Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Blame the Ninja - Rage Against Classism!! Rant ensues

This post has been a long time coming. I have heard, over the last couple months, a few complaints aimed at our friend the Ninja. I am here to day to defend out beleaguered friend and ask you, the reader, to reevaluate your way of thinking.

It seems that a lot of people give the Ninja (and to a lesser extent, the Samurai) a lot of sh*t. A lot of this comes in off-hand remarks about Ninja in fantasy games; "They just don't fit", some say. Other times, these remarks are made with regards to the players that choose to play Ninja, claiming that their Ninja nature allows them to do things that the rules would not allow.

Today, I want to address these claims and make you realize that if you think this way, you are a classist: you are discriminating against a certain race based on your limited perspective.

Let me give you a bit of my background. I live in Japan, as many people know. I majored in Asian Studies, specifically in Japanese culture, language, and literature. I speak Japanese, married Japanese, raise my child Japanese. I eat Japanese food on a daily basis. I teach English to Japanese kids. So, lets just say that I have a pretty vested interest in Japanese society.

I take it pretty personally when you attack our friend the Ninja.

So, why is there so much hate against these poor, helpless individuals that prefer to live in the shadows? Well, one argument, which I understand and can deal with, is the idea that many times, the Ninja simply doesn't fit into most fantasy settings which are primarily based on a Medieval European game world. Ok. I can deal with this argument. When you are playing a more old-school kind of game, where it really isn't even that common to see elves or dwarves running around, I can see where it would be odd to see a Ninja coming onto the scene.

But really, is the Ninja all that different than the Assassin or the Rogue? Sure, they are a lot different when it comes to their cultural and historical context for existence, but if you are playing a fantasy game, everything gets taken out of its historical, cultural context and an entirely new context is given to the constructs which we usually see in our own world. Let's take for example armor. There are a lot of armor types in traditional fantasy games that simply never existed, or, have been drastically altered to make them fit into a specific game world. You could do the same with the Ninja. Why don't you? It may just be that you want to make the Ninja less of an Asian flavored character and more of a Shadow flavored rogue/assassin. But, some people just don't want to deal with it. Ok. I will let your argument stand.

But, lets move on to the second case. Some people rebel against the Ninja because of the characters that select them. There is always that very odd person who picks the Ninja and then does stuff that just goes against the grain of the party. Ok... so.... where has the Ninja done anything wrong in this instance. Your problem is NOT the NINJA!!! Your problem is with those individuals who can't be part of the team, who won't play a character that fits in with the rest of the group. Your problem is with the socially unacceptable outcast nerd who relates to and likes to play the Ninja because of their inability to fit into social situations. So, my solution, DON'T BLAME THE NINJA!!! Blame the player. He is the one that picked that class. He is the one who doesn't want to play nice. He is the one who doesn't fit in with your group. I have had player's like that. I had a friend in high school who always pulled that kind of thing at our games. Our solution - We kicked him out of the bloody gaming group. But, we certainly didn't get rid of the Ninja. If someone who could play a Ninja in a group friendly way wants to pick up their dice and their Kusarigama and give the Ninja a try, we always let them do as they please.

In conclusion, if your setting flavor just doesn't allow for the Ninja to exist, that is ok. There are settings that don't have magic at all. But, if you are playing in a Super Fantasy style world, a.k.a. 4e D&D, where you see Dragonborn and Tieflings on a daily basis, don't even pretend that a Ninja could not exist in that world. If you are playing Super Fantasy and you decide that the Ninja doesn't fit, you are being a classist. You are prejudiced against a character class. You should be ashamed of yourself. If you are constantly being assaulted by players that pick the Ninja and abuse them, GREAT!! You know exactly who you don't want to invite back to your next session, and here is a hint, it isn't the Ninja, it is the guy that is playing him.

Don't Blame the Ninja. Blame the player or blame yourself.


  1. /Standing Ovation

    This. Win. Thank you. :)

    Seriously, though, I've been dealing with this kind of thing for ages - I LIKE the Ninja, and the Samurai, and the Warlock. I like the flavor. And honestly, once you've allowed the Monk, you have no reason to exclude the Ninja. Looking at 3.5, where Monk was a core class anyway, it seem pretty unreasonable to try and argue that the Ninja "didn't fit." Now, in 4th Edition, even less reasonable.

    Even Batman plays well with the Justice League - there's no reason a Ninja can't fit into a team setting. No reason at all. Unless the player is bad, which is another issue entirely.

    Granted, my background as a comic-book reader kind of leads me more toward a world where everything kind of "fits," and "Kryptonian" or "Magic User" are just as valid of choices as "Badass Normal," but meh.

