After a few conversations with friends, I've come to the conclusion that one size fits all when it comes to combat doesn't work.
Let the rogue choose their sneak attack. Take a knife to it and do some cutting.
Instead of fretting about getting Sneak Attack just right without narrowing the flavor of the class while still worrying about the class complexity, why not just make 2-4 different version of the class feature. Then put it into the player's hands to find out which version of Sneak Attack best matches their concept.
A big high damage once per fight version.
A lower damage more fequent version
If the class feature includes defense options, other roguish actions could be included. And with everything separated, wok can be done on the pieces that aren't quite right without touching those that are. Sure the complexity goes up but i think halts some of the arguments.
I'm for rogues having even more option to choose than being trained assassins as a default profile.
Each scheme should have it's own way to handle combat. Tricksters should have the option to keep their hands clean, so becoming a weapon master is not a focus for this profile. Cowards would never touch a weapon if they don't want to be considered as a menace. Lazy thieves do not have the drive to learn assassination techniques like sneak attacks, and most thieves are lazy people or are focused on becoming better at thievery.
Different ways to express sneak attacks is good, but it's not enough.
A thought I had was giving rogues the option of trading in the extra die roll from advantage to double the ED.
The problem will continue to boil down to: the rogue (just as with *every other class*) will need something to up their damage. Whatever that something is, and however often it triggers/is usable is still a matter of debate.
But regardless, at higher levels, if they aren't able to deal substantially more damage by some means, they aren't in line with the current core assumptions of character development. That damage is the new BAB. HP bloat is a reality. It's the ability to deal more damage that it the primary metric of advancement.
If you steer clear of any damage bonus mechanism, and stick strictly to out-of-combat usefulness, OK. But understand the degree to which you are hampering your usefulness in combat.
That is a different issue. If you want your rogue to have offensive damage ability, there should be multiple options to do so. If you want your rogue to be geared to defense, mobility, or out of combat, that option should be available as well.
But I said that.
I just went on to caution that, if you do choose not to increase your damage, that it has new implications. Understand the consequences. That's all.
It would be like, in 3e, saying that you never wanted to gain BAB as you leveled up. Or in 4e, choosing not to let your attack bonus increase by Level/2. That's what "damage" is now.
My thoughts are to make Sneak Attack allow the Rogue to spend an Expertise Die to turn the attack into an auto-crit if they hit with Advantage. Allow them to spend additional XD to up the damage as well. Also make it an additional class feature that can be traded for something else. This allows for a big spike in damage under the right circumstances, but doesn't mean every Thief is a trained shadow-killer.
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