Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for March 19th, 2014. Today’s article is a Mythcleaver installment; the topic is the merits of the rogue core class in Pathfinder — Part II.
Welcome to Mythcleaver, the article series where I tackle the hot-topic discussions plaguing the Pathfinder community. Well folks, this is it: part II of my dissection of the rogue class. Last week we compared the damage-dealing potential of a rogue, fighter, and paladin using similar fighting styles and found that the rogue was painfully behind her colleagues. Today we’re going to be looking at combat utility and non-combative utility as well as discuss ways the rogue class can be improved without an entire overhaul of the class.
In the Mythcleaving: On the Topic of Rogues, we compared a rogue to the fighter and paladin. In order to keep things fair, all three characters used a similar fighting style with a similar weapon. I assumed the same basic stats for all three characters and assumed no magic items. We learned that while the rogue has the highest Damage Per Attack (DPA; damage dealt to an opponent if she hits her mark), she has the lowest overall Damage Per Round (DPR; average damage dealt to an opponent with a full-attack action) because a rogue has a low attack bonus and no inherent ways to improve it. We used the AC benchmarks found in the Pathfinder Bestiary for each snapshot of the classes; AC 20 for 7th Level, AC 29 for 17th level, and AC 36 for 20th level. If you need a refresher, I highly recommend grabbing the Excel workbook I posted in the previous article as well as the DPA/DPR chart.
What is Utility?
Whenever I hear folks defending the rogue class, it’s usually on the grounds of utility. Well, what is utility? Put simply, utility is anything that your character can do that isn’t specifically a combat ability. It’s usually in the utility ballpark that arcane and divine spellcasters really start to shine because magic can do things that rogues, fighters, and similar characters simply cannot. A rogue cannot grant himself a fly speed of 30 feet per round and a fighter cannot create a wall of stone where there was previously nothing. But its not fair to judge the rogue on the standards of the wizard or cleric; just as we did last week, we’re going to compare the rogue’s utility to that of the fighter and paladin. Just like last week, we’re going to assume the same builds; refer to the builds that I posted in last week’s Mythcleaving article, because those are the exact builds I am going to be referring to.
Early Levels (1-7)
- Rogue Utility: Skill Points (56 + 7x), Trapfinding (+3)
- Fighter Utility: Skill Points (14 + 7x)
- Paladin Utility: Aura of Courage, Detect Evil (at will), Lay on Hands (3 + Cha), Mercy (one), Skill Points (14 + 7x), Spells (one 1st, zero 2nd, plus Cha)
Alright, so we can see that the rogue easily outstrips the fighter in its utility. The fighter has one-fourth of the rogue’s skill points and the rogue holds trapfinding over the fighter’s head. But man, that paladin’s got a lot over the rogue. Immunity to fear, the ability to detect evil at will, limited healing ability, and a minimum of two (likely four) spells. I don’t think quadruple skill ranks is worth all of that stuff at this stage in the game, personally, and I adore having skill points. Remember that despite this, the rogue is actually behind the paladin in damage against the target of the paladin’s smite.
Mid Levels (8-14)
- Rogue Utility: Skill Points (112 + 14x), Rogue Talent (any one), Trapfinding (+7)
- Fighter Utility: Skill Points (28 + 14x)
- Paladin Utility: Aura of Courage, Aura of Resolve, Detect Evil (at will), Lay on Hands (7 + Cha), Mercy (four), Skill Points (28 + 14x), Spells (three 1st, two 2nd, one 3rd, one 4th, plus Cha)
So the fighter’s utility is basically not worth talking about in this discussion and the paladin doesn’t gain much either. A few more mercies, a few more spells, and aura of resolve basically rounds up the paladin. But the rogue? One rogue talent that we didn’t spend and 112 skill points? Holy cow, that’s an insane number. That said, many of the best skills all but require a continued investment in order to continue to be relevant. For example, you will constantly encounter more enemies with astronomically high Stealth skills, so you’ll need more Perception to counter them. CMD continues to rise, so you won’t be able to tumble effectively if you don’t continue to invest in Acrobatics. Rather than be rewarded for having a large toolkit of skills, the game expects you to focus on a handful of them which is why the bard’s versatile performance ability is considered to be as good as it is; it allows you to stretch the effectiveness of a skill rank to three skills, so to speak. This isn’t to say that having 112 skill ranks is a bad deal, its just that the rogue doesn’t cover the jack-of-all-trades niche very well.
