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Level Up (A5E) Rogue Playtest - Nitty Gritty Feedback

Stalker0

Legend
In this thread, I am going to do a nitty gritty review of the new Rogue Playtest packet. We are going to get detailed and nuanced, so buckle in! I've made several rogue characters on paper and tried a few mock combats to get a feel.

For ease of reference, I'm going to use a quick rating system.

A - Perfect, solid, I love it.
B - A bit more niche than I would like, but probably in the right campaign it will be fine.
C - Needs some work, its on the weak side.
O - Overpowered, just too strong, needs a tone down.

Further, I do want to dig in to Flavor at bit as well, as that is an important part of the analysis, so I will also include a Flavor rating for certain abilities. If I don’t mention anything, I assume a base “good” rating, aka I think it’s perfectly fine and serviceable flavor.

F+ I love this flavor, I immediately thought of playing a character with X.
F- Something is lacking here, this idea is not jiving with me.
STI - Skill Trick Issue

One of the problems that 3.5 and Pathfinder introduced with mechanical skill tricks and skill feats, is that it created the notion that “I must have X to attempt Y with a skill”…which is a creativity killer. 5e has intentionally kept skill use vague to encourage player creativity and DM rulings as opposed to “I must acquire this thing or this feat or this class ability to even attempt that thing”. So in looking at the document, I will use this tag for areas that I think a player should normally be able to try with a simple skill roll. I also want to note, I am all for crunchy skill mechanics, and so I am all for adding many of these into your level up skill packet, whenever that is developed. I don’t mind giving mechanics to DMs for very common skill uses, but those uses should not require a mechanical package to get.


Overall Balance (A+ or O): So how does this rogue compared to the core Rogue?

So our new rogue loses as innate abilities: Expertise (4 skills), Uncanny Dodge, Evasion, and a 10th level feat. Because the feat is at a high level (that some groups only get to as a capstone to their campaigns), I want to be careful in using it in the overall balance review, but it helps as a top off.

Detailed Look
Evasion is easy, as we can simply take that again at the same 7th level.

Uncanny Dodge: I was curious if this could be replaced with maneuvers. The closest I can get is Countershot, which allows you to negate one ranged attack coming at you as a reaction. A full negation is stronger than half damage, but it requires a check and is only useful against ranged weapons… so its highly niche. Parrying Counter is a small AC bonus as a reaction so it’s something, but not as good imo as a half damage after the hit. So I don’t think there is a true equivalent here.

Expertise: The vanilla rogue both gets expertise in two skills, and these abilities continue to grow automatically at 5th, 6th (2 more skills), and 9th levels. 9th is once again sort of a higher end bar to look at for skills, but still something to look at as a top off.

A key balance question is…. Is a 1d4 (2.5 avg) closer to a +2 or a +3? On the one hand, consistency is always useful, so a variable bonus might appear a bit weaker. But on the other, with 5e’s bounded accuracy as a key concept….anything that can push the die past the normal realm of possibilities is “special”, and so anything that leaves the possibility of a high bonus is going to feel powerful.

Ultimately, I think the psychology wins out here. If a level up rogue and a regular rogue were at the same table, the two are not going to remember the times when the level up rogue rolled a 1 on his expertise die. But they will remember the time he rolled high and got a 6 on that d6 and suddenly got a skill result the regular rogue could never even make…. Those are the moments when a player might start to feel “outclassed”.

So then I am using +3 as my “assumed value”. So in comparing the two, it really comes down to what kind of rogue you are looking to play. For example, if you want to specialize in a skill, certain levelup rogues just straight up do it better. For example, at 3rd level I can have a rogue with a +1d6 extra stealth that can hide in dim light…. a vanilla rogue gets a +2 and no special adds on.

On the other hand, the socialite rogue suffers in level up hands, an expertise vanilla rogue can do persuasion better in the current model. Also, while Levelup rogues can generally specialize more, they really can’t equal the amount of expertise vanilla gets.

Lastly, there are a few maneuvers that lets the levelup rogue uses their skills more actively in combat…which can be another useful way to “show off skill power” compared to a vanilla rogue.


Conclusion: When I compared the vanilla to level up Fighter, it was really about losing some powerful and flashy abilities (like action surge), to gain some flexible abilities that could be used more commonly + a few nice to have adds ons.

