Hot Hawk

So, you want to play a fire shugenja?

Yup, even though I’m not doing anything with L5R, I’ve been thinking about possible constructive posts.

Of course, we aren’t going to go down the path of boring old Isawa.  There are other schools that flame on.  Let’s go with something amusing but, hopefully, illuminating.

So, you decided to play a school that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen used by a PC in 4e – Agasha Shugenja.  Let’s work on the first real choice.

Agasha/Agasha?  Asako/Agasha?  Isawa/Agasha?  Soshi/Agasha?

Let’s keep it in the Phoenix (for when this would be in the Phoenix).  Why does this choice matter?  Given enough XP, it’s not so important, but we are going to start in the land of pathetic loserville and go with 40xp builds.

At this point, this choice becomes rotund.  Agasha/Agasha is interesting but far too long term.  The whole point, well, a point, of choosing the Agasha school is to have a Water deficiency since that’s interesting and Isawa Shugenja isn’t.

So, why be saddled with +1 Perception?

Two reasons.  First, at SR-2, you take Path to Inner Peace and want a 4k3 roll rather than 3k2.  Second, Perception is really, really useful.

But, not only do you have a dearth of Water, you get one more than one Earth spell at SR-1.  Earth spellcasting is just so good.  Then, you do actually get a school technique, one that keys off of wasting Void Points on unimportant things.  Get to the school technique later, but, in theory, you may actually want to use your technique, so dumping on Void is hard, harder than it would be for other shugenja.

I should note that I’m not going for quixotic for the sake of quixotism.  This isn’t my character.  It’s a sample of how to take the worst kind of shugenja and still abuse the rules.

Asako was actually my first thought as Air is just so good, especially when just a pathetic loser, so you level off Fire and Air and look a lot like a Moshi Shugenja.  I even thought about how this could help someone build their Moshi Shugenja.

But, then, I thought about the humor value in being Isawa/Agasha.  After all, people play Isawa Shugenja for the power all of the time.  Who runs from that?  Who?  Right.

So, while I need to get to other stuff and won’t bother with the Kitsu/Agasha build or whatever, keep in mind that the family/school decision matters more out of the gate.  Plus, if you like messing with people, it’s such a good way to do it.

Okay, now, you are committed to a lava build.  See if I can remember the various builds:  mud, lava, dust, steam, mist, smoke.

Evening off Earth and Fire, you spent 24xp.  Now, my inclination is Void 3, but there’s a huge problem with that.  First, you need to memorize Fires of Purity and Jade Strike, so that’s 2xp, add in Sage for either 3xp or 2xp depending upon interpretation of wording on discounts.  Okay, not that big of a deal, 7 points of disads aren’t that hard.  But, you always Luck.


Sage (3), Luck (9)

No Ishiken-Do for the obvious reason that you wanted to play a fire shugenja, not a sleazemaster.  Elemental Blessing is just too expensive for the 40xp build, though it’s an interesting long play for a non-Isawa Agasha.


Stamina 3 (12), Agility 3 (12)

Twelve points sunk into advantages.  Brutal.  Spent 36xp and have really done nothing remotely interesting other than choose a weird school.


Fires of Purity (1), Jade Strike (1)

Don’t forget to memorize spells.  Who knows, you might have a GM that never takes your scrolls from you or doesn’t force you to burn actions switching spells.  Just suck it up and sink a few XP so that you never have to worry about it.  Note that you can’t memorize the required memorized spell – Path, but you will do that at SR-2.

Why Jade Strike?  Okay, in theory, you could play in a campaign where you can get by on burning things with red flames and not green.  But, an assumption I have to make is a typical campaign.


Interesting choices, even for your last school skill.  Kenjutsu is a perfectly legit choice, but so is Jiujutsu.  Divination, Medicine, Horsemanship are all possible.  Stealth is something you toss an XP at.  Need Investigation at some point.  Have 2+disads to work with, which is pretty sad, but, I’d be inclined to drop an XP on Language and shortchange my skills even more.  Could go Kenjutsu (or Jiujutsu) 3, though that’s playing for the short term.


Which brings up something that kind of is important.  What is your Agasha going to do in the party?  Could eventually be a healer.  With a lava build and no Path, really looking at Fires of Purity, feel the wakizashi and/or grapple burn.  Can always plan ahead.  What fiery future awaits?  Well, the really cool stuff is R-5, R-6.  Get the Book of Fire, to be sure to open up some more spells you might actually want to know.  I don’t see specializing as making a ton of sense, though we can finally get around to talking about the school technique.

Two lines of thought on the school technique.  “Why would I want to waste a VP to eat up a slot in my awesome ring?  I’m going to go balanced and use my lack of a dump ring to cast extra stuff where I have spells.”  Or.  “Hey, I have this awesome ring that I can totally VP over to cast ultraPath to uberheal.”

