D20, Ninja, and Eclipse, Part I – the Rokugan and Mystic Eye Ninjas

For today, it’s part one of “how to build a ninja, with particular reference to some of the past “ninja” classes” – another offline query.

The first official Ninja for d20 was the classical Oriental Adventures Rokugan Ninja (3.0, from 2001). D20 Rokugan got quite a lot of stuff published for it, but it never really took off. After all, most of the people who wanted to adventure in Rokugan, and deal with it’s deadly political and social mazes, were already playing Legend of the Five Rings and didn’t really need a d20 version.

It looked like this:

  • D6 HD (40 CP).
  • +20 BAB (120 CP).
  • Saves +24 (72 CP).
  • 4 SP/Level (92 CP originally, current builds take Fast Learner Specialized in Skills and Adept, 12 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple and Ninja Weapons (9 CP).
  • Augment Attack – 10d6 Sneak Attack (30 CP).
  • Defender with +1 AC Bonus/Specialized/the bonus must be divided between attackers each turn (6 CP). (Honestly, a little armor is better).
  • Poison Use (6 CP).
  • Awareness with Flankless (12 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus (Adds Int Mod to Dex Mod for Initiative Checks, 6 CP)
  • +30 Movement/Corrupted for Increased Effect (also applies to any other movement modes you happen to pick up, but limited to +5 x Con Mod, 12 CP).
  • Blind-Fight (6 CP).
  • Block (Missiles, 6 CP)

That’s 423 CP for a purely classical build, but only 343 CP as a modern (using Adept and Fast Learner to deal with the devaluation of Skill Points) build – out of the 504 CP a twentieth level character normally gets.

Honestly, that is a spectacularly poor build, placing even below the basic 3.0 fighter in terms of spending it’s points. All it’s really got going for it is full BAB and Sneak Attack, which is why it’s down on Tier 5. Still, it wouldn’t make a bad basis for a partial, or even (throwing in a few limitations and a modern build) a full caster build. An extra 81 to 161 character points leaves plenty of room for that even before throwing in feats and other boosts. For example, figuring on a “modern” build…

You could make a Hexcrafter, and appear from the shadows to shift the tide of battle with a well-chosen invocation of your dark and mysterious powers. Throw in:

  • Twenty-one (to get access to epic effects) Specialized Caster Levels (63 CP).
  • Nine Spell Cards (72 CP)
  • And seven Free Invocations (21 CP).

A decent casting attribute – most likely Intelligence as you’re going to need skill points – can get you a couple more Spell Cards, so this revised build winds up as a fair rogue-style fighter with per-session access to seven freeform spells of up to level six (from Free Invocations) and ten or eleven spells of up to level nine – with an option to sacrifice three of those level nine effects to jump up to epic magic. You won’t get nearly as many spells as a classical Wizard or Sorcerer, but with freeform magic you can tailor your spells as precisely as you need to – so what you’re aiming for is to never need more than one in any given situation.

Or you could buy…

  • Twenty levels of Bard or Druid spellcasting (160 CP). A simple and powerful option, Twenty levels of Psychic Warrior is only 120 CP, but is probably worth considering here – and would leave you with 40 CP to spend elsewhere anyway.
  • Full access to both Assassin and Ranger spellcasting (20 Corrupted Caster Levels for 80 CP and two sets of Paladin / Ranger Spellcasting, 40 CP each). They won’t be that powerful, but you will have quite a lot of spells to cast.
  • The Bokor Package. Since this is only about 60 CP it’s suitable for even a classical build. In a modern build… it leaves room for another entire package.
  • The Classical Illusionist package. That’s about 160 CP depending on the options you take – and it’s very thematic. An excellent option. Not the most powerful casting package, but incredibly versatile.
  • The Entreaty Magic Package (87 CP), allowing you to mix some comic-book style sorcery into your stealth. A powerful option if you’ve got the Charisma to pull it off. /
  • The Nymic Magic Package (54 CP for the Casting, 69 CP for Specialized Caster Levels, and 36 CP on another 6 feats to boost it). This is fast and versatile, but calls for some extensive investment in knowledge skills. Still, if you want to be a magical know-it-all…
  • Skill-Based Partial Casting. This is a rather limited spellcasting package, and calls for some investment of skill points, but allows an enormous number of variations at assorted costs.

Of you could buy plenty of other stuff. Eighty one or (especially!) a hundred and sixty points is enough to pay for quite a lot of goodies.

The Rokugan Ninja failed because it was – ultimately – an inferior rogue with a mild case of multiple attribute dependency thrown in just to make things worse. To add to the problem they got very little prestige class, feat, or equipment support. And even where they outshone the rogue (BAB), a rogue with a dip or two – Monk, or Ranger, or perhaps (later on) Beguiler – made a better “Ninja” then a Rokugan Ninja anyway.

The primary reason for that was simply that Rokugan was a much more “realistic” setting than d20 was really designed for, with a heavy emphasis on social interaction and politics instead of dungeon crawls and loot. So it’s ninja were based on real-world ninja – in d20 terms reasonably clever and well-trained rogue-style characters of levels 1-3 with no magic. They were characters who might play message-runner between two warlords for months in hopes of getting some information on their plans, or try to stealthily slip poison into someone’s food. They definitely were not one-man armies empowered by TV Tropes.

