D&D 4E Ki Power Source

Old news, I know. WotC had planned to do a ki power source but then scrapped it a few years ago because they thought it would come off as racist. I disagree with their decision and humbly submit that a ki power source should exist. I’m going to do a few articles on this. This one will be an overview of what I think the ki power source should be and list the classes and roles I’d like to see in the game.

What is ki?

Ki is a very different power source from anything else in D&D. It comes from Eastern cultures in the real world rather than the traditional Western-inspired tropes in D&D. Ki (also spelled qi or chi) is a form of life essence that exists in everyone (says the white boy from northern Wisconsin; this is all my relatively uninformed and culturally biased perspective). Legendary masters of the martial arts are able to channel and direct their ki to accomplish great and powerful things. Watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to get an idea of what I mean by great and powerful things. The practice of reiki is focused on the manipulation of ki, both in oneself and in others.

Why have ki?

Ki bridges the gap between the martial power source and the others. Arcane, primal, divine and psionic powers all come from an external source. A character taps into some greater field of energy to fuel his powers. Martial characters stand alone because their powers are entirely inherent. They are able to do what they do because of their training and skill. Similarly, ki comes from within. It has mystical qualities but is tied to the self.

4E is a game focused on heroic characters striving to change the world, to save it or to leave it a better place. Characters can become gods, ascend into the Astral Sea and live forever. That’s cool, right? Except not every hero wants to go on forever. Not every warrior is doing things for the glory. There are other systems of belief, other ways of thinking. The transcendent hero is one of them. What if I want to play a monk seeking enlightenment? Nothing in D&D right now really supports that.

Because ki bridges that gap between internal and external power source, there are a lot of interesting opportunities for color and role play. Adding an ascetic nature to the game is something I’ve done already with some of my martial characters and a divine hero. There is a difference between Eastern asceticism and Western asceticism and I was left a bit disappointed with those characters because things just didn’t click.

Ki Heroes

The classes that use ki are similarly based on Eastern traditions. I’ve put together outlines for four very different classes that I think really capture the flavor of the power source and offer something new to the game.

Monk: The monk is an ascetic warrior seeking self-perfection and enlightenment. He does this through intense physical and mental training, long periods of meditation and through careful study. The monk specializes in engaging multiple opponents and maintains strict control over the battlefield in his vicinity. A monk seeks adventure because he knows that the path to enlightenment requires constant tests of self. His role in battle is that of a defender with secondary roles of controller and striker.

Ninja: The ninja is an assassin, spy, saboteur and master of mysterious arts. The various clans each have varying styles but all emphasize stealth and cunning. The ninja has unparalleled ability to move through battle, stepping through shadows, leaping great distances, and tumbling past enemies. The ninja focuses his training on the use of small but potent weapons. In battle he is primarily a striker but can also fill the controller role by creating patches of darkness or using area attacks. Many ninja adventure because it brings honor to the clan to eliminate worthy adversaries.

Samurai: The samurai is a noble, born to the ruling caste. He has been trained in the art of war and prepared to lead troops into battle. Samurai have mastered the secret of channeling ki through battle cries, or kiai. These kiai inspire allies or even hurl back foes. All samurai are trained in the use of armor and a variety of weapons. His primary role in battle is that of a leader, healing and guiding allies. Depending on his choice of signature weaponry, a samurai can be a devastating assailant or a nearly impenetrable wall of steel. A typical samurai is driven to adventure by the need to stand before the darkness and protect those who follow him.

Shugenja: The shugenja is attuned to the forces of the world. He understands that his ki is comprised of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and metal. By controlling and channeling his ki, the shugenja is able to create incredible effects to rival the most potent spells of a wizard. Each shugenja is particularly well attuned to one of the five elements and his powers with that element are more powerful, though with training he can become so attuned to multiple of them. A shugenja alters the battlefield on a large scale, controlling enemy movement and leaving them with debilitating effects.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.

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2 Responses to D&D 4E Ki Power Source

  1. Brandmeister says:

    Have you ever read the 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures? All of these classes are represented, in a fairly elegant Eastern light.

    • PK says:

      No, I haven’t. I came into D&D with 3.0. I have played with that OA, though. It also has all of these classes (well, the monk is a base class) but did little to differentiate them from other classes. The samurai was, for example, basically a fighter who comes with a built-in magical weapon. The shugenja was a wizard who couldn’t eat meat or had some other taboo.

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