Tag Archives: japan

New 5E Class – Shugenja

About a week ago, I wrote a blog post about some custom Fighter Archetypes I had developed for use in my homebrew campaign setting, specifically in the land of Teikoku. As I continue to expand that nation, I will continue to release content for it. My most recent addition is a full-fledged custom class, the Shugenja.

The Shugenja is a divine spell-caster, and serves as the priest of Teikoku’s religion, based around worship of the kami, or divine spirits which they believe inhabit every aspect of the world around us. The idea of kami has its root in the Shinto religion, the ethnic religion of Japan. Kami are believed to be the spirits of everything in the natural world and beyond, from rocks and trees to thunder strikes and raindrops, from the fire of a torch or a blowing wind to an animal’s soul and the spirit of an ancestor; all things have kami spirits. For creating the class, I focused on the idea of kami being divided into the four basic elements that make up the universe: air, earth, fire, and water. Many things in ancient cultures believed these four elements were fundamental forces in nature, and Dungeons and Dragons has always held such. It made sense to me that when worshiping the kami, the people of Teikoku would divide them into elemental categories.

I initially set out to make the Shugenja a Cleric Domain, a simple subclass, but as I continued to work on it and think about Shugenja’s place in Teikoku, I realized that the Shugenja of different clans would be as different as I had made their Samurai. While I still proceeded with them as a single Domain, the idea that clans would be different continued to tug at me until I decided to make an entirely new class. The clans would be subclasses, titled Schools as they instructed the Shugenja of the clan in their own way. The Shugenja would not only pick a School to hail from, though, they would also pick to devote themselves to a single group of elemental Kami at 1st level. This would be the Shugenja’s form of picking a god to worship, with the added twist that picking an element would lock the Shugenja out of its opposing element: water and fire or earth and air.

As a caster class, one of the first steps was to think about the spell list for the class. Since they were initially a Cleric derivative, and since they served as the priests for Teikoku, the Cleric spell list was a good starting point. However, two main factors pushed me to expand it: first, most of the “elemental” or “nature” spells fell within the Druid spell list, and second, my ideas for elemental devotion to the Kami would necessarily cut down the spell list by approximately 25%. So, I went into the Druid spell list and pulled about half of the spells from there to put into the Shugenja spell list. The overall spell list is therefore larger than either the Cleric or the Druid spell lists, but the number of spells most Shugenja will have access to is 25% less than that, and the devotion mechanic further cuts down what is feasible to prepare with another feature: if the Shugenja takes at least 50% of their spells from the elemental list of the element they are devoted to, they gain a 1d4 increase to their maximum hit points. This bonus also scales every 4 levels, providing an incentive for the Shugenja to try to stay within their elemental discipline, while also limiting the spell list even further.

The second step was to come up with a major class feature that really drove home the role of the Shugenja as a conduit between mortals and the Kami. That came easily as the Summon Kami ability. At 2nd level, the Shugenja gained the ability to summon a Kami forth into the mortal world to request something of them. At first, it is merely the ability to ask the Kami questions, with guidelines given to the DM about how those interactions will go based on the attitude of the player and their elemental alignment compared to the Kami’s. As they increase in level, however, they gain additional abilities, namely the ability to change the damage type of one of their prepared spells, and the ability to summon a powerful Kami in the form of an elemental to fight with them. I felt this ability, available to all Shugenja, was flavorful and useful regardless of school.

With those taken care of, it was time to focus on the Schools. I had already determined what each Clan was known and responsible for, so now I merely needed to come up with Shugenja roles that would fit in neatly with those Clans’ identities. The first one I did was the Turtle Clan, as that was the clearest in my mind. As the Turtle Clan was responsible for fighting oni and undead, their Shugenja would be geared towards that role. I also decided that as extra flavor, the Shugenja would be tasked with hunting down those magic users who tried to consort with Oni, and therefore named them Inquisitors. While most of their abilities deal with making life difficult for fiends and undead and making them more able to deal massive damage to them, the fluff of them being Inquisitors is fun to me.

Next came the Bear Clan. As the standing army of Teikoku, the Bear Clan Shugenja needed to be able to hold their own on the front lines. History and lineage would likely be important to such a warrior culture, and so I made the Bear Clan Shugenja focus on ancestor worship. He is able to fight at the front with the best Samurai, wearing heavy armor and gaining the ability to lock down areas with an increased reach, but his most powerful ability comes when he calls upon an ancestor to possess him.

The Fox Clan was relatively easy to consider. The Foxes are the clever, cunning spies and informants of Teikoku, and so illusion magic, and the ability to counter those using it, seemed like the perfect niche for their Shugenja to fill. Fox Clan Shugenja gain the ability to ritual cast Disguise Self, and can see through any illusion or invisibility as they grow more powerful. Eventually, they get a form of magical sneak attack, able to deal massive damage when they attack from cover.

The Lion Clan was the fourth I worked on, and was somewhat challenging. As the head priests among a class full of priests, I struggled to think of what made them different than the others. Ultimately I decided that, as the religious heads in Teikoku, they would see less of a divide among the different elemental Kami than most, and would strive to revere all equally. Once that was figured out, the abilities fell into place. They suffer fewer restrictions to spell selection than other types of Shugenja, and gain the ability to use their Summon Kami ability as an action, rather than as a 1 minute casting time. At the end I was left with a School that I felt truly represented the head priests of the country.

Finally, the Owl Clan. I had the most difficulty with them, as I was not sure what I wanted them to be able to do, or what their role would be. The Owl Clan serves as the diplomats and bodyguards for the Imperial family, and the bodyguard role seemed to be well-covered by their Samurai class. I initially thought to go the route of diplomat or courtier, but could not come up with any abilities I was happy with. I ended up deciding that there was nothing preventing me from making the Owl Shugenja also specialize in protection, and so the Owl Clan Warden was born. They gain bonuses to initiative to help get the drop on enemies, and can absorb hostile spells directed at them or their charges. Most impressively, however, they can use reactions to prevent allies from falling unconscious or dying, making them excellent frontline medic characters.

