Shaman (Dungeons & Dragons)
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|Editions||1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th|
|(as an alternate class)||1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th|
|First appearance||The Golden Khan of Ethengar|
The shaman is an alternate playable character class in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. The shaman has been published or republished many distinct forms over the decades. There are two main shaman concepts in D&D: monsters who cast clerical or druidic spells, and a human or demi-human PC class. The spell-casting monsters are generally treated as primitive or unsophisticated clerics or clerics of uncivilized or inhuman deities. For those iterations that treat the shaman as something other than a priest of uncivilized deities, the shaman gains power from animistic spirits instead of, or in addition to, a deity, force, or philosophy. These spirits may be ancestors, animal spirits, or spirits of the land.
The PC versions of the shaman class generally present it as a priest of an animistic or spirit-based religion on-par with the deity-based religions found elsewhere in D&D.
The basic D&D shaman (The Golden Khan of Ethengar) and shamani (The Atraughin Clans), three second edition shaman classes (Shaman; Complete Barbarian's Handbook; Spells and Magic or Faith and Avatars), two third edition shaman classes (3.0 Oriental Adventures; 3.5 Spirit Shaman in Complete Divine) and one fourth edition shaman (Players Handbook II) are all fully implemented Shaman classes meant for PC use in the game.
- 1 Conceptual Basis
- 2 Publication history
- 3 Gameplay
- 4 References
The shaman in D&D covers two sides of the notion of Shamanism. The first is as a primitive magician or priest, opposed to a more civilized European priest viewed through the lenses of the Catholic Church of Greco-Roman Paganism. The Druid was meant to represent other types of pagan priests, such as a celtic priest. This version of the shaman is applied to monsters in the basic D&D game, as well as the first and second edition games. Remnants of this point of view can be seen in later edition monsters, which have spellcasting variants labeled shamans.
The second notion of the shaman is as a priest of an animistic religion. In this interpretation, the Shaman is seen as an optional PC class who performs many of the functions of the cleric: healing, divination or oracles, ceremonies, etc. Rather than venerating a deity from the D&D pantheon, however, shamans deal with spirits of nature, ancestors, elemental spirits, animal spirits, and the like.
Basic Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1999)
The shaman concept was covered numerous times in the late 80s and early 90s for the Master ruleset of the basic Dungeons & Dragons game. In this line, the Shaman and Wicca are options for monster classes to access cleric or magic-user spells. The Orcs of Thar (1988) covers orcish shamans, although this shaman is again presented as a magical option for monster classes in Top Ballista (1989) and was again repeated in The Shadow Elves (GAZ13, 1990).
The Golden Khan of Ethengar (GAZ12, 1989), however, includes rules for a full-fledged shaman character class. Unlike other classes presented in the Golden Khan, the Shaman is treated as a distinct class which is unlike the use of the term for any primitive or tribal cleric. This may be the first incarnation of the Shaman as a viable PC class. This shaman class is similar to the Cleric though the spell list is different and this shaman does not have the ability to turn undead. Instead, this shaman gains a spirit guide, keen senses, the ability to speak with animals, and the ability to shapeshift into animal form.
A thematically similar, though mechanically different, class is introduced as the Shamani in The Atruaghin Clans (GAZ14, 1991). It does not gain the abilities of the Golden Khan shaman class, but instead has an ability to detect poisons and advances at a faster rate.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1989)
Dragon Magazine 141 (1989) covers the shaman as a primitive, humanoid priest for the AD&D game. Additionally, the first edition Oriental Adventures book presents the shukenja class, which is the basis for the later third edition Oriental Adventures shaman class.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)
Shaman is a term which often referred to humanoid clerics or priests (i.e. tribal or primitive priests), particularly those of the so-called savage species from The Complete Book of Humanoids. This usage is a holdover from earlier iterations of the shaman concept as NPC primitive spellcasters.
The Shaman character class was introduced anew in the 2nd Edition Supplement, Shaman (1995). It used a nonstandard spellcasting mechanic whereby spells are not memorized each day, but can be cast multiple times until a wisdom check is failed. It was not further developed (although it was briefly mentioned as the source of power of one of Ravenlofts minor Darklords on an island of terror). This shaman may have been affiliated with a tribe, a natural hermit, or a social outcast. The tribalist, solitary, and spiritualist had their own spell lists, though shamans could also draw spells from other shaman spell lists or the general priest list. This version of the shaman begins to distance itself from the notion of the tribal or primitive priest (worshiping savage deities instead of civilized ones), though the uncivilized origin is still viewed as an important aspect of the class.
Also in 1995, the Complete Barbarian's Handbook introduced another shaman class. This one is much closer to priests of a specific mythoi, but still represents an uncivilized or primitive priest class. This shaman gains major access to different spheres that the Cleric does, and shares some features with the Barbarian Fighter, also presented in the book.
