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I'm playing a ninja in a 3.5 game right now. They have an ability that is like sneak attack, but only works when the opponent is denied their dex bonus, and not when simply flanking. I'm only first level at the moment and thus can't become invisible yet. Other than a surprise round, how can I use the sneak attack to my advantage?

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I think the obvious answer to this question is getting yourself some Monstrous Fly paper :) –  GMNoob Oct 25 '11 at 11:44
    
Keep your eyes peeled for a weapon with the blurstrike enhancement from Magic Item Compendium. Ultimately, you'll want to be able to cover as many of these options as you can and then some. –  LitheOhm Sep 18 '12 at 5:16
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up vote 14 down vote accepted

I wrote an article on this in 2006, titled Playing the Rogue. A target loses his Dex to AC under several circumstances:

  • Blinded: The target willingly shuts his eyes, or his eyes are covered, or he cannot see. This can happen during a sandstorm or blizzard, or if you rigged a bucket above a door to drop on his head using the Disable Device skill, or the target thinks they see a creature with a gaze attack and shuts his eyes, or the party wizard casts a blindness spell (or you Use Magic Device'd a scroll of the spell, and most monsters don't have a cure for blindness handy).
  • Cannot see the attacker: You're effectively invisible to it due to stealth (Hide/Move Silently), concealment (perhaps obscured by terrain features), magical invisibility, or darkness. Note that you cannot sneak attack in darkness, unless the target is still visible to you: perhaps he's lit with a low-range light source like a candle, and you're ranged attacking from 30 feet away. Play a dwarf or half-orc rogue or ninja and sneak attack in complete darkness using your darkvision.
  • Cowering: from fear; this isn't common except with turned undead, which you can't sneak attack anyway.
  • Flat-footed: You got a surprise round, or it's the first round of combat and they haven't taken their turn. Worth investing in Spot and Listen for this reason.
  • Climbing or balancing: Ambush your opponent at a tricky terrain feature like a narrow ledge, rock face or climbing rope, knowing he will have to move slowly back to solid ground or fall to evade it.
  • Grappled: A character loses dex to AC from targets who are not grappling him. It's not great, because it takes two PCs to pull it off, and unless the target is also pinned he has a 50% chance to strike his ally. The main advantage to grappling is that you can manoever around a held target without provoking attacks of opportunity; this is more useful for the rogue, who gets sneak attack while flanking, but you and your allies can still get the attack bonus.
  • Stunned: such as by the monk's Stunning Fist.
  • Helpless: A paralyzed, held, bound, sleeping or unconscious or target is vulnerable to sneak attack. He's also vulnerable to coup-de-grace too, which is quite nasty. Poison can reduce an opponent's Strength or Dexterity to 0, which will render him helpless. The ninja gets poison use as a class skill, but poison can be expensive.
  • Feinting: the Feint special attack lets you use the Bluff skill to make an opponent lose his Dex to AC on your next attack that round. It's useless until you take the Improved Feint feat, which reduces it from a standard action to a move action. At high level it becomes easy to feint, since most enemies don't take ranks in Sense Motive to oppose your Bluff, but even with Improved Feint you only get one attack per round this way instead of a full attack, and only against opponents who are already adjacent on your turn.
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I have a very high hide bonus, as I'm playing a halfling ninja. Would being hidden count towards the "cannot see attacker" and make them flat footed against my attacks? –  Arr MiHardies Oct 24 '11 at 15:25
    
Yes. (I've edited my answer to include this.) After you attack, you are no longer hidden. Read up on the hide skill and cover and concealment rules for the specifics of how and when you can hide. –  Jonathan Drain Oct 24 '11 at 20:37
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The Feinting in Combat action of the Bluff skill is another way to get an opponent denied their Dexterity bonus to AC:

You can also use Bluff to mislead an opponent in melee combat (so that it can’t dodge your next attack effectively). To feint, make a Bluff check opposed by your target’s Sense Motive check, but in this case, the target may add its base attack bonus to the roll along with any other applicable modifiers.

If your Bluff check result exceeds this special Sense Motive check result, your target is denied its Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) for the next melee attack you make against it. This attack must be made on or before your next turn.

Condition-wise, blinded, stunned, and helpless creatures also lose their Dexterity bonus to AC. Other characters can also help you, since grappling also denies the Dexterity bonus to AC for creatures not in the grapple.

Thematically, the ninja class is designed to engage in a surprise attack and kill or seriously wound the opponents before they can react. Their sudden strike class feature expected to be a little more difficult to pull off than the rogue's sneak attack, but they are given other powers to compensate.

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Add in invisible blade, beguiler or any other way to feint as a free action and feinting is truly the way to go. Odds are if your bluff check won't work, it wasn't going to take your sudden strike damage anyway. +1 –  LitheOhm Sep 18 '12 at 5:14
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  • You don't need a surprise round, your opponent will be flat footed also in the first round until he/she acts (you will be able to use sneak attack if you have a higher initiative roll)

Flat-Footed At the start of a battle, before you have had a chance to act (specifically, before your first regular turn in the initiative order), you are flat-footed. You can’t use your Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) while flat-footed. Barbarians and rogues have the uncanny dodge extraordinary ability, which allows them to avoid losing their Dexterity bonus to AC due to being flat-footed.

  • A character is flat-footed while climbing or balancing. In the combat modifiers descriptions:

Flat-footed (such as surprised, balancing, climbing)

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