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5E Mythological Figures: King Shaka

We’re finally getting more subjects from the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent here in the Mythological Figures column, putting together statistics for one of history’s most famous Africans: King Shaka!

King Shaka Zulu DnD 5e BANNER.jpg


Shaka was born in 1787 near modern-day Melmoth in KwaZulu-Natal Province. He was not the first born heir however, and grew up in the settlements of his mother’s people before becoming a warrior under the command of Dingiswayo and improving the ibutho lempi (fighting unit) style of Zulu warfare. Shaka went on to engineer an almost bloodless coup that removed his younger half-brother Sigujana from the throne after their father Senzangakhona perished, using strategic political maneuvering and institutional changes (plus a bit of fighting) to secure more land for and citizens loyal to the Zulu kingdom. It’s worth noting that while Shaka certainly expanded Zulu while he was its ruler, he was also in charge at the start of the Mfecane (‘crushing’ or ‘upheaval’) that lasted for 35 years and wrought terrible casualties throughout southern Africa—although how much he was involved is a matter of great contention.

At first Shaka was a subordinate to the empire of the Mthethwa, his mother’s people, until Dingiswayo died fighting a chief of the Ndwandwe nation named Zwide. Shaka gathered the broken Mthethwa as well as others, ultimately defeating Zwide in the Zulu Civil War of 1819–1820. The younger king very much wanted revenge for the killing of his mentor and went so far as to capture Zwide’s mother, leaving her in a house with jackals and hyenas on either side that eventually devoured her (after which he burned the place down). The pursuit lasted for 5 more years until they met near Phongola, engaging in a vicious combat that claimed one of Shaka’s closest allies (forcing Zwide into a retreat that ended in his mysterious death at the hands of the chieftainess Mjanji, ruler of a baBelu clan).

Shaka expanded the Zulu Empire, forcing and cajoling many others to join him as conflict grew between his kingdom and other forces (principally the Voortrekkers and British Empire) convincing his people to adopt a warrior mentality. With a mixture of military might, diplomacy, and patronage he brought many chieftains into the fold without any violence at all, achieving his goals with promises and rewards instead. Being a tactical genius helped too—following the Battle of Gqokli Hill on the Mfolozi River, his encirclement tactics were improved and refined by future Zulu.

Perhaps Shaka’s biggest mistake was allowing Europeans to enter Zulu territory, first accepting medical help from a British doctor and then allowing settlers into the kingdom. After one colonial got their foot in the door more eventually followed, ultimately leading to armed incursions well after his reign. Despite the doctor’s aid, Shaka held to the end that the Zulu way of life was superior. More less rational decisions came in response to the death of his mother in 1827 where, to mourn (according to Donald Morris) he banned the planting of crops and the use of milk, and most disturbingly ordered the murder of any pregnant women (and the men who helped them conceive) as well as some supposed 7,000 people that showed too little grief.

His assassination by his siblings Dingane and Mhlangana in 1828 came at the hands of three assassins as most of the Zulu army was sweeping through the northern regions—an iNduna (advisor) named Mbopa caused a distraction while his brothers dealt the fatal blows, putting his corpse beneath stones and mud at the bottom of a grain pit of unknown location. Dingane took over for several years, struggling to maintain control as loyal Zulu fighting regiments chafed at his succession—so he bribed them with land, cattle, and permission to marry, acts forbidden during Shaka’s reign. He used fear as well, killing anyone suspected of sedition. A dozen years later in 1840 his brother Mpande succeeded Dingane thanks to help from the British Empire and Boer.

During his time as king Shaka vastly grew the empire, honed and perfected tactics for warfare, instituted a highly influential age-grade regimental system (where one’s years determined their duties), the use of iklwa (a short stabbing spear, I think seen above) for melee combat (instead of only ranged weaponry), utilizing “bull horn” or “buffalo horns” formations, and advancing the martial use of shields to expose an enemy’s vulnerable spots. Interestingly Shaka also banned his warriors from wearing sandals to toughen their feet, killing any that refused the order and forcing the rest into long marches that sometimes went as long as 50 miles. By the time Shaka breathed his last, he had turned the Zulu kingdom into the most powerful nation in all of the continent’s southern regions—which might be why he’s been attributed as the Black Napoleon and is largely considered Africa’s greatest commander.

There is much more to be learned about Shaka and I encourage anyone interested in giving his history a more thorough read.

Design Notes: Yes I know that javelins and spears are already monk weapons. As far as I can figure the 5E core rules spear is the closest thing we’ve got to an iklwa (the short stabbing spear Shaka popularized among Zulu warfare) and the javelin is our spear for throwing so those are his kensei weapons. Also wow that is a lot of statblock! Overall his damage output is low (spears just aren’t that great in 5E) but with his monk archetype features his AC will effectively be 17, and he’s got a ton of battlefield control (emphasizing his role as a tactician). Let’s look at the numbers! The DMG comes in at an even 8 while the Blog of Holding has a more optimistic 9.8—I’m going to call it at 9 because presumably he’ll have some soldiers around and that makes Shaka in particular more effective.

