In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5th Edition, a thing that’s not at all un-awkward to say, there was a set of hardbound expansion books released as a group to satisfy groupings of characters as an archetype. The first set of these, released around 2003, were The Complete Divine, The Complete Arcane and The Complete Warrior, a trio of books that kind of told you what they were about in the name. You had arcane spellcasters, divine spellcasters, and uh, everyone else, I guess.
The Complete Warrior had to bear up as the space for all the classes that weren’t divine spellcasters (but the ranger and paladin can play here too, sure) and all the characters who weren’t arcane spellcasters (but there’s stuff in here for melee spellcasters). Barbarians and Rogues and Monks all got to cram in on this book, but based on the name and the style, and of course, the preponderance of feats in this book, this is the book that’s for fighters.
It’s also a pretty cool book, if you’re looking at the good stuff in it that you want to use and make sure people can use. LIke this book has tactical feats, a category of feat that kind of roll together a small number of ‘not enough for a full feat’ advantages into a single grouping, and that’s a really good way to expand expertise on fighters. Prestige classes in this book include the Actually Good Frenzied Berserker, the kinda decent Tattooed Monk, the sorta-maybe-why-not War Chanter, the busted as hell Warshaper and that’s four classes worth having access to in most campaigns. The excellent Combat Brute tactical feat is in here, and uh
Anyway, the point is this book is one of the books I think of pretty positively.
It’s also a book that features the rare examples of a class actively worse than the Fighter.
If you pick the Samurai as your class, you get a fairly standard package of fighter-like stuff. You have an alignment limitation – lawful – and you get a d10 hit dice. Two skill points a level, so, at baseline, you are a fighter but more limited. Fighters get the same skills and hit dice, but they aren’t limited in alignment. You get the good fort save of a fighter, and… that’s it.
At level 1, you get ‘Daisho proficiency,’ which is the same as the feat exotic weapon proficiency: bastard sword. Which is not a good feat. Level 2, you get the ability to fight with two weapons, like if you had the feat two weapon fighting, as long as you use a katana and wakizashi, which is to say, this is a worse feature than just having the feat two weapon fighting. So by level 2, you have a character who is more limited than the fighter, has two feats that the fighter could take that are worse than the fighter’s versions of the same thing.
At level 3, you finally get something the fighter doesn’t get, kiai smite, once a day. This lets you add your charisma to attack and damage for one attack. You might recognise this as ‘another thing that needs a good stat.’
Then you get, at level 5, ‘iaijutsu master’ which is to say quick draw, the feat, but for bastard swords and wakizashi only, then you get staredown, at level 6, which is +4 to intimidate checks for a type of action you don’t ever bother doing. At level 8, you get the feat Improved Initiative, and the rest is just improving or more commonly getting stuff that a character who took fighter got.
That is to say, this character gets almost entirely things that the fighter gets, in worse versions, less often. You are choosing to make a character who is a slower-growing, less-powerful version of the fighter, in exchange for a very specific vision of a relationship to armour and weaponry.
Now, there is a feat, that if you take it, from a web expansion means that around level 14 you can make your staredown effect good, maybe worth using in fights where you’re really heavily surrounded. And all you’ve had to do is drag a character up fourteen levels to get there.
The argument seems to be that the samurai lets you dual wield a pair of weapons without concerning yourself with the dexterity required to do that through normal feat use, and while that sounds like it’s a nice niche, it’s on a class that also asks you to add another stat to your load in the form of Charisma.
This class is basically what happens when you dial your balance into a bad baseline. If you look at the fighter and think the Fighter is good or great, then the Samurai looks like an interesting lateral move. Oh, a conservative one, a cautious one, but you could reasonably look at the pair and go ‘well, it’s close.’ This class is definitely worse than a fighter, but it’s not unbelievable if the balance was, in general, flatter, that this is close to it.
Oh and here’s a bit of a bonus from this book.
The simplest way to create a warrior-roriented campaign is to prohibit PCs from taking levels in a spellcasting class, but allow for the occasional NPC spellcaster. The key here is to avoid making the players feel inferior to your NPCs by limiting their exposure to spellcasting characters.Complete Warrior – Page 137
Why would players who can’t play spellcasters feel inferior to spellcasters, I wonder.