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The October 2019 Unearthed Arcana introduced the Revived archetype for Rogues, which while not being the most mechanically powerful archetype, has some fun flavour that fits very well into the gothic homebrew campaign I'm playing.

Probably the most-used feature is Bolts from the Grave:

Bolts from the Grave

3rd-level Revived feature

You have learned to unleash bolts of necrotic energy from within your revived body. Immediately after you use your Cunning Action, you can make a ranged spell attack against a creature within 30 feet of you, provided you haven’t used your Sneak Attack this turn. You are proficient with it, and you add your Dexterity modifier to its attack and damage rolls. A creature hit by this attack takes necrotic damage equal to your Sneak Attack. This uses your Sneak Attack for the turn

Working on the assumption that RAW, this allows the Rogue to inflict sneak attack damage twice per round by using their Bonus Action on (any) Cunning Action turn to unleash a Bolt from the Grave, then using their Action to ready an attack that fulfils the necessary conditions to do Sneak attack damage during someone else's turn. Whether or not this is overpowered is not the question (it probably is...).

Compared with the rest of the party I'm doing a lot of damage, but although this is useful it's also kind of boring because it slightly reduces the Rogue's trademark flexibility and takes away their trademark single devastating attack. Obviously I don't have to use the feature, but then I'm at a disadvantage because I'm not utilising a central part of my archetype.

So, I came up with this alternative version of Bolts from the Grave, and I'm interested in a mechanical analysis of this and to know this:

Is this overpowered relative to Bolts from the Grave?

I'd also be interested to know any thoughts about whether this is overpowered relative to other Rogue archetypes or in general, although obviously that's a much more complicated question to answer.

Marked for the Grave

3rd-level Revived feature

When you hit a creature with a sneak attack, spirits of your past lives reach from the afterlife to help drag that creature to the depths of hell. They disrupt that creature's attacks and defenses, and infest its wounds with malevolent energy. You are granted a pool of grave dice equal to your current sneak attack bonus lasting until the beginning of your next turn. Until then, when the affected creature attacks, is attacked, or is hit by an attack, may spend one grave die to grant one of the following effects, as appropriate:

  • When the affected creature makes an attack, the target may roll 1d6 and subtract this from the affected creature's attack roll as the spirits slow the creature.
  • When the affected creature is attacked, the attacker may roll 1d6 and subtract this from the affected creature's AC for this attack only as the spirits dull the creature's reactions.
  • When an attack hits the affected creature, the attacker may add 1d6 necrotic damage to the damage of the attack as the wound festers.

The use of dice must be declared before rolling the relevant attack or damage. Only one dice can be used per attack.

The total damage incurred by this feature will never be more than that of Bolts from the Grave, and will likely be less. The benefits of the feature are shared out among the party in the form of a damage boost or an attack/defense buff (although in the form of a defense/attack debuff on the creature). On average, the attack/defense debuffs will be less than the effects of disadvantage (-3.5 as opposed to -5), so not enormous. Am I missing anything?

My DM is generally favourable to the idea of switching the feature out somehow, but wants to be sure it's not overpowered in a way we haven't thought about yet.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil May 4 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil Thank you! Out of interest so I know for the future, what's the difference between the homebrew and homebrew-review tags? The name of the latter seemed slightly more appropriate, but the descriptions were almost identical and the former was more widely used so I guessed they were equivalent. \$\endgroup\$ – TJC May 5 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ [homebrew-review] is for evaluating (of some kind) of a specific piece of homebrew, [homebrew] is for the topic in general. You can hover over a tag for a brief description (and click and go to "learn more" for more in depth on most tags). \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil May 5 at 21:25
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This feature is significantly stronger than Bolts from the Grave.

Your homebrew rogue can deal much more damage than with the Unearthed Arcana feature "Bolts of the Grave". Since Bolts of the Grave uses the rogue's Sneak Attack, this means that can deal the Sneak Attack damage once per turn, in the form of necrotic damage. It's still a useful feature, because it only requires a bonus action, so the rogue can use their Action for something else.

Compare that to your third ability, where you add necrotic damage to other attacks versus the affected creature. Since this ability is triggered by a Sneak Attack, the rogue is effectively increasing their Sneak Attack damage for the turn. If the rogue Sneak Attacks a creature and enough allies also hit the creature, then the rogue has effectively doubled their Sneak Attack damage from the initial attack, albeit the extra damage is dealt as necrotic damage from your allies. Furthermore, the rogue has the option to spend that extra damage as support and debuff effects.

Note that I've only counted the Sneak Attack damage output per the rogue's turn. Any rogue can potentially get an additional Sneak Attack per round, as part of their reaction on another creature's turn, such as an opportunity attack.

The feature is overpowered in some other ways.

The most similar feature is Bardic Inspiration, the defining feature of the Bard class. However, while Bardic Inspiration is balanced by resource limitations and action expenditure, your rogue's feature does not have those costs or restrictions. In a way, your rogue has an infinite supply of specialized Bardic Inspiration dice.

On the other hand, these abilities only apply to attack and damage rolls. So the party's overall combat effectiveness will be significantly better, but this feature does nothing outside of combat.

