Never Tell Me the Odds: A Pathfinder Guide to the Rogue
Gentlemen, assassins, ladies of the night,
I come to you this evening
In the hope of shedding light…
“Drip Fed Fred” The Madness ft. Ian Dury
Why are there so many words here: an Introduction to the Guide
If you’re reading this, it’s presumably either because you’re considering playing a rogue, you want to laugh at people considering playing a rogue, or you have a distressing amount of free time. All three are valid. Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. The rogue is currently the most maligned class in Pathfinder, and not without reason. First, consider the chassis of the class. Sneak Attack virtually demands entering melee, but medium BAB, and poor Fort and Will saves, Light Armor proficiency and talents for Finesse fighting and positioning further indicate the rogue is primarily designed as a mobile skirmisher and flanker. So basically, it’s your job in combat to run up to an unaware enemy, protected only by light armor, middling HP, and pure swagger, and shiv them until they notice you.
The second problem, even more worrying than the fact that rogues fight like a one-man Charge of the Light Brigade, is that the role rogues once held out of combat is becoming redundant. In 3.5, where skills like Hide, Move Silently, Open Lock, Disable Device, Balance, Tumble, Search, and Spot all existed, a highly skilled character was all but necessary in most parties. These skill consolidations and changes in the way class skills work, mean it’s no longer as onerous for other classes to pick up some roguish skills. I think that’s great. It means that every party won’t have one person who’s browbeaten into playing a rogue just so the group can fill that role. So while you’re still the master of skills, the monopoly has been broken. Then there are archetypes like Archaeologist, Seeker Sorcerer, Vivisectionist, and Trapper Ranger, which were able to pick up some of the rogue’s most iconic abilities, like Sneak Attack, Rogue Talents, and Trapfinding, while still having some of their own tricks. That’s less fine.
The developers’ decision to mutilate the rogue and distribute the bloody remains between several other classes means that rogues currently suffer from an identity crisis. Further compounding the problem is that while everyone else got all these fun toys, the rogue really just didn’t. Most talents are useless, and while rogues have a lot of archetypes, most are absolutely terrible. The few good archetypes (Thug, Rake, Scout) are so good that, for optimization purposes, they should be taken almost every time, regardless of theme or build. So, at the time of writing this, here’s the state of play: Rogues are medium BAB skirmishers with two bad saves, situational damage potential, and an increasingly superfluous position as the team trap spotter.
The goal of this guide is to find a viable, useful, and unique niche for the rogue given the constraints listed above. Mechanically it can be done, and without even sacrificing the clever, agile, underhanded fighter vibe that makes the class so alluring. However, Pathfinder rogues have a unique and idiosyncratic fighting style, which ends to demand more strategy and planning from their players than most other classes. I’ve tried to err on the side of over-explaining how individual choices contribute to the rogue’s combat options (since this is a guide, after all) so hopefully this guide is informative enough to make up for my stream of consciousness ramblings. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
I’ll be using what, at this point, appears to be the default ranking system of the forums
Red: NPCs will laugh at you for taking this.
Yellow: Situational. Not great, but largely viable.
Green: Good. It’s a nice respectable choice that will serve you well.
Blue: Amazing. One of the best options and something you should get whenever possible.
Ability scores are the most basic building blocks of a character, so this seems as good a place to start a guide as any. Dexterity is your most important ability score, and you probably won’t want to start with anything below a 17, when possible. You’ll need 13 Intelligence. Constitution and Wisdom govern your weakest saves, so those are good to have. If you have to choose, I’d prioritize Con over Wis, since it also determines your hit points. Charisma governs your Bluff and Intimidate checks in combat, so I wouldn’t dump it, but you likely can’t afford to raise it either. Strength is the least important score for finesse rogues. I wouldn’t dump it though, even if you’re planning on investing in an agile weapon later. 10 Str allows an adequate carrying capacity, and rogues really don’t want to be encumbered since they can’t make acrobatics checks to avoid Attacks of Opportunity then.
Here’s a decent, but wildly general, 20 point rogue stat array before racial modifiers. Depending on your character concept, you may want to rearrange some points, (especially if you don’t get a racial Dex bonus) but as a whole, I think it’s a rather nice starting point. If you’re rolling for ability points, obviously the same general advice applies to you too.
Str 10, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 10
The good news is, there really isn’t a bad race for the rogue class. Anything that has a Dexterity bonus is automatically viable, and there are a lot of weird racial abilities that contribute unique strengths. The rogue class is pretty egalitarian like that.
Humans: As ever, humans remain the gold standard for Pathfinder, although in this case, only by a hair’s breadth. The +2 goes into Dex. The free feat is great, but the lack of special vision really hurts, since you can’t Sneak Attack what you can’t see. Skilled is great in its own right, but you’re going to want to start with 13-14 Int for Combat Expertise, so do you really need eleven skill points per level? Instead, trust your allies to be basically competent with Knowledge: Arcana and instead replace Skilled with Silver Tongue. It gives a +2 Bonus to all bluff or diplomacy checks (including feints) and makes you even more awesome at charming your way out of noncombat situations, you sly dog. Also worth considering is trading your bonus feat for Focused Study, which gives you not one, but three different Skill Focuses over your career. Maybe some game designer was cuckolded by a half-elf and is exacting the pettiest vengeance possible? Who knows? Whatever the reason, humans are, as ever, solid choices, and particularly shine in games that will reach high levels.
Gnomes: Gnomes often go overlooked, partially because they have a reputation of being annoying little twits, and partially because Halflings seem to have the rogue market cornered. Blame Tolkien, I guess. Surprisingly, Gnomes have a lot going on for them. Small size means a better chance to hit and better AC, things every rogue desperately needs. They have a size bonus to stealth, a reasonable ability spread, and even the alternate racial traits seem designed for maximum roguish potential: Explorer, Knack with Poison, etc. One of the best ACFs is Master Tinker, which gives a tiny boost to your Disable Device checks and makes you proficient with any weapon you personally build. If you want a gnome with a swordbreaker dagger, scorpion whip, kukris and a bola, that dream is only a few craft checks away. With the Masterwork Transformation spell, you’re pretty much set for obscure weaponry. However, the racial trait that earns the Gnome a blue rating is Fell Magic. I can’t overstress this enough, short of breaking into your home while you sleep and tattooing this on your household pets (a hobby the state very much looks down on, as it turns out). The 1/ day Chill Touch allows you to make melee sneak attacks against touch AC and has the bonus of lasting one use per level, which should see you through most scrapes. Also, your attacks have a passable chance of strength-draining low fort enemies, since it does scale with your character level and Charisma. It’s only once a day, which would be a problem if there wasn’t a kickass new first level spell called Recharge Innate Magic. Buy a wand. There’s no Dex bonus, but since you can target touch AC, it’s hard to care too much. Constitution and Charisma bonuses make you a hardy fighter and smooth talker. So whether you’re playing a good gnome gone bad, a travelling junk peddler, or a just a spectacularly unqualified wizard, talk quickly, duck often, and leave them scratching their heads as you pick their pockets and run.
Dwarves: While the versatility of humans makes them a perfect match for any class, and the Gnome’s Fell Magic racial feature allows for a potent and unique combat style, Dwarves don’t really have anything that specifically improves their capabilities as a rogue. That said, they do go a long way to shoring up one of the rogue’s largest weaknesses: dying horribly. Not having a bonus to Dexterity hurts, as does the slow speed on a medium race, but the bonuses to Constitution and Wisdom help shore up your two weakest saves and the Steel Soul feat is an excellent protection against enemy magic. Darkvision is, as always, amazing. You’ll never be the most effective party face, but don’t dump your Charisma below 8. You are playing a rogue after all, and a decent bluff and diplomacy check is part of your job description. (The actual job description is “Being versatile, prepared, and hyper-competent in all things.”) Even the gruffest rogue occasionally has to resort to actually talking to people.
Elf : First, the bad news. The constitution penalty sucks a lot. The good news is that everything else is awesome enough to make up for it. The bonus to dexterity is fantastic. Bonus Int is good for some builds and others can use the points to cancel out the Con penalty. Proficiency with the longbow and Elven Curve Blade functioning as a martial weapon for you are both definite pluses. The bonus against Enchantment effects helps shore up the ever-treacherous will save, and Envoy or Silent Hunter are both worthy replacements for the useless Elven Magic. Speaking of magic, Elves are the only race besides Gnomes that can utilize a Magic Touch build. They may be slightly better at it, but if it makes you feel better Keen Senses is way better for Elves than gnomes. See everything. Pretend you’re Legolas. Troll the party ranger.
Half-Elves: Implausible as it sounds, Half-Elf rogues are even more versatile than their human counterparts. The ability bonus will likely go straight to Dex. The free Skill Focus forms the cornerstone of the stealth build or it can be traded for proficiency in any one martial or exotic weapon. (Elven Curve Blades, Longbows, and Swordbreaker Daggers would all like to take the opportunity to say hello.) Keen Senses make you even more amazing at seeing things Low Light Vision is always a bonus, and Elven Immunities is almost a free Iron Will and definitely welcome here. One of the best things about half-elves though is trading Multi-Talented with the ability to pick an Arcane class, and activate items as if you had one level in that class. Choose ‘Wizard’ and this means no more UMD checks for their wands, and a +1 UMD bonus on their scrolls. Being human helps with the more feat-intensive build paths, but Half-Elves have a much broader base of abilities. They are probably the best choice for stealth focuses, and at least on par with humans for everything else.
Half-Orc: Sing along with me now. Darkvision, Ability bonus to be put in Dexterity, Intimidate bonus for Enforcer builds makes this, all things considered, a solid class. Consider trading Orc Ferocity for something that isn’t horrible though. If something has just brought you below zero HP which is more likely?
1) “Drat! That plucky rogue is somehow still alive and is now about to finish me off.”
2) “He’s still alive? Huh. I wonder if I’ll have time to show him his own spine before he loses consciousness.
Sacred Tattoo is probably the best option, and it’s a very good one that increases all of your saves. It’s also worth noting that Half-Orcs are the only race to gain access to the Skulking Slayer archetype, which offers some solid combat options and might appeal particularly to players who want their rogue to do a lot of sneak attack damage.
Halflings: The wheel of fortune turns for us all, it seems. It used to be that Halflings were a pretty solid choice for a rogue. It’s not that they’re bad now, per se. They do have a Dex bonus and a +1 bonus to all their saves, which is grand. The problem is, they are just horribly overshadowed by everyone else. Small size helps with the to-hit problem, but they move slowly, don’t have special vision, and most of their racial traits just make you slightly better with skills, a boost you frankly don’t need. Swift as Shadows makes a Halfling sniper a potential build though. A sniper won’t be as useful, but it would be safer. Sap Adept and a Merciful slingshot could provide a respectable and regular damage output, and like all rogues, you remain effortlessly awesome out of combat. I guess what I’m saying is, Halfling rogues are adequate for most builds, but I can’t help but feel they llack a certain je ne sais quoi.
Traits are a godsend for rogues, since they offer an opportunity to slightly shore up weaknesses or grab small, much needed, bonuses. Since I don’t hate myself enough to list all of them, I’ve included what I thought might be of specific interest to rogues and rated them accordingly.
Armor Expert: If you want to wear heavier armor, here’s how. This reduces all armor check penalties by one, which means you can wear a Mithral Breastplate without penalty or proficiency. This can be OK, but it won’t help at much until you can afford said breastplate, and anyways it’s only a single point of AC difference. At higher levels, you can use this to wear a set of Comfort Mithral Hellknight Plate Mail without any penalty, which is solid protection, but does precludes using acrobatics to avoid AoOs, lowers your base movement, and presents potential encumbrance issues.
Blade of the Society: Oh wow. It’s so hard trying to decide if I should improve my saves, initiative, skills, or get a single extra point of situational damage.
Crowd Dodger: It’s kind of a poor man’s Mobility, which makes it a valid pick. However, it’s not the rogue’s largest concern.
Reactionary: This trait, and many like it, all offer a +2 to initiative. Rogues can almost always use initiative. It’s worth considering.
Reincarnated: This gives a +2 trait bonus to Fortitude saving throws made against fear and death effects. While disease and poison are inescapable nuisances that accompany bad Fortitude saves, there’s something about death effects (the death part, probably) that make this trait particularly appealing. It’s also available in the magic traits as Inured to Death, though without the fear component.
Bruising Intellect: This feat allows you to use your Intelligence score for your intimidate checks instead of your Charisma. For any Thug or Rake archetypes considering combat expertise, but worried about stretching their point buy, this is a neat way to keep Charisma at 10. Plus, it’s practically a mandate to play a sarcastic bastard.
