Getting Rid of the Rogue in 5e

August 25th, 2014


Depending on your background and tastes, there are many places where Dungeons & Dragons may have taken a bad turn. For some it’s when weapon speeds and casting times were thrown out. For others it was when spellcasters got useful abilities they could use all day every day. Others feel the whole game was misconceived from start to finish and it’s just plain thoroughly bad.

Let’s take a look at the original four-person adventuring party: The Fighting Man, the Magic User, the Priest, and the Thief. What’s wrong with this list? The Thief. This wasn’t originally part of OG D&D. When you’re looking to play a bunch of tomb-raiding murderhobos delving through dungeons, slaying monsters, and taking all their stuff, isn’t everybody a lowercase-t thief? Who is responsible for finding traps? Everybody. Who is responsible for locating and bypassing perilous traps? Everybody. By introducing the Thief as a separate class, more recently called the Rogue, you take some of the core functionality of the other classes away from them to build a special little Thief-shaped niche in the genre that doesn’t belong there. Why should Conan the Cimmerian have to switch character classes midway through his career? He didn’t suddenly become a master of the arcane arts or the chosen miracle-worker of some god or other. He was an adventuring Fighting Man straight through his career, whether as a savage tribesman, pirate, mercenary, or urban thief.

So how about we just straight-up kill the Rogue as a character class and give its goodies back to those with whom they belong: everybody. In Type 5 Dungeons & Dragons, the Rogue is a middle-sized hit die character with four skill proficiencies instead of two that gains access to sneak attacks, cunning bonus actions, and some skill perks. Its subclasses are the Thief, the Assassin, and the Arcane Trickster. Thief gains benefits that, as discussed above, should be available to just about everybody. The Assassin is every bit as bad of a character class concept as Thief; a murderer for hire is an assassin. Whether this is accomplished by poison, steel, or spells the person is still a lowercase-a assassin. Really this is just a sneak attack specialist. We’ll keep that in mind. The arcane trickster is just a Wizard that’s a dick about other folks’ private property. We can probably ditch that outright. Get your Wizard Sleight of Hand proficiency and call it a day.

Let’s take a look at what to do with all these class features:

  • Saving Throws: leave them be. Everybody else already has two proficiencies here.
  • Proficiencies: Grant three skill proficiencies to every class that doesn’t include full (1st – 9th level) spell progression.
  • Expertise: Grant Expertise to a single skill to every class that doesn’t include full (1st – 9th level) spell progression. All character classes (including full casters) may select an additional skill to have Expertise in at 6th level.
  • Sneak Attack: Grant Sneak Attack to every class. Full casters get 1/3rd their character level from the existing Rogue table, everybody else gets 1/2 character level.
  • Thieve’s Cant: This is dumb and shouldn’t be included in anybody’s game. Drop it.
  • Cunning Action: Grant Cunning Action to everybody, with the following modification. The bonus action can be used only to perform a task directly related to a skill you have Expertise in. Disengage is related to Acrobatics, Dash is related to Athletics, Hide is related to Stealth.
  • Roguish Archetype: At 3rd level a character that has not already selected an Oath, Domain, Archetype, or other subclass may add Assassin to the list of subtypes available. A character selecting Assassin gains Sneak Attack at full class level on the Rogue table, in addition to the benefits of the Assassin archetype.
  • Uncanny Dodge: Starting at 5th level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Uncanny Dodge instead.
  • Evasion: Starting at 7th level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Evasion instead.
  • Reliable Talent: Starting at 11th level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Reliable Talent instead.
  • Blindsense: No. Drop it.
  • Slippery Mind: Starting at 15th level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Slippery Mind instead.
  • Elusive: No. Drop it.
  • Stroke of Luck: No. Drop it.

Now for the subclass features:

  • Fast Hands: This is mostly covered by the changes to Cunning Hands above. Mostly. Leave this out.
  • Second-Story Work: Starting at 3rd level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Second-Story Work instead.
  • Supreme Sneak: Starting at 9th level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Supreme Sneak instead.
  • Use Magic Device: Starting at 13th level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Use Magic Device instead.
  • Thief’s Reflexes: Starting at 17 level, whenever your character class or subclass grants you a new feature, you may select Thief’s Reflexes instead.

