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The Archetype of the Samurai Fighter was introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. It has simple features that increase in power as you level up and is often underrated.
In this review, we’ll have a closer look at the Samurai features and how these synergize with the Fighter’s main class features. We will then review suitable feat, race, and multiclass options and finally combine these into some build concepts.
As always, these are just my thoughts. If you have any other ideas about the Samurai, please let me know in the comments below!
Bonus Proficiency – 3rd Level
You can learn one of History, Insight, Performance or Persuasion, or pick up another language.
Persuasion synergizes best with your 7th Level Elegant Courtier feature, and so is the standout pick. If you already have Persuasion, then go for Insight, which also benefits from higher Wisdom (again synergizing with your level 7 feature).
Fighting Spirit – 3rd Level
Your main – and defining – ability is also gained at 3rd Level. Fighting Spirit lets you use a Bonus Action to give you advantage on all your weapon attack rolls until the end of your turn and gives you a few temp HP (5 rising to 15 by 15th level).
You get 3 uses of this per long rest until Tireless Spirit at 10th level.
This is one of the most reliable guaranteed advantage mechanics in the game, and it just gets better and better the more attacks you have. The synergy with Action Surge is great. You can have a single, nova round at the start of combat where you trigger both Fighting Spirit and Action Surge and just blow half the enemies in the encounter away. You don’t need any luck or dice rolls to get your advantage; it’s just BOOM.
This is notably effective for Dexterity-based attackers who can sometimes struggle to gain advantage – melee fighters who invest in Strength can shove enemies prone to easily gain advantage (although shoving does have a size limit). This also has amazing synergy with being an Elf or Half-Elf and taking the Elven Accuracy feat – see the Feats section for more later.
The main criticism of this feature is the limited number of uses. It’s probably also worth mentioning that this feature is less impressive if your table is using the optional flanking rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide (which makes advantage much easier to come by).
Elegant Courtier – 7th Level
You add your Wisdom modifier to any Persuasion checks you make and gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws (or Intelligence or Charisma saves if you already have Wisdom).
The saving throw proficiency is fantastic and really shores up a common weakness for Fighters.
This subclass definitely favors you having a decent Wisdom and/or Charisma score. I would recommend having Wisdom higher than my Charisma.
Tireless Spirit – 10th Level
You now get one use of Fighting Spirit if you have none left when you roll for initiative.
This is great; you can now use your signature ability at least once per fight. I recommend using it on the first round of combat if you can – dead enemies don’t do damage.
Rapid Strike – 15th Level
If you have advantage on one attack roll vs one target, you can swap that for two attacks without advantage instead. You can do this once per turn.
Another feature that synergizes really well with Fighting Spirit. At this level of play, you will have three attacks, or six if triggering Action Surge. You can convert that to seven (five attacks with advantage and two without) using this feature.
You don’t need to rely on your Fighting Spirit ability – your allies can also help you get the extra attacks by using spells like Faerie Fire.
Strength Before Death – 18th Level
If you get reduced to zero HP (but not killed outright), you can use your reaction to avoid falling unconscious and take an extra turn (interrupting the current turn!). You will still take death saves if you get hit and can still be killed if you fail three death saves. If you’re still at zero HP at the end of your extra turn, you will fall unconscious as usual. You can do this once per long rest.
This is an astonishing ability – a whole extra turn is amazing. You could use your bonus action for Second Wind to make sure you’re still standing at the end of the turn, or just trigger Fighting Spirit and make those enemies pay for daring to hit you. It does arrive a little late at 18th level, and most campaigns won’t make it this far – but it is a great ability to pick up if you do.
Samurai get simple yet effective features. Most of your features are combat-based. I’ve seen some criticism that the features are not particularly evocative of Samurai. However, as always, flavor is free, and you can always choose to roleplay your Samurai as a loyal warrior to your lord.
I feel this subclass is a little underpowered compared to some at level 3, but your abilities scale really well with your other class features, so this subclass just keeps getting better and better as you add more levels.
You don’t really get any defensive features, so the role that best seems to suit the Samurai is as a ranged or melee striker.
Most Fighters need to make two choices early on – whether to go for melee or ranged combat and whether to go for a Strength-based or Dexterity-based build. Your choice of feats should reflect the choices you have made.
Fighters get more ASIs and can potentially get more feats than any other class, so there’s tons of flexibility.
As always, Polearm Master, Great Weapon Master, and Sentinel are a great combination for Strength-based melee Samurai.
- Alternatively, you could pair Polearm Master with Shield Master and wield a spear or quarterstaff, another extremely effective Strength-based melee build, with a slightly more defensive focus. You could add Sentinel here as well.
- Skill Expert or Prodigy could provide expertise in Athletics for shoves without needing a multiclass dip. It could be meshed with a Strength-based melee Samurai for the Shove action on your first attack to give you another way of consistently generating advantage (a prone target at 5ft range). You can save your Fighting Spirit for Huge or larger enemies that can’t be shoved prone.
For Dexterity-based melee builds, you can wield a rapier (flavored to be your katana) and add the Defensive Duelist or Shield Master feats.
- Sharpshooter is a must-have for ranged builds and can be combined with Crossbow Expert for an extra bonus action attack and/or with Piercer.
- For a Dexterity-based striker – either melee or ranged – Elven Accuracy is a really good pick-up (providing you have Elven heritage, of course!). The extra dice roll you get when you have advantage synergizes amazingly with Fighting Spirit and makes it a breeze for you to hit enemies with high AC.
For an on-flavor build, you can go for Dual Wielder and flavor a rapier/longsword/scimitar and dagger into the classic katana + wakizashi daishō.
Pretty much every race will work well with the Samurai. Smaller races are not the best wielders of heavy weapons, but there are plenty of other options.
All the Elves are a good fit if you’d like to go with a Dexterity-based Samurai.
As always, Custom Lineage and Variant Human are great choices with yet another feat.
One level of Rogue (or Ranger) could provide expertise in Athletics for shoves. Being able to guarantee advantage at least three rounds per day is great for piling on Sneak Attack damage.
If you wanted to add a bit of Ninja to your Samurai you could continue into Gloom Stalker Ranger, Assassin Rogue, or Shadow Monk.
The Kensei Monk is another compatible choice, particularly if you are going for ranged attacks, for more stealth, movement speed, magic weapons, bonus action attacks, and bonuses to hit.
A Half-Orc Samurai with Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master. Maybe add Skill Expert or a level in Ranger to kick enemies prone. Loads of high damage attacks with advantage. Simple, brutal, and very, very effective.
A Wood Elf Samurai wielding a Longbow with Sharpshooter, Elven Accuracy, and Piercer. Play Legolas. Optionally multiclass into Kensai Monk after you get your third attack at level 11.
A Goblin Samurai + Gloom Stalker Rogue multiclass, dual-wielding shortswords and using Stealth to strike from the shadows. Add Dual Wielder and Piercer.
That wraps up my review of the Samurai! In summary, it’s a simple and very effective Fighter subclass that scales really well into late-game play.
Please cast Message in the comments either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or suggestions! You can also read more Fighter content here.