I am playing a Pathfinder rogue, currently at level 1 but soon to progress. The character backstory is that he has always thought he had "magical ancestors", even though he's just a street urchin thief. So I plan to take the Minor Magic and Major Magic rogue talents, plus one level of draconic sorcerer after that.

I like the idea of magical powers that sort of bubble up over time to add a few-times-per-day "special sauce" to what is otherwise a pretty straightforward high-dexterity thief with a rapier and no shield, who prioritizes skills, mobility, feinting, and sneakiness:

  • Ray of Frost - a few ranged-touch sneak attacks per day
  • Shield - survive a few minutes in the middle of melee
  • Draconic claws - a few rounds of no-penalty two-weapon fighting per day
  • True Strike for occasional impossible hits
  • Expeditious Retreat for all kinds of situations
  • plus Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Mage Hand, etc.

However, will these stay useful at higher levels? I don't mind if this concept displaces other, mechanically "better" rogue play styles. (From reading around it sounds like everyone thinks two-weapon fighting specialist is mandatory for a rogue.) But I don't want to pursue a path that gets nullified in later levels, particularly since it would be character level 6 or so before these "powers" had all even fully expressed themselves.

For context, our group is a mix of a few old folks like me who played AD&D ages ago at a casual level and some others new to tabletop RP. Our DM is very experienced with D&D through version 3.5. We are using only the Pathfinder Core Rulebook for now.


Yes, but with contingencies...

So, first off, I will say that these will most definitely stay relevant. As the rogue, when you get into higher levels the ONLY way you stay relevant is doing the stuff other party members can't. Pathfinder isn't as bad as its DnD 3.5e roots in this line, but Rogues are still far less powerful than many other classes in a "traditional power" sense.

That said, your goal, again, is to do what they can't. What you do best is take out people that would pose serious problems. You are the master of 1v1 stealth attacks, the "getting the final killing hit in a hard battle" person.

For that, these abilities do stay relevant. Ranged Touch SA, for example, are drastically underestimated, but especially vs tanky opponents they can be a huge boon because you can bypass normal defenses.

As a Rogue, you want to aim towards "toolboxing" yourself a bit. Toolboxing refers to the idea of having an good answer to many problems as opposed to a few ridiculously powerful answers to a few problems. These things you are looking at help you do just that.

As a personal note, yes...you will lose straight up melee power and SA damage of dual-wielding rogues. That's fine, though...that isn't your gimmick, and in my opinion it is a waste of rogue potential. You, however, are swapping that pure damage for a rather nice set of utilities that enable you to penetrate defenses, deal damage, stay alive, etc.

Also remember that higher-level encounters will generally go quickly with a good party, so things that can't be used often have more weight because you don't need to worry about 5 rounds of trying to deal with a random enemy like you do at lower levels.

From the perspective of a person who enjoys Pathfinder rogues and rogue-likes, I can say you definitely are making a good choice. Just make sure you play to these strengths and don't go after the same format as those stereotypical two-dagger users. ;)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ By "contingencies" did you mean "caveats", or perhaps "qualifiers"? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 2 '17 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 very good solid advice. It can be seen in the lines the experience one has with the rogue. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Dec 2 '17 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie In a way. The way I see it, things spells DON'T work on the "standard" rogue build, so they are "contingent" upon creative playstyles. As to Mindwin , glad I could help ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Alphaeus Dec 2 '17 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would warn against some of the uses mentioned, though. Like being in melee in high level encounters, and hoping your opponent misses cause of your Shield spell. The spells listed are fine but the plan of fighting in melee with them is not. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 2 '17 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer The ideal goal is to make melee so short it doesn't matter. Shield is one of the less useful ones, but a chance of not being hit is better than being hit period. Also, I would counter this by saying that a well built rogue will be playing off of these strengths, not just using them alone, and that being in melee at high levels is precisely his goal -- because at high levels, that is PRECISELY what is unexpected. \$\endgroup\$ – Alphaeus Dec 2 '17 at 23:18

No, they won’t

Spells reward dedication massively. Low-level spells very, very rarely matter at high levels—and when they do, they are the kind of utility stuff that doesn’t have to interact with creatures’ defenses or the action economy. That describes almost none of the spells you have selected.

