Shamans are defined as those who invoke, channel and interact with the Spirit World, occasionally seen as Holy men and women depending upon the religions of the region.
Traditionally, they are very unlikely to have any established organization, with the powers either being inherited or individuals being called to purpose through "signs" or "destiny". Thus there is nothing to say that regardless of how "holy" they were, they may have been entirely separate from the priesthoods (if any) of those regions.
Shamans in RPGs represent either the mysterious side of the poorly understood world of the divine, or they are used in the place of priests and clerics in tribal societies who have tenuously established or particularly simple religious beliefs.
Thematically, they overlap a lot with Druids, but haven't managed to gain the same level of recognition as them.
In BECMI, the Shaman first debuted as the "Humanoid Cleric", a simplified, "thematically appropriate" version of the Cleric that could be applied to various non-demihuman monster races, such as orcs and goblinoids. Aside from a slightly different mechanic of progression, involving increasing the basic EXP needed for the humanoid to advance in its racial class, the shaman used the same general rules as the cleric, but its spell list was altered to fit its motif as the "savage" equivalent. The shaman first debuted in the Master's Edition DMG.
Even the humans ultimately got in on the Shaman bandwagon with the Atruaghin (American Indian stand-ins) getting the Shamani in their issue of the Known World Gazetteer. This variant Cleric can only use leather armor (which all Atruaghin are restricted to anyway), can't use metal weapons, and has the Magic User's attack progression, but wields a mixture of cleric, druid, magic-user and unique spells in exchange for that.
Shamans appeared in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition, alongside the Barbarian, in the splatbook "The Complete Barbarian's Handbook". It was a variant Cleric, much like how the Barbarian of that edition was a variant Fighter, and had the same "pre-Iron Age" cultural baggage. Its abilities boiled down to increased mobility, with similar (but less effective) climbing, running and leaping bonuses as to the barbarian. It can't Turn Undead unless it worships a deity with some control over the dead, and even then it does so at a lesser ability compared to the normal cleric. It also doesn't get bonus spells for high wisdom, can't use scrolls due to being illiterate (at least initially), and is in general a really shitty, underpowered class.
An alternative version of the Shaman was one of the kits introduced in The Complete Book of Humanoids, as one of the Cleric kits. This version was no less shitty, being a physically frailer (D6 hit dice instead of D8) cleric with watered down spellcasting, no ability to Turn Undead, and forsaking all of the Raise Dead spells for access to the far less useful Reincarnation spell instead. The Witch Doctor appeared in the same book as a variant Shaman with some limited access to Wizard spells. It was, somehow, even worse than the shaman was.
3rd Edition D&D
The 3rd Edition Shaman class was released in the Oriental Adventures sourcebook as a replacement for Clerics, since those were not considered particularly "Oriental". It's likely the most obscure 3E base class since it's one of only three and a half to be printed in 3.0 only, and OA Samurai constantly gets attention for being noticeably better than the class of the same name from Complete Warrior. It's biggest competitor is the Eidolon/Eidoloncer, which requires you to either play in a single obscure campaign setting or implement some heavy baggage of that setting into your own. In Shaman's favor here is that it's not actually possible to take all 20 levels of Eidolon before epic, bringing its stats as a base class into question despite being described as one.
Compared to the Cleric, the Shaman suffers a smaller hit die, loses medium and heavy armor proficiencies, and has weaker turn/rebuke. In exchange, it gets a third domain at level 11 and a random grab-bag of useless bullshit: an animal companion, the ability to see ethereal creatures, a charisma-based boost to saving throws, and some martial bonus feats. OA basically took the Cleric, made it more monk-like and more dependent on constitution and dexterity in order to not die, and forgot to give it Flurry of Blows, their wisdom bonus to AC, or any of the other things that were supposed to make monks work.
Adding insult to injury is their proprietary spell list. Instead of borrowing the Cleric list like the Favored Soul does, the shaman has its own unique spell and domain lists, which means it does not benefit at all from the hundreds of cleric spells and domains found in splatbooks. They do still get the War domain, which is improved over its Cleric version: because shamans are not tied to a patron deity like clerics are, the War domain grants them proficiency with any
small or medium martial melee monk weapon of their choice.
To sum up, Shamans are clerics that have been rendered worthless for anything other than the "buff self and then smash face" build, and even in that role, clerics might still be better.
The Dragon #318 update of them to 3.5 gave them a minor boon in making their unarmed strike scale like a Monk's. Otherwise it just updates their bonus feat options to reflect 3.5's changes.
D20 Past introduces an Advanced Class named Shaman that's actually the 3rd Edition Druid in all but name. Like every other spellcaster in the system, its one of the better classes. For the details, see the Druid article.
