Oh, Rogues Pt. I

Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for March 12th, 2014. Today’s article is a Mythcleaving installment; the topic is the merits of the rogue core class in Pathfinder.

 Welcome to Mythcleaving, the article series where I tackle the hot-topic discussions plaguing the Pathfinder community. I have a feeling a number of people were waiting to see my thoughts on this article. The discussion on the usefulness of the rogue class are about as old as 3.5 Edition itself, after all.

History

Anyone who played a rogue back in 3.5 Edition is likely to be very pleased with how this class ended up turning out in Pathfinder. Back in the day, the rogue didn’t receive rogue talents so your class features were trapfinding at 1st level, evasion at 2nd, trap sense at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, uncanny dodge at 4th level, improved uncanny dodge at 8th level, and improved evasion at 12th level. Plus sneak attack damage dice at every odd level. When I can sum your class up in two sentences, there’s a problem.

As you likely know, Pathfinder took some major steps into making the rogue a more diverse class with the addition of rogue talents and the broadening of sneak attack damage. Back in 3.5 Edition, all types of undead and constructs were flat-out immune to sneak attack damage despite how iconic the “head shot” is to zombie culture. In Pathfinder, only a very small number of creatures are immune to sneak attack damage: elementals, oozes, and outsiders with the protean subtype.

A Question of Damage

So, why do people hate on the rogue class? Some players seem to disrespect the rogue because of its damage output. Let’s compare a typical rogue to a typical fighter and paladin at various stages of the game. We’ll look at these three different stages of the game: early (7th level), mid (14th level), and end game (20th level).

Notes:

  • I assume all characters take roughly the same builds (Power Attacking great sword) with feats appropriate for the character when no other DPR options exist. This is obviously not how I would build my characters personally, but for the sake of this comparison this needs to be done.
  • I assume all combatants are flanking. I assume the rogue can sneak attack and the paladin can smite.
  • I assume an ability score modifier of +4 at early game, +5 at mid-game, and a +7 at late game. Are those realistic numbers? Maybe, but its something to work with.
  • I assume no archetypes, magic items or spell effects.
  • I’ll be comparing both the Theoretical Damage and Practical Damage of these three classes. Make sure to read last week’s Gibbering Mouth article for a refresher on how I calculate Theoretical Damage and Practical Damage.
  • Average ACs: Early (AC 20), Mid (AC 29), Late (AC 36)

 Using this method, we can better assign a value to having a high attack modifier instead of assuming that all attacks automatically hit. In any case, here we go!

Early Levels (1–7)

First up to bat is the rogue class.

  • Classes: Rogue 7
  • Feats: Martial Weapon Proficiency (1st), Power Attack (bonus feat), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Focus: greatsword (bonus feat), Dazzling Display (5th), Combat Expertise (7th)
  • Abilities: evasion, rogue talents (bleeding attack, combat trick, weapon training), sneak attack +4d6, trap sense +2, trapfinding, uncanny dodge
  • Weapon: Greatsword (2d6; 19-20/x2); average damage is 7
  • Attack Bonus: +5 BAB + 4 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 2 (flanking) = +12
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 6 (Power Attack) + 6 (Strength) + 14 (sneak attack) + 4 (bleeding attack) = 37 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 26.5 DPR

 After the rogue is the fighter. The fighter is king of numeric bonuses; he’s much less random than the rogue is.

  • Classes: Fighter 7
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Weapon Focus: greatsword (bonus feat), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Specialization: great sword (bonus feat), Cleave (5th), Great Cleave (bonus feat), Combat Expertise (7th)
  • Abilities: armor training, bravery +2, weapon training +1
  • Weapon: Greatsword (2d6; 19-20/x2); average damage is 7
  • Attack Bonus: +7 (BAB) + 4 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) +1 (weapon training) + 2 (flanking) ­– 2 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +15/+8
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 6 (Power Attack) + 6 (Strength) + 2 (Weapon Specialization) +1 (weapon training) = 22 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 30.03

 Finally, the paladin’s DPR.

