Strength & Charisma are key Samurai stats, so in general pick races that help with this. Races that give bonuses to Dexterity are generally not as desireable, as you won’t need it for TWF and can’t use a high Dex to full effect in full armor.
Azurin: Probably the best race for Samurai if you’re using Magic of Incarnum – the Essentia pool and bonus feat really help.
Dwarves: By OA rules, Samurai is a favored class. Yes, they didn’t mean this Samurai, but I’m not the one who puts out different classes with the same name, so don’t yell at me. Use Dream or Gold Dwarf (-2 Dex, instead of Charisma)
Goliath: Bonus to Strength and the use of large-sized weapons are both good. The Powerful Build feature may also help with Intimidate, as it’s an opposed check influenced by Size. You’d lose Frightful Presence, but you could’ve taken that as a feat earlier than Level 20 anyway.
Half-Orc: Bonus to Strength is nice, and the Half-Orc Paragon class (Unearthed Arcana) can give you Rage and an Intimidation-boosting ability.
Human: Obviously. Favored class (any) and bonus feat can help a lot. Human Paragon can give you Iajutsu Focus as Class Skill.
Illumian: Can be useful for the Aesh Sigil, which grants a modest bonus to weapon damage if you have focus in that weapon.
Maenad (XPsi): Favored class wilder, and the Outburst ability works nicely.
Multiclassing with the Samurai is practically a requirement, because you need some form of bonus damage to make TWF work properly. But because the Samurai’s TWF skills progress so slowly, it’s tricky to pull off.
• Bard: While in theory beneficial for bonus damage through Inspire Courage, the alignment issue is thorny. It can still work, however, through a combination of Paladin and Devoted Performer. Complementary saves. Works best with Eberron, which allows you to swap a song (Inspire Competence, for example) for a feat like Song of the Heart, which improves damage.
• Binder: I didn't think much of this at first but actually it works OK and even has plenty of flavor fit with the Samurai: Replace all the vestiges with long-dead spirits of your ancestors and you're rolling. The Pact Augmentation ability and several vestiges (Andromalius, Eurynome, among others) give bonus damage. And best of all, they boost flexibility -- they let you do things a regular Samurai could never do. Bail out after 4, 5 or 8.
• Cleric: A useful dip for the Turn Undead ability, which can power Divine Might and give you some Charisma synergy. Pick domains that give abilities that aren’t tied to your cleric level, such as War and Fate.
• Dragon Shaman: The aura to boost damage works, though you'd need five levels to get to +2. And the Breath Weapon helps give you a ranged attack.
• Duskblade: I'm still looking at this one. It may have enough spell slots to make Arcane Strike worth it.
• Fighter: This gives you shield proficiency (useful for Improved Buckler Defense) and extra feats, of course. Players Handbook II's Melee Weapon Mastery makes Fighter4/Samurai16 a decent option.
• Knight: Makes some flavor sense and Knight's challenge can boost your damage.
• Hexblade: You get some Charisma synergy from the Curse/Saves, and can use Arcane Strike to help power your damage. Worth looking at as either a dip or 9-level investment (in the latter case, it probably requires Battlecaster and Mithril Full Plate to get full use here.)
• Incarnate: Gives you soulmelds that are source of bonus damage, though you can only be Lawful Neutral with this class.
• Marshal: Good Cha synergy with dips and some bonus damage.
• Monk: You’re obviously burning the Wis to AC with Heavy Armor (and probably Evasion, too) but the feats and saves are nice. Grabbing some of the alternative monk styles would probably be helpful.
• Paladin: Can be very nice if you’re using the Half-Orc Substitution levels, which give morale bonus to damage and an Intimidate-enhancing quality. Even a 2 level dip gets you Cha to Saves.
• Rogue: An obvious source of TWF bonus damage, but Evasion doesn’t work in Heavy Armor.
• Sorceror: Useful in some Gish-type builds, though a TWF style will have some problems with Somatic spells.
• Sohei: Nobody ever takes the Sohei for anything. But it gives Iajutsu Focus as class skill, Ki Frenzy and Weapon Focus, though mixing the two classes may raise flavor issues in some campaigns.
• Soulknife: Soulknives can’t generate a bastard sword & short sword mind blade at the same time, but you could use Katana Mind Blade and a physical Wakazashi, or vice versa, depending on how many Soulknife levels you have. However, the Soulknife’s Short Sword Mind Blade is a true Short Sword (and does piercing, not slashing damage, disrupting the Flay Foe tactic). Complementary saves.
