D&D 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).
 
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Mike Myler

Mike Myler


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dave2008

Legend
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.
Relax man. Mike chose to use the persuasion skill to represent this ability more than a high stat number (which is above average). So rather than railing on and on about Shaka's charisma, why don't you propose and alternate stat array using 27 point buy to determine all six stats in a manner that better describes Shaka? Personally I think he probably had a higher Charisma too, but I can see my reducing any of his other stats to get his Charisma higher.
 


Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
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.
From my readings, Shaka did not raise a flag and inspire people to follow him the way someone like Joan of Arc did. He played politics, he sometimes forced other leaders using superior might, he bribed them—he was smart about it and relied on material resources to do it, not zeal or intrinsic motivations.

Also I may have a different printing of the Player's Handbook, but in the start of Chapter 7 the second paragraph under Ability Scores and Modifiers starts off with "A score of 10 or 11 is the normal human average, but adventurers and many monsters are a cut above average in most abilities." Where did you read that 12 was average? My assumption was that +## or –## was specifically not average, thus gets a modifier.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
@dave2008

A strong warrior exhibits high Strength.

If a charismatic leader fails to exhibit high Charisma, who else would?

12 is charismatic.

Some leaders were reknowned for charisma and Shaka got killed by his own men who had enough. It's not a strong arguement for buckets if charisma unlikee say Napoleon, Hitler, Alexander the Great etc.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
Damn, after reading that introduction, I'm not sure how you decided he was lawful good, the dude sounds evil as.

One of his defining features was that he engaged in genocide in a way that was shocking to local norms at the time. Wars were not uncommon, but often fought almost ritualistically and not necessarily to the death. Lots of intimidation, a bit of scrapping, then one group goes home. Actually attempting to kill all of the enemy was never the point.

Not only did he kill everybody, but he then butchered their entire villages. He would lure out the warriors who lined up for the traditional 'gentlemanly' war, then sneak around the back and wipe out all their unprotected women and children. He was a murderous butcher in a time of chivalry. Maybe not chivalry as taught in romantic Europe, but definitely a style of it.

I would say he was the embodiment of both Chaotic and Evil. Even in his own time, by his own peers. Of course, once you win, anything you do becomes 'Lawful' and anytime you fight off foreign invaders you can paint yourself as 'Good'.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
One of his defining features was that he engaged in genocide in a way that was shocking to local norms at the time. Wars were not uncommon, but often fought almost ritualistically and not necessarily to the death. Lots of intimidation, a bit of scrapping, then one group goes home. Actually attempting to kill all of the enemy was never the point.

Not only did he kill everybody, but he then butchered their entire villages. He would lure out the warriors who lined up for the traditional 'gentlemanly' war, then sneak around the back and wipe out all their unprotected women and children. He was a murderous butcher in a time of chivalry. Maybe not chivalry as taught in romantic Europe, but definitely a style of it.

I would say he was the embodiment of both Chaotic and Evil. Even in his own time, by his own peers. Of course, once you win, anything you do becomes 'Lawful' and anytime you fight off foreign invaders you can paint yourself as 'Good'.

He's not to popular today in the tribes that experienced his depredations or the spin of sub tribes.

Marabele/Shona in Zimbabwe cones to mind.

Good definitely not, neutral pushing it.
 



cbwjm

Legend
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.
Does seem very insane though there was also the episode with the other guy's mother that he left to be devoured by wild dogs and hyenas when he was younger. Almost like an eye for an eye mentality which would make me maybe push him to neutral.

This is one of the reasons I don't really like the alignment system, it leads to people (like me) debating a character's alignment. Maybe he started out as good, moved closer to neutral, and at then descended into madness making his actions evil.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
Does seem very insane though there was also the episode with the other guy's mother that he left to be devoured by wild dogs and hyenas when he was younger. Almost like an eye for an eye mentality which would make me maybe push him to neutral.

This is one of the reasons I don't really like the alignment system, it leads to people (like me) debating a character's alignment. Maybe he started out as good, moved closer to neutral, and at then descended into madness making his actions evil.

I have to look it up but execution method involved swing babies/children by the ankles head first into trees. If you were a rival tribe.

