[Let’s Study] Adventures in Rokugan, Part 3a: Bushi, Duelist, Courtier and Shinobi Classes

Disclaimer: This Let’s Study series is made possible by the generosity of Edge Studio, who provided an advanced review copy of the PDF.


Picking up from where we left off in Part 2, we’ll be taking a look at the Classes to choose from in Adventures in Rokugan. Much like in the Species, these Classes are also considered to be unique to Rokugan and other 5e Classes are not generally compatible in an AiR game, though a DM could choose to ignore that limitation.

Adventures in Rokugan offers a pretty broad selection of Classes, each of which I’ll go through in today’s article. Each of the Classes gets a description, some notes on how the different Great Clans of the setting have Traditions relating to this particular Class, and a “Quick Build” which can help new players cobble together an archetypal version of each of these Classes.

This is quickly followed with the Class Features and Archetypes.

Bushi

Stalwart frontline warriors of Rokugan, the Bushi archetype is the battlefield warrior and perhaps the default image that comes to mind when you think of a Samurai. Heavily armored, bearing a bow, a katana and a wakizashi and maybe carrying a personal flag on their back. They are possessed of a battlefield cunning that grants them both terrifying techniques in battle and the keen tactical mind required to use them to the fullest effect.

Mechanically, the Bushi have Focus Points as a Class Feature. This is an metagame currency that increases by 1 point (or more) at the end of each of the Bushi’s Turns. These are then spent to execute Martial Techniques, which are essentially special attacks that can take the place of a default combat actions, standard attacks and reactions.

Bushi also learn Stances at level 2, which grants mechanics to the kind of combat footing the Bushi assumes at Initiative. Each of the 4 stances available to them grants a special mechanical bonus, like gaining the benefits of half-cover or getting an additional +5 feet of movement speed. Furthermore, each Stance also bestows a bonus to Focus Point generation when certain conditions are met.

This mix of Stance and Martial Technique play gives the Bushi a remarkable amount of battlefield agency. As someone who has strong opinions against boring “I attack it” type of play, the fluidity of the Stances and the variety of Martial Techniques is a good thing.

Duelist

As opposed to the Bushi, the Duelist is a social / political combatant. Born out of the martial culture of Rokugan, certain disputes can be resolved through a duel. As such, the Duelist is a political figure of importance, and also often the hero of many a legend. Duelists don’t often wear too much armor, and specialize in dexterity and speed to win their battles.

Mechanically, the Duelist’s cunning or insight bestows them enhanced defenses whenever they are without armor and a shield. They can add the modifier from Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma to their Armor Class of 10 + Dexterity Modifier.

Like the Bushi, the Duelist also learns Stances, however, Duelist doesn’t have a passive Focus Point gain at the end of their Turns. They also gain Martial Techniques similar to those of the Bushi. The first one they get, Dawn’s Grace Strike, lets them stake a number of Focus points that are added to an attack roll. If successful, the damage of that attack also gets a bonus equal to the Focus points spent.

I suspect there’s more to the Class than I’m understanding right now as I’ll need to read up on the Dueling mechanics to get a full grasp of their abilities. That said, I do appreciate the presence of the Duelist here as it was a huge part of what made Rokugani politics tick as both the Scorpion and the Crane Clans relied heavily on their Duelists to act as social muscle.

Courtiers

Courtiers are perhaps my favorite archetype in L5R, so I was very curious to see how they would translate so much of the Courtier class’ social leverage to 5e. Adventures in Rokugan echoes their importance, with the opening paragraph of their writeup already going into how vital they are to the functioning of the Empire as a whole as administrators, politicians, investigators, and ambassadors.

The Courtier Class gains Intrigue Dice, which are then spent on abilities called Rhetorical Flourishes. These Rhetorical Flourishes represent the Courtier’s ability to bolster their allies and expose the weaknesses of their opponents in both social and battlefield situations.

These Rhetorical Flourishes can range from simple bonuses to an ally’s attack roll, to outright dictating the combat actions of an opponent within 5 feet or you. While some of these are useful in social situations, like ones that give bonuses to Saving Throws or the one which will clue you in on a target’s desires and wants, majority of these end up feeling more like the 4e Warlord in a kimono.

Shinobi

Spies, Assassins and Infiltrators, the Shinobi do the dirty work so everyone else can pretend that they’re all honorable and above reproach. Shinobi are the dirty secrets of the Great Clans, as every one of them has their own version of this covert operative, which uses stealth, trickery and poison to get the job done.

True to their role, the Shinobi gains access to Class Features like Merciless Strike, which grants bonus damage to targets already suffering a condition, and Expert Prowler, which removes the additional movement penalty to climbing and gives Advantage on Stealth checks as long as you’re at least 10 feet above or below the creatures you’re trying to hide from.

But the best part of the Shinobi is, of course, Ninjutsu. This Feature allows for the use of Ninja Tools and Shinobi Features. The Shinobi Class writeup has several Ninja Tools such as the iconic Smoke Bomb, but also Inflammatory Powder, Kunai, Poison and Caltrops. Each and every one of these adds a debilitating condition to their target, resulting in more damage thanks to the Shinobi’s Merciless Strike.


The first 4 Classes of Adventures in Rokugan show a very strong foundation in terms of fun tactical mechanics that are a joy to engage in as long as you’re in combat. My worry is that the Courtier Class seems to have the short end of the stick here, as there’s not a lot of social mechanics beyond Saving Throws and such to work on. I understand that 5e’s focus is mostly combat, but if your Courtier’s greatest moment is “I stab the Dark Lord in the eyes with my hairpins” then they might be the kind of Class that people will dip into to access some Levels then jump out of.

Next up, we’ll be looking at the more spiritual Classes: The Ritualist, the Pilgrim and the Acolyte.

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