Natural Twenties #2: The Rogue Archer

Link to the original post on Natural Twenties #2 .

Last time, we discussed a Rogue build for an effective tank character. I feel that Bron (the tank that was created in the previous article) is well-suited for the task. He can run directly into combat, do nice amounts of damage with each attack, sicken or stun the opponent with his brutal attacks, and as soon as one of his allies flanks the opponent he can apply his sneak dice to quickly finish the enemy off. This time, I’ll be discussing the Rogue archer/sniper build, which focuses almost exclusively on finding ways to apply sneak damage to his or her attacks as often as possible.

The key to a good archer is finding way to add damage to your arrows and being able to fire a lot of them. Sneak attacking with ranged weapons does prove to be difficult, because you need to be able to hide every round, and if you’re “being observed” then you can’t hide! There is a specific rule to help with this. It says that if you start your turn using Stealth, you can attack and then immediately use Stealth again at a -20 penalty. Yikes! That rule is written relatively poorly, in my opinion, and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I’ve read a lot of forum posts and discussions about it, and here’s what I think the consensus is: If you begin your turn using Stealth to hide yourself from an opponent (which means you must have had concealment against that opponent, i.e. hiding behind something), you can use a full-round action to make a single attack with a ranged weapon against that opponent (presumably by leaning around whatever you’re concealed by and firing), then use Stealth again to hide yourself behind the same concealment at a -20 penalty. This single attack can benefit from Sneak Attack dice because you were essentially invisible to the opponent when the attack was made.

The problem with the standard sniping rule is that you can only attack once. There are several ways around this problem, but the most direct path would be to get the Hide in Plain Sight class ability. This ability lets you use Stealth while being observed as long as there is an area of “low light” within ten feet of you, which can even be the shadow of another creature. Since the use of the Stealth skill is a non-action that is meant to piggyback on a movement or some other similar type of action, you could begin your turn hidden using Stealth, make a full attack action, and then use your five-foot step with Stealth to hide again. This doesn’t help with the sneak dice, since it only works for the first attack, but it’s a start. This also keeps you from having to take that -20 penalty for sniping, because of the use of Stealth at no penalty, even when observed.

There are three ways to get Hide in Plain Sight: the Ranger class at level 17, the Assassin prestige class at level 8, or the Shadowdancer prestige class at level 1. Taking the Ranger class is out since we’re trying to stick with Rogues here. The Assassin would just take too damn long. So the best option is the Shadowdancer level. The biggest problem with the Shadowdancer, however, is the prerequisite feats. They are generally not that useful and end up being a waste of precious feats that could be better used to get more attacks and damage. Another option for a Hide in Plain Sight-like ability is a feat from the Cheliax: Empire of Devils sourcebook called Hellcat Stealth. This feat, whose prerequisites are only Skill Focus (Stealth) and 6 ranks in Stealth, allows the Stealth skill to be used even in bright light and while observed, but at a -10 penalty.

So, we’re left with just a few real options for our sniper build: 1) Stick with a straight rogue without Hide in Plain Sight, and take feats that boost the Stealth skill high enough that the -20 penalty isn’t a constant headache 2) Eat the feat prerequisites for Shadowdancer and take one level of that as soon as possible (level 6 is the earliest, I believe) 3) Eat the prereqs for Hellcat Stealth and take that at level 7 or 4) Forget about trying to get the sneak dice on every attack and focus on taking feats and abilities that give you more attacks and more damage.

Thanks to the Advanced Players’ Guide (APG), there is one more option, however, and this one is by far the best and most broken. I advise talking to your DM about it ahead of time. This build deviates from the all-Rogue level scheme that I was trying to go for, but it’s just too good to pass up. This involves taking one level of the Oracle class from the APG, and choosing the Waves mystery, specifically the Water Sight revelation. This ability allows a character to see through fog and mist without penalty. Sounds harmless right? Well, the oracle can also choose Obscuring Mist as a first level spell from the cleric’s spell list. Do you see where I’m going with this? Let’s start with the build and if you don’t get it now, you will soon enough. Just to be fair, I’m including a table for an all-Rogue-levels build using Hellcat Stealth, in case your DM does decide that my build is too cheap.