Clever Wordplay: This basically does the same thing as Bruising Intelligence, but lets you use Int with any one otherwise Charisma based skill, so high Int rogues with feint can get in on the fun.
Savant: This gives a straight +2 bonus on any one type of perform check the character makes. This is simply essential for Dashing Archer builds, because it boosts your performance combat checks. Archers should take this every single time, because if the social traits have taught us anything, it’s that rogues seem to get bonuses for quipping through combat.
Bred for War (Human): Humans get all the fun toys. This trait gives a +1 bonus to Intimidate and a +1 to your CMB, which you may recognize as everything a Thug with disarm needs. A universal boost to CMB helps offset your average BAB, and such things are incredibly rare. If you’re planning on playing on using maneuvers, be sure to remember this one.
Failed Apprentice (Half-Elf): This gives a +1 bonus to saves against any arcane spell. Arcane casters are far more likely to hurl dangerous spells with saving throws than their divine counterparts, and this shores up all of your defenses against them. Also, it stacks with Elven Immunities, and has cool RP potential. Two thumbs up.
Superstitious (Human): Does the same thing as Failed Apprentice, only this time for humans. It’s still a great way to shore up saves, but it’s slightly less useful, since humans don’t have the Elven Resistances trait bolstering them.
Warrior of Old (Elf): It’s the same +2 Initiative bonus as Reactionary, but slightly better since Elves don’t really have any better competing racial traits.
Glory of Old (Dwarf): I wasn’t going to abuse the much coveted purple rating, but this is truly deserving. Why this is listed under regional traits, I have no idea, but this single-handedly cements the dwarf as the best defensive rogue. It offers a +1 bonus to saves against all spells, spell-like abilities, and poison. Remember how much I liked Failed Apprentice? This is many orders of magnitude better. Between this and Steel Soul, you’re likely to have better saves than anyone who isn’t a monk.
River Rat: Gives +1 damage to all attacks with daggers and a minor bonus to swim. This would be great for a two-weapon Knife Master rogue. But we’re not building those because two-weapon fighting creates rogues whose mediocrity is only interrupted at the moment of their sudden grisly demise. Use your free traits to shore up your glaring weaknesses before worrying about DPS.
Before we get started, I want to quickly disabuse some notions. Skills are awesome, which is good because you get a lot of them. Every time you can talk your way out of a fight, anticipate an ambush, dodge an AoO, slip a grapple, or just save the party wizard a spell, you’re contributing. That said, rogues are no longer the undisputed skill champions. Rangers, Bards, and Alchemists, for starters, can all acquire almost as many skill points as you. You have several tiny advantages though. First you can spend your points however you like. Bards are slightly restricted by Versatile Performance and have things like Perform, and the knowledges which are directly affected by class features, and things your party members would prefer you not to neglect. Rangers better have Survival and Handle Animal to make use of their class features, etc. Secondly, as a Finesse rogue, at least you have the Dexterity to capitalize on all the fun roguish skills. However, even with 8-10 skills a level, you still have to make each point count. So, let’s look at general roles to fill with skills, and how best to achieve them.
The Smooth Talker: Considering your line of business often includes going places heavily armed individuals would rather you wouldn’t, finding out information they’d rather you didn’t, and committing generally underhanded, if not outright legally suspect, actions, it’s good to be able to make friends. Charming your way past a guard post, lying your way into a restricted area, or even just pumping locals for information all bring your party closer to achieving their goals, and make you look like a shrewd, suave superspy in the process. Diplomacy, Bluff, and Intimidate are the Smooth Talker’s tools.
The Professional: Quick! Tell me about the traps in your game!
That was a test. If you responded by curling up in a fetal position and muttering “Eleven-foot poll, eleven-foot poll” while rocking gently back and forth, you’re either playing in an old school Gygaxian dungeon, your DM has a book called “Grimtooth’s,” or you really shouldn’t have taken that tab of brown acid just now. Assuming you didn’t do any of that, you can still be amazing at this role, even without the trapfinding class feature. The original murderfests that are original D&D dungeons are the sort of thing the Saw villain would dream up during a particularly stressful week, and are why some players insist on having a team rogue.
The Professional‘s job is to perpetrate skullduggery effectively, efficiently, and effortlessly. Disable Device, Escape Artist, and Sleight of Hand, and Acrobatics all contribute to the Professional’s repertoire. As a character, you have a set of unique and specialized skills specifically honed to solve practical problems, like being handcuffed in a dungeon awaiting execution. While not nearly as intensive as it was in 3.5, this role still represents a significant skill point investment, making you the ideal bearer of this mantle.
The Scout: If you find yourself alone, inside an enemy stronghold, disguised as an elderly spinstress, something may have gone awry. Despite common misconceptions, a rogue’s scouting skills are best utilized to find out what’s around the next corner, through a door, or over a ridge, not six week infiltration attempts. Personally, I like to be close enough that I can sprint back to my party if things go wrong. This gives you just enough information that your team can go in fully armed and aware, but doesn’t involve lengthy solo missions or the possibility of getting jumped 10-1 deep in enemy territory. It’s also a good practice to have some sort of prearranged signal or code, or a way to convey messages. Scouting uses Perception (but en again, what doesn’t) and stealth.
The Geek: The geek is the guy that, thanks to spellcraft and the knowledge skills, specializes in obscure and esoteric trivia. This role is usually held by the party bard or wizard, simply because they well always be better at it than you, so let them have it. If you need to know about the demiplane of fire, the religious practices of Irori, or whether a manticore is in heat, the geek is the person to ask. You’re always going to be more Han Solo than Encyclopedia Brown. You’ll probably pick up some of the practical knowledge skills, like Local and Dungeoneering, because being able to find rumors, shady individuals, and go tomb raiding is all part of your job description, and far sexier than Knowledge: Nature. By all means, feel smug about all the cooler skills you’ve mastered, but always be nice to the geek, so that he remembers to warn you when an enemy is immune to sneak attack or if you’re being currently courted by amorous manticore. You only like surprises when you’re springing them.
Acrobatics: Lets you flip, jump, dive, balance, and avoid Attacks of Opportunity. Always keep this maxed.
Appraise: Not a versatile skill, but it can be good to know what’s worth stealing. Determining prices is a DC 20 check, so only invest in this enough to take 10. Or better yet, convince the party Wizard to do it.
Bluff: This not only determines your skill at feinting, but also how well you can lie, swindle, and pass secret messages. It’s useful in combat and you aren’t a rogue without it. Keep it maxed out.
Climb: You probably have lousy strength. A point or two at low levels should be enough in most cases.
Craft: Just buy your daggers and smoke bombs like everyone else and save the skill points.
Diplomacy: The go-to skill for making friends, gathering information, and asking nicely. It might not help in combat, but it’s always useful. Keep this skill high, and use it before resorting to bluffs and threats.
Disable Device: Unless someone else actually has Trapfinding, it is assumed you will be picking locks and disabling traps. Embrace it. Also used for sabotage. Fun fact: ROGUES ONLY who beat a trap DC by more than 10 can help the party bypass it, without disarming it. It’s not much, but suck it Bard/Rangers.
Disguise: It’s cool in a Mission: Impossible sort of way, but not as regularly useful as you might think. Take a few points, read the situational bonuses and penalties, and take more at your own discretion.
Escape Artist: Being able to slip out of handcuffs and ropes is handy in certain campaigns, situations, and relationships between consenting adults. Being able to escape grapples with this makes it awesome.
Intimidate: Vital for demoralizing enemies in combat, as with the Enforcer feat. Just as gratifying out of combat after you make someone an offer they can’t refuse, and they find a wyvern head in their bed.
Knowledge(Dungeoneering): Helps you better find underground hazards, identify oozes (one of your mortal foes) and makes you feel like Lara Croft. It’s good to have.
Knowledge (Local): This is the street-savvy skill that lets you blend into a city, find contacts, and hear rumors. It can be pretty handy.
Linguistics: This governs how many languages you know, as well as the ability to create and detect forgeries. Cool, but not a must have.
Perform: Essential for rogues using performance combat checks, useless for anyone else. Dashing Archer builds and their ilk need to reliably be able to hit a DC 20..
Profession: If you want a hardworking character with a responsible job, why would you pick rogue?
Sense Motive: People are lying bastards, and as a rogue you would know. Do onto others before they can do onto you.
Sleight of Hand: You’ll likely find some uses for this skill. For the dilettante, it’s only a DC 20 to pick a pocket, although it can be substantially higher to do so unnoticed.
Stealth: Again, this is just something that’s expected of you. Having someone who can scout down a hallway or over a ridge gives your team a huge tactical advantage.
Swim: One point to cover your bases, maybe. It’s rarely useful.
Use Magic Device: UMD has high skill DCs and you can’t take 10, so this is something that isn’t amazing in the early game. At higher levels though, this will essentially turn you into a backup spellcaster that always has the right spell for the occasion. This keeps you useful against foes you can’t Sneak Attack.
COMBAT: Where we wax philosophical about fighting, and how to do it properly
Well, this is a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Don’t get me wrong. during the early levels of the game, you are Han Solo swaggering around, cracking wise and dropping goons while the rest of the party look on jealously and silently consider multiclassing rogue so that they too can be awesome. What I’m saying is, you’re competent in combat and skilled out of it, presumably as rogues were meant to be played.
The problem though is that rogues don’t naturally have any spells, judgments, mutagens, etc, to supplement their middling BAB, so that as you level up, enemy AC begins to outpace your ability to land hits.
Let’s jump to level 10 for a sec. For a point of general reference, the average AC of level 10 monsters is 24, the highest attack is at +18, saves of 13/9, and average HP of 130.
At level 10, a rogue has 7/2 BAB. So, in order to not be a drain on the party we need to first be able to hit the enemy’s AC, and survive long enough for the monster to go down. (Note: we’re not discussing being useful yet. This is simply bare-minimum, not getting in the way and wasting party resources to stay alive.)
Personally, those numbers suggest two things. First, Two-Weapon fighting is a horrible plan. Assuming the rogue has 20 Dexterity (a safe assumption), it’s literally a 50/50 chance to hit with your primary attack. Not ideal. Additional penalties from two-weapon fighting mean that you’ll have less of a chance to hit, and fewer available resources to rectify this problem, because of all the feats consumed by TWF. Repeat after me: concrete penalties trump theoretical damage.
Secondly, if we’re not going to be killing the monster in one hit anyways, Finesse rogue will allow us to get a lot more mileage out of a single stat (AC, Initiative, skills, your one good save, etc). Power Attack, the central feat for Strength builds, does us no good, since as we saw with TWF, the last thing we need are more penalties. Anyways, since rogues need AC (always), Initiative (to catch flat-footed suckers), Acrobatics (to move to flanks), and reflex saves (doesn’t hurt), I think it’s safe to generally suggest the most successful rogues are the ones who tell DPS to suck their +2 Thieves’ Tool. At this point, simple mathematics proves that a rogue’s survival is inversely proportionate to the amount of damage they deal. As rogues move to maximize sneak attack damage, they leave larger and larger glaring weaknesses as seen with Strength builds and TWF. At DPS= 0 (achieved here by running, screaming, in the opposite direction at the first sign of danger) the chance of short-term survival rises dramatically, although they ultimately doom themselves to dying a pauper’s death, alone, unloved, and unmourned.
Of course, neither extreme is good for us. So, now seems like a good time to reassess just what we can achieve in combat.
At this point, several trends have begun to emerge. Most important is that hitting an enemy’s AC is more than doable, especially considering we haven’t considered any other possible bonuses beyond BAB and ability scores. Furthermore, if you’re hitting an enemy at all, it’s likely a sneak attack. (If you can move into a flanking position and get a SA, and if you have a full round you can SA with feint, then most typical melee scenarios are covered.) If you get any iterative attacks though, they’re nothing short of crapshoots. So, the next question naturally becomes, how can the rogue get the most out of her single reliable attack each turn?
So, where does this leave us?
