Sneak Attack and Backstab (with Rob Schwalb)

Rob revisits the idea of sneak attack and backstab in today's D&D Next conversation, but this time with a slight twist to the idea. After you've read the article and voted in the poll, come back here for the bigger conversation.

Trevor Kidd Community Manager

I like the idea. I voted yes. Though I refused to accept Rob's genius since his rogue fighting technique is basically the pathfinder rogue. (Not that I'm against this).

I actually like the idea of giving all classes a slew of abilites to choose from (this is assuming the non basic versions that they are talking about). So do the pahtfinder get a "ability" every X levels for example. This can also help with the flattening of the math. That way the option aren't necessarily alot more powerful as you level. Instead you get more versatile and get to choose the order of class abilities you want
I voted in the middle on this.  I thin I'm undecided.  lol.

I'm more concerned with the rogue having skill like talents that are not duplicated by casters.
Thats a good point. I think in 5th the should really narrow up the realm of "what magic can do".  so as not to step on the other classes toes so much
While I like tricks, none of it seems to solve the 'rocket launcher flyswatter' issue; in the end, you pretty much need multi-target attacks to be relevant in a fight vs multiple foes.
My brother and I were just talking about this the other day. We were in agreement that the rogue shouldn't be the only one who could do more damage in a flanking situation.

I'm glad to see that sometimes we're not totally out in left field.

The thing is, what will 10 levels of something other than sneak attack damage going to look like.

What kinds of bonuses or maneuvers would be useful to a 20th level character that they might wait that long to get?

What about those of us that would like to be able to play without a grid? How would giving them combat maneuvers look if the fight isn't associated with square blocks superimposed on the terrain?

Wouldn't weapon specialization be stepping on the fighter's toes?  

Widgets sound interesting, maybe small bonuses to thief skills like opening locks and diabling traps, or circumstance bonuses to rogue related interactions with NPCs.

I guess these questions will be answered in the fullness of time. 
Thats a good point. I think in 5th the should really narrow up the realm of "what magic can do".  so as not to step on the other classes toes so much



I'm gunna try not to jack this thread to hard but I hate this idea.  Don't curtail magic.  Curtail the caster.  Magic can do anything.  The caster is limited.  The caster must make choices about what it will be able to cast at what capacity.  The caster should be able to cast any spell, but it should only be able to cast a certain selection of spells well.  The caster should have to chose which things it will specialize in.  However this specialty should be somewhat fluid.  Leave it up to the player not to step on another player's toes.  Do not reduce options to stop the player from doing it.  The player should be able to not do it on his own.

Back to the actual meat of this article though.

I have to say I sort of like the idea Rob suggests, and I answered yes because I do like the sound of it and wouldn't argue if that was the way it worked,  but I would really like to test it out.
I like the idea of backstab causing a host of status effects. It'd be nice to be able to do a little extra damage and then, as a rogue, choose to slow the target (hamstring slash), cause them excruciating pain (kidney punch), or daze them (sap or cosh).
I can see a rogue getting points in Sneak Attack and getting to spend these attacks against an enemy it has "attack advantage" against.  Points might be spent as follows:

Bonus to hit: 1 point per plus (+5 max, this is over the usual bonus from advantage)
Bonus to damage: 2 points per +1d6 damage (+6d6 max., this is over any othe rbonus from advantage)
Trip: 3 points
Slow: 3 points
Push: 1 point per 5' pushed (15 feet max.)
Avoid: 1 point (you don't provoke attacks by the enemy if you move away from it this round)
Daze: 4 points

Etc.

This may be too complicated. though.  A rogue at high level may say, "I'll give myself a +2 to hit, +3d6 damage, and I'll trip him... 11 points!
Maybe.  I need to see this in play.

Also, giving backstab to everyone and not letting it define the Rogue means things can be immune to backstab (or be immune to combat advantage) without screwing up the Rogue's only trick.  So, in general, I'm for it.  But in reality, I need to see the implementation.