Resource limitation and refresh:

  • Bard has a number of Bardic Inspiration dice (starting at d6) equal to their Charisma modifier. This pool recharges after a long rest, or after a short rest starting at 5th level. Either way, they can't afford to use it every round in combat.

  • Your rogue's pool of d6s starts at 2d6, and completely refreshes each turn. So they can spam this ability every round.

Scaling with character level:

  • Bard: The maximum roll of the Inspiration die increases with the bard's level. The pool size scales with their Charisma modifier, which is normally up to +5.

  • Your rogue: The number of d6s in the pool scales with the rogue's level, about one d6 per half the rogue's level. So it starts at 2 dice and can increase up to 10 dice.

Penalize enemy attacks

  • As a reaction, Bards of the Lore college subclass can spend and roll the Inspiration die, and subtract the result from an enemy's attack roll (or ability check or damage roll).

  • Your rogue can subtract 1d6 from the enemy's attack roll, without expending a reaction.

Assist ally attacks

  • As a bonus action, Bards can expend an Inspiration die for an ally. Once within the next 10 minutes, that ally can roll the die and add the result as a bonus to their attack roll.

  • Your rogue can effectively add +1d6 to a creature's attack roll, without expending an action. Any creature that targets the "affected creature" can trigger this effect.

Extra damage on attacks

  • Bards of the Valor college subclass can expend and roll their Inspiration die, and add the result to a weapon damage roll made by the bard.

  • Your rogue can add 1d6 necrotic damage to any form of attack, including spell attacks. Any creature that targets the "affected creature" can trigger this effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good comparison against the barred subclass option. But what about against the existing UA that they are trying to replace? I think that's what they ended up asking. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 4 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MikeQ thanks for your response, my bad for changing it - a now-deleted comment suggested that requesting a broad comparison was too general. I do think you perhaps slightly miss the fact that RAW, Bolts from the Grave allows two sneak attacks per round by use of readied actions, so the total damage per round is the same, but nonetheless you're very clear that both Bolts from the Grave and my alternative are very overpowered compared with other classes. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – TJC May 5 at 20:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TJC In theory, Sneak Attack can be used once per turn, up to twice per round; once on the rogue's turn, and once as a reaction on someone else's turn (such as an opportunity attack). With "Bolts from the Grave", that's also once per turn, up to twice per round. If we're counting that reaction, then your homebrew rogue can potentially deal 3x its Sneak Attack damage per round. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ May 5 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MikeQ yes, of course, my point was that my alternative had exactly the same amount of possible damage output - of course, without the second attack roll which is not inconsequential. I think I misread your original answer to imply a bigger difference between the two than you meant. Appreciate your response! \$\endgroup\$ – TJC May 5 at 20:58
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It is overpowered unless there is a limit to its usage

As written Marked for the Grave can be used every round with functionally no cost. The rogue would already be probably making a sneak attack every round so the grave dice are a straight bonus. In addition to regular sneak attack you also impose a de-buff without any additional chance for a save. At level 20 the Rogue will have 10 grave dice that they can use to help every one of their teammates attack the creature and impede every one of the creatures attacks.

I would compare this to the Lore Bard's Cutting Words feature which can be used a max of five times per day, cannot lower AC or do additional damage, and costs the Bard's reaction. Even considering that the Bards dice scale up just allowing the Rogue to impede every one of the creature's attacks without using a reaction makes Marked for the Grave superior.

Some options to make it better balanced:

  • Don't have the number of dice scale. Leave it at one or two dice or, at most, dice equal to the Rogue's CHA/INT/WIS modifier.

  • Have it be a full action, without any attack associated with it, a bonus action to apply, and/or a reaction to activate.

  • Give it a Charisma saving throw to avoid the effects like the spell Bane

  • Limit it to just the additional damage when hit by an attack

  • Limit it's usage per day. I would say without changing anything else limiting it to once per long rest would make it fairly balanced.

  • Give the afflicted creature advantage on attacks against the rogue

  • Give the Rogue vulnerability to the afflicted creature's damage

Some combinations that I think would be not be overpowered:

  • It can be used once per long rest

  • only one d6 and it uses your reaction

  • 2d6 and it requires a bonus action to apply and gives a (no attack) Charisma saving throw against 8+prof+[CHA/INT/WIS]

  • d6 equal to your [CHA/INT/WIS] modifier and it uses your full action to apply and is limited to once per short rest or thrice per long rest

  • Requires a bonus action in addition to hitting with an Attack action to apply. It can only inflict additional necrotic damage. Limited to once per creature but the dice don't expire on your next turn unless you use the ability again.