  • Classes: Paladin 7
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Weapon Focus: greatsword (3rd), Furious Focus (5th), Greater Mercy (7th)
  • Abilities: aura of courage, aura of good, channel positive energy (4d6), detect evil, divine bond, divine grace, divine health, lay on hands (3d6), mercy (one), smite evil (2/day)
  • Attack Bonus: +7 (BAB) + 4 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 3 (smite evil) + 2 (flanking) +1 (divine bond) – 2 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +18/+11
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 6 (Power Attack) + 6 (Strength) + 7 (smite evil) +1 (divine bond) = 27 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 45.63

 So right from the start we can see that the rogue is lagging behind the paladin and the fighter. The paladin lag isn’t surprising because these numbers assume that the paladin is using his most powerful damage-dealing ability, smite evi, which only has two daily uses at this point in the game. The fighter, on the other hand, is only an average of 4 points away from the rogue, and the rogue is much more random than the fighter. It is important to remember that a rogue’s sneak attack damage can be anywhere from 1 point per die to 6 points per day, so settling on a median of 3.5 does tend to sideline the rogue’s greatest strength damage-wise. Still, on average the rogue is in dead last in terms of the damage she contributes to the party.

Mid-Levels (8–14)

Let’s take a look at how the rogue evolved from the early game first.

  • Classes: Rogue 14
  • Feats: Martial Weapon Proficiency (1st), Power Attack (bonus feat), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Focus: greatsword (bonus feat), Dazzling Display (5th), Combat Expertise (7th), Shatter Defenses (9th), Improved Critical (11th), Critical Focus (13th)
  • Abilities: evasion, improved uncanny dodge, rogue talents (bleeding attack, combat trick, offensive defensive, opportunist, powerful sneak, weapon training), sneak attack +7d6, trap sense +2, trapfinding, uncanny dodge
  • Weapon: Greatsword (2d6; 19-20/x2); average damage is 7
  • Attack Bonus: +10 BAB + 5 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 2 (flanking) – 3 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +17/+10
  • Theoretical Attack (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 9 (Power Attack) + 7 (Strength) + 23.5 (sneak attack) +7 bleeding attack = 53.5 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 34.29 DPR

 Next up, let’s see how our friend the fighter is doing.

  • Classes: Fighter 14
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Weapon Focus: greatsword (bonus feat), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Specialization: great sword (bonus feat), Cleave (5th), Great Cleave (bonus feat), Combat Expertise (7th), Greater Weapon Focus (8th), Cleaving Finish (9th), Improved Critical (bonus feat), Critical Focus (11th), Greater Weapon Specialization (bonus), Bleeding Critical (13th), Improved Cleaving Finish (bonus feat)
  • Abilities: armor training, bravery +4, weapon training +3
  • Weapon: Greatsword (2d6; 19-20/x2); average damage is 7
  • Attack Bonus: +14 (BAB) + 5 (Str) + 2 (Greater Weapon Focus) + 3 (weapon training) + 2 (flanking) ­– 2 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +26/+19/+14
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 9 (Power Attack) + 7 (Strength) + 4 (GreaterWeapon Specialization) +3 (weapon training) = 30 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 64.65

 Finally, the paladin’s average damage.

  • Classes: Paladin 14
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Weapon Focus: greatsword (3rd), Furious Focus (5th), Greater Mercy (7th), Improved Critical (9th), Critical Focus (11th),  Bleeding Critical (13th)
  • Abilities: aura of courage, aura of faith, aura of good, aura of justice, aura of resolve, channel positive energy (7d6), detect evil, divine bond, divine grace, divine health, lay on hands (7d6), mercy (four), smite evil (5/day)
  • Attack Bonus: +14 (BAB) + 5 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 5 (smite evil) + 2 (flanking) + 4 (divine bond) – 3 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +31/+23/+18
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 9 (Power Attack) + 7 (Strength) + 14 (smite evil) + 4 (divine bond) = 41 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 117.69

