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Class Struggles

Welcome to the first installment of Class Struggles. These articles, which will be released in 2010, breakdown and examine a specific and randomly selected class in each installment. This week is the preview: the shugenja from Complete Divine.

Each release of Class Struggles will detail the strengths and weaknesses of its class, and suggest feats, spells, races and other features that work well with it. That's not all. Each installment will also provide new game material to use with the class. It might be an alternate class feature, spells, feats, a prestige class, or pretty much anything! And now: the shugenja.

The shugenja was first introduced in Oriental Adventures, after which it received two separate updates. The first was a minor revision for the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, and the second was a 3.5 edition version from Complete Divine. When playing in the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, it would be advised for players to use the updated rules from Complete Divine for their shugenja characters.

The major difference between the two versions of the class is the spell list. Legend of the Five Rings uses several variant rules that you may not use in your campaign setting, which renders many of the spells from the Rokugani shugenja spell list useless.

In addition, the order that the shugenja character can belong to differs between the two settings. Shugenja in Rokugan can train in a family order, or in a generic elemental order, while other shugenja train from a separate list.

Shugenja Strengths

  • Ability to spontaneously cast divine spells.
  • High Will saving throws.
  • Ability to sense an element in their general area.
  • Access to many offensive spells.

Shugenja Weaknesses

  • Low Base Attack Bonus.
  • Low Fortitude and Reflex saving throws.
  • No armor proficiencies.
  • Must specialize in a single element to the exclusion of another.

Playing a Shugenja
Without access to any armor proficiencies, and a fairly low hit die, shugenja can be described as fragile, much like a wizard or sorcerer. Unlike either of those other classes, shugenja have very little access to spells that keep themselves protected from harm. However, shugenja get access to several offensive spells, allowing them to deal quite a bit of damage from a distance.

Like any primary spellcaster, a shugenja is likely not going to want to wade into the thick of battle, and will probably fight from the back, using their magic to carve swaths of destruction. Given their elemental focus and the large amount of Evocation spells they can learn, this isn't difficult for them to do.

A shugenja will want a large Charisma score in order to take full advantage of their spellcasting. They also benefit from Dexterity, which helps keep them from harm, or Constitution, which allows them to better weather any attacks they are targeted with.

Race Suggestions
Thematically speaking, there are few races that really 'fit' the shugenja. Given that they are an oriental class, they are more appropriate when combined with an oriental race.

Humans make good shugenja, and most shugenja are humans. Since oriental-based campaigns are generally filled predominantly with humans, moreso than most other settings, they are a natural choice. The human's extra skill points and bonus feat can allow the shugenja more options, and allow for more customization.

Hengeyokai (Oriental Adventures), with their ability to transform into an animal form, can make for good shugenja, with the possible exception of the raccoon dog hengeyokai, who brings little to the class. Depending on your play style, you can go for a higher Dexterity, a higher Constitution, or even natural armor bonuses.

Korobokuru (Oriental Adventures) also make passable shugenja. Their small size and Constitution score increase are helpful. The more martial aspects of the class are less so, but can be outbalanced by some of this race's defensive capabilities.

Tatttered Ear Nezumi (Rokugan CS) are the one subrace of nezumi, or ratlings as they're generally known, that make for good shugenja. A Charisma score increase and natural weapons make them perfect choices. They are generally restricted to the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting however, and may not be available.

Spirit Folk (Oriental Adventures and Unapproachable East) can make good shugenja. Their natural spell-like abilities and elemental defenses can augment the spells that they would learn while a member of this class.

When working with non-traditional races, genasi (Forgotten Realms CS) and paragenasi (Dragon Magazine #297) are both good choices. Although they both typically suffer from lower Charisma scores, they possess powerful spell-like abilities and affinity for the elements that make shugenja a natural choice. When making a genasi shugenja, it's suggested that the character be restricted to a specific chosen element, much like if they were taking a level of cleric. (That means that earth genasi would be restricted to focusing on earth, fire genasi to fire, and so on.)

Half-Dragons, especially half-lung dragons (Draconomicon) are also perfect choices as shugenja and can easily fit into an oriental campaign.

Other races, especially those who work well as bards or sorcerers can also make excellent shugenja. Try to find races that are less martially inclined as they often bring more non-combat options, which are usually more important for a shugenja.