Well, first it confirms what we already sort of knew, that the rogue is not a particularly capable solo combatant. However, when she’s working as part of a team she’s capable of contributing as much to her allies as they are to her. Also, a rogue’s single most important number is her to-hit bonus, because her attacks not only do base damage, but also deliver sneak attack damage and conditions like shaken, sickened, and even at later levels, strength damage and a targeted dispel magic effect. The rogue hits much more reliably when she already has her enemies at a disadvantage, and indeed, her Sneak Attack depends on it, so it’s mechanically vital to find ways to get the drop on your opponents. This is odd patchwork, but when taken together, you function less like a conventional warrior, and more like a hexcrafter magus, since you simultaneously deal damage and weaken foes, but there’s perfectly accurate analogue. This “dirty fighting” element surrounding the rogue matches the style perfectly. You’re not a trained warrior, probably because you’ve been too busy drinking, gambling, wenching, and learning to count past ten, so it makes sense that most of your combat contributions come from low blows, ambushes, and distracting enemies so that the fighter can get behind them. Also worth noting, you can do this all night long. You don’t depend on rounds of rage or bane, or spells per day, which I think is a definite advantage, particularly during the first ten levels or so. See, doesn’t this look like a nice change of pace from classes who just spend every turn Power Attacking? Now, let’s see if we can’t find some ways to capitalize on this role.
FEATS AND COMBAT STYLES
Troubleshooters: Troubleshooter is the catch-all term I’ve given to rogues who don’t follow a specific feat chain, because frankly it sounds far more badass than ‘generalist.’ The troubleshooter chain isn’t as specialized as many of the others, but rather is meant to boost your to-hit chance and to give you additional combat options. With feinting, disarming, Bravado’s Blade, or even just fishing for crits, a troubleshooter always has a way to make herself useful.
Feat tree: Weapon Finesse, Combat Expertise→ Improved Feint→Improved Disarm→ Butterfly’s Sting→ Greater Feint
Legbreakers: These are rogues who focus on brawling and dealing damage, usually via the Sap Adept chain. Typically Thug archetypes with the Enforcer feat, of the rogues presented, they have the highest potential for both debuffing and damage. For those of you with an RP idea, or even just a deep-seated distaste for fictional bloodshed, Legbreaker builds are also a great option for nonlethal characters. This is the most straight-forward of the build trees presented, with your strategy being to find people you want unconscious and hitting them until they are. Of course, as a savvy rogue; you’ll likely combine this tree with either the Infiltrator or the Troubleshooter (sans Butterfly’s Sting), because options and versatility are what keep you useful in less than ideal situations.
Weapon Finesse→Enforcer→ (Improved Unarmed Strike→ Knockout Artist) Sap Adept→Sap Master
Infiltrators: Invisibility spells offer a +20 to stealth checks, but is easily negated by See Invisibility and True Seeing, assuming scent, tremorsense, blindsense, or even just a decent opposed perception doesn’t give you away first. If you doubt me, just thumb through the bestiaries and see how many enemies have one of those, especially at higher levels. Infiltrators are masters of moving undetected even in the midst of battle. Improved Eldritch Heritage nets you what is essentially an improved version of Hide in Plain Sight, so that you can reliably get sneak attacks from stealth, even during combat. Basically, imagine one of the Predators made a pact with an entity of shadow magic, and you’re on the right path. (Build originally postulated by Scavion here: http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2qcif&page=30?Ladies-and-Gentlemen-Its-time-we-made-the Any mistakes and miscalculations here are almost certainly my fault)
Skill Focus Stealth→ Eldritch Heritage (Shadow) → Dampen Presence→ Improved Eldritch Heritage (Shadow)
Magic Touch: This isn’t as a build tree, as much as it is a general strategy or choice of weapon, depending on your perspective, but I gotta put this somewhere. Regardless, it’s something most races are incapable of doing, Magic Touch rogues use their natural gift of magic to target foes’ touch AC with a Sneak Attack Chill Touch. For Fell Magic Gnomes, the only investment is in a 1st Lv wand of Recharge Innate Magics, while Elves need the Minor Magic and Major Magic rogue talents in order to gain access to Chill Touch as well as their Alternate Favored Class Option, to ensure they can use it as often as necessary during their adventuring day.
Dashing Archers: Using Performance Combat and pure bravado, it’s possible to make a rogue archer who can get reliable sneak attacks with a bow. For Min/maxing purposes, this build works best with the Bandit and Thug archetypes, but neither is essential. In fact, since this build already hinges around Intimidate, you can use this as an excuse to either keep trapfinding or snag some useless yet flavorful archetype, and not be any worse off than the average Rake build. Beyond that freedom though, this build doesn’t really allow for much variation at the early levels, and is best with a three level dip in fighter to come together in a reasonable timeframe. (Personally, I would suggest taking the dips in the Weapon Master archetype at levels 1, 4, and 7.) This uses the demoralization abilities of the Rake and Dazzling Display, and performance combat rules to intimidate enemies before crushing them with Shatter Defenses. With this build you’ll want to emphasize Cha over Int. The primary downside is that archery is a pretty feat-intensive combat style, but it keeps you out of the melee fray, and anyways, it’s a small price to pay for pretending you’re an archer from Order of the Stick. (Build originally postulated by SubZero of the Paizo forums. The same disclaimers from the Infiltrator build apply here too.)
Precise Shot→ Point Blank Shot→Rapid Shot→ Weapon Focus (Longbow) →Dazzling Display→Hero’s Display→ Performing Combat→ Shatter Defenses
Note: There’s no reason that a Dashing Archer build couldn’t be adapted for melee purposes. In fact, such a build might actually thrive, since Feinting is one of the ways to provoke a swift action performance check. In such a case, a three level dip of Lore Warden might be advisable instead, so that you can get Combat Expertise for free. In any case, performance combat is so very niche that I don’t really want to devote much more of this guide to it than I already have. I’ll discuss the feats mentioned in the chain, but for anyone truly considering the style, I think it’s best for all parties involved for me to direct you to the original thread. http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2qgxa?The-Dashing-Archer#1
Arcane Strike- For rogues with the Minor Magic Talent or innate racial magic, this is a cheap, scaling source of damage. It’s less conditional than the Sap Mastery line, and it keeps working even if you have to use a backup or improvised weapon. All in all, it’s a solid source of damage.
Bludgeoner- If you’re trying to pull off a legbreaker rogue with a specific weapon in mind, this is grand, but otherwise, I would just use the sap and save the feat.
Butterfly Sting- An amazing use for Combat Expertise. Ever feel like it’s a waste that rogues have access to these high crit weapons like rapiers, yet have low strength scores, no power attack, and don’t multiply sneak attack damage on a critical hit? Well, why not make the most of it? When you roll a crit with Butterfly’s Sting and confirm it, you can choose to forgo the effects of the crit, and instead let the next person who hits the target with a melee attack automatically confirm a critical hit. Since you’re a rogue, and thus have good-to-excellent initiative, you’ll likely be attacking before the big bad fighters anyways. You still get to deal your sneak attack damage , if applicable, and thus lose practically nothing by sharing the love, and now your Fighter/Barbarian friend loves you forever. Grab a keen rapier and dispense crits to all the good little boys and girls in your party, like a bloodthirsty Santa Claus.
Catch Off-Guard- In the interest of full disclosure, I love this feat and have played a high level Disarm Rogue with this feat in PFS. It’s surprisingly useful and very much in theme with the class to always have a viable weapon within arm’s reach, regardless of whether you’re undercover, at a fancy dinner, or in prison. Realistically though, there are two problems. The first one is that feinting works against monsters that use natural attacks. Second is the nature of improvised weapons.
Sometimes objects not crafted to be weapons nonetheless see use in combat… To determine the size category and appropriate damage for an improvised weapon, compare its relative size and damage potential to the weapon list to find a reasonable match.
Since it’s improvised, it’s unlikely for it to be enchanted, unless you have a friendly wizard you can get liquored up and convince to craft a +3 Umbrella. That said, Masterwork is fair game and should give you the usual bonuses. This is better for anyone with Sap Master though, since it’s one of the only ways to catch enemies flat-footed after they’ve acted (and you can get COG far earlier than Shatter Defense), so consider investing in silver and cold iron candlesticks or something.
Combat Expertise- By itself, Combat Expertise really isn’t a great feat for a class that already has trouble hitting, and it has the prerequisite of 13 Int. Unfortunately, it’s a requirement for a bunch of other feats you need. It’s best used against things which you can’t hurt anyways, like elementals, so you’re less of a liability.
Combat Reflexes- You certainly have the dexterity to make use of this, and AoOs are made at your highest BAB. I’d consider this feat about the same time you pick up Opportunist, to make sure you don’t start running out of AoOs, since after all, it’s essentially free damage, and every little bit helps.
Dampen Presence- When you take this portion of the Infiltrator tree, it’ll be hard not to feel like you’re pulling off some sort of Jedi mind trick. This lets you hide from creatures with Blindsight and Blindsense. This is great, but don’t rush taking it, since it won’t help with many low-level creatures. As the feat reminds you, this does nothing to hide you from creatures with Tremorsense or Scent. Luckily, scrolls of Negate Aroma are cheap, and Tremorsense can be thwarted by spider climb, or just simple levitation.
Dazzling Display- Arguably useful, if you’re outnumbered and have literally nothing else to be doing, but this is a full round action to accomplish something that a rogue can usually do just as part of her sneak attack. Of course, since it’s a prereq for Shatter Defenses, there’s not really anything you can do about it if you want Shatter Defenses. At least this affects multiple targets. Even if you take this, I think everyone would prefer if you avoid situations where this is the best use of your turn.
Disarm, Improved- Fun fact: rogues are pretty much the best disarm specialists in the game. Anyways, since you probably have taken Improved Feint, why not get a little more mileage out of Combat Expertise? I prefer to take this as early as possible, since attacks and CMB at early levels are normally crapshoots, but ones biased towards you, and most of your enemies will be humanoid with weapons. Granted, against natural attacks this is useless and many enemies carry backup weapons. However, this is remains green for several reasons. Firstly, every weapon you take out of an enemy’s hand is a weapon that isn’t being used to murder you and your melee companions. Rogues refer to this technique as ‘preemptive healing.’ Second, though situational, it only requires the investment of a single feat, applies to a fairly wide set of situations (enemy has a weapon), and in such situations, is very helpful to the party (enemy no longer has a weapon). Finally, at level 10, right about when CMD checks are becoming harder to make, you can get the Weapon Snatcher talent, which uses your Sleight of Hand check instead, making it a pretty reliable trick (for further reference see Rogue: disarm, best at).
Disarm, Greater - Hooray, now they can’t recover their weapons and provoke attacks of opportunity for the party! Wait, no. That’s actually not really useful. As much as I love disarm, knocking a weapon out of the enemy’s hand, usually means he’s now either completely unarmed, pulling out a weaker backup, or provoking AoOs retrieving his prized weapon and unable to full attack because of it. All of these are good enough that I wouldn’t waste the extra feat investment.
Dodge- This is actually reasonably solid in the early stages of the game. If you’re a magus who gets this for free, this is awesome since if you’re going to get a bonus to your AC, dodge is the one you want. Unfortunately, a bonus point of AC is negligible in mid to high levels. However, this is also one prereq for Spring Attack, which could be useful depending on your build. All in all, it’s not bad, but it’s not great, and I wouldn’t advise wasting a precious feat on it without committing wholly to the spring attack chain.
Dramatic Display- For any rogues using performance combat, this feat gives sizable bonuses to your attack rolls, CMB, and perform checks. Unfortunately, you can only use one Performance Combat feat per check, and your archery build depends heavily on Hero’s Display. However, since the Thug Archetype can cause your intimidate checks to persist for an additional turn, you could pick this up and alternate which ones you use. It’s a good effect, but you’re already attacking flat-footed enemies at range, and given the intensity of the feat chain, I’m not certain I’d want to invest any more into the performance line.
Eldritch Heritage: Shadow- You gain nonlethal melee touch attack, which may occasionally dazzle people. Sure, you aren’t a Magic Touch Elf, but we never say no to either potential debuffs or, more importantly, ways to improve our to-hit. Again, this is a prereq, but even if it wasn’t, it’ll get you pretty far in the early levels.
Eldritch Heritage: Shadow, Improved - Unfortunately, you have to wait until level 11 for this, but it is worth the wait. You now have Hide in Plain Sight, except better, and still a level earlier than when a ranger would get it. As long as you are within 10 ft of a shadow, you can attempt to stealth, so it’s in your best interest to have ways to create shadows. Not only can you stealth while people are watching, but you can also swap places with an ally. You can use this to escape grapples, protect an ambushed wizard, or really just creep up next to an unaware enemy before trading places with the enraged Barbarian who dreams of full attacking. Fun for the whole party.
Enforcer- The ability to apply the shaken and sickened statuses simultaneously while clubbing people over the head is why Thug archetypes want this feat. Rakes already have a better version of it. For any other rogue wanting to join the debuff club, this is simply just the basic cost of membership.
