In Rokugan, Samurai fight wars with swords on the battlefield and they fight wars with quill and paper. They live in houses of wood and paper, travel with travelling papers (~passports) and in general, paper plays a huge role in daily life.

Courtiers especially are masters of calligraphy and writing, and shugenja lug around scroll cases with their spells on them. Apparently the usual choice of those scrolls is paper, as for example, the Book of Earth tells us:

As is common for many shugenja families, the Tamori prefer to use paper from their own homeland to create their spell scrolls. They usually choose paper which will resist exposure to the natural elements, [...] - p.57

As noted in this section, the Isawa shugenja employ a number of methods to enhance their spellcasting, most famously through their careful tending of the Isawa Mori and the paper which they create from its wood. - p.60

Through prayers and crafting techniques known only to them, the Yogo can persuade a kami to lie dormant in a piece of delicately inscribed paper, waiting to be used at a later time. - p.63

Much like the Isawa, the Kitsune make use of the wood in their forests to create paper. In fact, the variety of different trees in the Kitsune Mori leads the family to create many different types and styles of paper. They make full use of these in the creation of their spell-scrolls, and many Kitsune will associate a specific type of paper with a particular spell based on the proprieties of the plant it was made from. - p.64

Well, paper, paper, paper everywhere! Even the Black Scrolls (like the Skin of Fu Leng) are usually depicted as paper scrolls. This brings me to the actual question:

Have there been unusual spell scrolls that were described as not being made from paper? I was thinking of things like wood/bamboo strips, rock tablets, or even thin metal sheets coiled up, but anything that is not paper counts.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Need to do the research before making an actual answer, but I remember in 1 or 2e they mention paper as the universal medium because it can interact with all elements in some way (and I think were consumed back then) but mainly it's the most transportable written medium since shugenja can memorize spells. The emphasis on clan cyphers is why they would hesitate to use something permanent/immovable. Otherwise those objects are more likely to be inhabited by a Kami that can be summoned by a shugenja to mimic spell effects. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


I can't prove it without reading the expanse of canon for sure, but I would posit that the only materials for spell inscription would be paper and wood canonically, anything else is considered Nemuranai, and even wood is a stretch. Editions 1-4 only mention spell scrolls, and hardly deign to explain the what and why.

The closest I can find to an in-game citation is L5R3e's PHB, p214 under "The Way of the Kami"

Thought not critical of their tasks, kami are still the children of the Celestial heavens and can be offended by certain abuses of the natural order of things. Further, the kami must be treated as honored allies by those who wish to use their power and not as lap dogs of the shugenja. Commonly this is achieved through the use of ofuda, prayer scrolls, that have been ritually bless after being inscribed with a chant of some nature. The ofuda serves as the conduit and key to power for many shugenja, though eventually a shugenja may learn how to entreat the kami without such tools."

Historically, ofuda are paper slips, wooden tablets, or wooden talismans wrapped in paper for various blessings in Shinto and Buddhism.

The only mentions of casting without a scroll in editions 1-4 are memorization.

5th Edition breaks from the other four by doing away with scrolls altogether in their spells (called Invocations in that edition), and go for "Spiritual offerings". The list matches the suggestions for ways to craft nemuranai in 3e. Which brings me around to my other point, which also derives its strongest description from 3e where it says minor Nemuranai can cast up to rank 2 spells, and major up to rank 4 as suggested enchantments. 5e seems to support that assertion on p307

While they can appear in any campaign, they are usually vanishingly rare . . . each PC chooses one nemuranai with an appropriate sealed invocation of their choice (Weapons and armor are limited to rank three invocations, other items rank 4)

Also worth noting in editions 1-3, there are "single use" spells that destroy the scroll used to cast them (e.g. Heart of the Inferno).

Examine also that a round in L5R (according to p81 in 4e) is 3-10 seconds. In that time, a given character can take one complex or two simple actions. A given spell, barring raises to hasten casting, takes its Mastery Level in complex actions to cast. That means a given spell could need to fill enough of a scroll to fill however many seconds of speech and movement that is.

The average Japanese speaker today talks at a conversational speed just shy of 8 syllables per second, and on average 300 characters for a minute of speech which can require quite a bit of text to keep someone talking or accurately describe prayer/dance movements for that long, especially when we get above Mastery Level 2. A standard 8.5x11 page of Japanese writing contains about 400 characters so scribing spells on other materials can get unwieldy in a hurry since the average Ofuda is half as wide but the same height.

Lastly, we consider the notion that in Rokugan, spell scripts are quite proprietary and secretive with each clan possessing a separate cypher and restricting their spell libraries from other people. Scrolls allow for portability as well as storage, as well as the ability to destroy a scroll in the name of secrecy if needed, only to be transcribed later. More permanent objects would allow anyone to copy the script and work out the cypher.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Wikipedia link also mentions ofuda made from metal "talisman made out of various materials such as paper, wood, cloth or metal", even though for sure, the depcited ones all seem to be made of paper. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin: When I was reading the rest of the article, they explain in depth about how the paper and wood ones are used. Cloth and metal are only used in that one line at the top that you're quoting that I can see. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin paper ofuda are popular because of their mass-producibility and cheapness in contrast to other materials: printing is around since as early as 764 - when an edict ordered for one million prints of a buddhis text to be made for pagodas all over the land. Each of these scrolls would be several print plates long, but woodblock printing was certainly used mostly to proliferate Buddhist texts since then. however, even hand-painted items were mass-produced by printing "paint by number" patterns on the stock! Cloth Ofuda are also found printed, but are more expensive. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 21:48

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