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

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.
His Intelligence shows up in his military tactics.

His own Charisma achieved his influence, including his own personal diplomatic efforts, his own winning over his people, his own ability to propagate his teachings.

Not requiring 18-20.

16 is the lowest that seems reasonably accurate tho.
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
His Intelligence shows up in his military tactics.

His own Charisma achieved his influence, including his own personal diplomatic efforts, his own winning over his people, his own ability to propagate his teachings.

Not requiring 18-20.

16 is the lowest that seems reasonably accurate tho.

I could probably buy 14-16 charisma. Intelligence yeah he was no dumb dumb tactics wise.
 

Also, in D&D, Intimidation is a Charisma check.

His talent for intimidating and creating fear in others is part of what he is famous for.

He exemplifies Charisma, both the positive reinforcement and the negative reinforcement.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Also, in D&D, Intimidation is a Charisma check.

His talent for intimidating and creating fear in others is part of what he is famous for.

He exemplifies Charisma, both the positive reinforcement and the negative reinforcement.

Could have expertise in it. Also easy to do when you're the ruler with army so advantage maybe?
 

Players Handbook (178)

"
CHARISMA
Charisma measures your ability to interact effectively with others. [Shaka 16 or more.]
It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence. [Shaka 16 or more.]
It can represent a charming or commanding personality. [Shaka 16 or more. Possibly more "commanding" than "charming", but he seems to have had a sense of humor, so maybe he could be charming too at times.]

"

Shaka clearly has exceptionally high Charisma.



@Zardnaar. I agree, he may have expertise in Intimidation. Sometimes even seems to invent new ways to intimidate others.
 

Regarding his sense of humor.

Apparently one of his political rivals was very goodlooking. Shaka joked about himself being ugly, and that if he killed his rival, everybody would think that he did it out of jealously.

Which is funny. It still makes me chuckle.
 


dave2008

Legend
Players Handbook (178)

"
CHARISMA
Charisma measures your ability to interact effectively with others. [Shaka 16 or more.]
It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence. [Shaka 16 or more.]
It can represent a charming or commanding personality. [Shaka 16 or more. Possibly more "commanding" than "charming", but he seems to have had a sense of humor, so maybe he could be charming too at times.]

"

Shaka clearly has exceptionally high Charisma.



@Zardnaar. I agree, he may have expertise in Intimidation. Sometimes even seems to invent new ways to intimidate others.
So what ability score would you reduce to get him to 16? Is he less intelligent or less wise? Those seem to be traits that can account for a lot of his accomplishments as well as Charisma. Was we weaker or less dexterous or of weaker constitution? Instead of simply railing on his Charisma (which is highly subjective) I will ask you again to make his stats with a 27 point buy.

More importantly, how does the rest of the build represent Shaka? If the only issue is his Charisma stat than I think Mike has done a damn fine job.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
Where his ability to summon 10,000 Impis and take out a whole continent?

I'm D&D terms he could be something like level 6 and impi are CR2 or 3 bearing on CR 1/8 .

You need something more like the old war machine mass combat rules.

I wouldn't stat up real people being honest, legendary ones like Hercules sure.

None of the conquerors would really qualify for a good alignment. Hell a lot wouldn't qualify for neutral unless you're generous.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I'm D&D terms he could be something like level 6 and impi are CR2 or 3 bearing on CR 1/8 .

You need something more like the old war machine mass combat rules.

I wouldn't stat up real people being honest, legendary ones like Hercules sure.

None of the conquerors would really qualify for a good alignment. Hell a lot wouldn't qualify for neutral unless you're generous.

It's a Sid Meier's Civilization joke.

Shaka is known for swarming his neighbors with Impi in the game series.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
He sucked in Civ 1-3 and revolutions.

Not sure about 4+.

EUIV play as Songhai. African Prussia. Go colonize Europe.

Zulu is High Tier in 4, 5, and 6.
A-Class. Typical Midgame Aggressive Civ.

Shaka's Zulu is strong if they have a neighbor to conquer. So any peaceful civ has to ditch their whole strategy to defend against them and it still might not work. All while Shaka puts on a handsome guy smile as he besieges your capital.
 

So what ability score would you reduce to get him to 16?
Dexterity. There is no reason to believe Shaka has high Dexterity. Thus.

Str 14, Dex 12, Con 14

Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 16



I am unsure why his Wis is high. Did he display unusually strong willpower? But as a successful leader, I find it credible. If for some reason, he turns out to have demonstrated unusual Dexterity, it seems ok to swap the Dex 12 for the Wis 14. But for now, the above with Cha 16 appears more accurate.
 


There were a lot of concerns I had about posting Shaka's build but I gotta say that "Haldrik dragging his war on ability scores out of the Level Up forums and into here" was not on the list.

iu

Heh. To be fair, in this thread, I havent suggested any fix for the abilities. But I guess, the disagreement itself suggests the six abilities lack clear meanings.

Here, I am going by the straightforward definition of D&D 5e, in the Players Handbook, for what the term Charisma means. It applies to an influential and effective leader, such as Shaka.



I dont understand why you think Shaka has low Charisma? What is it about him that you find requires low Charisma? Why not 16, in your opinion?

Of all six abilities, to stat an effective leader, you made Charisma his lowest ability.
 
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Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
Heh. To be fair, in this thread, I havent suggested any fix for the abilities. But I guess, the disagreement itself suggests the six abilities lack clear meanings.

Here, I am going by the straightforward definition of D&D 5e, in the Players Handbook, for what the term Charisma means. It applies to an influential and effective leader, such as Shaka.



I dont understand why you think Shaka has low Charisma? What is it about him that you find requires low Charisma?
I never did. :) I think he has above average Charisma (as listed in the statblock), and that I've already corrected your misunderstanding of where average ability scores are, and multiple times now suggested how you might move his statistics around to accommodate.

While it's sort of fun watching you try to figure out where the line for trolling is or isn't, my boss has a much stronger grasp on all that sordid business, and I have quite a list of tasks today in my job of making tabletop roleplaying games—so I'm out. You can keep at it if you like but I don't think you'll enjoy the destination you're headed.
 


dave2008

Legend
Dexterity. There is no reason to believe Shaka has high Dexterity. Thus.

Str 14, Dex 12, Con 14

Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 16



I am unsure why his Wis is high. Did he display unusually strong willpower? But as a successful leader, I find it credible. If for some reason, he turns out to have demonstrated unusual Dexterity, it seems ok to swap the Dex 12 for the Wis 14. But for now, the above with Cha 16 appears more accurate.
Thanks for sharing. Now I don't know the true history of Shaka, but the 80's TV show sure painted him as quite the warrior. I would personally give him high physical attributes and then intelligence and wisdom. Leaving Cha for last much like Mike did. He is a great leader, but not all greater leaders are charismatic. You can get there by being intelligent and wise too. As Mike has him he is way above the average warrior, he seems fit for a king to me.
 


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