Furthermore, the kinds of spells I describe, that would be good? Those kinds of spells are also good to get in the form of magic items. Use Magic Device is a great skill that rogues get, and well worth the skill points. Using magic items (including an innate affinity for using magic items, which is a valid way to describe your Use Magic Device bonus) to get your low-level utility spells is far more efficient than taking a level of a spellcasting class. High-level characters have a lot of money, and access to a lot of magical equipment, so spending a few hundred or even a few thousand gold pieces on these kinds of items is far, far less expensive than spending a level. A rogue is very strongly advised to carry a lot of magical utility gear.

  • Ray of Frost - a few ranged-touch sneak attacks per day

Ranged sneak attacks are difficult to pull off if you aren’t building around them. Flanking is by-far the easiest way to achieve a sneak attack, and you cannot flank with ranged attacks. Moreover, leveraging sneak attack is all about applying it as much as possible—rogues use archery or dual-wielding because those things give lots and lots of attacks, allowing lots and lots of sneak attack. By high levels, dealing your sneak attack damage only once is not impressive, and not how you want to spend your turn.

  • Shield - survive a few minutes in the middle of melee

Shield lasts far too little time, for far too little benefit. Non-touch AC has very little value in Pathfinder, particularly at high levels, and is not worth investing in—and casting shield is a big investment since you cannot simply cast it at the beginning of the day and forget about it.

  • Draconic claws - a few rounds of no-penalty two-weapon fighting per day

You will have magic weapons at high levels, so these potentially represent a huge loss of damage. The attack penalty when using two-weapon fighting (assuming a light offhand weapon) is rather minor at high levels. Not worth it unless you expect to be stripped of your equipment often in your campaign.

  • True Strike for occasional impossible hits

True strike is a pure trap. Anything you need true strike to hit, you don’t want to be hitting—you want to be running away from it. True strike takes up a turn, and then only applies to one attack—again, a single instance of sneak attack damage is not a lot at high levels. When you use true strike, you are basically saying that you are going to spend two turns getting one attack in—when in two turns you might get 12 attacks. Against something with a high enough AC that the need to hit justifies reducing your potential damage by 92%, that isn’t going to be worth anything. Anything with AC that high is out of your league.

  • Expeditious Retreat for all kinds of situations

Except, not really. Speed boosts aren’t actually that good in Pathfinder—most of the time you want to stay with your party, so you can’t move faster than the slowest member, and in combat, it’s relatively rare that distances are large enough to justify it.

That said, expeditious retreat is still a better choice than the others. There could be cases where you want it. Not as often as you think, seems to me, but they will happen. I am not at all sure that’s true of, say, shield or true strike.

  • plus Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Mage Hand, etc.

These are honestly better than your other suggestions—these are legitimate utility tools that may actually find use.

So I plan to take the Minor Magic and Major Magic rogue talents, plus one level of draconic sorcerer after that.

This is redundant; minor magic and major magic are pretty bad talents, and the only reason you would take them is if it allows you to avoid multiclassing in the first place. If you are multiclassing anyway, skip these talents and get better ones. A single level of any spellcasting class does more than these talents do.

If you really want to make a more magical rogue, I strongly recommend getting more magic than this. A small smattering of low-level spells will only be a hindrance later on in the game. Having decent spellcasting, on the other hand, can be great. For instance, you could use the arcane trickster prestige class (which is core), which grants both spellcasting and sneak attack—it hurts your skills some, and your talents a lot, but it still works out a whole lot better since you can end up with a lot of spellcasting. Similarly, the eldritch scoundrel archetype (which is not core, but for the record) trades a lot of skills, talents, and sneak attack for spellcasting. But those kinds of costs are what spellcasting demands to be really relevant.

