Natural Twenties #4: The Rogue Damage-Dealing Caster

Link to the original article on Natural Twenties #4

The Rogue Damage-dealing Caster

Last time, we talked about a rogue built to be an effective support caster, and to create awesome magic items. Today’s topic is a rogue who is built to do as much damage as possible with spells and spell-like abilities. I found this to be the most difficult build so far, because getting sneak damage with spells is not an easy thing to do. Another issue we’re going to face as a Rogue is trying to deal damage with spells. For most spells, damage increases based on caster level. Since the Rogue’s caster level is going to be essentially 0, this is a definite problem. The best way to circumvent this is to try to get sneak damage on as many spells as possible. Which again, won’t be easy. We’re going to find very fun, and hopefully useful, ways to get around these difficulties.

Let’s start with ability scores. For a caster, normally you would drop Str and Con and focus completely on Int, Wis, or Cha depending on what type of spellcaster you are. However, we’re going to need our caster to get in close sometimes (you’ll see why soon) so we’re going to assign the following scores to our human rogue: Str 12, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 16, Wis 8, Cha 14 (this already includes the +2 bonus for being a human). These stats are pretty much as balanced as you can get. For this character, who we will name Phoebe, we’re going to choose some special racial options from the Advanced Players Guide (APG). Instead of gaining an extra skill point at each level for being human, our caster will choose the Heart of the Fields race trait, giving her a bonus equal to 1/2 her character level on her Craft (Alchemy) checks. She will also forego the standard hit point or skill point at each level from choosing rogue as her favored class, and instead choose the human rogue favored class option from the APG. This will give her an extra rogue talent after every six levels.

The Advanced Players’ Guide also includes a new rule called “traits”, which each character can choose at character creation. One of Phoebe’s chosen traits will be the Gifted Adept magic trait. This will allow her to choose a single spell she can always cast that spell as if her caster level was one higher. In this case, I am going to chose Shocking Grasp for Phoebe. If, in your campaign, you can only choose one trait, PICK THIS ONE! This trait is so useful for casters. You may even find that choosing the “Extra Traits” feat is worth it for you at first level. Finally, she will be making use of two different sets of alternate class abilities from the APG: the Poisoner rogue and the Scout rogue.

At first level, our friend Phoebe will choose the Minor Magic( Ray of Frost) and Major Magic( Shocking Grasp ) rogue talents as her first two feats. She will also benefit from the Poison Use class ability, thanks to being a Poisoner, allowing her to poison her weapons without the risk of poisoning herself. Speaking of weapons, she’ll be carrying some daggers (poisoned, of course) and a short sword for melee attacks, along with some darts (also poisoned) for ranged attacks. These weapons will be used mostly when she has run out of wand charges or uses of her Major Magic abilities for the day. She will be wearing light armor. I suggest getting a chain shirt as soon as possible. All of her spells will be from wands or from spell-like abilities, so she does not have to worry about the armor giving her a spell failure chance.

At second level, Phoebe will choose Finesse Rogue as her rogue talent. This allows her to use her Dex instead of Str for every attack roll with a light weapon. This includes melee touch attacks, which will become important soon. Then at third level, she’ll choose Two-Weapon Fighting (TWF) as her feat. She also gains the Master Poisoner class ability, allowing her to change the type of a poison delivery using a Craft (alchemy) check. She will probably want to start buying some wands at this point so that she can use spells more than twice per day. I suggest Magic Missile , Shocking Grasp , and Chill Touch (combined cost 2250gp).

Let’s take a quick detour and talk about my ideas for how Phoebe will be handling a battle. For her Minor and Major Magic abilities, her caster level is considered to be equal to her rogue level. But most 1st level spells max out at 5 damage dice, so that will only be helpful for so long. Thanks to her Gifted Adept trait, she can cast Shocking Grasp as if she were one level higher, so this will be her standard spell. When using a wand, the caster level is predetermined. While she can buy wands with higher caster levels, they get prohibitively expensive very quickly. This means in order to be an effective damage dealer, she’s going to need to get sneak damage fairly often. I believe the best way to do so is to have Phoebe be mostly a melee caster. She will cast a spell then step up to an enemy and deliver that spell with a touch attack. This means that she can benefit from flanking. Her poisoner abilities give her the option to deal some damage to an enemy in between spellcasting rounds.