• Wilder: Charisma to Touch AC, and has a handful of augmentable powers that can help a good bit. But you have to choose between ITWF (at Samurai11) and either Schism or Metamorphosis (at Wilder10), which kind of stinks. Gets shield proficiency. Take this for 6 levels (grab expanded knowledge-hustle for full attacks + Improved Staredown) or 9 levels (for maxing out damage with ITWF + Offensive Precognition.
Arcane Duelist: Charisma to AC in armor. Nice. http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/re/20030224a
Disciple of Dispater (BoVD): A great all-around tank/damage-dealer, with bonus damage (keyed to Con.) and Monk-like saves.
Exotic Weapon Master (CW): Normally a no-brainer for Bastard Sword specialists, you actually have to think about it with Samurai because you won’t be using your Katana two-handed very often (unless you use Trick No. 4, above)
Ghost-Faced Killer: Cha synergy and complementary feats. Requires Hide/MS 6, so a dip into Monk, Rogue or other base class is probably required.
Iajutsu Master (OA): While in some ways this makes no sense at all — it’s an unarmored katana specialist, while the CW Samurai is about Heavy Armor. But you almost qualify automatically, and the PrC does value Charisma, so it’s worth mentioning. You’ll need either Human Paragon or Sohei to qualify.
Incandescent Champion (Incarnum): A dynamite class, as it gives you bonuses to damage and intimidate.
Iron Mind (RoS): A psionic class built around the use of heavy armor. You probably won’t have room for much of this, but Samurai11/Wilder2/IronMind7 could be an option.
Knight of the Sacred Seal: Used with Binder, it allows Paladin multiclassing so you have a shot at convincing a DM of this. Cha-based abilities.
Justiciar of Taiia (D&Dgods): Nice in a couple of respects: Sneak Attack, Complementary saves, good skills, bonus Exotic Weapon Proficiency and some spells. Neatest of all is the Combat Insight: +2 to hit/ac offsets the TWF penalties (improves to +4 at level 5)
Kensai (CW): If you don't really care about the two-weapon fighting, it's a very good class. A good bailout option if you're already playing a Samurai (but haven't reached level 11 yet) and you're sick of the TWF thing.
Knight of the Middle Circle: One-level dip gets you +2 to hit/ac combat insight.
Menacing Brute (RoD, Half-Orc): Useful for the intimidation ability, which keeps foes shaken for 1 round/class level.
Mirumoto Niten Master (OA): Only mentioned because of the unusual use of TWF; this PrC uses the short sword for defense, not attack. It’s only worth thinking about if you have a Shugenja in the party, however, due to a number of synergistic abilities.
Raumanthari Battlemage: If you’re going to be using Arcane Strike to boost damage, it’s worth looking at since you’ve got the EWP (Bastard Sword) already. http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/iw/20030413c
Suel Arcanamach: Charisma-based casting in armor, with some nice benefits. Could be a good use of Arcane-Strike boosted damage, though it’d be a lot better if this PrC would work with Raumanthari Battlemage. It doesn’t, because it lacks evocation spells.
Tempest: Sounds like a good idea at first, with the TWF versatility and TWF defense, both of which would help a Samurai quite a bit. But most of the PrC’s features only work in light armor or no armor, and it requires Dex 13 to get into. Yet another failure of synergy — it’s like WotC wrote up the Samurai class and then forgot it ever existed.
War Mind: Great tanking PrC and one that rewards lots of attacks, because Sweeping Strike can make all of them count twice.
When it released the “Complete” line of books, WotC wanted to include an oriental-themed core class in each one. The Wu Jen and Shugenja got ported over pretty much intact, for better or worse, from Oriental Adventures. The Ninja was a new class, borrowed from Dragon.
The Samurai, though, was something else: It shared a name with the pretty-good core class from OA, but other than that had little the two classes had little in common. Instead of a Fighter with better skills and saves and fewer feats (a la the OA Samurai) the Complete Warrior Samurai gives a specific set of bonus feats, a restrictive TWF ability, some smiting and some improved intimidation abilities.
The class has next to zero flexibility — catharz once noted that the CW Samurai is the only class with less flexibility than the Soulknife, which at least lets you tweak its chief ability a bit in terms of ranged/melee, enhancements, etc. A Samurai’s abilities are all geared toward a specific style — TWF melee with two specific weapons — and intimidating people. That’s it.
Which wouldn’t be that bad, but those abilities aren’t all that good. The intimidation feature of the class, which maxes out at 14th level, can be trumped by a first-level regional feat from Player’s Guide to Faerun (Dreadful Wrath) or 1 level of Exotic Weapon Master. TWF is subpar without bonus damage, and the Samurai gets none.
