Monday, June 28, 2010
An Inside Look at Shugenja
L5R 4th Edition - Exploiting Shugenja
One of the character class types that have had the largest overhaul in the 4th Edition is shugenja. Shawn Carman has discussed a number of fundamental changes to the traditional L5R spellcaster. However, the L5R Design Diaries did not reveal everything that’s changed! Players and GMs alike are going to realize that playing a shugenja in 4th Edition is a very different animal from past editions.
The first major change is that a shugenja can now only cast a finite number of spells per day. A shugenja character has spell slots equal to the elemental ring he is casting. There are also spell slot reserves equal to the shugenja’s void ring that can be used to cast any elemental spell. That sounds similar to past editions? True, but what is new is that these spell slots are not normally recoverable like they were in past editions.
The only normal way to recover spells is through sleep with very little exception. The Meditation skill no longer helps a shugenja recharge after a fight and shugenja cannot raise to prevent a spell slot from being used. However, not all hope is lost for the player who wants a more reliable method of casting their spells. The L5R 4th Edition provides a Rank 2 Water spell called Rejuvenating Vapors that will prove a useful regeneration tool. Once per day, this spell allows the recipient of the spell to recover all Void spell slots. Shugenja will want access to this spell as soon as possible.
Which leads me to the most important point, access to spells has also changed. Veteran players will remember the universal spell called Importune. The spell allowed a shugenja to invoke any other spell by raising the mastery level of a spell and performing a huge favor to the kami. The later requirement was a real pain and limited invoking spells the caster did not have.
4th Edition has completely turned this spell upside down and created a new gold standard for flexibility. In fact, I highly recommend this new paradigm to all L5R GMs who are playing older L5R RPG systems and have no interest in playing 4th Edition. To importune a spell, a shugenja must cast Commune on the desired element. By parleying for a designated period of time, a shugenja can make a skill roll with Spellcraft (Importune) / (desired Ring Rank) at a TN appropriate TN equal to the Mastery Level of the spell. Then for a period of time, the shugenja can cast that spell at a slightly increased TN. A shugenja may not importune spells with a higher Mastery Level than he could normally cast.
Thus, in order to cast a spell that a shugenja does not normally have, the shugenja will need to sacrifice two spell slots to cast it. This offers unprecedented flexibility for shugenja. Though this new mechanic is balanced for 4th Edition, since spell slots are limited resources. And to make matters trickier, often spell slots are used to power shugenja techniques. Still this tradeoff in flexibility can be well worth the steep cost and should lead to complex decisions by GMs and players alike.
Counterspell has also been removed and the old Banish spell has been merged into a utility of the three fundamental spells most shugenja start with (Sense, Commune, and Summon). The Banish function is now the only sure way a shugenja can stop ongoing spells from continuing. Spells cannot be negated anymore while the shugenja is casting the spell. Other shugenja can only discontinue a spell's effect if the spell lasts long enough for a shugenja to banish the kami from the area so the spell hopefully stops dead in its tracks.
Lastly, I want to talk about kiho. Shugenja having kiho is not new to L5R, but 4th Edition incents shugenja to take kiho like never before. While kiho are more expensive to buy and learn than a monk, a shugenja can buffer their spells by having four types of kiho activated at one time (Internal, Kharmic, Martial, and Mystical). Shugenja will find staples in Touch of the Void Dragon and To the Last Breath. Increasing a random Elemental Ring for the shugenja (an extra spell slot!) or refilling the party’s void points via Meditation is enormous. This theme is important and something I am very glad to see return to Rokugan.
Shugenja are holy men, not standard spell casters. The elements actually talk to them and infuse them with immense power. But invoking spells is something to be respected and not treated as an infinite resource. Shugenja are 4th Edition’s glass cannon. They require care to play, but provide players and GMs with unrivaled flexibility that no other class can provide. Every group is going to want to have shugenja on their party to help solve the myriad of challenges that they will likely face from a resourceful GM.