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Pathfinder - The Knife Master Rogue Handbook

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.

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  • 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.

Temporary Note: Paizo has recently discontinued support of their official SRD. From this point forward SRD links on RPGBOT.net will instead link to d20PFSRD.com. While Archive of Nethys is now Paizo's officially licensed partner for the purposes of serving the Pathfinder SRD, Archive of Nethys is a horribly designed website and it simply doesn't match d20PFSRD's ability to keep pace with published content and d20PFSRD's search functionality.

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Introduction

The dagger is the Rogue's most iconic weapon, and the Knife Master is all about daggers. You trade effectiveness with sneak attacks using other weapons, but with a bit of effort you really won't need any other weapons. Because thrown weapons work off of Two-Weapon Fighting instead of Rapid Shot, the Knife Master can easily switch between flanking or throwing daggers.

Like any Rogue, the Knife Master is a Striker in combat. Because the archetype doesn't change the Rogue's fantastic skill list, it is also wise to invest in skills to help the party with traps and other common adventuring hazards. You give up Trapfinding in exchange for additional damage abilities, so you may wish to avoid this archetype in games which involve a lot of traps. However, because you're not very good at dealing with traps, this is a good opportunity to play a Face.

Rogue Class Features

Hit Points: At d8 hit points, the Rogue is fairly squishy. Because many rogues work best in melee, hit points are a serious concern and Rogues need to be sure to keep their AC high.

Base Attack Bonus: Rogues get medium BAB progression, which causes them some problems. With lower BAB than a fighter, they will often have trouble hitting their targets, and must look for additional bonuses elsewhere. In addition, lower BAB means that Rogues get iterative attacks later than Fighters, which can hurt the Rogue's damage output

Saves: Your only good save is Reflex, and coupled with typically high Dexterity and Evasion, your reflexes are excellent. However, you will need to invest in your other saves to protect against other hazards.

Proficiencies: The Rogue doesn't get a lot of big exciting weapons, but they get everything that they need to get the job done.

Skills: Rogues get the most skills and have the best skill list. However, because the Rogue gets so many skill options, it can be very difficult to invest in every rogue skill unless your intelligence is exceptionally high.

Sneak Attack: A pile of d6's to drop on your foes.

Evasion (Ex): With your high reflex saves, Evasion will save you from a lot of damage.

Rogue Talents: Basically Rogue-only feats, Rogue Talents offer a huge number of excellent ways to customize and improve your Rogue.

Uncanny Dodge: The ability to never be caught flat-footed is nice, but somewhat situational. If you are expecting to be attacked, you can do silly things like using Full Defense every round until you get attacked.

Improved Uncanny Dodge: This will basically never come up.

Advanced Talents: Add an extra list of considerably better Rogue Talents.

Master Strike: Basically the Assassin's Death Strike ability.

Archetype Features

Hidden Blade: Hiding weapons on your body is very rarely important, unless your campaign involves a lot of espionage. However, there are ways to capitalize on hidden weapons, and this reduces your need to invest ranks in Sleight of Hand.

Sneak Stab (Ex): The keystone of the archetype, this bumps your sneak attack dice to d8's with your primary weapon. You can sneak attack with several weapons which are considered "knives", but the dagger is the best option.

Blade Sense (Ex): Extremely situational. Unless you challenge someone to a knife fight, you may never get to use this ability. It's about as situational as Trap Sense, so no big loss here.

Compatible Archetypes

  • Bandit: While not stellar on its own, Bandit combines well with the Underhanded Rogue Talent and the Quick Draw feat to let us draw a hidden dagger as a move action and deal maximum sneak attack damage during the surprise round. Combined with the Knife Master's d8 sneak attack damage, that's a very impressive surprise round.
  • Burglar: This is awful on its best day.
  • Sanctified Rogue: This won't get you anything really interesting, but it's a cool flavor.
  • Scout: The Scout is a truly fantastic archetype for the rogue because it provides an easy way to get Sneak Attack without hiding or relying on flanking. However, because you generally only get one attack after you move, this can severely limit your damage output.
  • Trapsmith: You gave up Trapfinding, so you will be a really terrible Trapsmith.

Abilities

Like many rogues, the Knife Master suffers badly from Multiple Ability Dependency (MAD). You can sacrifice portions of your characters functionality by sacrificing ability scores, but I find that a balanced approach will allow you to cover all of the roles generally expected from a rogue.

