Recently, I spent a LOT of time contemplating why rogues are less popular in my group than e.g. rangers and stumbled into making a mechanical analysis of the class. The results were quite enlightening and explained well why there's a vast thread on the Paizo-boards on how they are underpowered.
Fast-forward. newcomer Drop Dead Studios recently impressed me with the best take of a crafting-centric-class I've seen for any iteration of d20 so far as their freshman offering (The Artisan, if you don't know) and after that, they went on to release a book originally funded via kickstarter to "fix" the rogue. Do they succeed at this endeavor? Let's take a look!
This pdf is 63 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page kickstarter thanks, leaving us with 58 pages of content, so let’s check this out! (There is also a portrait-layout version that is the base for the print version and clocks in at 115 pages, more on that in the conclusion.)
Interspersed with an interesting, well-written narrative, we are introduced to the topic of this book, namely making the rogue more unique: With trapfinding being nerfed over the editions, archetypes like detectives, urban rangers and the (overdue) power-gain of the bard, it’s high time that someone devoted a book to providing the often-neglected rogue some new tools to set them apart from other classes and that is exactly what this book is about. Much like class-specific other supplements throughout the edition, we are introduced to the matter at hand via some general observations about what constitutes a rogue (profession vs. personality type), rogues in different general setting like cities, wilderness etc., alignment, backgrounds and reasons to “go rogue” grouped by social status as well as the most common motivations.
After that, we delve into the new content, which begins with new additional abilities that serve to make the rogue stand out more: Rogues built with this book get proficiency with stealthy weapons like sword-canes, blade boots and switchblade knives. The rogue now also gets access to a class feature called guile pool, which grants you ½ class level + cha-mod points that can be spent as part of a skill check to grant +2 to the skill, +4 at 10th level. Guile points may also be spent as swift actions to get a +1 circumstance bonus to atk, +1 per 4 levels to a maximum of +5. Also, as long as they have at least one point in their pool, they are treated as if under the effect of the improved feint feat. Starting at 3rd level, the rogue may now also declare any attack s/he makes that deals sneak attack damage in a surprise round an ambush: This attack gains a bonus to damage equal to her/his level as well as requiring a save on behalf of the victim to avoid being temporarily sickened. On higher levels, the negative conditions get uglier. This set of abilities is added to all rogues. When the pdf wants to make a distinction between this and the standard rogue, the rogue with the new abilities is called Glory Rogue.
This basic new suite of powers out of the way, we delve into archetypes, starting with the chemist. Chemists get slightly diminished sneak progression, but compensate this by gaining increased throwing capacity. It the name of the archetype has not been ample clue: Chemists gain access to a limited array of alchemist’s bombs and may even add sneak attack to their thrown weapons. They also may smuggle bombs on foes via sleight of hand or the steal combat maneuver. Finally, they may select from a limited array of discoveries. Nice archetype that should answer the prayers of the splash-weapon-throw-plus-sneak-crowd without being unbalancing. Much less complex, the Dungeon Runner deals d8 sneak attack versus undead and constructs, + level damage versus oozes, but all other foes only get sneaked for d4 instead of the usual d6. They also replace either ambush (or 2 skill points) with gaining the blind-fight feat-tree as bonus feats. Fences also get 2 skill points less than regular rogues and gain quick black market connections as well as very soon access to an organization to do your bidding, information gatherings etc. – these people can be developed and, while not adventurers, they are gold in any urban environment/to do tasks that do not require a group of adventurers. Have I mentioned that you gain money from your underlings (though they require you to pay them for jobs) since you fence their goods?
Nice archetype, though personally, I would have loved for a more complex fencing/guild-running system or e.g. an adaptation of WotW’s evilorganization rules, the Great City’s tong-rules or something akin to that. After that, we get the imperial flanker, who represents more closely the concept of lightly armored skirmishers in military. They get access to the cavalier’s Tactician-quality and stack their levels with respective levels in the cavalier-class. The write-up also refers to the Tactician-class, I assume either a glitch or a pointer towards Dreamscarred Press’ tactician-class, but honestly, I’m not sure which is correct. The archetype gets 2 skill points less and instead of trap-related abilities gains access to martial training, medium armors and even the option to still use evasion when in medium armor. Mageslayers are also interesting: Gaining at 4th level already the Magebane attack advanced rogue talent as well as imposing half their level as a penalty to defensive casting, this archetype is the nightmare of casters and a gleefully satisfying experience to spring on those spellslingers. Medics will probably see much use in low-magic settings: These rogues may treat lethal wounds faster and increase the efficiency of the usually rather underpowered heal-skill. They may even get rid of negative levels and in combat gain an interesting alternative to sneak attack: Surgical precision grants +1 to atk at every odd level for a max of +10 at 19th level instead of the bonus damage sneak attack usually offers. Finally, medics may create salves that grant temporary hp.
