The Shadowdancer is a prestige class from 3.5e. Since, in 5e, prestige classes were replaced by class archetypes (for example, the Assassin prestige class from 3.5e is now represented by the Assassin roguish archetype in 5e), I've decided to have a go at converting the Shadowdancer prestige class form 3.5e into a 5e roguish archetype.

My goal is to create a roguish archetype that is balanced compared to the other RAW archetypes, but at the same time has the same flavour as the Shadowdancer from 3.5e. I don't mind if it's a strong archetype, but I don't want it to be so strong that it's unbalanced, broken even.

Insight into Design

Firstly, I chose Rogue as the base class for which this will be an archetype because half of the Shadowdancer's features from 3.5e are part of the core Rogue class in 5e anyway, so it seemed like a natural fit.

Specifically, there's Evasion, Uncanny Dodge (although in 3.5e that seems to be related to flanking, which is optional in 5e), Defensive Roll (which seems more like what 5e's Uncanny Dodge does) and Slippery Mind (also improved versions of some of these, specifically Improved Uncanny Dodge and Improved Evasion).

The remaining features, Hide in Plain Sight, Darkvision, Shadow Illusion, Summon Shadow and Shadow Jump, these are what I believe should be the archetype features for my new roguish archetype. I've included commentaries below explaining my thought process when deciding how to represent these in 5e.

New Archetype

So, here's what I've done to try to represent these features in 5e. The parts in nested quotation format in italics are my design commentary.

Roguish Archetype: Shadowdancer

Operating in the border between light and darkness, shadowdancers are nimble artists of deception. They are mysterious and unknown, never completely trusted but always inducing wonder when met. Despite their link with shadows and trickery, shadowdancers are as often good as evil.

Flavour text taken from here (since NWN2 is where my knowledge of 3.5e primarily comes from anyway, so I might as well borrow their flavour text).

Hide in Plain Sight. Starting at 3rd level, you can hide from your enemies even while being observed. You can take the Hide action even when you are in plain sight of the creatures you are trying to hide from so long as you are within 10 feet of dim light. However, you cannot try to hide using your own shadow.

I know this uses the same name as a ranger's class feature, but the flavour of that feature didn't feel the same as what the shadowdancer was going for at all, and this also seemed like a key feature of the shadowdancer to me (hence also why I wanted it to be their 3rd level feature), so I decided to come up with my own implementation of it, despite sharing the same name. Some of the wording (i.e. "dim light") was based on these related Q&As. My concern is that this might be too powerful for a 3rd level feature; if this could end up being functionally the same as casting invisibility at will, then maybe this would be better off as the 17th level feature?

Shadow Sight. At 3rd level, you gain darkvision out to a range of 60 feet. If you already have darkvision from your race, its range increases by 30 feet.

This is taken directly from the Gloom Stalker ranger's Umbral Sight feature. It seemed the best way to implement the Darkvision feature, a better fit in my opinion than Eyes of the Dark from the Shadow Sorcerer, which was my other choice. I didn't want the rest of the Umbral Sight feature, though, since being hiding from enemies in the dark is what the Hide in Plain Sight feature above is for. That said, taking Umbral Sight as-is instead of Hide in Plain Sight might solve any problems from my concerns with it being too powerful, since if it's good enough for Gloom Stalker rangers at 3rd level, it should be good enough here.

Shadow Jump. At 9th level, you gain the ability to step from one shadow into another. When you are in dim light or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see that is also in dim light or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make before the end of the turn.

This is exactly Shadow Step from the Way of Shadows monk. Hence 9th level seems appropriate given that a Way of Shadows monk would have had this at 6th level.

Shadow Illusion. At 13th level, you can create visual illusions from shadows. You can cast silent image once per long rest.

This seems kinda weak to me. I'm not sure whether I should make it stronger, like having it be once per short rest, or adding more spells like Shadow Arts from the Way of Shadows monk, or whether it should be moved to be an earlier feature, perhaps something gained at 3rd level? The solution I've gone with is having it be a ribbon feature alongside Shadowy Dodge (below), taken from the Gloom Stalker ranger, since it seemed to fit the Shadowdancer's theme.

Shadowy Dodge. Starting at 13th level, you can dodge in unforeseen ways, with wisps of supernatural shadow around you. Whenever a creature makes an attack roll against you and doesn't have advantage on the roll, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on it. You must use this feature before you know the outcome of the attack roll.

Taken directly from the Gloom Stalker ranger. As I said above, I gave the Shadowdancer this because it fits them thematically, and Shadow Illusion by itself didn't seem like quite enough. Given that Gloom Stalker rangers get it at 15th level, it didn't seem a problem for Shadowdancers to have it at 13th level, especially since it denies them the use of Uncanny Dodge as well. I'm aware that it becomes stronger once rogues reach 18th level and get the Elusive feature, so I'm not sure if that would unbalance this significantly; I'm assuming probably not?

Summon Shadow. At 17th level, you can summon a shadow, an undead shade. As an action, you summon a shadow, which uses the statistics of a wraith from the Monster Manual, but its alignment matches yours and it does not have the Create Spectre action. The shadow lasts until it is dropped to 0 hit points, at which point it disappears. If you summon another shadow whilst you already have a shadow summoned, the first one disappears. You can use this feature again once you finish a long rest.

I was a little unsure of what to do with this one. Summoning an ally (which can help you get sneak attack) seemed like a powerful ability, but merely summoning a CR 1/2 shadow seemed rather underwhelming for a 17th level ability, so I increased it to a CR 5 creature, a wraith. It might be that I'd be better off keeping it as a CR 1/2 shadow and swapping this feature with Hide in Plain Sight, since summoning a shadow might seem better off as a low level ability after all, and the Hide in Plain Sight can get away with being effectively at-will invisibility. However, this is the solution I've gone for.


