Have you watched many of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Seven Samurai? Are manga such as Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond and anime like Yasuke enthralling you to the core? If so, you might have a weakness for death-dealing warlords and warriors of feudal Japan, and as it goes, it was a matter of time before the most famous tabletop game of the world incorporated some of that in it too!
Samurai fighters have found their way into Dungeons & Dragons. A martial tradition, the Samurai is available to the Fighter class at level 3. It was added to DnD 5E as a part of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Want a perfect mixture of personal gravitas with devastating single-target damage? It might be worth adding the samurai 5E to your next adventuring party.
In this DnD Samurai guide, we will see what sets this fighter class apart from its non-Samurai counterparts and why you can consider it for your next bout of the roleplaying campaign.
What is a Samurai Fighter 5e?
The Samurai fighter is the honorable duelist, the lone swordsman, the bodyguard sworn to provide service to their lord till death takes them away. Their extensive weapons and armor training have made them a devastating force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.
The Samurai fighter embodies the role of the ever so honorable duelist by concentrating on outlasting as well as outfighting their enemies with an unthinkable flurry of spot-on strikes. These offensive abilities and a temporary HP boost make for a truly formidable presence in combat.
The Samurai 5E can use their attention to detail and discipline to excel in social scenarios. This makes the Samurai 5E a classic striker-style subclass, though they can also be passable “faces” to a party in a pinch. Want to play as a highly effective monster hunter, duelist, or another similar character that focuses on wading into battle, concentrating entirely on attacking enemies? The Samurai fighter is the one for you!
Samurai Fighter Features
The Samurai fighter draws on an implacable fighting spirit, all for the sole purpose of overcoming enemies. If you play as a Samurai 5E, your resolve will be almost unbreakable, leaving you with either of 2 choices- yield or die fighting. Taken from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, here’s all about the Samurai fighter features:
1. Bonus Proficiency
Choose this archetype at level 3, and gain proficiency in one of the skills of your choice: History, Performance, Insight, or Persuasion. Alternatively, you can learn a language of your choice as well.
2. Fighting Spirit
Starting at level 3, your character’s intensity on the battlefield can shield you and assist in striking well. As a bonus action on your player’s turn, give yourself an Advantage on weapon attack rolls till the end of the existing turn. This helps you gain 5 temporary HP.
The number of HP increases once you reach certain levels in your class, increasing to 10 at level 10 and 15 at level 15. This feature can be used 3 times, and you can regain its expended uses after you finish a long rest.
3. Elegant Courtier
Starting at level 7, your attention to detail and discipline allow you to excel in social scenarios. Every time you make a Charisma (Persuasion) check, gain a bonus equal to your Wisdom modifier. Your character’s self-control also makes you proficient in Wisdom saving throws, but if you already have this, you can gain proficiency in Intelligence/ Charisma saving throws instead.
4. Tireless Spirit
Starting at level 10, every time you roll initiative and find no uses of Fighting Spirit remaining, regain a use.
5. Rapid Strike
Starting at level 15, your player can learn to trade accuracy for swift strikes. Take the Attack action on your turn and gain Advantage on an attack roll against one of your targets to forgo the Advantage for the roll and make an additional weapon attack against your target as part of the same action. You can do so only once per turn.
6. Strength Before Death
Starting at level 18, your fighting spirit can postpone the grasp of death. If you eat damage that reduces you to 0 HP, use your reaction to push back, falling unconscious, which entails your player immediately taking an extra turn. Though you have 0 HP during that extra turn, eating damage causes death-saving throw failures as normal.
Note that 3 death-saving throw failures will still kill you. When your extra turn ends, you will fall unconscious if your player still has 0 HP. You can only reuse this feature following a long rest.
Samurai 5e Fighting Style
As a fighter class, Samurai in DnD focus greatly on their fighting style. Below, we have tried to narrow down the available fighting styles in this class:
- Acrobatics (Dexterity): Nothing a Fighter does make apt use of Acrobatics.
- Animal Handling (Wisdom): Not helpful for the fighter’s position.
