Hm. Originally I had something quite different in mind – a Ninja school for groups of ronin, mercenaries, vengeful peasants, and the like, wherein most of the group would inflict massive penalties on their target while a few moved in to eliminate said target with fairly basic combat techniques. Perhaps sadly, this simple idea mutated totally when I started looking at the various options. Ah well. The characters are getting entangled with the Spirit Binders anyway.
The Spirit Binder school focuses on a single core – Mortals are the rightful masters of Ningen-Do. The spirits of nature are there to guide the natural world and assist those who master it. The dead are simply people and – like living people – can be expected to return favors and exchange their services in return for the things (offerings, prayers, and respect) that they desire. Spirits from other planes are guests at best and intruders at worst – to be offered respect and exchange favors with if friendly, to be dealt with, ejected from Ningen-Do, imprisoned, or even – if possible – slain if hostile. In this way the Spirit Binder learns to turn the wrath of the local spirits of nature against those who offend them, to call on services from spirits in other realms, to perceive spirits directly, and even – in final development – to attempt to establish dominion over them directly.
Unlike most Yobanjin Schools, this is a full five-technique major school: that’s because – unlike the tribal traditions which underlie most Yobanjin Schools – Spirit Binding has been organized and developed by a larger-scale organization; the Kolat. Of course, as a part of a much longer-term strategy, the Kolat have made sure that their creation has been spread throughout the lands of the Yobanjin.
Tactically, spirit binders operate best in a group – and usually with members of other schools. Lower-ranking spirit binders will inflict penalties on a target, while higher-ranking ones either join in immediately – setting up opponents for members of other schools -or first call on some spirits for assistance and then settle down to inflicting penalties. In a court situation they usually simply try to mold events by quietly penalizing those who oppose maneuvers that suit their purposes rather than by acting directly. It’s a subtle way to influence events, and difficult at best – but it is virtually impossible to detect. By preference, they’ll ally with someone with more direct talents and let them do the talking.
Yobanjin Spirit Binder School (Courtier):
School Trait Bonus: +1 Willpower
School Skills: Ceremony, Divination, Lore/Peasant Magic, Lore/Underworld, Meditation, Theology, any four Lore/(Spirit Realm) skills, and any two other skills.
First Technique/Gaze of the Dispossessed: So long as you maintain your concentration on a single nearby target, he, she, or it will suffer a -10 penalty on all rolls. This will, however, only work on targets which you believe have committed some serious offense against you or yours (10). You may also claim (Rank+2) Favors per session with the skills of Ceremony (gaining immediate responses to Peasant Magic), Divination (allowing you to try and manipulate fate), and Lore/Underworld (gaining various criminal services) (10).
Second Technique/The Turning of the Wheel: You may now cause penalties for two targets (+5) who have only mildly offended you (+5), enjoy a +5 Resistance to anyone attempting to probe your mind or discern your true motives (a 1 point Gift), may call on (Rank+2) Favors per session using a chosen Lore/Spirit Realm skill (5), and may spend a Void point to gain an immediate response when requesting a favor from a spirit realm (Whispering Prayer, a L2 Psychic Power, 4).
Third Technique/The Chariot: You may now cause penalties for your targets whenever you so desire (+5), are immune to attempts to probe your mind or discern your true motives (This replaces the L2 Gift technique, +4), may activate Whispering Prayer up to (Void) times daily without spending a Void Point (+2), may select another Lore/Spirit Realm skill with which you may call on (Rank+2) Favors per session (5), and gain an Influence 4 Ancestral or Totem Spirit Ally (4).
Fourth Technique/Ten Thousand Stars: You may now make an immediate Meditation check with a TN of 20 to avoid spending a Void Point when using Whispering Prayer (+2), enjoy a +4 bonus on your Willpower with respect to rolls involving spirits (2), gain Astral Sight (a continuously-active L2 Psychic Power, 6), and may select two additional Lore/Spirit Realm skills, each of which provides (Rank+2) Favors per session (10).
Fifth Technique/The Dominion of the Elements: You may engage any spirit within 100′ in a battle of wills, rolling (Will-2) keep (Rank+2) versus (Will keep Will) but must spend a Void Point to activate this effect. The winner may command the loser for the next hour (10, with a +0 limited transfer modifier, -5 for void expenditure, net 5). Gain a +2 on the effective level of all your Lore skills (+2K0 Bonus Dice, Count as Skilled, Common, 12), and increase the Willpower Bonus on rolls against Spirits to +6 (+1). Finally, the Spirit Binder may opt to reroll, at his or her option as to which roll to keep, any one spirit-related roll per day (2).
What kind of favors can the various realms supply? Well, almost any of them can act provide spirit Allies for a time (Point Cost = Favor Level), they can provide information or magical tricks related to their realm of origin (see page 25 in the bound campaign rules booklet or check Kabari Magic in the .PDF download), and some of them can provide limited amounts of assistance in the form of temporarily-manifested spirits.
Overall, a Spirit Binder is a fair substitute for a Shugenja: they can’t use nearly as much magic, and the spirits they call on will occasionally request things in return – but they are extremely flexible, quite fast, and can actually be much more mysterious: their magic isn’t nearly as reliable or standardized. They also vary a great deal depending on what realms they call upon. A Spirit Binder who calls on the lesser Kami of Ningen-Do for elemental effects and the animal spirits of Chikushudo for animalistic powers and bestial bodyguards is very different from one who calls on the spirits of Yomi to guide him in battle and on the spirits of Toshigoku to do battle at his side. Unfortunately, thanks to the need to build up their various skills to gain more powerful favors, Spirit Binding is a very expensive school to master.