Extra Rogue Talent- For the love of whatever deity you worship, don’t take this feat before at least level 10. There’s nothing in the low level talents that you can’t grab as part of your normal allocation of talents, but the advanced talents, on the other hand, have quite a few incredible options that are easily worth trading a feat for. There seems to be a general agreement that this feat can grant advanced talents, but just in case someone isn’t convinced, allow me to present the actual text.
“You gain one additional rogue talent” (Extra Rogue Talent) and “At 10th level… a rogue can choose one of the following advanced talents in place of a rogue talent.” (Rogue Class Advanced Talent Feature).
The transitive property thus states: the feat gives you an extra rogue talent and, that if you are a level 10 rogue or higher, you may instead choose an advanced talent. Use this to pick up the green and blue advanced talents that you can’t wait to get otherwise.
Feint, Improved- Use your bluff skill to fake out your opponent and deny him Dex to AC for your next attack? Now things are starting to feel properly roguish. Remember, Improved Feint uses a move action, which means you can’t move or full attack while using it, however you can feint an enemy and then attempt a combat maneuver against them. In short, you sacrifice any other attacks you may have in order to increase the chances of landing one of them. Since one of your biggest weaknesses is a low hit chance, this is a good trade. However, just because you can feint now, don’t think you can forget about flanking. That thought is the penultimate thing to cross a rogue’s mind. (The last usually being some sort of pointy weapon.) You’re still not intended as a solo fighter; you are a conniving bastard who doesn’t believe in the concept of fighting fair. This is just another tool when you can’t safely get a flank, or to increase the chance of landing a single hit, not the be all and end all of rogue strategy.
NB: You can’t feint creatures without an Int score, and there are penalties for feinting nonhumaniods. Since Improved Feint doesn’t actually increase your chance at success, it’s absolutely imperative that you keep Bluff maxed if you plan to feint. Rake is an excellent archetype for this, easily comparable to the oft-referenced Thug/Enforcer.
Feint, Greater - The overwhelming majority consensus (myself included) interpret Greater Feint as denying the enemy you feint his Dex bonus to all melee attacks against him until the start of your turn. This is of limited use to you, since you can still only land one attack against him, but the rest of the party should remember to thank you as they line up to curb-stomp the punk.
Gang Up- Before anyone tries to get clever, this only applies to allies in melee combat. If you’re in a situation where you have two other allies in melee with you frequently enough to consider this feat, it’s probably far easier to just get into an actual flanking position than it is to waste the feat.
Great Fortitude- You have two bad saves as a rogue, and there tend to be fairly dire consequences for failing either one of them. Unfortunately, rogues also tend to be a feat starved, but this is still a shortcoming that needs to be shored up eventually. Fortunately, your constitution is likely higher than your wisdom, and most multiclassing options also provide a fortitude bonus. On the flipside, advanced talents like Hard Minded offer a protection against will saves, but there’s nothing comparable for fort. Of course, will saves also are a lot scarier than fort saves usually. Considering all this, I’d grab this if I have a spare feat, but I’d probably get Iron Will first. (As to the earlier musings in this write-up: traits can also boost your saves, but unlike the other options, those should probably just be thought of as extra insurance, rather than an actual solution.)
Hellcat Stealth- This lets you attempt stealth checks while being observed, but only in normal or bright light, and at a -10 penalty, which is brutal. Of course, this is also essentially a Hide in Plain Sight effect available at level six. Since attempting a stealth is usually a part of a move action, this allows you to come out of stealth to make a sneak attack, take any iterative attacks you might have, and then take a five foot step to step back into stealth (since a 5 ft step counts as a movement for the sake of a stealth check.) Besides being another way to generate sneak attacks, stealth is amazing for rogues since it offers full concealment. Full concealment means that if enemies know what square you’re in have a 50% miss chance unless they have another way to detect you, like blindsight or scent. Additionally, stealth protects you from targeted spells, which includes unpleasantness like Dominate Person, which is obviously a plus. While can be an excellent investment for any rogue, Infiltrator builds might want to consider grabbing this early and retraining it at level 11, when they get Improved Eldritch Heritage, which has a similar effect but is even more broadly useful and frees you from the -10 penalty.
Hero’s Display- When you make a swift performance combat check, this allows you to attempt to intimidate everyone within a 30ft radius that has witnessed your awesomeness up close. This is the feat which you use to trigger Shatter Defenses and apply sneak attack damage on all of your arrows. Anyways, you need one performance feat in order to qualify for Performing Combatant, and this is probably the best one.
Improved Initiative- At the risk of sounding patronizing, acting before the people trying to kill you is generally good life advice, and it continues to hold true for Pathfinder, especially for rogues. Going first means being able to get into an advantageous position without AosO, land a free sneak attack, or just to buff with a wand of Protection from Evil, depending on the situation. This is never a wasted feat on a rogue, but with so many build essential feats vying for your attention, you probably won’t be able to pick it up until level 7-9 at the earliest.
Iron Will- Again, this is one of your bad saves, and something you don’t want to fail. It’s possible you’ve gained a will bonus from multiclassing or a racial bonus against mind-effecting. Also, if you anticipate combat in the near future, you can get quite a lot of use from a lv 1 wand of Protection from Evil. Hard Minded is also a defense, although, paradoxically, it becomes more effective the better your will save already is. My point is you will need to shore up both saves, but you won’t necessarily spend feats on them, and ultimately it’s your call whether your saves are high enough. (Hint: Your saves can never be too high.)
Knockout Artist- Wanna keep that pimp hand strong? This isn’t terrible, because Unarmed Strike is a pretty good fighting style for legbreakers, because Amulets of Mighty Fists are cheap to enchant and stupid, uppity, monks suddenly have cool magic items. That said, it means you need to get Improved Unarmed Strike first, and then it just adds a little more circumstantial damage. Not my favorite, but if you want even bigger numbers, so be it.
Manyshot- This is amazing for almost every other archer, yet it sucks for rogues since it specifically mentions that you can only apply sneak attack damage once. Your feats are worth more than a paltry sum of additional damage per round.
Mobility- Again, this isn’t my favorite on it’s own, but it synergizes neatly with Spring Attack. Without Spring Attack, you probably won’t be provoking enough AoOs to justify not relying on your maxed Acrobatic prowess.
Moonlight Stalker: Maybe I’m undervaluing this, but including the prerequisites, this requires three feats and gives you +2 attack and damage, if and only if you have concealment from the enemy. This seems at best circumstantial, and at worst depends wholly on having a specific magic item, (Specifically, a Cloak of Displacement. Even assuming you’re in a game where you’ll have guaranteed access to one, it’s not only expensive, but also means you aren’t wearing a Cloak of Resistance.) Even discounting the fact Combat Expertise is something you’d probably take anyways, I’m not a fan. Would it work for a legbreaker? Yes, absolutely, but not nearly enough to justify two feats.
Moonlight Stalker Feint: This feat allows you to bluff as a swift action, allowing you to take your iterative attacks against a target now denied their dexterity. This is great for TWF, which I think I’ve also established I’m not enamored with. Even without TWF, your iterative attacks are at such a steep penalty, that it doesn’t seem worth it, especially since no one considering this has the spare human bonus feat to make up for some of the investment.
Opening Volley- There is no good reason for a rogue to not have a ranged touch attack, be it an Acid Splash wand, a Robe of Needles, or a perk of multiclassing. With great initiative and talents like Snap Shot, there’s no reason not to capitalize on an easy ranged sneak attack when you can. This feat makes rogues eccentric switch hitters that can capitalize on ranged sneak attacks during any surprise rounds and then be rewarded with an ever-important to hit bonus as they move into the fray.
Performing Combatant: This is what allows you to use your performance combat feats in a normal battle, thus making Hero’s Display useful in your day-to-day adventures. Since the Dashing Archer shtick wholly depends on performance combat, you should take this ASAP. Don’t forget, in order to use this feat, you have to make a DC 20 perform check, which can be tricky for low level rogues. Fortunately, at low levels, rogues can more easily compete with other classes anyways, but nevertheless, plan accordingly.
Point Blank Shot/Precise Shot/Rapid Shot: All three of these are essential early choices for archery rogues and are useless for melee. Rating them implies there’s a choice, which there isn’t, at least, not a good one.
Quicken Spell-Like Ability- This is the capstone feat for Magic Touch rogues, allowing them to cast Chill Touch as a swift action. This also has the potential to be useful for any rogues considering the Minor Magic chain of talents. Useful quickened talents include: Snowball, True Strike, and Shield. (Author’s note: Staring at the description of Chill Touch, I can’t find a listed duration beyond 1 target/level, so I’m assuming that there’s nothing stopping a rogue from casting CT before walking into the dungeon, and that quickening it is simply insurance against surprises.)
Sap Adept- If you have your heart set on maximizing your personal damage output as a rogue, then this is the go-to feat chain. This is essentially a two-handed Power Attack that doesn’t harm your accuracy. Of course, this is of limited utility against creatures immune to nonlethal damage, but that’s par for the course with rogues, it seems. Everything’s grand until you meet an enemy immune to crits/flanking/demoralization/nonlethal. This is why we hold versatility in such high regard here. Here endeth the lesson.
Sap Master- If you just want a way to casually increase your damage output, take Sap Adept and look no further. If you’re bound and determined to make a DPS rogue, it requires some more investment. Sap Master DOUBLES your sneak attack dice when you’re attacking a flat-footed target with a nonlethal bludgeoning weapon. That’s awesome. The bad news is, enemies are usually only flat-footed during the first round of combat, before they act. This means you usually get one chance to capitalize, assuming you’re in range, two if there’s a surprise round in which you can act. For the DPS minded, a couple of workarounds include a Merciful sling (so you can attack from 30 ft away) and the feats Catch Off-Guard or Shatter Defenses, which both allow you to treat enemies as flat-footed.
Shadow Strike- At first glance, this seems a lot better than it actually is. RAW: Without darkvision, a rogue can’t actually Sneak Attack people in a dark (dimly lit, technically) alley. With Shadow Strike, you can. Of course, dim lighting conditions are still bad for you since enemies still have concealment from anyone who can’t see in the dark and you are already hard-pressed to land hits. But dim lighting is actually bad for your party as a whole. Unless all of your fighters and archers have darkvision, they are also dealing with the same 20% miss chance. They solve this problem by using a torch. Light spells are common, and better lighting benefits everyone. If you’re still not convinced, one of the most important magic items for rogues, the Headband of Ninjitsu, essentially gives you this feat along with a bunch of other important bonuses.
Shatter Defenses- This is the cornerstone of the Dashing Archer build; however it’s a potent ability for all rogues, since they specialize both in intimidation and wrecking flat-footed enemies. The two main problems with it are the BAB requirements, which a single classed rogue won’t hit until Lv 8, and that Dazzling Display is a feat tax for you. Nevertheless, legbreaker rogues should definitively consider this, since it is one way to regularly apply Sap Master’s effect.
Skill Focus: Stealth- This makes you better at stealth. Revolutionary, I know. Since this entire Infiltrator build tree depends on sneaking around, it would probably be advisable to take this even if it wasn’t a prerequisite, which it is.
Spring Attack- This let’s you move, make an attack, and continue to move. This is a boon for the scout archetype who can use this to generate sneak attacks, and (coupled with the mobility prereq) baiting attacks of opportunity from enemies other than your target, although you don’t really have the health or AC to do that too often. As I say in the Fast Getaway talent, you’re probably more useful staying in the fray and relying on Offensive Defense and hoping the frothing barbarian with the greataxe is preoccupying the enemy. This is rated slightly higher than Fast Getaway though, since it offers a few more movement options (and it bloody well better given the prereqs). This is great for infiltrators, who weren’t planning on sticking around for retaliation anyways, and scouts trying to bring some hurt, otherwise I’d say you’re still better off sticking near teammates. I’m not a huge fan of the two feat prereqs either, but at least they’re not terrible if you’re committing to this style of fighting.
Steel Soul (Dwarf): This is essentially Lightning Reflexes, Great Fortitude, and Iron Will all contained in a single feat. If you can’t spare a single feat for that level of protection, you deserve to spend the rest of eternity working full time as a garden gnome outside the medusa’s lair. Dwarves are already durable rogues and it would be foolish not to push that advantage as far as it can go.
Two Weapon Fighting (et al)- I think by this point I’ve made my feelings about TWF rogues pretty well known, but in case you were wondering, it generally remains a bad idea.
