Pathfinder - The Samurai Handbook
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I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Samurai is an alternate class to the Cavalier. While it shares most of the Cavaliers abilities and mechanics, the Samurai is much less dependant on mounted combat or teamwork feats, making the Samurai easier to drop into a party. Compared to the Fighter, the Samurai is less of a living stat block, but trades much of the Fighter's offensive capacity for flavor and survivability. Of course, the Samurai fails to address the Fighter's biggest problem: Forcing enemies to attack you instead of the squishy people behind you.
Samurai Class Features
Hit Points: d10 hit points like nearly every other front-line class.
Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.
Saves: With heavy armor and no need for Wisdom, the Samurai really needs help with Reflex and Will saves.
Proficiencies: Armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons, and exotic weapons to fit three potential combat styles.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks and all of the skills to be the party's Face, but almost no other skills. Remember that your choice of Order will add two additional class skills.
Challenge (Ex): While not quite as powerful as Smite, Challenge is considerably more versatile. The extra damage is great motivation for two-weapon fighting builds, but not so much that single-weapon build can't keep up. Orders further supplement Challenge with a variety of buffs.
Mount (Ex): Despite the strict limitation on your choice of mount, an Animal Companion is still and excellent feature. See my Practical Guide to Animal Companions for help with your Mount.
Order (Ex): Orders are a fantastic way to customize a Samurai, and many provide excellent abilities. See my Cavalier Order Breakdown for help selecting an Order.
Resolve (Ex): Resolve provides some exellent options both offensively and defensively.
- Determined: The first set of conditions are gentle, but removing Frightened, Nauseated, and Staggered is pretty good. I'm not sure how removing Nauseated works since Nauseated characters don't get a standard action.
- Resolute: This really helps overcome the Samurai's poor Will save.
- Unstoppable: Like Diehard without wasting two feats.
Weapon Expertise (Ex): This removes the need for Quick Draw, grants a modest bonus to confirm critical hits, and opens up a ton of useful feats. Samurai looking to use Longbows can now get Point-Blank Master without levels in Fighter.
Mounted Archer (Ex): Effectively the same as giving your Mount the Stable Gallop feat.
Banner (Ex): Somehwta situational, but the bonuses are nice.
Bonus Feat: An excellent way to take advantage of Wepon Expertise.
Greater Resolve (Ex): Almost like 100% fortification. This could very easily save your life from an unfortunate roll.
Honorable Stand (Ex): Sometimes you need to put your life on the line to get the job done. Using this more than once per day seems excessive, but you get to reroll any save by spending Resolve.
Demanding Challenge (Ex): This is a great Defender ability because it discourages your target from attacking other targets, but at this level a -2 penalty isn't significant enough to actually force your enemy to attack you.
Greater Banner (Ex): Granting a reroll on one save to each of your allies is really fantastic. This could save your whole party from big spells like Mass Hold Person.
True Resolve (Ex): This will absolutely save your life, though you are still vulnerable to whatever took you down.
Last Stand (Ex): Intended for when you absolutely need to kill one thing and don't care about other targets. In fights with multiple opponents, this is basically suicidal.
None. Cavalier archetypes all trade mounted combat abilities or expert trainer.
The Samurai's abilities are largely identical to a Fighter, but if you plan to play a face your may not want to dump charisma as hard as a Fighter usually does.
Str: As a primarily melee character, this is your main ability.
Dex: Helpful for filling out your maximum dexterity bonus, Combat Reflexes, and ranged attacks. Not necessary for every build, but don't dump it.
Con: As a front-line class, the Samurai needs all of the hit points it can get.
Int: Only useful for skill ranks. If you don't need to fill in gaps in your party's skills, dump it.
Wis: Necessary for the Samurai's awful Will save.
Cha: Only needed if you want to be the party's Face.
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Samurai don't need much beyond ability score bonuses, but some racial bonuses can be put to good use..
Dwarf: A Dwarf makes for an excellent Defender Samurai. With bonuses to constitution and wisdom, plus a laundry list of racial defensive bonuses, the Dwarf is a great choice. The penalty to Charisma may be annoying if you want to play a Face, but if you don't it's a penalty to a dump stat. Because Samurai is an alternate class to the Cavalier, you can use the same favored class bonuses. Dwarfs get a little bit of extra damage against the target of their challenge. It's not a lot, but it will add up eventually.
