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This is my first attempt at a homebrew subclass, and I am doing my best to follow all best practices.

Concept Origin

I first started to think of designing a rogue subclass when I was looking for multiclass options for my barbarian. The traditional barbarian did not seem to synergize with any of the other classes fully, and the best option seemed to be the rogue. However, all the synergy came from the base class and none of the official subclasses seemed to offer anything of value to the traditional dumb-smashy barbarian. I began to consider what I might want from a subclass for the purposes of this multiclass.

Then I realized that it was dumb to try to create a subclass for the sole purpose of multiclassing and began to think of what the identity of this class of rogue would be, how I would expect it to be played, and what unfilled niche would it fill.

Flavor and Concept

When I think of rogues in the fantasy setting, I think of the various members of a rogue guild. The thieves, assassins, scouts, masterminds, etc. have all already been accounted for with subclasses. However, in addition to the sneaky, highly skilled roles, an effective rogue guild would have some bashers to do the dirty work. They would shake down merchants for protection money, intimidate politicians, protect smuggled goods, or start bar fights so that the pickpockets or assassins could work in the ensuing chaos.

I have developed the subclass abilities with the idea of a rough, cheap-shotting, honorless thug in mind. It is a class that is intended to have more battlefield control and survivability than some other subclasses, but no direct subclass damage increases. Socially it is intended to rely more on intimidation than deception. It also does not emphasize intelligence as much as other subclasses but instead likely wants a higher constitution.

I am not sure that I am happy with the name of the subclass (I didn’t even have one in mind while I was writing it), and suggestions would be appreciated if there is an appropriate term for this type of rogue that I cannot think of. The current working title is Enforcer

Balance Considerations

In developing this subclass I have looked at the rogue subclasses that I felt were consistent in complexity to this class. I have primarily used Assassin, Mastermind, Scout and Thief. To a lesser extent I have used Inquisitive and Swashbuckler. Arcane Trickster, Phantom and Soulknife did not factor significantly into my development.

Can this be accomplished with another class?

In my opinion the rogue class is more defined by its core attributes than its subclasses. Some subclasses rely more heavily on subclass customization than others. Most of what makes a rogue a rogue comes from the base class, and no other class offers the combination of thieving skills, damage avoidance, sneak attack, expertise, and flavor that the rogue does. I do not think that this concept could be better filled by a heavy-armor wearing fighter, a raging barbarian, or a reflavored monk. While this class nudges the rogue towards “tougher” classes like barbarian, it does it in ways that do not change core of the class. A celestial patron warlock is not invalid just because it pushes into cleric territory, and I think that the same could be said here.

Enforcer

3rd Level Bonus Proficiencies
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with improvised weapons. In addition, when you make an attack with an improvised weapon, it gains the finesse property.

Instigator
Starting at third level, you can use the bonus action granted to you by your Cunning Action to make a Charisma (Intimidation) check contested by a target’s Wisdom (Insight) check. You must be within 10 feet of your target and the target must be able to understand you. If you succeed, you may choose one of the following:

  • Until the start of your next turn, that target has disadvantage on any attack roll against you.
  • Until the start of your next turn, that target has disadvantage on any attack roll that isn’t against you.

Justification

Bonus proficiencies are not usual for 3rd-level rogue archetypes (assassin, mastermind, scout). These proficiencies tread on the feet of Tavern Brawler a little, but the archetype is intended to have some tavern brawling baked in. Additionally, Tavern Brawler is a half-feat and this is only half of the features of the feet, so it feels like a quarter-feet is reasonable. This proficiency is almost entirely flavor in most combats – finesse on an improvised weapon does not make it hit any harder than a dagger. However, the idea of a rogue that can do serious damage by cheap-shotting you with furniture to get sneak attack is incredibly flavorful. Additionally, it could be extremely useful in situations such as escaping from confinement – another situation where I imagine one of these characters finds himself periodically.