- Athletics (Strength): Athletics, the only Strength-based skill, is more than just climbing and swimming. You can use Athletics for grappling and pushing enemies, both of which are excellent options for Fighters.
- History (Intelligence): History can offer tons of useful background information, especially viable for all Eldritch Knights.
- Insight (Wisdom): This is helpful for a Face, but only rarely do Fighters have the Wisdom to back it up.
- Intimidation (Charisma): Only a few Fighters turn out to be good with Charisma but give a Purple Dragon Knight the right skills and background, and you can make a perfectly viable Face.
- Perception (Wisdom): One of the most crucial skills in DnD, this needs at least 2 people in the party, but more is always better.
- Survival (Wisdom): Adventuring involves quite a lot of wandering around in the untamed wilderness, so this can be extremely helpful to your party.
- Archery(Player’s Handbook): A +2 on top of Advantage means a feat such as Sharpshooter can do tons of work.
- Blind Fighting (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything): Negating the Disadvantage of being blinded essentially means that nothing inhibits Fighting Spirit’s Advantage.
- Two-Weapon Fighting (Player’s Handbook): Fighting spirits and dual wielding compete for bonus action. That said, you only get 3 fighting spirits each day, so if you are dead set on dual wielding, it is a minor inconvenience.
Samurai fighters can be built however you desire, so long as your plan doesn’t fall apart only because you have to use your Bonus Action for Fighting Spirit.
Samurai Fighter Abilities
The Samurai fighter has devastating offense, good survivability, strong social skills (from level 7), and one of the best capstone abilities in DnD. The Fighting Spirit ability is the heart and soul of the Samurai subclass. 3 times every long rest, you can harness your discipline and focus on augmenting your survivability and attacks. With bonus action, your Fighting Spirit will grant you an Advantage on all weapon attacks for the remainder of your turn while still offering you 5 temporary HP.
The number of temporary HP increases once you reach certain levels, increasing to 10 in level 10 and 15 in level 15. This can be powerful since it doubles your chances of landing a blow in combat and compounding its efficacy as you get more attacks at levels 5, 11, and 20. This ability synergizes well with the Samurai’s Action Surge, letting them potentially gain Advantage on 5 attacks every round once you reach level 20, or once you employ your rapid strike ability, make full 6 attacks.
With a Wizard to cast Haste on you, you are looking at no less than 8 eye-watering attacks every round. Couple this with the extra HP boost, and you can throw yourself into a fighting scene with relative impunity, allowing you to take big hits dished out by your targets who don’t immediately succumb to your devastating strikes.
Know that the temporary HP boost works like a buffer that sets apart your base HP. Take damage to your temporary HP and resume taking damage as you typically do once they are exhausted. If you get temporary HP, they will not stack with any existing temporary HP that you might have. So, if you have 8 temporary HP and get 10 more, your temporary HP at present is 10, not 18.
Are you playing at a party that does not naturally include a “face”? If so, the Samurai’s Elegant Courtier ability often turns out to be a lifesaver. At level 7, your player gets the ability to add the Wisdom modifier to all your Persuasion checks along with proficiency in your Wisdom/ Charisma/ Intelligence saving throws.
Once you reach level 20, get access to one of the most prominent capstone abilities. When reduced to 0 HP, your Strength before Death ability ensures you take one additional turn to dish out more damage or chug down a healing potion.
If your capstone happens to be triggered on the same turn as your Action Surge, Hasted Action, and similar such abilities, you can theoretically make no less than 22 attacks in one round. This mixture of survivability and devastating offensive abilities makes the Samurai fighter one of the most capable strikers in the game.
Samurai 5e Weapons And Armors
Here’s a look at all the weapons and armors available at a Samurai fighter’s disposal:
1. Fighting Weapons
- Crossbow, Heavy: If your player is a Crossbow expert, a Hand Crossbow might be better. Even a simple bow can be better. In the brief window of levels 1 to 5 where you will not be able to make more than 1 attack on most turns, your Heavy Crossbow can deal slightly more damage than a simple bow. However, if you use Action Surge once, it can easily make up for the damage gap expected to accrue in the course of your typical campaign day.