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I can see a rogue getting points in Sneak Attack and getting to spend these attacks against an enemy it has "attack advantage" against.  Points might be spent as follows:

Bonus to hit: 1 point per plus (+5 max, this is over the usual bonus from advantage)
Bonus to damage: 2 points per +1d6 damage (+6d6 max., this is over any othe rbonus from advantage)
Trip: 3 points
Slow: 3 points
Push: 1 point per 5' pushed (15 feet max.)
Avoid: 1 point (you don't provoke attacks by the enemy if you move away from it this round)
Daze: 4 points

Etc.

This may be too complicated. though.  A rogue at high level may say, "I'll give myself a +2 to hit, +3d6 damage, and I'll trip him... 11 points!



3.5 had this, sortof.  There were a ton of feats that let you trade various amounts of sneak attack dice for different effects.  Some were pretty brutal, trading up to 4d6 for some of the nastier status effects.  If the choice were made independent of other resource costs (like Thief's Tricks in 4e, unlike feats in 3.5 or 4e), then that'd be a compelling case to be made.  The easy, simple option is to just stick with the damage.  Those looking for more complexity can branch out and still have similar overall power.
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I like the idea that non-rogues can at least get something on damage when flanking. It helps with the 4e oddity that flanking tends to be very powerful or nearly worthless depending on the flanker being a rogue/skirmisher or not. +2 to hit is nice but rarely worth exposing your own flank to get unless the target is particularly hard to hit. If everybody got an extra d6 of damage when flanking, it makes getting into and getting out of flanking important. It also makes groups of minor enemies more dangerous. I don't really like the idea of swapping between +2 or an extra d6 damage though, since players will simply figure which increases their DPR more and go with that. I would rather see +1 to hit and +d6 damage, or something to that effect.

The rogue fighting techniques sounds like it's lifted from Pathfinder, but it works pretty well there so it is a good idea. It has a big advantage in that it lets rogues all gain significant advantage when they have combat advantage, but the exact bonus varies from rogue to rogue, so they fight and play differently. There is also a problem where with mixing combat and non-combat powers into the list. The optimizers are going to pick the high powered combat options, and force everybody to lean towards the combat options to keep pace when fighting. It would be better to separate the list into combat and utility options and give them a mix of the two lists.

Also, notice his comment at the top about damage. Sneak attack tops out at 10d6, but the rogues damage is 20d6 before adding weapon damage. It doesn't sound like a typo, it sounds like he is saying that rogues top out at two attacks per turn, or that he is talking about a two weapon rogue here. I hope this doesn't mean a return to all rogues being multi-weapon because they get all of there damage from bonus per hit.

hmmm, I saw that coming...
 
Well... If everyone can backstab now, why do we need rogues?

Shouldn't WotC get rid of the class and give the fighter more options to improve the sneak attack? light armor fighting? (Dirty fighting manuevers?)


hmmm, I saw that coming...
 
Well... If everyone can backstab now, why do we need rogues?

Shouldn't WotC get rid of the class and give the fighter more options to improve the sneak attack? light armor fighting? (Dirty fighting manuevers?)



Well in Rob's examples, the rogue is considerably better at backstabbing by either dealing considerably more damage, or having other things he/she/they/it can do while backstabbing.

Trevor Kidd Community Manager

I really like idea to give every class a backstab ability, but other things are not so good.

In my opinion, it's quite unreal just to add some damage or grant some attack bonus after successful backstab.


For example, a 1-st level fighter strikes a 5-level wizard with an axe, while wizard, for example, was concentrated on making some experiments in alchemy. If the wizard has 25 hit points, and fighter made just a regular attack for 1d6 + 4 damage, the wizard wouldn’t be even bloodied. If we add one more 1d6 damage, 2d6 + 4 is slightly better, but still the situation seems to be unreal.


My idea: Successful backstab must be equal to Coup De Grace in D&D 3, with chances of instant kill (or instant fall to -1 hit points). To make a backstab, character must pass a stealth check (opposed to target’s check, with any circumstance modifiers).


This method solves problem with 20d6 problem at high levels, it is more realistic, rogue is still the most effective class for backstabbing because of high stealth skill, and it can be balanced enough, because DC is increased for higher level targets.

Am I genius?

@Rob:
Yes sir, I like it. Of course it needs to be fleshed out, but the concept has a lot of merit.

I really like idea to give every class a backstab ability, but other things are not so good.