And its TWF progression is so slow that it’s hard to amass much in the way of bonus damage in a Samurai-heavy build. The class doesn’t get ITWF until level 11. By then, the Ranger has GTWF — plus 3rd level spells, better saves and skills, an animal companion and up to +6 in bonus damage per hit versus a key enemy. You’ve got a couple smites, slightly better armor and a few feats you probably wouldn’t have chosen. Really now, which one would you choose?
That said, lots of people do choose the Samurai, or want to — requests come up with some regularlty on the c/o board, so there must be some flavor appeal. And plenty of others will wind up with several levels of Samurai in an existing PC before realizing the limitations of the class. So this guide is going to look at ways to get the most out of that choice.
Most of the following information assumes an investment of multiple levels of Samurai. You can take just one level of the class — indeed, you might be better off doing so — but then you’re just playing a standard Two-Handed Bastard Sword Fighter, and there already exist plenty of resources for such concepts.
Strengths of the SamuraiEdit
• Two Swords as One: As noted, you’re a TWF fighter with two specific weapons. But unlike the ranger, you can fight TWF-style with a low dex in heavy armor. At low levels this can be a pretty good deal, because AC-boosting items aren’t in wide circulation yet — your armor and d10 Hit Die will let you trade attacks with the monsters with a higher chance of survival.
The Two Swords as One ability also is a nice fit for those who want a TWF style but don’t want to spend points on a high Dex, or are encouraged to wear Heavy Armor (Dwarves or Paladins, for example).
• Staredown: Intimidation is not a great combat mechanic in D&D, but the Samurai is at least good at it. At level 6 they get a bonus to Intimidate; at level 10 they can intimidate multiple opponents and at level 14 they can demoralize as a move action (instead of standard). At level 20, they get frightful presence.
• Smite: You get Charisma mod to Attack/Damage, staring at 1/day at 3rd level and progressing. While not very synergistic (it’s only one attack, so your TWF is wasted) at later levels it can work well with Dual Strike (Complete Adventurer).
• Bonus Feats: You get Quick Draw and Improved Initiative at level 5 and 8. These are moderately helpful (they’re required for Iajutsu Master and can offset your presumably low Dex) but are nothing special. All the feat chains that rely on Quick Draw also require a high Dexterity, and since the feat only applies to your Daisho you can’t use it on javelins, for example. One trick that you could use is carry several Wakazashis, and take Throw Anything.
Weaknesses of the SamuraiEdit
These have been mentioned already, yet they’re worth repeating.
1. You have no source of bonus damage to make TWF worthwhile.
2. Though your entire class revolves around two specific weapons, you have to pay for Weapon Focus in the usual way and can never take Weapon Specialization (Katana).
3. Your TWF progresses so slowly that it’s hard to build in bonus damage sources. Taking Ronin is an easy way to get Sneak Attack, for example, but since you have to wait until level 11 to get ITWF, you automatically trade in your Samurai levels when shifting to Ronin, and consequently forget how to fight with two weapons. Oy.
4. Multiclassing restrictions: In a class full of poor design elements, this one’s a biggie: Few classes are as dependent on multclassing to survive, but the Samurai has the same multiclassing limits as the core monk or Paladin — but lacks the Prestige Class support that those classes have. Monks and Paladin both have plenty of PrCs that they can mix with (or take the Comp. Adv. Multiclassing feats. The Samurai has 3 PrCs, Knight Defender, Kensai and Dwaven Defender. The first is lousy, the second doesn’t work well with a TWF-style combatant, and the third requires at least a 13 Dexterity.
5. Although the CW Samurai appears in the very same book as a half-dozen TWF styles with various weapons, Bastard Sword/Short Sword doesn’t qualify for any of them. This calls for a TWF anagram: WTF?
Five tricks that can make your Samurai betterEdit
Basically, the Samurai needs all the help it can get, because it’s very difficult to get any synergy out of the class. Of the following, only Nos. 1 and 5 qualify as true house rules; Nos. 2 and 3 are merely 3.0 carryovers that haven’t been updated and so should be legit by 3.5 rules. No. 4 is more of a exploitation of existing rules. But some DMs may have problems, so it’s best to ask for all of them.
