpion Clan. The Shosuro family’s secretive Infiltrator school outfits its graduates with black clothing and specialized equipment and training, then sends them forth to serve the clan through covert actions such as eavesdropping, theft, and assassination. Early on, the Shosuro realized they could often perform their missions better if guards and other security forces could be distracted by a more obvious threat. Accordingly, the Infiltrators’ younger students and apprentices were assigned to play the role of “ninja,” lurking ostentatiously and assailing guards with exotic but only mildly effective weapons such as shuriken and nageteppo (smoke grenades). Guards might spend hours chasing these “ninja” around the castle, only to return and find their lord strangled or poisoned by a far more capable assassin. Naturally, these incidents only furthered the mystique attached to the ninja myth, much to the amusement of the Scorpion. In fact, some Scorpion claim the very word “ninja” came from a castle guard mis-hearing an Infiltrator barking orders to his fellows.
The other major source behind the ninja myth is a far more sinister one: the alien force known variously as the Nothing or the Lying Darkness. The Darkness’ strange shadowspawn creatures, the Goju, have haunted the Empire almost since its founding, killing and kidnapping according to their own enigmatic goals. Their strange powers of mimicry and their ability to move through darkness and even penetrate physical barriers, not to mention their inhuman resilience, are the source of most of the more exotic and mystical tales associated with ninja. (For more detailed information on these creatures, see the “Nothing” chapter in the L5R 4The Edition sourcebook Enemies of the Empire.) After the Darkness was defeated at the Battle of Oblivion’s Gate, most Rokugani believe the Goju are gone forever, but in fact small numbers of them survive as the agents of the Shadow Dragon, and their actions continue to maintain the ninja legend in modern Rokugan.
Other smaller groups and organizations throughout the Empire’s history have also unleashed covert operatives whose activities help sustain and expand the ninja myth. The Kolat conspiracy, for example, maintains its own stable of highly skilled assassins whose skills and activities are similar to those of the Shosuro. Some ronin bands also pursued a career as assassins, employing “ninja” methods and weaponry as convenient. There have even been criminals who have tried to exploit the ninja legend to enhance their own fame or to frighten their victims—for example, at the end of the eleventh century a group of “ninja thieves” terrorized the citizens of Ryoko Owari Toshi for several months. That era also saw the notorious career of the “white ninja,” Matsu Hiroru, a Lion who had been groomed for membership in the Kolat. Hiroru rejected his would-be Kolat masters and spent many years as an independent assassin, killing not only agents of the conspiracy but also the minions of the Lying Darkness…
The truth is no self-respecting honorable Samurai would ever admit knowing anything about Ninja or would ever consider using such underhanded methods to deal with someone… Just like no self-respecting honorable Samurai would visit the brothels or Geisha house while they have a spouse…
The Fun thing about Lot5r is that it is there is a clear reading between the lines undertone to everything. The clans all generally hate the Scorpion Clan but, as asked, why are the Scorpions still around unless they have something to offer the other clans. Not just information or back dealing but the Shosuro clan likely sells its services to anyone willing, and Samurai always need someone to deal with their problems like greedy merchants, witness
While Honor is a big deal and very real deal, most of the character that Honor and glory apply to is a very small number of the population, Rokgun’s size isn’t necessarily static between edition, the rest of the Empire might as well be Sengoku Japan 70% of the time.