D&D (2024) Maybe this is a bit late, but let's talk about Rogue's Niche, and What Rogue Should Be.

TiQuinn

Registered User
The idea that the published adventures don't include exploration as a very meaningful aspect is sheer, utter and complete nonsense!

The idea they don't include traps, climbing things, picking locks. sneaking, and all the things Rogues do well is sheer, utter and complete nonsense!
Okay.
 

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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I ran a published adventure in AL, the Sunless Citadel adventure in Tales From The Yawning Portal. I had a Rogue (Mastermind) and a Barbarian (Bear, natch) with the Urchin background.

The Rogue decided to take Expertise in Perception, thinking he would find all the traps and, upon hearing that someone else had taken Thieves' Tools proficiency, figured he could always just use his Mastermind Help Action to give them advantage, and used his expertise on Stealth. His plan was to use Darkvision to skulk about and ambush enemies on the regular.

What he failed to account for, because none of his previous DM's had either read the rules or enforced them, was that disadvantage/-5 penalty to his passive Perception- and the fact that several traps in SS required Investigation, not Perception to find. That still left him with the highest Investigation in the party...at +2!

So they ran into a lot of traps, and this became especially annoying to him in the Kobold section. He'd try to sneak ahead, I'd tell him he encountered a trap, he'd remind me for the 17th time that he had a passive Perception of 17, and I'd tell him what the DC was (and some of the DC's are pretty high in that adventure, which really confused me for a so-called Tier 1 module!).

Eventually he conceded to using light spells after he was the one who got ambushed by some Bugbears, grumbling the whole time.

Because his bonus Action was tied up with his subclass, he could not regularly benefit from Steady Aim or Two-Weapon Fighting, and when he did get into melee, he found that he still needed to rely on that same bonus Action to Withdraw after he'd get in a good hit and the melee monsters would plaster him, not particularly impressed with his 15 AC (Kobolds are just plain mean for low level enemies!).

Before the adventure was even over, he switched to a Monk (who, incidentally, was the first character I ever saw die in 5e, due to a critical hit). He kept calling me a "Killer DM" even though I was simply running the adventure by the rules.

Something I think a lot of people overlook in this discussion is that a Rogue isn't particularly great out of the box. Your AC options are terrible, you're levels away from Cunning Action, Uncanny Dodge and Reliable Talent. You're only a little better than most other characters at two skills, some of which are very adventure-dependent, and rely on a DM who understands you can't make every DC a multiple of 5 and that asking low level characters to hit DC 20 reliably is a big ask.

You need light to function effectively, which makes it difficult to employ stealth to being with (not including DM's who use group stealth checks when you got heavy armor users about, monsters who have special senses other than darkvision, and the fact that a low roll can get you into a fun solo encounter while your allies might have to dash to catch up with you, and of course, having a DM who remembers to put usable cover on maps).

Now I'm not some Rogue hater. The 5e Rogue is probably the best version of the class I've ever played, and they have some great abilities. But it is way too easy for those abilities to simply not matter or not be enough in a situation.

And then suddenly at Tier 3, they're breaking the skill system in half. It's not a design I'm fond of, where it's hard to be effective at doing anything other than firing a crossbow from the back of the party every round, all so you can become a massive headache later on. You know, where the Wizard used to be.

Now that being said, I wouldn't want them to be where the Wizard is now, but there is a way to carve out a niche for the Rogue that doesn't revolve around big skill numbers and not have people thinking "hey, do we even need a Rogue? Class X can be built to do anything they can do, and be better in other situations".
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I agree with you @James Gasik that a lot of people overlook the need for Investigation with their rogue, and the -5 to passive perception in darkness. I always put something into Intelligence for my rogues, and train in the skill, often with expertise.

