Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

The Case Against Iaijutsu Focus
And how we can make things better

A lot of people dislike Oriental Adventures, and it's mainly because of misplaced expectations. Wizards of the Coast touted the book in many places as the Legend of the Five Rings campaign setting, which wasn't entirely accurate. In fact, L5R was only part of it, the rest was old material from Kara-Tur (a Forgotten Realms location) brought into 3rd Edition.

I for one liked the book. I loved the sohei, shaman and wu jen, and I used the monsters when at all possible. Looking back on it, it was mostly the L5R material that I disliked, which I guess puts contrary to everybody else who got the book. There was always one part that stuck in my craw: Iaijutsu Focus.

It was a new skill, which was great. The problem was that it was very exclusive. In fact, only samurai and sohei characters had it in their class skill list. It's use was pretty limited, but at the same time, it was just something really different. The feat was based on Charisma, which was pretty cool, because back then Charisma didn't have much going for it beyond Bards and Sorcerers, and it let characters deal extra damage to flat-footed opponents, which is always a welcome ability.

So far it sounds pretty good, but when you start to look at the numbers, things start to get a bit shaky.

The Numbers for a 1st Level Character

Let us consider a hypothetical case: a first level character, who has 4 ranks in Iaijutsu Focus and through ability score manipulation has a Charisma 18. This is by no means an abnormal case. This character has a +8 to their Iaijutsu Focus rolls, and if they take the Skill Focus (Iaijutsu Focus) feat, this improves to +11.

So, very quickly, we've been able to make a character, who can't physically roll low enough to not deal at least +1d6 damage. On a roll of 4, they deal +2d6. They deal +3d6 on a roll of 9, +4d6 on a roll of 14 and +5d6 on a roll of 19. That means that they have a 10% chance to deal bonus damage equivalent to a 9th level rogue.

That's pretty darned scary when coming from a 1st level character.

Enter the Factotum

A factotum (see Dungeonscape) can use their cunning insight ability right from 1st level in order to gain a bonus to both their attack roll and their damage roll. Although they can only do this once per encounter at 1st level, it's still an ability that will make them more likely to strike and allow them to deal more damage right from the go.

Such a character could also use their Cunning Knowledge ability to further increase damage from Iaijutsu Focus, although this won't have a noticeable effect until 3rd level, when it bumps the maximum bonus damage up one increment to +7d6. A 4th level factotum can also use their class abilities to deal +1d6 sneak attack damage, which stacks with Iaijutsu Focus. With maximum skill ranks in Iaijutsu Focus, they can deal bonus damage equivalent to a 17th level rogue. By 5th level, they exceed that to +10d6 damage.

Savants and Sharing the Love

Savants (see Dragon Compendium), are less imposing than factotums, but can create problems when they are in groups of other characters, preferably rogues or fighters. They can use their Skill Assistance class feature to provide all nearby party members with their ranks in Iaijutsu Focus. It's not inconceivable to have situations where everybody in the party is dealing +1d6 damage right from 1st level.

So, What Can We Do?

I say we can't do anything about Iaijutsu Focus. I've already shown that it can be easily abused, and it provides characters with a level of damage that far exceeds what they should receive for their level. So, what I say is dump the skill entirely. It's overpowered and we can recreate it's effect pretty easily.

That's right! Luckily in Complete Adventurer, the game designers provided us with a great replacement for Iaijutsu Focus in the form of Sudden Strike, which saw its debut with the ninja class. Sudden Strike has all of the features of Iaijutsu Focus, but because it's a class ability, its damage can be tightly maintained, and we won't see any huge problems.

So, to that end, I think it's fitting that I present a pair of feats and a revised prestige class that use Sudden Strike instead of Iaijutsu Focus. To help capture the flavor of the original, they've been written to specifically work with the samurai class (Complete Warrior).

Iaijutsu Focus [General]
You can focus your inner ki to deal devastating attacks against unprepared opponents.
    Prerequisites: Cha 15+, base attack bonus +4, Kiai Smite class feature.
    Benefits: You gain the ability to deal +1d6 sudden strike damage. You deal this damage whenever your target is denied a Dexterity bonus to Armor class (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not).
    This damage applies only to melee attacks. Creatures with concealment, creatures without discernable anatomies, and creatures immune to extra damage from critical hits are all immune to sudden strikes. You cannot make a sudden strike while striking the limbs of a creature whose vitals are out of reach.
    You can't use sudden strike to deliver nonlethal damage. Weapons capable of dealing only nonlethal damage don't deal extra damage when used as part of a sudden strike. The extra damage from the sudden strike ability stacks with bonus damage from sneak attacks whenever both would apply to the same target.
    You can only make sudden strikes when wearing light or no armor and when lightly encumbered. This technique requires swift movements that heavier armors can ruin.

