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Pathfinder - The Ninja Handbook

Last Updated: October 15, 2018

Disclaimer

I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

Introduction

The Ninja is an alternate class to the Rogue, combining some of the Monk's mystic abilities with the Rogue's talent for stealth, cunning, and stabbing things.

Ninja Class Features

Hit Points: d8 hit points is low, but it's normal for stealth classes.

Base Attack Bonus: At 2/3 BAB the Ninja won't keeup up with Fighters in a stand-up fight, but Ninjas aren't intended for a stand-up fight.

Saves: Ninjas have one good save (Reflex), and depend on Dexterity, but don't get Evasion until at least 10th level. Because they don't need Wisdom like a Monk, their Will saves are likely poor as well.

Proficiencies: With light armor, the Ninja needs to rely on Dexterity to improve their AC. Because they need Dexterity, it is typically best to rely on Dexterity for attacks as well. The best weapons available to the Ninja are the Wakizashi, Shuriken, and shortbow. The other weapon proficiencies are flavorful, but are mostly only good for combat maneuvers.

Skills: 8+ skill ranks, and an almost identical skill list to Rogues. Unfortunately, the Ninja doesn't get Trapfinding, which reduces the Ninja's effectiveness as a Scout, but because they need Charisma to fueld their Ki Pool, the Ninja is better equipped to serve as a Face than the Rogue.

Poison Use: Poison is expensive, difficult to use, and unreliable. If you plan to use it, do so sparingly and with plenty of forethought.

Sneak Attack: The Ninja's main resource in combat.

Ki Pool (Su): The Ki Pool fuels the Ninja's abilities. At start, the biggest draw is spending one point for an extra attack. When you are in an advantageous position, this is an excellent way to get an extra pile of Sneak Attack damage.

Ninja Tricks: The primary means of customizing your Ninja.

  • Acrobatic Master (Su): Very situational. Your Acrobatics modifier should be good enough without this that you can safely tumble in combat.
  • Bleeding Attack* (Ex): Bleed effects are always tempting, but rarely worthwile. This could be useful for hit-and-run attacks, but you would be better served outright killing someone instead of waiting for them to bleed to death. At higher levels the bleed damage can become very scary, but fast healing and regeneration become more common.
  • Choking Bomb (Ex): Excellent Crowd Control, and the DC is respectable.
  • Combat Trick: Many Ninja Tricks are better than many feats you may want, but this is great for getting Two-Weapon Fighting early.
  • Darkvision (Su): Darkvision is crucial for Scouts trying to move around unnoticed, but Ki points are precious.
  • Deadly Range (Ex): Buy Sniper's Goggles.
  • Deflect Arrows: Very situational.
  • Fast Stealth (Ex): Situational, but very cool and thematic.
  • Feather Fall (Su): Very situational.
  • Flurry of Stars (Ex): Did you roll the highest Initiative? Are your enemies flat-footed? Time for Flurry of Stars. Combined with Two-Weapon Fighting, you can throw a dizzying number of shurikens to deal a huge amount of damage.
  • Forgotten Trick (Ex): Hugely improves the Ninja's versatility, especially in combat, but costs a ton of Ki.
  • Hidden Weapons (Ex): Very situational.
  • High Jumper (Ex): Or you can find a way to fly
  • Ki Block* (Su): Hugely situational.
  • Ki Charge (Su): Very cool, but the damage is terrible.
  • Poison Bomb (Ex): A great way to get some more mileage out of your expensive poisons.
  • Pressure Points* (Su): Combine this with multiple sneak attacks in a given round, and you can really cripple your enemies.
  • Rogue Talent: While many Rogue Talents and Ninja Tricks overlap, there are a few good Rogue Talents which Ninjas don't get access to. Read my Rogue Talents Breakdown for help selecting a Rogue Talent. If you plan to make use of poisons, the Rogue has several excellent options to supplement the Ninja's Poison Use.
  • Shadow Clone (Su): Fantastic when fighting enemies who can easily overcome your AC.
  • Slow Metabolism (Ex): Situational.
  • Slow Reactions* (Ex): Fantastic for escaping and for Scout archetype Ninjas who need to keep moving to Sneak Attack.
  • Smoke Bomb (Ex): Or you could just buy a smokestick. This is only good if you want Poison/Chocking Bomb.
  • Snatch Arrows: Awful.
  • Style Master: Many Monk styles are very good, and will benefit a Ninja greatly. Panther Style is especially interesting for Scout archetype Ninjas, and Snake Style can help solve your AC issues. See the Style Feat section of my Monk Handbook for help selecting a style feat.
  • Sudden Disguise (Su): Situational, but potentially hillarious.
  • Unarmed Combat Training: Weapons will almost always be a better option for the Ninja, but some feats and abilities rely on using unarmed strikes.
  • Undetected Sabotage (Ex): Situational, and you can usually do this with a normal Disable Device check.
  • Vanishing Trick (Su): Absolutely fantastic. This is a guranteed way to get Sneak Attack for at least one round.
  • Ventriloquism (Su): Hugely situational.
  • Wall Climber (Su): Hugely situational, and easily replicated or replace by Spider Climb or anything that lets you fly.
  • Weapon Training: Ocasionally useful to boost your relatively low attack bonus, but you can get many more interesting options from other tricks.

