Rogues are the ideal class for players who like to walk the line between good and evil. However, introducing your character by stealing from your teammates is far from a good start.
I’d be hard pressed to deny that the rogue class is not biased towards stealthy violence, assassination and thievery. And if you like it that way, there’s no need to change it. Still, in many game systems it is very possible to take a different approach. I’ll also give you some suggestions on how to alter sneak attack, since that ability is on the back seat with these characters.
If you want to play this cool and versatile class without getting in trouble with the law every time you sneeze, keep reading!
1. The Diplomat
A rogue diplomat is a smooth talker and information gatherer. He knows what’s occupying his target’s minds and how to influence their choices. Two of the major strengths of the rogue are his versatility and his knack for talking himself into and out of nearly any situation. Using stealth, you can gain access to important need-to-know information. And when your cover gets blown, you have the ability to survive a fight or to slip out.
Make the character extra interesting by giving him an (un)official title everywhere he goes. Become a fake or real representative for another city, a guild or town official, or something else that fits the world you’re playing in. Add extra intrigue by making your diplomat a spy for another organisation. Your character’s got the skills to make that work!
Consult with your GM (and perhaps your fellow players) before you focus your character completely around diplomacy. Not all games are suited for this play style, and you might feel powerless and out-of-place if your group is playing an unsuited adventure.
How to become a Diplomat
Abilities/skills: Focus on interaction and perception skills with high charisma and wisdom. It is important to see through the guises of your opponents and to influence their behavior to your needs. Don’t forget about your dexterity though: you will need it to get out of hairy situations and into places you are not allowed in.
Gear: Go for light weapons and armor; things you can hide in plain sight, under cloaks and in sleeves. Forge or steal guild badges or identification papers for the roles you want to play. Since you probably want to look more fancy than you are, invest in fancy clothes. Perhaps have them tailored so you can quickly turn them inside out to change your appearance.
Magic items: Use magic items that give you abilities you do not possess, such as reading thoughts or letting you see/hear places and people you are not near. Otherwise, items that improve on your interaction skills are very valuable.
2. The Relic Hunter
The rogue relic hunter relies on his wits to get into and out of the most sacred and dark places for priceless relics. He has a knack for bypassing traps and fooling guards, and when the crypt’s guardians come after him he can stand up to them or slip out unnoticed. His stealth and charisma will be put to good use to acquire leads to new treasure.
Staying out of the way of the law will be easier if you only steal from evil sects and forgotten shrines. It might be interesting to find a powerful employer, getting a finder’s fee for that one specific relic and keeping the rest for yourself.
A rogue relic hunter who’s always actively looking for new treasure will be a great addition to the group, since he will constantly provide new adventure!
How to become a Relic Hunter
Abilities/skills: Focus on stealth and perception with high dexterity and wisdom. You will never reach your treasure if a trap blows you up or the guards see you enter the compound. Charisma is third, and only important if you wish to use interaction to get new leads or talk your group out of trouble.
Gear: Go for light armor to stay mobile, though you can go for heavier weapons as long as they are not hurting your stealth ability. Find an outfit that helps your trade, including climbing gear and specialized burglary kits.
Magic items: Use magic items that primarily protect you from harm and allow you to access places you can normally not go. Other than that, find items that make everything you do easier.
3. The Bounty Hunter
The bounty hunter uses his contacts and tracking skills to hunt down his prey. When he finally finds it, he subdues it and brings it (or proof of its capture/death) to his employer. He is quick and determined. His intelligence reveals his prey to him, and his stealth gets him close enough to strike it down.
Bounties should be available anywhere, so an adventure hook is easily found. Completely immersing yourself in this lifestyle can be very interesting and rewarding, especially if your GM is prepared to make your quarries intelligent and hard to catch.
A bounty hunter can have a lot of interesting characteristics. One can be a noble hunter, only aggressive to her quarry and making friends everywhere. Another can be rough, punching his way through contacts to find the one he’s looking for. He can be a servant of the kingdom, or an outlaw looking for some quick gold. All have one thing in common: once the contract is signed, they will not give up until it is fulfilled.
How to become a Bounty Hunter
Abilities/skills: Your focus depends on your style of play. Dexterity is useful for all bounty hunters, since they need to hit hard in combat to subdue their prey. For your other abilities, decide how you track your bounty: through investigation (Intelligence), tracking (Wisdom) or contacts (Charisma).
An interesting feat in D&D 3.5 (Book of Exalted Deeds) is Subduing Strike. It allows you to make sneak attacks non-lethal.
Gear: As with all these archetypes, go for lighter armor that does not hinder you. Since you will be using sneak attack to take out your quarry, pick a weapon that allows you to deal that damage. Other gear should help you track, catch and hold your prey and prepare you for the travels. Aside from camping gear, ropes and grappling hooks, do not forget manacles, chains and locks.
Magic items: Choose items that make tracking easier, allow you to magically discern who’s been passing an area, compel people to tell the truth and transport you back to your employer.
Game options: 3 substitutes for sneak attack
Truthfully, these alternative rogues do not really use the class’ most potent ability: sneak attack. This means that the character might lose power compared to the rest of the characters in its party. Though sneak attack will always be handy in combat, as a GM I would encourage a player to try something different like this. Here’s a few options I would allow as alternatives for the rogue’s sneak attack.
If you make your own alternatives, look at other classes for ideas and balancing. Always playtest changes to the game, and allow your GM to change the rule if it seems over- or underpowered.
A. Bonus feats
D&D 3.5 has an alternate class feature called Martial Rogue (Unearthed Arcana p.58). The rogue loses sneak attack but gains bonus feats like the fighter. That’s a lot of feats, though very specific ones. Work with your GM to make a list of alternative themed feats that you can pick with this alternate feature.
B. Use sneak attack dice for a different bonus
Instead of allowing extra damage on attacks, the sneak attack dice could be used as a bonus on interaction, disabling traps or other archetype-specific checks.
Using a new set of conditions to meet, the rogue gains a bonus on certain themed checks of +x per sneak attack die or on the effect of +1d6 per die. Remember that +1d6 damage has much less impact than +1d6 bonus on a d20 roll.
For example, using a relic hunter with +4d6 sneak attack dice, I could see her taking fifteen undisturbed minutes (the condition) to inspect a locked and trapped chest/door/passage. When she does, she will gain +8 on her checks (+2/die) to pick the lock and disable the trap, and when a trap does go off she can roll 4d6 and subtract that from that trap’s damage. This relic hunter has not trained in dealing extra damage with a weapon, but has trained in accessing areas safely.
I can imagine equipping the rogue with a form of spellcasting instead of sneak attacks. I would go for spell progression similar to another class that has limited spells (probably something like the bard). I’d borrow the spell list from another class that fits the theme like the bard, beguiler or duskblade (latter two are found in D&D 3.5 Player’s Handbook 2).
As always, your game is your own. These are suggestions to get you on the way. Perhaps you or your GM have ideas that better fit your play style or campaign.
If you do, please share them with me below! I’d love to hear what you think would be a great way to alter the theme of the rogue!