- Rogue Utility: Skill Points (160 + 20), Rogue Talent (any two), Trapfinding (+10)
- Fighter Utility: Skill Points (40 + 20)
- Paladin Utility: Aura of Courage, Aura of Resolve, Detect Evil (at will), Lay on Hands (10 + Cha), Mercy (six), Skill Points (40 + 14x), Spells (four 1st, four 2nd, three 3rd, three 4th, plus Cha)
I think we’ve seen enough here, personally.
Well, no one can deny that the rogue blows everyone out of the water in terms of skill points, and when we’re comparing the rogue to the paladin and fighter, it makes a pretty big difference. Furthermore, my build from last week had a number f combat talents that weren’t truly essential to the build (offensive defensive, opportunist, and redirect attack). You could effectively have as many as five free talents, possibly more, to do what you wanted with. But is that more flexibility than the paladin, who will have a slew of spells and a number of mercies to play with? Well, I guess that depends on your opinion and what abilities you compare. There are some strong rogue talents and there are some effective paladin spells. Its all perspective, but numerically we can see that the paladin gets its utility spread into many different buckets while the rogue pours almost all of its utility into one bucket. Personally, I think the rogue does okay with its utility. Using its high skill ranks, the rogue can do things that paladins or fighters might find simply impossible without the support of an arcane spellcaster, which is pretty cool in its own right.
Why the Sentiment?
So the rogue lags behind the paladin and fighter in damage potential but holds its own well out of combat so long as skill points is the utility that you’re after. We’ve seen that the rogue has the highest damage potential out of our three classes, but is hindered by its unimpressive attack bonus. We’ve seen that the rogue’s primary utility is having a literal mountain of skill ranks and it has four times as many skill ranks as the fighter or paladin. It may lack the diversity of the paladin but what the rogue does, it does well so why the anti-rogue sentiment? Well, I have some theories on that, so sink your teeth into them.
- Combat Centric: This isn’t the first time I’ve said that the heart of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is combat and it likely won’t be the last. The simple truth is that a class without a strong combat niche of some kind isn’t going to be popular with many players. And let’s face it, throwing tons of dice, dealing tons of damage, and skilling the bad guys is a type of satisfying fun that a simple, “The lock pops under your peerless skill” cannot match.
- Rogue or Go Home: In order to make the rogue class viable, many aspects of 3.5 were designed with the idea that you needed to be a rogue in order to accomplish your goal. The most infamous example of this is the trapfinding ability, which forced parties to bring at least one rogue adventuring with them in case traps were afoot. This is certainly an unattractive design element; likely one that most players resent. But on the flip-side, as Paizo has opened up the trapfinding mechanic to other classes, more and more players have called out the rogue as being “obsolete,” which must be frustrating for Pathfinder’s designers.
- Nerfed Advantage: This might seem hard to believe, but the rogue’s monopoly over the skill system was actually heavily reduced going into Pathfinder. Instead of gaining a flat +3 bonus you had to pay a skill point tax to put ranks into skills that were not your class skills. For example, fighters did not have Knowledge (arcana) as a class skill, so if a fighter wanted to purchase a rank in Knowledge (arcana) he had to spent two skill points to get that one rank; effectively all of his skill points for that level went into that one “cross class” skill rank. In addition to having more skill points than any other class, rogues also had more class skills than any other class, meaning that they could make their skill ranks do more than any other class in the game. As you are likely aware, this system was simplified for the better in Pathfinder, but it did unexpectedly result in the removable of one of the rogue’s biggest advantages over the other core classes.
