So I have been talking about running a swashbuckler style character in D&D Next. I discussed the fighter a little in my last post (link), but I want to look at the different rogue builds and options next. As a class, they wouldn’t have access to the fighting styles the fighter gets, but you trade that for more skills and sneak attack damage. The starts with all of the traditional light blades (except maybe the scimitar), and with Dexterity as a primary statistic I can’t imagine building a rogue swashbuckler with anything except a rapier. As a finesse weapon not only can use Dexterity for attack and damage bonuses, but you can also use it for sneak attacks. This rule has changed considerably since I first starting playing.
Sneak attack has grown from the old backstab ability thieves used to have. Now it is seen more as the ability to “strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction.” (PHB p. 96) The damage increases every odd level and you must be wielding a finesse weapon or ranged weapon. You basically have two conditions that once met allow you to gain this bonus damage. The foe must be in a situation where you have combat advantage or they need to be within 5ft of a creature which is hostile to them. Fighting alone against an opponent you really need to create situations to give you advantage, but this is and always will be a game that is better played with your friends – having an ally engage the target grants you sneak attack every round.
Rogues also get twice as many skills as the other classes, so you won’t be as limited in your choice of background. Their expertise ability allows you to use your double your proficiency bonus when making skill checks with most of them. While they don’t have as many hit points as the fighter, they have gotten a bump from previous editions to be sitting on a d8 hit dice each level. I probably should have made a note last time when I was talking about the fighter that hit dice can be used between encounters to heal up. Old games of D&D were entirely reliant on divine magic to recover between fights. This new mechanic helps alleviate some of the necessity for every group to revolve around including a cleric in the party.
Back to the rogue though, they get some really cool things as the level. For attacks that cause half damage on a successful Dexterity saving throw, Evasion lets them avoid it entirely. Uncanny Dodge is an ability they get at fifth level that lets a rogue use their reaction to reduce the damage of any attack that hits by half. Talk about a crazy, parrying, dodging, acrobatic-style guy… I mean does it get better than that? You hit me, well that is fine, but I am only taking half the damage from that attack. Cunning Action is beautiful too. That is an ability you get at second level which lets you use a bonus action every round to Dash, Disengage, or Hide. A rogue will straight up outrun most people using this ability, but can also use it to get out of a situation they aren’t happy with. For 3rd edition players think of Disengage as Tumble for exiting combat. The archetypes for the rogue however are not perfect if you are thinking of running a swashbuckler. While both the Champion build and the Battle Master are focused on fighting, the rogue doesn’t have that as an option. You can choose between three different options in the Players Handbook, so let me go through each one individually with the ramifications of picking one.
The Thief is designed to be a cutpurse, a burglar, or a bandit. He can use his Cunning Action ability to use thieves’ tools to pick a lock or disable a trap or even use sleight of hand to pick pocket someone in combat. That is pretty neat, but not as critical for swashbuckler style of character unless you literally want to focus more on that style of character. He also gets Second-Story work though. It is perfect for our build. Your climb speed equals your regular speed and when you make a running jump you can add your Dexterity score to the number of feet you jump. You can imagine a pirate scurrying through the rigging or a nimble rake sprinting to make a heroic leap. At higher levels they can take the Sneak action while moving without reducing their speed, can use magical devices, and react quicker during the first round of any combat. Overall they aren’t bad for the build, but most of the benefits come from the class itself.
The Assassin follows a similar vein. It gains proficiency with a disguise kit and poisoner’s kit but once again that pigeonholes you into a certain style of character. The Assassinate ability is pure gold. You have advantage on attack rolls against creatures that haven’t acted yet, and any hit you score on a creature who is surprised is a critical hit. I don’t know how often this will actually come up in games, but since sneak attack damage is doubled on a critical hit that assassin can hit for at least four dice at first level. All they have to have is one surprise attack. They later getting benefits for impersonating someone, creating a false identity, and the Death Strike ability requires your opponent to make a Constitution check or take double the damage of your already impressive surprise attack. I would love to run an assassin again in D&D, but as an archetype it doesn’t really blend into the swashbuckler theme.
The final rogue is the Arcane Trickster. Much like the Eldritch Blade for the fighter this character blends in arcane spells. Instead of being limited to evocation and abjuration spells however, the Arcane Trickster can only choose wizard spells from the schools of enchantment and illusion. He automatically gains the Mage Hand cantrip (odd because it is a conjuration), but can use that for thieving type things instead of fighting type things. Wouldn’t it be cool if he could use it to wield his rapier? I love having spells as an option in combat. I really do. The trickster gives you a few ways to influence the battle you didn’t have before. You aren’t going to be lobbing fireballs like the Eldritch Knight, but influencing NPC’s and having some cool effects once and a while isn’t bad. Walk in to an encounter and pop a sleep spell. Brilliant!
All of the same feats work for the Rogue as well as they do for the Fighter. Next I’ll probably run through the best swashbuckler backgrounds, but I will sign off for today.