Several rogue archetypes give additional uses for cunning action (mastermind, thief) or opportunities to use a skill check for a specific outcome (inquisitive, thief) in combat. The idea is that the rogue issues a series of threats and profanity that is intended either to provoke attack (“Your mama’s so ...") or scare them away from attacking you (“If I get my hands on you I’ll..."). It is based somewhat on the Ancestral Guardians subclass from barbarian but does not grant resistance to anyone and is a contested check that might fail rather than automatic on a hit. I kept the distance to 10 feet because I don’t want it to be too easy to kite around, although I do love the idea of an enraged duergar chasing a foul-mouthed rogue around the room, ignoring all of the battle chaos around him because his insult hit home. I based the insight check on the wisdom saving throw that is granted by the frightful presence of a dragon. A possible change would be to reduce this from 2 options to 1, though I hope it is not too overpowered offering a choice.

Shakedown
At 9th level you have perfected the art of forceful coercion. You have advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) checks made to bargain for a more favorable price on goods and services. Additionally, you have advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) checks made for the purpose of gathering information.

Most of the subclasses that I reviewed did not have the 9th level ability add a specific combat improvement (Thief, Mastermind, Assassin). I decided to make this a social improvement consistent with the flavor of the class. Initially I had only planned to make this apply to ways to make additional gold, but gold in 5e is not a big deal after a certain point and so I wanted it to have another use. Rogues are masters of skills and many subclasses (Mastermind, Inquisitive, Scout) grant improvements on methods of intelligence gathering. Keeping with the idea of this class shifting away from intelligence and towards thuggery, I thought improving Intimidation for the purposes of information gathering would be appropriate. I did not want to grant advantage for all Intimidation checks due to the Instigator ability. The language is vague because I want it to apply to the following situations, as well as substantially similar ones, but I would prefer to keep the ability description shorter:

  • Selling specialty goods to a shopkeeper
  • Buying specialty good from a merchant
  • Negotiating a price for quest or job
  • Hiring someone to do a job

Pocket Sand

At 13th level you have learned a variety of ways to gain an edge in a fight. When you are targeted by a melee attack, you can use your reaction to force the attacker to make a Dexterity saving throw (DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Dexterity modifier). If the save fails, the target is blinded until the end of its next turn. It may use an action to remove the blinded condition.

You may use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus. You regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.

13th-level abilities tend to run the spectrum in power, but they are all very flavorful. I had trouble figuring out a power level for this because some 13th level abilities seem very strong (Inquisitive, thief) very weak (Mastermind, Swashbuckler) or very situational (Assassin). I had some trouble with the language here as I could not find a good template in other subclasses and advice would be appreciated, if necessary. The goal is to have an ability that improves survivability without simply tacking on AC. It also is consistent with the idea of this subclass as an unscrupulous brawler, hurling sand in the eyes of a foe. As a reaction this competes with uncanny dodge and opportunity attacks, which are both very useful, and therefore needs to be powerful enough to consider. I set the DC based on the Soulknife’s “rend mind” feature.

Additional considerations:

  • I considered requiring the rogue to see the target, but at 14th level the rogue gets blindsense so it did not seem necessary.
  • I am not sure if I should require a free hand.
  • The one round seems short as a duration and I had considered 1 minute since it can be easily removed with an action. However I supposed that the target can ignore the disadvantage and take its attacks anyway if it does not want to use its action and this was a consideration to lower the power level.
  • I could have the uses restore on a short rest instead of long rest. Or, you know, however long it takes to fill your pockets back up with sand.

Comfortably Numb

At 17th level you have learned how to separate your mind from your body, making yourself numb to pain. As a bonus action you can enter a state of mental disconnect for 1 minute (10 rounds). During this time, you gain resistance to magical and nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. In addition, while you are in this state you have immunity to the charmed condition. If you were charmed when you entered this state, the effects are suppressed until the state ends.

Once you use this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

At this level many of the rogue classes can put out huge damage. The assassin and thief can essentially double their opening round damage. Scout and Inquisitive have a significant and consistent increase. This subclass is less focused on raising the rogue’s overall damage output beyond the base class and instead is focused on increases survivability and battlefield control. That is why I landed on an ability that grants resistance to damage for a period of time. The flavor of the idea is that the rogue gets so drunk that he cannot feel normal amounts of pain, but not so drunk that it affects his fighting. I predict the most balance issues with this ability. I have never played a campaign up to this tier and therefore only have research on which to base my concept of balance.