King Shaka
Medium humanoid (human), lawful neutral monk (kensei) 3/fighter (warmaster) 15
Armor Class 15 (Wisdom or shield)
Hit Points 131 (3d8+15d10+36)
Speed 40 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
14 (+2)​
16 (+3)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
12 (+1)​
Saving Throws Str +8, Dex +9
Skills Athletics +8, History +8, Insight +8, Persuasion +7
Senses passive Perception 12
Languages Zulu
Challenge 9 (5,000 XP)

Background: Noble - King. Due to his position as a ruler, Shaka is treated with a measure of respect wherever he goes. He is treated as royalty (or as closely as possible) by most peasants and traders, and as an equal when meeting other authority figures (who make time in their schedule to see him if requested to do so).

Action Surge (1/Short Rest). Once on his turn, Shaka can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

Battle Maneuvering. Instead of moving his speed on his turn, Shaka can allow up to 3 allies who can see or hear him to move up to half their speed. Only allies able to take actions can benefit from Battle Maneuvers.

Dextrous Parry. Shaka can defend himself with a javelin or spear on the same turn he makes an unarmed strike as part of his Attack action, gaining a +2 bonus to AC until the start of his next turn so long as he is not incapacitated and has the weapon in one of his hands.

Feat: Brilliant. Shaka always knows how long it will be before the next sunset or sunrise, the northerly direction, and can perfectly remember anything he’s experienced within the last 31 days.

Feat: Master of the Shield. While he has his shield, Shaka adds +2 to Dexterity saving throws against spells or other harmful effects that only target him and he can use a bonus action to use it to shove a creature within 5 feet. In addition, Shaka can reflexively protect his body with his shield. When he is subjected to an effect that allows him to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, he can use his reaction to take no damage if he succeeds on the saving throw.

Feat: Master of the Spear. Shaka can increase his reach with a spear by 5 feet until the end of his turn by using a bonus action. In addition, he can prepare his spear to resist a charge by using a bonus action. Shaka chooses a creature within 20 feet that he can see and if on his next turn it moves within his reach, he can use his reaction to make a melee attack against it using his spear. On a hit he deals an extra damage die. A creature that uses Disengage does not provoke an attack from Shaka.

Forward Leader. Creatures that Shaka hits with a weapon attack have disadvantage on saving throws made to resist his Tactical Stratagems until the end of his next turn.

Indomitable (2/Long Rest). Shaka can reroll a saving throw that he fails but must use the new roll.

Ki (3 Points/Short Rest). Shaka can spend ki points to fuel various ki features.
  • Flurry of Blows. Immediately after Shaka takes the Attack action on his turn, he can spend 1 ki point to make two unarmed strikes as a bonus action.
  • Patient Defense. Shaka can spend 1 ki point to take the Dodge action as a bonus action on his turn.
  • Step of the Wind. Shaka can spend 1 ki point to take the Disengage or Dash action as a bonus action on his turn, and his jump distance is doubled for the turn.
Leading Example. When Shaka hits a creature with a weapon attack, until the end of his next turn the target of his attack has disadvantage on saving throws against his Tactical Maneuvers.

Path of the Weaponmaster. Shaka has a particular affinity with javelins and spears.

Second Wind (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Shaka can use a bonus action to regain 1d10+15 hit points.

Tactical Focal Point. Shaka selects a 10-foot square to be his tactical focal point as a bonus action or as part of the attack action, choosing one of the following benefits to apply to it. This lasts until he cannot take actions or uses this feature again. Each time Shaka completes a long rest, he can swap one of these benefits for a different one.
  • Area Clear. When an ally inside Shaka’s focal point hits a creature with an attack, the ally can move that creature 5 feet.
  • Cover the Flank. As many as three target creatures of Shaka’s choice can use a reaction to move up to their speed when an enemy that he can see enters his focal point, so long as that movement does not end in the focal point. If a target creature is ending their movement adjacent to the enemy that triggered this feature, they do not have to use their reaction.
  • Form Up. Any allies inside of Shaka’s tactical focal point that do not have a shield gain a +2 bonus to AC while adjacent to an ally using a shield.
  • Phalanx Sidestep. An ally inside of Shaka’s tactical focal point doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks as long as they move from a square adjacent to an ally and into another square adjacent to an ally. In addition, Shaka and his allies can end their movement in space occupied by an ally. The ally immediately moves 5 feet away from the direction they came in and must end movement inside of his tactical focal point.
  • Run Away! When an ally inside of Shaka’s tactical focal point is forced to make a Dexterity saving throw, they move up to their speed by using their reaction and are no longer subjected to the triggering effect if their movement takes them outside of the area or range.
Tactical Mastery (14/Long Rest). Shaka uses part of his Attack action or a bonus action to take mastery of the battlefield, granting it to himself and allies within his focal point by expending uses of this feature. A creature that is granted a use of Shaka’s Tactical Mastery can either regain 2d10 hit points when it is granted (any hit points greater than its maximum are temporary hit points) or use it to deal an extra 2d10 damage with an attack.

