Superhuman feats of skill and daring are the stock in trade of the fearless warriors known as ninja.
This 128-page accessory gives you all the information you need to role-play exotic ninja, lone wolf operatives, and other character types - new character kits, special rules, and description of the ninja's unique weapons and equipment.
The Complete Ninja's Handbook brings life to these shadowy figures of myth and legend.
PHBR15: The Complete Ninja's Handbook (1995) by Aaron Allston follows 14 other generally well-received class-expansion supplements. At this point, all of the core races and all of the normal classes were covered in the series, and TSR must have asked itself, "What will people find interesting? What character archetype have we missed?"
"Ninja" is the obvious answer, as it is to most things.
Popular after Zeb Cook's 1e Oriental Adventures and never adequately explored in 2nd edition AD&D until now, ninja are a concept that both players and popular fiction return to again and again. I have remarkably clear memories of my best friend's 1st edition ninja completely thwarting my favorite cavalier PC (thanks, The Dragon!) as we battled over some particularly good loot. Stupid ninja.
Also, that sentence tells you way more about my early days power-gaming AD&D than you probably wanted to know.
As I was saying, ninja were a good choice - a little gimmicky by the 1995, but still a strong draw. There was also an interesting question to be asked. Can you take a class that is inherently a lone, stealth assassin and turn it into a viable PC template, especially when it isn't a 2nd edition core class to begin with? Starting with the exceptionally talented Aaron Allston was a good beginning, and this supplement delivers imaginative design, well-balanced mechanics, and a surprisingly good martial arts system for 2nd edition AD&D.
Ninja in AD&D. Ninja are a type of rogue, although far less limited in choice of weapons. They're worse all-around thieves, but do reasonably well if specializing in stealth. They backstab, use “clan signs” instead of “thieves' cant” (with about the same amount of usefulness in the average campaign, I suspect), and eventually gain followers. Ninja are prohibited from multi- or dual-classing in a reasonable attempt to constrain their combat power. It's interesting that ninja PCs are also required to determine their social class; I suspect this becomes more relevant in a purely ninja- or Asian-themed campaign.
Ninjas get intriguing when matched with the specialties of the 2e kit system. Since the base ninja was designed with kits in mind - not something that usually occurs - it gave the designer a chance to better gauge and balance combat power. As expected, the six kits herein are focused on amplifying certain aspects of the class's mystique.
- The shadow warrior uses fighter weapon specialization rules to become a better fighter, but a weaker thief;
- the intruder is optimized for espionage, and has a hindrance that might make for some clashes with the traditional adventuring lifestyle;
- the consort is optimized for social interaction;
- the pathfinder gains the ability to track more efficiently;
- the lone wolf begins with no clan, effectively on the run;
- and the spirit warrior gains a few magical abilities.
What I find remarkable about these kits, especially compared to some past books in the Complete line, is how well balanced the kits are compared to other base classes in AD&D. There's no power for free here. Benefits are balanced with both significant mechanical and flavorful role-playing hindrances.
The supplement also provides ninja-like kits that can fit other classes. These are organized into shinobi, spies, and killers. The method easily for achieves a certain campaign feel without losing access to non-ninja classes.
Refined Martial Arts. The system presented in The Complete Ninja's Handbook expands and improves upon Allston's system published in The Complete Fighter's Handbook, a location-based system designed now so that better hits produce more damage. While the basic system is quite simple, the expanded system (with a series of maneuvers such as locks, blocks, movement, throws, and mental maneuvers to learn) can be quite fun in practice. Different martial art styles are broken down into the appropriate maneuvers belonging to that style, and DMs are given great latitude in designing their own systems.
As expected, accompanying this system are extensive sections of new items, weapons, and expanded proficiencies. I suspect that there's something of a culture clash when trying to introduce these items into an ongoing Western-style campaign, but they work well for the classes and characters created for this book.
For Clan and Country. The last four chapters of the book detail clans; roleplaying a ninja; building campaigns for ninja; and secrecy-heavy games. The book concludes with a chapter full of examples for characters, clans, and ninja-type organizations.
I find these last few chapters particularly useful. They help put the class in perspective and give superb plot hooks for including ninja in a D&D world.
Overall? While it focuses on a class that's far from core, PHBR15 is arguably the best-designed of the Complete books. If you have any interest in shadowy assassins or ninja in D&D, it's well worth the read.
About the Creator. Aaron Allston is a prolific author whose recent works include Star Wars novels and the new non-fiction book Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide. He has worked on games such as Car Wars, Champions, Dying Earth, GURPS, Ghostbusters International, Dungeons & Dragons, and many more.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.