Friday, August 14, 2015

The Barbarian Samurai

This entry marks the third in my unusual character concept series, along with previous titles like The Barbarian Android and The Risen Antipaladin. So, would you like to see this continue as an on-again-off-again feature on the Table Talk page, or would you prefer to see Character Concepts as a page unto itself with more regular updates? Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts on this potential alteration to Improved Initiative's lineup.

And now, without further delay, let's talk about...

The Barbarian Samurai

Rarely are two classes considered more at opposite ends of the spectrum than these two. On the one end, we have warriors with the wrath of totemic spirits and ancient powers flowing through their veins, and on the other we have disciplined soldiers who have spent a lifetime mastering the arts of war. They're lions and tigers... and the Babarian Samurai is the terrifying liger you get as a result.

Don't make him angry. You won't like him when he's angry.
Let's start with the mechanical end of this concept. Contrary to popular belief, samurai can be of any alignment. Their loyalty to their lord doesn't require them to obey any other laws, which means that a barbarian's ban against a lawful alignment is not a barrier to this mash-up.

Now, as with any other classes, you will get the most power by taking a straight samurai, or a straight barbarian. By mixing the two you're going to have weakness in your reflex and fortitude saves (which you may want to offset with feats and/or magic items), and your class-dependent abilities (certain Rage Powers and class features like Mount or Challenge) are never going to reach their full potential. Your base attack bonus won't suffer, though, and several of your abilities are going to fit together like a hand and a glove.

Specifically your two big Rs: Rage and Resolve.

Rage, as we all know, is a barbarian's bread and butter. It boosts your strength, gives you access to additional Rage Powers, and gives you temporary hit points. It does, however, leave you fatigued after you've finished. While you could take the Roused Anger Rage Power to Rage while you're fatigued, you're going to be exhausted for 10 minutes per round you raged when you come out of it. An easier solution is to burn your Resolve to remove the fatigued condition. This lets you cycle back into fighting form a certain number of times per day without any draw back.

While that's the main trick for this combination, there are other benefits. For example, the extra damage you deal from your increased strength, combined with extra damage from Rage Powers, combined with extra damage from feats like Weapon Specialization (thanks to the Weapon Expertise ability of the Samurai) is going to quickly make you a terror on the battlefield.

With all of that said, it is very important for you to figure out which class you're going to take more levels of, and why. For example, you might only take 4 levels of samurai, and take the rest of your progression in barbarian to focus on gaining the Spirit Totem Rage Powers. Maybe you decide to take two levels of barbarian for Uncanny Dodge and a Rage Power that has a simple, flat use (like Smasher, Advanced Player's Guide 76, which lets you ignore an object's hardness when making a sunder), and build the rest of the character as a samurai. That decision is up to you, and it will depend on what you want to accomplish with your character's story.

Honor and Glory

So, now that we've explored the mechanical benefits of this multiclass concept, how would you make it work in your campaign? After all, these two archetypes don't really make sense together... do they?

You've obviously not read this book, BUT YOU SHOULD!
As I said in What's In A Name? How Your Character Class Is Limiting Your Creativity, we tend to get hung up on what we think a class should be because of the name. No one in your game world goes around describing someone's job as a barbarian, and just because someone introduces himself as a samurai, that doesn't mean he isn't just a noble from Tian Xia with nothing but Magus levels on his sheet. So let's leave the labels aside, and ask what someone who possesses great battle fury, dedication to a leader, and who draws strength from honor could be.

Is this character, for example, a sworn sword to a barbarian chief or orc warlord? Characters like Khal Drogo's blood riders in A Game of Thrones would fit this mold quite nicely; mounted furies who fight with their own strength, and for the strength of the man they've sworn their allegiance to. Perhaps the PC is young, and has been sent on a quest by his leader to prove himself, which gives the DM a more than adequate plot hook to pull the character into the plot, even if his lord is from a far-away place.