Another Shaman character class was introduced in the Player's Option: Spells & Magic (1997) and Faiths & Avatars (1996) supplements (they are identical), which resembles the standard Cleric, though it draws spells from different spheres and has the ability to contact spirits for aid. In this iteration, the Shaman is a sub-class of the cleric, alongside the crusader, druid, monk, and mystic. These six priest classes are intended to broadly represent the priests of any D&D religion, and complement or even replace the vast multitude of specialty priest classes.
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (2000-2007)
The shaman in the Third Edition of the game is a variant of the shukenja of the First Edition Oriental Adventures. (A character class called the shugenja also appears in Oriental Adventures 3.0 which is a similar spellcasting class but differs because of its elemental theme.) This shaman is more akin to a shinto priest, rather than the real-world shugenja. The shaman is considered the oriental equivalent of the cleric, although it also shares abilities with the monk and druid classes. Like clerics, shamans derive their spells from divine energy in general and from powerful entities; they propitiate spirits of an animistic religious system rather than deities, forces, or philosophies (although deities may also exist as extremely powerful spirits). These spirits embody the domains from which shamans gain powers and domain spells. A few domains are identical to clerical domains listed in the Player's Handbook; some are unique to the shaman and have no direct equivalent to any clerical domain. Unlike a cleric, at higher levels a shaman can learn a third domain and prepare two domain spells per day for certain spell levels. In general, a shaman's spell list is more nature-oriented than the cleric's. Like the druid, it can gain an animal companion. Its attack progression is identical to a cleric's, while it has a variety of unarmed combat feats similar to the monk. The 3.5 update to the class found in Dragon magazine issue 318 (April 2004) improves the shaman's combat prowess, such as by granting shamans the ability to inflict extra damage with their unarmed attacks, similar to those of monks.
The vanara, a monkey-like humanoid race also published in Oriental Adventures, has Shaman as its favored class.
Third edition also released two other shaman-like classes. In 3.5, the Complete Divine contains the Spirit Shaman class, which spontaneously casts spells, but can still change prepared spells daily. The spirit shaman also has numerous abilities which relate to spirits and incorporeal things, and as such is a much more direct successor to the basic D&D Golden Khan shaman.
The Dragon Shaman class, however, from the Player's Handbook II is mechanically related to the Marshal, rather than being a Divine caster class. The Dragon Shaman does not have any relationship to spirits in a general sense, though it does have a totem dragon spirit. As such, it is peripheral to the shaman concept as portrayed in D&D.
Green Ronin Publishing released a 3.0 Shaman in The Shaman Handbook as part of their Master Class series. They cast divine spells spontaneously, like a sorcerer. The book also contains a number of Prestige Classes.
UKG Publishing released a 3.5 Shaman in The Enduring: Witches & Shaman in June 2007. It uses the same advancement and spellcasting progression as a druid, but (instead of wildshape) gains lycanthropic abilities as it progresses, becoming a were-shaman (a natural lycanthrope) at upper levels.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-)
The Shaman  is among the classes included in the 4th edition Player's Handbook 2 (March 2009). The Shaman class has the Primal power source and the Leader role, and has a clear link with the primal spirits of the earth; most of her powers call upon or otherwise make use of spirits. Continuing with this spiritual link, all Shamans receive a Spirit Companion—the class is distinctive for being the first Fourth Edition class to have a companion as a standard feature (The Sentinel Druid also gains an animal companion). While the spirit companion may have any appearance the player wishes, the flavor and artwork included in the book depict it as an animal spirit, and the provided Shaman builds are named after possible appearances (Panther and Bear). Additional builds were added in Primal Power and the Dark Sun Campaign Setting. Many of the Shaman's powers use the Spirit keyword, meaning they use the spirit as their origin point and derive line of sight and effect from it; these are flavored as the Shaman commanding the spirit to attack her enemies. The Shaman can even use opportunity actions to attack enemies moving past the spirit, giving it the mechanical feeling of an ally actively engaged in combat.
Along with damage, Shaman attacks carry some type of rider effect that either benefit allies or harm enemies next to the companion spirit, such as temporary hit points or a bonus to attack rolls. Additionally, allies next to the spirit can gain additional hit points when the Shaman uses his healing abilities. This allows the Shaman to use the spirit as a mobile source of aid, able to be moved to where it is most useful. Since he must consider the positioning of two entities rather than one, and is able to use both ranged and melee attacks from two sources, the Shaman is a complex Leader class to play.
The shaman's role in the party is generally similar to that of the Cleric. The shaman has access to healing and defensive powers, though not always at the same level as the Cleric does. The shaman list of spells (or powers in 4e) differs from the cleric's list in that it often specifically addresses more natural phenomena, like the druid's spell list.
The chief difference is the shaman's spirit companion, adding a different layer of complexity to combat in 4e.
- Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. p. 142. ISBN 0-87975-653-5.
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