5 Tips For Playing Better Rogues


[A Pathfinder RPG Guide by
Neal Litherland

/ Gamers ]

all think we’ve got a handle on the rogue. They’re trap spotters,
skullduggerers, thieves, blackguards, and all-around bastards. Their
moral compass points toward gold, and there is no trick too low, and no
scheme too dirty, for them to stick their fingers in.

While that certainly describes a certain type of
rogue, it’s far from the only sort there is. Of all the classes in the
game, rogues are the ones that are the most flexible in who they are,
and what they can do. From detectives and diplomats, to rakes and
redcoats, rogues can be almost anything.

If you’re looking to step
outside the typical mold this class gets cast in, here are 5 simple
tips to help you do just that. Also, while these tips are designed for
the Pathfinder RPG, they might be equally applicable to other games that
feature the rogue as one of their base classes.

For more great gaming insight, check out Improved Initiative!

Tip #1: Nail Down Your Specialty

Literally, in some cases.

are one of the most varied classes, and depending on how you select
your skills, and where you put your attributes, you can take on a
variety of roles. For example, is your rogue the party face, talking
with merchants and negotiating terms for everything from what you’ll be
paid, to the surrender of your enemies? Alternatively, your rogue might
be a sneak thief, whose fast hands and silent steps mean that no coin
purse in the market is safe. They might be a trap-disarming locksmith,
who always knows just where to slap a pressure plate to jam the
mechanism, or a clear-eyed sniper who can put a quarrel through
someone’s eye at a hundred paces without anyone knowing they were even

Whether your area of expertise is social maneuvers, lies
and deceit, thuggery and brutality, or just being that guy who can tell a
real treasure map from a forgery, you should know what job you want
your rogue to be able to handle.

Tip #2: Why Do You Do What You Do?

Because sometimes it really is the ‘why’ that matters.

Rogues do not have an alignment restriction. That’s one reason The Lawful Good Rogue,
over at Kobold Press, still gets a fair amount of traffic to this day.
Players are often so certain that rogues can’t be lawful that they never
even entertain the idea of a character who isn’t some form of
freebooter, bandit, or pickpocket. But it’s true; rogues can fit into
any of the 9 alignment boxes without penalty.

Since you can be of
any alignment, you should ask how you ply your trade, and apply your
skills. You should also ask why you do it in the way you do.

example, say your rogue is also an assassin. Do they kill targets for
gold? Or are they a part of the kingdom’s secret service, strategically
eliminating threats for queen and country? Do you serve an organization,
furthering their goals? Or does your knife serve justice, going after
those whom you believe have committed wrongs, and not been justly
punished for those transgressions?

Every one of these examples
speaks to a different kind of motivation; greed, patriotism, service to
something greater, or a thirst for justice. Your skills are only one
part of the equation; it’s how and why you use them that defines the
character in more meaningful ways.

This applies to every
specialty. If your rogue is a faceman, how do they use that skill? Do
they run confidence games to commit robberies, or do they negotiate
treaties as an ambassador? If your rogue is a stealth expert, how do
they use those skills? Are they an army scout, moving unseen through the
brush in strange countries? Or are they a burglar, swiping valuables
while the residents of the house sleep all around them? It’s entirely up
to you.

Tip #3: Where Did You Learn Your Skills?

No one starts out as a terrifying badass, after all.

are the quintessential skill-based class. No one has more skill points,
and as a result rogues tend to be able to help out in almost any
situation. If you have skills, though, that means you learned them

So… where did you learn yours?

The origins of a
rogue’s skill set can be as wide and varied as you like. For example,
you might have a rogue who grew up in the country, and whose father was a
tracker and a hunter. That explains why he knows so much about nature,
and about surviving in it. He might have gone on to be a scout in the
army, or taken a role as a huntsman in a lord’s service. The former
would have made him familiar with the discipline of military life and
small-unit tactics, while the latter would have introduced him to the
aristocracy, giving him knowledge about the nobility, the royalty, and
what protocols need to be followed when interacting with them.

are all sorts of places you could go with this. For example, was your
rogue an apprentice to a locksmith? Did she spend time at university,
learning about the history of dead cultures, and picking up the
languages of living ones? Has she traveled the world, blending in with
other nations while digging through forgotten tombs and evading ancient
death traps? Or, alternatively, did your rogue grow up on the tough side
of town, where being able to read gang signs and understand colors
could mean the difference between life and death? Did he have to scrap
on a daily basis, learning to duck, weave, and to use every advantage he
could get to win a fight? Did he tie on with a crime boss to act as an
enforcer… or did he become a watchman trying to keep the peace? Who
did he learn more from?

Knowing where your rogue learned their
skills is essential because it puts them into context, offers clues
about who they are, and ideally it should help you create background
NPCs that can act as part of your story.

Tip #4: Remember, Rogues Come in All Shapes and Sizes

There’s nothing worse than sneak attack from horseback.

do you think of when you hear that a character has rogue levels? Is it
someone in a black cloak, with either twin daggers, or a dagger and a
longsword? Well, what would you think if you found out the hulking
bruiser with the spiked gauntlets and the bastard sword over his
shoulder was also a rogue? What about if it turned out that valiant
knight on horseback dealt sneak attack damage with that lance whenever
the enemy was flat-footed? How about that skinny, scholarly fellow who
speaks a dozen languages and always seems to have a historical tidbit to
share? Well, he knows how to hit you where it hurts, and he’s evaded
his share of fireballs in his time.

Rogues, as a class, benefits
from dipping into other specialties. Rogue/barbarians are terrors on the
battlefield who are hard to pin down, and whose attacks can be
devastating when they flank with their fellows. Rogue/fighters may not
have the raw attack power of their fellows, but their access to martial
weapons and better armor, combined with evasion, sneak attack, and Rogue
Talents can make for a vicious combination. Even if you don’t want to
multiclass, though, the right feats can give you access to all sorts of
options outside the stereotypical rogue package. From mounted combat to
firearms, from unarmed strikes to swashbuckler deeds, you can customize
your rogue so they always have a surprise or two up their sleeve.

Tip #5: Make Sure Your Specialty Will Be Needed

Everyone wants to contribute, after all.

of the most important things to remember is that you need to make a
character for the game you’re going to be playing. So, even if you’ve
put together the smoothest-talking scoundrel anyone has ever met, check
with your DM to make sure you’ll actually get to do your thing. If
you’re just fighting hordes of undead, you might start to question why
the group needs you. The same is true if you made a canny detective, a
cunning trap specialist, or a two-handed bruiser. Be sure you’ll
actually have a chance to shine before you commit too hard to your skill
set. Otherwise you might find yourself in the same boat as the ranger
who took goblins as their favored enemy, and the only greenskin that’s
showed up is actually a member of the party!

Simon Peter Munoz covered this in more detail on the CRB entry Making A Character For The Game You’re In.