No Trace (Ex): Situational, and the bonuses are small.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Situational, but it allows you to do silly things like using Full Defense outside of combat.

Light Steps (Ex): Situational, but very cool.

Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Hugely situational.

Master Tricks: A considerably improvement on Ninja Tricks.

  • Advanced Talents: The rogue has several excellent Advanced Talents. You can only take one, so choose carefully.Read my Rogue Talents Breakdown for help selecting an Advanced Talent.
  • Assassinate (Ex): Save or die. Considerably better than the Assassin's version.
  • Blinding Bomb (Ex): Blinding enemies is very effective crowd control, and allows you to Sneak Attack the targets.
  • Deadly Shuriken (Ex): Absolutely awful. You only get to apply Sneak Attack once. Why would you ever do this instead of making multiple attacks?
  • Evasion (Ex): Excellent, but very late in the game.
  • Feat: Many Master Talents are better than feats, so only take this when you run out Master Talents that you want.
  • Ghost Step (Su): Excellent for escaping and infiltration, but this will burn through your Ki very quickly.
  • Invisible Blade (Su): Absolutely essential. Ninjas will likely use this in every combat.
  • Master Disguise (Su): Very situational.
  • See the Unseen (Su): This isn't nearly good enough to justify a Master Trick. By now your party should have plenty of options for detecting invisible creatures.
  • Shadow Split (Su): Situational.
  • Unarmed Combat Mastery: Only useful if you devote resources to fighting unarmed, which is rarely a good choice for a Ninja.
  • Unbound Steps (Su): Too expensive for one round of Air Walk, which your Cleric can cast on you by now.

Hidden Master (Su): Invisible Blade is much less costly, but imposing a -10 penalty to constitution is going to be much more effective than an average of 35 damage from one attack.

Compatible Archetypes

Alternate classes can take archetypes for the base class so long as they have the same class features altered or replaced by the Archetype.

  • Bandit: Good for ambushes, but not compatible with Scout.
  • Burglar: You still don't get Trapfinding
  • Sanctified Rogue: The sacred bonuses to bad saves are nice, and Augury can be very useful, but this doesn't help the Ninja do any Ninja things, and it's not compatible with Scout.
  • Scout: Uncanny dodge is terrible, and Scout provides some great ways to get guranteed Sneak Attack without help from your allies. O would take this on every Ninja.
  • Trapsmith: You still don't get Trapfinding

Abilities

Ninjas primarily rely on Dexterity, but need Charisma for their Ki Pool and a splash of every other ability to keep themelves functional. They are somewhat MAD, but really only need a splash of their less important abilities..

Str: Helpful for melee and thrown weapon damage, but otherwise useless.

Dex: Your primary ability both offensively and defensively.

Con: Important for overcoming your low hit die and for your poor Fortitude saves.

Int: Only important for skill ranks.

Wis: Only useful for Will saves, and you can overcome a penalty with a cloak.

Cha: Fuels your conversational skills and your Ki Pool.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 12
  • Dex: 17
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 12
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 12
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14

Races

Darkvision is crucial for scouts, but can be provided by items or spells. Look for ability bonuses to help compensate for the Ninja's MAD.

Dwarf: Bonuses to two unimportant abilities and a penalty to an important ability. The only real draw is Darkvision..

Elf: The bonus dexterity helps, and the intelligence bonus grants some extra skill ranks, but the other racial abilities aren't helpful.

Gnome: Bonuses to Constitution and Charisma are both helpful, but the Gnome can't keep up with the Halfling.

Half-Elf: Flexible ability bonus, and helpful if you plan to multiclass. Alternate racial traits offer a lot of great options, and Half-Elves can take the Human favored class bonus for additional talents.

Half-Orc: Flexible ability bonus and Darkvision are both nice. Half-Orcs can take the Human favored class bonus for additional talents.

