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There are several characteristics that affect a damage weapon, here I am specifically concentrating on:

  • the weapon base damage (say, 1d6 for a Short Sword)
  • the weapon critical range (usually 20)
  • the weapon critical multiplier (x2, x3, x4, ...)

For my Rogue, I preferred to elect a higher average damage (Short Sword), rather than a weapon with a lower damage but higher critical multipliers. It just seemed than critical were of few benefits given that Sneak Attack damages are not multiplied.

Am I missing out something ?

Note: I do note need to min-max my Rogue, but given that a Rogue is lagging behind Ranger and Barbarian when it comes to damage, I would prefer to avoid crippling myself.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Light Weapons that the rogue has proficiency in

These are really the only significant concerns. You need a light weapon for Weapon Finesse and/or Two-Weapon Fighting, and you need too many feats to burn one on proficiency in something fancy. You could go with a rapier in one hand and a light weapon in the other, if you wanted, but if you have any feats or class features that work for only one weapon, it’s better not to (most of those feats suck, though, so it’s totally valid to not have them).

The differences in base damage, critical ranges, and critical multipliers barely matter at all. The difference in damage between a 1d4 and a 1d6 weapon is, on average, 1. Even at first level, that will probably never matter. Criticals happen much too rarely to put any significant investment in them, so the critical range or critical multiplier mean quite possibly less.

Unless you are taking Shadow Blade (which is an excellent idea and highly recommended; see below), just pick whatever light rogue weapon strikes your fancy. It probably will never make any difference.

About feycraft weapons

Rogues tend to be feat-starved, and Weapon Finesse is often an extremely desirable feat for rogues. If you can afford it (or can afford to wait), a feycraft light weapon is treated as if the wielder had Weapon Finesse even if he does not. Feycraft is an item template from Dungeon Master’s Guide II, and costs 1,500 gp on top of whatever the weapon costs. If you’re concerned about things that require that you actually have Weapon Finesse, like a feat or prestige class, note that this requirement can also be covered by Shadow Blade, which as noted, is highly recommended.

About Shadow Blade

The only other concern is validity for Shadow Blade, an excellent feat from Tome of Battle. Shadow Blade gives you a damage bonus equal to your Dexterity, but only if you use a dagger, sai, short sword, siangham, unarmed strike, or spiked chain. Since you don’t get proficiency in sai, siangham, or spiked chain, and unarmed strike requires Improved Unarmed Strike, you should ignore those, leaving the dagger or short sword. Both are light and rogues get proficiency in both, making distinctions between them fairly trivial.

Daggers can be concealed more easily, though. That’s fairly nice, particularly for a rogue. Compared to a paltry ~1 damage, I’d take it.

Note that to take and benefit from Shadow Blade, you must have and be in a Shadow Hand stance. Both island of blades (1st-level stance, flank as long as you and an ally are adjacent to the same opponent) and assassin’s stance (+2d6 Sneak Attack damage) are excellent for rogues, so this is no great burden.

To get either as a pure-rogue requires a Martial Study feat for a Shadow Hand maneuver (cloak of deception, 2nd level boost: swift-action greater invisibility for your turn only, and shadow jaunt, 2nd level maneuver: teleport 50 ft. as a standard action, are available at character level 6th, and are excellent choices), and then a Martial Stance feat (you need to be character level 10 or higher to qualify for assassin’s stance, but island of blades is available immediately). That’s three feats for Shadow Blade; that’s a heavy investment.

A better choice is to dip swordsage at character level 9th. This gets you 6 maneuvers (which can include both cloak of deception and shadow jaunt, as well as the excellent wolf fang strike and sudden leap from Tiger Claw) as well as your choice of stance, which can include assassin’s stance. Once you get these things, you can take Shadow Blade straight-away as your 9th-level feat. This is an excellent option.

