Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Class Struggles

The samurai is a warrior-style class introduced originally in Oriental Adventures. Much like its spellcasting counterpart, the shugenja, it branched off into two separate classes, first as a minor revision for the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting and then again as a complete rewrite in Complete Warrior.

The original samurai, and it's counterpart from the Legend of the Five Rings setting are both roughly analogous to the fighter class. Both have a high base attack bonus and high Fortitude save, use a d10 for their hit dice and receive most of their class abilities in the form of bonus feats. Where the original samurai class differs is that instead of a bonus feat at first level, the character receives a daisho (a katana and wakazashi; the equivalent of a bastard sword and a short sword) that they can improve as a magical weapon, a high Will save and slightly more skill points. In addition, the number of feats that the samurai can draw from for their bonus feat selection is more limited, restricted by the clan (or political family) that the samurai belongs to. For these reasons, the original samurai class should be played like a fighter, and requires little other instruction.

The newer samurai class, from Complete Warrior is better defined. While it still provides a number of bonus feats, it also gives the player a number of abilities centered around fear and intimidation that allow the character to focus on defense by using a unique form of crowd-control.

Samurai Strengths

  • High hit dice.
  • High Base Attack Bonus.
  • High Fortitude saving throws.
  • Smite attack that isn't tied to target's alignment.
  • Ability to demoralize several opponents at the same time.
  • Frightful presence ability.

Samurai Weaknesses

  • Low Reflex and Will saving throws.
  • Low number of skill points.
  • Bonus feats are extremely limited in scope.
  • Very small number of prestige class options.

Playing a Samurai
Samurai are heavily-armored, melee-focused combatants. When in a fight, they should be on the front lines, using their Intimidate skill as often as possible to control the ebb and flow of battle. In order to power their staredown abilities, a samurai character should always possess the maximum number of ranks in the Intimidate skill. A high Charisma score will allow them to demoralize foes much more easily, and it will also benefit both their kiai smite and frightful presence abilities.

The main problem with the samurai is its utter rigidity as a class. On one hand, the class receives several bonus feats that allow the character to fight with dual weapons, but these are restricted to the character's daisho a matching set of swords called a katana and a wakazashi, which are equivalent to a bastard sword and a short sword respectively.

Samurai are also restricted by their choice of prestige classes. Like the paladin, the samurai cannot multiclass and then later return except in special circumstances. Unfortunately, there is only a very small number of those special circumstances, which prevent samurai characters from branching out like members of other classes, paladin included.

The Samurai in History
The samurai class's bonus feats primarily draw from the two-weapon style of Miyamoto Musashi, who lived in Japan from the later part of the 16th century until midway through the 17th century. Mushashi was a famous and successful duelist in his time, dying peacefully at the age of 61. His life and works have actually had a surprising influence on Dungeons and Dragons. His book on military strategy and swordsmanship: Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) is a primary influence on the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting. In addition, echoes of his duel against Sasaki Kojirō can be seen in the history of the sword Eventide's Edge as well as the Setting Sun school from Tome of Battle.

Historically however, samurai were much more varied. A samurai was a noble, and a member of a warrior caste in feudal Japan. They adhered to a code of conduct known as bushidō, roughly equivalent to the concept of chivalry in western culture, which espoused the virtues of rectitude (integrity), courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, loyalty and honor. Samurai who served under a daiymo (lord) could usually expect to be paid in rice, which could be used as food, or traded for goods and services. Those who did not serve under a daiymo were known as rōnin and often worked as mercenaries or even as farmers.

Although the samurai carried his daisho, it was not always their primary weapon. Most samurai were trained in the arts of archery and horsemanship, which would have allowed them to kill their enemies without getting close enough to get cut down by them. During the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, the use of katanas in battle rose, as well as the popularity of polearms such as the spear and naginata. By the 16th century, the Portuguese introduced the arquebus, a matchlock firearm, which was also quickly assimilated by the samurai.

Race Suggestions
In Asian settings, the vast majority of the population are humans, and as a result, most samurai characters are humans as well. Of particular importance is the human's bonus feat, which could be easily put into Weapon Focus in order to give the character an added deadliness to their early level combat capabilities.

Because the samurai is an Asian class, it doesn't make particular sense to use traditional fantasy races for the most part. However, there are still a number of options that can work quite well.

Spirit Folk (Oriental Adventures and Unapproachable East) are probably the second most common race to become samurai. They live in human lands, and are descended from humans, but they also possess a number of abilities that can be very beneficial. For example, a bamboo spirit folk samurai could speak briefly with a fox to discern the location of a group of brigands, or a sea spirit folk samurai could swim unnoticed around a peninsula in order to take his enemies by surprise and avoid an ambush.