I’m somewhat inclined to the former because you desperately need to get your rings up to 3 and get to SR-2 and SR-3 to get the sweet Water spells.  I can see the light on why you would pick to go specialized since you chose this weird school in the first place and are of that bent.  I can also see that being potentially frustrating, whether for the rest of the party or for you kind of depends upon how many other shugenja the party has.  Let’s assume zero to one other.

So, you are one of one or one of two shugenja in the party.  You need to Jade Strike.  You need to heal once you can.  You need to murder the crap out of anything that looks threatening (this is why you chose Fire, after all), even if that murdering is all about “Yo, no-dachi boy, want +1k1 damage on that thing?” or whatever where your minions murder for you.

It would be funny to build a lava character and eschew combat, but, that’s just in my ankle of the woods.


Forty is just so absurd, as you see how quickly you have nothing left.  Oh, I didn’t say anything about disadvantages.  Well, can read my post on disads.

Sixty is the least number of points I’d start experienced L5R players out with.  My latest idea, I think, is to give 60, then have GM or collaborative increases to 80.  I’m not going to go through advancing from 40 to 60, even though that might be useful, just to save space.


3 (18)


Stamina 3 (12), Agility 3 (12)


Sage (3), Luck (9)


Fires of Purity (1), Jade Strike (1)

Pretty much nothing changes … except you are way better for having Void 3.  Now, I could see a complete rethinking of the initial build now that you have some extra points.  Might even consider a split ring build where you actually start with +1 Perception.


Getting real.  Can force IR-2 with either a fourth ring at 3 or buying a lot of skills that you will mostly suck at because Earth Ring does so little for making you good at things.

After spending 42xp on Void and traits, 12 more on advantages, 3xp on memorization, what does 23+xp get you?

Lots of options, which is one of the reasons I like L5R so much.  Can start work on a ring of 4.  Can look to go Kenjutsu 7.  Can be working on getting Reflexes up to 5.  Can go Defense 5, though that’s going to pay off far more if you are also working on Reflexes.  Can even consider Spellcasting 5, which brings me to something rather important.

Spell Selection

Let’s rewind a bit.  You are in pathetic loserville and haven’t done anything interesting, yet.  Maybe spells can make this character not so cookiecutter.


This shouldn’t be too hard.  If you do a lot of combat, Tempest of Air.  If you can importune a lot, Tempest of Air.  Otherwise, probably By the Light of the Moon.


Jade Strike.  One might be tempted to do Armor of Earth with the idea of wasting one round of combat adding Reduction 4 followed by another round of combat adding 2k2 damage to everything you do or have done to you that’s “personal” followed by hugging or wild wakizashi swings.  It just isn’t that strong, especially as you advance as it scales horribly.

Earth’s Stagnation is what I keep choosing for shugenja, but this may be a case of combat overkill with a fire shugenja.  There is such a thing as doing interesting things.  Of course, what you really want is the ability to choose R-2 Earth spells and choose … the awesome combat spells at E-2.

Other core book choices aren’t necessarily unusable.  Lot of people take Jurojin’s Balm for that one moment when it ever matters.  What gives me slight interest in spells I never see cast is the long durations for some of the E-1 spells.


Well, you chose the weakest element.  After Fires of Pure Cheese, which you have to take because you don’t want to let team samurai down, you actually have a variety of choices.  As much as I don’t find Fire spells to be all that great, I do see a lot of them cast.

Extinguish gets cast a fair amount because it’s an easy way to gain Honor, I mean, it’s a humble and kind thing to do.  Fury of Osano-Wo has range.  People talk about Katana of Fire a lot for reasons that escape me.  I already have a wak and far more important actions to take.  If people are constantly being disarmed, well, I didn’t memorize this so I won’t have my scroll, either, unless the GM is trying to make KoF more useful.  Actually, no, I did memorize this as the only reason it matters is when the GM is messing with your stuff.  So, now, I need to memorize a low yield spell on top of everything else?  I suppose you can have your buddy get through invulnerability by handing off your magic, but that’s kind of sad panda time for everyone – you have to waste a spell when you could have been Jade Striking, your buddy is worthless without your spell, what about your other buddies being worthless?

Biting Steel is kind of interesting for when you want a buddy to really murder stuff.  Kind of see it being more relevant at IR-3, when your murder buddy attacks twice, your enemies run around with 12 Reduction and/or Spirit, or whatever.  Arguably makes something magic to get through invulnerability.