For Arcane Trickster, each of the archetype features are made available to Bard, Sorcerer, and Wizard characters in lieu of an equal or higher-level subclass feature. Clerics that are associated with a trickster God may also gain access to these features, and add Mage Hand to their list of available spells.

This has the overall effect of dropping the class count by one, the subclass count by two, and expanding the complexity and options for the remaining classes tremendously.

Revisiting the Muscle Rogue:

The Muscle Rogue is clearly a Fighter at heart. We start out with the same race, background, and attributes as before. Essentially this is the same character. For Fighting Style it seems Dueling has some appeal. We can buy him an extra attack with his Strength bonus with Two Weapon Fighting, but he generally isn’t using his off-hand to attack; he’s using it to trip. Duelism it is. We select Athletics for his single Expertise.

At second level he gains an Action Surge, which is a great Fighter ability. An additional action that can be used for basically any purpose? Quite nice. But now we have a choice between Cunning Action and Action Surge. We can set aside Cunning Action for later, but who wants to wait to actualize their character concept? Cunning action at 2nd level, at the cost of never getting an Action Surge.

At 3rd level we normally get to pick a Fighter Archetype. His reliance on wits and tricky maneuvers suggests he will be adopting the Battle Master archetype, but I want to keep him focused on his Sneak Attack damage, so we borrow the Assassin archetype from the now-defunct Rogue class. He is now proficient with the disguise kit and poisoner’s kit, and gains the Assassinate feature and full Rogue progression for sneak attacks.

At 4th level we get the standard ability score improvement, which we use to level off Strength and Constitution at 18 and 16, as before.

At 5th level our Muscle not-Rogue gets an extra attack. Alternately we may select Uncanny Dodge. Being more stabby is much more appropriate for where we’re going here, so we select Extra Attack.

At 6th level we gain access to our second Expertise selection. Depending on how the campaign has been going, it may be a good idea to pick Perception. We also use our Ability Score Improvement to top off Strength at 20.

At 7th would have gained Evasion as a Rogue, but there is no feature gained by Fighter nor Assassin here. This will still be an option at 9th level, when Assassin grants Infiltration Expertise and Fighter grants Indomitable. We’ll drop the Assassin feature and pick up Uncanny Dodge from back at 5th level.

At 8th level we can bump Constitution up to 18 and effectively gain eight hit points. Instead we take the Alertness feat.

At 10th level we can bump Constitution up to 18 and effectively gain ten hit points. Very tempting. With proficiency in Constitution saves, we may as well take Tough for twenty extra hit points and +2 per level going forward. Alternately select Dungeon Delver, depending on how the campaign is going.

At 11th level we must choose between Reliable Talent or a third attack. At this point we should have a strong feel for how the actual campaign is running. Considering that we already have two or three chances to gain sneak attack damage per round, but can only benefit from it once, I select Reliable Talent. Getting an opponent prone is important to everybody in the party, while an additional attack is only worth so much.

Muscle not-Rogue
Mountain Dwarf Fighter 11 (Assassin Archetype), Soldier Background
Lawful Stabby
Worships Pelor the Burning Hate

Attribute Value Bonus Save
Str 20 +5 +5
Dex 14 +2 +6
Con 16 +3 +3
Int 10 +0 +4
Wis 12 +1 +1
Cha 8 -1 -1

Skills: *Athletics(13), Intimidation(3), Investigation (4), *Perception(9), Stealth(6)
Tools: Brewer’s Supplies, Disguise Kit, Knucklebones, Land Vehicle (Cart), Poisoner’s Kit
Languages: Common, Dwarven
Hit Points: 125
Armor Class: 16 (breastplate plus Dexterity)
Initiative: +7
Weapons: Rapier (+9 to attack, 1d8+7 damage), Javelins (+9 to attack, 1d6+5 damage, range 30′/60′)
Sneak Attack: 6d6 damage
Other notable features: Darkvision 60′, Dwarven Resilience, Stonecutting, Cunning Action, Extra Attack (two total), Uncanny Dodge, Reliable Talent, Assassination, Indomitable, Magnificent Beard.