Feat Suggestions
Unfortunately, there are few feats that can specifically benefit the shugenja's class abilities. A small number of feats (all from Dragon Magazine #343) that specifically benefit a shugenja have been created: Elemental Strike, and Turn Elemental are both necessities, and provide the shugenja with extra abilities through the use of their sense elements class feature. The Extra Divine Power feat, from the same issue can provide a shugenja with extra uses of their sense elements class feature for the purpose of powering the other two feats.

With their poor armor class, shugenja can always benefit from the Armor Proficiency feats. There is a question of roleplaying here, as in many settings it is considered a faux-pas for shugenja to wear armor. However, there can always be exceptions, especially with adventurers. Dodge is also an excellent choice for shugenja who don't want to be in the path of a sword. For those who can't get out of the way fast enough, Combat Casting is always a solid choice.

A high Charisma score means that the Kiai Shout and Greater Kiai Shout feats from Complete Warrior can be useful to a shugenja, even if the requirements take longer for them to meet. These feats provide the shugenja with the ability to disable opponents around them, which can help them to survive.

As spontaneous spellcasters, shugenja can prepare metamagic feats as full-round actions (except for Quicken Spell). Shugenja can benefit from the Rapid Metamagic feat (Complete Mage) which can allow them to cast spells with metamagic feats much faster than normal.

Many reserve feats, especially those from Complete Mage are useful, especially those that are elementally-focused:
Air - Borne Aloft, Hurricane Breath, Wind-Guided Arrows
Earth - Clutch of Earth
Fire - Fiery Burst, Storm Bolt
Water - Aquatic Breath, Winter's Blast
All shugenja also benefit from the Summon Elemental feat, which can provide them with a temporary bodyguard.

If you're looking to multiclass, Practiced Spellcaster (from Complete Arcane) will help offset some of the loss of spellcasting abilities that comes with that choice. Extra Slot, from the same book, can provide a shugenja with more spell slots for added effectiveness.

If you're playing a shugenja in the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, there are many more choices available to you. Chosen by the Kami can help you overcome your multiclass restrictions, and Superior Elemental Focus is a must-have.

Multiclass Suggestions
It's not necessary for a shugenja to multiclass, as doing so reduces their effectiveness in spellcasting. However, if you find your character continually getting into combat, a simple splash of fighter or samurai is a good choice. Both mesh well with the shugenja's flavor, and both provide not only minor combat abilities, but also with full armor proficiencies, and because shugenja are divine spellcasters, they can wear any armor without fear of spell failure.

In more exotic campaigns, or even as a Ryu Shapeshifter (Fortunes and Winds) character in the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, a shugenja could multiclass with paladin. The shugenja's high Charisma can augment many of the paladin's class features and the shugenja can benefit from the paladin's armor proficiency, high saving throws and base attack bonus.

Prestige Class Suggestions
Much like with feats, shugenjas are plagued with a lack of material that fits them thematically as well as compliments their class features. That doesn't mean that a shugenja character can't find a perfect prestige class; it just means that they may have to look harder.

The Void Disciple (Complete Divine) is the only tailor-made prestige class for the shugenja. Working from the fifth element: void, they are powerful and wise masters, with the ability to manipulate reality.

Sacred Fist (also Complete Divine) makes a good choice for multi-classed monk/shugenja characters. The AC bonus, fighting abilities, high saves and class abilities all compliment the shugenja's abilities. A character with this prestige class will need a higher Wisdom score, something that a shugenja doesn't necessarily require.

Characters in the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting have a wider variety of shugenja-friendly prestige classes such as the Jade Magistrate (Magic of Rokugan) or Kuni Crystal Binder (Way of the Shugenja).

New Material

Paraelemental Shugenja Orders
Air, Earth, Fire and Water aren't the only elements out there. There is a wide host of paraelements and quasi-elements that exist in perfect ebb and flow with the universe. To that end, some shugenja train with orders devoted to one of these paraelements.

A shugenja belonging to a paraelemental order may be exotic, a member of a secretive and secluded brotherhood known only in legend, even by learned sages. They might also be outsiders who have trained themselves in a unique form of element worship.

The multiverse is a large place, and paraelemental shugenja may also hail from another plane, or may have been trained in a school close to the borders of an Inner Plane.

Shugenja characters may, at their DM's discretion, select one of these paraelemental orders in place of a normal shugenja order. Each corresponds to a normal element, just like any other order.

