Friday, April 3, 2015

Want to Play a Samurai, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling it a Knight Instead!

When the samurai was released in Ultimate Combat along with the ninja and the gunslinger there was an understandable amount of buzz. Not only are we bringing in firearms (albeit primitive ones), but we're also bringing in two favorite archetypes that gamers have had a love affair with for decades! The book was barely into players hands before DMs started bringing down the hammer though.

"Not in my game."- Mark, Experienced DM
As I've said before, all you have to do to start a fight among Pathfinder players is to shout, "I think the gunslinger is really great!" People either love it or hate it, and more often than not it gets the brunt of the ban-hammer. And while the ninja typically manages to sneak into the party with a little persuading, the samurai is the next-biggest recipient of the big, fat NO stamp.

Denied.
On the surface it seems obvious. After all, just as there are only guns in a select few places in Golarion, so too there are only a select few areas where one might find a samurai. While ninja might be sent far and wide on missions of intrigue, and recruited from a wide populace so they can blend in, samurai are hand-picked, personally-trained warriors sworn to a noble lord. Why would the shogun ever send his men so far away that they can't protect him, his people, and his lands?

Actually, You Know What That Sounds Like...


If you're one of those DMs who keeps the samurai class out of a game because there just isn't the proper flavor in your part of the game world press pause for a moment, because we're going to do an experiment. Take the word "shogun" and replace it with "baron" or "count". Now take the word "samurai" and replace it with the word "knight". Now ask yourself if by changing these terms you find the class more palatable to your game.

"Yes, I do." -Mark, Slightly Confused DM
The problem DMs have with the samurai is never that it's not a mechanically-balanced class. The problems arise because of the name, and all of the cultural associations that come with it. The idea is that if your game isn't set across the sea in a place like Tian-Xia then there's no reason for a samurai to show up barring some extreme straw-grasping. Even a wandering ronin would have to come halfway around the world to take part in a game set in the Inner Sea.

Unless, that is, the noble warrior is a home-grown knight.

You Can't Just Re-Skin A Class Like That!


Why can't you? Like I mentioned in my post A Gunslinger By Any Other Name... the words we use to refer to our classes and abilities can have a lot of impact in our perception of what these characters can do and how they should act. If you examine the samurai though it's a class that represents a warrior dedicated to a lord who tends to be most effective when standing alone against her liege's enemies. While the class maintains the mount, banner, and challenge abilities of the cavalier, it strips out the teamwork feats and gives you resolve so that you can overcome challenges and finish any fight to the end. Not only that but it gives you more skill points than the cavalier, and if you join the Order of the Warrior you gain knowledge (history) and knowledge (nobility), both of which are things knights would be trained in.

Know who that sounds like?

Don't pretend you don't watch the show.
For those who missed my latest Game of Thrones character conversion for Brienne of Tarth I used samurai as the base for her build. Brienne is loyal, steadfast, a deadly mounted warrior, but she's still quite formidable even when she's not on her horse. Proficient and even comfortable in all kinds of armor, she holds her honor above all other things (often to a fault). You replace bushido with chivalry, and you have a class that will fit in any traditional fantasy kingdom where the nobility has a warrior class. The only ability of the samurai that should be changed (and you don't even need to, it would just be fair) is to take the weapon expertise and apply it to more western-style weapons like bastard sword, lance, etc. instead of the katana, naginata, and the other listed weapons.

Just Play A Cavalier If That's What You Want!


While you can play a character in the spirit of a knight by building a cavalier who is a member of the Order of the Lion, just saying they're the same thing is missing the point. While the cavalier is the father of the samurai, they are most definitely two different beasts when it comes to mechanics and play. For players who love the abilities a samurai has (and which standard cavaliers simply don't) this one terminology tweak is a great way to work the class into your game and to open up other character options.

"Sounds Legit."- Sir Troll Knight, 9th Level Samurai
If you're still not convinced though, there are lots of different ways you could play a samurai simply by examining the races and locations available in Golarion. For instance, would elven warriors with their honor and grace be considered samurai? What about aasimar who were raised in the celestial realm instead of the material plane; would the culture and norms of their home make sense for the samurai? Would tieflings raised by infernal forces bear the oni masks and curved blades of their forebears?