With the rogue it feels more like a shift in tone. The levelup rogue is more “offensive”, trading in a 5th level defensive power for more crits, and most of the maneuvers you can pick up add offensive power.

The levelup rogue is also more “specialized”. You can push specific skills more aggressively than in vanilla, and you can add “tricks” to some of those skills that the vanilla rogue can’t… at the expense of expertise in a wider array of skills.

At the end of the day, its about what Dnd values. In general:

  • Specific beats general: More often than not, a min-maxed party of characters, each exceling at their niche….do better than more generalist characters. Therefore, I think a rogue who is REALLY good in a few key areas is going to look better to a group than one who is decent at a lot of things.
  • Offense is sexier than defense. There are exceptions, defenses that are constant and powerful (like barb rage resistance) or full immunities (paladin fear immunity) can be quite flavorful. But uncanny dodge is not, its more of a bail out mechanic for a rogue who gets a little too close to the sun. It’s a good ability, but its not a flashy one. Meanwhile, by trading it in….you get more crits and fun maneuvers to aid you in combat. Perception wise, the offense is going to look at lot more attractive.
So I do think the Levelup Rogue is superior to the vanilla Rogue based on the standard values of Dnd. I don’t think the levelup rogue completely obsoletes the vanilla rogue…there are archetypes that vanilla still does better…but I think if both were at the same table, the vanilla rogue is going to feel jealous of what the level up one can do.

My last last word….I do think the vanilla rogue gains some of its glory back at 9th+ level, and if I started a game around that level range I do think it makes vanilla look better. But 3-8th is the majority of people’s experience with a class, and so my assessment overall looking at that level range stands.


General Notes
  • Its unclear whether the rogue can spend hitdie to recover maneuvers like the fighter can. If it can, it could be argued that in a normal situation (where the fighter gets hit a lot), the fighter will spend more hitdie for healing while the rogue spends it for maneuvers…allowing the rogue to match or even exceed the fighter in maneuvers per day.
  • Since multiclass has not been discussed yet, my assumption is that the rules will note something about max exertion in regards to the rogue/fighter multiclass.
  • Morrus has already noted that Minor Disadvantage and Minor Advantage are going away, so I will not discuss those heavily in my reviews.
  • I was surprised that there was nothing to alter sneak attack…as it’s a technique used heavily in 3.5 and pathfinder. That is both refreshing and saddening…I think the idea is good, though I think the other systems way overused it to a hilarious degree.
  • Flavor wise, you noted that the Rogue’s “Life is on a Knife’s Edge”. And yet, they don’t get “Razor’s Edge” as a maneuver school. Mechanically I understand, Razor’s edge isn’t the rogueiest school…but name wise it was strange enough to note.
  • Having now seen both the fighter and rogue maneuvers, I will say that the gap between 1st and 2nd tier maneuvers isn’t all that high, but I do think 3rd tier is where you start to miss out on some things.
  • The social rogue gets very little love in this packet, is that intentional (leaving that niche for the bard for example) or an oversight.
  • I do think rogue's should be able to sneak attack with a wider range of weapons (aka your d8 weapons and below). Most rogues are already going to prefer finesse weapons anyway, so what's the harm in allowing a strength focused "bruiser" sneak attack with his big mace.

Exploration Knacks: The rogue knacks are straight up stronger than the fighter knacks, which is perfectly fine (rogues tend to be stronger on the exploration pillar), but that means my rating is taking that into account. In other words, I am comparing these knacks to each other….not to the fighter knacks.

Agile Athlete (A)

Bobbytrapper (B,STI) – No reason a regular sleight of hand couldn’t do this. If you wanted to allow a take 10 or something option that would be fine.

Delay Trap (X, F+) – I like the notion of “time slows down” as the rogue realizes what is happening. Though its not mechanically clear exactly how this would be work, since my turn ends….is it just warning my friends before I take the brunt of the trap anyway?.

Expertise Training (A) – The baseline for knacks, everything is compared to this. While other knacks are often stronger, this will likely be a common 2nd knack to further augment a given skill.