The Pet Trainer sacrifices 2 skill points for an animal companion and teach them the grab-trick, but at the expense of the guile pool or trapsense/trapfinding. Stalkers are a relatively straight ranger/rogue blending, getting access to favored terrain, trap training and advanced trap training as bonus rogue talents at the expense of 2 skill points. Street Magicians are interesting in that they get a VERY limited access to sme wiz/sorc-spells they can cast as spell-like abilities. As rogue talents, these guys can also get familiars, bonded objects etc. and as an advanced rogue talent, there's a nice blend of the new ambush-rule combined with spellcasting – nice way to represent street-smart dabblers in the arcane.
The Street Urchin gets skill bonuses to represent street smarts as well as an ability that hits a pet-peeve of mine: They may, with a glance, size up a target, learning class, level and ability modifiers. This kind of metagame-information is strictly banned in my home game and something that always breaks immersion for me. Additionally, the ability fails to specify whether the ability shows their modified (by magic items, diseases, afflictions, curses…) ability modifiers or their unmodified ones. They also thus are very focused on the target, gaining bonuses versus them at the expense of penalties versus targets not their mark. I get what the ability wants to do and it works, but personally, I would have wished for a more abstract form of information to be thusly uncovered.
Now true professionals may choose at first level to either be even better with skills, get more proficiencies and count as ½ level fighter to qualify for feats or limited spells. They also replace sneak attack with bonus feats, ambush with more skill points and an interesting capstone.
Urban Ninjas represent the only archetype that requires the optional guile pool-class feature, gaining both guile pool and ki pool as well as access to both rogue talents and ninja tricks. Finally, Weapon’s Experts don’t gain sneak attack and trapfinding, but instead get weapon training and the option to count as fighters as well as again, the option to use evasion in medium armor. What I’ve failed to mention so far in this array of archetypes is that each and every one of them comes with an aptly-written, nice fluffy mini-story instead of being just dry crunch. Nice!
Of course, this book not only features new archetypes, but also new rogue talents and advanced rogue talents. On the side of the former, we get the power to run and even charge at -10 while using stealth, the option to deal ambush damage via grapple as lethal or non-lethal (great for TRUE professionals and campaigns like mine, where killing ANY humanoid is usually not considered as “good”), armor and maneuver mastery (the latter granting a massive bonus to the chosen maneuver), flank nearby foes with ranged weapons, feint with ranged weapons, become extremely adept at using ropes, wilder in the bard’s and alchemist’s territories, roll an attack twice as a standard action and the expense of 1 guile pool point (great when alone on reconnaissance and needing to make that hit count), spend guile to treat foes in melee combat as flat-footed, bluff lie-detecting spells, run up walls Prince-of-Persia-style and so much more. On the side of advanced talents, rogues may choose swift poison application, increased prowess with wands and scrolls, quietly dispatch foes (VERY useful!), feint all foes she threats, treat all 1s, 2s and 3s as 4s when sneak attacking, deal con damage, hamper spellcasting, slow foes and gain access to mutagens, improved familiars etc.
Where there are new talents, there also are, unsurprisingly, new feats are also in here - a total of 16 of them, to be precise. They allow rogues to use non-magical ventriloquism (Much more useful than you’d think, especially with another feat that allows you to non-magically alter your voice!), master weapons like bladed boots and climbing claws, dabble in fortune-telling (and have it actually work sometimes). On the coolest side, though, would be the feats that allow a rogue to disable ongoing magical effects and items with their disable device-checks as if the result of their skill was dispel magic. These feats are genuinely brilliant and EXTREMELY useful at all levels. The greater version of the feat even allows you to work a trap into an existing magic and even disable curses. Very, very cool and should ensure that at low levels, when dispel magic is a rare or non-existing commodity, groups the rogue will shine and continue to do so at higher levels – after all, disable device is not a resource that depletes…
We also get 6 new traits before we check out further alternate rules: The first is a nod to Rite Publishing’s excellent “Secrets of the Tactical Archetypes II” and says so directly in the text – nice to see the nod. I’ve already covered “opportunities aplenty” in my review of that book, though. What really rocks, though, is that the Drop Dead Studios-team has taken Paizo’s proposed and then discontinued stealth-rewrite and expanded it with abduction, perception, bluffing, creating diversions etc. as well as updates for blindsight, blindsense etc. These variant rules look on paper VERY concise and cool and in fact, better than the regular stealth rules. If you need an idea of how the rules work: There are different conditions: Observed, located, detected and undetected. Observed means the creature knows exactly where you are or can see you. Located means a creature can't see you, but knows where you are. Detected means that a creature knows that something is going on. Additionally, you may be hidden, as per a new condition, thus influencing the former concepts. As a system and presentation-wise logical, easy to grasp and concisely presented.
I can’t yet comment on how they work in-game, but I will do some extensive playtesting and definitely try them – the system remedies the problem of stealth vs. special sights being completely useless, though admitedly requiring more skill and planning at low levels as well as the DM using Perception by the book, i.e. with distance penalties etc.. For me, though, it works and I'll use the system in my next campaign, due to start next month. Kudos!