Additional considerations:

  • My first draft had him preparing a ‘potion’ on a short rest and then drinking it with a bonus action. My instinct is to keep the ability simple and not require the potion, so I re-flavored it (but the intent is still there)
  • My first draft also included a period (10 minutes) of gaining the poisoned condition after the effect wore off, to simulate a quick hangover.
  • I am not sure if once per short rest is the reasonable recharge
  • I do not know how much magical bludgeoning/slashing/piercing damage there is
  • The charm immunity was a tack-on, and I am not sure whether it is necessary

Critique is requested and frankness appreciated. Please be kind. Thank you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPGSE. The tour, help center, How to Ask and How to Answer provide guidance on how to get the most out of your participation on this site, which has a restricted format. I applaud the effort you went to, in terms of thoroughness. Please be patient with the feedback and don't edit your question as various comments ask for clarification. We have a 72 hour "wait" best practice for reposting a "Version 1.2" of a home brew after answers start to trickle in. Happy gaming, and again, Welcome! 👍 😃 This meta post has more detail \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12 at 1:05
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This looks like a very fun subclass - I don't even think it treads too close to anything that already exists, maintaining the Rogue's focus on useful bonus actions and reactions and making a rogue with a combat focus on par with the assassin subclass, but without the situational hyper-focus on the first strike damage. My initial impression is that a few class features are probably a little stronger than rogue subclasses, but not to a massive extent.

Bonus Proficiencies

Fun, flavorful, and unlikely to increase overall power outside highly unusual situations where players are deprived of normal weaponry or you want to attack with something really weird. This is practically a freebie that shouldn't unbalance anything.

Instigator

A strong ability when it's working, with an interesting set of restrictions that allow it to be worked around. This is more combat-focused than most other rogue subclasses 3rd level abilities, with the Assassin standing out as the only other purely fighting focused move. Let's compare it to the Armorer Artificer subclasses' Thunder Gauntlets, another third level ability with similar features.

TCE pg. 16

Thunder Gauntlets Each of the armor's gauntlets counts as a simple melee weapon while you aren't holding anything in it, and it deals 1d8 thunder damage on a hit. A creature hit by the gauntlet has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you until the start of your next turn, as the armor magically emits a distracting pulse when the creature attacks someone else.

Comparatively, Instigator is more versatile and has a slightly longer range, but also requires a bonus action instead of being a rider on an attack and requires the target to understand you, making it ineffective against unintelligent enemies. As a minor side note, for flavor reasons you might consider making this ability ineffective against creatures immune to the frightened condition.

One strength of this ability to keep an eye on is the contested roll. Most conditions are applied via attack rolls or saving throws, and many powerful monsters are designed with features like Legendary Resistance to account for this, and tend to be more proficient in saving throws than Insight. Charisma isn't the most useful score for a rogue otherwise, but with a modest CHA bonus and Expertise this is still likely easier to land than an ability using a conventional delivery method. Additionally, since this is a bonus action it's adding a lot of dice rolls. I would consider RevenantBacon's suggestion of either rolling against a passive score, or if this is too consistent considering a CHA or WIS saving throw.

Shakedown

Situationally granting advantage on a specific skill check is consistent with the Thief and Inquisitor rogue abilities at 9th level, and this nicely fits that roll. The only thing I would be careful of with this ability is that it specifically improves bargaining on the price of goods and services. DMs have a wide range of stances on haggling. It's very a minor point, but I would list the advantage on information gathering first in the ability, since it's likely the more universally applicable one. Overall, unlikely to cause issues.

Pocket Sand

This is very interesting one. At first glance, this seems more powerful than many of the other 13th level abilities, being less situational and more combat focused, but it pays for that by forcing the player to choose between this or Uncanny Dodge. I think this is more of an offensive ability than Uncanny Dodge, as it allows a saving throw, and blinding a creature can give your entire party advantage against it, which also allows the rogue to trigger sneak attack without any assistance or special circumstances. Being able to blind a target on their turn, during an attack that is almost certainly their action for the turn, is also deceptively advantageous since every member of your party is guaranteed to take a turn before they have the chance to remove it. This means that the duration is one of your turns, but two or one and a half of theirs, since this takes effect when you are targeted, before they roll the triggering attack. Page 290 of the PHB says about conditions

If multiple effects impose the same condition on a creature, each instance of the condition has its own duration, but the condition's effects don't get worse.