Halfling: Bonuses to the Ninja's two most important abilities, and a bunch of bonuses to stealth. The reduced damage and speed are annoying, but can be easily overcome.

Human: Because Ninjas are typically two-weapon fighters they tend to be feat-starved, so the Human bonus feat is crucial. The favored class bonus grants a few bonus Talents (remember that the Ninja is an alternate class for Rogues, so logically you should be able to take the same favored class bonus) which can get you Combat Trick or Weapon Training to help with the feat requirements.

Traits

  • Anatomist (Combat): Critical hits are not for Sneak Attack classes.
  • Armor Expert (Combat): Don't be tempted by this. The tiny armor check penalty to AC will go away as soon as you can afford to spend 1100 gp on a Mithral Shirt.
  • Axe to Grind (Combat): Unfortunately, you will depend on flanking until you can get Invisible Blade at level 11, so engaging an enemy by yourself is rarely a good choice.
  • Deft Dodger (Combat): Your Reflex saves are already good, but more doesn't hurt.
  • Fencer (Combat): You are not a Defender.
  • Hidden Hand (Combat): You only get one attack during a surprise round, and +1 bonus to one attack in some combats isn't much.
  • Nature's Mimic (Combat): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • Reactionary (Combat): Initiative bonuses are fantastic for getting early sneak attacks while your enemies are still flat-footed.
  • Resilient (Combat): Bonus to one of your bad saves.
  • Child of the Temple (Faith): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • Devotee of the Green (Faith): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • History of Heresy (Faith): Divine spells are half of all spells, but you would be better served to get a bonus that applies to non-spells too.
  • Indomitable Faith (Faith): Bonus to one of your bad saves.
  • Inspired (Faith): You have a lot of skills, and this makes you a bit more reliable with them.
  • Planar Savant (Faith): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • Scholar of the Great Beyond (Faith): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • Mathematical Prodigy (Magic): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • Life of Toil (Social): Bonus to one of your bad saves.
  • Savage (Social): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.
  • Worldly (Social): You have a lot of skills, and this makes you a bit more reliable with them.
  • Warrior of Old (Elf Racial): Initiative bonuses are fantastic for getting early sneak attacks while your enemies are still flat-footed.
  • Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial): Initiative bonuses are fantastic for getting early sneak attacks while your enemies are still flat-footed.
  • Scholar of Ruins (Human Racial): You have 8+ skill ranks, so you have enough ranks to invest in Knowledge skills if you feel the need.

Skills

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Essential for moving through combat without drawing attacks of opportunity. You can stop investing once your skill bonus reaches +14.
  • Appraise (Int): Awful.
  • Bluff (Cha): Essential if you are the party's Face, and you can use it to Bluff.
  • Climb (Str): Very situational.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): Essential if you are the party's Face.
  • Disable Device (Dex): Great for locks, but don't forget that you don't get Trapfinding.
  • Disguise (Cha): Very situational.
  • Escape Artist (Dex): Situational, but nice for escaping grapples.
  • Intimidate (Cha): Essential if you are the party's Face.
  • Knowledge (local) (Int): Good for identifying humanoids.
  • Knowledge (nobility) (Int): One of the least useful Knowledge skills. Only useful if your campaign specifically calls for it.
  • Linguistics (Int): Situational. You may want to learn additional languages if you are the party's Face.
  • Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
  • Perform (Cha): You're not a Bard.
  • Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful if you are the party's Face.
  • Sleight of Hand (Dex): Situational.
  • Stealth (Dex): You're a Ninja.
  • Swim (Str): Very situational.
  • Use Magic Device (Cha):