Admittedly the Revived Rogue's Bolts from the Grave is itself overpowered (it probably shouldn't allow multiple sneak attacks) so the relative increase in power is less but functionally still exists. This is because Bolts from the Grave was at least somewhat costly in that it used the Rogue's reaction and so prevented an opportunity attack and had an additional chance to miss. For group dynamics as well Bolts from the Grave was potent but really only made the rogue better at dealing damage. Marked for the Grave starts to step on the Bards' toes by being more powerful and more easy to use than bardic inspiration. Having the Rogue act on every turn could also swiftly slow down gameplay.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you also think that it's overpowered compared against the original subclass ability? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 4 at 19:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, because the original subclass ability at least consumed the reaction and required an additional roll to hit. It might also be worth considering that having your character be able to act on so many other creatures turns might be a distraction from the game. With the original ability it was restricted to a single readied action whereas the revision has the rogue making a decision potentially every turn of combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Odo May 4 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that OP requested the review against the original subclass it may be better to spend a little bit of time covering that. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 4 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Odo thanks very much for your response - interesting that you independently compared against a bard feature. I agree with you that Bolts from the Grave as it stands is already fairly OP! I think my DM and I are going to work together to make a more balanced version of Marked for the Grave and we'll certainly be drawing on your suggestions. I think I should probably mark MikeQ's answer as best as it did answer the main questions more thoroughly, but your constructive suggestions were really helpful so I wanted to say how much I appreciated them! Thanks again. \$\endgroup\$ – TJC May 5 at 21:01
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Overpowered compared to the original

The original

The original one was pretty powerful to begin with, giving you basically a second (but limited option) attack. For a rogue, that's pretty good!

But your assessment that it would give you two sneak attacks is incorrect. Sneak attack is still a once per turn ability, and if you did it on your first attack, then you wouldn't be able to do it on this one.

The homebrew

This is very similar to the Lore Bard's Cutting Words, but actually more powerful in effect. Unlike the Lore Bard (at least until much higher levels), you can use this for your own attack rolls. It also allows for extra damage rather than damage reduction.

Refreshing the dice every turn is incredibly overpowered. That level of refresh for such a mechanic is above and beyond anything else. It's more balanced if it's just Long Rest and you align it more like the Bard Inspiration Dice:

  • You can use to subtract from an attack roll against you or an someone else
  • You can hand out to an ally to add to their attack/save/ability check
  • You can use to add necrotic damage
  • Refresh on Long Rest
  • Number equal to your Dexterity modifier
  • Any dice handed out disappear after 10 minutes

Alternatively, you can just leave the original if you'd prefer as the sneak attack isn't an issue. It gives you a second attack without going two-weapon fighting and keeps your Cunning Action viable with your bonus action. If you miss with your primary attack, having that in your back pocket is pretty darn good.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for your response. I didn't mean to say that it would give two sneak attacks, but that it would deal damage effectively equivalent to two sneak attacks, but I appreciate your clarification. Thanks again! \$\endgroup\$ – TJC May 5 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TJC I thought you said at the end of the quote that it also uses your sneak attack for the turn. That would still mean that if you'd already done your SA, then it wouldn't trigger on this attack. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 5 at 21:24
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Overpowered

Bolts from the Grave, if you hit, gives you a sneak attack worth of damage, at the cost of your sneak attack for that turn. It requires you to use your Cunning Action.

Marked for the Grave gives you a sneak attack worth of attack debuff, AC debuff, damage, or some combination thereof, at the cost of your sneak attack for that turn. It requires you to hit with an attack.

Even a cursory comparison reveals Marked for the Grave is far more versatile, but it gets worse.

Opportunity Attacks

If you attack on your turn and proc Marked for the Grave, you can then later use an opportunity attack to mark a second target. Bolts from the Grave is overpowered because it almost guarantees a second sneak attack, but Marked for the Grave allows potentially 3 sneak attacks.

Bounded Accuracy

In 5e AC and hit bonuses are tightly controlled. Generally speaking it is easier to get more damage than it is to get more hit bonuses, and far easier than getting more AC. CR 20 monsters typically have 20 or less AC. Using a die for -3.5 to AC is probably better than dealing +3.5 damage. Using a die to give the enemy -3.5 to hit is probably better than dealing +3.5 damage.

3.5 is huge, it's almost as big as advantage/disadvantage, but better yet, it stacks with advantage/disadvantage!

Utility

Rogues deal 1 big hit, they stealth, they act first, they are mobile, they disarm traps, and they open locks. They do a little more than that, but that's the main gist of it.

What don't they do? Debuff enemy AC, debuff enemy attacks, buff allied attacks. Marked for the Grave gives the rogue a whole bunch of utility that they just don't have access to. While I think that's great, it just does make the ability a lot more powerful.

Flexibility

Bolts of the Grave deals damage from up to 30ft. Marked for the Grave debuffs AC, hit, and deals damage. It's doing a lot!

Suggestions

So you like utility, I like it too. Bolts from the Grave is OP and boring, I basically agree.

To keep it balanced, I would have it do just 1 thing. That makes it infinitely easier to balance.

I would also make sure it is simple. Bolts from the Grave isn't something you need to keep track of, it's not something that requires a ton of extra decisions. Marked for the Grave is far more complex. Not only do you need to keep track of Grave Die, but you also need to make a lot of decisions about what types of bonuses to use, when, etc. This doesn't unbalance the feature, but you will be using it every single round. Make sure it's simple.

Bolts from the Grave also drastically changes the way rogue plays. You can run around a lot more, you have a free ranged attack, it's an amazing feature even if you don't double sneak attack. You may want your feature to be similarly game-changing.

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