Build a samurai fighter with these traits in mind:
- Try a human, triton or hobgoblin race with a focus on Strength
- Choose Dueling or Protection Fighting Style
- Lean into special Samurai abilities and traits
- Utilize basic fighter abilities like Action Surge, Extra Attack and Second Wind
For DnD 5e, the samurai fighter subclass revolves around a mixture of martial tenacity and social prowess. In fact, this subclass is one of the most social of all the fighter subclasses, leaning into the societal aspects of the samurai warrior as well as the sword skill.
This build will utilize a single katana using the versatile property (1d10 damage) instead of the finesse option (using Dexterity modifier for combat damage). Therefore, my character will need a solid Strength score. However, Charisma, Constitution and Intelligence can be weaved into this character build as well to utilize samurai prestige.
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Try a human, triton or hobgoblin race with a focus on Strength
The samurai class can be tricky to navigate—they tend to dabble in several proficiencies and have both combat and social features. We need to think outside the box to get the best of this well-rounded character. To me, “well-rounded” just means you kinda suck at everything. That being said, races like human, triton and hobgoblin give me options to build this character creatively.
Humans offer a unique character-building situation with their variant form. A variant human can start the game with a Feat. As with my Battlemaster fighter build, I’ll grab the Martial Adept feat and give myself an option to use a battle maneuver from 2 choices. I like Parry and Riposte for defensive combat capabilities. Parry will allow me to roll 1d8 + Dexterity modifier and subtract this number from enemy damage rolls. Riposte grants me a free attack when an enemy misses me.
Tritons are merfolk with a +1 bonus to Strength, Constitution and Charisma—3 stats a samurai can use to great effect. These underwater inhabitants could share cultural similarities to the island nation of Japan. Plus, they have a mysterious side to them like the lost city of Atlantis. These warriors would be able to cast inherent spells like fog cloud and gust of wind, as well as breathe underwater and resist cold damage.
Hobgoblins gain a +2 Constitution/+1 Intelligence bonus combination, leaning toward a defensive strategist build. Culturally, the hobgoblins in DnD 5e seem to pull inspiration from feudal Japanese warlords. Their Saving Face racial ability allows me to add a bonus to a saving throw equal to the amount of allies in sight.
Choose Dueling or Defense Fighting Style
For this fighter, I’ll choose either the Dueling or Defense Fighting Styles.
My character will be built with heavy armor and a single katana (use longsword stats with versatile property). Therefore, I’ll want to lean into a fighting style that takes advantage of my attack or gives me a little extra defense. I won’t be using a shield, so I either need to finish my enemies quickly or beef up my AC.
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The Dueling Fighting Style adds an extra +2 to my damage rolls using a single weapon. I like to lean towards the all-out offensive style of warrior, especially when using a katana. I’ll have to lean into a one-handed fighting style, but a an additional +2 to a d8 damage roll gives me consistent damage output.
The Defense Fighting Style simply adds +1 to my AC. I’ll likely be using heavy armor—probably chainmail or splint armor to begin. At first, I’ll pick chainmail, giving me a base 16 AC. So, boosting that score to 17 off the bat could offer me more protection as a slice away with my sword. Plus, I’ll tap into the versatile property of the sword and deal 1d10 with two hands.
Lean into special Samurai abilities and traits
When I reach level 3, I’ll gain my first 2 samurai traits: Bonus Proficiency and Fighting Spirit. Then, I’ll add Elegant Courtier, Tireless Spirit, Rapid Strike and Strength Before Death as I level up.
My Bonus Proficiency adds a choice of History, Insight, Performance or Persuasion as a proficient skill. Obviously, this part of the build leans into the more social aspects of being a samurai.
However, Fighting Spirit is the combat ability that makes a samurai shine, granting me advantage on an attack as a bonus action and adding 5 temporary hit points. Using a build that focuses on damage output with a versatile katana, the advantage I receive here will ensure I land at least one strike. If I build the fighter for high damage output early on, I can then take better advantage of this advantage roll. I receive 3 of these special bonus actions a day.
At level 7, I’ll gain the Elegant Courtier ability, adding a bonus to Persuasion checks equal to my Wisdom modifier. Plus, I’ll gain advantage on Wisdom saving throws—subbing out Intelligence or Charisma if I somehow already have advantage on Wisdom saving throws. I feel like the second part of this ability is going to be the most useful part of this trait, as I may only have a +1 or +2 Wisdom modifier.
Tireless Spirit appears at level 10, allowing me to regain 1 use of Fighting Spirit when I’m completely out. Essentially, this means I’ll keep at least 1 use for each battle after the initial 3 uses are gone
With Rapid Strike (level 15), I can forgo advantage on an attack for an extra attack. Therefore, I can use my Fighting Spirit to give me even more attacks than I’ll already have at level 15 (at least 3).
Finally, Strength Before Death comes at level 18, giving me an extra turn when I drop to 0 HP. Of course, I’ll drop after this turn. But 3 attacks and an Action Surge says I’m taking down a foe or two with me.
Utilize basic fighter abilities like Action Surge, Extra Attack and Second Wind
All the extra benefits of being samurai or only enhanced by the basic fighter class with Second Wind, Action Surge, Extra Attack and Indominable.
- Second Wind gives me an extra well of stamina to pull from while in combat. I can use a bonus action to regain 1d10 +fighter level HP. I’ll need a short or long rest in between uses.
- Action Surge grants me an extra action for when I’m in a pinch. Again, I’ll be able to use this ability once per rest. Level 2
- Extra Attack straight up gives me an extra attack move. Level 5.
- Indomitable lets me reroll a failed saving throw. However, I’ll for sure have to use the new roll.
In some ways, the Samurai taps into the fighter’s overall theme—keep swinging and don’t go down without a fight. However, like the western knight, the samurai holds prestige above a typical mercenary or fighter. Even with a fierce ability to attack, my station is higher than a mere swordsman. I could play a ronin escaping my duties or lean into the typical lawful samurai, but I’ll carry some sense of prestige either way.