My question is simply: is this balanced compared to other roguish archetypes?

The above was designed with flavour in mind, which I'd rather keep as much as possible, but I have also considered the balance implications by taking other features from other classes where possible, and trying to place them at the levels where I believe they are the most balanced.

However, my commentaries above show that I have a couple of "backup plans", such as changing my 3rd level features for Umbral Sight from the Gloom Stalker ranger as-is alongside Shadow Illusion, or to make Summon Shadow a 3rd level ability and Hide in Plain Sight a 17th level ability. If my above attempt has balance issues, hopefully one or more of these backup plans would resolve those issues?


1 Answer 1


Not entirely balanced, but not game-breaking

It is difficult to create a design that completely breaks the game because a lot of the balance is created through health point and proficiency bonus gains when leveling. Your design could work in a game with a good DM and decent players.

There are a few aspects about your design, however, that are noticeably stronger than other Roguish Archetypes.

Hide in Plain Sight as you have created it is a very potent ability for a rogue. A frequent issue with rogues in general is trying to hide every turn to get advantage. In the regular rules this can be addressed by an enemy walking around the pile of crates so the cover is lost, or by having the DM giving disadvantage to the check on later attempts. Hide in Plain Sight however seems to invite the same strategy while making counters less reasonable.

A rogue at level 3 can easily have +7 to stealth checks. Using a quick random sample (the first 20 CR5 monsters in Basic Rules on dndbeyond) at CR 5 the average passive perception was 12.5 giving the rogue a 75% chance of success. On a success the rogue has safety from attacks until a creature uses an action to find them or stumbles over them. They also gain advantage on their next attack and therefore sneak attack and an increased chance to crit.

It is difficult to prove imbalance but for comparison a Swashbuckler at the same level gets to avoid provoking an opportunity attack from a single creature (Fancy Footwork) and can Sneak Attack when only one creature is nearby (Rakish Audacity). These features have a weakness, multiple enemies, just as Hide in Plain Sight relies on dim light. It also grants similar advantages allowing the rogue to avoid attacks and get sneak attack. But an enemy can still chase after the Swashbuckler or hit them at range whereas Hide in Plain Sight forces them to take the search action likely preventing them from attacking and allows the rogue to remain at a distance. Because hidden also grants advantage Hide in Plain Sight is easily superior the Swashbuckler's features at level 3 and the Swashbuckler is strong at level 3 compared to other archetypes.

You could try to make it better balanced by specifying greater limitations and weaknesses. Limiting it to being in dim light and specifying that they are automatically revealed at the start of their next turn so that they would need to hide again to a would make it more balanced. Alternatively you could limit it to 10ft of darkness, or specify that it will grant sneak attack until the end of their next turn but not advantage.

Shadow Jump is by itself very useful to a rogue, who benefits more from advantage than a monk does, and cannot be considered weak enough to balance the first feature. Just having an easy means to consistently get advantage is a big boost to a rogue. As Pyrotechnical pointed out using Shadow Jump conflicts with using Cunning Action to Hide in Plain Sight. In this sense the feature is relatively less useful because it is competing for the bonus action and because advantage is already easily gained. For stealth when not engaged in combat, however, this feature does offer a cool ability with the rogue teleporting then standard action hiding. An alternative way to structure this feat would be to 120 ft like the Shadow Sorcerer's Shadow Walk and offer advantage on a stealth check directly after teleporting.

The next issue is two features at level 13. No other Archetype gets this and most archetypes get more situational or roleplaying based features. As Ben Barden pointed out, however, Shadowy Dodge conflicts directly with Uncanny dodge and has generally worse mechanical benefit (unless half damage would be fatal) because disadvantage will reduce the hit chance by less than 50%. Having two abilities then might be unusual but balanced over all if one is more of a reflavoring of a pre-existing ability. Alternatively it might be worthwhile to drop Shadowy Dodge for the sake of simplicity and, if you think Shadow Illusion needs to be strengthened, you could consider making it Major Image or Blur instead or else increase the number of uses slightly.

Summon Shadow seems fairly well balanced with the other features. Your idea of swapping with Hide in Plain Sight was a good one because Summon Shadow serves the function of helping the rogue get sneak attack without granting advantage and Hide in Plain Sight is more suitable for higher levels. If you do change them I still recommend specifying greater limitations on Hide in Plain Sight to prevent +17 stealth rogues from Hiding at the end of every turn and having advantage at the start.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you expand on your discussion on Shadow Jump? I think it's worth noting that by using it to make the attack, the Rogue has ostensibly given up their ability to hide afterwards. \$\endgroup\$ May 1, 2020 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent analysis....though I disagree with your initial point on it being "hard to break the game" by designing something. I can't count the number of sub-classes I've seen that flip Action Economy on its head so badly that one PC is equivalent to an entire party, or give you attacks that are basically an at-will Fireball, or do things like "you have a dragon as a pet, by level 12 it has the stats of an Adult of its species." :D \$\endgroup\$ May 1, 2020 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ important point: shadowy dodge competes directly with uncanny dodge, to the degree that it's nearly a ribbon power. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    May 1, 2020 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS Yes, I think summoning a shadow would be fine at 3rd level. It is potent at level 3 but becomes much less helpful at later levels and can only be used one per long rest. I think by relative to level the effect is comparable to the Hexblade's Accursed Specter feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – user60913
    May 4, 2020 at 0:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Up to you if you want to update your answer to include that, but I'm happy with all of this either way. Accepted \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    May 4, 2020 at 8:56

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