This installment of the class-centric supplements by Legendary Games clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, so few classes have been as much in need of a proper redesign as the lackluster samurai, which has failed to truly engage me in all iterations I’ve seen so far, so let’s take a look at the legendary samurai! The class receives d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as tetsubo and all one-handed slashing weapons and all armors. They get full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves.
The first thing you’ll then notice, would be the spirit engine, which radically changes how the class behaves and its role in the party composition from the get-go: Spirit is a bit like grit, but the legendary samurai starts the day with no spirit – it is gained when the legendary samurai damages a creature with an iaijutsu strike (this improves further at 7th level, which lets the samurai spend a move action prior to attacking to increase the spirit gain to 2 (known as spirit charge; at 14th level, this may also be done as a swift action, bo more than 1/round), or whenever the legendary samurai takes damage from an attack, including supernatural attacks, SPs and spells, but the class does not gain spirit when struck while flat-footed. Starting at 5th level, the samurai may elect to open themselves to attacks as a free action, making the next attack target touch AC or take a -10 penalty to Reflex saves, but when suffering an attack thus, the samurai gains 2 spirit instead, and may execute an Intimidate check to demoralize the attacking creature, even ignoring fear immunity as an immediate action. When they roll initiative, they gain 1 spirit, which upgrades to 2 at 3rd level, and 3 at 12th level. Spirit can stack up to a maximum equal to Charisma modifier, but unlike e.g. grit, it behaves more like an adrenalin bar – spend 1 minute outside of combat, and all spirit accumulated vanishes. You will probably have noticed the absence of a kitten-caveat – RAW, Iaijutsu-ing harmless kittens could be used to stack up spirit; this obviously is VERY un-samurai-like behavior, and imho should have been prevented explicitly in the rules. Does it break the class? Let’s see.
The class starts play with Quick Draw as a bonus feat and elaborates the notion of weapons being sheathed in the context of traditionally sheathe-less weapons, which is a nice touch. At 4th level, the sheathe may confer a scaling shield bonus when employed in conjunction with iaijutsu strikes. The legendary samurai can treat sheathed weapons as drawn ones for the purpose of AoOs, courtesy of their ability to perform lightning-quick iaijutsu-strikes. This is an extraordinary ability gained at first level, and may be performed with sheathed one-handed slashing weapons; it is an attack action and makes the weapon be treated as though wielded in two hands for purposes of damage dealt; when making such an attack, the legendary samurai may spend 1 spirit to roll twice and take the better result as a free action. At 8th level, this may be executed as an AoO once per round. Additionally, the class is defined by iaijutsu techniques – the class begins play with one, and gains an additional one every 4 levels thereafter. Only one such technique may be applied per iaijutsu strike until 10th level, where one slash and one cut may be executed at once (see below for an explanation of slash and cut), and the saving throw DC, if any, is 10 + ½ class level + Charisma modifier. Iaijutsu techniques are categorized in two different types: Slashes, which generally inflict conditions etc., and cuts , which influence area and range of the executed attack – the names of the respective techniques feature “slash” or “cut”, making that part easy to discern. Unless I miscounted, a total of 21 such techniques have been provided. These techniques often tend to feature some sort of scaling mechanic, and obviously, the more potent ones are locked behind minimum level requirements.
The techniques include penalties to AC, scaling bleed damage, ability score damage to Strength or Dexterity on a failed save, high level save-or-die, as well as some more supernatural options, such as forced short-level teleportation, and scaling dispel magic that later upgrades to the greater variant – the latter btw. with a hex caveat that prevents constant and abusive hitting of allies to dispel debuffs – excellent catch there. Forming the attack as bursts, including limited ability to shape the area, knocking targets back (as a bull rush), stealthy slashes (that even may even have their effects delayed at higher levels!), lines, limb-cutting, causing fear-conditions, attacking with wind slashes, skirmishing strikes, and utility attacks or using vacuum – if you’re like me an somewhat of a japanophile otaku, this section will have you smile from ear to ear – it’s INTERESTING and it sets the legendary samurai distinctly apart from other classes. The final ability gained at first level would be challenge, which costs a swift action and one spirit to activate – and whenever the legendary samurai rolls initiative, they get 1 spirit that may ONLY be used for the purpose of this ability. Effect-wise, this adds + class level to damage, but penalizes the AC of the samurai by -2; this penalty also is applied to the AC of the target as long as it’s inside the legendary samurai’s threatened area, but only regarding attacks from other targets. This is a thorough delimiter of challenge, but one that makes sense – to a degree. It’s mainly problematic due to the fact that it’s essentially a per-encounter mechanic sans cooldown. I.e. slaying a goblin, 1 round no combat, new goblin arrives, would yield two challenges, whereas waiting briefly and facing two goblins would yield only one challenge. Per-encounter mechanics make no sense in-game whatsoever, and need to be tied to an objective time-frame, which this ability forgets to do.
