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Inspired by this question "Reckless Attack + Sneak Attack synergy?".

This question brought my attention to something that seems odd. I was about to make a house ruling that in order to be able to utilize Sneak Attack that you had to choose the Dexterity option on the finesse weapon, this seems thematically sound as well as implied by the text in the ability. One of my players has tried to counter argue the point. Since I was not really convinced by his argument I thought I would ask the community.

Sneak Attack PHB 96 (emphasis mine):

Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon.

Finesse weapons have the text as follows PHB 147 (emphasis mine):

When making an attack with a finesse weapon, you use your choice of your Strength or Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls. You must use the same modifier for both rolls.

I understand that this would pidgeon-hole Rogues to be more Dexterity based but to be quite honest they already are quite reliant on it as most of their base kit and skills are leaning that direction. Most brute Rogues are multi-classed into a martial class in my experience as well. In addition classes are in and of themselves pidgeon-hole anyway.

To strike subtly implies to me more Dexterity rather than Strength.

So would making this change do anything imbalanced other than limiting arguably "sub-optimal" builds?

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To answer your question directly:

No, making this change would not be game breaking.

This would impact the damage done by certain character builds - that is true. It very well may make certain character build less fun (like a strength based rogue).

Game breaking is a strong phrase. I don't believe that making this change (or not) would have that big of an impact to a campaign. Campaigns with Barbarian/Rogues can exist with no changes. Campaigns without a Barbarian/Rogue can exist as well.

A question that you really want to answer is: what mechanical problem you are solving by changing the mechanics of how abilities function?

This proposed change would impact strength based rogues. Some players find that in combat, more damage is fun. If you have a player like that in your group, playing a strength based rogue, this will directly impact how much fun that player can have in combat.

If this seems silly, or doesn't make sense, (but isn't causing mechanical issues) my recommendation would be: resolve that issue without changing the ways abilities work.

I see the hilarity in a barbarian being sneaky while also recklessly attacking. However, I'm very averse to changing abilities or mechanics as substantially as this without a clear mechanical problem that the change would fix.

As much as possible, I try to avoid 'fixing' things that aren't yet causing a problem. If you think this may cause a problem in the future, point that out to your players and make sure they clearly understand that if it becomes a problem, something may have to change.

Would making this change (or not) be game breaking? In and of itself, no.

It very possibly may hurt player fun though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to elaborate because I don't understand how this wouldn't be game-breaking for someone who wanted to play a strength-based rogue (which is completely within the rules). \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 2 '18 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Game-breaking" is an ill-defined term. The answer seems to be using it in the broader sense, referring to the overall body of rules. The above comment is using it more in a personal sense: it breaks one specific player's character concept. Some DMs outlaw whole classes or races. This doesn't break the game as a whole, but it does mean that players are more limited in their options. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis May 3 '18 at 4:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I read this answer to consider "gamebreaking" as something that breaks the campaign or balance overall. ie. makes particular challenges redundant or insurmountable. Making a particular character build less effective would be fun-breaking, but the game would still continue with less damage output from one character \$\endgroup\$ – Luke May 3 '18 at 4:14
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Removing balanced player options is unfair (and unfun).

The reason that sneak attack requires finesse (or ranged) weapons is less to do with the Ability (Strength or Dexterity) and more to do with the qualities of a weapon; primarily wieldability (made up word).

Waiting for and/or finding an opening or weak spot is much easier to do with a shortbow or a dagger than it is with a maul or polearm. Whether you're using Dexterity or Strength doesn't change the available window to Sneak Attack, nor how effectively you can take advantage of it.

The real question to ask yourself: What am I fixing with this house rule?
As far as I can tell, you're changing mechanics due to a gut-reaction of a potential problem that may or may not even exist.

So what if a heavily multiclassed character can get sneak attack every round by themselves, at the cost of capstone abilities, ASIs or other class progression? A 3rd-level Swashbuckler can already get Sneak Attack against targets within five feet without needing Advantage or an ally.

You're removing character choice and flexibility to get rid of a non-problem that you find silly. One man's "silly" is another man's "next character", after all ;-)

Most Rogues already have ways to get sneak attacks nearly every round. AND they do it without granting Advantage on attacks against them.


But that's not what you asked, is it? As for balance...

Does removing Strength Sneak Attacks affect Dexterity Rogues?

Technically, but not much. They can't "pull their punches" (using a weaker Strength) and still get Sneak Attack dice. I don't know why anyone would do that, but it is technically a difference.

More interestingly, you've removed some magic item options from Rogues. Normally Strength-based magic items (like Belt of Giant Strength) are a boon to Rogues in combat. Of course, it would normally go to the Fighter or Barbarian, but the Rogue could still benefit from them in a normal game, where they cannot in your world.

Does removing Strength Rogues from the game change anything else?

Not really, no. It just removes what I'll call the "Thug" archetype. Not all rogues are thin and nimble; some are brutish and lumbering. They take what they want by force and dare the victim to try stopping them. If someone wanted to play that sort of character, you've just told them that they're not allowed to. You likely know your table better than I do, but that would cheese my grits, so to speak.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the same as saying that Dwarves can't be Sorcerers nor can Halflings be Barbarians (two of my favorite characters that I've played). You're putting arbitrary restrictions on things just because you don't like the way they sound/seem.

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So, from what I understand of your question, there's a few things to address.

First and most importantly is that you're trying to fix a problem that doesn't actually exist. Yes, the language of the ability states that you are striking subtly, but that doesn't mean that you must be using dexterity. Consider that the ability activates in one of two scenarios

  1. Either you have advantage (sneaking up and stabbing in the back for example) or
  2. You are flanking (attacking while the enemy is distracted).

    In neither of these instances does dexterity inherently play a role. If not for the explicit requirement of using a finesse weapon, you could sneak up behind a guard and smack them with a great maul to stealthily attack and swing with all your strength while you're at it!

    The requirement that you must use a finesse weapon implies that you are trying to aim for a 'weak spot' by using a smaller weapon over which you have more fine control. You can still be swinging or stabbing with full force (strength) though; you're just aiming for a weak spot.

Secondly, and to address the actual question of "would making this change do anything imbalanced other than limiting arguably "sub-optimal" builds?", the answer is absolutely it would.

A strength based rogue is by no means sub-optimal, and would be basically made worthless with this change. Strength rogues tend to sacrifice their dexterity stat in order to allow them to push out higher damage. This is a fair tradeoff typically, and the sneak attack allows them to keep up with other classes. By making the proposed change, you remove this option completely.

It also prevents people from wanting to take a dip into rogue if they aren't already a dexterity based class since the benefits are drastically reduced (just some proficiency?).

Thirdly, to many players "optimal" builds aren't always the most fun. Some players like to experiment with builds that are fun even if they're weaker. Some like to play builds because they're weaker, and they want the challenge. Some just like to have an interesting character concept even if it isn't the "best" character. By making your proposed change, you are cutting off many options for players, going from "this is sub-optimal, but fun" to "this is basically worthless".

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