  • Str: Your damage comes from sneak attack, so don't put any serious resources into Strength. Don't dump it to 7, but don't feel like you actually need to increase it.
  • Dex: Dexterity is the rogue's first ability in almost every build, and this is no exception.
  • Con: The Knife Master is a combat build, and you will want hit points on top of your d8 hit die.
  • Int: Skill points. You need them.
  • Wis: The rogue's low will save hurts, but Wisdom gets us less than any other ability score, and we have to make sacrifices somewhere.
  • Cha: A bit of Charisma opens up a lot of options for you, and since the Knife Master doesn't get Trapfinding, you are a good choice to serve as a Face for the party.
25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy Elite Arrray
  • Str:12
  • Dex:18
  • Con:12
  • Int:12
  • Wis:10
  • Cha:12
  • Str:10
  • Dex:18
  • Con:12
  • Int:12
  • Wis:8
  • Cha:11
  • Str:10
  • Dex:15
  • Con:14
  • Int:13
  • Wis:8
  • Cha:12

Races

Dexterity bonuses are key, but other bonuses can also provide options.

Dwarf: Darkvision is really fantastic on any rogue, but the penalty to Charisma limits our options, and the Dwarf brings very little to the Knife Master offensively.

Elf: Bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are fantastic on any Rogue, but that's all that the Elf really gets us. Alternate racial traits can get you a few more options, but they won't help the Knife Master significantly more than the basic Elf.

Gnome: The penalty to strength hurts our damage a little bit, but small size doesn't hurt rogues much, and provides nice bonuses to Stealth, attacks, and AC. The bonus Charisma helps a bit, though not as much as a bonus to dexterity. The slow speed also hurts a bit, but can be overcome with items, and careful positioning.

Half-Elf: The flexible ability score bonus goes into Dexterity, but many of the other racial traits can be swapped out for more useful options. The Half-Elf favored class bonus is garbage, so take the Elf or Human favored class bonuses instead.

Half-Orc: The flexible ability score bonus goes into Dexterity, the bonus to Intimidate is a nice perk, and you get Darkvision. The favored class bonus is garbage.

Halfling: Bonuses to Dexterity and Charisma make the Halfling a natural Rogue. The Fleet of Foot alternate racial trait allows you to overcome the slow speed, and the bonus to Perception is welcome on any character. The bonus to saves also helps improve the Rogue's weak defenses. Unfortunately, the favored class bonus is terrible so take the Human favored class bonuses instead.

Human: As usual, the Human is a great option for the Knife Master. A bonus feat and an extra skill rank per level open up a ton of great options, and the flexible ability score bonus can go right into Dexterity. The favored class bonus grants additional Rogue Talents, which adds a lot of great options.

Traits

  • Deft Dodger (Combat): Your dexterity saves are already fantastic, but more never hurts.
  • Dirty Fighter (Combat): 1 point of damage might not seem like a lot, but for a Knife master built for flanking, flat damage bonuses add up very quickly.
  • Fencer (Combat): Attacks of Opportunity really aren't a good thing for Rogues to focus on.
  • Hidden Hand (Combat): The bonus to hide weapons is nice, but the real draw is the attack bonus with light weapons during the surprise round. You are all about the surprise round, so this is a very realiable bonus to your attacks.
  • Reactionary (Combat): Bonuses to initiative are crucial because they make you more likely to go first, which means you are more likely to get Sneak Attack.
  • Resilient (Combat): Bonus to a bad save.
  • Tactician (Combat): Attacks of opportunity still aren't great for you, the Reactionary has a better initiative bonus.
  • Indomitable Faith (Faith): Bonus to a bad save.
  • Inspired (Faith): For skill-heavy classes like Rogue, this can get a lot of mileage.
  • Pragmatic Activator (Magic): If your intelligence is higher than your Charisma, this can be helpful.
  • Adopted (Social): Opens up a lot fo really great options. If you want Reactionary, but also want another Combat trait, take Adopted, and get the Warrior of Old Elf Racial Trait.
  • Bruising Intellect (Social): If you plan to do a lot of intimidating, and your Strength is lower than your Intelligence, you can get a few points out of this.
  • Harvester (Social): If you like to use poison, this could save you a Rogue Talent or a Feat. Of course, if you like to use poison you will need to get those talents/feats anyway.
  • Life of Toil (Social): Bonus to a bad save.
  • Tunnel Fighter (Dwarf Racial): In a dungeon crawling campaign, this is the best initiative bonus trait. Otherwise, it's situational.
  • Forlorn (Elf Racial): Bonus to a bad save.
  • Warrior of Old (Elf Racial): Equal to Reactionary, and it doesn't take up the more versatile Combat Trait.
  • Rapscallion (Gnome Racial): Escape Artist is very situational, and there are better initiative bonuses available.
  • Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial): Equal to Reactionary, and it doesn't take up the more versatile Combat Trait.
  • Failed Apprentice (Half-Elf Racial): Arcane spells are the ones you will save against most, and a bonus against all of them is fantastic.

