Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

Home Novels L5R Other RPGs Miscellaneous Writing About Contact

Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

Spells and Secrets

From the very beginning of L5R, there has been a recurring theme that shugenja spells are “clan secrets” comparable to School Techniques. Shugenja are not supposed to share their spell-scrolls, especially with shugenja from another clan (or worse yet, with Ronin), and copying someone else’s scrolls is alleged to be dishonorable. There are also references to spell-scrolls being written in secret ciphers to protect them from such thievery.

However, this was a classic example of game mechanics not matching up with setting flavor. If spells are closely-guarded secrets, why are almost all the spells the same across all Schools? Actual “clan secret spells” did exist in the game but were very few in number in 1st Edition and basically nonexistent after that (though I tried to bring a few back in 4th).

A better argument against copying/sharing scrolls might have been one based on honor and respect – e,g, it is dishonorable for a shugenja to acquire a copy of Path to Inner Peace from another shugenja when his own sensei has not yet deemed it appropriate for him to learn. Even that, however, seems odd given that most of the lower-Rank spells are basic prayers that any properly trained shugenja should learn... so why wouldn’t their sensei let them have the scroll?

The real answer, of course, is game-balance. The more spells a Shugenja has, the more he resembles a D&D wizard, able to solve any problem better than the other characters. Restricting access to spells was intended to counteract this tendency… an effort that became steadily more necessary as later editions increased both the variety and the power of the spells in the game. “Don’t share spell-scrolls” was a clunky attempt to create an in-universe justification for something that was purely mechanical. A related problem to this one was that since pretty much all spells were available to all shugenja, there were very few real distinctions between the different Clan shugenja. The Affinity/Deficiency rules did make some modest distinctions, but these generally only mattered at the beginning (a Rank One Fire Shugenja can’t heal you) and at very high levels of experience (e.g. how soon you could access the truly broken Mastery Rank 4, 5 and 6 spells).

When I was doing new design work in 2013-2015, one of my first ideas for shugenja was to try to resolve this problem in a way that made sense in-setting while also working mechanically. So I decided to create a distinction between “Common spells” and “Secret spells.”

(Side-Note: I also decided to change spellcasting to a Skill roll, Spellcraft/Ring. This was done both to create internal consistency in the design – getting rid of the separate term “Spellcasting Roll” – and to allow for the existence of “prodigy” shugenja – who do exist in the setting – who are very good at magic despite being low Insight Rank.)

Common spells, generally but not always of lower Mastery Rank, would have been around long enough to proliferate throughout the Empire and be available to any Shugenja (including Ronin Shugenja). Secret Spells would only be available to members of the particular Clan, and perhaps grudgingly shared on an individual basis out of gratitude or as an exchange of favors. In general, though not entirely, Common Spells tended be Ranks 1-3, while Secret Spells tended to be Ranks 3-5. (I dropped Mastery Rank 6 in order to reduce the number of powerful high-Rank spells.)

This wasn’t a complete solution to the underlying problem of Shugenja having too many capabilities and options, but it did mean that their greatest flexibility was with the lower-power spells, while high-Rank Shugenja would have radically different capabilities depending on their Clan/School. (Note also that I dropped Void spells since I felt Void magic had become too “routine” in 3rd/4th Edition and had lost the mystical awe it expressed in 1st Edition.)

Aside from the “base three” (Sense, Commune, and Summon), the breakdown of spells for my intended Core Rules ended up as follows:

Common Mastery 1 Spells:

