Review – Trail of Shadows (Legend of the Five Rings)

Trail of Shadows continues the excellent series of clan-focused Legend of the Five Rings novellas, this time focusing on the Crab Clan (and also the nezumi). The star of the show this time is Hida Sukune, one of the children of Crab Clan Champion Hida Kisada. Hida Sukune possesses a masterful military mind, but he is physically weak in a clan that lionizes raw strength.

In particular, Sukune has been arguing that the Crab need to rethink how they fight the Shadowlands – that perhaps just standing on the Wall and trying to outlast the teeming hordes of the Shadowlands is not a long-term viable strategy. The Crab, for all of their disavowal of many of the graces of Rokugani culture, are still very Rokugani in their adherence to an “if it was good enough for my ancestors, it good enough for me – in fact, I’m insulted that you think there might be something better” attitude.

Trail of Shadows kicks off with the nezumi, who find ancient suit of Crab armor deep in the Shinomen Forest. Sukune is given charge of the force sent to recover the armor and deal with the evil that guarded it and now threatens the nezumi. This serves as either a test, or a chance for Sukune to prove himself, depending on how you look at it – the relatively frail (yet still able to walk around in super-heavy armor) Sukune must physically deal with the physical rigors of an extended mission into the deep darkness of the Shinomen and the social rigors of commanding forces that may respect his position, but not him personally.

I’ve always found Sukune to be a likable character, and it was fun reading about this version of him. The nezumi are always a nice change of pace, although their presence here is front-loaded. The characters presented a solid cross-section of Crab archetypes, but didn’t just represent those archetypes. The creepy vibe of Shinomen Forest really came to life.

More than any of the other novellas, Trails of Shadows made me think back to “Old5R” and how different the story was in some ways. This version of Hida Sukune isn’t highly respected by the rank-and-file, but he has the backing of his father and clan champion. Old5R Hida Kisada was a horrible bully to his mentally brilliant but physically frail son, and that was before Kisada let Kuni Yori nail Sukune to a battle standard (Kisada took a turn for the heroic because he was popular with Crab Clan players, so it’s easy to forget that he was one of the main villains of the story when Legend of the Five Rings first launched).

As with the other novellas in this series, Trail of Shadows included promo cards for the LCG and some RPG-focused background setting information after the story (but no RPG mechanics). I found the material in Trail of Shadows less useful than in the other novellas, but I’m guessing that it’s at least in part because of Old5R knowledge. The information presented seems pretty basic, but maybe this is the first time that new5R has talked about how the Wall was first created, or the basics of the nezumi or the Shinomen Forest. The novella itself was a substantially more interesting presentation on the subject.

I’ve been very happy with the Legend of the Five Rings novellas, and Trail of Shadows continued that. Definitely worth checking out for any L5R fan.

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