Weaponmaster Strike. Shaka can use a bonus action when he hits a target with a javelin attack on his turn, dealing an extra 1d4 piercing damage on ranged attacks with javelins until the end of his next turn.



ACTIONS
Extra Attack. Shaka attacks three times when he takes the Attack action (he can use a bonus action to attack a fourth time, or a bonus action and 1 ki to attack a fourth and fifth time).

Unarmed. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d4+3) bludgeoning damage.

Spear (iklwa). Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6+3) piercing damage, or 7 (1d8+3) piercing damage if used with two hands to make a melee attack.

Javelin (5). Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6+3) piercing damage.

Tactical Maneuver (5/Long Rest). Each time Shaka completes a long rest, he can swap one of these benefits for a different one.
  • Coordinated Blows. Shaka takes the Attack action and uses deft commands to coordinate his companions to attack enemies and set them off-guard, knocking them down. Until the end of Shaka’s turn, enemies inside of his tactical focal point make a DC 16 Strength saving throw whenever they are hit by an attack or they are knocked prone.
  • Group Assault. Shaka takes the Attack action and chooses a creature he can see within his tactical focal point. The creature makes a DC 16 Constitution saving throw at the start of his next turn provided that Shaka or an ally hits it with an attack after he activates this feature. The creature has disadvantage on the saving throw if it has been hit by 3 or more attacks this turn. On a failure, it is stunned until the end of Shaka’s next turn.
  • Move to Flank. Shaka takes the Attack action and calls out to as many as 2 allies that can see or hear him. They can use their reactions to move up to their speed. A creature makes a DC 16 Strength saving throw if it is adjacent to these allies or Shaka and one of these allies at the end of their movement. On a failure, it is restrained until the end of Shaka’s next turn.


REACTIONS
Deflect Missiles. Shaka can use his reaction to deflect or catch the missile when he is hit by a ranged weapon attack. When he does so, the damage he takes from the attack is reduced by 1d10+6. When the damage is reduced to 0, he can catch the missile if it is small enough for him to hold in one hand and he has at least one hand free. If he catches a missile in this way, Shaka can spend 1 ki point to make a ranged attack with the weapon or piece of ammunition he just caught, as part of the same reaction (+9 to hit, range 20/60 ft., 1d4+3 damage).
 
Last edited:
Mike Myler

Comments


Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
When I was a kid in the 80s, there was a movie or TV series about Shaka that gives me nightmares to this day . . . . there were scenes of Shaka having his enemies impaled on spears, and it was visceral . . . . lots of twitching, screaming, and gurgling . . . .

I think it might have been the TV mini-series Shaka Zulu (1986), but my memories paint the impalements as way to graphic for TV . . . but maybe because this was a historical docu-drama, they got away with it . . . .
 



I am not going to rename or reduce the number of ability scores for builds in this thread. :coffee:

(jk keep going wild in the Level Up forums! :) )
Heh. True, I want the abilities to be clearer and more balanced.

But here I meant, a charismatic leader, who is larger than life, becomes an archetype, and is a folk hero, seems to require a much higher Charisma.

I read some of the other entries, and they seem to interpret the word Charisma to mean "chatty". But Charisma means something else.
 

Introverts can also have high Charisma, if they have gravitas or command respect, or exhibit artistic style, or so on.
 

Mike Myler

Advanced Fifth Edition: https://www.levelup5e.com/
Heh. True, I want the abilities to be clearer and more balanced.

But here I meant, a charismatic leader, who is larger than life, becomes an archetype, and is a folk hero, seems to require a much higher Charisma.

I read some of the other entries, and they seem to interpret the word Charisma to mean "chatty". But Charisma means something else.
Not sure what to tell you about how charismatic he was, but he was persuasive (+7 persuasive, even) and after doing a night of research definitely both canny and wise. Easy to swap his Wisdom and Charisma bonuses for your game though I'd leave his Intelligence at no less than 14 (not only was he definitely a thinking kinda ruler, he needs that for the DCs on his warlord traits).
 


Not sure what to tell you about how charismatic he was, but he was persuasive (+7 persuasive, even) and after doing a night of research definitely both canny and wise. Easy to swap his Wisdom and Charisma bonuses for your game though I'd leave his Intelligence at no less than 14 (not only was he definitely a thinking kinda ruler, he needs that for the DCs on his warlord traits).
The Charisma of Shaka is 16 or higher.