If you are more interested in being mostly a rogue with just a tiny selection of spells, you’re better off just sticking with magic items. If you absolutely need magic of your own, then use the magic talents. Multiclassing in Pathfinder comes with some pretty hefty costs, and those low-level spells aren’t really going to be worth it.

But if you still insist on dipping sorcerer, then you need much more utility—focus on spells that allow you to do more things, particularly out-of-combat things, rather than attempting to gain a combat advantage there—you won’t find one. Some better low-level spells, just for examples:

  • Cantrips:

    • Dancing lights, detect magic, mage hand—All good choices; don’t want you thinking that they aren’t if they don’t appear here. Detect magic in particular.

    • Acid splash—near-useless in combat, but out of combat you can get a lot of utility out of acid splash, by using it on objects. Acid will eat through locks, chests, doors, even walls if you use enough, and since cantrips are at-will, if you’ve got the time you can apply enough acid. Notably, since you need to use so much acid to get through tough objects, this is one of the few cases where actually having the sorcerer level is distinctly and substantially superior to using a magic item or rogue talent, since only a proper spellcaster gets the cantrips at will.

    • Ghost sound—A decent way to supply a distraction. Basically a vastly improved version of the old “throw a rock over there to make some noise away from your position” trope.

    • Message—Decent-enough, stealthy-enough communication at a distance. Quite solid.

  • 1st-level spells:

    • Reduce person—excellent for infiltration, can open up a lot of new doors that you can’t use otherwise.

    • Disguise self—Obvious applications.

    • Grease—Probably the best 1st-level spell in the game. We have a whole Q&A on it. Vastly better if you can boost your caster level, however; perhaps ask your GM if you guys can start using traits, so you can take the Magical Knack trait? It would certainly fit your character. Note that you will have to ask your GM about how balancing does or doesn’t work with respect to becoming flat-footed and thus getting sneak attack. Also note that at high levels, between flying foes and the lack of time to cast a standard-action spell, you will eventually use this much less.

    • Magic aura—Hide the magic you’re using. Comes up kind of rarely and I’d prefer it in a wand or something, but still.

    • Mount—A much longer-lasting speed boost than expeditious retreat; less useful in combat but again, combat usage shouldn’t be your goal here.

    • Summon monster—Nearly useless with CL 1st, but if you, for instance, took the Magical Knack trait to boost your caster level, could be like a weaker bag of tricks. But then, you could just buy a bag of tricks...

    • Ventriloquism—Basically an improved ghost sound, useful for the same reasons that ghost sound is.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It might also be worth mentioning how inexpensive magic items are that straight-up duplicate these spells in relation to the vast wealth of a high-level rogue. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 4 '17 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Good point! Will add that, right up front. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 4 '17 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan, Thanks. This is a lot to think about. Clearly one thing that matters is the availability of magic items for purchase. I can see how it would nullify low-level spells if it's easy to buy wands, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – jtolle Dec 14 '17 at 0:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am curious about your comment that non-touch AC has little value. Could you explain? \$\endgroup\$ – jtolle Dec 14 '17 at 0:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jtolle So non-touch (armor, shield, natural armor) AC comes in a big wodge early in the game (from the armor and/or shields you use), and that is definitely worth it—non-magical items are cheap in the grand scheme of things, and getting +4 or more AC for a couple hundred gp is definitely worth it. But every additional bonus to AC after that is very expensive—enhancement bonuses on armor and shields start at 1000 gp for +1, and scale quadratically (4000 for +2, 9000 for +3, etc) which is a whole lot. An amulet of natural armor costs twice what they do. All for small, incremental bonuses \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 14 '17 at 1:04

You write that you plan to take the Minor Magic and Major Magic rogue talents, plus one level of draconic sorcerer after that.