In my opinion, it's quite unreal just to add some damage or grant some attack bonus after successful backstab.


For example, a 1-st level fighter strikes a 5-level wizard with an axe, while wizard, for example, was concentrated on making some experiments in alchemy. If the wizard has 25 hit points, and fighter made just a regular attack for 1d6 + 4 damage, the wizard wouldn’t be even bloodied. If we add one more 1d6 damage, 2d6 + 4 is slightly better, but still the situation seems to be unreal.


My idea: Successful backstab must be equal to Coup De Grace in D&D 3, with chances of instant kill (or instant fall to -1 hit points). To make a backstab, character must pass a stealth check (opposed to target’s check, with any circumstance modifiers).


This method solves problem with 20d6 problem at high levels, it is more realistic, rogue is still the most effective class for backstabbing because of high stealth skill, and it can be balanced enough, because DC is increased for higher level targets.

Am I genius?




Firstly, realism and D&D have never been particularly closely linked.

Secondly, loss of hit points doesn't mean physical contact was made.  In your example, the wizard may have rolled out of the way at the last minute; he still loses HP from the defensive effort, but was not, narratively, struck by the weapon.

Thirdly, save or die mechanics suck and should never see the light of day again.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.

I really like idea to give every class a backstab ability, but other things are not so good.

In my opinion, it's quite unreal just to add some damage or grant some attack bonus after successful backstab.


For example, a 1-st level fighter strikes a 5-level wizard with an axe, while wizard, for example, was concentrated on making some experiments in alchemy. If the wizard has 25 hit points, and fighter made just a regular attack for 1d6 + 4 damage, the wizard wouldn’t be even bloodied. If we add one more 1d6 damage, 2d6 + 4 is slightly better, but still the situation seems to be unreal.


My idea: Successful backstab must be equal to Coup De Grace in D&D 3, with chances of instant kill (or instant fall to -1 hit points). To make a backstab, character must pass a stealth check (opposed to target’s check, with any circumstance modifiers).


This method solves problem with 20d6 problem at high levels, it is more realistic, rogue is still the most effective class for backstabbing because of high stealth skill, and it can be balanced enough, because DC is increased for higher level targets.

Am I genius?




 D&D isn't exactly big on "realism."

Even so, you can debate how realistic a measly 1d6 is all you want, but your solution just made rogue the best class in a combat. All I have to do is have a good stealth and I can insta-kill anyone?

Sign me up.   
I think having Sneak Attack work on every attack is one of the problems here. It makes damage scaling work rather oddly, sneak attack becomes much more powerful if/when you get an extra attack.

If it worked only on the first attack the scaling would be a bit simpler.

The second problem: Linear Scaling. Linear fighter, exponential wizard being replaced by quadratic fighter (due to the extra attacks fighters get) linear rogue, and other classes with other random progressions.

Oh, and the lots of dice problem. Results in both time-consuming addition AND damage being a lot less random (at which point you might as well not use dice)


Simple solution: Sneak attack is a damage multiplier, that applies to your first attack with advantage each round. Rogues are then quadratic. Damage is simple (add up small set of dice; multiply by small number)
hmmm, I saw that coming...
 
Well... If everyone can backstab now, why do we need rogues?

Shouldn't WotC get rid of the class and give the fighter more options to improve the sneak attack? light armor fighting? (Dirty fighting manuevers?)



Well in Rob's examples, the rogue is considerably better at backstabbing by either dealing considerably more damage, or having other things he/she/they/it can do while backstabbing.


If anything, it's a pretty good testimony of exactly why the Thief has been mostly superfluous since 2000, if not even 1975.

Do NOT group non-combat choices with combat ones. They're not measurable against each other.

Beyond that, I have no opinion.

EDIT: Moreover, people should really give credit where credit is due. Pathfinder's 'Rogue Talents' are simply a more codified version of 'Special Abilities' that Rogues had since D&D 3.x.

hmmm, I saw that coming...
 
Well... If everyone can backstab now, why do we need rogues?

Shouldn't WotC get rid of the class and give the fighter more options to improve the sneak attack? light armor fighting? (Dirty fighting manuevers?)


Well in Rob's examples, the rogue is considerably better at backstabbing by either dealing considerably more damage, or having other things he/she/they/it can do while backstabbing.