  2. My problem isn't necessarily with the Ninja class or concept. I like the idea of the Ninja, and I don't think there is that much difference between a Ninja and Rogue outside of a handful of mundane tricks. In fact, I find myself constantly repeating to 4E players "You don't need a Ninja Class. The Rogue does it already! It even has the word NINJA in it's Paragon Paths!".

    The problem comes down in three flavors.

    1) Naruto/Dragonball Freaks. Ninja's shouldn't be wearing Orange Life Vests. These people I have a problem with not because of them wanting to play ninjas, but the general ignorance they have over what a ninja is. More specifically, though, is that the players want a high fantasy martial arts game, and while you can do that in D&D, not everyone wants to embrace that. There is better systems to fit this style of play, and I would recommend players who want this kind of play to grab a favorite edition of Super Heroes game to play.

    2) "I want rules for this" crowd. These are people who ignore what is available that fully fits their character concept and demand a special class of their own. See my complain about 4E crazies. If these people would just take what already exists and craft the ninja out of it, I don't think there would be any complaints.

    3) The Evil Problem. Let us face it, outside of a couple of popular 70's ninja shows, most Ninjas are portrayed in a very negative light when in a general Feudal Japan show/general American action shows. Evil classes just are not allowed in some games, and a person who wants to play a ninja has all the same problems as anyone who wants to play an assassin type character.


    That said, I've not often gotten a request for a Ninja in my games. I have yet to deny a player playing one when it comes up though. I do think that the duality of having a normal face, and a ninja face is a strong lure to the traditional Ninja concept, and I wouldn't mind having a player explore that.


    As a side rant, while the Ninja did exist in L5R, the problem I had with L5R is that it removed the players away from the common people, and that meant that I couldn't play out a lot of the Jidaigeki style 70's action tv shows I had watched as a kid. That was the biggest disappointment I had with the ruleset, really.

  3. American Ninja, anyone?

    Ah... 80's, where did you go?

  4. @Charisma also, 3 Ninjas, 3 Ninjas Strike Back, TM Ninja T, there are lots of awesome Ninjas out there. I was barely alive in the 80's... sorry :)

    @Jonathan Why must they always get so much hate?? I am right there with you. On a side note, there are a lot of people who don't allow the Monk in their games because the iamgery of the word monk sugests a fat friar with a bald spot and beer stains on his tunic. When I think of the Monk, I think more along the lines of Shaolin and Crouching Tiger than Friar Tuck...

    @kensan-oni you are absolutely right. A lot of the time, you don't really need the Ninja class at all. It just makes the character more personalized. I think what I see in the Ninja is more like a combination of the Rogue/Assassin/Monk than a pure Rogue or pure Assassin though. I guess I see the Ninja as a more esoteric Assassin that, instead of utalizing Shadow magic, focuses intensely through training, both mental and physical, to be a incredibly talented stealth killing machine. If you saw the movie "Ninja Assassin," that is the image of a Ninja at high level that I get when I think D&D 4e.But, I want to address your 3 points in more detail.

    1-The Naruto fans - I won't lie, I used to watch Naruto, so I really do get it. I have friends that are die hard fans, exactly like the ones you are talking about, and I would not doubt that there are players out there that are exactly like the ones you are talking about above. Which is why you don't have to play with them :) There are systems out there and GM's who want to play with people who prefer the type of Ninjas who summon Giant Frogs and Snails or turn into titanic sized foxes.
    2-You are right. This can be really annoying. Personally, I would say that if there is not a Ninja class available, than I wouldn't make one. If that player wants to homebrew his own class from L1 to L30 and prove to me that its power level is no different than the power level of any of the other classes, than I wouldn't really have a problem. I wouldn't do it for him, but I wouldn't have a problem with a player putting in the effort.
    3-The Evil Problem. Yea. There are a lot of Evil Ninjas. There job was killing people. They weren't exactly knights. But really, Assassins and Thieves have been in D&D for a long time and they always have been a bit more on the Evil Side of the Alignment spectrum in fiction and media. You could say the same thing for them as well as for the Ninja. I think if you look at "Ninja Assassin" the movie I mentioned before, you get a very good backstory for how you could have a Ninja as a Good PC. I am not saying that this movie presents an accurate historical picture of the Ninja in history, but who cares? We are talking about Fantasy Role Playing here ;)

    Glad to hear that you don't discourage. Some out there are not as nice about the Ninja issue as you.

    Very interesting note about L5R. I will be doing a lengthy review of L5R 4e near the end of January/early February. I look forward to commenting on the Ninja issue when I give it a full read.