Skulker feat eliminates the -5 issue as do a few other things like blindsight (my rogue just attuned to a Dagger of Blindsight and is joyous about this!). It's getting easier to obtain Blind Sight these days, like with the Blind Fighting feature (also available as a feat). Otherwise searching for traps should be done with a light source when you're not stealthing, preferably a hooded lantern.

Fortunately our DM tends to remind us if we seem to be forgetting about the -5 thing in darkness. It comes up a lot. Fortunately he's also good at remembering to apply the -5 to the monsters too.
 
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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I agree with you @James Gasik that a lot of people overlook the need for Investigation with their rogue, and the -5 to passive perception in darkness. I always put something into Intelligence for my rogues, and train in the skill, often with expertise.

Skulker feat eliminates the -5 issue as do a few other things like blindsight (my rogue just attuned to a Dagger of Blindsight and is joyous about this!). It's getting easier to obtain Blind Sight these days, like with the Blind Fighting feature (also available as a feat). Otherwise searching for traps should be done with a light source when you're not stealthing, preferably a hooded lantern.

Fortunately our DM tends to remind us if we seem to be forgetting about the -5 thing in darkness. It comes up a lot. Fortunately he's also good at remembering to apply the -5 to the monsters too.
Now maybe this is just my thing, but while I like Feats and use them, I don't like "take X Feat to solve Y issue". Seems to me that if something is that useful for a class, it should be part of that class.

And yes, the -5 does apply to the monsters, but they usually have the advantage- you're entering into their territory, and all that combat and running into traps is noisy! They're going to be nice and hidden and waiting for the PC's to come along into their killing ground. Sure, if the PC's are using Stealth, both sides could end up surprised, but it's usually a mix of both, especially once the heavy armor users tromp on up.

One thing I did have happen in Sunless Citadel was a classic "ships passing in the night". The Rogue decided to skulk ahead, and surprise- the monsters didn't notice him.

But neither did he notice them, so he looks around, decides the room is clear without lighting a torch to be sure, lol, and goes back. Then the party trundles up and get ambushed, and the other PC's are giving the Rogue nine kinds of Hell for walking them into an encounter!
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Now maybe this is just my thing, but while I like Feats and use them, I don't like "take X Feat to solve Y issue". Seems to me that if something is that useful for a class, it should be part of that class.

And yes, the -5 does apply to the monsters, but they usually have the advantage- you're entering into their territory, and all that combat and running into traps is noisy! They're going to be nice and hidden and waiting for the PC's to come along into their killing ground. Sure, if the PC's are using Stealth, both sides could end up surprised, but it's usually a mix of both, especially once the heavy armor users tromp on up.

One thing I did have happen in Sunless Citadel was a classic "ships passing in the night". The Rogue decided to skulk ahead, and surprise- the monsters didn't notice him.

But neither did he notice them, so he looks around, decides the room is clear without lighting a torch to be sure, lol, and goes back. Then the party trundles up and get ambushed, and the other PC's are giving the Rogue nine kinds of Hell for walking them into an encounter!

I agree, but if you're searching for things, you need light. It's why the Burglar's Pack comes with a hooded lantern (can be dimmed to 5' radius), and 5 candles (sheds bright light in a 5' radius and dim light for a 10' radius) and both work well for searching without spreading light out everywhere. A bullseye lantern can work sometimes too.

I think this is one reason halflings don't have darkvision. Darkvision isn't a good solution for finding hidden things. Real sleuths use light intentionally dimmed to reveal only nearby things.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
I think the 1st item is an issue. Rogues should contribute meaningfully with a set of abilities that don't over-incentivize a single weapon type. We don't require someone to be a Rogue in order to use daggers, or be a Ranger to be an archer; likewise a Rogue shouldn't have to use "TWF shortswords" or "duh, bows!" to be effective.

That's fair, but I think this is more a reflection of the standards. When I'm demanded to show a level 13 rogue can solo a CR 17 Adult Red Dragon... I optimize. I think the rogue does perfectly fine with a Rapier, and with Nick the dual-wielding is very good (most of the rogue's I have attempted to playtest have been dual-wielding with nick. Feels nice), but that is just like the sword and board fighter is perfectly fine.