Although dwarves aren't part of the traditional setting, they do belong to their own familial clans and many serve a lord or thane, so they can easily fit the mold of the samurai. Although they suffer from a lower Charisma score, their ability to resist magic, their innate toughness and their ability to move quickly when heavily armored makes them ideal samurai.

Aasimar make excellent samurai. Their higher Charisma score allows them to better control battle, and their energy resistances can also be of great use in keeping the character alive.

Tieflings, as well as the oni-born tiefling (released in a previous Origins of the PCs article) also make good samurai, but tend towards quick and intelligent combat rather than straight forward hack and slash. The tiefling's darkness ability can help to further sow confusion amongst the enemy ranks.

Half-Dragons, specifically half-lung dragons (Draconomicon) also make excellent samurai. Not only do they possess a higher Charisma and Strength score, but their ability to use spell-like abilities or a breath weapon can also help turn the tide of battle.

Feat Suggestions
Since samurai are front-line combatants, they need to focus on two major areas: their offense and their defense. Unfortunately, the focus of the class is so narrow, that players will likely need to improve their niche in the party or take feats that allow them to build on what the class provides in order to excel.

Offensively, consider feats like Weapon Focus or Improved Critical. The Power Attack tree of feats, especially Cleave is also a good choice, as it can allow you to easily down groups of cowed enemies quickly before they can recover.

If you take Power Attack, also find the Awesome Smite feat (Complete Champion), which provides a number of new ways to use the kiai smite attack in battle.

If you're looking to improve the kiai smite further, consider Improved Smiting (Complete Divine) to allow you to overcome damage reduction and deal extra damage, but with an alignment restriction. You can use Smiting Power (Champions of Valor) to improve your ability to bull rush or overrun.

Complete Warrior includes a few feats that can help improve the effectiveness of the samurai. Extra Smiting can provide the character with extra uses of their kiai smite ability. In addition, the Kiai Shout and Greater Kiai Shout feats can be used to further control the battlefield, specifically against larger numbers of weaker opponents.

The Player's Handbook II also provides Two-Weapon Pounce and Two-Weapon Rend, which can be used by a samurai to deal devastating amounts of damage while fighting with their daisho.

Defensively, there are better feat options for the samurai. Two-Weapon Defense can be taken at 3rd level to improve the character's armor class when fighting while using their daisho. This can be further improved with Improved Two-Weapon Defense and Greater Two-Weapon Defense (both from Complete Warrior).

Armor Specialization (Player's Handbook II) can allow the samurai an added measure of protection by granting them damage reduction while in their favorite armor.

Also, consider taking feats from Tome of Battle, especially those related to the Setting Sun or Diamond Mind schools. Blade Meditation, Martial Stance, Martial Study, Rapid Assault, Unnerving Calm and Perfect Clarity of Mind and Body are all excellent choices.

You may also want to provide your character with the ability to fight unarmed. Improved Unarmed Strike and Stunning Fist are both necessary for doing this. Also consider Falling Sun Attack, Snap Kick and Superior Unarmed Strike (Tome of Battle) to round out this style of character.

If you're looking for a change, try creating a lightly-armored samurai. Feats like Combat Expertise and Dodge can help the character to stay out of harm's way. Combining this with Karmic Strike (Complete Warrior) and Combat Reflexes can allow you to become an deceptively easy target that can dish out a lot of damage, but in turn will likely require fairly regular healing to stay alive.

Multiclass Suggestions
Once a samurai multiclasses, they cannot take more levels in the samurai class. For that reason, in most instances, it is not advisable to multiclass with the samurai. There are however, some benefits to be had.

Multiclassing with the fighter would allow the character to eventually take the Weapon Specialization feat, which opens up the option to take the Melee Weapon Mastery (slashing) and Slashing Flurry feats (both from Player's Handbook II). This kind of character has forsaken some of their duties in order to study the intricacies of their chosen weapons, in turn allowing them to deal much more damage than usual.

Multiclassing with the marshal (Miniatures Handbook) provides the samurai with a number of abilities to benefit their party. This kind of character is constantly manipulating the battle on both sides, playing them against one another like a game of chess, and on occasion may be too busy to even draw a weapon and attack. This kind of character would likely want the Kiai Shout feats (Complete Warrior) and probably the Protection Devotion feat (Complete Champion).

A lightly armored samurai could easily multiclass with the warblade (Tome of Battle) in order to gain a number of martial techniques along with several other combat abilities. This class favors Intelligence however, so not every samurai character can mesh well with it, but for the few that can, the possibilities are limitless.