A few with the title "The Great" will fail modern morality tests. But there's I'm a militarist general vs bat poo crazy/cruel.
 

12 is charismatic.

Some leaders were reknowned for charisma and Shaka got killed by his own men who had enough. It's not a strong arguement for buckets if charisma unlikee say Napoleon, Alexander the Great etc.
Julius Caesar has extraordinarily high Charisma. He too was killed by his own men.

Caesar was killed because of an ethical rationale, despite him having high Charisma.

(Caesar was killed by his men because they accurately feared that he would destroy Roman democracy. Unfortunately, his son Augustus did destroy democracy.)

Perhaps, the men of Shaka felt ethical fears as well, despite his high Charisma.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Julius Caesar has extraordinarily high Charisma. He too was killed by his own men.

Caesar was killed because of an ethical rationale, despite him having high Charisma.

(Caesar was killed by his men because they accurately feared that he would destroy Roman democracy. Unfortunately, his son Augustus did destroy democracy.)

Perhaps, the men of Shaka felt ethical fears as well, despite his high Charisma.

Julius was killed by other polititians not people who he lead into battle.

Julius isn't regarded as super charismatic either.

But yeah Shaka was ruthless by the standards of the time and the other tribes he preyed on.
 

Julius isn't regarded as super charismatic either.
Caesar is regarded as an eloquent influential speaker, master of propaganda, able to talk himself out of precarious situations, elected by the senate, a popular military leader to his troops, beloved by the masses of Roman citizens, and he and his whole family were deified after death. Augustus similarly. The two in a row was more than Rome could bear.

Caesar is possibly one of the top ten charismatic leaders ever.

Likewise, ethically ambiguous, possibly evil.

Augustus is perhaps even moreso, but I doubt he could do what he did without his adoptive father preceding him.
 
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@Zardnaar,

You say a 12 is high.

But if you feel it inappropriate to reduce the Strength and Dexterity of Shaka down to 12, I have to assume it is because you feel a 12 feels too low, for a prominent figure who is know for such abilities.

Likewise Charisma. Shaka is known for his military leadership, diplomatic skill, populism, ideology propagation, and so on. He is clearly high Charisma in every sense of the D&D term.

Probably swap Dex and Cha, since there is no evidence of high Dex.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
@Zardnaar,

You say a 12 is high.

But if you feel it inappropriate to reduce the Strength and Dexterity of Shaka down to 12, I have to assume it is because you feel a 12 feels too low, for a prominent figure who is know for such abilities.

Likewise Charisma. Shaka is known for his military leadership, diplomatic skill, populism, ideology propagation, and so on. He is clearly high Charisma in every sense of the D&D term.

Probably swap Dex and Cha, since there is no evidence of high Dex.

When I think of high charisma I think of people like Hitler, Napoleon (convinced solders arresting him to support him) or Alexander the Great who convinced his men to go to the ends of the earth.

Some Byzantine emperor's as well.

Dwayne the Rock Johnson another example.

Rulers who got out of sticky situations or could rally people or opponents to them.

Obviously Shaka had some but there's a tendency IMHO to assign high charisma scores to any vaguely competent ruler/general.

When you're in the bottom so to speak and talk your way to the top or out of a bad situation is easier to judge IMHO.
 

When you're in the bottom so to speak and talk your way to the top or out of a bad situation is easier to judge IMHO.

Like Shaka.

He started modestly, with only the "smallest groups" of soldiers who were willing "to join him".

He gained the increasing respect of his people, by means of his Charisma.

Moreover, he changed their mind philosophically. That isnt easy to do. That requires Charisma.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
Like Shaka.

He started modestly, with only the "smallest groups" of soldiers who were willing "to join him".

He gained the increasing respect of his people, by means of his Charisma.

Moreover, he changed their mind ideologically, philosophically. That isnt easy to do. That requires Charisma.

That's more intelligence or wisdom IMHO.

Or the charisma of the person who did the convincing.

Shaka obviously had some charisma but I wouldn't be giving him 18-20.

African Napoleon would probably look more towards Kush/Ethiopia, Mali or Songhai one of their rulers. Butua or Makuria perhaps but would need to do more reading.
 

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