Can the Rogue trade out for rogue-like things that are unrelated to backstabbing?  Like parry, riposte, etc, etc.

It would be nice if we could have things immune to particular aspects of granting combat advantage (like prone, flanking, etc, etc) or just immune to combat advantage without it decimating one character's "thing" that they do.

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MaimonidesVII, I think that backstab must be performed out of combat, while the target is unaware. And if the target has full armor or strong natural armor, it must not be instant kill. So, it is not so unbalancing. Just adds more fun.

Salla
1 - Agree, but it went too far.
2 - It's a possible solution, but not the best
3 -  If it is everywhere - it is bad. But if it happens in more or less rare situations - it can be interesting. Than a variant to fall to -1 hp is to be considered, because a real instant-kill mechanic can be used against a PCs, and it's better to keep them alive sometimes
Eh, I kinda don't like everyone getting the rogue's schtick. The rogue would have to get something new to compensate for it.

Also, say "attack advantage" is +2 like CA is. The rogue shouldn't have to give that up for sneak attack like everyone else. Otherwise, I feel like the rogue is being robbed of a classic ability in the name of "realism".
I like the idea of backstab causing a host of status effects. It'd be nice to be able to do a little extra damage and then, as a rogue, choose to slow the target (hamstring slash), cause them excruciating pain (kidney punch), or daze them (sap or cosh).




I like this idea. Getting 10 or 20 d6 damage dice seems a bit annoying. But, if you could get it up to 5 or 8 d6, plus the ability to induce status effects or get options to do other fancy things, its a way to make the rouge more interesting and avoid a simple/boring damage dice boost. They could even get tot he point, at high level, to where thier sneak attack can force a fort save or die against creatures, thus opening up SoD to non wizard classes (again, very high level thing).  Rouges should also be able to get sneak attack more often, such as getting combat advantage against if they get highenough initiative in the first round.

Also, maybe back stab could not work on undead and ooz etc when performed by a non rouge, but rouge's can still sneak attack undead cuase its their special trick, or, if for balance, it could be one of their special abilities they could get.

But it sounds pretty cool. Fighter with combat adv choses plus damage or plus to hit, which could be modified further by other abilities such as power attack, percise strike, etc. Mean while, A rouge gets +d6 plus bonus to hit or an additional +d6 damage, sounds pretty cool to me.

hmmm, I saw that coming...
 
Well... If everyone can backstab now, why do we need rogues?

Shouldn't WotC get rid of the class and give the fighter more options to improve the sneak attack? light armor fighting? (Dirty fighting manuevers?)






This.
Even before the everyone can backstab. 
Maybe.  I'd have to see it in practice.  Down on paper, it is at least an intriguing idea.
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The damage discussed seems to be adding complexity just so the 4E haters never see minions. This article did nothing but prove that the designers are looking at adding lots of stuff just to make the game look different, which doesn't actually improve anything.

They need to start asking themselves why they are wanting to do something new and different, and if the answer is just so that it is different, then they are doing it for the wrong reason.

Getting up to massive levels (20d6 before normal stuff) of damage just to try to remove minions, keep monsters relevant for longer and remove attack bonuses is silly. They want the system to be fast, but they do this? Don't fix what isn't broken, and if you think it is broken, write down what makes it broken and fix that, then see what you broke.

Change for change sake is not progress. 
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On giving others backstab damage.

Sure, I can fly with that, but don't make it equal to the rouges.  Give them something like a flat +1 damage whenever the rouge gets another d6.  Giving people a boost, but leaving the rouge with their specialty.
I can get behind everyone being able to deal extra damage from stealth. Everyone being capable of the old 'flank & shank' seems odd, though.

This is another instance of a 5e blog/article where I couldn't help but click away from disinterest rather than vote, then look at my still newish copy of Heroes of the Fallen Lands and wonder, "why?"
4e D&D is not a "Tabletop MMO." It is not Massively Multiplayer, and is usually not played Online. Come up with better descriptions of your complaints, cuz this one means jack ****.
I liked the sound of the idea. Obviously the devil is in the details regarding what sorts of other options rogues can take instead of the extra +d6 damage on a backstab, but overall it sounds interesting. Everyone can do an "amateur backstab", but rogues clearly are still the best backstabbers if they pick up even one or two extra +d6s on it. Plus I like the flexibility the idea potentially offers of choosing how much of your rogue build you want to put toward backstab damage and how much you want to build on other roguish abilities. The more flexibility they can offer people in customizing their rogue character the better, I say. 

