Pathfinder - The Unchained Rogue Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
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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.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Rogue is a staple of DnD-style games, but as Pathfinder has grown, the vanilla Rogue has been left behind in a lot of ways. In the core rulebook, the Rogue was the unmatched master of stealth, skill, and surprise attacks. Over time these masteries have been eclipsed by other classes which overcame a lot of the issues which Rogues faces in core. The Unchained Rogue addresses many of Rogue's biggest pain points, and gives the Rogue enough new and unique abilities to make it interesting in the face of all of the other exciting base classes.
This guide is for the Unchained Rogue. For the vanilla Rogue, see my Rogue Handbook.
The Unchained Rogue has some shiny new abilities added or reworked from the vanilla Rogue. Here's a quick list of the new/updated features, but see "Unchained Rogue Class Features" below for more information.
- Finesse Training: Removes the Weapon Finesse feat tax.
- Updated Talents: Many Rogue Talents have gotten an update.
- Danger Sense: An improved version of Trap Sense, which has always been a throw-away ability.
- Debilitating Injury: A fun rider effect on top of Sneak Attack which gives the rogue some tactical options beyond "do damage".
- Rogue's Edge: Allows the Rogue to take advantage of the new "Skill Unlocks".
Rogue Class Features
: 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.
: 2/3 BAB is difficult because many Rogues depend on two-weapon fighting, but flanking and high Dexterity can make up the deficit. Debilitating Injury also allow you debuff and enemy's AC, which can go a long way to compensate for your relatively low BAB.
: Good Reflex saves, high Dexterity, and Evasion make the Rogue exceptionally good at Reflex saves, but they often have issues with Fortitude and Will saves.
: Limited to simple weapons, hand crossbows, and a handful of martial weapons, Rogues have very few options. Fortunately, they get all of the ones that they really need to get by.
: 8+ skill ranks and the longest class skill list in the game. Rogues can do a lot of things, but even with 8+ skill ranks it can still be difficult to cover all of the essentials. Be sure to coordinate with your party to know you're going to need to invest your skill ranks.
: A pile of d6's to drop on your foes. Sneak Attack is the Rogue's primary source of damage, but because it can be hard to bring into play, Rogues occasionally find themselves useless in combat. Unchained Rogue's version of Sneak Attack notably allows you to Sneak Attack targets with concealment, though you sitll can't Sneak Attack creatures with total concealment.
: The bonus to disarming traps is good, but the ability to disarm magical traps is the key component of this feature.
(Ex): One of the most important additions to the Unchained Rogue, Finesse Training give you Weapon Finesse for free at first level, and an effect similar to Slashing Grace at 3rd level. Ranged Rogues will mostly only see this as a fun backup ability when they're force into melee, but melee Rogues will save themselves a required feat, and the 3rd-level ability nets them a massive boost to damage.
(Ex): With your high reflex saves, Evasion will save you from a lot of damage.
(Ex): A minor improvement over Trap Sense, but the bonus is small and scales very slowly.
(Ex): A fantastic rider effect which you add to your Sneak Attacks. Remember that you can only apply one penalty to a target at a time, but your successive attacks will each add an additional round to the duration, which gives you some nice padding if you can't hit the target for a round or two for some reason.
- : This will be the lion's share of your Debilitating Injuries. TWF Rogues will find this especially helpful because the AC penalty offsets the TWF attack penalty. At high levels when you get iterative attacks, the scaling penalty will offset the relative -5 bonus on your iterative attacks. Your allies only benefit from -2 to the targets AC, but that's a nice bonus, especially when combined with flanking.
- : If you're fighting an enemy by yourself, or if the enemy isn't focusing on your flanking partner, this is a great way to keep yourself alive. If you're not having any issues hitting, this is a good option when Bewildered isn't doing anything useful.
- : Because combat is very static in Pathfinder, this will rarely be important, but it's a great option when you need to run away or keep an enemy from charging your squishy allies or running away from you.
: 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.
: This will basically never come up.
: Add an extra list of considerably better Rogue Talents.
: Basically the Assassin's Death Strike ability. This ability is fine, but Ninjas and Slayers can take it as a talent at level 11.
Because the Unchained Rogue's abilities are mostly the same as the vanilla Rogue's, most Rogue archetypes are compatible. The only questionable part is the change from Trap Sense to Danger Sense. Because Danger Sense is strictly better than Trap Sense (it's Trap Sense with an additional Perception bonus), any reasonable GM should allow you to use Danger Sense in place of Trap Sense because you're giving up more for the same benefits.
For more on Rogue Archetypes, see my Rogue Archetypes Breakdown.
The Rogue is very frequently MAD, especially if the party has very few other skills and no Face.
: Only useful for a bit of damage, and Rogues depend almost exclusively on Sneak Attack for damage. Dump to 8, but don't dump to 7 unless you really need the extra points.
: In light armor, Dexterity is absolutely crucial. All but the strangest Rogue builds depend on Weapon Finesse or ranged weapons, so make sure to put a lot of resources into dexterity.
