We 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.
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Tip #1: Nail Down Your Specialty
Rogues 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 there.
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?
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.
For 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?
Rogues 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 somewhere.
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.
There 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
What 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
One 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.
If You Liked This, Why Not Check Out More?
This may be my first article on Vocal, but it's not the first in this series. For more articles like this, check out the master list of 5 Tips For Playing Better Base Classes on my blog Improved Initiative, or check out my Gamers archive!