  • Armor of Earth (Earth)
  • Blessed Wind (Air)
  • By the Light of the Moon (Air)
  • Courage of the Seven Thunders (Earth)
  • Earth’s Stagnation (Earth)
  • Ebbing Strength (Water)
  • Elemental Ward (Earth)
  • Envious Flames (Fire)
  • Fire Kami’s Blessing (Fire)
  • The Fires That Cleanse (Fire)
  • Gift of Amaterasu (Fire)
  • Nature’s Touch (Air)
  • Path to Inner Peace (Water)
  • Reversal of Fortunes (Water)
  • Soul of Stone (Earth)
  • Spirit of the Water (Water)
  • To Seek the Truth (Air)
  • Warning Flame (Fire )
  • Wind-Borne Slumbers (Air)
Common Mastery 2 Spells:
  • Benten’s Touch (Air)
  • Call Upon the Wind (Air)
  • Disrupt the Aura (Fire)
  • Elemental Weapon (all four elements)
  • Extinguish (Fire)
  • Grasp of Earth (Earth)
  • Haze of Battle (Fire)
  • Inari’s Blessing (Water)
  • Jade Strike (Earth)
  • Sympathetic Energies (Water)
  • Reflective Pool (Water)
  • Whispering Wind (Air)
Common Mastery 3 Spells:
  • Biting Steel (Fire)
  • Earth Kami’s Blessing (Earth)
  • The Fires From Within (Fire)
  • Force of Will (Earth)
  • Mists of Illusion (Air)
  • Rejuvenating Vapors (Water)
  • Summon Fog (Air)
  • Tempest of Air (Air)
  • The Ties That Bind (Water)
  • Time’s Deadly Hand (Earth)
  • Walking Upon the Waves (Water)
  • Wings of Fire (Fire)
Common Mastery 4 Spells:
  • Echoes on the Breeze (Air)
  • Fires of Purity (Fire)
  • Funeral Rites (Air)
  • Maw of the Earth (Earth)
  • The Inner Ocean (Water)
Common Mastery 5 Spells:
  • Beam of the Inferno (Fire)
  • Breath of Mist (Water)
  • Fury of the Earth Dragon/Earthquake (Earth)
  • Rise, Element (all 4 elements)
  • Wrath of Kaze-no-Kami/Hurricane (Air)
Crab Clan Secret Spells:
  • Bonds of Ningen-Do (Earth 3)
  • Major Binding (Earth 5 Ritual)
  • Minor Binding (Earth 2)
  • Purge the Taint (Earth 4 Ritual)
  • Strength of the Crow (Earth 3)
  • Tomb of Jade (Earth 4)
  • Ward of Purity (Fire 3)
Crane Clan Secret Spells:
  • Draw Back the Shadow (Air 5)
  • Endless Deluge (Water 3)
  • The Eye Shall Not See (Air 2)
  • False Realm (Air 4)
  • Favor of the Air Spirits (Air 3)
  • Netsuke of Wind (Air 5)
  • Whispering Flames (Fire 3)
Dragon Clan Secret Spells:
  • Agasha’s Shield/Tamori’s Curse (Fire 3)
  • Breath of Heaven’s Fire (Fire 4)
  • Earthen Blade (Earth 5)
  • The Mending Forge (Fire 2)
  • Oath of the Heavens (Fire 3)
  • Strike as Stone (Earth 3)
  • Transmute (all four elements 3)
Lion Clan Secret Spells:
  • Call the Spirit (Air 4)
  • Defender from Beyond (Air 5)
  • Ebb & Flow of Battle (Water 4)
  • Eyes of the Ancestors (Air 2)
  • Opening the Veil (Water 5)
  • Stand Against the Waves (Water 3)
  • Strike of the Flowing Waters (Water 4)
Mantis Clan Secret Spells:
  • Dominion of Suitengu (Water 4)
  • The Fist of Osano-Wo (Fire 4)
  • Fury of Osano-Wo (Fire 2)
  • Howl of Isora (Air 4)
  • Strike of the Tsunami (Water 3)
  • Suitengu’s Embrace (Water 5)
  • Whirlpool (Water 5)
Phoenix Clan Secret Spells:
  • Consumed by Five Fires (Fire 5)
  • Destructive Wave (Fire 4)
  • The Dragon’s Talon/Kuro’s Fire (Fire 4)
  • Earth Becomes Sky (Earth 3)
  • The False Legion (Air 5)
  • Flight of Doves (Air 2)
  • Freedom of the Air (Air 4)
  • Jurojin’s Balm (Earth 2)
  • Peace of the Kami (Water 5)
  • Piercing the Heavens (Air 5)
  • Power of the Earth Dragon (Earth 5)
  • Prison of Earth (Earth 5)
  • Purity of Shinsei (Fire 2)
  • Silent Waters (Water 4)
  • Water’s Sweet Clarity (Water 5)
  • Within the Waves (Water 4)
Scorpion Clan Secret Spells:
  • Cloak of Night (Air 2)
  • Cloud the Mind (Air 5)
  • Essence of Air (Air 4)
  • Hidden Visage (Air 2)
  • The Kami’s Whisper (Air 2)
  • Know the Mind (Air 3)
  • Legion of the Moon (Air 5)
Unicorn Clan Secret Spells:
  • Chi Reversal (Water 5)
  • Master of the Rolling River (Water 5)
  • Seed of Qanan (Water 4)
  • Speed of the Waterfall (Water 2)
  • Strength of the Tsunami (Water 2)
  • Steed of the Ebbing Tides (Water 4)
  • Tenjin's Ear (Air 3)