Natural Twenties #1: The Rogue as a Tank

Link to the original post on Natural Twenties #1.

The Pathfinder All-Rogue Party

Ah, the Rogue. A staple in the RPG industry for many years now, the rogue (of thief, or brigand, etc) is essentially based on the idea of a skillful, law-bending character who is very good at stabbing others in the back. In Dungeons and Dragons and, by extension, Pathfinder, the rogue has three main class hallmarks; Sneak Attack, which allows a rogue to do extra damage when his opponent is caught off-guard (usually when he’s snuck around behind said opponent), his defensive abilities such as Uncanny Dodge and Evasion, and his skills. What I would consider the “standard” build of the Rogue uses all of these attributes to become a sort of quick striker in combat, darting in and out, flanking foes and dealing tons of damage without (hopefully) getting hit very often. Outside of battle, the Rogue is the de facto scout of the party, able to sneak up on groups of enemies and gather intel without them knowing, and able to quickly set and disarm traps that would take out less subtle members of the party.

However, the Rogue truly is an incredibly versatile class, especially in the Pathfinder RPG system, which I have been using recently. His wide range of class skills, decent base attack bonus and access to Rogue Talents allow a player to customize their Rogue to fit many party roles. In fact, as I will argue here, ALL of them.

The idea for an all-Rogue team came from a regular player in one of my games recently. We were rolling up characters for a new campaign run by one of my other friends, and he looked at me and, with those big, childlike eyes of his shining, said “Let’s all be Rogues!” I immediately quashed the idea. “Who would be our healer?” I said. “Who would cast spells?” I said. We ended up with a fairly standard party, and that was that. Then the other day I started thinking. Could you have a party of all Rogues, and not only not get killed by the enemies but also become an effective team? After some more thought on the matter, I have decided that it is entirely possible for a Rogue to fulfill any role in the party. I won’t describe the “standard” Rogue here, because that’s just boring. For each party role, I’ll include my suggested build in the form of an example character. Here’s my take on the Rogue-tank, up through level ten:

This is one of the simplest roles for the Rogue to fill, and it’s based almost completely on the choice of ability scores and then the feats and Rogue Talents that are chosen later on. First off, put all your ability points (or your highest scores, in the case of rolled abilities) in Con, Strength, and Dex in that order. The scores I came up with based on a standard 20-point buy are Str 15, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 8, Wis 8, and Cha 12. Why the 12 in Charisma? Intimidation. You’re the tank. You bash things and take damage. In the way of taking damage, it’s important that you have as high a Con score as possible, as d8 hit dice are not ideal for the guy in the front being smacked by the CR15 black dragon.

Next, let’s choose a race. Most people would go straight for the half-orc for the Intimidating racial ability and the safeguard against dying that is Orc Ferocity, and for these reasons half-orc is a great choice. However, don’t underestimate the power of a bonus feat from choosing a human. In either case, that extra +2 to an ability score must go into Con, boosting it to 18.

Personally, I would go human. Let’s name him Bron. Bron the brawny. Bron’s weapon of choice is a heavy mace (simple weapon, 1d8 damage) which he will swing two-handed to add 1.5x his Strength bonus to damage, and he will wear the best light armor available, which in most cases is going to be the chain shirt once you can afford it (+4 AC, +4 max dex).
Normally, with a Fighter or Barb tank, I would choose Power Attack and Cleave as far as first-level feats. Sadly, the Rogue suffers from a medium Base Attack Bonus progression, so we’ll have to wait for second level. We’ll go with Weapon Focus to get +1 attack with the mace, and Combat Expertise to give a little extra Armor Class when necessary. As an alternative you could take Dodge or Shield Proficiency, both of which will boost AC.

Skills aren’t as important to the tank, but a few you should definitely put those points into at each level are Acrobatics, Intimidate and Perception. Another thing you may think about, since you’re first level, is replacing your Trapfinding and Trap Sense with the class options for Thug in the Advanced Player’s Guide. As the tank, you don’t have to be the one finding traps, and instead you can choose to frighten your enemies and to sicken them with your Sneak Attacks. We’ll take that route with Bron. The first-level Thug ability, Frightening, will allow Bron to demoralize foes more effectively during battle.

One more option, if you find yourself lacking in the Dex department, would be to give up Uncanny Dodge right from the start and go with the Scout class abilities option, to get sneak damage on your charges as well as after you set up the flank. The later Scout ability is the real winner, allowing you to get your sneak damage dice any time you move ten feet in a round. This would let your tank get his sneak dice a lot more often without having to worry about flanking.

At second level, Bron’s first Rogue Talent is a combat feat, Power Attack. This will let him get extra damage while sacrificing a little bit of attack bonus, a worthy trade for a tank. Third level brings another feat, and as the natural progression from Power Attack, we’ll pick Cleave. This will allow Bron to make an extra attack once per round if he knocks out his opponent, great for taking out several low-CR creatures. Since Bron chose to give up his trapfinding ability and be a Thug, he also gets Brutal Beating at third level, allowing him to forego 1d6 of sneak damage to sicken his foe for a number of rounds equal to ½ his Rogue level. Cinematically, this is the equivalent of a nut-shot on your opponent. This can come in handy, since the sickened condition causes your opponent to take a -2 to pretty much all rolls, including attack and damage.

So far, Bron can do on average 15 damage (1d8 + 3 + 2 power attack + 2d6 sneak) per attack. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but with an average attack of 14 (1d20 + 2 Str + 2 BAB + 1 weapon training – 1 power attack) reliably at level 3, it’s not bad. If Bron finds himself getting hit often with his AC of 16, he can raise it to 17 by using Combat Expertise, or use Brutal Beating to sicken his opponent, lowering his/her attack rolls by 2. His hit points will be, based on average rolls of 4 at each level and max points at first level, 31 (8 first level + 4 + 4 + 12 con + 3 favored class) which is very decent for third level.