Skills

  • Acrobatics (Dex):
  • Appraise (Int): Situational.
  • Bluff (Cha): Great in conversations, and you can use it to feint in a pinch.
  • Climb (Str): Situational. Cast Spider Climb.
  • Disable Device (Dex): You can't find or disable magical traps, but this is still very useful. Put a few ranks in it, but don't maximize it if you're short on skill ranks.
  • Disguise (Cha): Situational, but one rank gets you a pretty nice bonus, and two ranks qualifies you for Assassin.
  • Escape Artist (Dex): Situational, but worth at least one rank to protect yourself from grapples.
  • Intimidate (Cha): Great in conversations, but not nearly as important as Diplomacy.
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): Dungeoneering covers a lot of scary monster types. It's worth a rank for the class skill bonus, but don't maximize it unless your party lacks a Librarian.
  • Knowledge (local) (Int): Helpful in a lot of plot situations, and helps identify humanoids. It's worth a rank for the class skill bonus, but don't maximize it unless your party lacks a Librarian.
  • Linguistics (Int): Situational. Have the Wizard cast Tongues or Comprehend Languages.
  • Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game. You would be a fool not to max Perception.
  • Perform (Cha): You are not a bard.
  • Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful, but not crucial.
  • Sleight of Hand (Dex): Helpful, but very situational. Put at least one rank here so that you can hide some daggers, but don't bother focusing on it. Remember that the Knife Master archetype also gives you a class bonus to hiding items.
  • Stealth (Dex): The Rogue's bread and butter.
  • Swim (Str): Situational.
  • Use Magic Device (Cha): One of the most powerful skills in the game.

Feats

  • Deadly Aim: If you plan to spend most of your time throwing daggers, this can add some extra damage. However, bonuses to attack are critical to your effectiveness, and the damage payoff for Sneak Attack is much better. Be very careful when deciding if you want to use Deadly Aim.
  • Dodge: As a Rogue, your AC will be good because your dexterity is good. However, your hit points are mediocre, so you will want anything you can get.
    • Mobility: Redundant with Acrobatics.
  • Extra Rogue Talent: Many of the Rogue Talents are better than feats, but be sure to plan your talen choices ahead of time. If you take this feat you may find that you run out of interesting talent choices.
  • Fleet: 5 feet of extra move speed will rarely make a huge difference, but this may be helpful for slow races.
  • Point-Blank Shot: If you spend a lot of time throwing daggers, this may be worth a Feat. This is also helpful during surprise rounds, assumiong that you start combat close enough to sneak attack.
    • Far Shot: The range increment for daggers is very small, and the range increment penalties add up quickly. If you spend a lot of time throwing daggers, this may be worth a Feat.
    • Precise Shot: If the enemy is in melee, you would do better by moving into melee and flanking.
    • Rapid Shot: Throwing weapons use Two-Weapon Fighting, not Rapid Shot.
  • Improved Initiative: You get more from going first than anyone else, so Improved Initiative is very important.
  • Iron Will: Because you depend heavily on other ability scores, your Wisdom is likely low. Will saves are very important, so it is a good idea to invest in your lowest saving throw.
  • Martial Weapon Proficiency (Starking): See "weapons", below.
  • Quick Draw: Drawing a hidden weapon is normally a standard action, which means you probably won't do it in combat. Quick Draw lets you draw hidden weapons as a move action, and draw non-hidden weapons as a free action. If you want to throw weapons at all, this is essential to avoid ending your turn empty-handed.
  • Step Up: If they can five-foot step away from you, you aren't flanking. If you aren't flanking, then they have just given you a free opportunity to reposition somewhere more advantageous.
  • Toughness: Depending on your ability scores, your hit points are likely low.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: Whether throwing or flanking, this is essential.
    • Double Slice: Literally never.
    • Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: More attacks means more damage.
      • Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: More attacks, more damage. However, at this level you will have a lot of trouble hitting at a -10 penalty.
  • Weapon Finesse: Essential on almost every Rogue. You can also take the Finesse Rogue talent to save a feat, depending on how your feat/talent selections line up.
  • Weapon Focus: Selecting Daggers is a solid choice if you don't need another feat. Your attack bonus won't keep up with Fighters, so every point helps.

