L5R Questions

I got some requests, one old and one new, that I want to get to.

The old request was to rate shugenja schools.  Why didn’t I do that long ago?  They don’t interest me that much, one.  Two, when any shugenja is far more capable than other samurai, does it really matter what you choose from a mechanical standpoint?

But, I do have preferences and do have some thoughts on what I would consider better.


What’s my first consideration?  Affinity/Deficiency.  Not because I give a crap about an extra +1k0 on spellcasting, even though it actually has value.  It’s all because of what key spells I’ll be missing as an IR-1 character.

Now, shugenja have massive incentives to get to IR-2, as going from Ring+1k0 to Ring+2k0 is rather important but more important is having three additional spell options.  (In some people’s play, spell choice may not matter as much, but that’s some people I’ve never played with until our party got to around IR-4 and the GM allowed the shugenja to take any spells they wanted, which they promptly forgot to do.)  Also, raising Rings to cast better will propel you to IR-2 whether you want to go there or not.

Before getting into the key spells of each element, which comes before getting into how to look at the schools, let me just say that I find Earth and Water to have the bulk of important spells, with Air have some nice noncombat effects, and Void being cheese, I mean, “synergistic”.


Tempest of Air may be the spell I mostly commonly see cast outside of post combat Path to Inner Peace.  By the Light of the Moon is often not taken because not only do shugenja get to do magic, they get to Importune.  But, if your GM makes Importuning annoying, then it’s one of the Air spells I consider.  Nature’s Touch is highly situational but, unlike a lot of spells, interesting because it’s not just another combat spell.  Legacy of Kaze-no-Kami has some use.

I have issues with Benten’s Touch, as I find it incredibly cheaty, but why single out any particular spell for shugenja as cheaty when it’s all they do?  Call Upon the Wind is odd in that it’s rather awful flight, but, hey, it’s flight.

Speaking of cheaty, Secrets on the Wind has dishonorable win.  Other stuff – illusions, defenses – are all too dependent upon circumstances.


I’ve played in a campaign where Jade Strike was useless.  Other than that, it’s one of three spells that must be memorized (unless you are Earth deficient and are IR-1).  It, Path to Inner Peace, and your go to combat spell against non-Tainted (Tempest, Fires, Touch, whatever).

I suggest and keep writing up characters that have Earth’s Stagnation because:  you are already going to have a good Earth to nuke stuff with Jade Strike and you might as well have something else to do in combat; it so easily hits multiple targets, which is why Jade Strike is more like Jade Barrage.  But, how good is it?  It’s much better against monsters that run around with goofy attacks like 4k4.  As, amazingly enough, 2k2 attack rolls don’t hit much of anyone in 4e.  The movement impact is quite interesting.  Is it Tempest of Air?  No.  But, maybe you will have a GM who actually doesn’t let you get away with hitting 3+ targets with Tempest of Air all of the time.

Jurojin’s Balm gets mentioned a lot.  Occasionally even gets cast.  Not essential but possible filler.

Be the Mountain is your first step to “Rock beats all”.  Once you have 15/20 Reduction (yes, you could have a much more fair 10), combat is rather jovial.  Earth Becomes Sky will eventually be your go to “I’ve got a rock” way of dealing with enemies still breathing.  Embrace of Kenro-ji-jin is pritnear necessary as it’s supercheaty.  Force of Will is my newest “You know, really, every shugenja has to have this spell as early as possible” spell.  Grasp of Earth always works out better in practice than it reads.

I don’t consider any R-3 spells necessary, but The Wolf’s Mercy pretty quickly ends a bunch of things.  Wall of Earth is very D&Desque in terms of just being crazy when used correctly.  The Kami’s Strength makes combat jovial^2.


Fires of Purity.  Mein Gott, is this busted.  It’s the one Fire spell that you have to know if you want to be cream cheese.  Extinguish is the only other Fire spell out of the corebook I care about.  Everything else is just too much “Okay, I burn something” or too high rank.  It’s not like Fury of Osano-Wo is bad.  Not even The Fires From Within is bad.  It’s just that they do things that your Reflexes 5 shugenja can do with fleshcutters (alternatively, you are Jade Striking liking crazy those things fleshcutters suck against).  Wall of Fire has Wall of Earth like uses.  The Mending Forge should be R-2.

Book of Fire has the best new spells.  Why?  Because I think it was realized that Fire spells just kind of claimed mediocreville out of the corebook.  I mean, even I, hater of casting spells, can get excited by a barrage of 6k4s or by dropping four spells in one round off of my R-6 spell.