I could keep going with this list, but my point is that just because there is a certain association in your mind with what a particular class should or shouldn't be that doesn't mean it has to be that. Step outside the box, and you'll see a lot of innovation come to your campaign quite quickly.


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3 comments:

  1. Great article and some of the thoughts we've had with our game. In fact this idea is a core philosophy in https://fyxtrpg.com/. For so long the names and descriptions of things had rules tied to them. So when you said “samurai” or “gunslinger” you get the inevitable reactions. In the Fyxt RPG the we take the mechanics and the fluff and totally separate them. So then players can call their characters whatever they want and we know as GMs that they are balanced and work. As you pointed out, now we have a win/win. The crunchy parts of the mechanics are equal to other characters so we don’t worry about the strength balance being upset. And since the mechanics and fluff are separate a player is free to go hog wild with it because it will not affect game mechanics. It is awesome! So call your character a samurai, gunslinger, or whatever you want. At the core, the Fyxt RPG mechanics keep it a fair and fun game.

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  2. I've seen the reverse. In Order of the Stick, there's a Eastern-themed city run by a shogun and his samurai. To Roy's confusion, the first samurai he met from there didn't take a single level in "Samurai" base class from Oriental Adventures or the "Master Samurai" PrC from a splatbook. They're paladins.

    I've had similar thoughts when worldbuilding. I was planning to use Shugenja to get an unusual spellcaster class for an island culture that developed in near isolation from all the other spellcasting traditions in the world. Then when 4th Edition came out, they presented the Shaman and Seeker classes, which were even better fits for what I had in mind. I just needed some minor tweaks to the crunch.

    The "shaman" represents their counterpart to theurgy, since they have an animistic religion instead of a god-centered one, and no knowledge of how to use arcane magic. (They occasionally try to get in touch with the 'book spirits' of "Cantrips for Hedge Wizards" once left by a visiting wizard with little success.) They bind a nature spirit to their service, summoning them with a talisman (their "totem" implement") on a string with magical pearl beads. They take a scholarly approach to these spirits and have a numeric/geometric motif to their magic. The somatic component to their spells is essentially playing Cat's Cradle with their talisman, forming shapes and/or numbered divisions appropriate to the element(s) they're using.

    The "seeker" represents their spirit hunter, exorcist, and the like. They bind minor elemental spirits to sacred arrows to defeat extraordinary threats to the community.

    Crunch tweaks to both: File off Wisdom as their spellcasting stat, and replace with Charisma, representing their ability to persuade or intimidate spirits into their service. Shift class skill set to a negotiation emphasis, plus a scholarly emphasis for the "shaman."

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've seen the reverse. In Order of the Stick, there's a Eastern-themed city run by a shogun and his samurai. To Roy's confusion, the first samurai he met from there didn't take a single level in "Samurai" base class from Oriental Adventures or the "Master Samurai" PrC from a splatbook. They're paladins.

    I've had similar thoughts when worldbuilding. I was planning to use Shugenja to get an unusual spellcaster class for an island culture that developed in near isolation from all the other spellcasting traditions in the world. Then when 4th Edition came out, they presented the Shaman and Seeker classes, which were even better fits for what I had in mind. I just needed some minor tweaks to the crunch.

    The "shaman" represents their counterpart to theurgy, since they have an animistic religion instead of a god-centered one, and no knowledge of how to use arcane magic. (They occasionally try to get in touch with the 'book spirits' of "Cantrips for Hedge Wizards" once left by a visiting wizard with little success.) They bind a nature spirit to their service, summoning them with a talisman (their "totem" implement") on a string with magical pearl beads. They take a scholarly approach to these spirits and have a numeric/geometric motif to their magic. The somatic component to their spells is essentially playing Cat's Cradle with their talisman, forming shapes and/or numbered divisions appropriate to the element(s) they're using.

    The "seeker" represents their spirit hunter, exorcist, and the like. They bind minor elemental spirits to sacred arrows to defeat extraordinary threats to the community.

    Crunch tweaks to both: File off Wisdom as their spellcasting stat, and replace with Charisma, representing their ability to persuade or intimidate spirits into their service. Shift class skill set to a negotiation emphasis, plus a scholarly emphasis for the "shaman."

    ReplyDelete