P.S. His comments about rolling 20d6 at the table brought back memories of playing Champions and Dragonball Z. Good times. 
I think the idea is fine. My concern is the cost of the feats as the rogue scales up. There are plenty of people who will just go for max hit and damage. You can't put other options in the same pool as these as very few people will pick them. They need some other limit to be real options.

I hope that the problem with other classes being able to gain backstab ability as well will be mitigated by the advantages rogues have in maneuvering to gain combat advantage in the first place. But I assure you that there will be a few builds out there which will do it. That is all good as long as it is possible in a way, or up to a point, that doesn't overshadow the rogue.

 
Leave the Sneak Attack/Backstabbing to the Rogues and their ilk.  But instead of increasing dice every couple levels why not just use a static damage amount:

1st +3
3rd +7
5th +10
7th +14
9th +17
11th +21
13th +24
15th +28
17th +31
19th +35

I am not one that likes to try to roll 10 or 12 dice at a time for something.  Static damage bonuses would work just fine in cases like this. In my opinion of course.
I think the idea is fine. My concern is the cost of the feats as the rogue scales up. There are plenty of people who will just go for max hit and damage. You can't put other options in the same pool as these as very few people will pick them. They need some other limit to be real options.

I hope that the problem with other classes being able to gain backstab ability as well will be mitigated by the advantages rogues have in maneuvering to gain combat advantage in the first place. But I assure you that there will be a few builds out there which will do it. That is all good as long as it is possible in a way, or up to a point, that doesn't overshadow the rogue.

 



This depends. In one article they were saying that they want an hour session to include exploration of about 6 rooms, with 2-3 encounters. That means 3-4 rooms are non-encounter exploration/interaction rooms where skills and non combat abilities will come into play (I am guessing exploration elements will be skill based to resolve, and enteraction elements is where character themes will kick in). If this is the case, maxing out on combat powers might make you awsome in combat, but you might feel a bit left out if you are rouge with awesom sneak attack but weak or unable to find and disarm traps during exploration phase.

If they do it "right" I suspect most players will opt to build some what balanced characters in terms of combat/exploration/interaction abilities, even if you don't have too (at least, I know most of the time I would balance stuff out for my builds  more or less). So, I wonder if making a "thief" means making a rouge with mostly skill boosting options rather than sneak attacking options, a rouge would be theme options, and an assasin would be combat options. Maybe this is how a ranger would be made? Make a figther but select heavy on skills like tracking, survival, animal empathy, and also heavy on theme: animal companion so you can get a wolf? Maybe mages will work a similar way, where they make choices between combat spells, utility spells, and thems such as necromancer or illusionist.

If all players balance out each character along these three lines, they will be more or less equally prepared for each type of encounter. If one player specializes in combat, one in skills, and one in themes, it should more or less balance out, with each type of character outshining the other for their given area of specalization. If every one choses to be combat heavy, maybe they will steam roll encounters, but all will have more trouble during the other two types of game play of interaction and exploration. Here the Dm can also ajust the campaing and adventures. If most of the players want a 4th ed type game, every one can focus on combat abilities and the DM can throw in more combats with maybe one exploration and one interaction. If one player out of the group does make an exploration/skill focused character, the DM just needs to make sure to include maybe two episodes of exploration per game rather than just one. On the flip side, if all the players want a exploration type game or role playing game with fewer combats, they all make skill or themed based characters, and the Dm builds most of the elements of the game to suit that style of play. And aagin, if one player shows up making some super fighter build, the Dm can just make sure to include some extra combat encounters for that player.

If DnD next looks somewhat like this, I will be happy.
Leave the Sneak Attack/Backstabbing to the Rogues and their ilk.  But instead of increasing dice every couple levels why not just use a static damage amount:

1st +3
3rd +7
5th +10
7th +14
9th +17
11th +21
13th +24
15th +28
17th +31
19th +35

I am not one that likes to try to roll 10 or 12 dice at a time for something.  Static damage bonuses would work just fine in cases like this. In my opinion of course.