So, first are ability scores. For a ranged character of any kind, Dex is obviously the most important ability, so you should max it out. After that, put your points in Int for skills (and a neat little feat we’ll discuss later) and Wisdom for bonuses in perception and such things. Don’t put a negative score in Con, because you might need those hit points. Strength is an interesting one for an archer. You don’t need it if you’re using a standard bow. However, if you get a composite bow, you can add your strength bonus to attacks. And that makes a huge difference when you’re trying to get as many attacks as possible per round. For that reason alone, I suggest that you at least put a 12 in strength. My suggested point assignment, again based on a standard 20-point buy, are as follows: Str 12 Dex 16 Con 12 Int 13 Wis 13 Cha 10.

Racial adjustments are important here also. I find that either a standard elf or a Sylph from the Bestiary 2 book will do very well, having the same exact adjustments (+2 Dex, +2 Int, -2 Con), raising our Elf archer’s Dex to 18! We’ll name our elven friend Kriel. A Tiefling from the Bestiary will work extremely well also (+2 Dex, +2 Int, -2 Cha) since their once-per-day Darkness ability will let you hide and snipe when you normally wouldn’t have the option (assuming you’re already in an area of dim light). I would recommend against a halfling because of the lower damage dice on weapons. If you’re doing one of the stealthy builds instead, a halfling is an excellent choice (+2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Str), as is the Fetchling from Bestiary 2 (+2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Wis, low-light and darkvision, +2 on stealth and some fun spell-like abilities).

Moving on to the first-level choices. Kriel will be using a composite longbow with a +1 strength rating to get that extra +1 on all damage rolls. The feat at first level is a no-brainer, Point Blank Shot. This gives you a +1 to attack and damage when you’re within 30 feet of your target, and more importantly opens up a plethora of ranged feats that will help our elven rogue do more damage. Now, our Oracle level is going to give us the Water Sight ability that I explained earlier. It also gives us access to first-level Cleric spells, and the one you really want to learn is Obscuring Mist. This spell creates a cloud of mist in a 20-foot radius around you, obscuring all sight more than five feet away, and lasts one minute per level. For any other ranged character this would be horrible, since they would not be able to see to shoot anyone. However, for our Oracle, the mist can be seen through as easily as if it were empty air. This means that we have a ranged character that is completely obscured from all others’ vision, but can see the others perfectly. Obscuring Mist can be cast three times per day, thanks to the Oracle’s three first-level spell slots. And if you feel so inclined, you can gain additional casts per day by taking the Minor Magic and Major Magic talents later on.

Second level brings our first rogue level and our first die of Sneak Attack. On all of these builds, you’re going to want to forego trapfinding and trap sense for the Sniper abilities from the APG. At first (Rogue) level, this lets you halve all range increment penalties for ranged weapons, and at third level you start to get more range on your sneak attacks with a bow (+10 feet at third level and +10 for every three levels after that).

Third level brings our first Rogue Talent, and there are several good options. Surprise Attack will let our rogue get her sneak damage on an enemy at any point during the surprise round. Snap Shot from the APG does almost the exact same thing, but allows the rogue to be the first one to act in the surprise round in almost every encounter. Sniper’s Eye will appeal to those trying to get the sneak damage as often as possible. It allows you to ignore concealment (not total concealment, however) when it comes to being able to sneak attack an opponent. In the case of Kriel, she’ll choose to take the combat feat, Precise Shot. This will allow her to shoot into combat without a huge penalty. This is definitely necessary since most of the party will be trying to flank an opponent. For her third-level feat, the choices branch out more for Kriel. Rapid Shot will allow her to make an extra attack at her highest attack bonus with just a -2 penalty to all the attacks in that round. It will also open up the possibility of taking the “fun little feat” I mentioned earlier, Focused Shot from the APG, at the next opportunity. This allows her to add her Int mod to damage on ranged attacks (this feat is specific to elves).

Let’s have a little recap of Kriel’s current stats. At the beginning of combat, she will cast Obscuring Mist around herself, which will last 10 rounds (1 minute). Each round she can then fire two arrows into melee from up to 30 feet away, at an average attack bonus of 14 (10 + 1 BAB + 4 Dex + 1 point blank – 2 rapid shot). Both of these attacks will be against the opponent’s flat-footed AC, since she is completely obscured from view. The arrows will deal an average of 9 (1d8 + 1 Str + 1 point blank + 1d6 sneak) damage. Her hit points won’t be that impressive, a measly 19 (8 + 4 + 4 + 3 Con), but that doesn’t matter much. She’s not a melee character, and no one is going to hit her with anything smaller than a fireball thanks to her Obscuring Mist.