So, at third level, Phoebe’s battle plan will be as follows: if her party surprises the opponents, she will cast Ray of Frost against one of the enemies, getting her sneak dice on a ranged touch attack during the surprise round. After that, she will move in toward an enemy who her allies are trying to flank. She will get within ten feet of the enemy and cast Shocking Grasp , holding the charge until the next round. When her next turn comes, she will use her five-foot step to step forward and deliver the touch attack. The flanking of the enemy gives her sneak damage again. Her attack roll will be, on average, 14 (1d20 + 2 Dex + 2 BAB – 2 TWF) versus the opponent’s Touch AC, and it will do on average 18 (4d6 + 2d6 sneak, all electric) damage. During that same attack action, she can use a dagger in her off-hand at the same attack bonus. This strike will deliver poison, get some more sneak damage, and hopefully weaken the opponent even more. The next turn, she will take a five-foot step back, cast another Shocking Grasp, drop the dagger in her off-hand as a free action, and use her move action to pull another poisoned dagger from her belt. Then she’ll repeat all of steps from her previous attack. Sadly, Major Magic spells can only be used twice per day. So once she uses up those two spells, she’ll have to rely on wands for her spellcasting, which might use the charges up fairly quickly. It’s important to note that poisons can also get very expensive, so it’s best not to waste them. The cheapest injury-based poison available is drow poison, costing 75gp. Luckily, Phoebe can craft poisons using Craft (alchemy), which costs only 1/3 of the listed price of the poison. It requires a crafting check equal to the save DC; which for drow poison is 13. Phoebe’s average roll at level three will be 20 (1d20 + 3 ranks + 3 trained + 3 Int + 1 Heart of the Fields) so she should have no trouble at all making these poisons. She might even want to consider making some stronger poisons for situational use (large scorpion venom or shadow essence may be good choices). Details about poisons can be found in the glossary of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. At this level, I’d say she should make around ten doses of drow poision (250gp).

Let’s move on to fourth level. Phoebe will get her first ability increase and add it to Charisma. This will eventually give her a boost to her Use Magic Device skill, which will become important as she gains levels. She can also choose Weapon Training (Unarmed Strike) as her Rogue Talent to give her another point to attack bonus on her touch attacks. She gains her first Scout ability, Scout’s Charge, which will allow her to get her sneak damage automatically when she charges a foe. This will be a great way to get that sneak damage on her touch spells when she doesn’t have the option of flanking. To charge, Phoebe only has to move at least 10 feet in a straight line. At fifth level, Phoebe will choose Combat Casting as her feat, giving her a better chance to avoid attacks of opportunity while casting. Her average concentration check at this level will be 22 (1d20 + 5 caster level + 3 Int + 4 combat casting), and most of the time she will only need to beat a DC of 17 (15 + 2x the spell level).So she shouldn’t have much trouble casting defensively when the need arises. Speaking of casting, it’s time to buy your first second-level spell wand, and my suggestion is Touch of Idiocy (4,500gp). Now you may be thinking “But Touch of Idiocy doesn’t deal damage. How can Phoebe use sneak attack with it?” Luckily there is a rule about this from back in 3.5 edition D&D. If a spell doesn’t cause HP damage, but it has an attack roll (such as Ray of Enfeeblement ) then you can still apply sneak damage to it. In the case of Ray of Enfeeblement , it’s negative energy damage. In the case of Touch of Idiocy ,well that’s not really explained. I would say that it would be either negative energy damage or untyped damage, but that’s up to your DM. Either way, you should be able to apply the sneak damage to the spell.

Here’s another interesting possibility for a wand that Phoebe would find very useful. If your DM will allow it, you could in theory buy a wand of Shocking Grasp which has the Intensified Spell metamagic feat built into it, making it essentially a level 2 wand. The only requirements for doing so are that the creator of the wand have both the Craft Wand and Intensified Spell feats. This would allow you to increase the damage dice of Shocking Grasp past 5 dice. Since you cast Shocking Grasp as if the caster level was one level higher, and the caster level of a level 2 wand is minimum 5, you would actually get 6d6 base damage from each successful cast. Not bad at all, though the wand will definitely cost you (spell level 2 x caster level 5 x 750gp = 7,500gp). You can even pay more to get an even higher caster level for the wand later on, with the damage dice increasing up to 10d6.

Alright, so let’s recap. Phoebe is now a level 5 rogue. She can craft herself poisons with an average craft check of 23 (1d20 + 5 ranks + 3 trained + 3 Int + 2 Heart of the Fields). She can cast several spells as spell-like abilities. And her UMD checks for casting from a wand average at 20 (1d20 + 5 ranks + 3 trained + 2 Cha). During a surprise round in any given battle, she will cast Ray of Frost to get some sneak damage. The next round she will cast Shocking Grasp and position herself 15-20 feet away from her target. The next round, she will charge the target with a melee touch attack, average attack is 18 (1d20 + 3 BAB + 2 Dex + 1 Weapon Training + 2 charge), discharging her Shocking Grasp and dealing sneak damage for an average of 24 (5d6 + 3d6 sneak, all electric) damage. When she can gain flanking with an ally, she will cast Shocking Grasp from 10 feet away, then the following turn use her 5-foot step to deliver it with sneak damage, average of 16 (1d20 + 3 BAB + 2 Dex + 1 Weapon Training – 2 Two-weapon fighting + 2 flanking) AND use her off-hand attack to try to poison her foe with a dagger, average attack 14 (1d20 + 3 BAB + 2 Dex – 2 Two-weapon Fighting + 2 flanking).

