Thursday, March 3, 2011

Le Samouraï

When I started high school in the Fall of 1983, I began to study French for the first time. Some months prior to this, I recall reading an article in Dragon mentioning that the Moldvay-edited Basic Rulebook had been translated into la belle langue. I must have mentioned this to my father, because, one day, he put a telephone into my hand, telling me that he had "someone from 'that game company in Wisconsin' on the line."

It seems he'd called directory assistance and managed to get through to TSR, where he began to ask people about how he could obtain a copy of the French translation of D&D for me. He was apparently shuffled around the company from person to person until finally he'd gotten hold of someone who could help. Since he didn't know anything about D&D, he passed the phone to me to talk to the knowledgeable TSR employee to whom he'd finally been transferred.

The person to whom I spoke turned out to be none other than François Marcela-Froideval, whom Gary Gygax had brought over from France to assist him on various projects as TSR expanded into the European market. I spoke to M. Marcela-Froideval for some time, who, so far as I can remember, was a very affable fellow. He took -- or at least feigned -- interest in hearing about my D&D campaign and my high regard for Gary Gygax. He also commended me for my desire to learn French and said he would make arrangements for a copy of the French-language Basic Set to be sent to me.

As it turned out, I wound up receiving two copies of the French boxed set. The first was one purchased by my father (who spoke to someone in the Dungeon Hobby Shop, I believe, after my conversation ended) and I was very happy to receive it. The second copy arrived a few days later, sent directly from TSR. This second copy wasn't shrinkwrapped, because Marcela-Froideval had had it autographed -- "May the Dice Be with You! -- Gary Gygax" -- making it one of my most prized possessions as a teenager.

I mention this story because recently, thanks to Matthew James Stanham, I was made aware of the existence of an issue of the French fanzine, Casus Belli, available online at Nicolas Dessaux's website, that contains an original AD&D character class written by François Marcela-Froideval -- the samurai. This immediately piqued my interest, because the original responsibility for the writing of Oriental Adventures had been entrusted to Marcela-Froideval. However, the book that was eventually published under that title, though bearing Gary Gygax's byline, was in fact entirely the work of David Cook. For that reason, many old schoolers have wondered what Oriental Adventures might have been like had Marcela-Froideval written it. We'll never know the answer to that question, but perhaps the samurai class he published in the pages of Casus Belli give some indication.

What follows, then, is my translation of the article into English. I hope its roughness can be forgiven: some of the terminology used in it is odd and the original article is written almost in shorthand, with certain words and phrases being omitted. I've tried to make the translation as intelligible as possible by filling in some of those blanks, but I have also retained its ambiguities and even errors. Since I didn't write it, what follows isn't Open Game Content and remains the property of its author. I present it here solely for discussion.

The Samurai

This legendary figure has not yet been recognized as a specific type of character in Dungeons & Dragons. The class that is closest is the monk. Here is a proposal that will give this kind of fighter a fully-realized existence.

He does not have very good strength characteristics -- Strength: 12 or more, Wisdom: at least 15, Constitution: at least 14, Dexterity: at least 16, Alignment: Necessarily Lawful, with a slight tendency towards Neutral.


Danger Detection: There is no real range for this power. Even so, it is a feeling that has a limit of 100 meters.


Detection Chance













(This chart is a good example of where the original article has errors -- JDM)

Detection of Good and Evil

When concentrating, the samurai can detect good or evil in a person or in a place. The range of this power is 20 meters and can not pass through doors. The percentage chance of detecting good and evil increases in the same way as the power of danger detection. When the samurai does not focus, the percentage is reduced by 40%.


When concentrating and fighting, the samurai can launch the Kiai to cripple his opponents, who are entitled to a saving throw against petrification. If this roll is successful, the opponent suffers a -2 penalty to hit, but, if the roll is failed, the opponent does not attack during this round. The higher the samurai's level, the more the saving throw is affected (-1 for every three levels the samurai has attained).


When he concentrates, the samurai can raise his Strength to 18/00, with all the ensuing adjustments, for one round every hour. However, in such a state of concentration, the samurai is forced to push his kiai.

Damage Resistance

At 1st level, because of his endurance and training, the samurai takes only the damage he receives.

When he reaches 3rd level, the samurai takes only ½ damage.

At 5th level, he takes only ⅓ the damage he receives.

Number of Attacks per Round

From 1st to 2nd level, the samurai strikes once per round. From the 3rd to 4th, twice per round. From 5th to 8th, three times per round. From 9th, four times per round.

The Samurai can fight with all weapons of Japanese tradition but his weapon of choice remains the sword (katana), which causes 1-12 points of damage. If this katana is of remarkable manufacture, it can strike at +2 on armor.


Armor Class

Experience Points





































There can be no more than one samurai of 12th level, 5 of 11th, 7 of 10th.

However, this very powerful type of character possesses numerous inconveniences: his loud Kiai possesses the faculty of attracting wandering monsters.

He gains levels very slowly and, if he fails in a mission given to him by his lord, he must immediately commit seppuku (hara-kiri).