Greater Iaijutsu Focus [General]
Your inner ki has become even stronger, improving your ability to make powerful attacks against opponents.
    Prerequisites: Cha 17+, base attack bonus +8, Kiai Smite class feature, Iaijutsu Focus, Quick Draw.
    Benefits: Your sudden strike damage increases by +2d6. This ability stacks with Iaijutsu Focus, making your total sudden strike damage +3d6.

Iaijutsu Master

Iaijutsu. Those who practice its arts become deadly duelists. An honorable duelist is always in demand, to either test their skills against others or to act as a proxy for one's lord.
    Most iaijutsu masters are samurai, although many fighters and rogues can benefit from training in iaijutsu.
    NPC iaijutsu masters can be found in large metropolitan areas, many in dojos where they train the next generation of practitioners. Others may work in the service of a lord who cannot duel for himself. Still others can be found traveling the countryside, finding dojos where iaijutsu is taught and defeating the head teacher there.
    Hit Die: d10

To qualify to become an iaijutsu master, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.
    Alignment: Any Lawful.
    Base Attack Bonus: +6.
    Skills: Concentration 9 ranks.
    Feats: Improved Initiative, Quick Draw, Weapon Focus (katana).
    Special: A samurai character with the iaijutsu master class ability does not require the Quick Draw feat.

Class Skills
The iaijutsu master's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Balance (Dex), Climb (Str), Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Jump (Str), Perform (Cha), Ride (Dex), Sense Motive (Wis) and Tumble (Dex). See Chapter 4: Skills in the Player's Handbook for skill descriptions.
    Skill Points at Each Level: 4 + Int modifier.

Class Features
All of the following are class features of the iaijutsu master prestige class.
    Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Iaijutsu masters do not gain proficiency with any weapons nor do they gain proficiency with any armor or shields.
    Weapon Finesse (Ex): At 1st level, an iaijutsu master may use her Dexterity modifier instead of her Strength modifier on attack rolls with her katana. This works like the Weapon Finesse feat, except that it applies to the katana, a weapon to which the feat cannot normally be applied.
    Canny Defense (Ex): When not wearing armor or using a shield, an iaijutsu master adds 1 point of Intelligence bonus (if any) per iaijutsu master class level to her Dexterity bonus to modify Armor Class while wielding a katana. If an iaijutsu master is caught flat-footed or otherwise denied her Dexterity bonus, she also loses this bonus.
    Sudden Strike (Ex): If an iaijutsu master can catch an opponent when he is unable to defend himself effectively from her attack, she can strike a vital spot for extra damage. Whenever the iaijutsu master's target is denied a Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not), the iaijutsu master deals an extra 1d6 points of damage with her attack. This bonus increases by +1d6 points of damage every two iaijutsu master levels thereafter. An iaijutsu master can't use sudden strike when flanking an opponent unless that opponent is denied its Dexterity bonus to AC.
    This bonus damage only applies to melee attacks. Creatures with concealment, creatures without discernable anatomies and creatures immune to critical hits are all immune to sudden strikes. An iaijutsu master can't make sudden strikes while striking at the limbs of a creature whose vitals are out of reach. An iaijutsu master can't use sudden strike to deliver nonlethal attacks.
    The extra damage from the sudden strike ability stacks with the extra damage from sneak attack whenever both would apply to the same target.
    Iaijutsu masters can only make sudden strikes when wearing light or no armor and when lightly encumbered. This technique requires swift movements that heavier armors can ruin.
    Lightning Blade (Ex): An iaijutsu master of 2nd level or higher adds her Charisma modifier to her initiative checks, as well as her Dexterity modifier. This bonus only applies when the iaijutsu master is wearing light or no armor and is lightly encumbered.
    Strike from the Void (Ex): Starting at 5th level, an iaijutsu master adds her Charisma modifier to the damage she deals with her Sudden Strike ability.
    One Strike, Two Cuts (Ex): At 8th level and above, an iaijutsu master can make two attacks with a katana as a standard action. This means she can strike twice and move in the same round.
    Strike with No Thought (Ex): At 10th level, if an iaijutsu master begins combat within melee range of an opponent, she gains a free surprise round, even though her opponent is aware of her presence. The only attack that the iaijutsu master can take is an attack action using a katana. The iaijutsu master can only use this ability when she is wearing light or no armor and is lightly encumbered.
    Multiclassing Note: A samurai can multiclass as an iaijutsu master without losing her ability to take additional levels in samurai.

Table 1-01: The Iaijutsu Master
Level Base Attack
1st +1
Canny defense, sudden strike +1d6, weapon finesse
2nd +2
Lightning blade
3rd +3
Sudden strike +2d6
4th +4
5th +5
Strike from the void, sudden strike +3d6
6th +6
7th +7
Sudden strike +4d6
8th +8
One strike, two cuts
9th +9
Sudden strike +5d6
10th +10
Strike with no thought

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