Another innovation of the book would be Delnor Crystals, special crystals detecting magical pulses from magical traps. These crystals require rogues to use them via trapfinding and make it possible for trapsmith rogues to manipulate magical traps – not only disable them. Ranger traps are cool – but oh so limited in by who they can be used. Rogue Glory’s solution is interesting: Attach them to Craft (traps) and make them available for anyone, with a trapper ranger archetype being thus changed. We also get 7 new ranger traps, multiple environmental traps and respective DC-tables, triggers and construction rules, taking existing feats like Cunning Trigger and Quick Trapsmith into account as well. Nice and neat to add some versatility to not just the rogue class. Sleight of Hand gets variant rules for placing objects instead of taking them away and the repercussions of using the revised stealth rules herein on the application of e.g. feigning death etc. are covered.
Beyond these, we are also introduced to a rather intriguing array of new equipment: These tools of the trade include hilt-daggers, climbing claws, 10-foot poles with hooks, collapsible bows (sniper hitman, baby!), needle launchers (deliver those toxins), hollow books, lead lining enhancements to other compartments, parachutes, 13 new traps (and an alchemical trigger to spring them) and, of course, magic items: These are no less useful than their mundane counterparts and include magically rigged dice, daggers for assassins, pellets that let you vanish (à la batman and x ninjas in fiction) and rings that grant the massive social bonuses of the glibness spell. Beyond these, we also find new artifacts and interesting ones indeed are there: Take Saphire, the most famous thief ever and his/her legacy: These are essentially concepts, not items that can be taken, given, lost etc. and grant fractions of this mythological beings vast power. Cool as an idea to pass on to PCs (or NPCs), with all resulting hijinxs – or perhaps the PCs want one, but how to steal an intangible thing? There is also a two-faced coin that can alternately grant 20 as bonus or penalty and which would make for a truly interesting item in the hands of a two-face-like foil. Beyond these, we get an assassin’s blood-filled cup and a powerful dagger as well.
Now that all crunchy components are covered, we are in for a section that should intrigue especially, but not only, novice DMs and players, for the following chapter discusses how communication between DM and players is important so that they create the right type of rogue: Social rogues are no fun if there’s nothing for them to do, sneaky ones that can’t infiltrate due to playing in a war-campaign face the same problem. The advice given is sound, especially when it comes to traps, trap-description and reason to implement them in the game – and how to properly use them. Though I’d like to add one piece of advice: Consciously, as a DM, deviate from the detect-disable-done-formula: Make traps, at least once in a while, complex and, when sprung, give the whole party something to do to escape imminent death. This makes it all the more rewarding when a rogue manages to be levitated across the room, while the barbarian and fighter hold doors open that would slam shut so their friend can disable the deadly death trap from the other side of the room. Suggestions for encounter- and gold-based XP are provided as well before we delve into the final chapter:
We get 5 sample thievish organizations, all of which come with fully statted sample NPCs, prestige benefits and range from apocalyptic cults to a counter-thieves guild that steals back what was taken and acts as a kind of elite security force. The book concludes its survey of rogues with 5 seeds for whole campaigns and arcs as well as a table of 20 short adventure hooks for you to develop.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect: I noticed two glitches in particular, on page 11 and 30 respectively, of false words. Generally, though, the book is surprisingly glitch-free apart from aforementioned hick-up. Layout of the electronic version adheres to a 3-column landscape format with full-color borders and original artworks that are ok, though ranging from nice to a bit wonky. Layout is also the weakest spot of the pdf – here and there, there are disjointed underlinings in the text and e.g. spell-names are not in italics. Beyond that, the pdf is hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com, with the latest update getting rid of an at first problematic usage of the hyperlinks. The pdf also comes with extensive nested bookmarks in both versions.
It should be noted, that the print-version and the pdf based on that version is something completely different: It is 115 total pages long (minus cover and the like), adheres to a 2-column standard with an artwork-border and looks VERY tidy.
Rogue Glory is an interesting book in that it takes a class that is deemed by now one of the weakest and adds some oomph to it: Additional, easy to use rules, nice options, interesting archetypes, a stealth-system that, while hard on low-levels, especially at mid-to-high levels works much better and all those nice tools and ideas conspire to make this a truly impressive little book that shows awareness of other 3pps, rules-discussions etc. and overall manages to succeed at its task of making the rogue a more unique character class that can compete with its fellows. Full of great ideas, solid crunch and options galore, Drop Dead Studios has created a second book that is on par with their crunch-mastery as displayed in “The Artisan” and shows that the former was no exception – their standard remains high. Thus, I whole-heartedly recommend the print version/print-version-based-pdf (since at least at my table, this book will see a LOT of use) with a final verdict of 5 stars plus endzeitgeist seal of approval - with the now revised version of the electronic version, without any regrets.