  1. very interesting, thanks for sharing this- and particularly for the translation.
    I was not aware of the existence of this draft about the samourai class.

    Casus Belli contains much material which is worth perusing- someone regard it as the greatest rpg magazine ever published (at least, here in my country).

  2. I remember Casus Belli well - it was my entry into the hobby. It was not a fanzine anymore, at least not when I started buying it (around 1985-1986) - it was a fully-fledged RPG & Wargames magazine, on par with White Dwarf and Dragon Magazine. I was not a subscriber in the early days, when FMF was editor-in-chief, but the Samurai class was reprinted in a "best-of" compilation of early Casus Belli articles. I do not have it in front of me, but that article was certainly more elaborate than the French version I saw there. I'd have to go back to the compilation issue to see if it had been revised and updated for the compilation, but I doubt it.

    Thanks for bringing that one up - goot memories of the days when life was simpler.

  3. An interesting look the samurai. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Interesting stuff, although the class is as overpowered as the ridiculous mystic class in the D&D Cylcopedia. They definitely belongs in the same game together.

  5. Great anecdote! Your father was very supportive ... I think there's a whole topic there (perhaps for Father's day?).

    There was also an earlier unauthorized French translation of the Holmes Basic Set:

    I can't read French, but I like some of the translate monster names:
    Chiens Intermittents (Blink Dogs)Puma Demenageur (Displacer Beast)

  6. The unauthorized translation is not a "pure" translation, and is quite weird.

  7. I love that he has to kill himself whenever he fails on a mission from his lord. Players with the right mindset could have a ball rolling up disposable samurai and then in turn playing the part of their lord and devising impossible missions for them.

  8. "May the Dice Be with You!"

    That makes me happy.

  9. I like this class. A whole book of stuff like this could have been awesome.

  10. "Chiens Intermittents" is a wonderful term. I love it.

  11. Froideval! He is also one of the authors of Les Chroniques de la Lune Noire - The Black Moon Chronicles, a heavily D&D-influenced comic series which I really recommend. The main characters seem to be chaotic-neutral (at best).

  12. Guillaume JAY: Interesting, in that case I'd like to see a translation back to English. Though looking it through I can't see any additions to the text. I just saw "Mutants" in the 3rd level wandering monster table, but these seem to be Dopplegangers. Halflings are renamed Gnomes.

    kelvingreen: How about a Baguette des boules de feu (Wand of Fireballs)?

  13. Alas, I no longer have OA to compare this with. There's great flavour here, even if the crunchy bits are overpowered compared with other classes.

    It's also a great reminder of when Japan was awesome rather than interesting and weird. I'd love to see his take on the ninja.

    Funny how we're not fetishizing China right now the way we did Japan in the 80s. Why is that? Is it just all about Okinawa and WW2?

  14. I had the opportunity to meet FMF once and I was very impressed to meet the one of the happy few who bring our hobby to France, who created the better french-speaking rpg paper and published Les Chroniques de la la lune noire.

    I was co-organising a round table about sci-fi comics scenario in the contemporary art museum of Lyon, when I was myself comics musueum curator, and I suggested FMF as a speaker :)

  15. This totally brings back memories of reading Gary's articles in Dragon magazine where he mentioned Mssr. Froideval pretty often. As a surburban kid who had never been any farther East than Colorado, the entire continent of Europe seemed very mystical and magical to me, and whenever it came up that TSR had offices and personnel in Europe, I always thought that was so cool.

    I love these kinds of historical articles about the hobby. Sort of a version of Marvel's "What If?"

    I'm one of those weirdos who actually liked the 1st Edition Oriental Adventures, although I don't know how it played because we never actually used any of it in our game.

    Thanks for finding these and translating it for us.

  16. Huh - I was convinced this would be a post about an Alain Delon movie.

  17. I always wanted to play Oriental Adventures, but there was something a bit confusing or intimidating about how the book was written. People would start out excited to play, but then get really puzzled by it. We actually got farther doing Eastern campaigns with Toon.

  18. The 90s may have brought us the worst in terms of D&D, but they also brought us the very best in print magazines - Arcane and Casus Belli.

    (Btw, Casus Belli is back! The first new issues - 4 as of last month - are not really up to the quality when the magazine ended its first Excelsior run, but I am hopeful that they will get there again.)

  19. The mind still boggles when I read this class over, but in context I imagine it was totally appropriate.

  20. Nice class, and I remember my uncomfortable reaction to Dave Cook's growing "influence."

    Nice father. In my case it was my mother. As I started to pick up products for my campaign (which was to last twenty years), my mother asked me for a "birthday list." I wrote down most of the Judges Guild line on a couple pages of notebook paper, along with some other stuff. She BOUGHT IT ALL.

  21. The West has had an entirely different relationship with Japan and its culture than with China, going back hundreds of years. But I think the short version is that Japan was not seen as threatening in the way that China is nowadays, and the Japan that we admired in the 80s ceased to exist in the 19th century anyway.