Elf: Bonuses to low stats and a penalty to constitution.
Gnome: The penalty to strength and small size make for a very poor Samurai.
Half-Elf: A flexible ability bonus is always nice, and the Dual-Minded alternate racial trait really helps with the Samurai's poor Will save. The Half-Elf favored class bonus is terrible, but you can take the Human favored class bonus instead to boost your banner bonus.
Half-Orc: The flexible stat bonus is nice, and you can rely on the racial bonus to intimidate to help compensate for dumping Charisma. Darkvision is always welcome. The Half-Orc favored class bonus is terrible, but you can take the Human favored class bonus instead to boost your banner bonus.
Halfling: Potentially good for a mounted archer samurai, and fine as a face, but Halflings rarely make for good front-line characters.
Human: Flexible ability bonus, a free feat, and bonus skill rank to compensate for dumping Intelligence. The Human favored class bonus for Cavaliers (and therefore Samurai) adds to your banner bonus, which can be helpful if your banner is helpful for your allies.
- Axe to Grind (Combat): As a front-line character you will frequently face enemies in melee on your own.
- Bloodthirsty (Combat): Very rarely useful, even if you are built for critical hits.
- Deft Dodger (Combat): Bonus to one of your bad saves.
- Dirty Fighter (Combat): Sometimes useful if you have someone to flank with.
- Fencer (Combat): This is a trap. If you are built for attacks of opportunity, you need to be using something with reach.
- Killer (Combat): A tiny boost to damage. Even if you are built for critical hits, this is unreliable.
- Nature's Mimic (Combat): If you're not a Face, it doesn't hurt to spend your skill points on Knowledge skills.
- Reactionary (Combat): Going first isn't as important to the Samurai as it is for spellcasters and Rogues, but it's still helpful if you can go before your enemies.
- Reckless (Combat): Great if you want to be able to move through combat without drawing attacks of opportunity.
- Resilient (Combat): Bonus to your only good save.
- Tactician (Combat): Excellent if you plan to be a Defender and make use of attacks of opportunity.
- Caretaker (Faith): If no one in your party has Heal, and if you don't need your skill ranks, get Heal. It's a great source of nearly free healing, and it's great for overcoming diseases.
- Child of the Temple (Faith): If you're not a Face, it doesn't hurt to spend your skill points on Knowledge skills.
- Devotee of the Green (Faith): If you're not a Face, it doesn't hurt to spend your skill points on Knowledge skills.
- History of Heresy (Faith): Divine spells are half of all spells, but you would be better served to get a bonus that applies to non-spells too.
- Indomitable Faith (Faith): Bonus to on of your bad saves.
- Oathbound (Faith): Good, but redundant with Resolve.
- Dangerously Curious (Magic): If you have enough Charisma to be a Face and have a few skill ranks to spend, UMD is a great skill.
- Life of Toil (Social): Bonus to your only good save.
- Seeker (Social): Perception is the most rolled skill in the game, and the more people have it, the better it works.
- Forlorn (Elf Racial): Bonus to your only good save.
- Warrior of Old (Elf Racial): Going first isn't as important to the Samurai as it is for spellcasters and Rogues, but it's still helpful if you can go before your enemies.
- Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial):Going first isn't as important to the Samurai as it is for spellcasters and Rogues, but it's still helpful if you can go before your enemies.
- Bluff (Cha): Important if you plan to be the party's Face, but if you plan to play a straight-edge honorable Samurai, you can skip it.
- Climb (Str): Very situational.
- Diplomacy (Cha): The most important social skill.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Your Mount only needs a few tricks, and most GMs just hand-wave the Handle Animal rules.
- Intimidate (Cha): Important if you plan to be the party's face.
- Ride (Dex): Helpful if you plan to spend a lot of time mounted, but the Samurai really doesn't need to.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Important if you plan to be the party's face.
- Swim (Str): Very situational.
The Samurai's feat choices are generally dictated by his fighting style and weapon selection. The Wakizashi lends itself to two-weapon fighting builds, the Katan works for sword-and-board or two-handed builds, and the naginata works for two-handed and area control defender builds. For ranged combat, stick to the Longbow like any decent ranged combat build. Before you start picking feats, decide how you want to function in combat.