The handful of dice is precisely what makes sneak attack fun.  

It's also why I like dice pool systems.

Leave the Sneak Attack/Backstabbing to the Rogues and their ilk.  But instead of increasing dice every couple levels why not just use a static damage amount:

1st +3
3rd +7
5th +10
7th +14
9th +17
11th +21
13th +24
15th +28
17th +31
19th +35

I am not one that likes to try to roll 10 or 12 dice at a time for something.  Static damage bonuses would work just fine in cases like this. In my opinion of course.



The handful of dice is precisely what makes sneak attack fun.  

It's also why I like dice pool systems.




maybe an optional rule per player could be that, if you roll more than five dice, you can chose to just take the average of the rolls. You might cheat yourself out of a high hit, but you save yourself from the change of rolling 4 ones and two 2's on your 6d6 as well. But, if you want to go for it and thorw all those dice go for it! I love tons of dice throwing for damage (and its scary when the DM throws down a bunch of dice against you as well!) but having the option to average out your rolls could help save time and avoid headachs for players who are not interested in adding 15 d6 together PER attack!
This is my problem with the proposed idea:
Now let’s tackle the rogue. Currently, sneak attack lets the rogue hit our expected damage output. If we take away sneak attack as it works now . . .

"If we take away sneak attack as it works now . . ." does the rogue no longer put out the appropriate level of damage?

I like the idea that everyone can do a limited sneak attack, and that the rogue can be better at it.  I don't want rogues to be gimped in combat if they choose not take the sneak attack option at every even level.

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

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I support anything that lessens the level disparity, so reducing sneak attack damage inflation works for me.  Furthermore, I'd like to add my opinion to the others that have suggested that combat options and non combat options remain seperate so that players aren't feat taxed into specific builds, and that they be given more combat options that allow them a different sort of combat utility.  

That said, I think the initial post is an intriguing idea. 
The damage discussed seems to be adding complexity just so the 4E haters never see minions. This article did nothing but prove that the designers are looking at adding lots of stuff just to make the game look different, which doesn't actually improve anything.

They need to start asking themselves why they are wanting to do something new and different, and if the answer is just so that it is different, then they are doing it for the wrong reason.

Getting up to massive levels (20d6 before normal stuff) of damage just to try to remove minions, keep monsters relevant for longer and remove attack bonuses is silly. They want the system to be fast, but they do this? Don't fix what isn't broken, and if you think it is broken, write down what makes it broken and fix that, then see what you broke.

Change for change sake is not progress. 

Wait, what?

What does this have to do with minions?

And to add further irony - I don't care for 4E and Minions was one of the the things I liked the most.

So.. um... ok...

I love this idea of backstab for everybody. But I don’t think we have enough information to help you guys at R&D without knowing how the basic attack mechanism works.


I hope we’re not talking about multiple attacks and extra sneak attack damage like in 3rd edition! 20d6 is a lot of damage, even over 30 levels, especially if this is on top of the damage you would deal with your regular attacks!


Anyways, I really think that this backstab for everyone is a step in the right direction. I think the game would be better with multiple basic attack mechanisms and backstabs could be one of these mechanisms.


I love this idea of backstab for everybody. But I don’t think we have enough information to help you guys at R&D without knowing how the basic attack mechanism works.


I hope we’re not talking about multiple attacks and extra sneak attack damage like in 3rd edition! 20d6 is a lot of damage, even over 30 levels, especially if this is on top of the damage you would deal with your regular attacks!


Anyways, I really think that this backstab for everyone is a step in the right direction. I think the game would be better with multiple basic attack mechanisms and backstabs could be one of these mechanisms.




It really does cheapen it for the rogue and makes the class less unique, though. It's like giving every character turn undead, or wildshape, or lay on hands, only not as good with them. One of my biggest problems with 3.x is the shared class abilities. Very few classes had anything unique (evasion, uncanny dodge, etc.). Sneak attack is an iconic class defining ability. I have an extreme dislike for a class feature being something everyone else already has, just more of it (3.5 fighter and feats).