Let's flip the coin and look at it from the other angle. Say that your character is a sworn soldier in the service of the emperor, fulfilling the look and feel of a traditional samurai. While he has personal discipline, and follows orders, there is something that lives in him that fuels his sword arm beyond Honor and a desire to serve his liege. Perhaps it's the spirits of his ancestors (made manifest by the Spirit Totem Rage Power), or perhaps it's an ancient bloodline traced back to the oni who dwell in his family's lands (represented by the Fiend Totem Rage Power). The emperor values him for his strength and his strange gifts, even if those very powers make his commanders whisper behind their hands, and his allies look at him askance. This is the kind of warrior who would be sent on missions alone, trusting to his fury and bizarre abilities to complete missions where lesser men would fail.

Or, perhaps you do away with the Eastern iconography entirely and follow the suggestions I made in my post Want To Play A Samurai, But Your DM Said No? Try Calling It A Knight Instead! After all, there are very few reasons for someone to come to the Inner Sea all the way from Tian Xia, but it would be pretty common for a mercenary from the Land of the Linnorm Kings to be risen to knighthood in Taldor for his deeds in the field. Nidalese field commanders may well be trained and tortured until they have merged brute ferocity with sheer determination, becoming black-clad heralds of the agonies of Zon Kuthon.

If you like this concept, you should also check out the following posts for additional inspiration:

- 5 Tips For Playing Better Barbarians
- 50 Shades of Rage: Flavoring The Barbarian's Signature Power

Wrapping Up

In short, there is a lot of cool flavor you can get from merging these two classes. Maybe you want to play a ferocious mounted warlord, but don't care for the Mounted Fury archetype. Maybe you want a barbarian with a katana who specializes in single-stroke kills. Or perhaps you haven't quite doped out where you want to go, but you think this mix has potential.

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more Improved Initiative, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!


  1. This is brilliant! I would love to see more of this on it's own page.

  2. I only really like to play unconventional characters. The ones chained by their classes are boring. They fit a profile for the sake of the class and not the fun or the history. Please continue.

    1. I'm often a lot like you. I like taking strange combinations and finding ways to make them work out.

      I've recently taken up Elder Scrolls Online. I'm playing a Nightblade (the broad "rogue" class). His favored weapon? Greatsword. He sneaks up on the opponent who doesn't face the usual poisoned knife, but a guy wielding a very large sword and they don't have their shield raised. But mostly, he thinks of himself as a tailor. Yeah, he's fighting in a war, but once everyone gets sick of fighting and the sky brings forth triple rainbows, he's going to wield needle in thread to bring fashion into the world.

      He's an Argonian (lizardfolk) named Lives-On-Moon.

  3. Wow man. That lizardfolk is something else. Sure it is. Made me remember of a catfolk I played. He started as hunter (fighter) for a vilage adopted by a human hellkinght in cheliax. He eventually added ranger to the mix boosting even more his already high stealth and perception. He was a woodworker for the village too and as he started travelling with his brave companions he started telling their tales and it became who he was. A storyteller with a harp and pen. Always seeking gnomes around to trade tales.He was a pacifist in the end, an explorer always trying not to fight. He even runned from some enemies he could surely win. The game was perfect

  4. I'm currently playing an Orc Oracle (Battle Mystery)/Barbarian (Titan Mauler).

    Two levels of Titan Mauler lets me wield a Nodachi in one hand, Skill at Arms Revelation lets me use full plate and a heavy steel shield. He's basically an enormous Oni-looking suit of armor exploring the world for a time before planning on returning to defend the mountain pass that his clan was charged with guarding.

    Been a lot of fun so far. Going to be taking a third-party feat soon called Somatic Weapon that allows me to cast spells with somatic components while wielding the weapon I have Weapon Focus for (making the divine gestures through his enormous sword).

  5. Hm, funny you should mention, I had an idea for this multiclass archetype. The basic idea was to go with a Mongol-style raider.