Although they could come from any race or social class, a bushi was most often a person of low station who, in order to improve their lot in life, had adopted the way of the warrior. A few bushi were failed or disgraced kensai. Many bushi became mercenaries or wandering swordsmen, others brigands or highwaymen. Some were professional soldiers serving in armies, working as guards for noble courts, or working for samurai. All bushi had no masters and no lords and no ties to a temple or monastery.[note 4]
Usually having poor beginnings, and usually still poor, bushi made their money by any means. Fortunately, a sturdy warrior or a strong arm was rarely out of work. Merchants and peasants hired bushi for protection, and though the coin was not great, and the fare and conditions not good, it was sufficient for a bushi to get by. However, it was not unknown for a bushi to steal when they had the need; good bushi restricted their larceny to their enemies, lawful bushi only when in desperate poverty.
Nevertheless, bushi had their self-respect and usually tried to be honorable and follow a warrior code like the bushido of the samurai. People just didn't expect them to cleave to closely to it, and bushi didn't feel bound by it. Otherwise, bushi could have any alignment.
A person had to be strong, as well have good fortitude and agility, to become a bushi. They were as resilient and capable in battle as any fighter. Typically too poor to afford armor, bushi learned to be nimble and better at dodging blows, in armor or out.
A bushi could opt to specialize in any one weapon of their choice, at the beginning of their career.
Bushi developed a number of skills, but as they were often low on coin, they learned to make do and craft and maintain their own weapons and armor, so they were capable armorers, bowyers, and weaponsmiths.
The poor bushi developed a knack for scavenging, generally able to find common, mundane equipment in any settled area for either half its normal cost in coin or mundane work, or even completely free, though good bushi always paid somehow if they could. A bushi in a town or village that wasn't hostile to them could always discover some food, shelter against the elements, or paid work, but there was no guarantee on quality. When that failed, a bushi also had skills as pickpockets and cutpurses to fall back on.
Bushi rarely focused on cultivating ki powers—they found life too hard and too short for self-reflection and mental discipline. Nevertheless, once a day, a bushi could use their ki to emit a fierce shout, a kiai, to briefly fight as a more powerful warrior and shrug off a blow.
A successful bushi who was able to seize and control land could become a local warlord. A few dozen minor bushi then flocked to their banner, more if the warlord had a good reputation and paid well; they soon left if not paid. Eventually, as they advanced, even minor samurai came into their service, which legitimatized the bushi warlord as being comparable (but not equal) in status to a samurai. Thereafter, the bushi's family would be recognized as a minor samurai clan.
Bushi could learn and use any kind of armor, shield, or weapon. Using ninja weaponry was considered dishonorable, but no great impediment to the bushi. Being poor, bushi usually went without armor.
In Kozakura, alliances of powerful local warriors—led by younger noble scions without position at court, military officers, descendants of former district governors, and leaders of provincial family estates—formed a growing military class known as bushidan, and these warriors were known as bushi. By the 14th century DR, however, this military class had evolved into a system with daimyos as landholding local lords and wealthy samurai in service to them. At the bottom was the common foot-soldier or zusa. "Bushi" became a generic term for such warriors.
In neighboring Wa, bushi were courageous soldiers who'd fought through centuries of warfare. However, by the 14th century DR, peace reigned and many bushi found themselves unable to adapt as Wa's samurai had done. Old and young bushi were divided on their place in the new Wa. Younger bushi, unfamiliar with war, stepped into academic and administrative positions in the cities, but the old-timers thought them cowards. The veterans had only their fighting skills and old glories, and became bandits, mercenaries or wanderers, others as guards or common laborers in rice fields, or even thugs and enforcers for the northern yakuza. These unassimilated veteran bushi were a social problem for Wa, and they held the risk of violent uprising.
- The bushi is a subclass of the fighter class for 1st-edition D&D.
- In Japanese, bushi is a word synonymous with "samurai", though samurai is already a class in D&D, while the bushi class is very different in concept.
- In Oriental Adventures (3rd edition), page 202, the bushi and chanshi are defined as Japanese and Chinese names, respectively, for the fighter class.
- In Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms, many NPCs statted as bushi are regular soldiers, police, guards, and even noble rulers, not merely the poor mercenaries and adventurers described in Oriental Adventures, suggesting the bushi can be a generic warrior class.
- Jeff Morgenroth (October 2011). “Character Themes: Samurai and Yakuza”. In Christopher Perkins ed. Dragon #404 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 2.
- Mike Pondsmith, Jay Batista, Rick Swan, John Nephew, Deborah Christian (1988). Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (Volume I). (TSR, Inc), p. 16. ISBN 0-88038-608-8.
- Gary Gygax, David Cook, and François Marcela-Froideval (1985). Oriental Adventures. (TSR, Inc), pp. 14–16. ISBN 0-8803-8099-3.
- Gary Gygax, David Cook, and François Marcela-Froideval (1985). Oriental Adventures. (TSR, Inc), pp. 14, 15–16. ISBN 0-8803-8099-3.
- Mike Pondsmith, Jay Batista, Rick Swan, John Nephew, Deborah Christian (1988). Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (Volume II). (TSR, Inc), p. 150. ISBN 0-88038-608-8.
- Mike Pondsmith, Jay Batista, Rick Swan, John Nephew, Deborah Christian (1988). Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (Volume II). (TSR, Inc), p. 170. ISBN 0-88038-608-8.