Spells marked with an asterisk (*) can be found in Complete Divine.

Followers of the Order of the Glacier's Breath can often be found in snowy cold mountain passes or on top of large, forbidding glaciers. Isolating themselves from civilization, these ice shugenja commune with the elemental spirits of cold and ice to better understand its power. Many are mistaken at first for yuki-no-onna, with whom they share many superficial abilities.

Order of the Glacier's Breath (Water)

0 Ray of Frost: Ray deals 1d3 cold damage.
1 Obscuring Mist: Fog surrounds you.
2 Creeping Cold*: Creature feels chill that increases with each round.
3 Sleet Storm: Hampers vision and movement.
4 Ice Storm: Hail deals 5d6 damage in cylinder 40 ft. across.
5 Wall of Ice: Ice plane creates wall with 15 hp +1/level, or hemisphere can trap creatures inside.
6 Cone of Cold: 1d6/level cold damage.
7 Creeping Cold, Greater*: As creeping cold, but longer duration and more damage.
8 Polar Ray: Ranged touch attack deals 1d6/level cold damage.
9 Obedient Avalanche*: Snowy avalanche crushes and buries your foes.

The Order of the Raging Storm teaches that the elements can be exceptionally violent and often live on storm-ravaged mountainsides, all the better to be closer to their element of choice. Learning an off-shoot of fire magic, these lightning shugenja call down their vengeance from the sky and can protect themselves from harm with whipping winds.

Order of the Raging Storm (Fire)

0 Resistance: Subject gains +1 on saving throws.
1 Shocking Grasp: Touch delivers 1d6/level electricity damage (max 5d6).
2 Protection from Arrows: Subject is immune to most ranged attacks.
3 Call Lightning: Calls down lightning bolts (3d6 per bolt) from sky.
4 Lightning Bolt: Electricity deals 1d6/level damage.
5 Call Lightning Storm: As call lightning, but 5d6 damage per bolt.
6 Wind Walk: You and your allies turn vaporous and travel fast.
7 Chain Lightning: 1d6/level damage; 1 secondary bolt/level each deals half damage.
8 Storm Tower*: Swirling clouds absorb electricity and magic missiles and prevent ranged attacks.
9 Stormrage*: You can fly and fire lightning from your eyes.

The Order of the Bubbling Cesspool is not famous, nor exceptionally welcome among their fellows, or even in polite society. These ooze shugenja usually live within acidic swamps and are notorious for their ill manners and poor hygiene. None can deny their powers, which can both damage and confound those who cross them.

Order of the Bubbling Cesspool (Earth)

0 Acid Splash: Orb deals 1d3 acid damage.
1 Grease: Makes 10-ft. square or one object slippery.
2 Melf's Acid Arrow: Ranged touch attack; 2d4 damage for 1 round +1 round/three levels.
3 Stinking Cloud: Nauseating vapors, 1 round/level.
4 Murderous Mist*: Steam deals 2d6 damage, blinds creatures.
5 Evard's Black Tentacles: Tentacles grapple all within 15-ft. spread.
6 Transmute Rock to Mud: Transforms two 10-ft. cubes per level.
7 Slime Wave*: Creates a 15-ft. spread of green slime.
8 Power Word Blind: Blinds creature with 200 hp or less.
9 Horrid Wilting: Deals 1d6/level damage within 30 ft.

Those who become smoke shugenja are often feared by many. The secrets taught by the Order of the Consumed Warrior are indeed, not for the faint of heart. Their magic focuses on misdirection and the gradual weakening of opponents. Typically grim-faced and often sporting ashes on their faces, these shugenja are readily recognizable and easily avoidable.

Order of the Consumed Warrior (Air)

0 Touch of Fatigue: Touch attack fatigues target.
1 Chill Touch: One touch/level deals 1d6 damage and possibly 1 Str damage.
2 Darkness: 20-ft. radius of supernatural shadow.
3 Ray of Exhaustion: Ray makes subject exhausted.
4 Solid Fog: Blocks vision and slows movement.
5 Greater Invisibility: As invisibility, but subject can attack and stay invisible.
6 Waves of Fatigue: Several targets become fatigued.
7 Mislead: Turns you invisible and creates illusory double.
8 Waves of Exhaustion: Several targets become exhausted.
9 Implosion: Kills one creature/round.

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