Weapon Focus- This has the potential to get confusing quickly, so do try and keep up. With middling BAB, and no innate class features to compensate for it, rogues have a tendency to miss. If you have a single weapon with which you will be specializing, you should get this as soon as you can. That said, there are lots of good feats. This is available as a rogue talent called Weapon Training. There is a dearth of good rogue talents. So, while having Weapon Focus is important, it’s often better to spend a talent than a feat when possible.
Weapon Finesse: Same deal as Weapon Focus. Finesse Rogue is one of the few good rogue talents, so there’s no point in wasting a feat on this when you can pick it up at level two as a talent. That said, finesse fighting is nonnegotiable for every rogue who isn’t an archer, and even archers will probably pick it up later as a back-up plan. Whatever you do, have this by level two, regardless of how you go about getting it.
Weapon Proficiency: Swordbreaker Dagger- I’m not actually suggesting most rogues get this, mind you. However, for Half-Elves who can start with proficiency in any single martial or exotic weapon, this is worth considering. It has the stats of a dagger and proficiency gives you an additional +4 bonus on disarm or sunder attempts against bladed weapons (i.e. most of them). Again, disarm is situational, but now it is a situation that you are very, very good at. Should you be able to convince the GM that your improvised weapon resembles a swordbreaker dagger, you’ll be in a very good position, but I wouldn’t count on it. N.B. Weapons with the disarm property automatically add +2 on disarm attempts. Assuming your weapon is masterwork, and you try to disarm a sword/axe/etc you have a +7 bonus from the weapon alone.
Like barbarian rage powers or alchemist discoveries, rogue talents exist to not only improve their general effectiveness, but also create unique playstyles for rogues and increase variety. Or, at least I assume that was the intention. The sad reality is that most of the early rogue talents are aggressively terrible. Seriously, look at how many of these are red, and tell me that the rogue doesn’t’ need some love from the developers. Fortunately for us, however, there are enough gems buried amidst the dross that you’ll always have a few good options vying for your five talents.
Finesse Rogue- Rogues can always use more feats, so this should almost always be your first rogue talent.
Offensive Defense- Consider this refuge in audacity. This talent lets you land a nice sneak attack, and then helps protect you from reprisal. It’s rated blue because of how fantastically well it scales from 1-20.
Combat Trick- What’s there to say? It’s a free combat feat. It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll grab this at some point.
Weapon Training- This is good, since you always need to-hit bonuses. Think about grabbing this after you’ve found a primary weapon you like, and definitely get it after you notice enemies are getting increasingly hard to hit.
Snap Shot- This is just embarrassingly better than Surprise Attack. Sure, it’s limited to ranged weapons, but it pretty much guarantees you’ll go first, which is a more than fair trade. Of course, this is really only useful if you have a way to ensure you can act during your enemies’ surprise rounds too. I mean, regardless of when you act, if you have the surprise round, they’re already flat-footed. Anyways, as a bonus, since people probably aren’t beating your 20+ initiative, you won’t provoke AoOs from spellcasting or using a bow. Plus, even if you could, would you really want to rush headlong into melee during a surprise round before your fellow front-liners have moved into position?
Resiliency- Rogues should have a contingency plan for everything. This includes being clubbed over the head by an ogre and bleeding out in some ditch. Everyone knows protagonists only die when it’s dramatically appropriate.
Minor Magic- Acid Splash can make a decent scratch if you hit a flat-footed enemy with it, and since it’s a touch attack, you’re unlikely to miss. There are other mildly useful options, like Mage Hand or Message, but let’s be honest, the party Wizard has those covered. This is mainly a pre-req for Major Magic.
Major Magic- Elves will likely want Chill Touch, but there are several decent options here. True Strike pretty much guarantees your next attack or maneuver will land and Snowball is the best option for high damage, ranged touch, Sneak Attacks. Spells that aren’t level dependant (Shield, Silent Image, etc) can/should be covered with wands and scrolls. The Quicken Spell-Like Ability feat at Lv 11 makes this a decent option, as does Dispelling Strike, which uses this as a prerequisite.
Fast Stealth: Don’t rush into it, but if you’re using the infiltrator build tree, you’ll want this eventually. Don’t forget to rub the bard’s face in it then.
Disabling Stunt- This is just barely green, and that’s mostly because I just really wanted to like one of the new stunts, since they’re an awesome concept. The reason this gets a pass is because constructs can be terrifying for a party. They tend to have massive DR and are immune to magic, meaning casters and fighters also tend to be at a pretty steep disadvantage. It’s wildly circumstantial, but if you’re going to be maxing Disable Device anyways, and to trade a talent to be extra awesome at fighting freaking robots, this is your chance. If that doesn’t sound like a good deal, I probably don’t want to know you.
Deft Palm: If, for some reason, you’re using Underhanded, and can’t find a better way to draw a concealed weapon (like a wrist-sheathe) this is your best option. That’s a lot of conditional statements, which should tell you something.
Fast Getaway- This does help you stay alive, if only by keeping you out of the reach of things that want to eat you, but you’re probably more useful flanking, taking AoO, and using talents like Opportunist. This is OK for scouts, but pretty unhelpful for everyone else.
Positioning Attack: As acrobatics checks to avoid AoOs get more difficult, this can be really useful. So, naturally it’s once per day. You’re better off finding Jaunt Boots, or Daredevil Boots, or something. It’s yellow because, unlike the red talents, it could conceivably be worth taking. Barely.
Ninja Trick: This is great if you can use it to scam another Combat Trick. Otherwise, most ninja tricks use Ki, and the ones that don’t are rarely worth it. Can net you Improved Unarmed Strike or Pressure Points though, which isn’t amazing, but it’s better than nothing.
Sniper’s Eye: You may eventually want this if you’re playing a Dashing Archer.
Stand Up: Dropping prone is a free action, and now standing is too, giving you a +4 against ranged attacks, although you won’t want to use this near melee enemies. Pretty weak and circumstantial, but it’s still better than rogue crawl.
Underhanded: I was so excited reading through this talent for the first time. And then I got to the very end. Is there even anything else in Pathfinder that’s a minimum zero? One +Cha would make it usable even. How does this work with Eagle’s Splendor? I’m leaving it here because it’s a good effect and doesn’t deserve to get lost amidst stuff like Ledge Walker, and hopefully a clever reader will think of something I missed, but I don’t see how you’ll ever have enough Charisma to make this worthwhile. Luck with rolled stats, maybe?
Assault Leader: Call me cynical, but this talent depends on you missing your attack so that a less useless team member can do something. Also, it has the temerity to only be once per day. Taking this is pretty much just admitting that you’ll be useless. Why not just take things that make you not suck instead?
Befuddling Strike: It’s a lingering bonus, but it’s also pitiful compared to Offensive Defense.
Bleeding Attack: I can’t imagine any fight lasting long enough for this to pay off. Don’t bother.
Black Market Connections: Best case scenario: You’re playing in a game where magic items are scarce, you take this, and even though you’ve wasted a talent, you can buy better equipment for your less useless teammates. Hell, at least crafting them would save money.
Camoflague: Once per day, situational. No.
Canny Observer: The Miss Marple talent. I really wish I could recommend improving your eavesdropping and trapfinding capabilities, but have too many other, larger problems to specialize further in niche out of combat skills.
Charmer: Let’s just save time and typing. Assume all 1/day skill boosts are terrible, unless otherwise stated.
Coax Information: Isn’t this just called using Bluff or Diplomacy? And why wouldn’t you have Intimidate?
Combat Swipe: Well, it gives you a feat, which is usually good. This one isn’t. Way to defy expectations, Paizo. Steal is a wholly useless maneuver for everyone, including you.
Convincing Lie: You can now say hurtful things about people. Or, you know, you could just hurt them.
Cunning Trigger: Traps are usually most effective when the enemy sets them off. You know, by definition. Seriously though, if you’re in a position where you have time to lay traps for an ambush, you’re already winning, and this doesn’t even have the decency to help you win faster/harder.
Disease Use: Ugh and/or Ew. It’s like poison, except it only has a DC 12 fort save and always will take a standard action. I think I’m actually reassured that poor hygiene isn’t a valid combat strategy.
Distracting Attack: Sneak Attack and forego your damage so that, what? Someone else could sneak attack? When your best case scenario is that bad, we have a problem.
Esoteric Knowledge- If you’ve been reading this guide and wondering why rogue supporters spend so much time tinkering with builds, it’s because we have crap like Esoteric Knowledge to work with. This “feat-equivalent” lets you make an untrained Knowledge check ONCE A DAY. You would have to have 18+ Int to (again, because this is subtle) ONCE A DAY, compete with an Int 10 rogue who used one of her 8 skills/lv to put a single point in the Knowledge. In short, this trait is how game developers announce they’re retiring in order to pursue their life-long dream of punching everyone you’ve ever loved in the face.
Expert Leaper: If you ever decide to stop adventuring and join intramural Pathfinder basketball, this might finally have a use. For everyone else, there’s fly. Or, you know, just getting a running start.
False Friend: See, this galls me. There’s no reason a rogue can’t make a normal bluff check to run up to a stranger and shout “Buddy! I haven’t seen you since fantasy high school.” I guess if you really want a small bonus to it and nothing else, here you are.
Fast Fingers: See Charmer.
Fast Picks: Pick locks slightly faster? Archeologists automatically have this. It still sucks. You could compete with the bard to see who can finish faster, but do you really want to “win” that title?
Follow Clues: Gain proficiency with one part of the Survival skill? Could this suck worse?
Getaway Artist: Well, this just answered my rhetorical question. Gain proficiency in three useless skills.
Guileful Polyglot: You have no shortage of skill points. Just spend them on the languages you want.
Hard to Fool: See Charmer. Again.
Hold Breath: Given that Waterbreathing spells exist, I can’t think of a purpose for this talent that isn’t obscene. Also, you can take it multiple times, if you just refuse to learn from your mistakes.
Honeyed Words: See Charmer. Still.
Iron Guts: Given the sheer quantity of rogue bachelors that must exist, I like the flavor of this talent. I wish they’d meet me half way though. The conditions are pretty rare, and I can get better poison resistance from traits.
Ki Pool- NO! THIS IS NOT OK. I’m resigned to most of these sucking, but there is no reason for this. Rogues can get a Ki Pool (based off of wisdom, no less), but can’t use it to make extra attacks, get a bonus to AC, or even move as fast as a Ki-using ninja? Really, Paizo? We wouldn’t want to accidentally give the rogue any of the nice toys we showered on the Alternative freaking Class.
Lasting Poison: This would be yellow if you specialized in poisons, except for the part where it actually lowers the DC. Don’t bother.
Ledge Walker: Sure, he took the talent and is now balancing on a rooftop ledge, but everyone in his party wishes he would just jump. Wildly situational, yet useless.
Nimble Climber: This is like Featherfall, but contingent on a skill check. Pass.
Obfuscate Story: Yet another talent that is both amazingly useless, and something a rogue could already do. I literally cannot think of a single instance, even in jest, where this could be useful.
Peerless Maneuver: If it wasn’t once a day, it would be worth considering, since acrobatics at least has a role in combat.
Philologist: Like Daniel Jackson himself, it’s cool but terrible for staying alive.
Powerful Sneak- The amazing part is that Esoteric Knowledge is still better than this. This talent literally makes you worse at your job. On a 1d6, the average amount of damage is 3.5. By replacing 1s with 2s, this average increases to a staggering 3.666… That alone makes this terrible, but it gets better/worse. In return for this crazy 0.16 point of damage, you take a -2 to all attack rolls that turn. This is a Two-Weapon Fighting penalty for absolutely no benefit. For the comprehension impaired, let me be clear. No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!
Quick Disable: As useless as Fast Picks.
Quick Disguise: As great as that scene from Sherlock was, this is a waste. And even Sherlock took longer than a round to cobble his waiter disguise together.
Quick Scrounge: Again, why the rush?
Quick Trapsmith: I don’t know how long it takes to set a bear trap, but I don’t think this helps. Also, are you really setting any traps that are better than you and your party just waiting in ambush? Not sure I see the point.
Rogue Crawl: Now you can provoke AoOs slightly faster while crawling around doing the worm.
Rope Master: Well, that was misleadingly named! I’m glad Paizo found another way to disappoint me.
Slow Reactions: This almost reached the enviable rank of Yellow, before I remembered that using this meant that you weren’t using Offensive Defense or Dispelling Attack. I’m not impressed by this talent, especially since I doubt most enemies can take more than one AoO, anyways.
Strong Impression: Barring all the other problems, you should never have enough strength for this to be worthwhile.