You chose to burn things.  You get upgraded burn options at SR-1.  So many take The Fires From Within.  Sure, if you never fight Tainted stuff, it’s something else to do, also something else to burn Tainted things with when you run out of Earth slots (not that you ever want to do that).  Mental Quickness sees use, but you are a fiery lord of immolation; I guess the Agasha/Agasha investigator build who doesn’t immolate everything would take this early.

The numbers on Tail of the Fire Dragon are really interesting.  When I had a Fire-6 shugenja build, I did the basic math this spell requires, and I was frightened.  This spell just scales in ways that so many others don’t.  Why would you rather use this than TFFW?  Spell slots.  One slot on this to be doing like 8k4 attacks with 4k4 damage not too far into the future, still at range, compared to having to burn a slot every time you want to fireball something.  Now, TFFW does allow for multiple targets, which is massive.  It’s why Jade Strike just owns combat.  One action, double damage is a thing to consider.

So, you FoP yourself on round one to discourage aggro.  You can take a few hits but are way too easy to hit because you didn’t go smoke but went lava.  Round 2, Tail??  That means you don’t murder anything until round three and you don’t even get to tack FoP on to Tail.  Of course, you might have FoPed another PC or, even, a NPC.  Still, this is one area that shugenja suffer – can eat up a lot of actions buffing yourself to own combat.

As terrifying as Tail can be, I actually rarely see it get used much.  By the time you just annihilate things, the rest of the party probably doesn’t suck at combat, either.  The rest of the party far more needs to be FoPed or to be healed or to be Force of Willed or needs a three target Jade Strike.  Once you whip it, you whip it hard, but it’s just so long to get the whip phase going.

You hit SR-2, can now take R-3 Fire spells.  Do you?  There’s nothing essential to take.  Path and another Earth spell will eat up two of your three choices.  Hungry Blade is something I saw with the prior edition.  I just don’t know if it’s as crazy as it was when someone cast it on my war fan and everything died.  I can see Shining Light being incredibly annoying, but I also never recall it being cast.  The Fist of Osano-Wo is so much more fun when you drop like four of them at once because you can cast R-6 Fire spells – Book of Fire, my friends, Book of Fire.

At SR-3, Wall of Fire opens up, which is hot.

Back On Track

So, you have XP, you have some spells though less than you want, you might have started working on skills or a ring of 4/5.  You’ve murdered goblins, bandits, maho-tsukai, gaijin.  Why are you playing a Fire shugenja?  Was it just to cast Breath of Fire and start breath weaponing your enemies?  Was it to whip it?  Was it to summon a bunch of fire dragon heads and bombard every chaff foe in sight?  Yup, it was to do the last.

I see three philosophies with your Agasha.  You ramp up as much as possible and get into spells where you do 8k6(x10) damage to enemies.  Not that that is different from what Isawa Fire shugenja will do.  You focus on your Fire Ring and Stealth and Horsemanship and Commerce your way to coolness, which is something I would do with a different school.  You take some noncombat spells and every once in a while blow a VP on mixing stuff up.

Sure, there’s alchemy or multielement spellcasting or whatever unnecessary mechanics you can dig through in supplements.

Fire has some interesting spells.  It has some spectacular spells at high ranks or if you build up your ring enough and whip it.  It’s just a bit too prone on variations of doing damage or in giving buffs to attack rolls.

Possibly more so than the idea of burning things is how I wouldn’t be boring and take the Isawa school but be awesomely radical and take the Agasha school so that I have a Water deficiency and have to not just plan on taking the same old, same old awesome Water spells.  Sure, and I can “craft”.  Then, whenever I can find a way to do ring switching with my technique and actually leverage it, I do that (and watch the Isawa and Tamori snicker because my tech isn’t cheese).

The lava build is kind of dull.  It’s a 40xp plan.  If I can avoid starting off a zero, maybe I do embrace the investigator build and actually bother with skills (as long as I get to SR-2).  I might go Asako and build an Agasha duelist, but that’s me and not anyone else.

The point of this post wasn’t optimization.  It was to address effectiveness with an archetype on the one hand that is godlike but on the other is more demigodlike.  Why?  Because it draws together what I’ve said in other character building posts and the more I think about an Isawa in the Agasha school, the more I warm up to the idea.

2 Responses to Hot Hawk

  1. Scaredybushi says:

    Have you checked out the L5R area of the fantasy flight games site? Someone has done some work on turning shugenja into 5 rank schools so their not so…… best at everything while still keeping their flavors. I’d love to hear your input on what’s been done. I’d post a link but my phone hates me.

    • iclee says:

      I occasionally read it. I haven’t joined partially because the level of activity isn’t that high, partially because I know I’ll just get sucked into arguing the same things over and over again. What’s funny is that so many people want to change 4e, where I’m actually at a place where I’m like “Drop grappling rules, play.” There are so many worse RPG systems out there, and I play in some of them.

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