Prestige Class Suggestions
Samurai can take multiclass freely ss dwarven defenders, kensei and knight protectors. In addition, disgraced samurai can take levels in ronin in order to regain some of their lost class abilities as well as gain new ones.

Dwarven Defender (Dungeon Master's Guide) - While only available to dwarf samurai characters, this is nonetheless a powerful combination, especially if taken with the Two-Weapon Defense feats. The character gains a wide variety of defensive abilities, including an increased Armor Class and damage reduction.

Ghost-Faced Killer (Complete Adventurer) - While not a samurai-based prestige class specifically, the ghost-faced killer is fairly easy for the samurai to meet prerequisites for and provides them with a number of abilities that they can use to become expert assassins. The samurai will need to take cross-class skill ranks to meet the prerequisites, and might want to multiclass with ninja to meet them sooner. In exchange, the character gains the ability to become invisible for short periods of time, sudden strike bonus damage, and the ability to create fear in opponents by attacking.

Kensei (Complete Warrior) - This prestige class allows the samurai to imbue his katana with incredible power as well as use the power of ki to perform spectacular feats. One excellent example is the ki projection ability, which improves the samurai's Intimidate skill (and thus their ability to staredown) with a bonus ranging from +2 to +10. The character must take an oath, which can further restrict their activities, so it may not be appropriate for all players.

Knight Protector (Complete Warrior) - The knight protector is fairly close to the an old 3rd edition prestige class called the Master Samurai (Sword and Fist). It provides the samurai with a number of party-specific abilities, including the ability to provide an ally with an Armor Class Bonus, bonuses against fear and the ability to make retributive attacks on their allies' attackers.

Ronin (Complete Warrior) - If your samurai character becomes disgraced, this is the best option you'll find. Like the blackguard does with disgraced paladins, the ronin allows a samurai to gain back some of their previously lost class features. In addition, it provides them with a sneak attack a special charge ability and several useful bonus feats.

New Material

Historical Samurai Training
Historically, samurai did not exclusively use their daisho in combat. Some trained in horsemanship or archery and practiced those skills on the field of battle. Consider making these changes to the samurai class to allow you character to have a much broader scope of training.

Historical Samurai (Variant Class)
    Weapon and Armor Proficiency: A samurai is proficient with all simple and martial weapons as well as with the katana (bastard sword), and all types of armor, but not with shields. Many samurai receive an heirloom set of two blades, a katana (bastard sword) and a wakazashi (short sword), known as a daisho.
    Daisho Mastery (Ex): The samurai is not only proficient with their daisho, but they have honed their skills over time to achieve a better understanding of how to use their blades. At 1st level, they receive Weapon Focus (katana) as a bonus feat. This replaces the Daisho Proficiency class feature.
    Quick Draw (Ex): The samurai is trained to react quickly in all circumstances and to never be caught unawares. They train meticulously in the art of iaijutsu, focusing on drawing their sword. At 5th level, they receive the Quick Draw feat. This replaces the Iaijutsu Master class feature.
    Bushi Training (Ex):: When the samurai reaches 2nd level, they select a weapon style: either Way of the Bow, Way of the Horse, Way of the Sword or Way of the Duelist. Once this selection has been made, it cannot be later changed. At 2nd, 11th and 16th levels, the samurai gains a bonus feat determined by the weapon style they selected. They are treated as having the feat, even if they do not meet the prerequisites for it. This replaces the Two Swords as One, Improved Two Swords as one and Greater Two Swords as One class features.

Way of the Bow Way of the Horse Way of the Sword
2nd - Zen Archery¹ 2nd - Mounted Combat 2nd - Two-Weapon Fighting
11th - Precise Shot 11th - Ride-by Attack 11th - Improved Two-Weapon Fighting
16th - Shot on the Run 16th - Spirited Charge 16th - Greater Two-Weapon Fighting
Way of the Duelist
2nd - Combat Expertise
11th - Iaijutsu Focus²
16th - Greater Iaijutsu Focus²

  ¹ Zen Archery can be found in Complete Warrior.
  ² The Iaijutsu Focus and Greater Iaijutsu Focus feats can be found in The Case Against Iaijutsu Focus.

New Feats
Samurai are restricted in multiclassing, much like paladins and monks. The following two feats allow a samurai character to branch out and discover new paths while still adhering to the tenants of bushido.