At fourth level is Uncanny Dodge, which will be useful if you were able to keep your Dex mod relatively high, since it means you effectively never become flat-footed. If you need to, put the 4th level ability point into Dex to take advantage of this. Otherwise it should go into Con. Bron, however, will choose to round out his Strength score to 16. The Rogue Talent you choose here will begin to define the style of combat you are going for. Resiliency is an attractive option for those who are worried about their HP. It allows you to add your Rogue level to your HP once per day when you would normally be knocked unconscious. (essentially the same as Orc Ferocity). This will be Bron’s choice. Surprise Attack is a good choice, since it allows you to sneak attack an enemy in the surprise round, even if they’ve gone ahead of you. And if you can’t decide on one, there’s always the option to take a combat feat.

Fifth level brings another feat. Since Great Cleave is one Base Attack Bonus away this feat could be any number of useful things. Improved Trip allows you to trip an opponent during combat without provoking attacks of opportunity. It’s a great way to give your allies some extra attacks on a tripped opponent. You may find either Dodge or Shield Proficiency to be useful to make up for the fact that you can’t wear medium or heavy armor. If you are worried about the low Fort save, you might consider Great Fortitude, which just raises your Fort save by +2. If you want to get into melee as quickly as possible at the beginning of the battle, Improved Initiative could be a good choice, since it gives a +4 to your initiative modifier. Furious Focus from the APG can let you hit with a Power Attack when you otherwise might miss. But it only works if you hold your weapon with both hands. Since Bron has been doing just that, we’ll go with Furious Focus. Even Toughness could be useful, if you’re worried about your relatively low HP. This feat really is just a placeholder until you can get to Great Cleave and several other amazing feats that require a higher BAB.

Our 6th level Rogue Talent could be one of several possibilities. Given that the whole party is Rogues, one really nice choice is Distracting Attack from the APG. This lets you forego your own sneak damage to make an enemy flat-footed against one of your allies. An ally who could be dual-wielding and therefore get more damage overall, or could be ranged and not have to hide every round. Offensive Defense from the APG is a good choice as well if you’re still hurting for some more AC. You could even take Great Cleave a level early since you can choose to take a combat feat, which is what Bron will choose.

So at this point, Bron is doing an average of 19 damage (1d8 + 4 + 4 power attack + 3d6 sneak), his attack roll on average is now an 18 (1d20 + 3 Str + 4 BAB + 1 weapon training). And since he finally has Great Cleave, he can mow through a pack of kobolds in a single round. AC of 16 hasn’t changed, but he can now raise it to 18 using Combat Expertise. And his hit points have risen to a whopping 58 (8 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 24 con + 6 favored class)!

Seventh level brings a feat choice and unless
you took it at 6th level as a Talent like Bron, take Great Cleave. If you already took Great Cleave, consider one of the random feats mentioned above, or for some extra oomph for your whole party, take the Outflank feat from the APG (just make sure that other players take it too!) Outflank will be Bron’s choice, since I also plan to give his teammates that feat in future posts.

Eighth level gives you another chance to beef up your Con and possibly get some extra hit points. The Rogue Talents you can choose from are the same as before. But if you took Improved Trip earlier you now have the option of taking Greater Trip as a combat feat. Bron is going to choose the Distracting Attack talent from the APG, which he can use to help the archer or caster get more sneak damage (Yes, I’ll get to the rogue-caster later, don’t worry).
Ninth level has another opportunity to choose a feat, and Bron will choose Vital Strike. He will forego the second attack he just earned by getting his BAB up to +6 and in exchange will do double damage on the first attack (but not on sneak dice, sadly).

Tenth level is your first chance for an Advanced Rogue Talent, and there are some good ones. Crippling Strike is excellent if you’d like to take your opponent’s damage-dealing ability down a notch. That’s what Bron is going to choose. Improved Evasion is excellent, as is Opportunist, which lets you take an attack of opportunity when you normally wouldn’t be able to. From the APG, Entanglement of Blades can help with keeping your opponents flanked by keeping them from taking five-foot steps. Hunter’s Surprise or Knock-out Blow are also solid choices, allowing sneak damage without the normal prerequisites for one round, or knocking your opponent unconscious for 1d4 rounds in lieu of sneak damage, respectively.

Now, our hero Bron the Brawny is able to do an average of 31 damage on a single attack (1d8 + 1d8 vital strike + 4 + 4 power attack + 5d6 sneak attack) with an average attack bonus of 21 (1d20 + 3 Str + 7 BAB + 1 weapon training). Or he could take two attacks, each attack doing an average of 27 damage (1d8 + 4 + 4 power attack + 5d6 sneak attack), with the average first attack bonus being 21 and the second being 14 (1d20 + 3 Str + 2 BAB + 1 weapon training – 2 power attack). His hit points have risen to an average of 94 (8 + (4 x 9) + 40 Con + 10 favored class), and in reality probably much higher, which will keep him alive for a good long time.

So, there you go! You’ve got a Rogue who can take out hordes of low-level enemies with Great Cleave, Distract, Intimidate or Stun Enemies by foregoing his sneak dice. And he can definitely take a few hits with no problem thanks to a focus on hit points. Also, remember that magic items will help make your rogue much more effective, from boosting Con and Strength with a Belt of Physical Might, to getting more damage and a higher attack with a magic weapon. Here are a few specific magic items that would work extremely well with Bron’s build, and are probably within reach monetarily at level 10.

  • Belt of Physical Might, +2 Str and Con
  • Amulet of Natural Armor +2
  • +2 Heavy Mace
  • +2 Chain Shirt

Next time, I’ll talk about the Rogue-archer build.

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