Resolve, gained at 2nd level, has been changed, and now also employs spirit in a variety of ways: As a standard action, fear-based conditions may be removed; as an immediate action, Fort- or Will-saves may be rerolled, or the legendary samurai may remain conscious. At 9th level, spirit via resolve may be used as an immediate action to make a critical hit sustained a regular hit; 17th level lets them avoid death by expending all points if they have at least 2 spirit, as an immediate action, to instead be left unconscious and stable – the latter conditions are important, as they prevent a pretty nasty immortal samurai glitch. Again, kudos for catching that.
Also at second level, the legendary samurai may choose from a limited list of vigilante talents, with quite a few taken from legendary Vigilantes and Legendary Villains: Vigilantes. (There is one instance where a superscript “LV” wasn’t properly superscripted.) 3rd level has renown hardcoded into the class (makes sense), and 8th level nets great renown, 14th incredible renown, and 20th level a capstone ability beyond that for the renown angle. 6th level nets Vital Strike, with every 5 levels thereafter yielding the further feats in that chain. The banner ability (and its upgrades) has been moved down a level to 4th, and also specifies a minimum size and use rules, which makes its rules integrity superior to that of the standard samurai – kudos! Greater banner was moved down to 10th level.
The class has a second array of options, so-called kiai arts, the first set of which is gained at 3rd level, with an additional ones unlocked every 4 levels thereafter – all such options are unlocked upon attaining the required class level, making them behave somewhat akin to deeds. While supernatural abilities, these explicitly require a kiai shout, and as such have a verbal component. These effects include using spirit to cure and even absorb fear to be discharged by the samurai’s blade, granting allies a scaling bonus to damage versus an enemy hit, and, obviously AoE-demoralize. Ghost-cutting blades etc. are cool, but there also are some potentially problematic ones, like an option that nets you temporary hit points AND allows you to ignore fatigue for as long as they persist, making that one *POTENTIALLY* prone to rage-cycling abuse, as well as issues pertaining other abilities kept in check by fatigue. That being said, the prerequisite 7th level does mean that such issues won’t necessarily come into play early in the game – still, it’s something to keep an eye out for. The high-level abilities do include some seriously awesome tricks, like teleport-intercepting attacks upon allies or a zone that forces flying creatures to land, ethereal creatures to shift to the material plane, etc. – awesome. The capstone of the class is a super-potent defensive stance, which minimizes damage and prevents death, but also imposes negative levels upon elapsing – and said negative levels may only be removed naturally.
5 different favored class options available for any race are provided, and, taking a cue from e.g. Legendary Fighter, we have an assortment of alternate class features: Instead of the armor proficiencies, we can have monk-like scaling AC based on Charisma, variant proficiency lists, replace challenge with favored enemy or studied target, etc. – and here is as well a place as any to remark that some ability names have not been properly bolded.
Iaijutsu strike may be modified to work with Weapon finesse, we have the option for combat spheres and being a Proficient combatant instead of the iaijutsu engine (Spheres of Might support!), and there’s the option of skirmishing and sneak attack as another form of variant tricks. The vigilante talents may be replaced with bardic, shifter or rogue tricks, and the kiai arts can be exchanged for bonus feats, limited kineticist action or spellcasting.
The pdf also includes an assortment of new feats, which include extra iaijutsu talents, increased DCs for one, having an old weapon that may be magically enhanced, using Intelligence or Wisdom as governing ability score…the solid support feats classes need. The one feat I really liked was Blind Warrior, which lets you play the iconic fellow, including a rather extensive discussion re balance etc. – kudos for including this one.