Extra Skill Training (B) – Its almost never worth expanding your skills when you can make your core skills cooler. Now if this ability gave you skills that a rogue normally couldn’t get it would be one thing, but as written it will only be taken by those who really want every skill in the game. That archetype is common enough that I left this ability as a B instead of a C.

Hide in the Shadows (A)

Observer (A)

Scout Leader (A, F+) – This is a great knack for the stealth rogue who is always so tired of the clumsy fighter breaking his stealth. I think this will see a lot of use.

Sense for Secrets (B) – This is effectively a “plot sense” device. If your campaign uses a lot of traps or secret doors, then it can be quicker to do this than it is just to start actually looking for things. But in a normal setting…I would rather just search than use this.

Tuck and Roll (A, STI) – Though I noted STI, I am sure many DMs don’t think about this use with acrobatics currently (if you’re an old 3.5 DM you might). Personally I would rather this as a crunch ability you all add to the Acrobatics skill than keep it as a rogue only ability.


Expertise Dice (A or O)

I do not like extra die as a default mechanic to d20 rolls. I think it slows down the game, especially in situations where I am using different skills which all have a different die to use. I house ruled spells like bless into static bonuses for the very same reason.

The reason I give it a tentative O is that expertise is the upper threshold of what is possible with skill checks (though you could argue that the bard’s inspiration is the REAL upper limit). So the fact that the expertise die allow for checks that push that maximum even higher could be a concern in a skill focused game.

One thing I do like about the mechanic is the granular increase, it feels a bit like getting back to “skill ranks”…and I miss that more granular improvement from older editions.


Combat Tactic: I do think the level switch here is weird flavor. If you wanted to make it a rest switch or no switch that makes more sense….but switching on a level just feels weird.

Ambusher (A): This one skates on a STI…as I think some DMs might allow a melee attacker to move from hiding and get an attack with advantage (the stealth rules are so vague there is a lot of room for interpretation). However, the ability to get multiple attacks in I think still adds to it, so overall I like for the TWF rogue.

Carver (B, F+): I appreciate anything that makes a dagger rogue cooler. That said, I am giving up 1-2 damage all the time vs a rapier/shortsword…and I miss out on ambusher. I feel like the rapier rogue with ambusher would perform better.

Sniper (A): Personally I wish sniper had the carver bonus and carver got something else, but this ability does work.


Innocent Fascade

Cipher (A, STI): I should not need this ability to invent ciphers (though would love if you want to make ciphers more explicit in your crunchier skill section). Now an ability that makes my ciphers harder to crack (aka the +5 DC to actually read the hidden message) and gives him advantage on cracking ciphers, I am all for that. If this ability read “the DC to read your ciphers are increased by 5, and you have advantage on investigation checks to detect and decode ciphers”…than it would still be strong without being STI.

Distraction (C, STI): Again this is a common use of perform or persuasion…not some “special power”. Now if you want to make it automatic that would be one thing (and again add your distraction mechanic in your crunchy skill section). I also think you should consider allowing for persuasion on the expertise die. The socialite rogue is a common archetype, and it’s strange that it gets no love in the packet so far. I feel that persuasion would be a very common skill for distraction. Lastly, I doubt expertise in perform is going to be a common skill desire, which drops the ability even lower.

Veiled Threat (B): Gets me expertise on Intimidate which is good, but the effect is very niche.


Trapsmith (X, STI)

I both love and hate this ability. On the one hand, I think the game really could use some “quick trap making rules”, so I am very happy to see that here. You have created rules that make sense and are easy to arbitrate.

On the other hand, I do not think these should be a core rogue ability….and I don’t think that trap making itself should even be a rogue niche….it should be a skill check effect. I have no issues that rogues can make better traps or faster traps….but they should not be the only class capable of making them.

I will also note that there is a weird frequency to the ability. For example, lets go with a typical party in a dungeon. The fighter and warlock used a lot of gas in the last fight, so the party decides to do a short rest (1 hour). That means a rogue could create 6 traps…. That’s a lot!

On the other hand, it’s weird that once a trap is triggered, the creature is immune from your trapmaking until the end of time. While that does prevent the target from hitting your 6 traps again and again…it has very weird flavor.