The resulting character feels significantly less thief-like. His skill list is short and notably absent of Thieves’ Tools. His Expertise is in two fifths of his skills, not two thirds. He has an additional chance to land a sneak attack every round, and does slightly more damage. His Cunning Action is more broadly useful, letting him attempt to trip or grapple or shove an opponent without leaning on Two-weapon Fighting to glean a bonus action. The additional attribute bump gets him an additional feat, which we could have used to pick up more skills if the party is really missing the presence of a dedicated thief. To make a dedicated Thief with this house rule, you would want to pick a more suitable background (one with Thieves’ Tools proficiency, perhaps) and lean more heavily on the Rogue and Thief class features, selecting the Champion or Battle Master as the Fighter Archetype.

The 5e Muscle Rogue

August 22nd, 2014

shell-hilt rapier

In which we brew up a muscle-bound Dwarven Assassin that specializes in athleticism that, by 11th level, can deal 2d8+12d6+5 damage on the first round of combat if he has surprise.

With the removal of the five-yard-long list of causes for opportunity attacks and the general removal of piddling little minor “feat” character options in Type V Dungeons & Dragons, several interesting options seem to open up before us. Let’s consider, for a moment, the Muscle Rogue. The Thief is the original add-on character class from OG D&D, expanding the list from Fighting Man, Magic User, and Priest to what many consider the iconic four core classes. Generally the Thief (now called Rogue) is sneaky and nimble and weak. Typically your best attributes would be Dexterity and Intelligence. What if we treat the Rogue instead as a variation of the Fighting Man (now called Fighter) class, and prioritize brawn?

One of the key mechanical concepts of the Rogue is his Sneak Attack. This can be performed with only with finesse or ranged weapons, allowing the Rogue to take advantage of his normally-high Dexterity for attack and damage purposes. It turns out that the finesse quality doesn’t compel you to use Dexterity, so you’re welcome to wield, for example, a Rapier with brute force, applying your Strength bonus for attack and damage purposes. This doesn’t change the fact that it’s a finesse weapon. So it’s still eligible. So far we’ve lost nothing by switching to Strength.

Dexterity considered a highly useful attribute for any character. It applies to initiative, armor class, and several very useful skills. Clearly this is much better than Strength, which only applies to attack and damage with certain weapons, and a single skill. Oh, but what a skill. Athletics is used for climbing, swimming, running, jumping, and generally doing adventurous stuff. You wanted to do adventurous stuff, right? You’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, so hopefully that’s an unqualified “yes.” Athletics is also handy in a scrap, being used in opposed ability checks for grappling, shoving, tripping, and other improvised actions that stray from “I strike with my weapon” or “I cast a spell” bread & butter of your typical character. By opting for proficiency in Athletics and prioritizing Strength, any character can become a big bad bag of tricks in a fight.

That applies to any character, including character classes that already lend themselves to high Strength. Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin come readily to mind. Why focus on it for a Rogue, our nimble backstab-monkey? Because Rogues and Bards have a lovely little class feature called Skill Expertise. It allows a 1st level Rogue to pick two skills to get twice the normal proficiency bonus. A +2 for Athletics checks becomes a +4. At high levels a +6 becomes a +12. Later on Rogues get the Reliable Talent feature, letting them treat any roll of 9 or less on any ability check involving a skill they’re proficient in. So an 11th level Muscle Rogue, with a 20 Strength, would have +5, +4, and +4 to any Athletics checks, treating his minimum possible roll as a 23. At the same level a Fighter would have a +9 and could run the gamut from a 10 to a 29 for his result.

Unfortunately actions like tripping or grappling an opponent are just that, actions. Rogues get a lot of possible bonus actions from their Cunning Action feature, but not for these purposes. Happily any character can wield two weapons and gain a bonus action to make an additional attack. Attacks can be swapped out for maneuvers like grapples or shoves, so our stalwart Muscle Rogue, armed with a Short Sword in one hand and a Dagger in the other, may use his normal action to attack with the Short Sword, gaining for himself a bonus action to attack with the Dagger, which he then uses to trip. You get to choose when in your turn your bonus actions happen, so he trips before actually rolling his main attack. If the target goes prone, the Muscle Rogue (and anybody else within five feet) gains advantage on attack rolls, so the Short Sword attack is at advantage, with sneak attack damage. This means sacrificing the use of the Cunning action to dash, disengage, or hide, but the option was there if he wanted to take it.