Strong Stroke: Like Charmer. I’m pretty sure one of the devs was as frustrated by the rogue at this point as I am. There’s no other explanation for all of the suggestively named terrible talents.
Surprise Attack: This is just like Snap Shot, except objectively worse in all ways.
Survivalist: You get more class skills. They’re like the ones you already have, except useless to you.
Swift Poison: If you want a poisoner, I hate to say it, but consider the alchemist. The DCs tend to be too low and the cost is too high to be useful here.
Terrain Mastery: It’s a situational +2 bonus that even Rangers aren’t thrilled about.
Trap Spotter: This is red. Do you know why? Pure spite. That’s why. The only reason people don’t search every 5 ft square for traps is because it would be insanely, indescribably boring. Someone recognized this, and then decided to charge the rogue, the iconic master of traps, a talent just for the privilege of hand waving the tedium away. This should have been an automatic perk of rogue trapfinding, if only to make it more palatable when they decided to give trapfinding to every other sodding class, and frankly I’d suggest doing exactly that for home games.
Wall Scramble: Like Charmer. At this point, I’m too depressed to even complain right now. Thank gods I’m done typing this section. I’m off to pour a drink now, and I suggest anyone who’s currently thinking about rogue talents right now to do the same.
Yes, Virginia. There is a bright side. After reading through all of those godsawful talents, we finally get some good ones. The advanced talents not only improve your general effectiveness, but do so in unique and suitably roguish ways. Better late than never, I suppose.
Crippling Strike: I believe the existence of this talent lends credence to my theory that rogues are meant to work as harriers and disablers. This lets you slowly erode larger, more powerful enemies until they’re either dead or manageable threats, with two hits being comparable to Bestow Curse. My only gripe is that you’ll often have to choose between using this and Offensive Defense.
Feat: It’s literally a free feat. That’s always useful. I’m not sure what else to say on the matter.
Opportunist: This is the single largest damage increase the rogue gets. This gives you a pseudo-iterative attack, which puts you much closer to par with the full BAB classes. Additionally, since it uses your highest attack bonus, it’s usually more likely to land than the normal full BAB iterative. One other fun bonus is that you don’t need a full attack round to make use of this. Every rogue should get this as quickly as possible.
Skill Master: Skill Master is actually pretty mediocre out of combat, since it only applies to a few select skills that you’re likely already very good with. In combat though, the rogues of this guide depend on skills like acrobatics, bluff, intimidate, sleight of hand and even disable device, if you took that particular stunt. Skill master doesn’t make you better at these, but it shouldn’t have to, since it trusts you’ve already invested heavily in them. What it does is remove the element of chance for things you can already do reliably, so that you don’t risk dying to a failed acrobatics roll or can’t sneak attack after a failed feint. Consistency in combat should never be undervalued.
Dispelling Attack: Wow! I’ve rated this slightly lower than Crippling Strike, because it has quite a few prereqs, but this is awesome. One thing that people often forget is that buffing is just as good for enemies as it is for players, and this is something rarely, if ever, considered when running DPS calculations. Dispelling a Haste/Heroism/Protection from X can seriously tip the odds in your favor, and unlike the wizard, you have no opportunity cost for doing so. Of course, you probably don’t have spellcraft, so try and train the party wizard to shout helpful information to you during fights so you know when to use this.
Hard Minded: So you’ve been mind-controlled. That’s not great, obviously. In a perfect world, your cloak of resistance/Protection from Evil/etc would have kept this from happening, but that’s hardly a realistic assumption, especially since you have a terrible will save. The good news is that if you get another chance each turn to break free with this. So, basically it’s like Improved Iron Will and Slippery Mind, except better than either. It also lets you save against effects that don’t usually even allow for saves. That’s pretty legit. If you’re investing a talent to shore up saves, this should be the one you get.
Hunter’s Surprise: This is awesome if your character is named Hunter and pretty average otherwise. This is could be compared to the ranger’s Instant Enemy spell, which lasts for a lot longer and can be cast several times a day. So, on second thought, let’s not make that comparison. This is best for rogues with Combat Reflexes, who can, for whatever reason expect an enemy to provoke AoOs. I’d say trust your existing methods of landing Sneak Attacks, but I can’t quite bring myself to rate this yellow, since the vast majority of your combat contributions rely on sneak attack in one way or another.
Redirect Attack: This is easily the best defensive rogue talent. It automatically succeeds, prevents all the damage of the attack, can actually damage an enemy as well, and it doesn’t depend on your paltry attack roll. Those last two points are crucial. Defensive abilities are usually strictly passive, which means they may keep bad things from happening to you, but they don’t actually help you end fights faster, but this one allows you to use your enemy’s strength against him, to not only negating the hit, but dealing some more damage. Unfortunately, this is only once a day, consider saving it for negating a critical hit, or making huge, single-hit strikers weep. One more thing, if you’re like me, you may have glanced at this talent and initially written it off as circumstantial, since it depends on having a target to absorb the attack. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that the actual attacker is a perfectly legal and valid target. Three cheers for judo rogues.
Weapon Snatcher: This single talent makes you the best Disarm Specialist in the game. By keeping Sleight of Hand at max ranks, you have the same BAB for the maneuver as a fighter, and the class skill bonus goes a long way to evening up the disparity created by weapon training. While this alone puts you on-par with any melee specialist in the game, what allows you to overtake them is simple economics. Look up the cost for an item which boosts CMB. Now look up the cost for a +5 to Sleight of Hand. Disarming is ideal for rogues, both mechanically and conceptually. It keeps you from having to fight fair, and it requires very little training and investment for you. This is worth strong consideration.
Another Day: I have two main problems with this talent. First, whenever possible, I like to not be in a position where one hit can end me. Sure, this isn’t always possible, especially as a rogue, and even the savviest character can be threatened by bad luck. Crit happens, as it were. That said, by level 10 a worrying number of the creatures capable of reducing you to giblets are large enough to have reach. It’s not that this can’t save your life, but it only works once per day, and even then, only when it’s a matter of life and death, and in those situations I’d prefer to have something more dependable.
Confounding Blades: Well, this at least lasts over multiple rounds, making it better than Slow Reactions. I still question its general usefulness.
Deadly Cocktail: This makes you better with poisons. If you really want to poison people as a rogue, you may as well use this, if only so when you’re inevitably disappointed with how ineffective poisoning is, you’ve only invested a single talent.
Entanglement of Blades: This is circumstantial and odd, but not actually bad. Being able to deny your enemy a 5-foot steps could be nasty with the right team or situation. It’s not the best, but for what it’s worth, I’d rather have this than Confounding Blades.
Familiar: This may seem hypocritical, since I spent a lot of time praising the benefits of a familiar when talking about dipping a level of wizard. Frankly, the allure of getting a familiar from multiclassing is that it’s free. You gain a lot of small bonuses, on their own not worth paying for, and you get them at a much earlier level, where they will be useful throughout your career. This involves the investment of at least three talents, and still doesn’t fully compare with the gains from dipping wizard. For another feat invested, you could get an improved Familiar to burn through wands for you, if you want, but it’s probably better to just not bother at all.
Fast Tumble: I didn’t think about it at the time, but this is actually pretty good for scouts. Anyone else shouldn’t be sprinting across the battlefield often enough to justify it.
Hamstring Strike: This is one of the rare instances where you don’t get to add an effect on top of your Sneak Attack damage, but it might be worth it. If you want be able to trip people as a rogue, this is how it’s done. Unfortunately it allows a save, but at least they had the decency to key it off of your Dexterity modifier, and things like Brutal Beating and Enforcer work to lower saves anyways. Interestingly, there’s nothing in the rules to indicate it doesn’t work against flying enemies. I’m not sure how well this will scale into the end game though, but some I’ve run some quick, if dodgy, math and it seems to be more reliable than tripping, but still far from a sure thing. I’m leaving it yellow with an invitation for anyone curious to re-examine it and maybe let me know.
Knock-Out Blow: It’s pretty unlikely anyone’s ever going to fail the save, and that only gets truer the higher your level. Staggering them anyways would be pretty nice, but the 1/day thing is too brutal.
Improved Evasion: Evasion is great, because you don’t really have HP to spare, but how often will you fail your reflex saves as a finesse fighting rogue? Not enough to justify further shoring them up, I’d imagine.
Stealthy Sniper: I’m not terribly impressed by this, but taking this gives you a way to fight at range without too much investment, since your stealth score probably doesn’t suck.
Unwitting Ally: It’s far safer and more reliable to depend on allies for flanking than enemies. That said, this gives you some additional offensive options in combat, provided you don’t get mobbed and murdered. The fact that this keys off of bluff and can be used all day long save it from being relegated to the red secton.
Deadly Sneak: Not only is this terrible by itself, it has Powerful Sneak as a prerequisite.
At the bare minimum, a talent would have to show up on my doorstep with flowers and a bottle of scotch to make me consider taking Powerful Sneak as a prerequisite.
Defensive Roll: If this wasn’t 1/day, didn’t just halve the damage dealt, just didn’t depend on making a DC 50 reflex saves or whatever, or even if it, could be used at times other than your impending death, this might have earned a yellow ranking. As it stands, there’s never a situation where this is even on par with Redirect Attack.
Frugal Trapsmith: It’s even cheaper not to waste time with traps. Also, more reliable, useful, better…
Getaway Master: Have you ever even rolled a drive check in Pathfinder? Actually, I’d totally take this if there’s ever an adventure module called Grand Theft Horse. Someone should get on this.
Hide in Plain Sight: Don’t get me wrong. This is a quintessentially roguish ability, and useful for a class that works hard to catch people off balance. However, Improved Eldritch Heritage and one level of Shadowdancer both take three feats and let you use this anywhere. This is a minimum of two talents (with Terrain Mastery being rather useless), and can only be used situationally. If you want this power, there are so many better ways to get it.
Master of Disguise: Circumstantial and useless. No thanks, especially not as an advanced talent.
Slippery Mind: The release of Hard Minded in Ultimate Combat, seems to suggest that the devs realized how weak this talent is and, rather than errata this one, decided to release a straight-up superior, new talent, and hope no one noticed. Now I have to write a quick entry on a now worthless talent, for the sake of consistency, confirming its worthlessness. It’s worthless, in case you were wondering.
Rumormonger: Now we have a mechanic for recreating scenes from Mean Girls. Even if this wasn’t totally unnecessary because of the way bluff works, it would be useless.
Thoughtful Reexamining: Like Charmer. Because some things never change.
Oh no. I have no intention of making the same mistake here as I did during the rogue talents. Rogues have a lot of archetypes, and the vast majority of them are awful. The few that aren’t are unambiguously better than the actual class. I’m going to list all of the good and interesting ones, and trust you to infer that everything I don’t specifically address is terrible. You call in unprofessional. I call it efficient.
Thug: This is probably the single greatest archetype for the rogue, so it’s unfortunate that the word comes loaded with RP connotations. My suggestion is just to ignore it completely, if it doesn’t suit you. The level one power allows you to extend shaken and frightened effects you inflict on enemies by an extra round. This is wonderful for both Dashing Archers and the Enforcer feat. What makes this the gold standard is Brutal Beating, which allows you to sacrifice a d6 of your sneak attack damage to leave an opponent sickened for a number of levels equal to ½ your rogue level. Clearly designed to administer powerful debuffs, the thug rogue meshes with virtually every rogue build in the guide.
Rake: Almost as good as the thug, and generally more likable, rakes gain Bravado’s Blade at level 1, which trades 1d6 of Sneak Attack damage in order to make an intimidate check against a foe. Additionally, you can trade extra sneak attack dice for a bonus on the check, so it becomes virtually impossible to fail. This makes them excellent Troubleshooters, since it allows them to intimidate enemies while fighting with a rapier or something else that synergizes with Butterfly’s Sting. The level 3 power gives you a scaling bonus on Diplomacy and Bluff, which is good for feinting, generally useful, and miles better than trap sense.
Skulking Slayer (Half Orc): Without Strength, Surprise Follow-Through is next to useless, but you can simply choose not to take it, which is nice. Bold Strike could work for either a Legbreaker with a greatclub or a Troubleshooter with a Falchion, allowing you to deal d8s on a charge with a two-handed weapon. That’s impressive. As if that weren’t good enough, you also get a bonus to feinting and the ability to feint an enemy before charging them. My favorite part of this though is that you can get a bonus to your Dirty Trick maneuvers, which makes Improved Dirty Trick, Greater Dirty Trick and Quick Dirty Trick all viable. If this isn’t what the rogue was supposed to be, it’s certainly how all the archetypes should be made.