Not too surprisingly, the result would fit in with a “Wizard” based on Oz, the Great And Powerful (and his sleight of hand and minor stage tricks), a “Cleric” who performed ceremonies, offered wise advice, and had various social benefits, and a “Fighter” based on any generic special-forces type you would care to pick – but high-level d20 fighters can readily tank one-megaton city-killer bombs (16d8 damage per d20 Future), With the right options (a way to get a save and Evasion) they may even be able to shrug off a direct hit with no damage. Similarly, d20 has (quite manageable) Fortitude Saves and Neutralize Poison spells. It has magical guard-beasts and enhanced senses that can easily penetrate Stealth. It has telepathy and magical messaging. It has Scrying and Commune.

It was like having James Bond team up with Iron Man, the Mighty Thor, Doctor Strange, and The Black Widow to battle some power-armor cultist goons and a couple of shoggoths while the dread Elder Ones attempt to force their way into the world to destroy humanity. Sure, Bond can try to set up a trap or crash a vehicle into the monsters – but that doesn’t have much to do with HIS abilities and it will be a lot of time and effort spent on the equivalent of one shot from most of the others involved.

It’s much more likely that he’s going to take Nick Fury’s role and provide the mission briefing and exposition – and even THAT is only by author fiat, since any of the other characters could get the information. There’s Iron Man’s many contacts and computer expertise. Thor could get the word from Odin, or Heimdall, or just get called in. Strange could look into the Orb of Agamotto -and the Black Widow has at least as many contacts and sources as Bond does.

You could drop Bond from this story without any real effect – and the same went for the Rokugan Ninja in most d20 games.

Next up (well, after a thousand homebrews and with a pack of less notable versions), we have the Player’s Advantage: Rogue Ninja (Mystic Eye Games, 2004). This one was a partial caster, and it looked like this:

  • d6 HD (40 CP).
  • 8 SP/Level (184 CP, for a modern build presume Fast Learner and Adept for 92+12 CP).
  • +15 BAB (90 CP).
  • +24 Saves (72 CP).
  • Fast Movement (+10, 6 CP).
  • Martial Arts (1d6 lethal or nonlethal “unarmed” damage, always considered armed, 9 CP).
  • Poison Use (6 CP)
  • Awareness with Flankless (12 CP).
  • Evasion (6 CP)
  • 10d6 Sneak Attack (30 CP)
  • 17 Levels of Spontaneous Style Ranger/Paladin Spellcasting (34 CP) with 10 Specialized Caster Levels (30 CP). The available spells include:
  • 1st Level: Disguise Self, Detect Poison, Feather Fall, Ghost Sound, Jump, Obscuring Mist, Sleep, True Strike.
  • 2nd Level: Alter Self, Backstab, Cat’s Grace, Darkness, Fox’s Cunning, Illusory Script, Invisibility, Pass Without Trace, Spider Climb, Undetectable Alignment.
  • 3rd Level: Deep Slumber, Deeper Darkness, False Life, Magic Circle Against Good, Misdirection, Nondetection.
  • 4th Level: Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, Dimension Door, Freedom of Movement, Glibness, Greater Invisibility, Locate Creature, Modify Memory, Poison.
  • Personally, I’d at least open this up to anything on the Assassin spell list as well. It might well have been if there had been much further support for the class.
  • Proficient with All Simple and Ninja Weapons (9 CP).
  • Proficient with Light Armor with the Smooth modifier (6 CP)

That’s a total of 534 CP – or only 500 with either Adept OR Fast Learner, or 454 CP as a modern build with both.

The build suffers from “monk syndrome” – having a bunch of not-particularly well organized individual powers thrown together with little focus or synergy between them – but it’s not too bad. If you need a stealthy type, this Ninja will do – but they don’t have a lot to offer elsewhere. I’d peg them around Tier 4, with the basic Rogue.

What to do with the other 50+ points in a modern-style build? Well, you could upgrade with a second set of minor spells (+10 CP to get the Caster Levels to “Corrupted” so they can cover multiple forms of minor magic, +34 CP for another seventeen levels of a minor progression – perhaps Alchemical Magic – and throw in a bonus feat), or upgrade their basic spellcasting package to a full Psychic Warrior or Wilder casting package.

Personally I’d probably go with the Psychic Warrior package. A couple of tweaks here and there and that would give you the full “mystic ninja” routine, make you more effective in a fight, and give you some additional options out of combat.

This version of the Ninja provided a (much needed) step into the fantastical – but it was a rather half-hearted step, never got much further support, and still left the Ninja as “the sneaky guy” in a game system where they’d almost always be in the middle of a group that was focused on combat and throwing lightning bolts at things. There is a reason why Godzilla versus The Ninja is not really a thing (despite this bit with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I found on Youtube). Still, if you had a game master and party that was willing to incorporate some stealth into the game, this Ninja was reasonably functional though the mid-levels – at least until high-end magic made stealth (and most other skills) utterly irrelevant.

Next time around on this it will be the Complete Adventurer Ninja (from 2005) and the (current) Pathfinder Ninja.

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One Response

  1. […] And to continue our look at building Ninja through the years – and on how to upgrade the various variants to current standards here are the next few types of Ninja. And if you missed Part I (the Rokugan and Mystic Eye Ninjas) they’re HERE. […]

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