Taking both the rogue talents that give SLAs and a level in sorcerer is not only redundant, but also somewhat counterproductive. The Minor Magic and Major Magic rogue talents are based off of Intelligence, while Sorcerer spells use Charisma. You will need a minimum of 11 in both Intelligence and Charisma to take advantage of them both. But more than that, you're wasting two rogue talents on two spells, while your single level in Sorcerer gets you two 1st level spells known and 4 cantrips. If you really want more spells, either ask your GM for permission to take the Expanded Arcana feat from the Advanced Player's Guide, which gives you another 1st level spell known (or two cantrips), or for permission to change the rogue talents to use Charisma (assuming you don't already have 11+ in both).

Some comments on the spells: With one level as a sorcerer, you won't be able to use spells in combat as effectively as a full caster. A rogue is probably better at trying to get in another sneak attack than at casting a spell such as shield in the middle of melee (and with its short duration, it would have to be cast immediately before melee). You should be looking more for utility spells (as Alphaeus' answer says, toolboxing) than combat spells. Your ordinary attack against most enemies should be your melee sneak attack, because that's why you're a thief.

Some notes on spell selection:

Ray of Frost - a few ranged-touch sneak attacks per day

Ray of frost is a good idea to take because it targets touch AC, which can help against high AC enemies, but you are also probably going to have to sacrifice a lot of potential damage from melee every time you use it. (Also, if you take it as a sorcerer cantrip, it can be used an unlimited number of times a day)

Shield - survive a few minutes in the middle of melee

As noted above, this isn't a very efficient action in the middle of combat. Attack defensively instead if need be.

True Strike for occasional impossible hits

You have to give up a standard action to use true strike. Attacking twice is usually a better course of action. If you want a spell against high AC enemies, try magic missile instead, which has the added benefit of being useful against incorporeal targets and never missing.

Expeditious Retreat for all kinds of situations

This is a good example of a utility spell. Let me also suggest mount, silent image, and obscuring mist as other examples of this kind of spell for you to look at.

Finally, you should note that the more situational spells can be purchased as potions (or wands, if you train Use Magic Device), so if you want more spells than what you get as a first-level sorcerer, buying magic items or potions is an option.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A small note: acid splash seems to be a better choice than ray of frost because it ignores SR, which can be quite an issue once strong monsters and golems start popping out. \$\endgroup\$ – AndreySarafanov Dec 4 '17 at 8:35

As @ba wrote, taking both the sorcerer level and the talents are probably too much, but that's your choice. About your choice of spells:

Ray of Frost - a few ranged-touch sneak attacks per day

That's a nice option to have, and the more you go high in level the more touch attacks are interesting.

Shield - survive a few minutes in the middle of melee

Meh, especially if you don't dual-wield, as you can simply take a real shield.

Draconic claws - a few rounds of no-penalty two-weapon fighting per day

You will have iterative attacks, this is not better.

True Strike for occasional impossible hits

Similar role with Ray of frost, you probably don't need both.

pros: you can use it with siege weapons and that's damn cool, or when fighting creatures that don't rely on armor (the higher your level the less likely you will be to encounter them, but still it happens), or against mirror-imaged foes, or foes with spell resistance.

cons: require you to cast it and then attack (ray of frost includes the attack in the casting), doesn't offer a new damage type, doesn't work if you are caught unarmed

Expeditious Retreat for all kinds of situations

Meh, your mage should probably already cast haste every fight. If he doesn't you should invest in haste boots.

plus Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Mage Hand, etc.

Those won't probably be very useful if you have another caster in the team, but that's not really a matter of levels.

Among the spells you didn't (but should) think about:


Very cool trick that let you disappear in plain sight. However it becomes useless if you get a ring of invisibility.

Shocking Grasp

In the same vein as Ray of Frost and True Strike. Have different pros (more damages) and cons (melee)

Chill Touch

Similar again, the interesting part here is that you can use it for one attack per level.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't mind -1s, but I prefer to know why, so I can improve this answer, or future ones. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Dec 5 '17 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer was helpful to me at least...thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – jtolle Dec 14 '17 at 0:55

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