I'm trying to create an L5R (4th ed.) Shugenja, and want to understand what spells she will be able to cast.

Sometimes, the rules talk about “learning a spell”. Does that mean “gaining a scroll you can read of a spell you can cast” or “mastering a spell, so you can cast it without need for scrolls”? For example, my Shugenja starts with 6 spells, plus Sense, Commune and Summon. What spells can those be, and how well does she know them?

In particular, I am confused by the following apparent contradiction: On page 163, I find

EXAMPLE: Lucas’s character Isawa Butaro is casting Fires from Within, a Mastery Level 2 spell. Butaro is a Rank 1 Isawa Shugenja, and has Fire 3. He rolls 4k3 (4 = Fire 3 + Rank 1, keeping Fire) against TN 15 (5 + ML 2 x 5). He rolls a 2, 4, 7, and 8, keeping the 4, 7, and 8 for a total of 19. The spell has been cast successfully.

So Isawa-san, having a school rank of 1, casts a Mastery Level 2 spell.

However, one page later, the rules state

• Ring/Mastery: This indicates the Ring and the Mastery Level of the spell. […] A shugenja cannot casts spells with a Mastery level higher than his School Rank. […]

Is that example in contradiction to the rule, or did I miss or misunderstand a part of of the rules that allows Isawa-san to cast “Fires from Within” even though his School Rank is lower than its Mastery Level?

If my character has an affinity to Air, does that mean she can in theory cast Air spells of mastery level 2, even though as a starting character, she is only School Rank 1?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume you mean L5R 4thed? \$\endgroup\$ May 30, 2014 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ In regards to the affinity comment, yes, that is exactly what it means. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kveld Ulf
    May 30, 2014 at 19:40

3 Answers 3


Requirements to Cast a Spell

In L5R, to cast a spell you need Two things:

  • The innate capacity and knowledge to convince the kami to do magic of that level. Ie your effective school rank must be equal to or higher than the spells rank.
    • Affinity raises your effective school rank by one, for one particular Ring (see page 164)
    • Deficiency reduces it by one.
  • You must correctly say (or pray really) the spell
    • to do this you must read from a scroll as spells are very complex.
      • or you can have memorised the spell completely. This costs pay XP equal to its mastery rank, see sidebar page 164. "How are Spells cast"). Memorising replaces Reading (not learning)
    • you learn 3 new spells at each time you gain a school rank, they must be of a mastery level you can cast (see Sidebar page 105). You are assumed to gain scrolls for these.
    • your School entry will list under spells (below technique) what spells you start knowing.

You can however get around some of these restrictions by casting Commune and using the Importune Emphasis of the Spellcraft skill -- basically convincing the kami to do it anyway.

Can you learn new spells without increasing school rank? -- Maybe.

Gaining new spells without going up in skill rank is dubious. Your school entrusts you with these spells. Personally. A sensei of your school will likely have personally shown them to you.

  • remember learning new spells in L5R involves increasing school rank, which normally involves going back to your Clan for more training (after, and separately to, raising your insight))
  • The rules (as far as I know) never speak about whether it is possible to cast spells using scrolls that belong to another Shugenja. They might be in cipher, potentially, but that is never made clear.
  • There is no price scrolls in the equipment section
  • For balance reasons you may decide that you should not (or that you should) make it possible to use other scrolls you find (or Loot -- though that is pretty dishonourable.)
    • Most Schools (eg Bushi) only gain one new cool ability each time they gain a School Rank. Shugenja gain 3. This is balanced by the fact that Shugenja can only use theirs a fixed number of times per day.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've never actually played a L5R shugenja, I've played in a party with them and I've GMed for them, but not actually played one. \$\endgroup\$ May 30, 2014 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ L5R is one of my favorite games, and you put that into perfect perspective for a new shugenja player, in my opinion. I think I may have to steal that to give as a handout to new players if I ever run it again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kveld Ulf
    May 30, 2014 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, it's explicitly stated that scrolls are written in a specific cipher for each school. Whether or not having the scroll is enough to cast the spell or the spell must still be mastered with an XP expenditure is not explicit but I would say that logically the second is more likely. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2014 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Page ref so i can incorporation it into my answer? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 16, 2014 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Spellcraft skill mentions the possibility for formulating new spells. This does not specifically mention that a shugenja who successfully designs a new spell, automatically learns it, but flavor wise it would seem odd, that the designer of a spell does not know it himself. \$\endgroup\$
    – bowmore
    Aug 8, 2017 at 22:01

For a shugenja, learning a spell means getting the scrolls to cast it. Scrolls contains the prayers for asking the kami to "create" the results desired, and also double as a focus that the shugenja needs to cast the spell. Without the scroll, the shugenja cannot cast the spell, unless the spell is mastered. Shugenja start with a scroll for every one of their starting spells (determined by school). To get new spells means gaining more scrolls by raising in the school ranks, finding them somewhere, as gifts, etc. Mastering a spell is something you do after obtaining a spell and becoming so proficient with it that you no longer needs the scroll to cast it.

The example is wrong, not your reading of the rules: In the example, Isawa Butaro has affinity for fire, meaning that he can cast fire spells as if his school rank were 1 higher, allowing him to cast a mastery 2 spell with rank 1. Because of his affinity, he should roll 5k3 instead of 4k3.

If you know Spanish, in this post one of the people working on the translation of the Spanish edition of L5R 4th ed confirmed the part about affinity, and that it being missing from the example in the book (as well the extra dice Isawa Butaro should be rolling thanks to affinity) is likely an error.

If your rank 1 shugenja has affinity for air, she can cast air spells with a mastery level of 2 or lower.


A shugenja only needs a spell scroll (or they have memorized). The shugenja rank acts as a practical limit on what spells can be cast, but a shugenja could acquire a scroll for a spell they cannot cast then learn the spell when they reach a sufficient rank to understand it.

It should be noted the scroll must be a spell they can read. Since each school closely guards its secrets a school will teach its students a specific cipher which which to read their scrolls. This means if a shugenja finds a scroll (not from their school, or at least using a cipher they can read) they will likely not be able to read it*.

Also, the scroll must describe a system of magic the shugenja can understand. There a number of different systems of magic present in Legend of the Five Rings. The normal "asking the kami" is the most common (and likely what any scroll found would be from), but an Agasha's alchemical formulae, Asahina's tsangusuri, Iuchi's Name magic, Naga Pearl, Ashalan magic, or perhaps even a maho scroll may not be useful even if the shugenja could read it.

*: This assumes school ciphers are kept secret (which they most likely are). If a shugenja was in possession of another school's scroll (with compatible magic types) and the shugenja knew it was a scroll she had from her own school, she could attempt to break the cipher (a very valuable piece of knowledge; cryptographers refer to this as a known-plaintext attack). Also, if school ciphers are kept secret, revealing the cipher to someone outside of the school would be an offence with a very severe punishment.


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