4th Edition D&D
Like a Warlord, but less cool and more primitive. Basically, you chant and war dance buffs onto other PCs, while summoning animal spirits.The primary advantage of the Shaman is the very clunky and somewhat broken summoned animal, which is nearly impossible for monsters to destroy. Additionally, the healing mechanic for the shaman gets around the 'use a Healing surge to heal' paradigm, which breaks an important aspect of the game.
A solitary class, they feel no need to seek adventure instead spending their time improving their skills. They usually get pulled into trouble anyway due to their usefulness. They are most commonly known for their wide use of the elements and not to be mistaken for Druids. If they feel the need they will use totems, usually hung around the neck or wrist, to help channel their power.
One of the most popular things Shamans are known for is their ability to summon various creatures. What a shaman can summon depends on his dedication to the art and luck. Most creatures summoned by the average shaman will look half put together and often gruesome, adding on a small fear factor to the otherwise smaller and less intimidating shaman. Occasionally you'll run into a more accomplished one who can summon all sorts of things; if it doesn't look like it'll kill you, run.
In group mechanics, shamans are most likely used for their buffing and healing abilities. The buffs shamans have to offer span everything the elements touch, from boosts to resistances. While their healing abilities aren't top of the line, it's hard to argue against someone who can also summon a creature that will eat you.
Although they are Divine spellcasters like the Oracle, they prepare their spells in advance by communing with their spirit animal/familiar the same way Witches do. They can take the basic Witch hexes every other level (though no major or grand hexes) as well as some of their own unique ones.
It also gets the Spirit and a Wandering Spirit class features. The spirit functions similarly to any other caster specialization such as a Sorcerer bloodline, an Oracle mystery, or a Witch patron: it grants some extra spells not usually on the class's list, some extra hexes to choose from, a minor boost to the character's familiar, and a few other powers. Shamans also get an extra spell slot that is not immediately apparent at a glance on their class sheet, though this is for exclusively casting Spirit/Wandering Spirit Spells much the same way that Clerics have an exclusive domain slot, but it is always worth remembering.
With the Wandering Spirit, it can temporarily take on most of the features of that spirit including its additional spells and its spirit powers (although you cannot permanently take hexes granted by a wandering spirit, its true spirit ability, or its manifestation) and wandering hexes: where you can temporarily add certain hexes to your hex list including those from a wandering spirit.
Compared directly to its origin classes: Oracles have more spells per day coming from the far superior Cleric spell list, and the Revelations granted by its Mysteries are generally considered to be more powerful than Shaman hexes. However, the Shaman hexes/abilities come at a much increased rate over Revelations, gaining ten hexes, four spirit abilities and three wandering abilities over the course of a 20 level career; compared to seven Revelations and the variable benefits/drawbacks of the Oracle's Curse feature, meaning that Shamans are practically rolling in class features that can come from two different sources, making them far more versatile.
Witches also use a superior spellcasting list and gain access to much better Hexes in the second half of their progression. Though Shamans have meatier BAB & HD, can cast more times per day (thanks to the extra Spirit spell slot), aren't hampered by Arcane Failure chance, and their spirit familiar will usually be superior to a witch familiar unless the Witch chooses Improved Familiar at some point.
Summoners and Oracles have archetypes that trade some class features to take parts of the Spirit feature from the Shaman class to potentially make something even greater than the sum of their parts. Though because the Shaman still gets rapid early access to multiple class features, it is probably more suitable as for multiclassing and prestige class combinations.
Extra notes go out to the use of the Wandering Hex ability and the Lore spirit. At the start of the day, you can trade out your wandering hex. One of the hexes for the lore spirit allows you to add wizard spells to your list to prepare. You can add any wizard spells to your list. The wandering hex lets you trade them out day by day. Essentially, you've got the entire wizard spell list, alongside your own. The cost is that you need Intelligence, Wisdom, AND Charisma for this ability, but it's a fair trade if you can get your stats high enough.
Generally, like Investigator, Shaman doesn't really do anything to establish itself as different than just playing one of the parent classes or Cleric, especially since it has a weak and proprietary spell list while being powered by MAD. It's still a full caster with ninth level spells and is thus at least tier 2, likely closer to 1 with the ease it can poach spells, and the ability to swap class features from day to day can make it very versatile. Like Inquisitor it shows the sheer power of spellcasting by putting it on a class that the designer had no idea what they were doing and coming out really powerful.
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:||Blackguard - Binder - Cavalier - Elementalist - Hexblade - Hunter|
Mage - Knight - Protector - Scout - Sentinel - Skald - Slayer - Sha'ir - Thief
Vampire - Warpriest - Witch
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Bladesinger - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
Outside of D&D, one of the main places you can get your Shaman on is Shadowrun. Shamen are Charisma casters who usually focus on summoning and persuading spirits, as opposed to Mages more logical approach.