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I don't want to usurp either you or Tridus with something this small, but mention must be made of a rogue being able to do without the feat Weapon Finesse entirely if he wields a light weapon to which has been applied the template feycraft (DMG2 275). At a price of 1,500 gp, starting characters obviously can't get one, but, if the rogue can wait, the retraining rules are used, or the power psychic reformation is available, finding an extra feat as a rogue is priceless. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 25 at 17:16
    
@HeyICanChan Good call, worth mentioning. I'll look up the stats exactly and put it in. –  KRyan Jul 25 at 17:20
    
@KRyan: a (possibly unreliable) source on Internet seems to imply -10% to the weapon weight, damages as if the weapon was one size smaller, that it may be treated as 1H and that if it is a Light Weapon, the wearer can use its Dexterity. –  Matthieu M. Jul 25 at 17:27
    
Thanks for the tip on Shadow Blade. I do not know whether Tome of Battle can be used (it started as an introduction for friends who had never played), but I have some time before reaching level 9 anyway, so I'll have ample time to take it with my DM. I saw a mention that one might consider Craven (Champions of Ruin) instead of Shadow Blade: adds character levels to sneak attack damage VS adds DEX modifier to damage. Could it be more interesting ? The other maneuvers seem interesting regardless, and it could be added to the assassin's stance I guess. –  Matthieu M. Jul 25 at 17:36
    
@MatthieuM. The feat Craven is fine if your character knows what he's going to fight. At high levels fear is deadly and being immune to it is important... when the dragon shows up you don't want to have to go play Smash Bros. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 25 at 17:41

Is it Light?

Light weapons qualify for Weapon Finesse. As a Rogue, you will often have lots of DEX and not lots of STR. Weapon Finesse is thus really nice to let that DEX help you hit things. Short swords qualify, which is one reason they're nice Rogue weapons. Light weapons also make Two Weapon Fighting easier, and you want to do that to maximize your sneak attack damage.

Does It Fit A Martial Discipline?

If you've got access to Tome of Battle, a Swordsage dip as a Rogue is really handy. In this case, you want a weapon that fits a discipline you want to use. Short Sword works with the Shadow Hand discipline. That means if you take the dip at high enough character level to do it, you can get immediate access to Assassin's Stance (+2d6 sneak attack dice all the time while using a favored Shadow Hand weapon).

If you meet those two criteria, you can then take the Shadow Blade feat. That adds your DEX bonus to damage rolls while using a favored Shadow Hand weapon (aka: Short Sword). As your DEX bonus is likely to be pretty good and this is always on damage, it's really powerful.

Can You Conceal It?

If you're the type of Rogue who will be trying to blend in and don't want people to see your weapons, the ease of concealing the weapon matters. Smaller weapons like Daggers are obviously beneficial here.

Damage and Critical Stats

You already mentioned these. Obviously, more damage is better. A higher critical hit chance will let you crit more often, but your base damage usually isn't that great (although Shadow Blade can seriously boost it), so often times it's better to favor more base damage over more crit chance.

My wife's Rogue has Shadow Blade and +7 DEX, so with a +1 dagger she's doing 1d4+8+ sneak attack. Even then, the extra damage from a Short Sword is going to work out higher agianst a lot of enemeies she fights due to them being crit immune, but if something can be crit, a keen dagger can really deliver some pain.

Summary

Short Swords are good Rogue weapons. Choosing higher base damage is reliable, because it works against everything. They're still Light, they work with some awesome stuff in ToB, and they're good for two weapon fighting. You chose well. :)

There are specific cases where daggers can come out ahead (if you boost your base damage, and can crit the target, and get lucky with your rolls to do so), but that's a lot of IFs. In practice, it often doesn't work out better.

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Extra base damage is basically meaningless (even at level 1, the ~1 extra damage will probably never matter), and crits are even less meaningful (they happen too rarely to care about). The fact you can conceal a dagger is far more likely to be relevant than that ~1 damage. Also, your section on being associated with a Martial Discipline is misleading (you only need an associated weapon for the feat, not the stance and/or maneuvers, and the only feat that’s relevant here is Shadow Blade, so really it’s “is it a Shadow Hand weapon?”). –  KRyan Jul 25 at 15:07
    
@KRyan: I just read this question about looking for the maximal critical multiplier for a coup-de-grace for a Rogue, which instilled the doubt in me. Is this an exception to the "prefer higher base damage, but even that does not matter much ?" –  Matthieu M. Jul 25 at 15:19
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@MatthieuM. Coup de grace is an automatic critical hit. As such, having the ×4 is way more important than any other consideration for that situation. –  KRyan Jul 25 at 15:27
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I was contemplative of the claims here about crit, so I calculated how much damage a character with a 1d4 19-20x2 weapon with +1Dmg and 50% chance to hit would do on average (not coup de graces). By my calculations, +1Damage is +0.286 dpr, +1Atk is +0.105dpr, +1diecount is +0.714dpr, +1diesize is +0.286dpr, +1critrange is +0.024dpr, and +1critmod is +0.048dpr. You're right, crit is completely ignorable normally. –  Mooing Duck Jul 25 at 18:16

There are many different variables to this, including the three Matthieu M. mentioned (average damage, crit range, and crit multiplier) and the "finessability" criterion everyone else mentioned. But there is another that you may not be considering: range.