- Lack of Identity: To me, this is the most significant problem that the rogue faces and it’s seldom the one that is mentioned by opponents of the rogue class. But think about it: how many classes grant evasion? The gunslinger, monk, ranger, and a 25,000 gp ring. How many classes gain trap sense? The barbarian and archaeologist bard. How about trapfinding? The cryptbreaker and trapbreaker alchemists, the detective, sandman, and archaeologist bards, the seeker oracle, the seeker sorcerer, the trapper and urban rangers, and the aspis agent, brother of the seal, and pathfinder field agent prestige classes. Uncanny Dodge and Improved Uncanny Dodge? The barbarian, the gunslinger, and the assassin and shadow dancer prestige classes. How about the rogue’s signature ability, sneak attack? The vivisectionist alchemist, the sandman bard, the greensting slayer magus, the Crocodile Domain, and more prestige classes then I care to list here. On this list, the vivisectionist is the worst offender because it progresses what should be the rogue’s signature class feature at the same rate as the rogue class! At least it has rogue talents to fall back on, right? Well, the archaeologist bard can pick rogue talents, as can the white-haired witch and the shadowdancer and sleepless detective prestige classes. No matter where you look, someone has their fingers in the rogue’s class features.
Solving the Problem
Before I offer my thoughts on this subject, I want to mention that I like the rogue class. It’s one of my favorites, personally, because I value a bucket and a half of skill points. That said, I find the rogue’s lack of identity to be a major problem and I concede that the rogue needs some unique tricks to make it truly unique in combat. How can this be accomplished? New rogue talents.
Yes, I understand that other classes can choose them, but that doesn’t mean that the rogue class shouldn’t get new abilities. For one, all rogue talents should be roughly as strong as a feat, considering a large number of talents give you bonus feats of one kind or another. Second, rogue talents need to start rewarding a rogue for taking ranks in a skill. For example, why is it that I can dip two levels in bard and pick up versatile performance no problem, but I’m forced to take ten levels in rogue for the ability to use Sleight of Hand for my disarm combat maneuver checks? Personally, I think that lowering weapon snatcher to a standard talent is a good start, but the rogue should be the class that uses skills in combat in new and exciting ways. The fact that nothing like versatile performance has been made for rogues is criminal. I also find it odd that no rogue talents exist to make sneak attacking easier, even if its just making Improved Feint a rogue talent.
One thing I’ve noticed looking through the list of current rogue talents is that the class has talents that give it a LOT of class features from other classes. Favored Terrain and Hide in Plain Sight from Rangers, Ki Pool from Monks, and a familiar from wizards are the big three that come to mind. Considering that the rogue class already shares all of its class features with other classes, maybe its time to pay it forward? There are a number of abilities found on other classes that would make perfect sense on the rogue; imagine if the rogue could pick up solo tactics (inquisitor) as a rogue talent? Or jack-of-all-trades? Versatile performance? (Regardless of what anyone says, bards are NOT the only skill-based class that should be able to apply performance training to other skills.) Expert Trainer? (Which would make for an interesting interaction with the Horse Master feat.) Maybe we should stop and redefine the rogue class from “skill monkey” to “jack-of-all-trades class?” The class you pick to gain a bunch of cool-but-not-signature abilities from different classes all in one.
If I could redesign the rogue class from the ground up, I would personally give them a rogue talent at every level instead of every even level, but that isn’t my call so I’ll just keep offering solutions that fit into the class’s current paradigm. One of the product ideas that has been bouncing around in my head is a huge product of rogue talents that does nothing more than make the rogue’s skill choice more relevant to combat, but who knows if the interest exists for a product like that. Until then, I recommend that you check out the Genius Guide to the Talented Rogue if you’re looking for a spectacular rogue rebuild; Owen K.C. Stephens really outdid himself with that product!
And after two long weeks, that about wraps up my thoughts on the viability of Rogues for this installment of Mythcleaving. After reading all of this, what do you think? Are skill points an acceptable form of utility? Has the rogue suffered too much from 3.5 or did it get more than it lost? Should the rogue be the “Jack-of-All-Trades” class? How do you define what it means to be a rogue? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you next week with a new topic to discuss at 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 talented rogue, and his favorite pastime is epic rap battles with Owen K.C. Stephens. If only Owen would answer Alex’s phone calls!