With the original three core Oriental Adventures races complete (korobokuru, hengeyokai, and spirit folk) I can move on to classes. I thought about creating these classes from whole cloth and maybe some of the later ones will require it, but, the samurai I believe works much better as an archetype. The use of archetypes makes creating new variant fighters (or any class) much easier.
Samurai are professional warriors, members of the noble class who are trained in the arts of warfare. They are not only trained for their role in society, but they are also born for it—born into a system of allegiance, loyalty, and honour that influences every stage of their lives. A samurai cut loose from this system is no longer a samurai; he is an ordinary fighter, a ronin with no honour and no standing in society. To become a samurai the character must have a bonus on their Honour attribute.
Adventures. A samurai’s first responsibility is obedience to his lord, usually the head of his family. This is simultaneously an endless source of adventures and a potential hindrance to a life of adventure. A low-level samurai’s lord may command him to investigate a mysterious occurrence or subdue a gang of bandits. If he performs these duties well, his lord will call on him to deal with more significant problems. However, a samurai usually cannot simply disappear on an expedition into the Shadowlands without his lord’s command or at least permission, and if a samurai’s lord has an important mission for him, he must make that his top priority. Whether this is a significant hindrance or not is up to the Dungeon Master.
Characteristics. Samurai are distinguished from ordinary fighters by their adherence to bushido, a code of honour, loyalty, and obedience. If a samurai remains honourable and true to his code of conduct, his swords — masterwork blades passed down through generations— may awaken in his hands, manifesting increasing magical abilities as the samurai advances in level and invests spiritual energy in them. To a samurai, dishonour is worse than death, and the loss of his swords is possibly the worst dishonour imaginable.
Alignment. Bushido, the code of the samurai, demands strict obedience to standards of behaviour and honour. Only lawful characters can adhere to this code and call themselves samurai.
Background. Samurai learn their combat techniques and the principles of bushido in established, well-organised schools.
Races. Almost without exception, all samurai in are humans from the major clans, because the samurai is very much a characteristic of human society.
Other Classes. Samurai consider themselves the pinnacle of the Celestial Order that structures their society. Shugenjas are technically their equals in this order, but in a world where honour is virtually equated with battle prowess, shugenjas have a tenuous hold on that position. Samurai respect only other samurai—as well as other characters (Unicorn barbarians, Crab rangers) who wear the daisho and uphold the code of bushido. They are prone to treating members of other character classes as servants, or sidekicks at best unless such characters are obviously well respected by the samurai’s lord.
Code of Conduct – Bushido. A samurai must be of lawful alignment, and dishonours himself, his family, and his swords if he ever willingly commits a chaotic act. Additionally, the samurai code of bushido requires that he be obedient to his lord, accept death at any time and face it bravely, avenge any dishonour, and shun any appearance of cowardice. The core principles of bushido are honour, loyalty, and courage. Violating these precepts results in dishonour, which may result in a samurai being stripped of his family name or being asked to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). This code is known as bushido and some of the basic beliefs of this ethic are:
- The samurai is obedient to his lord.
- It is a samurai’s right to protest against bad judgements or orders from his lord, and death is the final protest a samurai can make.
- The samurai is ready to die at any time.
- There is no such thing as failure, only death or success.
- To die in the service of one’s lord is the greatest service a samurai can render.
- No dishonour can go unavenged.
- Dishonour to lord or family is also dishonor to the samurai.
- Mercy is not due to the enemy.
- All debts, both of vengeance and of gratitude, are repaid.
- Cowardice is dishonourable.
- Using a shield is dishonourable as is wielding a non-samurai weapon (like a ninja-to – fighters lose their proficiency with shield when they pick the samurai archetype).
Alternatively you could use a more “fantasy” version of the bushido code in your game without removing its core codes. Taking bushido in the Rokugan setting as an example which is excellent at creating a fantasy asian setting without it being dominated by one particular historical culture (like Japanese culture in Kara-Tur):
Bushido is the code of the samurai, the moral and ethical path every true samurai tries to follow. All the clans recognise Akodo’s writings on bushido as a legitimate tool for teaching samurai their proper place in the Celestial Order. In the schools of the Lion, however, a copy of Akodo’s text sits beside a copy of the Tao of Shinsei—but only Akodo’s is ever opened. According to the code of bushido, a samurai must possess seven virtues:
Gi (honesty and justice): A samurai deals openly and honestly with others and cleaves to the ideals of justice. Moral decisions do not come in shades of gray, only right and wrong.
Yu (heroic courage): A samurai never fears to act, but lives life fully and wonderfully. Fear is replaced with respect and caution.
Jin (compassion): A samurai takes every opportunity to aid others, and creates opportunities when none arise. As a powerful individual, a samurai has a responsibility to use that power to help others.
Rei (polite courtesy): A samurai has no reason to be cruel, and no need to prove his strength. Courtesy distinguishes a samurai from an animal, and reveals one’s true strength.
Meyo (honor): A samurai’s conscience is the judge of her honor. The decisions she makes and how she carries them out are a reflection of her true nature.