: Essential for Fortitude saves and hit points, especially if you're in melee.
: Essential for skill ranks. 8+ seems like a lot, but it's nowhere near enough.
: Essential for Will saves.
: A little bit of Charisma is great if you plan to play a Face, but otherwise you can dump Charisma to 7.
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Bonuses to Dexterity are essential, and bonuses to Intelligence or skills are nice too. Darkvision is especially nice at low levels before you can get Darkvision from spells.
: Not particularly well-suited to the Rogue, but Darkvision is certainly tempting.
: Bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are fantastic, and some of the Elf's other racial abilities are helpful. The Elf favored class bonus adds additional uses to the minor magic and major magic talents, but unless you really plan to use those talents it won't matter.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: As usual, the Human is a great option. 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.
- (Combat): Especially useful if you multiclass into Assassin or otherwise gain a Death Attack ability whichi s typically used during a surprise round.
- (Combat): Initiative bonuses are great for Rogues.
- (Combat): Bonus to a bad save.
- (Faith): Bonus to a bad save.
- (Faith): Since Rogues spend so much time using skills, you have a lot of opportunities to use this.
- (Magic): If you plan to pick up the Minor/Major Magic talents, this fits very well thematically. Pick up a utility option like Mage Hand or Prestidigitation.
- Pragmatic Activator (Magic): If you're not a Face, but you still want to use UMD, this can get a you a huge bonus by ignoring your 7 Charisma in favor of your high Intelligence.
- (Social): Bonus to a bad save.
- (Elf Racial): Bonus to a bad save.
- (Half-Elf Racial): The same effect as Reactionary, but doesn't take up your Combat trait.
- (Dex): Great to move around in combat without getting killed, but you only need to be able to reliably hit a DC of 15, so you don't need to invest a ton of skill ranks.
- (Int): Too situational.
- (Cha): Helpful for any face, and feinting is a nice way for melee Rogues to get some self-sufficiency in combat.
- (Str): Too situational.
- (Int): Craft (Alchemy) can be useful if you like to use alchemical weapons, but you can do just fine without it.
- (Cha): Essential for any face.
- (Dex): Essential for Scouts who need to handle traps.
- (Cha): Too situational. Buy a hat of Disguise.
- (Dex): Too situational.
- (Cha): Helpful for any face.
- (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- (Int): Useful for identifying humanoids and for plot stuff in some campaigns.
- (Int): Have someone cast tongues.
- (Wis): The most-rolled skill in the game by a huge margin.
- (Cha): You are not a Bard.
- (Wis): Helpful for any face.
- (Dex): Too situational.
- (Dex): Essential for any Scout.
- (Str): Too situational.
- (Cha): This can open up a lot of great options if you like to use wands and scrolls for tricks that you can't do without magic.
- : Generally when you set your Minor and Major Magic talents, you select options which are important to your build.
- : Fear stacking can be very effective, but Rogues have very few mechanics to do it on their own.
- : Rogue talents are fantastic, and many of them offer better options than feats.
- : The Elf can get just as many extra uses with two levels worth of favored class bonus.
- Shadow Strike: Unchained Rogue's Sneak Attack allows you to affect creatures with concealment, so this feat is redundant.
- : Very situational, and you need to have a bunch of Improved Feint feats for it to matter. You won't reasonably be able to use this until you pick up Improved Two-Weapon Feint.
: Not useful on its own, but it opens up a lot of other great options.
: Allows you to Feint and attack in the same round, allowing you to use Sneak Attack without flanking or hiding. However, if you're in melee you are almost certainly using two-weapon fighting, so Two-Weapon Feint is likely a better choice for you.
- : Amusing, but ridiculously situational. I would let someone do this with a Bluff check without requiring a feat.
: The Withdraw action lets you move twice your speed, affects all opponents which threaten your current square, and doesn't require a Bluff check. If you don't want to move in a straight line you can use Acrobatics to tumble.
- : Just use Acrobatics to tumble.
- : This allows you to Feint, attack, then move all in one turn. Certainly a tempting option, but situational.
: Functionally the same as Improved Feint, but a better option for two-weapon fighters.
- : This makes feinting and two-weapon fighting a viable combination. It sucks to give up one of your attacks, but your opponent loses their dex bonus to AC for an entire round, and not just for your attacks.
- : Combat maneuvers aren't typically a good choice for Rogues, but if you want to use them this will get you a hefty bonus.
: +2 damage per Sneak Attack die, but you can only deal nonlethal damage.
- : Double your Sneak Attack dice with Saps. It's nonlethal damage, but your Sneak Attack damage is (roughly) 1d6+1 per Rogue level, which is fantastic.
- : Critical feats aren't a good choice for Rogues. Leave this one for Slayers.
- : With 2/3 BAB combat maneuvers are hard for Rogues, making Grapple an unlikely choice. If you combine this with Agile maneuvers and Surprise Maneuver, you might be able to make this work.