Bandit: Fearsome Strike is useless for rogues who already have ways to intimidate enemies. The level 4 ability, Ambush, is incredibly useful if you either have the Underhanded talent or a way to act during a surprise round.
Scout: This is never going to help you with multiple attacks, but since we’re not TWF, we don’t really care. The first ability lets you Sneak Attack on a charge, and the second gives you a sneak attack any time you move ten feet or more. This certainly doesn’t hurt, and is probably better than what it replaces.
Sanctified Rogue: It’s an odd, but cool flavor, on this one. This gives a pathetic bonus to your two weak saves, and lets you cast Augury once per day. Fortunately, it doesn’t replace anything important, so if you want it, take it.
Liberator: If you really want a Catch Off-Guard legbreaker build, this might be worth thinking about, especially if you find the Thug too, umm… thuggish for your character concept. She’s harder to grapple, makes it slightly more plausible that she and her allies can sneak up on an enemy, and most importantly, gets a free feat. Free feats are good.
Swashbuckler: This grants a free martial weapon proficiency, lets you take Combat Trick a second time, and gives a bonus to Acrobatics and saves against fear. You can never have too much acrobatics because the DC to avoid AoOs eventually becomes insanely high. It’s still not as good as other options, but if you have a feat intensive build and you need another Combat Trick (maybe a Dashing Archer?) this is a reasonable choice.
Knife Master: If you looked at the rogue class and thought, “Well, this is cool and all, but how can I use it to better slit throats?” then this is the archetype for you, you monster. The main perk of a knife master is that you use d8s for sneak attack when attacking with a dagger, or similar weapon, and d4s for everything else. This would be better if damage was your primary aim, which it is not. Anyways, taking this precludes being a rake or thug, which is hugely off-putting just by itself.
Sniper: If you’re an archer without any access to Sniper’s Goggles, maybe consider this. Otherwise it’s pretty bloody useless, but I think all else being equal, I’d still rather have a different archetype.
Unlike most Pathfinder classes, rogues can frequently benefit from multiclassing. The fact that rogues become stronger when not taking rogue levels could be possibly misconstrued as more evidence that rogues are a pretty terribly designed class. (Who am I kidding? Of course it’s evidence.) The fact of the matter though is that rogues can often exploit low-level perks of other classes, often far better than the original could. And, design flaw or no, that’s pretty damn roguish. Grey Mouser was once a wizard’s apprentice, after all.
1 level of Alchemist (Crypt Breaker): There’s something here for everybody. Fortitude and Reflex saves both increase. For rogue archetypes seeking to reclaim Trapfinding, here it is. Crypt Breaker’s Draught can let you locate invisible enemies (scent), act as a potion of Darkvision, or even just used to bolster perception checks out of combat while pretending you’re a witcher. The formulae list isn’t amazing, but useful with True Strike, Shield, Disguise Self, and Cure Light Wounds. Alkahest Bombs are basically free daily vials of alchemist fire, and thus occasionally useful. Throw Anything is thematic, but more importantly, pretty useful in surprise rounds. It’s barely a green rating, but I think it’s the best option for reclaiming Trapfinding, especially for characters without darkvision. It also costs a point of BAB without even a combat mutagen to soften the blow though. It’s great for adding breadth to a combat focused rogue, but not the other way around.
Bonus points will be awarded for Legbreaker Rogues with the Bludgeoner feat, and Accelerated Drinker trait who walk through dungeons with a potion, and at the start of combat drink the potion as a move action, and throw the empty bottle at a flat-footed enemy as a standard (thus activating Sap Adept/Master).Seriously, let me know how this goes for you.
Barbarian: An Urban Barbarian’s rage offers a short term accuracy boost, but leaves you fatigued when it ends. Otherwise you get a strength boost (with the same caveats) and a slightly faster move speed. There are better choices and better full BAB choices.
Bard: An excellent wannabe rogue, especially if your character concept involves a particularly devious Morris dancer. A terrible dip, since all of the good bard toys depend on the bard level.
Cavalier (Standard Bearer): At level 2, Order of the Blue rose can make any attack nonlethal without penalty, which is useful for some characters I suppose. In addition, you get minor banner bonuses, improved fort saves and a 1/day Challenge. Not great, but what saves this from red is the ability to distribute teamwork feats to your allies. While it depends on your team composition, things like Duck and Cover, Feint Partner, Escape Route, or Stealth Synergy can all have some potential.
Cleric: This is a passable option, especially for dwarves since they tend to have better Wisdom. The Divine Strategist archetype gives the always-awesome ability to act during every surprise round, which is good when you’re combat style hinges on catching enemies unaware. Domains like Travel and Luck are useful at any level. You also gain medium armor proficiency, a boosted will save, and minor divine casting. Not the best option, but viable, especially if your group needs a backup divine caster.
4 levels of Druid (Tempest): It’s been rightly pointed out that my initial dismissal of the druid was a bit hasty. While I’ve been largely weighing the merits of classes based on a 1-2 level dip, four levels worth of Tempest Druid can gets interesting. The weather domain gives you a ranged touch attack that offers its own debuff effect. Druid 4 also nets you Wild Shape. While being able to shapeshift into animals has obvious utility for a scout, the feat Shaping Focus also give you several fantastic combat forms. Deinonychus gives you multiple natural attacks and pounce, Dire Hyena gives you reach, and eventually there will also be options for medium air elementals, and huge, diminutive, and plant creatures. Furthermore, any natural bludgeoning attacks can be used to further the legbreaker tree. As far as spellcasting, since you can spontaneously convert into domain spells, at level 1, you can prepare Frostbite in all of your available slots (it works like Chill Touch, except there’s no save against it’s debuff effect) and when needed convert them into Obscuring Mist (which you can see through, thanks to Druid 4) and get sneak attacks from cover (since you’ll need at least 10 ft of mist for full cover, the Lunge feat may prove useful for this strategy.) Unfortunately, there are several downsides. First, your inability to use metal armor or shields does complicate your defensive prospects. Also worth mentioning is that while Obfuscating Mist is great for you, it can pose a pretty severe hindrance to your allies, so you’ll need to make certain your strategy won’t inadvertently screw over the rest of the team. This is neither the fastest nor easiest dip, but with proper planning, it does have some serious potential.
Fighter(Lore Warden or Weapon Master): Training as a fighter makes you better at fighting. Who knew? You get medium Armor, martial weapons, Full BAB and a bonus feat. Drab, boring, but good enough if you need any of that. Although I don’t like dipping more than a level or two, the third level of Weapon Master allows you to add +2 to your weapon training bonus. That’s two free feats and +5 to hit for a three level investment, so it’s worth considering for combat oriented rogues.
Gunslinger: There are far easier ways to make ranged touch attacks. Frankly, if you want a pistol (and have a game that allows them), spend the feat/talent, but I probably wouldn’t bother then, either.
1 level of Inquisitor (Heretic): With bonuses to all the right saves, access to a Cleric domain, and small bonuses to bluff, intimidate, and stealth, Inquisitors have a lot going for them, especially since they can fill a role as emergency healer/divine caster. What makes them truly great for stealth-focused rogues is the ability to create a diversion when they attack. A much better divine option than clerics.
1 level of Magus (Spire Defender): I’m going to do the unthinkable, and tell you that this is the single best combat boost for rogues; far better than fighter. Technically, this costs you a point of BAB, but the +1 bonus from your arcane pool lasts for a full minute, so you break pretty even on that front. The +2 bonus to both of the rogue’s weak saves would be worth two feats, and is greatly needed. You get TWO free feats at the first level; Dodge, which is always useful, and Combat Expertise, which is practically required for rogues and means now you don’t have to buy 13 Int if you don’t want to. Oh wait, I lied. You also get an Exotic Weapon Proficiency for finesse weapons that let you trip or disarm. And you’re the best disarm specialist in the game. Hmmm. There are a few good options, but I would suggest either the Scorpion Whip for reach, or the Swordbreaker Dagger, for a +4 disarm bonus against bladed weapons. All of the above cost you absolutely nothing as a rogue dipping into the class. Now, as a Magus, you gain a spell list (No UMD for wands of magus spells), cantrips (including Acid Splash for a ranged touch attack option for Sneak Attacks), and most importantly, the ability to cast spells and attack in the same turn. This is amazing for one spell: True Strike. A +20 bonus guarantees land that hit or maneuver when you really need to. Screw it, with a +20, Scorpion Whip rogues can attempt untrained trip checks with a pretty high chance of success for most of the early game. In short, Spire Defenders give rogues versatility, defense, and pure offensive capabilities and are therefore objectively freaking awesome.
Monk: You get three good saves, and some individually good powers like being able to act in surprise rounds, unarmed fighting, and a bonus feat, but you lose a point of BAB and don’t get anything that quite makes it worth it.
Oracle: There are some fantastic niche builds that use Oracle dips, but they’re so specific that they’re not really relevant for the guide here. In general, it’s not a good plan.
Paladin: The saves are good, but you don’t really get anything useful until level two, and you probably don’t have enough charisma to make it worth the investment. Even if you do, give it a miss.
1 level of Ranger (Trapper/Guide): If you’re desperate for Trapfinding, a minor attack/damage boost, and a point of BAB, either take this or sit down and seriously reassess your priorities.
Sorcerer: Nothing here that isn’t done better by other options.
Summoner: I actually can’t think of a way this could be less useful.
Witch: Good for all the reasons a wizard is, but not as good as a wizard, ergo…
1 Level of Wizard (Foresight Diviner): Even though you lose a point of BAB, this is an great dip for Troubleshooters. It must be, because why else would I personally use it? For the price of admission, you get True Strike as a school spell (Works in armor and guarantees that clutch hit or maneuver you'll occasionally need), +2 to will saves, the ability to use all wizard wands, and a familiar. Familiars are inherently awesome, not only do they give you Alertness as a feat when they’re nearby, and essentially a second bonus feat (Improved Initiative from the scorpion is probably the best general choice) but they also make checks using your skill points, essentially allowing you to roll twice for most noncombat skill checks. Moving on, you also get access to a Wizard's lv 1 spells i.e. a rogue's playground (Grease, Obscuring Mist, Silent Image, Sculpt Freaking Corpse. If you can't find places to roguishly use these, you're dead to me.), the ability to scout via precognition with scrying sensors through cracks in doors, mail slots, whatever, and, of course a free ranged touch attack (Acid Splash) which you can use to catch enemies flat-footed (even during THEIR surprise rounds) because, hey, you're a freaking diviner and surprise rounds mean nothing. Of course, no one ever shocks your character at Christmas, but we’re role-playing downsides here too, people. Since troubleshooters already specialize in boosting their to-hit, rather than their damage, they can survive the loss of a single point of BAB in exchange for what is essentially 5 feats (Iron Will, Improved Initiative, Alertness, Extra Talent: Minor Magic, Extra Talent: Major Magic), the ability to act during an enemy’s surprise round, another +1 to initiative, and the ability to use most arcane wands at will.
Starting out, you’ll probably use Studded Leather armor, since it’s light and cheap, and not bother to replace it until you can afford a set of mithral. Since this guide is assuming your rogue is Dexterity based, you’ll probably only have 10-12 Strength, which means pretty limited carrying capacity. This makes mithral a doubly good deal for you, since it not only increases your armor’s max dex bonus but also only weighs half as much. Coupled with a Handy Haversack, you should be more than able to carry all of your gear as a light load from early on in the game.
Mithral Kikko Armor: “You paid how much for that Celestial chainmail! Don’t you know there’s perfectly good off-brand armor with no ACP for half the price?” Because I apparently imagine rogues shopping like single parents, I guess. Mooooving on, the fact of the matter is this is your best option precisely because it’s cheap, decent protection with a high Dex bonus. Simple numerical enchantments are probably the best option for protection. Fancy armor is well and good for fighters, but all you need is something to keep you from being hit as often. Plus, kikko armor looks awesome.
Mithral Chain Shirt: Slightly worse than kikko armor, but always available, should a DM balk at an Asian armor style ruining the realism of a world where elf mages can duel undead dragons.
Shadow Enchantment: Flat cash for +5 to stealth is pretty good, if you use stealth regularly.
Mithral Buckler: Always carry protection. Since you’re not using your off-hand for anything, a buckler is a cheap, lightweight receptacle for additional armor enchantments. While tempting to just steal one from the nearest wizard, do yourself a favor and pay for it. Even you don’t want to pit your skills against the divination school.