I think the 2nd item is really the core issue. Most people here agree the Rogue's conceptual niche is/was the skill monkey. But with the aforementioned skill issues in play, the niche isn't a niche. If degrees of success mattered, then maybe an extra +2 to +4 would be more impactful; or if the dice being used were different (multiple dice - even 2d10 instead of 1d20 can make extra bonuses vastly more interesting). For example, replace skill check d20s with 3d6. Now generally only a skilled person can achieve a 20+ at all. Or, like Pathfinder, gatekeep certain results behind skill level not total bonus. I love this, and try to soft-implement it in all my games. The +4 DEX Fighter is good at hiding behind walls (+4 to Stealth checks, untrained), but even the most novice Rogue (+0 DEX, +1 skill, TRAINED) is better at tailing someone (Stealth check, MUST BE TRAINED or better). But again -- we (5e) are trying not to penalize the party for not having a specific class...


I really liked D&D's only attempt at this in a previous edition: anyone can (try to) disarm a mundane trap, but you need a Rogue to disarm a magical one. [Even then, along comes the wizard with dispel magic.]

Making level of skill and value of bonus would go miles towards putting the Rogue back into the niche. Even if the bard has the same Expertise, the Rogue's class abilities should make the skills better in her hands. Even if the wizard is using knock and invisibility, the Rogue's class abilities should make her lockpicks and stealth better.

(I also loved the idea to give the rogue more ways to apply their skills in combat. I'd caution against the dangerous Battlemaster-style 5e mindset ["Since Trip is a battlemaster ability, I guess you can't trip without being a battlemaster!"] But I'd love to see combat tricks and techniques that take their out-of-combat skill and apply it creatively in combat. And yes, the 5e subclasses do this a little, but more can be done in this area. Laserllama's Maneuvers for martials, or Pathfinder's feint and demoralize actions, players just asking to errol-flynn-chandelier-ride across the field... all good starts.)

I am not against a better skill system that will give cool new toys to martials. I've even proposed such a system at least twice. I've also specifically tried to avoid having that system be combat focused, because I've mainly proposed it for fighters who much more desperately need out-of-combat utility.

And there are useful things you could do for a rogue, by letting their expertise unlock special perks, or by having a second, higher DC that allows for an essential "critical success" on a skill check. Off the top of my head something like rolling high enough on sleight of hand allowing the rogue to not only unlock a door, but get a full rundown on what is in the room beyond. I'm not sure what balance of "GM fiat" and "designed system" is best for that though.

... my answer to that is "wtf not?" Someone else used the example "you can't put a main objective behind an obstacle that requires a specific cleric spell to be cast"... to which I respond "Why not? You're stuck - go back to town and hire a cleric! Or buy a scroll. Or come up with some other creative solution." So if the rogue has more skills, and is better at them, then having one in the party minimizes your need to go back and acquire the missing "key".

Because it is bad game design. Back-tracking sucks, back-tracking because because the DM designed something to specifically give you no way of getting to it except to back-track gets players murderous. I still remember fuming at a DM from over a decade ago in 4e. We were high level in Darksun, given a mission by a sorcerer-king (long story) and said "we would leave immediately". The DM gave us a few days of travel, then said we were out of supplies. Why? Because despite knowing the desert, despite knowing it was a month-long trek across the desert, because we said "leave immediately" he ruled that we did not go and buy any supplies. We had to cheat and use rituals and burn gold to get back to the city to buy the supplies that NONE of our characters would have forgotten.

You always need to have multiple solutions to any given issue, because once you force players to turn around and go back to town to get things that they either A) had no idea they needed or B) would have obviously gotten, all you are doing is annoying them for no reason.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Again to me it comes down to skill

The average D&D character knows 4-5 of the games 19 skills. And their prime score with match 1-3 of them.
So
~20% of the time they will be an option for a skill.
~10% of the time they will be the best option for a skill.