Sixth level brings not one but TWO new Rogue Talents, thanks to the favored class bonus we chose. Phoebe will choose Major Magic ( Corrosive touch ) from PRG:UM, and Major Magic ( Vanish ) from the Advanced Players’ Guide. Vanish will let Phoebe become invisible for a few rounds at a time, giving her the chance to cast a touch spell and deliver it as a sneak attack without needing to flank. Corrosive touch is a great touch spell for her to have, especially if she goes up against an enemy with electric resistance. (Why is Corrisive Touch so great?) At seventh level, Phoebe is going to go with an Extra Rogue Talent, Surprise Attack, as her feat. This ability will let her use her sneak attack against any opponent in the surprise round, even if that opponent won the initiative. At this point the lower-level spells are going to start to seem very weak, so I will suggest that you consider buying a high-level wand. You’re 7th level, so a level 3 spell with a caster level of 7 is relatively affordable (15,750 gp). I suggest a spell from Ultimate Combat called Force Punch. This spell causes 1d4 force damage per level with a successful touch attack. plus you can choose to push the opponent back from you. This will give you some space to cast the next spell and will allow you to make a charge to get sneak damage.

Level 8 brings several interesting features, including an ability score increase. Phoebe will choose to put it into Charisma, giving her a +3 bonus. She gains the Skirmisher ability, which allows her to get her sneak attack ANYTIME she moves at least ten feet in a round, not just when she’s charging. We’re running out of specifically useful Rogue Talents at this point, at least until tenth level when we can start choosing Advanced Talents. So other possible choices include another spell using Major Magic, Bleeding Attack (which can be used along with a spell, by the way), Befuddling Strike (APG), Distracting Attack (APG) or Powerful Sneak (APG). Phoebe is going to choose Distracting Attack. This allows her to cause an enemy to be flat-footed against a designated ally anytime she deals sneak attack damage in melee. Ninth level gives us one more feat, and just like the Rogue Talent at 8th level there are plenty of possible choices. Phoebe will choose Powerful Sneak, giving her a small boost on her sneak damage. At tenth level, we get to choose the first Advanced Rogue Talent. Though there are many good choices, Phoebe will choose the Hunter’s Surprise talent. Once per day, she may choose an opponent and, for one turn, she may apply her sneak attack damage to all her attacks, no matter the situation. This can be IMMENSELY useful against those powerful leader-type enemies. You may also consider getting another wand, this time with caster level of 10 for those really important attacks. You could choose Force Punch again, or any other spell that allows up to ten dice of damage. I’m going to recommend that you choose a wand of Intensified Shocking Grasp . This spell, while costing 15,000 gp (2 spell level x 10 caster level x 750gp), allows you to deal up to 10d6 damage with Shocking Grasp , which will be a huge help.

So, Phoebe is now a level 10 rogue. She can craft some crazy-powerful potions with an average craft (alchemy) score of 34 (1d20 + 10 ranks + 6 trained + 3 Int + 5 Heart of the Fields). She now has many spells at her command, some of which she casts from wands with an average UMD score of 29 (1d20 + 10 ranks + 6 trained + 3 Cha). During any given round, she will cast Intensified Shocking Grasp using her Caster Level 10 wand, then move up and deliver the spell with a touch attack. Assuming she is either flanking or was invisible thanks to Vanish , she will have an average touch attack of 20 (1d20 + 7 BAB + 2 Dex + 1 Weapon Training), and will deliver the spell with sneak damage for an average of 45 (10d6 + 5d6 sneak attack) electric damage. If she gets the chance to do a full attack action after casting her spell, she can also use one of her poisoned daggers with an average attack bonus of 19 (1d20 + 7 BAB + 2 Dex) to try to poison her foe. She has many different abilities that will let her get sneak damage as often as possible, and she can also help her fellow rogues get their sneak damage using Distracting Attack.

So, there you have it. We’ve made a complete adventuring party out of nothing but rogues. You have a tank, an archer, a support caster and a damage caster. Could these roles have been filled better by other classes? Absolutely. However, this party, along with a standard thief-rogue, should be able to hold their own against most things that a DM could throw at them. This obviously is the end of my all-rogue-party series, so I’ll have to come up with some new topic. Feel free to leave me a comment on what you’d like to see. I love building characters and optimizing them, so let me know if there is a character build that you’ve had trouble with in the past, and I’ll do my best! Thanks everyone!

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