1. Alternate Daisho. There’s little flavor reason not to allow, for example, a Dwarven Samurai to replace Katana/Wakazashi with Twin Battleaxes (for Clangeddin) or Waraxe/Warhammer, or WarAxe/Hand Axe. (You’d waste the EWP, but you might be able to replace that feat with something like Weapon Focus, or a limited TWF Versatility that works only with Daisho weapons, or something). But all of these can be mechanically superior to a traditional daisho. a. Twin Battleaxes would allow you to go with Oversized TWF/Power Attack. b. WarAxe/Warhammer opens up the Anvil of Thunder Feat, which gives you new options. c. WarAxe/HandAxe qualifies you for Shielded Axe (Races of Stone) which is superior to Improved Buckler Defense. You’d still need a Fighter level to get shield Proficiency, though.
2. Allow heavy weapons from 3.0 Forgotten Realms rules. These used weapon-size rules that were changed in 3.5, but it seems that a Golden Wakazashi would be treated as a one-handed weapon, making it eligible for Power Attack. You’d still need EWP (and maybe OTWF) for this. Thanks to Khazra Reborn for this idea.
3. Use the Oriental Adventures rules for Dwarves (Samurai becomes a favored class as well as fighter) and Wakazashi (deals slashing, not piercing damage). The latter is especially valuable because it lets you take Flay Foe (Champions of Ruin) to gain extra damage with both your weapons.
4. Use your Katana two-handed while you’re attacking with it. I haven’t seen any rule that says you have to alternate your attacks between primary hand and off-hand weapons, and you’ve got Quick Draw. So make all your attacks with your Katana as a two-handed weapon first, then quick-draw your Wakazashi and finish your routine with that weapon. This won’t exempt you from TWF penalties, of course, but it gets you the 1.5 Strength damage with your katana (and remember, your strength is probably higher than your average two-weapon fighter). Note: Since quick draw doesn’t equal quick-sheath, expect to get only 1 use out of this per opponent (unless you are a Samurai/Soulknife, use a Glove of Storing or pack several Wakazashis.)
5. (Can't recall who suggested this one. Will check; if you recognize it let me know). Note the first-level ability: Daisho Proficency. Not "proficency with bastard sword or whatnot", but proficency with Daisho, as if the pair of swords is a separate weapon category unto themselves. Weapon Focus (and the feats that depend upon it) require "proficiency with weapon." So an argument can be made that you could take "Daisho Focus", "Improved Critical: Daisho" and so on, getting the benefits of the feat with both katana and wakazashi. (This is very cheap rules-lawyering, but you can always say you were forced into it. And it's still not unbalancing.)
Break points of the Samurai classEdit
Level 1: If you’re going to be going with a Bastard Sword wielder anyway, Samurai1 is no worse than fighter1 (and for certain builds, such as those that employ Psionics or Kensai levels, the inclusion of Concentration as a class skill makes it better.)
Level 2: TWF in heavy armor, without Dexterity worries, is really nice, though the tight weapon restrictions are a bear. See “Five Tricks that can make your Samurai better” above. A good option for Figher-types who want the flavor of TWF without much investment — even if you don’t have a bonus source of damage, you lose little and can pick up EWM later for Uncanny Blow if you decide to chuck the TWF thing.
Level 8: Barely. Getting Improved Initiative sets you up for Iajutsu Master, at least, assuming you’ve gotten the Iajutsu Focus Skill somehow.
Level 11: Waiting five levels more than the Ranger for virtual ITWF is ridiculous, but there it is. Most people who just want TWF should bail out here, as there’s still enough time to get some bonus damage going.
Level 14: Samurai’s Intimidate ability finally gets interesting, with a move-action to activate.
Level 16: Greater TWF. Most people who go this far are probably in restrictive campaigns and diehard TWFers. If you can swing an alternate Daisho (see above) this could become more viable since you won’t care about bonus damage as much.
The WotC online feature Dead Levels II (http://wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/cwc/20070227x) has some modest improvements for the class that can make the Samurai a better out-of-combat intimidator. They aren't good enough to make any new break points for the class, though.
Breaking Stare (Ex): At 4th level, the samurai can internalize their mastery of kiai into making a subject fear for their life. When attempting to change behavior, a samurai can spend 1 use of their kiai smite ability to negate a target's Wisdom modifier for a single Intimidate check. At 9th level, a samurai negates a target's modifiers on saves against fear. At 13th level, a samurai negates a target's immunity from being intimidated for being a paladin of 3rd level or higher. At 15th level, a samurai reduces the size modifier of a target by one category. At 18th level, a samurai reduces the size modifier of a target by two categories.
Interrogator (Ex): At 19th level, the samurai becomes so certain in the use of Intimidate to change behavior that the character can use it reliably even under adverse conditions. When making an Intimidate check to change behavior, the samurai may take 10 even if stress and distractions would normally prevent the character from doing so.