This post is a follow-up to my previous post. I vented my frustration with WotC and their anemic attempt to design a character class (the samurai) in a way that captures the appeal of the archetype.
In this post, I will present my version of the samurai, and try to explain my rationale for the design choices.
This careless treatment of the Samurai is nothing new.
In the 3E version of Oriental Adventures, the samurai was technically identical to the standard fighter, but granted an "ancestral daisho," a +1 set of katana and wakizashi. While I appreciate that this approach gives the player and the DM freedom to interpret the samurai, it's pretty damn lazy, and practically pointless.
Also, WotC should perhaps have known better than to still be using the term "Oriental" in 2001.
The original Oriental Adventures from 1985 can get away with it.
The AD&D version lavishes detail on its conception. In addition to a Samurai class, it has 2 additional classes which covers other aspects of the Samurai mystique.
The Bushi class represents an impoverished samurai or ronin, who dabbles in banditry and relies on brute force. The Kensai focuses on sword-mastery. The Samurai-proper adheres to the code of bushido and has features which account for the social situation and cultural refinement expected of a respectable samurai.
This level of grittiness seems to be intended to serve a campaign in which multiple players want to play "samurai," but want to distinguish their characters. In fact, the Oriental Adventures are probably best played as a separate, entirely Asian-themed campaign, rather than as an add-on to the typical Western motif.
(To be honest, it is more natural-sounding to say Oriental than "Asian-themed.")
For the purposes of this post however, I will be treating the Samurai as a single class, and attempt to roll the various aspects of samurai-ness into a single class, suitable for interjection as a foreign element into an otherwise Western campaign, alongside the paladins and the Vancian magic-users.
I agree with one of Mike Mearls' statements. To paraphrase; a samurai is a member of the warrior class from feudal japan. But how can you have a Japanese warrior if we are in D&D and there is no Japan? So we do have to take the samurai out of proper context to put it in D&D. The trick is to define the samurai outside of that context.
The European Knight in Shining Armor has a fantasy surrounding it. The mystique of the Knight has a lot to do with moral values such as loyalty and chivalry and faith. In reality though, medieval knights were probably more like gangsters. Chivalry was an invention to curb their less admirable qualities. In my BS opinion as an armchair anthropologist, the warrior class of a feudal society is the warrior class of a feudal society. So historical samurai were a mixed bag like any other cross-section of society. So what is the fantasy of the samurai?
It should go without saying that here I am discussing the fantasy and not the reality.
Let's face it. As Westerners, our ideas about Samurai are informed by popular culture. Kurosawa movies like the Seven Samurai depict a certain pathos and hard-fatedness in the life of a samurai.
|While we're on the topic, y'all know this Classic Western is a scene-for-scene ripoff of Yojimbo, right?|
The Bo5R is an eclectic work containing advice about life as a samurai, descriptions of how to fight in Musashi's signature style, zen-like musings, and general advice on how to keep your shit together. I once heard something about how corporate executives fetishized it along with the Art of War as a treatise on winning, and thus Bo5R entered Western pop culture.
One thing clear from both Samurai movies and Bo5R is that being a Samurai is a mental game. The battle is won first in the mind. I think this has a lot to do with the religious background of the samurai. Zen and Buddhist thought emphasizes introspection and self awareness. "Mindfulness" is a virtue in Buddhism. By contrast, if you ever read any medieval romances, it becomes clear that neither the characters or the author are very deep thinkers.
The mystique of the knight has to do with external relationships; to Liege, to Christ, to Lady-fair, the mystique of the Samurai (and the monk) has to do with the relationship to self. The martial skill of the samurai is rooted in discipline and self control.
So here it is. Starting with the standard fighter as a template, but without specific adjustments for a particular edition:
Alignment: Samurai may not have a chaotic alignment. Most samurai observe a code of honor. And as a result of their social position, they will tend to favor the status quo. Also, their combat abilities depend on a disciplined and well-ordered mentality which cannot be supported by a chaotic perspective.
Weapon specialization; Samurai are professional hereditary warriors, and favor martial weapons while disdaining "peasant" weapons. They will not be proficient in clubs, staves, maces, axes, slings, flails or any weapons which are adapted from a farm implement or tool such as sai or bill-hooks. They also disdain the use of sheilds, or "civilian" weaponry such as rapiers or blackjacks.
As a result, they focus their training on weapons appropriate to a professional warrior: swords, daggers, spears, glaives, bows, crossbows, firearms and unarmed combat. They gain a bonus to attack with these weapons equal to their level in Samurai, divided by 4 and rounded up.
Danger sense: Samurai discipline themselves to be in-the-moment and are difficult to surprise. frightening to peasants. They gain a bonus on any perception rolls that might prevent them from being surprised or ambushed. This bonus is equal to half their level in Samurai, rounded up. This does not apply to finding or spotting traps.
XP bonus: When one samurai kills or defeats another in a duel or stand-up fight, the winner gains twice the XP for that combat. Samurai constantly compare themselves to eachother, and their reputations proceed them.
Honesty: Because of their earnest mentality, samurai has a penalty of -2 to all bluff or disguise rolls. On the other hand, they are also more difficult to put one over on, and gain a bonus of +2 to sense motive.
Frightening to peasants: A samurai is set apart from the lower classes, and will never be able to shed the mein of a samurai, which is frightening and impressive to peasants and serfs. Samurai will gain +2 to attempts to coerce or intimidate peasants.
So there you go. We have some features which are meant to portray the refined combat style of a samurai, and a few more to help depict their social situaton and relation to the rest of the world. It may stand out that I didn't include anything about having a lord or a daimyo. But I wanted that part to be optional, not mandated.