Please note that you need to take a feat to get Two-Weapon-Fighting benefits with non-light weapons, so our Muscle Rogue will need to use a Short Sword if he wants to take advantage of this kind of bonus action. Maybe he’ll opt for a Brace of Rapiers fighting style later in his career.

This still leaves initiative and armor class as possible problems. Initiative can be helped through the Alert feat, among other things, grants a +5 bonus here. This would come at the cost of an improvement to attributes, which may or may not be worth it. If the Muscle Rogue opts for the Assassin archetype, he will benefit greatly from winning initiative, so that should be taken into consideration. Regarding armor class, Dexterity is normally a big factor in a Rogue’s ability to withstand rough treatment. Having Studded Leather armor and a high Dexterity can pump your armor class to 17. If the Muscle Rogue only has a 14 Dexterity, that’s going to be limited to armor class 14. That isn’t going to feel very safe when a Bugbear is breathing down your neck. The solution? Be a Mountain Dwarf. In addition to a +2 racial modifier for both Constitution and (hey!) Strength, Mountain Dwarves get proficiency in medium armor. He buys himself a Chain Shirt at character creation for a 13 base armor class, then saves up for a Breastplate or Half-Plate to bump that up to 14 or 15 later on. Half-Plate gives him disadvantage on stealth checks, but being sneaky isn’t really the Muscle Rogue’s thing.

With a standard attribute array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 as suggested in the Player’s Handbook, a Mountain Dwarf Muscle Rogue can start with a 17 Strength, 14 Dexterity, 15 Constitution, 12 Wisdom, 10 Intelligence, and 8 Charisma. Switch the Intelligence and Charisma to taste, but keep the Wisdom for perception and saving throws. At 4th level he can bump up to 19 Strength. At 8th level he can bump up to 20 Strength and 16 Constitution. He may want to delay either of these ability boosts to pick up Alertness earlier. It’s okay, he’ll have another chance at 10th level to top things off.

At 11th level, using a Breastplate to avoid disadvantage on Sneak checks, he Muscle Rogue attacks once at +9 with his Short Sword for 1d8+5 damage, plus 6d6 sneak attack damage. With Two-Weapon Fighting he may also attack at +9 with his Dagger for 1d4 damage or attempt an Athletics-based maneuver at +13 as a bonus action. With the Alert feat, he has a +7 on initiative checks, and during the first round of combat he automatically has advantage against opponents that haven’t acted yet. This means he may want to use his Cunning Action to dash into the fray, moving 50 feet to close the gap instead of his normal 25 feet of movement. If the target is surprised, the attack is automatically treated as a critical if it hits. The Muscle Dwarf at 11th level does 2d8+12d6+5 damage on a critical sneak attack with a Rapier, 14d6+5 with a Short Sword. To increase the odds of winning that precious automatic critical hit and the oodles of accompanying dage, the Muscle Dwarf has Expertise and Reliable talent in effect, granting a +10 to sneak checks with a minimum effective roll of 21.

Muscle Rogue
Mountain Dwarf Rogue 11 (Assassin Archetype), Soldier Background
Lawful Stabby
Worships Pelor the Burning Hate

Attribute Value Bonus Save
Str 20 +5 +5
Dex 14 +2 +6
Con 16 +3 +3
Int 10 +0 +4
Wis 12 +1 +1
Cha 8 -1 -1

Skills: *Athletics(13), Intimidation(3), Insight(4), *Investigation(8), *Perception(9), *Stealth(10)
Tools: Brewer’s Supplies, Disguise Kit, Knucklebones, Land Vehicle (Cart), Poisoner’s Kit, Thieves’ Tools
Languages: Common, Dwarven
Hit Points: 91
Armor Class: 16 (breastplate plus Dexterity)
Initiative: +7
Weapons: Rapier (+9 to attack, 1d8+5 damage), Short Sword (+9 to attack, 1d6+5 damage), Dagger (+9 to attack, 1d4 damage as second attack), Javelins (+9 to attack, 1d6+5 damage, range 30′/60′)
Sneak Attack: 6d6 damage
Other notable features: Darkvision 60′, Dwarven Resilience, Stonecutting, Cunning Action, Uncanny Dodge, Evasion, Reliable Talent, Assassination, Infiltration Expertise, Magnificent Beard.