At level four, Kriel gets her first ability score boost, and she’s going to add it to Int to get a bit more damage with her choice of Focused Shot as a combat feat at the next level.

At level five, Kriel will use her talent choice for Focused Shot as a combat feat. This feat will instantly let her add her Int mod to every arrow, boosting her average damage within 30 feet of her target to 15 (1d8 + 1 Str + 1 point blank + 2d6 sneak + 3 focused shot). Level five also brings a feat choice. There are several that can be selected here. Deadly Aim is the ranged equivalent of Power Attack, allowing an archer to take a penalty to attack bonus to deal some extra damage (+2 damage per -1 attack). Stabbing Shot from the APG could get you out of a sticky situation in melee while still letting you get a shot off. You are allowed to make a melee attack with an arrow that pushes your enemy back by 5 feet while still being able to fire a second arrow. Again, this one is another elf-only feat. Weapon Focus (Bow) would be useful for any ranged character, and Kriel is going to go with that, giving her an extra +1 to her attack.

Since level six only gives Kriel another sneak die, we’ll skip to level seven. It’s Rogue Talent time again, and Kriel is going to choose Deadly Aim as a combat feat. Other nice choices are: Surprise Attack, Snap Shot or Sniper’s Eye. Level seven also brings a feat choice, and since we’re still one Base Attack Bonus (BAB) away from taking Manyshot, I feel like I am running out of useful options. As mentioned before, Stabbing Shot is a possibility for elves. The Oracle level gives you the ability to use Extra Revelation to choose Fluid Travel. This gives you the ability to walk on water! Besides just being extremely cool, this could come in handy outside of battle for sure.

Another recap: Kriel begins a battle by casting Obscuring Mist. She can shoot two arrows per round, with an average attack bonus of 15 (1d20 + 4 BAB + 4 Dex + 1 point blank – 2 rapid shot – 2 deadly aim) from within 30 feet of her target against his flat-footed AC, that will on average do 22 (1d8 + 1 Str + 1 point blank + 3d6 sneak + 3 focused shot + 4 deadly aim) damage per arrow. Her hit points now average 39 (8 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 7 Con).

Level eight gives Kriel an ability boost. I would suggest Dex this time. It won’t raise her ability bonuses yet, but at level 12 another increase in Dex will give her a +5 Dex bonus.

Level nine is very exciting, because Kriel hits +6 BAB, earning her another attack action per round, AND she finally qualifies for Rapid Shot, allowing her to fire two arrows simultaneously during her first attack action. For her Rogue Talent, Kriel is going to take Hellcat Stealth for those few times when she can’t find a good way to use her Obscuring Mist but still wants to snipe some people.

Level ten gives Kriel her fifth sneak die. Now, let’s recap once again. Beginning the battle, as always, with Obscuring mist, Kriel can make three attacks with her bow within 30 feet of her enemy, the first attack firing two arrows at once. The average attack bonus will be 17 (1d20 + 6 BAB + 4 Dex + 1 point blank – 2 rapid shot – 2 deadly aim) for the first three arrows and 12 (10 + 1 BAB + 4 Dex +1 point blank shot – 2 rapid shot – 2 deadly aim) for the final arrow. Kriel’s average damage per arrow will be 28 (1d8 + 1 Str + 1 point blank + 5d6 sneak + 3 focused shot + 4 deadly aim) damage, and this can obviously be raised using magic items which any tenth level character should be able to afford at this point. Some of these items are:

  • +2 Composite Longbow (+2 or higher Str rating)
  • Several different types of magic arrows, used situationally
  • Ring of Protection +2
  • Wand of Obscuring Mist
  • Wand of Fog Cloud (lasts longer)
  • Wand of Cure Light Wounds (in case your healer gets knocked out)
  • Bracers of Armor +2
  • Belt of Dex +2
  • Headband of Int +2
  • Lesser Bracers of Archery
  • Belt of Physical Might (+2 Dex and Str)
Next time, I’ll be discussing a very interesting build, the Rogue Support Caster.

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