- Crossbow, Hand: You can use a bow till you get a Crossbow expert. You won’t have many options that use your bonus action, so Crossbow Expert is a great one, even on turns where you can use your bonus action to bridge the damage gap between a hand crossbow and a longbow.
- Glaive or Pike: These have the two-handed reach, and they combine well with Polearm Master as well as Sentinel.
- Greataxe: These are only fitted for half-orc champions.
- Greatsword or Maul: They are best for 2-handed non-defenders.
- Handaxe: These are high-strength TWF.
- Longsword, War Pick, or Warhammer: These are high-strength single weapons.
- Longbow or Shortbow: Archery is a good option until you pick up Crossbow Expert. Small characters use a short bow as longbows feature the Heavy property.
- Quarterstaff or Spear: This is for the one-handed Polearm Master.
- Rapier: This one is a high Dexterity single weapon.
- Shortsword: This one is also a high Dexterity TWF.
- Whip: Yet another high Dexterity single weapon, this deals less damage than the rapier but compensates with more Reach.
2. Fighter Armor
- Chain Mail: This is a free starting armor for heavy armor players, and this works well till you can afford Full Plate.
- Leather: This is also a free starting armor, except for light armor players. Upgrade as soon as your player can afford it.
- Half Plate: This will be your best AC for Dexterity-based player builds till you hit 20 Dexterity. The Disadvantage of Stealth could be a problem, so if you are trying to be sneaky, go for Studded Leather instead.
- Studded Leather: If you are a high Dexterity build, you will eventually want to upgrade to Studded Leather, but it will not match the AC of Half Plate till you hit 20 Dexterity.
- Full Plate: This is the obvious end goal for heavy armor players.
Best Samurai Fighter Feats
Here are the best Samurai fighter feats available at your disposal:
- Crossbow Expert (Player’s Handbook): It is not a terrible option if you want a ranged weapon. Overlook loading for crossbows and Disadvantage on shooting in melee. Note that bonus action hand crossbow attacks are incompatible with Fighting Spirit.
- Elven Accuracy (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything): This one is yet another rather self-explanatory feat.
- Great Weapon Master (Player’s Handbook): While this is good since you use your bonus action to get Advantage, you lose out on the Cleave half of this feat a considerable part of the time. This might not be a deal breaker, but it is definitely something to consider.
- Gunner (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything): The DPR difference between ranged weapons is not that big, especially if you use a Longbow. The ignored disadvantage goes with any ranged attack (not just with guns). It also gives us +1 Dexterity rather than Crossbow benefits. Also, real Samurai were horseback archers.
- Resilient (Player’s Handbook): Samurai fighters gain Wisdom save proficiency, so if you had an odd Dexterity score to smoothen out, this would both raise your modifier for it and offer proficiency in the big three.
- Sharpshooter (Player’s Handbook): This advantage means you can reliably land the bonus damage with the -5 penalty. You can also use your Advantage at longer ranges without getting it negated by Disadvantage.
Multiclassing in D&D Samurai Class
Here are the multiclassing options for the Samurai 5e fighter:
- Artificer: This can be a potential option for the Eldritch Knight but typically not as effective as the Wizard. They still have some artificer spellcasting and ritual casting options, such as Cure Wounds. They round up while calculating spell slots for multiclass characters so that you can work the calculation in your favor more than possible with other classes. But the armor proficiencies are redundant with what the fighter gets, and infused items will depend heavily on levels of Artificer. So, you might end up getting very little from a class dip in comparison to the Wizard.
- Barbarian: Rage is tempting, but if you do not invest a lot of levels, don’t expect more than 2 to 3 rages daily. Unarmored Defense is hard to use without investing in many of the Constitution. Reckless Attack and Danger Sense are nice but hardly needed. Primal Path is great, but at level 3, you will still have 3 rages every day, so that’s a no to getting as much use as you might have from your Fighter abilities.
- Ranger: 2 levels get you one extra Fighting Style and a little bit of ranger spellcasting. 3 gets you one subclass, but Ranger’s subclass options rarely lend themselves to dips like this. Gloom Stalker and Hunter might be your best bet. If you opt for Hunter, pick Horde Breaker and aim for a two-handed weapon build. Also, consider taking a level 4 for the Ability Score increase.