Combat Expertise: Required if you plan to use Trip,
but 13 intelligence is hard for a class which is already MAD.
Improved Trip: Essential for any Area Control
- Greater Trip: Good if you have other allies in melee to take advantage of the attack of opportunity.
- Improved Trip: Essential for any Area Control Defender.
Critical Focus: If you plan to build for critical
hits, this is essential. There are few things worse than getting a critical
threat and failing to confirm.
- Bleeding Critical: 2d6 bleed is tempting, especially because it stacks with itself, but bleed damage tends to be disappointing.
- Blinding Critical: Permanently blinding a target can often take it out of a fight.
- Deafening Critical: Only good against spellcasters, and even then 20% chance of failing on some spells isn't fantastic.
- Sickening Critical: Sickened is a decent condition, but mostly because it reduces the targets saves.
- Staggering Critical: Good, especially against enemies who like to Full Attack.
- Stunning Critical: Rob your target of its next 1d4 turns.
Tiring Critical: Fatigued is a terrible status
- Exhausting Critical: Exhausted only matters for some enemies, and even then the penalties aren't very impactful.
- Improved Critical: Both the Wakizashi and the Katana have 18-20 critical threat, and doubling it means critical threats on 30% of your attacks. For Katanas you can probably replace this with the Keen property, but if you plan to use two-weapon fighting, enhancing both Wakizashis is expensive, so Improved Critical is probably a better option.
- Power Attack: Essential on almost every Samurai.
Two-Weapon Fighting: Great for Wakizashis, and
works very well for critical hit builds.
Double Slice: Not good until you have
something like 22 strength, and by then you will have plenty of better
options for feats.
- Two-Weapon Rend: Flashy, but not very good.
Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: If you;re
going for two-weapon fighting, your objective is to get as many
attacks as possible.
- Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: A -10 penalty (maybe penalty isn't the right word) is steep, but with full BAB, decent Strength, and Weapon Focus, you should still be able to hit with your weakest attacks sometimes. Unfortunately, the Dexterity prerequisite is very high.
- Two-Weapon Defense: Dodge is much better.
- Double Slice: Not good until you have something like 22 strength, and by then you will have plenty of better options for feats.
Weapon Focus: Another +1 to hit never hurts, and
it can help offset the penalties from Two-Weapon Fighting if you plan to use
- Greater Weapon Focus: See Weapon Focus.
Weapon Specialization: +2 damage is nice,
but it won't pay off very well unless you make a whole bunch of attacks.
If you aren't two-weapon fighting, skip this.
- Greater Weapon Specialization: See Weapon Specialization.
- Katana: Solid damage and 18-20 threat range. Because it's a one-handed weapon you can easily switch between sword-and-board or using the Katana in two hands to suit your situation.
- Longbow: The best ranged weapon.
- Naginata: x4 critical makes this great for coup de grace, but it's very rarely going to come into play. The big draw is reach. If you plan to be an area controller, the Guisarme may be a better choice because it has the Trip property.
- Wakizashi: The ideal two-weapon fighting weapon, the Wakizashi has 18-20 thrat range, d6 damage, and it's light so you dual-weild.
- Buckler: If you plan to use a weapon two-handed, a Buckler is a great way to boost your AC with minimal investment.
- Full Plate: If you are going for a straight Striker build and don't want to invest in Dexterity, Full Plate is your best bet.
- O-yoroi: Great for Defenders because it makes room for enough Dexterity to justify Combat Reflexes.
- Tatami-do: If you plan to use Two-Weapon Fighting, you will eventually need enough Dexterity that Tatami-Do is your best bet. You may eventually want to upgrade it to Mithral if you plan to get Greater Two-Weapon Fighting.
- Shield, Heavy: If you plan to use a Katana for a sword-and-board build, the Heavy Shield is the natural choice, but if you want to quickly switch from a one-handed to a two-handed grip, the Buckler is more versatile.
Cross-Classing and Prestige Classes
There really isn't much that the Samurai wants from other classes. Fighter levels can provide helpful bonus feats, but other classes don't generally complement the Samurai's concept.