Weapons

  • dagger: Acceptable damage, and it has a range increment so it can be thrown without issue.
  • kerambit: Martial, and mostly equivalent to a punching dagger. It trades some of the punching dagger's damage for a +2 to Sleight of Hand checks to hide it. Because it's martial, Rogues aren't proficient with it by default.
  • kukri: Better crit range than a dagger, but with no range increment, and it's Martial.
  • punching daggers: Better crit multiplier than a dagger, but no range increment and lower threat range.
  • starknife: Dagger damage, punching dagger crits, and twice the Dagger's range. If the Rogue was proficient with it, it would be better than the dagger for the Knife Master because you don't care about critical hits and you like to throw things. This is especially helpful once you pick up Sniper's Goggles and can make Sneak Attacks beyond 30 ft. range.
  • swordbreaker dagger: Exotic, and the only real appeal is the bonus to disarm/sunder. You won't be doing combat maneuvers, so this doesn't get you anything.

Armor

Your choice of armor will change as your dexterity improves. At first level you can reasonably expect to have 20 dexterity, so start with Studded Leather. When you get a Belt of Incresible Dexterity, upgrade to a Mithral Shirt (equal to +2 Leather, but 3000 gp cheaper). When your dexterity hits 24 (either at 8th level or when you get a +4 belt), switch to Haramaki. Your AC will drop without enhancing the armor, but at this level 4000gp for +2 Haramaki shouldn't be a problem. Haramaki is cheaper than Padded armor, and is strictly better in every sense.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

  • Assassin: A logical and interesting choice for Rogues, the Assassin actually isn't a good choice for the Knife Master. Sneak Attack from Assassin will stack with your Rogue Sneak Attack, but it won't be d8s, which means you are sacrificing damage. The Assassin also gives up a lot of cool Rogue abilities for poison use (which you can get from a talent), and a mediocre Death Strike ability.

Example Build - The Halfling Quickrazor

I could talk to him, but I think I'll just stab him repeatedly.

This build is a somewhat generic, Two-Weapon Fighting Face Rogue. While not particularly unique or exciting, this build is unquestionably effective.

Abilities

We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.

Race

We will use Halfling for our race. Small size gets Rogues a lot, despite the Halfling's slow speed. The racial ability score bonuses are great, and the racial bonus to saving throws helps to compensate for our low Constitution and Wisdom scores.

Other Archetypes

We will combine the Knife Master archetype with the Bandit archetype, primarily for the Bandit's Ambush ability.

Skills

With 9 skill points, we have a lot of options. Some of our skills will be maxed because we will need them frequently, but we will reserve some ranks to dip into other skills as we grow in level. We will also use our favored class bonus to get additional skill ranks at every level.

Maximized Skills
  • Acrobatics
  • Bluff
  • Diplomacy
  • Intimidate
  • Diplomacy
  • Perception
  • Stealth
  • Use Magic Device
Dip Skills

Alternate ranks between Disable Device and Sleight of hand, but only put one rank in the other skills. Once you have ranks in every dip skill, put the additional ranks into Disable Device and Sleight of Hand.

  • Appraise
  • Disable Device
  • Disguise
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering)
  • Knowledge (local)
Traits

Hidden Hand and Adopted (Elf) to get Warrior of Old. This will help us in suprise rounds, and give us a very impressive initiative bonus.

Levels
Level Feat(s) Notes and Tactics
1 - Rogue
  • Two-Weapon Fighting

First level as a rogue is hard. Even in your best case scenario, your damage won't hold up to a mediocre fighter with a greatsword. Still, you get a +6 bonus to hit with a thrown dagger, which is respectable. At this point, stick to throwing daggers. Without Quick Draw, it is still a move action for your to draw a weapon, so start fights with two in hand, throw them both for sneak attacks, then fall back and work on drawing weapons until you can get a sneak attack in.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Skill Rank

2 - Rogue
  • Talent: Finesse Rogue

With Finesse Rogue, now you can get into melee. Your +1 BAB lets you draw a weapon as a free action as part of a normal movement, so you can throw a dagger in the surprise round, then replace it as you move into melee so that you can flank.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Skill Rank

3 - Rogue
  • Quick Draw

Quick Draw isn't very exciting, but it makes throwing weapons much easier. With 2d8 Sneak Attack damage, we're starting to do some real damage with two possible Sneak Attacks per turn.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Skill Rank

4 - Rogue
  • Talent: Underhanded

Underhanded is a fantastic use of the Bandit archetype's Ambush ability. Quick draw a hidden dagger during the surprise round, and throw it at some unlucky sot for maximum sneak attack damage. As you grow in level, this will never stop being a good idea.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Skill Rank

Ability Score increase: Dexterity

5 - Rogue
  • Improved Initiative

Going first is crucial for you, so improved initative is a great option. At this point, you should have a Belt of Incredible Dexterity, which should bring your dexterity to 23. Couple with Warrior of Old and Improved Initiative, your Initiative modifier should be +12, which means you will go first very frequently.

Favored class bonus: 1 Extra Skill Rank