A Rogue knows 6-7 of the games 19 skills. And their prime score with match 2-3 of them and Expertise with apply to 2/4 of them..
So ~30% of the time they will be an option for a skill.
~20% of the time they will be the best option for a skill.

So a Rogue has double the chance of being to one who takes the out of combat spotlight.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Bouncing off the conversation between @Mistwell and @James Gasik, I think it is fair to point out that none of the things being focused on from the example of the Sunless Citadel are rogue specific problems.

Dim Light causing -5 to passive perception is something that affects everyone. It isn't like there is a special ability that Monks or Fighters get that avoids this issue.

Needing Investigation and Perception to find traps? Again, not a specific rogue issue, but also if you need stealth, perception and investigation... well for a Monk that would be 75% of all their skills. For a Rogue that is 50% of their skills. That doesn't make it less aggravating but it does mean the rogue is better equipped to actually HAVE proficiency in that extra skill.

I'm not saying those are not valid points on Rogues being harder to play, nor am I arguing rogues don't have a lower AC than some of the other classes. But I'm not seeing anything specific in the other classes that would counteract the need for multiple skills and tool proficiency, or the struggles of dealing with Din Light. These are the challenges any class would face taking on the scouting and trap-breaking role.
 

bloodtide

Legend
The Rogue problem is part of the bigger game problem. Starting with 3E, the focus of D&D has been on flashy showy Super Hero endless combat. And the Rogue has been right in the middle.

Way back in 1/2E each class had a niche. Fighters fight, Clerics heal and deal with undead, wizards cover magical things....and the rogue would sneak around and open locks, disarm traps and climb into places.

You might notice on the list that the fighter was the only one expected to fight all the time. The cleric backed up the fighter...sometimes. And once in a while every character might fight a group of giant rats. But most of the time, nearly all the time. Only the fighter was fighting monsters and foes.

And the Rogue, like many other characters, could not really fight much anyway. They had a hard time hitting anything, and even if they did, it was only for a little damage. Backstabbing was a once in a while attack...not an add to every attack attack. And the Rogue, like most non fighter characters only had a few hit points. So a hit or two in melee would be character death for a rouge.

And in the Adventure there was always plenty for a rogue to do other then fight.

3E made the Rouge a Striker. Now their role was to stand right next to the fighter in endless combat. Rouges now had sneak attack....and anything except combat took a far back seat. And 5E is stuck here too: The Rouge is a front like skirmisher super hero all combat character....that made does a skill or two when there is nothing to fight.

The D&D Rouge has lost it's way. It is a Rouge in name only. Rouges, by there very nature are not fighters. Few Rouges in fiction are the types that "charge in and attack". So why does the D&D rouge do it?
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Bouncing off the conversation between @Mistwell and @James Gasik, I think it is fair to point out that none of the things being focused on from the example of the Sunless Citadel are rogue specific problems.

Dim Light causing -5 to passive perception is something that affects everyone. It isn't like there is a special ability that Monks or Fighters get that avoids this issue.

Needing Investigation and Perception to find traps? Again, not a specific rogue issue, but also if you need stealth, perception and investigation... well for a Monk that would be 75% of all their skills. For a Rogue that is 50% of their skills. That doesn't make it less aggravating but it does mean the rogue is better equipped to actually HAVE proficiency in that extra skill.

I'm not saying those are not valid points on Rogues being harder to play, nor am I arguing rogues don't have a lower AC than some of the other classes. But I'm not seeing anything specific in the other classes that would counteract the need for multiple skills and tool proficiency, or the struggles of dealing with Din Light. These are the challenges any class would face taking on the scouting and trap-breaking role.
You're right, but Mistwell was talking about wanting an actual play example from a published adventure, and that was my experience with a Rogue and a published WotC adventure.
 

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