This is why you never want to start with Water deficiency – every party must have maximum Path Power.  Reversal of Fortunes is the next most crazy R-1 (water) spell.  I usually go Reflections of Pan Ku third, as Sympathetic Energies is for higher rank combos.  Rejuvenating Vapors is the only R-2 I care about.  Stand Against the Waves does have uses, when you have some combat monster in the party, but it’s an action for an action.

You take your Silent Waters as your first R-3.  Then, may or may not bother with another R-3.  Heart of the Water Dragon is supercommon in my play.  Everyone wants Peace of the Kami.  Nobody ever seems to cast it for obvious reasons.


Touch the Emptiness is autowin against a whole bunch of stuff.  Drawing the Void is ridiculous to begin with, then you combo Kharmic Intent.  Sense Void has noncombat uses.

Altering the Course is why you are better than everyone else at everything.  This isn’t even limited to a skill roll …

Okay, let’s move on to the schools.  Void shuggies are the most broken form of god, so I’ll just ignore them from now on.


What they do well is what I like to do, and they get Air deficiency, which is fine.  It’s just not a flexible technique.  While L5R spellcasters are really pushed towards combat in terms of what their spells often do (see how many spells are combat effects), pushing even more towards combat is shrugworthy.  Two of the most common Earth spells have the Jade tag.  Synergistic, yes, focuses too much on certain things, also yes.


They clarified what sort of action it took to activate the ability.  I’ve always played with it being a free action, which I don’t really have a problem with no matter how godly that is because I like PCs surviving.  As a complex action, that’s a rather serious reconsider on tactics.  Now, what you do is take a more “don’t touch this” strategy early on in fights so that the Asahina doesn’t have to think about what to do on round one.

Fire deficiency is arguably the best deficiency, as it is possible to win combats without Fires of Purity.  It’s funny how you get a free raise on Be the Mountain.

Personally, I love helping my party not die, so this is a school I think about a lot, even though I have little desire to play a Crane and am less inclined to Different School than I used to.


I like the Tamori.  I feel like it’s an area of playing Dragon that I could explore.  I despise this school.

Now, of course, it’s horribly overpowered.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Two spells a round is such incredible abuse (or handing your potions out and having Simple-tons power up before unleashing no-dachiness).  I might hate it somewhat for that.  But, mostly, this is so incredibly D&D in nature, I just ignore it and hope it goes away.

Having the Tamori have the Agasha school would be so, so much better.  Or, something that wasn’t so, so not what I picture of Rokugan.


Weak Fire, good.  Quite an interesting ability, though also kind of limited unless your GM is open to the idea of spiritual abilities being spiritual advantages, in which case, wow, are you going to wreck some monsters.

As someone who is basically a Phoenix but feels like he can play a Lion okay (no longer thinks he can play a Dragon okay), I’m certainly a fan.  But, I’d say it’s not particularly strong, which also makes me a fan.  Battle is really something more for Earth, which leads to an interesting “mud” shugenja build (as opposed to the numerous mud shugenja ideas I normally think of).  Force of Will free raise into The Kami’s Strength, though that requires serious XP.


Why not include Yoritomo Shugenja in the analysis?  Because lazy.

Weak Earth, bad, very bad.  Makes some sense why you would focus more on The Fires From Within as your nuke-Shadowlands prowess takes a big hit.  Not excited by the technique at all.  Thunder tag does help with key Earth spells, when you get around to taking them.

Moshi are one of my favorite families, but I’m still not that much of a fan of this school.  Flying may be fun, swimming under the earth is what owns your enemies.


Far be it for me to question the wisdom of people who actually play shugenja.  Those who care more about Max, the overdog, keep coming back to this school as simply the best, better than a Wasp’s … Longbow.

I find it boring.  It has so little character.  I want interesting abilities, not just a free raise on half the spells I cast.  It’s the Tsuruchi Archer of shugenja schools.


Terrible Affinity/Deficiency.  Rather uninspiring technique as Void Points are kind of precious for those who don’t Draw the Void.

There has to be a more interesting way to do the “wrong” element thing.  Still, I’m not a hater because it, at least, isn’t “hit me with one of your Be the Mountain potions, kami-sabe”.  Craft is not the tag I want.  Just soft pudding.


Well, know that I’m never going to play one of these.  Sure, I actually like the Bayushi Bushi school.  But, even the chances of that are nearly nil.