 Whelp, I’m no longer sure if I’m proving that the rogue needs a helping hand or that the paladin is grossly overpowered: I’m not even assuming that the paladin is fighting an evil outsider, dragon, or an undead creature here! Yet we can plainly see a large disparity here: the fighter has nearly twice the damage potential of the rogue while the paladin has nearly twice the damage potential of the fighter. As earlier, the reason for this comes down to attack bonuses; not even additional attacks. This rogue is still a damage-dealing juggernaut. She even has some tricks to make opponents flat-footed on their own. However, the rogue simply has no way to make it easier for her to hit her opponents. The fighter is getting better thanks to weapon training and the paladin’s smite evil is doing the job for him for the purpose of this encounter, but rogues don’t have anything to help them out. I’m predicting that the endgame is a bloodbath for the rogue, but we’ll see in a moment.

End Game (15+)

I can hardly watch ….

  • Classes: Rogue 20
  • Feats: Martial Weapon Proficiency (1st), Power Attack (bonus feat), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Focus: greatsword (bonus feat), Dazzling Display (5th), Combat Expertise (7th), Shatter Defenses (9th), Improved Critical (11th), Critical Focus (13th), Bleeding Critical (15th), Sneaking Precision (17th), Deadly Stroke (19th)
  • Abilities: evasion, master strike, improved uncanny dodge, rogue talents (bleeding attack, combat trick, improved evasion, offensive defensive, opportunist, redirect attack, weapon training, any two additional talents), sneak attack +10d6, trap sense +6, trapfinding, uncanny dodge
  • Weapon: Greatsword (2d6; 19-20/x2); average damage is 7
  • Attack Bonus: +15 BAB + 6 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 2 (flanking) – 3 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +24/+16/+11
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 9 (Power Attack) + 9 (Strength) + 40 (sneak attack) +10 bleeding attack = 75 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 52.16 DPR

 Now for the fighter ….

  • Classes: Fighter 20
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Weapon Focus: greatsword (bonus feat), Furious Focus (3rd), Weapon Specialization: great sword (bonus feat), Cleave (5th), Great Cleave (bonus feat), Combat Expertise (7th), Greater Weapon Focus (8th), Cleaving Finish (9th), Improved Critical (bonus feat), Critical Focus (11th), Greater Weapon Specialization (bonus), Bleeding Critical (13th), Improved Cleaving Finish (bonus feat), Staggering Critical (15th), Critical Mastery (16th), Penetrating Strike (17th), Greater Penetrating Strike (18th), Stunning Assault (19th), Dazing Assault (20th)
  • Abilities: armor mastery, armor training, bravery +5, weapon mastery, weapon training +4
  • Weapon: Greatsword (2d6; 19-20/x2); average damage is 7
  • Attack Bonus: +20 (BAB) + 6 (Str) + 2 (Greater Weapon Focus) + 4 (weapon training) + 2 (flanking) ­– 5 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +34/+24/+19/+14
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 15 (Power Attack) + 9 (Strength) + 4 (GreaterWeapon Specialization) + 4 (weapon training) = 39 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 119.6

 And … the … paladin.

  • Classes: Paladin 20
  • Feats: Power Attack (1st), Weapon Focus: greatsword (3rd), Furious Focus (5th), Greater Mercy (7th), Improved Critical (9th), Critical Focus (11th),  Bleeding Critical (13th)
  • Abilities: aura of courage, aura of faith, aura of good, aura of justice, aura of resolve, aura of righteousness, channel positive energy (10d6), detect evil, divine bond, divine grace, divine health, holy champion, lay on hands (10d6), mercy (six), smite evil (6/day)
  • Attack Bonus: +20 (BAB) + 6 (Str) + 1 (Weapon Focus) + 6 (smite evil) + 2 (flanking) + 5 (divine bond) – 5 (Power Attack; ignored on first attack) = +40/+30/+25/+20
  • Theoretical Damage (per attack): 7 damage (greatsword) + 15 (Power Attack) + 9 (Strength) + 20 (smite evil) + 12 (divine bond w/ holy) = 63 damage
  • Practical Damage (full attack): 194.65

 Whelp, trends are trends for reasons, I guess. The paladin beats out the fighter in damage by roughly x1.5 but it absolutely destroys the rogue, doing almost x4 as much damage at 20th level. Ouch, Mr. Rogue. I officially feel your pain.