Feats

  • Close-Quarters Thrower (Combat): The prerequisites are annoying, but this allows you to focus entirely on Shurikens without needing to invest in wakizashis.
  • Deadly Aim: You will already have trouble hitting, and your damage is primarily from Sneak Attack
  • Distance Thrower: Helpful with shurikens, and combines well with Long Shot.
  • Dodge: +1 to AC helps with the Ninja's low AC, and Dodge is a prerequisite for a surprising number of other feats.
  • Extra Ki: Ki pool is one of the only limitations on the Ninja's daily abilities, so more Ki means you don't need to be quite so careful with managing your resources.
  • Extra Rogue Talent: You should be able to take additional Ninja Tricks in place of a Rogue talent.
  • Great Fortitude: This will help with your low saves, but its hard to spend a feat when you can just buy a better cloak.
  • Improved Critical: Critical hits are not for you.
  • Improved Initiative: Going first is great on almost any character, and it's especially important for characters who depend on Sneak Attack.
  • Improved Unarmed Strike: Helpful for some builds, but only if you really plan to invest in fighting unarmed. Of course, if you plan to fight unarmed you should just take a level of Monk to get all of the feats you need.
    • Combat Style Master: It's hard to find enough Monk styles to justify this feat. If you really want to use style feats, dip a level of Master of Many Styles Monk.
    • Stunning Fist: Stunning an enemy is a great way to make them vulnerable to Sneak Attack, but your DC won't be very good.
  • Iron Will: This will help with your low saves, but its hard to spend a feat when you can just buy a better cloak.
  • Master Alchemist: Essential if you plan to make use of poisons.
  • Point-Blank Shot: Essential if you plan to primarily use ranged weapons.
    • Far Shot: Really helps with the Shuriken's lousy range.
    • Precise Shot: Essential if you have allies in melee.
      • Improved Precise Shot: With some coordination you can keep your allies from granting your enemies cover, but sometimes you don't get that luxury. This also helps overcome concealment, which allows you to Sneak Attack concealed enemies.
    • Rapid Shot: Works in combination with Two-Weapon Fighting when throwing Shurikens.
      • Multishot: useless for a Sneak Attack character.
  • Quick Draw: Allows you to draw both of your Wakizashi quickly.
  • Sap Adept: Sure it's subdual, but that is a huge pile of damage.
    • Sap Master: A truly insane amount of Sneak Attack damage. It's still subdual, but this is almost enough damage to not care.
  • Toughness: Hopefully you will never need help with your hit points.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: Essential on almost every Sneak Attack build. Note that if you multiclass into Monk this won't stack with Flurry of Blows.
    • Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: The extra attack may be at too much of a penalty to justify.
      • Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: At this point you are very unlikely to hit with an attack at -10 below your highest BAB.
  • Weapon Finesse: Essential for melee builds.
  • Weapon Focus: Helpful if you're devoted to one weapon, but not essential.

Weapons

  • crossbow, light: Good for archer ninjas (which are a weird build) with strength penalties.
  • dagger: Carry a few for utility purposes. Slightly more damage than a Shuriken, but you can draw a shuriken as a free action without Quick Draw.
  • kama: Only good for combat maneuvers, and Ninjas don't do combat maneuvers.
  • katana: If you don't plan to use Weapon Finesse for some reason, this is your best weapon.
  • kusarigama: Good for a Monk, but you can't use it with Weapon Finesse, and if you have enough Dexterity for two-weapon fighting you need Weapon Finesse.
  • nunchaku: Only good for combat maneuvers, and Ninjas don't do combat maneuvers.
  • sai: Only good for combat maneuvers, and Ninjas don't do combat maneuvers.
  • shortbow: Good for archer ninjas (which are a weird build), and good for long-range shots.
  • short sword: Wakizashi is strictly better.
  • shuriken: Essential for ranged sneak attacks.
  • siangham: Awful.
  • wakizashi: The best choice for two-weapon fighting.

Armor

  • Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
    • Studded Leather: Your starting point. This should last through early levels. Don't bother enhancing because you're going to get a Mithral Shirt pretty quickly.
    • Masterwork Buckler: Unless you're using Two-Weapon fighting, the masterwork buckler is a cheap and easy AC boost.
    • Mithral Shirt: Mithral Shirt will be your best bet for AC until your Dexterity bonus hits +10, which will be extremely high level.
    • Haramaki: Strictly better than padded armor. With no maximum dexterity bonus, you can afford to make your Dexterity absurdly high without restriction, and can still keep enhancing your armor.

    Magic Items

    Armor/Shields

    • Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.

    Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

    • Monk: If you want to fight unarmed, this can save you a feat, and it gets you a bonus feat and +2 to all of your saves. Second level gets you Evasion, another bonus feat and Evasion. If you go for 4 levels you can use Wisdom for your Ki Pool instead of Charisma. Consider the Sohei archetype if you plan to multiclass into Monk, and you can use Flurry of Blows with a Monk weapon to Sneak Attack. You can also take Monk Vows for additional Ki.

    Build Ideas

    At some point I will write example builds based on these concepts.

    • Generic TWF Ninja: Nice and simple. Get in close, flank, and full attack.
    • Shuriken Master: Combine Two-Weapon Fighting, Rapid Shot, and Storm of Stars for a truly dizzying number of shuriken attacks. You may want to keep a Bard handy to compensate for the total -6 penalty to attacks.
    • Striking Panther: Combine the Scout Ninja with the Master of Many Styles Monk and the Panter style for a highly mobile Ninja who sneak attacks primarily by drawing attacks of opportunity. Add Snake Style and Snake Fang for additional attacks of opportunity.