This pdf is 52 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 46 pages of content for this faction guide, so let's check it out!
The samurai-class by Paizo has not gotten any love by 3pps so far - this pdf tries to remedy that. Kaidan, the Japanese-horror-setting by Rite Publishing serves as a backdrop, but the crunch in here and its fluff is generic enough to make the pdf usable for just about any Asian-themed setting. In the tradition of the books by RiP, the pdf kicks off with an aptly-written in-character prose that details the samurai and REALLY helps Western minds wrap their head around the concepts of Bushido and a Samurai's codex and mindset - a section Ultimate Combat had heretofore painfully neglected. If you want to play a samurai, this section can essentially be considered a must-read. Clichés on when Seppuku is appropriate, the virtues etc. are addressed, explained and made clear - commendable!
And then there's honor - quintessential for a Samurai, this pdf provides an easily inserted into a running game, simple mechanic for tracking the honor of individual characters - in upcoming releases e.g. legendary weapons will be influenced by this and general social repercussions for honor-scores and the interaction with people are covered.
After that, we delve into the crunch of the book - 9 new, balanced samurai traits are provided and then there are introduced to the new archetypes:
The Tanegashima is a musket-using gunslinger that gains two new deeds and can deliver devastating volleys at higher levels, but is regarded with suspicion in the conservative culture. Paladins may now opt to become Yamabushi - divine, ascetic foes of the undead that can bond with Yomi or Kami to either improve his weapon or call an outsider ally to his help. The swift Yojinbo (Ranger archetype) becomes a quite hardy foe that replaces hunter's bond with the ability to bond with a weapon or mount and selects enemy clans instead of favored enemy, the solitary warriors make for a neat, complex archetype that also features a new combat style. The next archetypes are all for the samurai-class - the Kuge can be considered an aristocratic samurai that excels not only in the field of battle, but also at court and gains improved leadership capabilities. The Nitōjutsu Sensei is no doubt influenced by the legendary Miyamoto Musashi and lets a samurai fight with two swords, but be frowned upon by society and thus lose his/her order for the art of the blade. The Tajiya are devoted to ridding the world of the supernatural blights that plague it, while the Yabusame can issue far challenges and make it possible to play an archery-focused samurai-class.
That's not where the pdf stops, though: We also get new samurai orders: The order of the Shogun gains challenges that help allies, a steady mind and even negate one critical hit per day. The order of the Tajiya, much like the archetype, focuses on purging the unclean from the land while the Order of the undying emperor features dark masters of courtly intrigue. It should be noted that the orders all come with their edicts.
The most complex of the archetypes can almost considered to be an alternate class of its own - The Onmyoji wizard uses origmais that go up in flames when the spells on them are cast and also get shikigami familiars that come with full coverage - they essentially are oni-like goblins. I really liked the evocative and iconic flair of this archetype in particular, though I would have loved to see an alternate version with rules-synergy with Sutra Magic from the HotJO-setting.
There are also two PrCs: The Bugyo (10 levels, d10, 4+Int skills, full BAB, medium will-save) is a samurai with significant official authority, massive social graces and competence with tactical finesse, making this a valid choice to depict a sophisticated authority figure. The Mosa (10 levels, d10, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium fort-save)on the other hand is essentially a martial tank with stalwart defense and gaining progressively better DR who also gets limited access to challenges and samurai-style abilities without being necessarily of the class.
6 new feats are also part of the deal, including improved riding skills while armored, advantages gained by honor and one that grants you a +2 bonus on iterative attacks, making the lower level attacks of fighting classes slightly less useless.
The next section is a godsend for DMs - essentially a toolkit on how to design your own samurai-clan - crests (sample images provided), naming conventions, stats (similar to how community statblocks work), a solid selection of qualities for the clans and daimyos as well as several sample clans are provided.
The village of Kawashi (with a gorgeous full-color map) is given as an example town to house the sample Taketsune-clan and comes not only with sample statblocks and a gazetteer-like section for the community, but also for the clan, 6 sample NPCs and hooks to spawn adventures and intrigue from the get-go. This section also contains 2 sample magical items - a katana and a kabuto helmet with a rather sinister twist.
The pdf closes with stats for the Shikigami as a creature and as a familiar and a glossary of terms.
Editing and formatting are very good, though I noticed some very minor glitches here and there - minor changes in font-size and the like - nothing impeding my enjoyment of the pdf. Layout adheres to the bamboo-covered two-column standard and comes with fitting full-color illustrations in the traditional Japanese style. The cartography of the sample village is awesome, though I would have loved a key-less, player-friendly version. The pdf comes with no printer-friendly b/w-version, but printing it in grey-scale does not take a big toll on ink/toner. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks.After "Way of the Yakuza", a good, though not absolutely stellar book, I was rather skeptical on this one. Was my skepticism well founded? I'll come out and say it: Jonathan McAnulty, Will Cardell and Michael K. Tumey have created THE definite sourcebook for the samurai, not only in the Kaidan-setting, but for EVERY Asian-themed setting for PFRPG. This book takes an up to now neglected class and gives it the polish, love and options it needs - mechanically sound, well-written, concise and flavorful in design and suitable for both low- and high fantasy, this pdf is a must-buy for anyone even remotely intrigued by samurais - especially due to the excellent bang-for-buck-ratio: 46 pages for 5 bucks make this not only a great pdf, but a steal as well. Final verdict? 5 stars, Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Check this out!
[5 of 5 Stars!]