Where’s the Damage Problem?

I took all of the information I gathered and placed it into a Rogue DPR Workbook for Microsoft Excel. I also graphed all of the Theoretical and Practical Damage entries for reference, which can be viewed here.  I recommend it; the  workbook and chart have very interesting information. First, it is very clear that the paladin vastly outpaces the rogue and the fighter. Second, it is interesting to note that Rogue Theoretical Damage always outshines Rogue Practical Damage. Why?

 Simply put, the rogue has no way to boost its attack bonus. The fighter has weapon training and Greater Weapon Focus. The paladin has smite evil, allowing him to add his Charisma bonus to his attack rolls. The rogue doesn’t get anything that boosts his attack rolls in the slightest and it shows.

 I want to take a moment to reiterate why attack bonuses are so important to Practical Damage. This won’t surprise anyone in the World of Warcraft community, but bonuses to hit are the most profitable bonuses you can gain until they “hard cap,” that is, your hit bonus gets high enough that you hit your target. The reason is simple: when calculating Practical Damage, we look at 20 different results; what happens if the die turns up each possible result. Because there are twenty outcomes on a die (1:20, or 5%), a +1 bonus to hit effectively increases your chance to hit by increments of 5%; same when confirming critical hits. This is why the fighter’s data shows the opposite trend from the rogue; lower Theoretical Damage (sneak attack does a LOT more damage than anything the fighter’s got) but higher Practical Damage (the fighter has much better to-hit bonuses). And as we can see at End Game, the fighter gets a HUGE benefit from weapon mastery; auto-confirming critical hits and increasing the weapon’s critical damage multiplier by x1 is a very profitable benefit.

 But the rogue doesn’t have anything like this. As a matter of fact, the rogue has very few options that directly increase her combat effectiveness that aren’t feat-for-talents. The only notable exceptions are bleeding attack, which has a huge impact on your damage against targets vulnerable to bleed damage, and deadly sneak, which requires 10th level and a rogue talent tax.

To Be Continued!

But we’re not done yet, folks! I’ve managed to prove that the optimizers are 100% right; the rogue is extremely weak in terms of its average damage. But next week at the Gibbering Mouth, it’ll be time to send the ball to the rogue defenders’ court. We’ll look at the rogue’s combat utility, the rogue’s out-of-combat utility, make a final verdict, and talk about any solutions that can be made to improve the rogue class overall. Until then, thanks for reading this installment of the Gibbering Mouth!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune expert, and his favorite pastime is figuring out complex mathematical equations while locked in the basement of a boogeyman named Cosmo. No, really, it’s my absolute favorite pastime. For serio—… hey! Hey you! With the phone! Please, you gotta help me! I’m stuck in this boogeyman’s basement and I need you to call the police! Please help m—

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Oh, Rogues Pt. I

  1. I wonder if anyone who reads this is going to think, “Why is a rogue using strength and a greatsword!?!?” Not realizing rogues function, DPR wise, best using strength and a greatsword (just like nearly everyone else does).

    I don’t think anyone will argue that Rogues don’t have a strong out-of-combat utility, but that they don’t bring much to the table that several other classes can’t bring, while also having better in-combat utility. Bards, Rangers, Alchemists, Ninjas, even Monks can all be a Rogue while not ‘sucking’ in combat as much as Rogues do. But, like the Monk class, Rogues *can* be good in combat, it just requires a Phd in System Mastery to do so. Especially if he doesn’t want to have to rely on a team mate for flanking.

    • Its funny that you mention the Greatsword: I originally did the comparison with the rogue TWF with kukris and believe it or not, but the rogue’s DPR was even WORSE! Taking a –2 to Hit hurts the rogue a LOT, especially because they don’t have a full BAB or ways to overcome the To Hit penalty (like a fighter’s weapon training).

      We look at the rogue’s utility next week, but I’ll admit that we’re still only comparing the rogue to the fighter and paladin: there’s no reason to throw bard or alchemist into the mix when we didn’t look at the DPR of those classes this week.