Might I suggest a method that can get you most of what you’re looking for but in an easier package:

Boobytrap: The rogue can trap a 50 foot radius area after 10 minutes work. There cannot be more than a single quick trap within the area. When a creature enters the area, they make an Investigation check vs DC 8 + Dex Bonus + your prof bonus. On a failure, they take damage equal to your sneak attack damage, and the quick trap is used up.

--This version does a lot of what you were going for, but ensures that the rogue cannot just cover an area with traps and hit a person multiple times. At the same time, they can cover a nice large area with a single use to ensure it has good coverage.

Option 2...super fast trap that uses exertion. Flavor is more of the "we are getting chased by monsters and set up something quick to hinder them".
QuickTrap: As an action, the rogue can spend 1 exertion and trap a 5 foot by 5 foot area with improvised pieces. When a creature enters the area the rogue makes a thieves tool check. If the check is equal or exceeds the target's passive perception and investigation, the target takes damage = to the rogue's sneak attack. The trap is naturally unstable and only lasts for up to 1 minute.

Improved Critical (A): I know my players have always been jealous that only champion fighters get extra crit threat, so a lot of combat oriented rogues are going to love this one.


Shrewd Judgment

Tricky Interrogation (A, F+) – Really cool ability, some DMs might even consider it too much as with one check you are “guaranteed” to get a response. But since we are at the levels where spellcasters can use divinations to just “get information”, I like having the rogue get its own flavor of that power… in a very roguish way.

Quick Frisk (B, STI): I think this is both something that can be done with a simple skill check, and something that isn’t all that useful as written. However, I ranked it a B because if you’re a sleight of hand monkey, you will do anything you can to get more sleight of hand.

I’d say just remove the skill check. Just let a rogue touch a person and auto succeed. That is super cool, not terribly strong (it’s not like it tells you exactly what they have), and ensures that a skill check could still do the same thing. That way a rogue could “case a market”, and then risk a skill check for the actual person worth pursuing…that’s cool and an ability worth taking.

Spot Tell (B) – This will heavily depend on how the DM does deceptions with his NPC. If you’re the DM that just does one bluff check for the whole conversation…this won’t be that great. If it’s a DM that does a bluff on every single lie…than this could be quite good. Also by triggering it off the first insight roll…you may be denying the ability on the one insight roll the rogue really wanted the bonus on.

I feel like you could make this ability cooler and more consistent. Something like “make a perception check vs X. On a success you gain advantage on Insight rolls against the target for 24 hours”. This creates the flavor of a rogue that watches his opponent and figures out their tells….and then goes in for the questioning.


Defense Style

Evasion (A): It’s like this is the baseline or something ;)

Artful Dodger (A, F+): This really feeds into the swashbuckler motif, and it’s a solid defensive power (providing advantage on defense and on reflex saves). Though you are sacrificing TWF for it, which I think keeps it in line.

Uncanny Dodge (A): I think it’s a choice of TWF with this ability, or 1 weapon with artful dodger. While not as sexy as evasion…if you’re in a game that is focused more on weapons than area attacks, this is still a really good defensive power.

Improved Trapmaking (B): My only problem with this ability, I do think there should be an option for “stronger trap”, which just does an extra +1d6 or something. I guess vial trap sort of covers that. I think my fear is that a single sneak attacks worth of damage is not as sexy at this level as it once was.


Low Profile

Costumer (A)

True Lie (A): A really good ability, my only issue is I wish there was some roll back option for your deception skill with this ability. It’s kind of crummy if you had invested into deception before 10th level and now lost all of that use.

Walk it Back (A, F+): Again I like the rogue helping his “uncouth” friends survive social situations, its both very useful in a normal party, and has good flavor.


Maneuvers

Since I covered Maneuvers in depth in my fighter review, I am just going to note a few in terms of the rogue. I did find in my test creations that maneuvers are more of a "seasoning" to the rogue than meat like with the fighter, which I was happy to see. I did find that with only 2 schools, because several manuevers tend to overlap flavorwise....there wasn't that many options than it looks on paper.

Deft Feint – A bit stronger for the rogue due to Advantage = Sneak attack. I don’t think it’s an O, but I think it compares more favorably to Feinting Technique compared to the fighter.

