Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What's wrong with rogues, Part 1

My first project is a series of posts about rogues.  Anyone who plays Pathfinder has probably noticed that rogues just don't feel as good as other classes.  If you do the math, it just doesn't work out.  If you jump in and start playing, it gets very frustrating to be constantly not-quite-as-good as other classes.  This is a multi-part, in-depth analysis of what's wrong with rogues, followed by a series of suggestions to fix some or all of those problems.  This series will update every Tuesday until it's done, as which point I'll pick another thing to analyze.

So without further ado, I present to you:
What’s wrong with rogues, Part 1

No Clear Role
What is a rogue supposed to do?  People have lots of possible answers.  Some common roles are burglar, diplomat, spy, pseudo-mage, scout, trap-finder, light fighter, or damage dealer.  Rogues are supposed to fulfill at least two or three of those roles, but the problem is that rogues aren’t the best at any of them.  

Rogues make excellent burglars.  The skills for burglary are Stealth, Perception (to find the things to steal), Disable Device (to pick locks and disarm traps), and Sleight of Hand.  Acrobatics and Climb are also potentially useful for things like entering buildings or balancing across roof rafters.
Burglary is one of the few things I think rogues are unquestionably best at.  Other classes can still be very good- bards, rangers, wizards, and druids are also potentially very sneaky and perceptive.  With traits that can make Sleight of Hand an in-class skill for anyone, rogues have much less of a lock on burglary than they used to.  Nonetheless, it requires more investment for anyone else to be a top-notch burglar.

In order to be a “face” character one should have, at a minimum, Bluff and Diplomacy.  Many find Sense Motive and/or Intimidate good as well, though I consider them useful but not required.  Again, most rogues will have Cha as a secondary stat at best, so they’re not the best at this. Bards and sorcerers are better options for diplomats than rogues.  Paladins are often better as well- while rogues generally won’t get more than a 14 Cha, paladins often go with a 16 Cha.

Spying in Pathfinder comes in a few forms- listening in on conversations, breaking in and stealing documents, or using diplomatic skills to trick people into telling you things*.  Unfortunately, rogues aren’t the best at any of these.  They do have a lot of skill points, but different methods are skill-intensive in very different skills.  
Listening to a conversation is Perception- rangers, druids, and even clerics are better at it.  Rogues never have the Wisdom to back up the skill and become amazing at it.  Also, almost anyone can be good at Perception, so this isn’t a uniquely roguish trick
Breaking and entering is a roguish domain.  Rogues tend to have high Dex and will likely put points into Acrobatics and Stealth and possibly Climb.  Stealing things could be Stealth or Sleight of Hand.  However, you will note the four skills listed here.  Even with 8 + Int skills/level, a rogue is rapidly running out of skill points.  A specialized bard or ranger could be just as good at burglary as a rogue and have more utility to the party outside of burglary.
Diplomatic skills.  See my discussion of diplomats above.  I will grant that paladins aren’t always great at spying, but you can usually have them chat people up and pump them for information without calling it “spying”.  LG and no lying doesn’t mean no subtlety or tact.

*Yes, you can also magically eavesdrop via scrying or clairaudience/clairvoyance, but I’m leaving those out for now.  If you count magic, rogues fall even further behind at being effective spies.

Oh look, another Cha-based skill!  Bards are just straight up better at UMD than rogues and they can cast lots of spells inherently.  Sorcerers are better at UMD.  With a trait, anyone can gain UMD as a class skill, so even paladins are potentially better at UMD.

The most important skills for a scout are Stealth and Perception.  Survival, Acrobatics, and Climb may also come up, as well as Knowledges for identifying enemies.  Rogues have Acrobatics, Climb, Stealth, Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (local), and Perception in class.  They also usually have a high Dex, so they’re very good at the Stealth parts.
Here’s the problem.  Rangers are also very good at the Stealth and Perception parts.  They have equally good knowledges for identifying foes, and while they lack Acrobatics in class they do have Survival.  Druids tend to have decent Stealth scores and can turn into birds or snakes or other tiny animals to scout ahead.  They have sky-high Perception and Survival bonuses and decent foe identification.  Monks travel fast and are good at Stealth and Perception.  Wizards can cast divination spells or potentially ask their familiars to scout.  Spellcasters might be able to ask local plants or animals about things through spells such as speak with animals or speak with plants.
If the rogue does get caught, then what happens?  Spellcasters often have running-away spells.  Druids can wildshape and fly or burrow away.  High-level rangers might be able to burrow away or ride on their trusty animal companion, though rangers are also in serious trouble if caught.  Monks can run away faster than most people and animals can chase them.  Our theoretical rogue doesn’t have any class abilities or mechanisms that let hir escape if detected.
So yes, rogues make good scouts.  Other classes also make good scouts.  There’s no reason to pick a rogue over any of the other classes that also bring scouting to the table.

This used to be the rogue “thing”.  Trap finding and disabling was what rogues had that no one else could do, and traps are nasty enough that people overlooked a rogue’s other mechanical weaknesses.  Paizo decided that having one essential element of the game tied up in one class was poor design, and I agree.  However, dealing with traps is no longer a rogue’s sole domain.  Various archetypes give trapfinding to several classes.  Trapper and urban rangers both deal with traps, as do archeologist bards and seeker oracles.  Since they aren’t the only trap finders anymore, rogues must compete with other classes on their other (non-trap related) merits.

In out of combat roles, rogues have a lot of options.  They can only pick two or three, as they’re all very skill-intensive.  While that’s more than many other classes can say, a well-planned party can still bring all major roles to the table without having to deal with a rogue’s weaknesses.

So far we’ve covered out of combat roles.  The rogue also has to have a combat role.  Pathfinder is all about the combat- skills are an important sub-system, but the meat of the game is killing things and taking their stuff.  If a class doesn’t have an effective combat role, it’s simply unusable as a class.

Light Fighter
A light fighter might deal less damage than other people on the field, but ze is there to help the team.  Ze goes around and provides flanks, comes from the side to protect mages and other unarmored targets, might provide aid actions against hard-to-hit foes, and is a generally useful secondary melee fighter.
Rogues are not good light fighters.  Monks move much better around the battlefield and can potentially stun or grapple foes.  Fighters can be heavily-armored “light fighters” with armor training.  Barbarians can move around the field faster than rogues can and do a better job protecting casters from foes coming in from the back.  Cavaliers, mounted rangers, and shifter or animal companion druids all fill a light fighter’s role much better than a rogue does.

Damage Dealer
I’ll get much more in depth into damage comparisons next time.  For now, I’ll leave it at rogue damage output sucks.  Even in the best situation imaginable, (low-AC, flanked, sneak-attackable foe), rogues do less damage than any other melee damage dealer in the game (with the possible exception of monks).  Rogues have ¾ BAB, bad weapon proficiencies, and class-based damage that only applies some of the time.  If what you’re looking for is damage, bring a fighter, barbarian, ranger, or magus.  Inquisitors and druids work too.  Whatever you do, don’t bring a rogue.

With a well-balanced party, other people can fulfill all the rogue’s roles split up among other players, leaving a rogue second-best at everything.  Why bring one?

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