      • True, Rogue’s are worse using TWF with Kukris, though if they can get themselves some Agile Kukris they can be pretty good. For the most part, I think Rogues are kind of shoe-horned into some very specific builds as they just struggle to operate using anything else. The most effective Rogues I’ve ever seen were either 2-handing a weapon and using strength, TWF with agile weapons (like short swords) or using Sap Adpet/Sap Master with some method of making the opponent flat-footed (like the Scout archetype or a seven-branched sword).

  2. Great article as always, just a heads up though your graph’s formatting is all out of whack when view on google docs but is fine when actually downloaded. Figured i would let you know.

  3. …?

    Of all of the things you could choose to discuss, investigate, or review in the Pathfinder system, and you went back to this chestnut? There are enormous threads and even fora dedicated to the (tedious) art of maximizing DPR on a class-by-class basis. And based on the previous posts about action economy, who cares? The party usually outswings foes, so why all the intense scrutiny?

    *shrug* It’s your wordcount, your time.

  4. Excellent article as usual. Mechanically the rogue does seem to lag behind quite a lot in terms of what it can offer to a party that another class can’t. And holy crap (literally)! I always thought paladins were ahead of the power curve when compared to fighters, but to this much of an extent…the fighter is another class that I would love if you could take a look at it. It’s hard for a fighter to shine as a martial when you have other options on the table such as paladins, barbarians, and even rangers. Combat maneuvers are really the only area that fighters can shine at due to their many feats. In my opinion, they really do need a buff along with the rogue.

    • I might do a fighter, but they end up a lot better off then you might think. Remember that we were VERY generous to the paladin in my guide: we assumed that he was fighting something smite-able all the time.

      On the flip side, I never once calculated his damage against an evil outsider, an evil dragon, or an undead …. But yeah, paladins are wicked-powerful against their favored foes.

      • I agree, there is a lot going in the Paladin’s favor here. Not only is he smiting, he’s also using Divine Bond, both limited use abilities, at the same time. If this comparison were to include something like DR, I would be skewed even further in the Paladin’s favor as none of his attacks would be subject to DR (due to smite) while all of the Rogue and Fighters attacks would.

        To rub some salt in the wound, a Rogue is only marginally better than that of an NPC warrior class, and that’s only if the Rogue gets his sneak attack off. If the Rogue isn’t getting SA, the NPC warrior is a better combatant than the Rogue.

  5. I look forward to comparing the rogue to other 3/4 BAB classes. I don’t expect him/her to shine as much in combat versus a fighter, paladin, or barbarian. They’re different…genres, is one way of putting it.

    I think when most want a high-DPR rogue, they’re thinking more swashbuckler or lightly armored fighter.

    Rogue has an identity problem. It’s a single class that tries to fill too many concepts and ends up making fewer people happy because of it.

  6. Play-style definitely has something to do with it. I’m not going to argue with the math, is true, but if i wanted a d20 system where everyone on the team could more or less do everything, is play 4th ed, but i don’t. I have a pathfinder rogue, and i have a job on my team and i do it. We don’t allow ninjas so that leaves the urban ranger and sandman for traps. If a cut a pizza into 4 different sized pieces, some folks may get a bigger one, some a smaller one, but it takes a 4 pieces to make a whole pizza. But i get that some folks aren’t happy with that, they want 4 equal-sized pieces. Play-style.

    • In my opinion, its less about being equal and its more about feeling important. Pathfinder is a game that places a lot of emphasis on specializing at something, and the rogue is not a damage-dealing specialist (her low To-Hit rating makes this unlikely at best), she is not a skill specialist (the bard beats her out on this), and she is not a utility specialist (again, bard beats her).

      Another part of the problem is that her flavor (the assassin/sneaky guy/lone ranger) doesn’t make her class mechanics (sneak attack, an ability that is easiest to use when you’re part of a team). The rogue also doesn’t get any methods by which she can more easily sneak attack foes; the barbarian’s rage improves with level, as does Favored Enemy. Sneak attack just gets bigger, but not better.

      These issues could be easily solved with new talents and feats, but haven’t been. Yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s