- Rogue: One dip into Rogue for a well-founded Expertise in Athletics will go a long way. Shall you plan to use a Shove or a Grapple? But if that is all you are looking for, the Skill Expert feat might be enough. For hit-and-run aficionados, Cunning Action is also a great option!
- Warlock: A dip into Hexblade Warlock for the Purple Dragon Knight offers a way to focus more on Charisma. The leveled spells won’t amount to much since you will only get a few spell slots, and your warlock spell level probably won’t surpass level 1. But though Eldritch Blast is still a solid ranged option, Hex might trivialize grapples and smoothen the way to Shove enemies prone. Hex Warrior will also allow you to fight with Charisma instead of Strength or Dexterity. A level 2 gets you yet another spell slot and an Invocation such as Devil’s Sight, but that might not be worth sacrificing a second fighter level.
- Wizard: For Eldritch Knights, a level or two in Wizard is a great deal. The first level offers additional wizard spellcasting and ritual casting, and the 2nd one gets you a subclass. Many of the wizard subclasses provide excellent initial features, School of Divination for Portent, Bladesinging for Bladesong, and War Magic for Arcane Deflection and Tactical Wit, to name a few.
Best Samurai Fighter Races
When it boils down to choosing a race for your Samurai, there are some things to consider. Does a race offer you the ability score increases that you need? Do you get access to interesting and useful abilities? Below are 3 possible races that, we think, make for a great basis for Samurai character building.
1. Variant Human
Humans are famous throughout DnD for their versatility, and as it follows, Variant Human is no exception. Imagine a +1 bonus to 2 ability scores of your choice (we recommend Strength and Constitution)! The Variant Human race can access a feat at level 1, which is hard to leave.
2. Half Orc
The Half-Orc is arguably the perfect Strength-based Samurai. They get a +2 bonus to Strength and yet another +1 bonus to Constitution, and their racial traits double down on everything that the Samurai fighter is about. Reduced to 0 HP? Worry not; for once every long rest, your Relentless Endurance lets you drop to 1 HP and remain conscious instead, making you more confidently throw yourself into the heart of the melee.
When damage output is concerned, the Half Orc’s Savage Attacks essentially means you can roll some extra juicy damage every time you crit with a weapon attack. The Advantage of your Fighting Spirit means you do twice as often.
Want to play a Dexterity-based Samurai with a finesse weapon and a spectacular bow? The Goblin is one of the best choices to be made here. You get a tidy +2 bonus to Dexterity and a +1 boost to Constitution and also get access to a few of the best damage and survival-focused racial abilities in DnD.
Samurai Fighter Background
Backgrounds are a great way to flesh out your character’s personal history as well as your primary source of skills. Every background has its individual special feature that remains a woefully underused aspect. Background features are a great way to make your player feel competent within their environment and assist the DM in fleshing out the campaign world around them.
Backgrounds open doors for new languages, various tool proficiencies, and skills. As a Samurai fighter, with Strength as your primary attribute and a secondary focus on Wisdom or Charisma, choosing a background that offers a few skills in your natural wheelhouse is a good place to start. But if a background is not optimal but still helps you express your backstory, choose that and have fun!
For Fighters, the Soldier is understandably the best choice, offering access to Strength (Athletics) and Charisma (Intimidation) based skills. It can make much narrative sense with the Samurai’s historical role in the lord’s army. Want to be a swordsman without a master, as popularized by Kurosawa’s Far Traveler, with Insight and Perception? You might want to lean harder into the Wandering Ronin trope.
The Noble, Knight, and Mercenary Veteran are great if you want a handful of retainers and hangers-on. Go for the Haunted One if you want a good choice of skills and even better starting gear.
Here’s the bottom line: there are a lot of ways to experiment with the Samurai 5E, so make sure you switch it up from time to time if you want the best of all possibilities. Whether you want to channel the Spirit of Bushido to summon a Samurai of old into a DnD campaign or play as the most devastating, relentless warrior imaginable, the Samurai subclass could be exactly what you are looking for. Happy questing!