Speed over Strength – This was an O for the fighter, and it’s an OO for the rogue….because not only does it get you an extra attack…it’s an extra Sneak Attack.

Counter shot – Something I missed here on my first go around. This ability never actually says you must use a ranged weapon…though it heavily implies it.
 
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Faolyn

Hero
If I didn't talk about it, it's because I agree with your assessment. :)

Uncanny Dodge: I was curious if this could be replaced with maneuvers. The closest I can get is Countershot, which allows you to negate one ranged attack coming at you as a reaction.

I have to wonder if this will step on the monk's toes, since they can also parry weapons like this. Honestly, I don't think this feels very roguish. Rogues dodge thrown things; they don't knock 'em aside.

Lastly, there are a few maneuvers that lets the levelup rogue uses their skills more actively in combat…which can be another useful way to “show off skill power” compared to a vanilla rogue.

As I mentioned in the other thread, one of the major issues is that vanilla rogues could get expertise in any skill they knew, while LU limits them to "thiefy" skills. So the die is very useful, but also limits them--no more rogues as experts. A simple fix would be to allow them to use the Expertise Training knack on any of their skills.

  • Since multiclass has not been discussed yet, my assumption is that the rules will note something about max exertion in regards to the rogue/fighter multiclass.

The recent UA had the "multiclassing feats" which might be a better way to do multiclassing in LU.

  • I do think rogue's should be able to sneak attack with a wider range of weapons (aka your d8 weapons and below). Most rogues are already going to prefer finesse weapons anyway, so what's the harm in allowing a strength focused "bruiser" sneak attack with his big mace.

Anyone else reminded of that scene in The Gamers where the thief tries to backstab with a ballista?

I think the primary reason why rogues prefer finesse weapons is because they can backstab with them--not because they're going for a rogues flair. Most D&D games don't have rogues sneaking around places where they can't bring bigger weapons--like they'd have to do if they were breaking into a house very quietly--so without this limitation, there's no reason for one to only use finesse weapons.

Bobbytrapper (B,STI) – No reason a regular sleight of hand couldn’t do this. If you wanted to allow a take 10 or something option that would be fine.

Presumably you can use your action to conceal a boobytrap, though, instead of the probably minute or more it would normally take. The times should be spelled out better. Personally, I'd prefer not to bring in a "take 10/20" rule.

Sense for Secrets (B) – This is effectively a “plot sense” device. If your campaign uses a lot of traps or secret doors, then it can be quicker to do this than it is just to start actually looking for things. But in a normal setting…I would rather just search than use this.

I can actually see a very good use for this: you can't get away with searching the throne room while the Queen is talking to the party, but you could use this instead (insert any location where talking or being civilized is preferable to acting like a typical adventuring party). My only actual objection is to the phrase "you don't know where it is" because you would know where it is: there's something weird about that wall panel, for instance. It should be phrased as "you don't know its exact location."

I do not like extra die as a default mechanic to d20 rolls. I think it slows down the game, especially in situations where I am using different skills which all have a different die to use. I house ruled spells like bless into static bonuses for the very same reason.

I'm not sure it really slows down the game. There are already extra dice in the game: bless, resistance, guidance. Bardic inspiration, Dragonmarked abilities, etc., and in my experience, at least, the only slowing down is if you don't immediately remember you get them. If this is going to be a common new mechanic, character sheets could be written with enough of a space after each skill so you could note what size die you get.

Cipher (A, STI): I should not need this ability to invent ciphers (though would love if you want to make ciphers more explicit in your crunchier skill section).

I disagree here. Presumably, your rogue's cipher should be tougher than a simple letter substitution. Anyone can do that, but a rogue with this ability can make really hard ciphers, and make them look like perfectly normal writing.

Veiled Threat (B): Gets me expertise on Intimidate which is good, but the effect is very niche.

It strikes me that the LU team might be going for a much more urban style of rogue here. Not one where you have to threaten dungeon monsters into giving you the treasure or the keys to the prison, but one where you have to do a shake down of a shopkeeper or mob boss and you don't want the people around them to catch on. Sense for Secrets, Quick Frisk, Spot Tell... they all strike me as very good for city rogues and not as useful for adventuring rogues.