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If these classes sound interesting to you, you can download them off of the Dungeon Master’s Guild. While there you can also check out the Samurai Clan Fighter Archetypes if you missed them and want to try them out in your games. Please leave a rating or a review, I’d love to hear what you think of them and how they are used in your game.

As always, good luck and happy gaming!

Samurai Clans – Fighter Archetypes

Since I was a kid, the Samurai culture has always intrigued me, as I’m sure it has many of you reading this. A warrior culture, bound by a code of honor, is a classic, idealistic trope that has permeated our modern psyche in many ways and permutations. We see the Samurai themselves presented in many forms of media, and Samurai-inspired cultures crop up in fantasy and science fiction on a regular basis. There is something about them, something I can’t quite put my finger on, that makes them fascinating. Perhaps it is that code of honor, bushido. Perhaps it is how they were expected to be more than just warriors, but poets and courtiers as well. Perhaps it was their elite status as warriors, akin to the knights of Europe but with their own twists on armor, and their legendary katanas.

Samurai concept artwork

Whatever the reason, Samurai have a special corner of my brain sectioned off for them, and my interest in them extends to the world of roleplaying as well. The world of Rokugan, setting of the Legend of the Five Rings card game and roleplaying game, is a tremendously well-developed world, full of rich culture, deep backstory, and labyrinthine politics. I’ve run a two-session one-shot, participating in the L5R Fifth Edition playtest, and I had a blast with the mechanics, but sometimes starting an entirely new campaign, or asking players to learn an entirely new game system for a night of a one shot, can be a bit much to ask. Sometimes it is easier to take inspiration from other game settings and things you enjoy, and figure out a way to bring them into your own homebrew campaign setting for the enjoyment of you and your friends.

In my campaign setting, there has always been a land inspired by fantasy Japan. Teikoku, or “the Eastern Empire” as referred to by the ignorant and haughty western lands, is a place I built up in my Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition homebrew setting, heavily inspired by Japanese culture, Japanese folklore and mythology, and applying fantasy tropes and elements to it. However, I had never built up any of the specific Samurai families or what their purposes were, mainly focusing on the history of the nation and the external politics, how Teikoku interacted with the rest of my world. More recently, I wanted to bring the type of politics and ideas that fictional worlds like Rokugan conjured up in my head and make them fit within the geography, politics, and supernatural elements of my homebrew world. Mainly, that meant fleshing out the major Samurai families of Teikoku.Related image

I decided that there would be five major clans serving the Emperor of Teikoku, all taking an animal of significance as the central feature of their clan Mon, or heraldic symbol: the Bear Clan, Fox Clan, Lion Clan, Owl Clan, and Turtle Clan. The Bear Clan, with the bear representing strength and ferocity, would be the main military force of Teikoku, providing the bulk of the Imperial army and its lead strategists. The Fox Clan, foxes representing trickery, would serve as the Imperial spies and ninjas, operating outside the bounds of Bushido and accepting the dishonorable reputation that comes with it, but doing so for the good of the Emperor and the Empire. The Lion Clan, lions representing protection and devotion, serve as the clerics and and religious heads of the Empire, operating the various shrines and performing religious ceremonies. The Owl Clan, with the owl representing wisdom, knowledge, and good fortune, are Teikoku’s diplomats, the most widely-traveled of the clans and famous for their silver tongues and manipulation of the political wind of the Empire. Finally, the Turtle Clan, turtles serving as a representation of resilience and longevity, protect the shores of the Empire and, in particular, serve as the experts at killing and first line of defense against the horrible creatures sent forth by the foul sorcerers of the Empire of Maga Khan across the sea to the east.

Image result for oni

Starting with those central roles of each of the five clans, I then started building subclasses, focusing on the actual samurai serving each of the clans. I decided they would all be Fighter Archetypes. I wanted each to be distinct and really have the flavor stand out of what the clan’s purpose is. Wizards of the Coast published a Samurai archetype in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, but it is too narrow and generic to work with a nation where the Samurai families each have such different focuses. I developed the five archetypes, then tested and sent them out, asking for feedback, refining them and balancing them where I could. I focused on a specific theme or mechanical crux on which to set the archetype. The Bear Clan Striker becomes a combat beast, able to deal maximum damage and attack extra times each turn as they gain levels. The Fox Clan Deceiver is able to feint and trick their enemies, and turn feigned weakness into strength, able to turn the tables in a battle just when the enemy thinks they have the upper hand. The Lion Clan Keeper is a blessed defender of holy places, with a special penchant for dealing with unworthy creatures such as spirits, undead, fey, aberrations, and fiends. The Owl Clan Yojimbo is an unparalleled one-on-one duelist and bodyguard, able to lock down a single powerful enemy as well as protect those around them. Finally, the Turtle Clan Stalwart is specialized to fight against large monsters and hold the line when all else have fallen or fled.

There is still more to build out in Teikoku, and I’ve written up versions of the Shugenja (elementalist clerics who call upon the kami, or spirits, of the world) and Wu-jen (powerful wizards who seek to increase and improve specific spells through study). which I will be posting in the future. If these archetypes have piqued your interest and you want to use them in your own homebrew, feel free! You can download them from the Dungeon Master’s Guild. It’s pay what you want, so pay if you want to, or download for free to test out and leave any comments, critiques, or constructive criticism, I’ll appreciate it all! You can also follow me on Instagram for regular updates.

As always, happy gaming.