As mentioned elsewhere, average damage is not the principal concern of the rogue. At 3/4 BAB this is far less a consideration than it is with full-BAB classes, although less so if you opt for a two-weapon fighting style.

Crit range can be important because it leads to the Telling Blow feat, which allows you to fight more like a warrior with less consideration for flanking and surprise. I don't really recommend this for straight-up rogues though. You don't have the survivability to make that work very well with low hit points, light armor, no shield, and low hit points. That path is better for a rogue/fighter type multiclass.

Crit multiplier is of minimal to no importance in this context.

Range, however, is often overlooked for rogues. Here is why it shouldn't be.

As I stated above, rogues don't have the survivability of warrior-types in a straight-up fight, which melee-only weapons more or less force you into. However, rogues have amazing defense when hidden. A successfully hidden rogue can't be targeted by personal spells at all, gains the benefits of his or her best save and Evasion against almost all area attacks, and gets a 50% miss chance against weapons and weapon-like spells. And that's even if they are pinpointed, which they are largely designed not to be. Only environment-alteration control spells like Solid Fog are reliably effective against stealthing rogues, and these can be countered with free movement and teleportation items at higher levels.

With a movement action and a standard action, you pretty much have to move out of the shadows/fog/cover, stand next to your target, and remain exposed and vulnerable until your next turn, losing most of the benefits of hiding outlined above.

This is ameliorated by feats like Spring Attack and Shot on the Run, which allow you to attack and move as a single standard action. A single attack exposes you and ends your hiding, but with sufficient movement you can again duck out of sight around a corner and re-establish your total concealment before your turn ends, and then do the same thing on your following turn. You don't get to make attacks of opportunity or full attacks with precision damage the way a flanker would, but this isn't nearly the sacrifice for a full rogue that some would suggest it is, and your relative vulnerability when flanking compared to hiding makes the sacrifice very worthwhile in many instances.

Now, between Spring Attack (for melee attacks) and Shot on the Run (for ranged attacks), the latter is the superior choice (but costs an extra "tax" feat, Point Blank Shot) because the range of the attack (up to thirty feat) diminishes the amount of territory you have to cover in order to scoot back into hiding before the end of your turn. When breaking into a smallish dungeon room, you can generally stand a square away from the door, step forward and pop your head out, attack from hiding, and dart back to complete concealment with a single standard move and still have a movement action (for instance, to draw another weapon or reload a hand crossbow).

This is a big part of the appeal of the dagger to rogues; despite its low damage, it can be used as either a melee or thrown weapon, and its short range increment isn't much of a hassle to rogues, because they have to be within 30 feet to get precision damage anyway. The dagger also has concealment benefits that can be exploited as well, but someone else addressed those already.

None of this is to suggest daggers or hand crossbows or even ranged weapons as a whole are the "best" weapons for rogues, merely that they are for certain builds and fighting styles. Relatively few players really consider the implications of stealth properly for rogues, but it is so intrinsic to the design of the class that you really should consider it.

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I know that with Two-Weapons Fighting you can throw from each hand, however I am unsure you can do so in the context of a "Shot on the Run", and if not it means you only have a single attack. –  Matthieu M. Jul 29 at 7:24
    
Two-Weapon Fighting only gives you extra attacks with full actions, Shot on the Run functions with a standard action and only grants you one attack. With a surprise attack only the first attack gets the advantage of the upgraded concealment from hiding (including precision damage) which is its disadvantage compared to flanking. In any event, Shot on the Run has three prerequisite feats meaning trying to do both the 2-weapon and SotR chain would be impractical for a pure rogue. –  Epiphanis Jul 29 at 11:20
    
Ah, thanks for the precision. Indeed the Rogue is feat-starved so pursuing two feat-intensive paths is not too realistic. –  Matthieu M. Jul 29 at 12:43

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