Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the upcoming Pathfinder Unchained book and what it could mean for the rogue class.
At PaizoCon this year, Paizo Publishing announced its Spring 2015 hardcover–Pathfinder Unchained. There’s a product page (and a rather seething thread, if I do say so myself) up on Paizo’s website if you want to check it out. The purpose of Pathfinder Unchained is to go back and present alternate rules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It has been compared to Dungeons & Dragon’s Unearthed Arcana books, asking us the question: “What could the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game look like if we didn’t strive to maintain Backwards Compatibility?”
Since its Harrow Month, I thought it might be fun to think about this subject a little, specifically about the Rogue class. The rogue has always been a class under fire, with gamers questioning its value left and right. People love to point out about how other classes do the rogue’s job better than it, and in some cases (like the vivisectionist alchemist), they’re not too far from the truth.
But before we get started….
I do not work for Paizo Publishing. I do not know what will be in Pathfinder Unchained. If I did know, you can bet that I wouldn’t risk future freelancing opportunities with them writing this blog about what I knew on the website of a popular podcast.
And with that out of the way, let’s begin.
Problems with the Rogue
So, when people complain about the rogue, what are they referring to? In my rogue DPR analysis from way back when, we definitely discovered that the rogue lags behind the fighter and the paladin not in theoretical damage, but in practical damage. As a refresher, theoretical damage is what the rogue could do if it hits with its attacks while practical damage is how much damage the rogue will do in practice based on the probability of the rogue hitting his target. I also mentioned as a silver lining, however, that the rogue did achieve its goals of having more skill points than any other class.
That said, the rogue was actually somewhat nerfed in that regard.
From D&D to Pathfinder — Rogue Edition
Back in 3.5, there was no Favored Class mechanic. Instead, characters got quadruple skill points at 1st level and could place a number of ranks into a skill equal to the character’s level + 3. So the maximum number of ranks that a 1st level character could obtain would be 4, then 5 for a 2nd level character, 6 for a 3rd level character, and so on.
Now, the class skill mechanic existed in 3.5, but instead of offering an incentive to take certain skills because you got a bonus, it made skills that weren’t class skills for you more expensive to acquire. For example, if you were a fighter and wanted ranks in Knowledge (arcana), your fighter skill ranks were only worth half a rank towards that skill because Knowledge (arcana) isn’t a fighter class skill.
Now, in addition to having the best skill point progression in the game, rogues also had the largest number of class skills. At 1st level, a rogue would have a minimum of 32 skill ranks to spend (8 x 4 = 32) and those 32 skill ranks were almost always allocated to a class skill because there were a small number of skills that weren’t rogue skills. (Basically the same ones we have today.)
As a final benefit for the rogue, there were more skills in 3.5 then there are in Pathfinder. Perception was Search and Spot. Stealth was Hide and Move Silently. Acrobatics was Jump, Balance, and Tumble. And ALL of those skills were rogue class skills. Ultimately the merge and the loss of the fractional skill rank was a good thing (it made leveling up MUCH more complicated and limited character concepts), but those restrictions benefited the rogue. And when Pathfinder rolled around, the rogue lost a lot of its skill domination against other melee classes as a result.
Problems in Pathfinder
Now don’t get me wrong, Pathfinder gave a lot of love to the rogue, too. Rogues never had rogue talents before Pathfinder. But herein lies another problem—not with rogues themselves, but with Pathfinder’s evolving design philosophy. When the Core Rulebook was published, rogue talents were a new mechanic. The ability of having a list of powers that you could pick from wasn’t an entirely new concept, but it was the first time that such a system had been added to a core class. The clear balancing point was feats: rogue talents should be balanced like special, rogue-only feats. And so they were.
However, the Advanced Player’s Guide took the talent mechanic one step further with the alchemist, the oracle, and the witch. And for all three classes, discoveries, revelations, and hexes were undeniably more powerful than rogue talents. This isn’t a problem in the case of the witch or oracle, but the alchemist and the rogue share a good deal of overlap and if you look at the alchemist and the rogue, there are many similarities. Bombs and sneak attacks scale at about the same pace, for example. But in addition to having cool spells-by-another-name, the alchemist also has better “talents,” and this is a problem that we’ve continued to see with other, newer classes. When you get right down to it, rogue talents ARE the rogue’s class features. Other then that, all it has is trapfinding, sneak attack, evasion, uncanny dodge, trap sense, and improved uncanny dodge.
The final problem with rogues, as we’ve talked about in the Oh Rogues series, is the fact that rogues don’t really have anything that makes them unique. All of their class features can be accessed by other classes. So it stands to reason that many other classes can grab the rogue’s best tricks while still relying on their own abilities. It is a pretty big problem that has become increasingly apparent as the game has continued to evolve.
Looking into the Crystal Ball
Now again, I don’t work for Paizo and have no insight on what could be done in Pathfinder Unchained. Furthermore, its likely that I won’t be able to correctly predict what Paizo will do with anything in Pathfinder Unchained. (We’ve been in the Age of Lost Omens since 1917, after all. Prophecy HAS been dead for almost 100 years.) That said, I do feel comfortable enough to make some probably-incorrect-predictions.
- Skill Shuffling. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a bit more skill shuffling to help the game even more. If Pathfinder was unchained from the current skill system, we could see a proficiency bonus like in 5E Dungeons and Dragons (a scaling bonus that is provided to all skills that you are ‘proficient’ in). That said, I don’t think that’s likely. I predict that Paizo is going to want to capitalize on what people like about Pathfinder, and that’s the flexibility of the system. I could see a few more skills getting merged together (I like the Athletics skill from 5E, for example) but ultimately I think we’re going to see a reassignment of the skill points per level system, as we did for Hit Dice back in 2007. Personally, I think that bumping it up to the same values as Hit Dice would make things easier (6 ranks/level for Fighters, 8 ranks/level for Druids, 10 ranks/level for Bards, 12 ranks/level for Rogues). Then again, that isn’t really a change that helps the rogue out much, so who knows?
- More class mechanics. I think we’re going to see more smaller mechanics added to the rogue, sort of like how there are a few levels where the alchemist gets poison resistance AND a discovery. Specifically, I think we’re going to see a mechanic that allows the rogue to gain some kind of bonus on attack rolls. Every other Medium BAB class in the game thus far has a way to boost its attack rolls (inspire courage, judgment, mutagen, arcane pool/arcane accuracy, etc.). The rogue needs some sort of numeric bonus in order to bring it up to where the other classes are at.
- Divorce from Allies. One of the most frustrating things about playing a rogue is how much you depend on your allies in order to be effective in combat. Other classes have ways to work together, but no other class is as reliant as the rogue as his allies. This includes the cavalier, which is the class build around teamwork feats. I wouldn’t be surprised if rogues had another way to trigger sneak attack damage as a result.
- Rogue Talent Power-Up. Finally, I think we’re going to see a power increase to the rogue’s talents. It was a great idea when it was conceived, but the progression of the game has made rogue talents wimpy compared to their equivalents in other classes.
And that’s all that the crystal ball that is my brain is providing me with on the Rogue Unchained today. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Are you as skeptical as I am that anyone can guess what the design team is going to come up with? Care to try anyway? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and I’ll see you next time as Harrow Month continues!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune rogue, and hindsight is always 20-20 vision.