Weak Earth, bad.  This school sure gets a lot of questions about its tech.  Not sure why.  I don’t really care if a PC whose school technique is all about sneaky spellcasting casts sneakily.  Illusions are also a potential source of grief.  At least we don’t have disbelieve mechanics to worry about.


The Ide/Iuchi is a rather expected build since we know how everyone loves double stacking traits.  Water/Fire is strong yet not so creative.  The supermove ability matters when on a horse.  Travel is not a good tag.

Lends itself to a mud build.  Could go shower build, if needed, I suppose.  But, then, everyone “needs” Reflexes 5 and Awareness 3+, so whatever.


Bonus section.  I like me my Bat Clan … right up until the tired Batman jokes.  I like secret communication across hundreds of miles.  Tonbo would interest me more if I didn’t dislike the Tonbo.  Reasonable school if you can put up with Lion hating you.  Kitsune Family is a fave.  I actually have Kitsune statblocks worked up as I can see doing this.  One of them was a megathematicfail, as a Fire 6 Kitsune just makes no sense, not even to me.  The school should have a Fire deficiency.  Snake is pretty much meaningless to me for thematic reasons.  Mud good, tech bad.  Seppun school gets a bunch of grief, and I’m like “But, you are still a god, so who cares?”  Terrible Affinity/Deficiency, but I would hope that I get to use the first part of the ability and the second part … well, you start with 10 koku, spend more time shopping Imp.

So … … …

The most recent request was to go over the ratings of school/path combos for certain builds.

Jade Legionnaire

Insane technique.  If you fight Crane and Lion all of the time, you are doing a poor job mister Legionnaire.  You will crush like tiny heads monsters and maho-tsukai and stuff.  Definitely a five star tech.

Crab Berserker

I really like the R-2 ability of Hida Bushi.  But, it’s fair.  This isn’t.  This is pure mangoes.  I was in a fight a month or so back when there was a big “whew” that we murdered a dude in the first round so that he wouldn’t Hulk out on us.  We fought a Hulk in one of the last sessions of the Princess Police.  That was a brutal reminder of how dangerous NPCs could be when someone actually bothered to make them more PClike.

You have to have one or two shuggie buddies to make you not die, of course.

Defender of the Wall

I love me this school.  I want it so much I’d even consider the massive waste of XP that Strength 5 is.  I’m the sort to take this at IR-3, but, anyway.  Is it actually good?

Rank 2 is gorgeous.  Stack that Reduction and watch all of your fellow PCs die, um, I mean, watch your fellow PCs watch you charge all of their enemies while they sit back and shoot Fleshcutters with their 8ke5 attack rolls.  Easily a five star ability.

Rank 1?  I want that.  If my sessions see this as a relevant ability more often than not, well, it’s something you don’t just get for being in the Empress’s Guard, studying with the Emerald Champion, or the like.  Assuming it’s regular, it’s like a three star ability to me.  Maybe a four.  Admittedly, it matters somewhat less when you are berserk.  In a lot of campaigns, I’d say it’s probably two stars.


Spending two VPs a round has uses, sure.  Though, it’s unlikely you are Void 6, so you might want to have a Phoenix buggie who Kharmic Intents.  I don’t know why VPs are limited to once per round, in the first place.  It’s not like you get one back when you explode three times on your dice.

I’m also going to take a strict view that this only applies in combat/duels, where you are “wielding” your daisho.  I’m just not that excited.  Advanced schools are such a pain to get in the first place in my play, that I like to see crazy stuff, like Lionesses get.

The R-2 is crap.  First of all, when are you ever going to lose a duel?  We aren’t talking about “my” Swordmaster, who would be like Awareness 2 with Weakness Awareness just to give someone a chance.  We are talking about a player who wants to crush the multitalented.  Second, this does nothing if you were going to win the Awareness roll, anyway.  It’s all dueling rock, paper, katana nonsense.  If someone wants to run simulations of thousands of duels … I guess they need a new forum to display the results.  I just don’t care.  I’m already an Iaijutsu 5/Void 4 dueling bully.  It’s just not a build I can ever see doing for a Mirumoto.  A Daigotsu?  Sure.  A Hida?  Of course.


One Response to L5R Questions

  1. Fiendish says:

    Hi, still reading and getting good entertainment and game value from your posts :D

    Thanks for covering the shugenja schools, as you say just being a shugenja puts you head and shoulders above, but I always did wonder where you’d put the Isawa for instance :)

    Great guide as always, cheers.

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