The pdf includes 10 different archetypes: Ancestral inheritors lose challenge and kiai arts with a biped eidolon without claws, instead gaining the same weapon proficiencies as the samurai. The benefits of resolve may be shared, and (greater) banner is replaced with the evolution surge options, powered by spirit. This one is pretty damn strong. It also is weird, in that the spiritualist’s phantom would have made much more sense than the eidolon. Not a fan. Gunblade duelists, though? Heck yeah. This appeals to the FF8 fanboy in me, but yeah. Just wished the archetype would do more than just yield basic functionality – if you’re looking for unique gunblade tricks, you won’t find them here. This fellow would have warranted a class hack. And yes, I know. I’m greedy. It’s just that I know how good N. Jolly can be with these, and since he wrote the excellent legendary gunslinger… One may dream.
Master strikers are essentially the monk-y unarmed samurai, while oni warriors focus on bludgeoning weapons and are the barbarian-y archetype/theme, including rage. Ronins can use dirty tricks and their renown is tainted. The samurai spherelord is a further Spheres archetype, using both Spheres of Might and Spheres of Power – essentially the blended training archetype. The short notes “SoP” and “SoM” have not been superscripted properly. Soul blades get an intelligent, improving weapon (that has one ability partially cut off, alas), steed lords are the mounted specialists, and yojimbos are the guardians – the latter is a particularly cool engine tweak. Yumi snipers are, no surprise, the ranged specialists.
With blood iron, we do receive a new material that oozes flavor (haha – pardon the pun), and 8 new magic items are included – the second page of their presentation is odd, featuring a lot of blank space in the middle, with items at the top and bottom – as though a piece of artwork was cut or something like that. 6 of these are robes of overflowing spirit, with 4 assigned to the classic elements (oddly, not the Eastern ones…), and one is themed around purity and another one around void. The robes have minor benefits, but wielders with spirit that gain spirit in excess of their maximum can use the excess spirit otherwise lost to activate the robes for a further benefit. The blade of the bloodthirsty (weapon properties not italicized properly) is a +2 keen blood iron falchion that can transform into other weapon shapes, and it can repair itself and enhance bleed damage caused. Nice one. The universal scabbard can fit any weapon.
As usual, we end this pdf with a sample NPC, fully detailed with a compelling background story and boon for the party, should they ally – this time around, we have Kuro (which means “black”) Hiro, whose name is quite ironic, as he’s actually a really good and friendly guy, well-intentioned and not burdened by some catastrophe. Nice to see!
Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are not as good as I’ve come to expect from Legendary Games – the numerous botched superscripts and the obvious exploits make this one feel less refined than usual. That being said, the book still manages to get more highly complex things done right than plenty of comparable files – it’s “just” good in the formal categories. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports multiple really nice artworks I hadn’t seen before. Much to my puzzled chagrin, the pdf lacks bookmarks, which is a huge comfort-detriment. Not cool.
N. Jolly, Siobhan Bjorknas, Adam Ricks and Wren Rosario have crafted a book that frustrates me to no end. Because I desperately want to love the legendary samurai; in many ways, this is the class I always wanted for the samurai-concept. The strikes are exciting and thematically fitting, the kiai abilities rock, and the class does a lot things right.
Only to hit every single one of my pet-peeves.
ALL of them. Nonsense per-encounter BS? Check. Can be cheesed with kittens? Check. Spirit engine needing some checks and balances? Check.
…and so on. And yet, I can’t bring myself to hating this, because, frankly, I’ll be doing some tweaking and using the chassis. Still, this has all the markings of a rushed and/or troubled development: From the formal superscripts and lack of bookmarks, to design snafus like aforementioned cheese-options that are frankly not something I expect to see from either N. Jolly or Legendary Games, as both author and publisher have demonstrated time and again that they can do much better. Compared with N. Jolly’s GENIUS Legendary Gunslinger-pdf, this feels like a minor let-down.
That being said, there is an excellent chance that you won’t mind the things that irk me to no end. For me, as a person, this is a genuinely aggravating 3-star file. However, it is also the single best take on the samurai class out there, and much of my personal disdain may be chalked up to the pdf hitting all the things that I really loathe to see, that I consider to be indicators of capital-letters BAD class design.
I try hard to not let my own bias cloud my verdicts too much, though, and if you don’t mind about those, this will deliver a compelling samurai; certainly an infinitely better one than the other takes I’ve read so far.
As such, my official reviewer’s score will be 4 stars, with the caveat that you have to be able to stand aforementioned issues.
You can get this class here on OBS!
The amazing legendary gunslinger can be found here!
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