This means that once an enemy attacking the rogue repeatedly has been blinded, they would have to pass two saves in a row to get a sighted melee attack off.

Together, these factors make me think it could be taken down a notch, as I think spamming conditions like blinded generally doesn't lead to fun play patterns. Enemies may be greatly crippled or the DM will use entirely immune creatures as challenges. I like the idea of making this recover on a short rest, or upon taking one or more actions to restock with sand and dirt. This limits how often it can used in an encounter, and makes it more of a surprising trick and not a repeated fighting style based around flinging sand. Making the sand wear off at the start of the opponents next turn could also be used to weaken it slightly if needed - your whole team still gets a chance to counter-attack with advantage, but the enemy only needs to pass one saving throw to get their normal attacks against the rogue.

I don't think this ability is game-breaking, but my experience with playing Monks and Stunning Strike has pushed me away from powerful and highly repeatable status conditions as generally not being terribly fun.

Comfortably Numb

This feels like one of the weaker abilities of the class. Resistance to all the physical damage types as a bonus action is very solid, but at 17th level big swathes of magical damage types are common. Evasion already helps rogues deal with many of those effects however, and on the whole it's still a good utility that's applicable in most fights, less situational than the Inquisitor or Assassin's 17th level abilities. I think immunity to charm is interesting, and that it would even be fun and flavorful to stick immunity to frightened on top of that, and that a short rest recharge feels fair.

Conclusions

All in all, I think this is a strong subclass, but not a broken one. There are a few things about Instigator and Pocket sand that might benefit from some streamlining, especially after some playtesting, but none of them feel like critical issues. This does a good job of being a more combat-focused rogue archetype without being as narrowly focused as the assassin, and I'd be happy to play with someone using this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your feedback. I am not sure that I understand your comment: > "Since nothing stops you from blinding an already blinded opponent, this means an enemy attacking the rogue repeatedly would have to pass two saves in a row to get a sighted melee attack off." I was unaware that the blinded condition could be applied multiple times. Could you clarify what you mean? Your comment made me consider the effectiveness of using this ability on the same target multiple times, perhaps adding language granting advantage on subsequent saving throws. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahlvin
    Mar 12 at 13:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kahlvin If you blind your target, and then they attack the next turn instead of opting to remove the blinded condition, nothing stops you from using your Pocket Sand to potentially blind them a second time. They won't get more blind, but they will have the duration extended by another round. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon Thank you for clarifying. It seems like I will need to do a bit of play testing with this ability to figure out the best duration (beginning/end of turn), and whether 'chaining' blinds is desirable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahlvin
    Mar 12 at 17:54
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From a brief overview, I have a few suggestions.

Instigator:

This ability is slightly strong, but that extra strength is definitely made up for by the bonus proficiencies being a little on the weak side. One quality adjustment I would make, however, is instead of a contested roll, I suggest having it be a roll vs the targets Passive Wisdom(Insight). Mostly, I suggest this as I'm less of a fan of contested rolls, and I think they should be used sparingly. I also think that since this requires you to expend your bonus action, which for rogues, is already a highly contested action, a little more consistent success rate is reasonable.

Comfortably Numb:

There's not really a need to say that the rogue gets resistance to both magical and non-magical bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage. Just say they have resistance to all bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage, as that covers both cases. The immunity to the Charmed condition is fine, and so is the reset on short rests. Definitely leave out the potion/hangover thing though. This ability isn't so powerful that it needs that hard of a downside.

As for the other abilities, Pocket Sand seems fairly solid, and Shakedown seems to be in line power-level wise with other level 9 rogue subclasses.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ shakedown, not shaledown. The shale still has oil in it ... 😁 ... down is from an eider \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12 at 1:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had not considered the frequency of contested rolls. Being that simplicity of use is one of my design goals, I will consider your suggestions about passive Wisdom (Insight). I couldn't find a template outside of monster stat blocks for resistance to all physical damage, and I like your suggestion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahlvin
    Mar 12 at 12:59

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