: TWF Rogues have been a staple for a long time, and for good reason. Rogues have little use for shields, and two attacks means two piles of Sneak Attack damage.
- : Your damage from Sneak Attack will completely eclipse this.
: 4 total attacks can mean a huge amount of damage.
- : With 2/3 BAB and TWF penalties, it's very difficult for a Rogue to hit with their third iterative attacks, so it's perfectly acceptable to skip this feat.
- : Dodge is strictly better.
- Weapon Finesse: You get it for free!
- : A good choice for two-weapon fighting and for throwing. Finesse Training can only give you dexterity damage to melee damage, but that makes the dagger an excellent option for ranged or melee builds because it's so easy to switch from melee to ranged.
- : Cool, but not very effective. You can dual-wield hand crossbows, but you will need to class dip into Alchemist or Witch to get something which allows you reload while dual-wielding.
- : A good ranged option, and it doesn't care about your Halfling Rogue's 5 Strength.
- : Critical threats aren't very important to Rogues, but the rapier is the biggest melee weapon available to the Rogue. If you plan to use two-weapon fighting, skip this so that you can use Finesse Training's damage bonus on both weapons.
- : The dagger's damage is only slightly lower, and daggers are considerably more versatile.
- : The obvious choice for archery Rogues, but remember that Strength penalties apply to bow damage, so a crossbow may be a good choice instead.
- : Your starting point. This should last through early levels. Don't bother enhancing because you're going to get a Mithral Shirt pretty quickly.
- : If you're using a ranged weapon or doing two-weapon fighting, a masterwork buckler offers a cheap way to boost your AC if you're willing to pay the -1 penalty to attacks.
- : If you're in melee using a single weapon, a Darkwood Heavy Shield has no armor check penalty, so it's a cheap and easy way to boost your AC without cutting into your damage output.
- : Mithral Shirt will be your best bet for AC until your Dexterity bonus hits +10, which will be extremely high level.
- : 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.
- : A wand of Mage Armor gets you +4 AC for an hour at a time. For the same 9150gp for +3 Haramaki, you can buy 12 wands, netting you a total of 600 hours of mage armor. If you have a wizard in the party, buy them a pearl of power 1 for 1000gp, and they can get you hours/level of mage armor for essentially nothing.
- Dagger of Doubling (10,302 gp): If you're going for a thrown weapon build, this is your best bet. Pick up Quick Draw and duplicate the daggers after each attack. Unfortunately you won't be able to go past +1 without your DM allowing you enhance the weapon beyond its default stats, but without this your best bet is buying dozens of +1 daggers anyway, so you come out ahead either way.
- Sword of Subtlety (22,310 gp): Very pricey, but a +4 to attacks and damage makes this effectively a +5 weapon for slightly more than the price of a +3. Certainly not a go-to option, but nice if you have someone in the party to craft one for you.
- Animated Shield (+2): It may be difficult to find time to activate your animated shield because rogues lean so heavily on full attack actions. Still, it can be a very welcome AC boost for melee rogues.
- Practical Guide to 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
- Murderer's Blackcloth (12,405 gp): Not worth the gp cost.
- : Improved Invisibility is better in combat, but a Ring of Invisibility is the gold standard of scouting, infiltration, and surprise.
- : A bit of extra AC is always welcome for melee Rogues.
- : An extra attack is another vehicle for your Sneak Attack damage.
- : Only functions a few times per day, but boosting your Sneak Attack damage for a round can turn into a ton of damage very quickly.
- : Smokesticks are for suckers. Fog Cloud is a great escape mechanism.
- : See "Armor", above.
- : Dexterity is the Rogue's bread and butter. Get one early, and enhance it often.
- : Tempting, and makes sense thematically, but your Stealth bonus is likely already very high without wasting gold and your cloak slot on this.
- : A great defensive option, but remember that it can't be used to hide in plain sight.
- : Essential on every character every time.
- : Ignore the name: you're here for the +2 insight bonus to attack rolls with sneak attacks.
- : For ranged builds these are too good to pass up. +2 competence bonus for each sneak attack die is an absolutely ridiculous amount of extra damage. Note that the greater versions only grant the competence bonus once per sneak attack while attacking at range greater than 30 feet rather than once per sneak attack die, so stick to the regular version and get within 30 feet whenever you can. Seriously, this item is so insanely good I don't think I would allow it at my table because the abuse cases are too easy.
- : Get the Resiliency talent on an item.
- PHB: Darkvision is essential when so much of your skillset requires sneaking around in the dark, but at hours per level duration you may be able to convince a party member to spare you a spell slot every day.
- PHB: If you're medium you can reduce yourself for an easy +2 to Dexterity. If you're small, only do this if you're fighting at range.
- PHB: With no built-in way to handle invisible creatures, the ability to always see them is a fantastic benefit. You can't Sneak Attack targets with concealment, so See Invisibility is a much better option than effects like Glitterdust which only allow you to locate invisible creatures, but don't remove their concealment.