On the other hand, I do not think [trapmaking] should be a core rogue ability….and I don’t think that trap making itself should even be a rogue niche….it should be a skill check effect. I have no issues that rogues can make better traps or faster traps….but they should not be the only class capable of making them. [...] I will also note that there is a weird frequency to the ability. For example, lets go with a typical party in a dungeon. The fighter and warlock used a lot of gas in the last fight, so the party decides to do a short rest (1 hour). That means a rogue could create 6 traps…. That’s a lot!

In D&D-land, you picture two classes making nonmagical traps: rangers (wilderness traps) and rogues (city/dungeon traps). Beyond that, I could see trapmaking being a Background thing, perhaps, or a feat, but I'm not so sure that trapmaking, at least beyond rudimentary levels, needs to be available for everyone.

Also, unless a rogue is going to trap things in the immediate area, they would still have to travel to each place they want to trap, which would take time and, presumably, extra stealth checks. I agree with the rest of your assessment here.

Quick Frisk (B, STI): I think this is both something that can be done with a simple skill check, and something that isn’t all that useful as written. However, I ranked it a B because if you’re a sleight of hand monkey, you will do anything you can to get more sleight of hand.

I dunno--it involves touching a person. Making a check is rather important in that case. I'm not a big fan of the idea that succeeding gives you advantage on SoH checks for the rest of the day (what if the target changes clothes?) or you can't use attempt it again that day, but if those are to be kept, then a skill check to get them is important.

Speed over Strength – This was an O for the fighter, and it’s an OO for the rogue….because not only does it get you an extra attack…it’s an extra Sneak Attack.

Sneak Attack attempt, you mean; you can only make one Sneak Attack per turn.[/QUOTE]
 

Stalker0

Legend
I think the primary reason why rogues prefer finesse weapons is because they can backstab with them--not because they're going for a rogues flair. Most D&D games don't have rogues sneaking around places where they can't bring bigger weapons--like they'd have to do if they were breaking into a house very quietly--so without this limitation, there's no reason for one to only use finesse weapons.

Sneak Attack attempt, you mean; you can only make one Sneak Attack per turn.

The reason most rogues use finesse weapons is that most rogues are dex-centric, and finesse weapons allows them to use their dex for attack and damage with the weapon. Otherwise, the rogue would have a mediocre offense in most cases. My proposal to remove the finesse requirement for sneak attack wouldn't change that....the vast majority of rogues would still use finesse weapons to take full advantage of their high dex.

But...for the exception, the rogue that decides not to go high dex....this allows them to still make use of their class ability. Note I still required that the weapon does a d8 or less....so no ballista backstabs or getting sneak attacks with a greatsword ;)


To the second point, I did in fact mean the ability to get 2 Sneak Attacks. Reactions in 5e don't actually take place on your turn, so a rogue can get a sneak attack on its action, and another sneak attack on its reaction using the maneuver. That's why it is so incredibly powerful (and in my opinion, completely broken).
 

Faolyn

Hero
To the second point, I did in fact mean the ability to get 2 Sneak Attacks. Reactions in 5e don't actually take place on your turn, so a rogue can get a sneak attack on its action, and another sneak attack on its reaction using the maneuver. That's why it is so incredibly powerful (and in my opinion, completely broken).

You are... right. Huh. I think it's one of those RAI things where they never imagined that anyone could use a Sneak Attack as a reaction. I wonder if I can start trying to use Sneak Attacks with my Opportunity Attacks now.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Bobbytrapper (B,STI) – No reason a regular sleight of hand couldn’t do this. If you wanted to allow a take 10 or something option that would be fine.
This seems to be a very niche ability. Outside of the Brady Bunch and the occasional singer, I don't see it getting a lot of use. :p
 

Rabulias

Hero
You are... right. Huh. I think it's one of those RAI things where they never imagined that anyone could use a Sneak Attack as a reaction. I wonder if I can start trying to use Sneak Attacks with my Opportunity Attacks now.
I think it was absolutely intended, and I think Sneak Attack on OAs are the exact use envisioned for this. Sneak Attack very specifically says "once per turn" not "once per round."

But the rogue will only have a single reaction, so that is at most twice per round. This is why any homebrew spell or feat that gives extra reactions to player characters is plutonium in the hands of a rogue.
 

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