Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Hide in Practice II

Farting in the general direction of 4ed for the moment, I'm going to carry on analyzing the way that the d20 rules support some of the more common cinematic and 'gamey' images of the rogue and thief. From one of my players in a previous comment:

"Every rogue I have ever played has been built, a la Garrett. Sneaking past or knocking out the guards and generally robbing the bad guy blind before he even knows my character has been there. Who wants to kill people when you can just totally piss of the bad guys? Even better when they dont know you did it!"

This is the classic infiltrator, the guy who uses his noodle to sneak past challenges, take out villains, and make off with the loot before the bad guys even know what hit them. How would you play this guy in practice?

For a start, coshing someone into unconsciousness or otherwise killing them in one hit in d20 is very hard... against anything except low-level mooks, anyway. For a Rogue it's all about maximizing Sneak Attack damage, whether lethal or not... but actually getting up to someone without them noticing you in the first place is extremely hard. Without cover or concealment, a Rogue takes -5 to his Hide check for every 5 feet he crosses in the open; even the lamest guards can therefore probably expect to impose 5 or 10 points of penalty onto your Hide check. If you make it, and the victim remains unaware of you, you can at least forget his Dexterity bonus (whoopidy-do for most armoured guards, but every little helps I suppose) and expect, if you hit, to apply an extra few dice of damage.

Aside from Sneak Attack dice, there's no real bonus to taking someone unaware like this; you'll do no more damage than if you were flanking, or more tellingly, if he actually Spotted you on the way in but you still won Initiative... which for a Rogue is likely to be odds-on. Given the probable difficulty of making that first strike (magic notwithstanding, and one of my players is now a Rogue/Wizard with invisbility and true strike high on his list of spells), it seems to me, unless I'm missing something, that there really isn't that much to be gained from taking someone on like this.

On the contrary, it's likely to be a very bad idea for the Rogue to extend himself from the party and strike at a bad guy without everyone else to back him up (like the party Fighter, who will be hanging back out of range in order to avoid giving the game away). I can understand the balance implications, but it seems to me that a bonus to the Rogue's critical threat range might not be out of order if he manages to get the a strike in while his opponent is unaware (which is of course different than simply being flat-footed). Yes, you don't double the Sneak Attack dice, but it's something... a payoff for taking that additional risk.

With a sap, you can deal non-lethal instead of lethal damage... but there's no inherent rule which makes it easier to render someone unconscious if they're unaware of you. Honestly I would be nervous of any such rule, but its absence renders the cinematic image of the infiltrator quite impossible to play in practice. The Assassin's Death Attack probably comes closest, but it's no coincidence that you have to be at least 5th level, and evil, to use it.


guylambourn said...

My long term high level rogue character, taking ten, using all his magical equipment so he is invisble and flying (no move silently needed!) has a hide of 74. The average attack damage for a sneak attack is 32 points for a single attack with a bow at a range of 30ft, good enough to remove a third level guard with something to spare most the time.

The rather poor sneak attack damage that you have high-lighted is nothing new. This same character in the good old AD&D days did x4 damage on a back stab. This was only good enough to take out second or third level characters and that was after a flat percentage to successfully sneak up on the target.

Fortunately most guards in large complexes are, or should be, low level. So he should be good enough to take out most low level guards on his own and sneak past the tougher ones. After all, a character who is more than third level is a tough hombre and just shouldn't be standing around as a lowly guard.

The infiltration rogue should get in, have a look and get out, preferably without killing or rendering unconcious a single opponent. Then returning with the rest of the party, working just infront of them to clear the way, and always withdrawing when the baloon goes up.

As for the assassin, like so many (all?) prestige classes it is deeply flawed. It is obviously intended as an NPC class designed to kill PC's.

Wedge said...

Ah yes, good old back-stab. Out of interest that word *has* been used in conjunction with 4th Edition. Just FYI.

I would question whether a Rogue with a Take 10 Hide check of 74 should be facing anything which kicks the bucket "with something to spare" after 32 points of damage, otherwise you make good points. I hadn't really considered the effect that magical items will have on high-level Rogues.

guylambourn said...

It depends what you mean by facing things that can't take 32 points of damage.

My point here is that most large complexes could and should feel alive by having lots of guards. The majority of guards should be low level and of no direct threat to a high level PC. But if they raise the alarm, the jig is most definately up. A dead body raises the alarm just as well as a scream. So bumping off low level guards should be avoided in most instances.

After all an orcish horde complex with no orc warriors is hardly going to have the cinematic effect of genuine looming threat to the nearby town or city that would be generated by a series of huge caverns overflowing with gnarled orc beserkers frothing at the mouth(ie 1st to 3rd level barbarians). They are background colour and not in anyway placed to provide a challenge to the PC's.

The Orc leader could be an ancient red dragon and have some very serious high level henchmen. The low level followers have little or no game impact but give the entire situation more gravitas.

Wedge said...

So just how long *many* levels should a Rogue PC wait before he can have a crack at being an infiltrator? :)

(That's 'Rogue' as in a PC playing a Rogue, by the way, not 'rogue' as in a PC on the run from the law. Which is a whole different set of rules, probably.)

Still, fairly said Mr. Lambourne.

This actually touches on some thoughts I've been having on goals vs. obstacles in D&D's experience system, which hopefully I'll be able to apply some neurons to later-on.

guylambourn said...

Defeating guards;

The average low level guard is unlikely to have any ranks in spot or listen but they could have cross classed these skills, they could have alertness and may have a small wisdom bonus. So their spot will range from +0 for a typical human warrior of any level to +12 for a 3rd level elven ranger on sentry duty (with Wisdom of 14 and alertness).

Taking 10 thats +10 and +22 repectively. (for a trained guard)

Taking 20 thats +20 and +32 respectively. (for a trained guard on high alert)

A typical 3rd level rogue with 16 Dex (+3), Max ranks (+6), boots and cloak of elvenkind (+5), has a Move Silently or Hide of +14, taking ten thats +24 and thats with out the stealthy feat. More than enough to creep past most guards, as long as they dont have to move out of cover.

If the alarm has gone off and they now have to beat guards taking 20. This should be achievable with ability score increases and boosts, extra ranks and better equipment by 8th or 9th level.

So in answer to your question.

A third level rogue

(As long as they don't trip any alarms which will induce immediate sweaty palms!)

Must have items include;

1."Pass without trace" from potions, scrolls, wands etc (Ha! I laugh at your scent ability)

2. "Fly" from potions, boots, cloaks, wands etc. (Ha! I mock your tremour sense ability)

3. "Invisibility" from potions, rings, wands etc. (Ha! See me flick you the bird)

NB; Try to stifle any sniggering at your hapless opponents as it gives the game away. Just be satisfied with a smug smile :-)

Lucius Drake said...

I have house-ruled that a rogue can use a coup de grace with a sap to force a fortitude save with the standard DC 10 + Damage dealt or be rendered immediately unconscious.

Since it is also of my opinion that a totally unaware guard may be treated as 'helpless' this means that should that sneaking be successful, the rogue in question will quickly and quietly bludgeon the poor guard into dreamland!