With the battle raging, Rook, a drow rogue, searches for an opening to deliver the killing blow. He knows he can take out his opponent in one shot if he has this added advantage.
Last week, Bruce discussed his favorite class. Mine’s the assassin, but more on that another time. As of this writing, the poll results from Bruce’s blog posting show the rogue is second only to the wizard/magic-user as a favorite class, so a fair number of you have a lot of love for rogues. So, let’s talk about rogues. Specifically, let’s talk about the rogue’s sneak attack.
Going all the way back to Supplement I: Greyhawk, rogues (or thieves) had the ability to “strike silently from behind.” Rogues gained a significant accuracy boost and dealt double (or more) damage on a hit. This special attack was just one of the many abilities rogues gained—they also had climbing, hiding, picking locks, and so on—but the potential for extra damage helped the rogue keep up somewhat with the “fighting man.” As the game evolved to 1st and 2nd Edition, the requirements for dealing this extra damage got steeper and steeper, culminating with the rogue having to be behind a target that also was completely unaware of the rogue. In the end, thieves had a pretty hard time dealing this extra damage in combat and, unless the DM was particularly generous, had to jump through a whole lot of hoops to stick a knife between the ribs.
Enter 3rd Edition. Sneak attack replaced backstab. Rogues suddenly dealt buckets of extra damage whenever they struck an enemy they flanked or when the enemy was denied its Dexterity bonus to AC. Although the rogue could deal the extra damage more frequently, the extra damage applied only to living creatures with a discernable anatomy—rogues hated undead, constructs, oozes, and people in darkness. In 4th Edition, we saw these restrictions relaxed: rogues could deal the extra damage to any target granting combat advantage, once each round and eventually each turn.
All this brings us to an important question. Striking silently from behind evolved from a highly situational benefit to becoming a core part of how the class functions.
But does this have to be the case? Does sneak attack have to be integral to the rogue’s identity? Can we imagine a rogue that deals this extra damage only in very specific circumstances? Maybe we could have a rogue where sneak attack is an option and not at all central to the class’s identity?
What do you think?