Makoto (complete sincerity): When a samurai has said that he shall perform an action, it is as good as done. He need not make promises; speaking and doing are as if the same.
Chugo (duty and loyalty): A samurai feels responsible for his actions and their consequences, and loyal to the people in his care. A samurai’s loyalty to his lord is unquestionable and unquestioning.
A samurai who becomes non-lawful loses his bonus and proficiency with Honour or violates the tenets of bushido cannot gain new levels as a samurai. He retains all his abilities, but his ancestral weapons lose any “awakened” magical abilities. If the samurai returns to lawful alignment, he must atone for his violations (see the atonement spell description in the Player’s Handbook) and redeem his honour in order to restore his weapons to their prior status and continue advancing as a samurai.
1st-level Samurai class feature.
At 1st level you gain Performance proficiency (especially for poetry), as well as tool proficiency in Painting Tools and Calligraphy. You may use your Honour ability bonus or Tool proficiency bonus for these skills – whichever is higher. You are also proficient in the Honor saving throw.
You consider shields dishonourable and do not use them.
1st-level Samurai class feature.
All samurai begin play with a katana and a wakizashi—two masterwork weapons. These are weapons that belonged to the samurai’s ancestors, and protecting the weapons is an important point of honour for the samurai. As a samurai acquires treasure through adventuring, beginning at 3rd level, he has the option of awakening the supernatural abilities latent in the weapons.
At any time, a samurai may retreat to a temple or shrine and spend time in prayer in order to awaken the ancestral spirits in his katana or wakizashi. (Most samurai improve their katanas and not their wakizashis). This requires a sacrifice of valuable items worth the amount equivalent to the Magical Item Rarity Table of the item per the DMG pg. 135. The samurai must also abide by the level limits listed on the same table.
For example, to turn a katana into a +1 magical weapon it would require the Samurai to be at least level 1 and sacrifice 500 gp worth of coin and/or goods as a +1 weapon is an uncommon weapon. To add the vicious trait to the weapon, a rare magical trait, the samurai would need to be at least 5th level and sacrifice 5,000 gp worth of goods.
You may also sacrifice magical weapons in this ritual to transfer the traits to your ancestral daisho.
Before a samurai’s ancestral sword becomes a +1 weapon, it is an ordinary masterwork weapon in every way (non-magical weapons that provide +1 to-hit). Its latent supernatural powers do not cause it to be considered a magic weapon until those powers are awakened.
A samurai who loses his ancestral swords is dishonoured until he can recover them. He cannot enhance any other weapon in this way.
3rd-level Samurai class feature.
The samurai gains iaijutsu as a class skill.
BLADES OF FURY
3rd-level Samurai class feature.
When you delay your attack with your ancestral daisho until after your are attacked in the round, you take advantage of the opening and can add a +2 bonus to your attack and damage rolls. In other words, you delay your action until after you are attacked in melee combat. Blades of Fury’s bonus increases to advantage on the attack roll and +5 damage at level 12.
7th-level Samurai class feature.
Your weapon attacks with the daisho (ancestral katana and wakizaishi) score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20.
10th-level Samurai class feature.
At 10th level, you can never be surprised and you may add your Honour bonus as additional damage to weapon attacks made with your ancestral daisho.
BLADES OF DEATH
10th-level Samurai class feature.
You can the following benefits when wielding your daisho in a certain style:
- When wielding your katana two-handed, you add your Honour modifier to your damage rolls.
- When dual wielding your katana and wakizashi together you may add your Honour modifier as a bonus to your attack roll.
- When wielding your katana one handed you add your Honour modifier to your AC.
MASK OF FEAR
15th-level Samurai class feature.
You become immune to fear and inspire fear in your enemies. Enemies within 10 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened. The DC for this save is 8 + proficiency bonus + Honour bonus.
18th-level Samurai class feature.
You gain the ability of the great kiai, or paralysing shout. This power draws upon the character’s ki, exploding in a ferocious, warlike shout. The samurai’s Strength score is raised to 25 for 1 minute and all enemies within 10 feet must succeed at a DC 21 Wisdom save or be stunned for one round.
During this time, if you take damage that reduces you to 0 hit points and doesn’t kill you outright, you can use your reaction to delay falling unconscious, and you can immediately take an extra turn, interrupting the current turn. While great kiai is active taking damage causes death saving throw failures as normal, and three death saving throw failures can still kill you. When the effect of the great kiai expires or the encounter ends (whichever comes first), you fall unconscious if you still have 0 hit points.
The great kiai can be used only once per day.
A masterwork weapon is a finely crafted version of a normal weapon. Wielding it provides a +1 on attack rolls. You can’t add the masterwork quality to a weapon after it is created; it must be crafted as a masterwork weapon. The masterwork quality adds 300 gp to the cost of a normal weapon (or 6 gp to the cost of a single unit of ammunition).
All magic weapons are automatically considered to be of masterwork quality. The bonus granted by the masterwork quality doesn’t stack with the bonus provided by the weapon’s magic.