Keen Rapier: The go-to choice for rogues with Butterfly’s Sting. Simple, effective, and elegant.
Alchemical Silver Sap: There’s no penalty for silver bludgeoning weapons, so this is a cheap way to bypass occasional DR. Even if you don’t specialize in saps, carry one of these as a backup.
Masterwork Cold Iron Dagger: Your other backup weapon. Buy one early.
Enchantment Bonuses: You need to worry about hitting things. This is boring, but it works.
Agile: This significantly boosts your damage, and keeps you from wasting your attacks on things immune to Sneak Attack or Crits. Damage may not be our top priority, but it is so much fun.
Holy: It’s expensive, but 2d6 is a nice boost, and it beats DR/good. If you’re on the side of the angels, there are worse ways to spend disposable income.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Things to always have in a pocket
Alkali Flask: Oozes are natural predators of low level rogues. Alkali flasks are splash weapons which deal double damage against oozes, by neutralizing their natural acids. Enjoy better living through chemistry.
Acid Flask: Unfortunately, you can‘t sneak attack with splash weapons in Pathfinder, but keeping a vial or two on hand is still useful against swarms or just when you need quick and reliable ranged damage.
Masterwork Thieves’ Tools: This should be the first thing you buy, either with your character’s starting wealth, or as early into the game as possible. Since you need tools to make Disable Device checks without penalty, you may as well pay a little extra for a +2 bonus that stacks with everything.
Ioun Torch: You may not fight fair, but you’re no common street mugger knifing NPCs in dark allies. If you don’t have Darkvision, you’re going to want to guarantee that you can see who you’re sneak attacking. This works like a torch except it lasts forever, and floats in the air. How cool is that?
Earplugs: These are dirt cheap, weigh virtually nothing, and give a +2 bonus against save effects requiring hearing. Since your saves are pretty weak, if you have advanced warning (like the ranger recognizing tracks, or you successfully scouting) you may as well take advantage of the free save bonus. Plus, traps and fireballs are loud and Evasion won’t protect you from tinnitus.
Holy Water: Like acid and alkali flasks, this can come in handy. Also, it’s one of the few ways to hurt an incorporeal undead in the early game.
Antitoxin: If you suspect there will be poison, you should mainline one of these beforehand. There’s no point in all your scouting and gathering information if you’re going to be stingy with your disposable items. It’s still useful after being poisoned though, as long as you still need to make saves, but by then at least some damage is done. Still better than dying, though.
Antiplague: As with the antitoxin, this does more good if you can anticipate its usefulness ahead of time, but useful regardless. There’s no excuse for adventuring without at least one of each. Spending a 100gp to look after yourself means the party cleric can concentrate more fully on her job and not worry about her team dying of consumption or whatever. Plus, should another party fail a save, you can help out.
Tanglefoot Bags: At low levels, Tanglefoot Bags can ruin an enemy’s day, but since they’re surprisingly heavy and the DC remains static, they tend to be neglected after the first level or two. However, while it’s quite likely most creatures will make the reflex save to be rooted to the floor, as long as you hit, the enemy is automatically entangled without a save. This stops an enemy from charging, gives them a -2 penalty on attack rolls, a -4 to Dexterity, and forces a concentration check from spellcasters, all for 2d4 rounds. Since you’re probably not going to miss your touch attack, this is a cheap way to prevent enemies from charging, slow flying creatures, root heavily armored targets and thus force them to waste a standard action freeing themselves, and doubly debuff finesse fighters. Best of all, one of your hated enemies, large earth elementals (and their smaller ilk obviously, but Tanglefoot Bags won’t affect anything huge size or larger), have a freaking terrible reflex save. Since you can’t sneak attack them, you may as well lob a few of these and deny them the opportunity to attack your party. As by scouts, orgy enthusiasts, and the tiny odd Venn overlap of the two groups all know: Be prepared. Carry many of these in your haversack, use them as needed, listen to the party sing your praises.
Spring Loaded Wrist Sheath: If you’ve seen Django Unchained, you already understand why this is good. This not only helps you conceal a weapon up your sleeve, but also allows you to draw it as a swift action, something which can be invaluable during surprise rounds.
Moonrod: If you’re playing a race with low-light vision, moonrods create a silvery glow which counts as dim light, unless you have low-light vision, in which case you can see as if in normal lighting. Personally, I think these are a nice alternative for situations where a torch might be a bit too conspicuous.
Shadowcloy: One thing we should have learned from this foray into rogues is that they live and die based on lighting conditions. Shadowcloy is a thrown alchemical item which, on a direct hit, causes the target to treat the ambient light level as one step lower with no save. This offers a potent defense against enemy rogues without darkvision, but likely could also be used by an ingenious rogue to plunge an enemy into total darkness, or create a miss chance to save a player in a bad position. It’s a versatile and surprisingly useful addition to your arsenal.
Smoke Pellets: Smokesticks have their own uses, but for the purpose of creating quick concealment is fantastic, especially against ranged attackers. Seriously, smoke bombs are almost as fun in the game as they are in real life. At least in Pathfinder, no one complains if you try to use them to escape a bad blind date.
Wayfinder: Part compass, part flashlight, part poorly-understood ancient artifact which resonates with ioun stones, this is precisely the kind of toy an adventuring rogue ought to carry. This makes the list primarily because of its invaluable interaction with the Dusty Rose Prism Ioun Stone, but also because every self-respecting adventurer would want one.
DRESSING TO KILL: What the fashion conscious rogue is wearing
Head- Jingasa of the Fortunate Soldier or Buffering Cap; Both of these options let you negate a critical hit or sneak attack against you as an immediate action, once per day. The Jingasa costs an extra 3,00 but also gives you +1 AC. That’s easily the best investment. If you’re strapped for cash or are in a region where wearing a Jingasa might be too conspicuous, the Buffering Cap is a cheap alternative.
Eyes- Whatever/Sniper Goggles; You can buy some nice glasses that give you bonuses to perception or whatnot, but there’s nothing here that is imperative to have, unless you’re an archer. If you’re an archer, you need Sniper Goggles, ASAP. They let you make sneak attacks from any distance, and can add bonus damage. They’re expensive, but you’re paying for quality.
Headband- Headband of Ninjitsu; There’s no contest. This gives a +2 insight bonus on attack rolls for sneak attack, lets you sneak attack enemies with concealment (basically the Shadow Strike feat) gives a +2 bonus to feint, and once a day lets you feint as a swift action. At 15,000 it’s not cheap, but this should be your first major investment if you’re a rogue who doesn’t specialize in archery.
Neck- Amulet of Natural Armor/Necklace of Adaptation/Amulet of Elemental Strife; The necklace of Natural Armor is probably the safest and most useful option, because AC is always good. However, honorable mention goes to the Amulet of Elemental Strife, because it helps slightly against your hated (and Sneak Attack immune) foes, and to the Necklace of Adaptation, because it’s cheap protection against Cloudkill, which is something you don’t have the constitution to deal with.
Shoulders- Cloak of Resistance; Don’t try to assert your individuality here and buy something else because you feel Cloak of Resistances are too overdone. There’s a very good reason everyone you meet is wearing one. Specifically, because everyone who wasn’t died horribly. It’s cheap and it gives bonuses to all of your saves, which is something that you always will desperately want.
Wrists- Who cares? You do, huh? Fine. Sleeves of Many Garments; These cost 200 gold and let you disguise your clothes as any other set of non-magical clothes. That’s cool, cheap, and incredibly useful for devious characters. Don’t waste your money looking for a more expensive way to fill this slot.
Hands- Gloves of Arcane Striking/Gloves of Larceny/Deliquescent Gloves; Gloves of Larceny give a +5 to your Sleight of Hand checks, which thanks to Weapon Snatcher becomes a +5 to your disarm attempts. Gloves of Arcane Striking aren’t my favorite choice here, but are worth noting because they can allow you to do miniscule damage to enemies adjacent to your target. This isn’t a particularly powerful ability in and of itself, but if you have a bunch of enemies who are denied dexterity (Because you’re in stealth, they haven’t acted yet, etc…) it turns your Sneak Attack into sizable area of effect damage, so it has the potential to be exploited by an industrious rogue. The last contender, Deliquescent Gloves, give any weapon you wield the Corrosive property. This is decent for everyone, especially anyone with Catch Off-Guard who doesn’t get a magic weapon, but the real treasure here is that it also gives you an unarmed touch attack. This lets you carve up a lot of high AC enemies with absolute ease, for the same reason the Chill Touch gnomes can. Definitely consider dropping money on these.
Body- Who cares? There’s nothing here that’s worth the money. If you really care, see if you can buy a masterwork turtleneck. It won’t do anything except look cool, but really, that’s enough.
Chest- Bane Baldric/ Quickrunner’s Shirt; Bane Baldric is definitely my favorite. It gives you five rounds of bane a day, which is a pretty powerful attack and damage buff that’s available whenever you need it. Honorable mention goes to the Quickrunner’s Shirt which, once per day, lets you trade a swift action for a move action, which can come in handy.
Belt- Belt of Dexterity and eventually Constitution; You depend on Dexterity for everything you do in combat. You want as much Dex as you can get. Additionally, adding Con bonuses to the belt is a good use of spare money, since hit points and fort saves are both boosted by that. It’s always good to be hard to kill.
Boots- Boots of Elvenkind/ Cat Burglar’s Boots/Jaunt Boots; Well, this is a tossup, depending on what you want from your footwear. Boots of Elvenkind give a +5 bonus on Acrobatics checks, which in turn help you avoid AoOs. Cat Burglar’s Boots give a +2 to Acrobatics, Stealth and Climb checks, for the same price. Additionally, once per day they let you reroll if you fail one of those skill checks. They also let you hide a set of Thieves’ Tools in your shoe, so there’s that, I guess. Jaunt Boots are by far the most expensive, but still relatively cheap, and three times per day let you turn your 5 foot step into a 15 foot step.
Ring of Protection: More straight, boring AC to keep you from getting murdered. It’s not flashy, but it’s functional and always useful.
Handy Haversack: You likely won’t have the greatest carrying capacity in the world, and you’re probably going to accumulate a lot of bric-a-brac over your travels. Not only does this solve potential encumbrance problems, but it saves you from having to dump out your entire backpack looking for the right scroll or something, and saves you from AoOs. They’re just as handy as advertised on TV. Buy one.
Dusty Rose Prism Ioun Stone: This stone gives you +1AC, which means that early on buying one will be cheaper than further upgrading a ring/armor, and offer the same protection. However, when slotted into a wayfinder, this stone also provides a +2 CMB and CMD bonus. Disarm rogues will recognize this as the huge boon that it is and get one of these ASAP.
Clear Spindle Ioun Stone: By itself, the ability to survive without food and water is pretty underwhelming. However, when slotted into a wayfinder, it protects the wielder from possession and mental control, which negates the effects of several very scary will saves, like Dominate Person.
Traveler’s Any Tool: This is essentially a cross between a giant Swiss army knife and a sonic screwdriver. It can function as any simple tool (as the name sort of suggests, I suppose) and mean you have whatever you need at the time without having to worry about carrying scissors, bolt cutters, crowbars, etc.
Scabbard of Vigor: If you don’t want to invest in enchanting your backup weapon, I’d suggest buying one of these, so that you aren’t at a crippling disadvantage should you have to resort to plan b.
Circlet of Persuasion: This is a relatively cheap boost to all Charisma checks. This sizably boosts your bluff, intimidate, and use magic device checks. Also worthy of note, this is one of the only ways for Dashing Archers to boost their performance checks, which can make performance combat more reliable during the earlier levels. This could be a decent alternative for headwear, should you feel so inclined.
Dust of Dryness: I honestly don’t have a specific reason for listing this one here, except that personally it feels like a quintessentially roguish magic item, and you can probably achieve all sorts of horrible things by conjuring 100 gallons of water. Keep it in mind if you ever feel as if you have too much money.
Pale Green Prism Ioun Stone: At 30,000 gold, this isn’t going to be an early game item, but this ioun stone offers a +1 bonus to practically everything, including perennial favorites such as attacks, saving throws, and skill checks.
I’d like to thank all the incredible people on the Paizo boards who have spent so much time tinkering and optimizing rogues, and especially Scavion, SubZero, and TarkXT, whose thread [http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2qcif?Ladies-and-Gentlemen-Its-time-we-made-the] was my initial inspiration. I’d like to apologize to any reader who’s made it this far through my poorly written and poorly organized attempt at a guide. Hopefully you found something worthwhile, even if it was just a deep laugh at my expense.
Good luck and happy gaming,