Please feel free to use in your own adventures, with or without attribution or even remembering where you got the idea. Games are made to be played.

The Three Traditions

August 13th, 2014


For use in a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons setting in which there are no Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, or Wizards. The Warlock and Paladin classes are left to fill roles normally taken by these missing character classes, with the Paladins serving not Gods in the traditional sense but the same strange patrons the Warlocks bind themselves: the Archfiends (Amon, Baphomet, Baal, Paimon, and others), the Archfey (Aurora, Mab, Skuld, Titania, and others), and the Great Old Ones (for this purpose the intermediary servants of a single inscrutable cosmic entity).

In the Southern Realms there has been a longstanding tension between the nations of Man and the holdings of the Fey. Their strengths have waxed and waned, through war and peace, revolution and catastrophe. In recent ages, the cities, roads, and industries of Man have gained ground in fits and starts, largely through a tip in the balance between the Three Traditions.

The Archfey and the Archfiends have variously assisted, empowered, and protected the Warlock princes of each side, occasionally troubled by the One Who Is Many and His servants. Variously known as the Great Old One, He That Is, The One Faced By Seven, or simply The One True God, this inscrutable entity has rarely engendered a significant following. The odd hermit or madman here or there would claim to hear whispers from beyond the stars or receive wet, ominous dreams with strange portents, but the servants of the Archfiends in civilized lands would dismiss them out of hand. The green princes of the wilds ensured these odd teachings could not take root in their territory. There was balance of a sort.

Recently this has changed. A rash of charismatic Warlocks and Paladins have established popular cults, erecting temples and shrines deep in bustling cities, in frontier towns, and even in the wilds themselves. Each is dedicated to this unknowable entity to the exclusion of the regularly-excepted fiends and fey courts.

They preach that every mortal is stalked by invisible agents of the One, horrible guardian angels biding their time, observing, waiting to harvest them at the time of their inscrutable Lord’s choosing. They congregate for a ritual cannibalism, transmuting bread into the flesh of their martyred prophet and consuming it raw. They mutilate their infants to mark them as part of their contract. They proselytize vigorously, desperately, and sometimes forcibly. All in hopes of forestalling a coming doom. For none know the purposes of this terrible ancient power, but the cryptic warnings of His messengers have been increasingly specific, increasingly urgent.

The Princes and Emirs have inquired with their fiendish patrons, and found them mute. They offer no refutation of the Great Old One’s prophecy. Instead they are warned not to meddle with The One, his Choir, or his crawling Messengers. Their hands bound by arcane pacts, the mighty potentates must stand by and let this new cult thrive like weeds in their garden.

The Green Lords have looked deep into their pools and crystals and can divine no future guaranteed by the fey courts for all their power. They ask the trees of the origin of the One’s faith, but they do now know. They ask the stones and the stones cannot remember a time before the One. They ask the stars and the stars weep silently. Their silence on the subject, and the complicity of the princes of Man engenders fear and uncertainty among the laity. Even some of the Paladins bound by the Oath of the Ancients and champions under the Oath of Vengeance have turned from their paths, re-dedicating themselves in Oaths of Devotion to the One.

Stormclouds gather ever near. The angelic choirs ululate, wail, and chatter maddeningly. Is it this new faith in an ancient power that will save the world, or doom it?

Adventuring parties are strongly encouraged to have at least one Warlock and one Paladin tied to the same Warlock Patron. Characters devoted to the One Who Is Many are encouraged to subscribe to a number of strictures and taboos similar to Jewish Kosher Law or Muslim Halal. Fluff all interactions with the Great Old One Patron as a cross between the Abrahamic God and Cthulhu