I agree he is a calculating strategist, so at least 14.

No opinion on Wisdom and willpower, but presumably is higher than average.
 



A person who is talkative and friendly, may or may not have Charisma. If not, the person would not be taken seriously.
 

Mike Myler

Advanced Fifth Edition: https://www.levelup5e.com/
I can't imagine being the leader of a kingdom the size of Zulu, including forging alliances and convincing people to make major cultural changes, and not being persuasive. Also I'm pretty sure I didn't write that he was talkative or friendly? Not positive though as I wrote the article weeks and weeks ago so apologies if I did.
 

I can't imagine being the leader of a kingdom the size of Zulu, including forging alliances and convincing people to make major cultural changes, and not being persuasive. Also I'm pretty sure I didn't write that he was talkative or friendly? Not positive though as I wrote the article weeks and weeks ago so apologies if I did.
Then how is it possible that the Charisma of Shaka is only 12, average?

He came from an aristocratic family, and presumably got the same training as his other family members. It is his personal Charisma that differed − stacking with his training above and beyond. (Same goes for Alexander the Great, or celebrated heroes, etcetera.)
 


Mike Myler

Advanced Fifth Edition: https://www.levelup5e.com/
Then how is it possible that the Charisma of Shaka is only 12, average?

He came from an aristocratic family, and presumably got the same training as his other family members. It is his personal Charisma that differed − stacking with his training above and beyond. (Same goes for Alexander the Great, or celebrated heroes, etcetera.)
12 isn't average, 10 is average. Charisma 12 is 20% more charismatic than the average person. A +7 bonus to checks made to persuade people is about twice as good as a trained diplomat who is naturally more charismatic (or more than twice as good if the diplomat is as charismatic).

Also (apologies to folks that hate broken records!) but you can just drop two of his feats to pop that Charisma up to a 16, and if you like swap it with Wisdom for a score of 18! Which part of Shaka's history do you feel is really compelling for him to have more Charisma as opposed to Intelligence or Wisdom?

Edit: I think it was in a notification email but aye all Mythological Figures are built on a 27-point buy ability score budget. You can walk into Adventurer's League and play as <insert MF here>, use them as pre-gens in one shots, etc. etc. because they are all built under the same design constraints. There's more info about it on the wiki: WIKI - Mythological Figures

Damn, after reading that introduction, I'm not sure how you decided he was lawful good, the dude sounds evil as.
I think there was definitely a "mad king" episode in the end there when his mother passed away and he was like "everybody shall suffer with me!" For the most part I think he was a fair (and celebrated) ruler in his time.
 

dave2008

Legend
Damn, after reading that introduction, I'm not sure how you decided he was lawful good, the dude sounds evil as.
No more so than most "great" leaders. I would definitely could see him as lawful, but good and evil are strange concepts to me. We seem to allow evil characters to do good things, but good characters can never do evil things?
 

Mike Myler

Advanced Fifth Edition: https://www.levelup5e.com/
No more so than most "great" leaders. I would definitely could see him as lawful, but good and evil are strange concepts to me. We seem to allow evil characters to do good things, but good characters can never do evil things?
I wouldn't even say it was necessarily an evil thing? "No babies, all famine!" strikes me as an insane thing. Super definitely evil in outcome but obviously not a logical decision and certainly one rooted in madness. There's a difference in intent between that and imposing an 80% tax on crops to finance making a huge statue of yourself, or cutting off the arm of someone who picked an apple off of a tree owned by the royal family, killing a youth that hunted boar in the royal forest, and so on.
 

12 isn't average, 10 is average. Charisma 12 is 20% more charismatic than the average person. A +7 bonus to checks made to persuade people is about twice as good as a trained diplomat who is naturally more charismatic (or more than twice as good if the diplomat is as charismatic).

Also (apologies to folks that hate broken records!) but you can just drop two of his feats to pop that Charisma up to a 16, and if you like swap it with Wisdom for a score of 18! Which part of Shaka's history do you feel is really compelling for him to have more Charisma as opposed to Intelligence or Wisdom?

Edit: I think it was in a notification email but aye all Mythological Figures are built on a 27-point buy ability score budget. You can walk into Adventurer's League and play as <insert MF here>, use them as pre-gens in one shots, etc. etc. because they are all built under the same design constraints. There's more info about it on the wiki: WIKI - Mythological Figures


I think there was definitely a "mad king" episode in the end there when his mother passed away and he was like "everybody shall suffer with me!" For the most part I think he was a fair (and celebrated) ruler in his time.
Average includes a range from about 12 to about 8. A character with 8 still behaves normally.

A powerful leader that successfully overthrows other charismatic persuasive leaders, and remains celebrated, exhibits extraordinary Charisma.

In comparison, a 12 is appalling.

There seems to be less clarity about what the Charisma ability means.
 

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