I am presently running a game of L5R where they are encountering students who have failed their gempukku. For courtiers and bushi this is easy: no school. However, with a shugenja, talking to the kami is supposed to be a natural talent so what should they be capable of?

To elaborate just a bit more, these are characters who by insight probably count as Rank 1, but have no school whatsoever. My understanding (or at least the world I run) you don't have your first school's first technique until after Gempukku. So these are effectively "Rank 0" Shugenja. They could have spellcraft but there's no school rank/affinity to base mastery levels on, and technically even the Universal Spells are specifically listed in each shugenja school, and I believe one of the books even says not to take them for granted. Plus, spell scrolls are closely guarded and they might not be allowed to carry them without graduating.


3 Answers 3



The gempukku ceremony is a test for the young samurai to prove their expertise in the basic skills that their clans see necessary for their future roles. This mean that these tests vary greatly from clan to clan, and between bushi, shugenja and courtier.

Before the ceremony is conducted, however, it is safe to assume that every young shugenja is taught how to properly communicate with the kami, the same way a bushi is taught kenjutsu and courtiers learn etiquette and politics, along the array of skills needed to thrive in the court. Without those bases they would not be able to assimilate the most advanced knowledge in the form of schools techniques.

The Character

Pre-gempukku samurai should be treated as normal rank 1 characters in all senses, except that they have not their school rank 1 Technique, because they still has to prove themselves worthy of learning it. In the case of shugenja, this could also means that they have neither Affinity nor Deficiency that come with the school. Also, pre-gempukku characters have not earned the right to carry the symbols of their status as samurai (daisho for the bushi, and the wakizashi for everyone else). These are given to a samurai after the gempukku is completed.

The Spells

As for spells, learning shugenja should have only the three basic spells: Sense, Commune and Summon. These spells are the building blocks from which every other spell are created, and represent the basic tools needed to develop their natural talent to communicate with the kami. All other spells should be reserved for those that had already proven themselves.

This should not be seen as an arbitrary restriction, however. Is only common sense to not leave potentially dangerous spells in hands of very inexperienced shugenjas. Also, many shugenja schools protect their knowledge, including spells, behind complex encryption systems, and do not share that knowledge without anybody that has not been fully inducted into the school.

Of course, this does not mean that the shugenja has no experience with spells other than the basic ones, they probably have. It would very possible that many gempukku tests include using one or more given non-basic spell, so practice with these spells would be allowed (under supervision of course). It is permanent access to the school scrolls what is restricted until they pass their gempukku.

A Final Note

Of course, this only apply to clan bushi, shugenja and courtier. True ronin do not necessarily have to follow these rules.


All Shugenja know the Sense, Commune, and Summon spells for each element. It's reasonable that they would be able to cast these from an early age.

The issue with other spells wouldn't necessarily be casting them- it'd be learning them. Like any school, shugenja schools guard their knowledge and it would be difficult or impossible for a disgraced shugenja to access any spells.

They would also be able to perform the rites and roles of shugenjas such as blessings and funeral rites.

I'd recommend treating the shugenja as Rank 1 shugenja with no school ability, the commune, sense and summon spells and possibly one or two other rank 1 spells.

If the shugenja are expereicne ronin (as opposed to recent failures), give them the appropriate shugenja rank (again without the ability). Courtiers an still court and bushi can still bush using their skills, so make sure high level ronin shugenja aren't useless. Higher level shugenja could potentially have higher level spells through trading favours with real clans or shugenja, through research, or through other less honourable means.


Okay, so let's get something out of the way. L5R 4th Edition doesn't care about balancing Bushi, Courtiers, and Shugenja. Like... at all. But setting that aside, if you squint your eyes, tilt your head, and look sideways the game already handles exactly what you want. It just does it at Rank 1 instead of requiring a Rank 0.

First, have your Bushi build as Rank 1 True Ronin, Option #1. At your discretion, you can deny them the Family trait bonus, force them to take it from the Ronin XP, or do some math to get the XP cost of a Family bonus trait (10XP), or give it to them as a fun bonus.

Then, have your Shugenja build as the Self-Taught Shugenja Ronin school. This is exactly the sort of Shugenja you are suggesting representing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Necroing this, so I don't expect to get the "answer" since the situation has presumably passed, but I think this a more elegant answer to the problem proposed if someone comes looking. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2018 at 8:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't say there's no balance. There's sort of a "judging a fish by how it climbs a tree" thing going on, as I address in my other question "Giving Players the Game They Want". But I digress. I wasn't looking for completely solo shugenja, just ones who hadn't done gempukku. +1 for the True Ronin starter idea though. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Apr 1, 2018 at 9:46

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