Bushi Stalker [General]
You have developed mystical techniques that allow you to strike from the shadows at unsuspecting opponents.
    Prerequisites: Ki power, kiai smite.
    Benefit: Your ninja and samurai levels stack for the purpose of determining your AC bonus as well as the size of you ki pool. For example a 4th-level samurai/6th-level ninja gains a +2 bonus to her AC when unarmored and can use her ki powers five times per day (half the sum of her ninja and samurai levels), plus any additional uses from her Wisdom bonus (if any).
    Your ninja and samurai levels also stack for the purpose of determining the number of uses per day of your kiai smite class ability. For example, a 4th-level samurai/3rd-level ninja would be able to use kiai smite twice per day.
    In addition, you can multiclass freely between the ninja and samurai classes. You must still remain lawful in order to continue advancing as a samurai. You still face the normal XP penalties for having multiple classes more than one level apart.

Elemental Bushi [General]
You have developed a bond between your martial techniques and your elemental studies that provide you with unique insights.
    Prerequisites: Kiai smite, sense elements.
    Benefit: Your shugenja and samurai levels stack for the purpose of determining the maximum radius and number of uses per day of your sense elements ability. For example, a 3rd-level samurai/2nd-level shugenja could user sense elements four times per day and up to a maximum of 25 feet.
    Your shugenja and samurai levels also stack for the purpose of determining the number of uses per day of your kiai smite class ability. For example, a 4th-level samurai/3rd-level shugenja would be able to use kiai smite twice per day.
    In addition, you can multiclass freely between the samurai and shugenja classes. You must still remain lawful in order to continue advancing as a samurai. You still face the normal XP penalties for having multiple classes more than one level apart.

Noble Magistrate (Prestige Class)
A samurai is the eye, voice and hand of his daiymo, performing what tasks are required of him with a relentless sense of duty. For some that means becoming an agent of the law, protecting the innocent and punishing the wicked in the name of their ruler. A noble magistrate is a law-bringer whose sense of right and wrong are coupled with the authority to punish all wrongdoers.
    Most noble magistrates are samurai, although fighters, rogues and paladins can all find usefulness in this prestige class. Clerics of lawful deities, especially deities that embody justice and order can also find this prestige class appealing, but they tend to lose out on the spellcasting abilities they could get elsewhere.
    Most NPC noble magistrates can be found in metropolitan areas where crime is abundant. They could be found alongside PCs, investigating the mysterious murders occurring once a month, or they could be investigating them for any number of crimes.
    Hit Die: d10

To qualify to become a noble magistrate, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.
    Alignment: Lawful Neutral or Lawful Good.
    Base Attack Bonus: +3.
    Skills: Sense motive 6 ranks.
    Feats: Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm.
    Special: A prospective noble magistrate must apprehend a criminal and bring them to justice before taking an oath of fealty to a local lord.

Class Skills
The noble magistrate's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Gather Information (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (law) (Int), Ride (Dex), Search (Int) and Sense Motive (Wis). See Chapter 4: Skills in the Player's Handbook for skill descriptions.
    Skill Points at Each Level: 2 + Int modifier.

Class Features
All of the following are class features of the noble magistrate prestige class.
    Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Noble magistrates do not gain proficiency with any weapons nor do they gain proficiency with any armor or shields.
    Blade Flat (Ex): The noble magistrate is trained in incapacitating her foes instead of killing them. When attacking with a melee weapon, she can choose to deal non-lethal damage to an opponent without incurring the standard -4 penalty to attack rolls.
    Forceful Personality (Ex): The noble magistrate's sense of purpose guides her in social activities. At 2nd level, she gains a +2 circumstance bonus to all Diplomacy, Gather Information and Intimidate checks. This bonus increases to +4 at 4th level.
    Discern Lies (Sp): At 3rd level, the noble magistrate has become so attuned to the mannerisms of people that she can detect even a slight lie simply by looking at somebody. She may cast discern lies as a spell-like ability once per day as a cleric of her class level.
    Crush the Guilty (Su): At 5th level, the noble magistrate has become emboldened by her purpose. From now on, she deals an extra +1d6 points of damage to any opponent who has attempted to deceive her and failed. This bonus only applies to an opponent who has failed a Bluff check against the noble magistrate or has been caught lying through her discern lies spell-like ability or any other similar ability or spell.
    If the noble magistrate chooses to deal non-lethal damage with her attack, then this bonus damage is also treated as non-lethal. This bonus damage can be applied to ranged attacks but only within 30 ft.
    Multiclassing Note: A samurai or a paladin may multiclass as a noble magistrate without losing their ability to take additional levels in that class.

Table 1-01: The Noble Magistrate
Level Base Attack
1st +1
Blade flat
2nd +2
Forceful personality +2
3rd +3
Discern lies
4th +4
Forceful personality +4
5th +5
Crush the guilty

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