Does he become useless?

Do you have to place a houserule?

Is it spending actions on getting invisible or out of sight again the only way to get sneak attack again?

It seems to me a ranged rogue has a difficult game ahead, and I would like to see it balanced, Im sure there's something to make it so. Or something I'm missing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Both of these systems do have feats - albeit third party feats - that open up the option of ranged flanking. Dragon #350 (pp90 iirc) gives you a 15' threat range, while the Pathfinder version nets you 30'. This could potentially allow you to flank more than one opponent at a time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phill.Zitt
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 18:03

7 Answers 7


As @mxyzplk said, you will need to deny your opponents their Dexterity bonus to AC.

Here are some ways to do that at range (sorry about the length):

Force them to Balance

Opponents are flat-footed while Balancing unless they have 5 ranks in Balance in 3.5 (or just always, regardless of their Acrobatics skill in PF, if I recall). The Grease spell works well if you have a mage handy, marbles (from the Arms and Equipment Guide) are a cheap mundane alternative. This is a low-level tactic that fades in usefulness as more enemies start flying.

Obtain Invisibility

The standard Invisibility spell and the associated ring only work for one attack, Greater Invisibility is better. The easiest ways to get Greater Invisibility are usually asking a friendly mage, obtaining a wand (use your Use Magic Device skill!) or prestige/multiclassing into a class that offers it, like Assassin.


The Hide rules are odd, but they can get the job done. Forget that Sniping option, it's redundant due to this line:

It’s practically impossible (-20 penalty) to hide while attacking, running or charging.

So just do the impossible. Pump up your Hide skill and hide while attacking. You will most likely need to find some way to get a Hide in Plain Sight ability (depending on the version you use, you may also need a way to generate cover or concealment), in core, the Shadowdancer is probably the best. Outside of core, you have things like the Dark template (Tome of Magic) to do it more easily.

In any case, this is a powerful option if you are good at increasing your skill check modifiers. Particularly, this can work even against foes with True Seeing (which foils Invisibility). If you take the Darkstalker feat (Lords of Madness), it foils several common anti-hide special abilities too.


The Blink spell denies your opponents their Dexterity bonus to AC. This is useful because there is a handy ring that grants the spell, even if it comes with limitations.

Blinking works best when combined with the Pierce Magical Concealment feat from Complete Arcane, to negate your own miss chance.

Other: Specific Sneak Attack enforcing options

There are ways to deliver Sneak Attack damage outside normal limitations (the target needing to be flanked or denied Dexterity bonus). The most effective ones I know are:

  • The Hunter's Mercy (Spell Compendium) or Surge of Fortune (Complete Champion) spells combined with the Telling Blow feat (Player's Handbook 2)
  • The Wracking Touch spell (Spell Compendium)

These may be difficult to fit into a build, but they can be effective.

There are also things like the Arcane Trickster's Impromptu Sneak Attack, but that's a limited ability of an unimpressive class.

Other: Flank anywhere

The Clarion Commander tactical feat (Tome of Battle) has this option:

you make a DC 20 Intimidate check against an opponent as a standard action. If this check succeeds and you make a successful melee attack against the same foe on your next turn, you and your allies can treat that enemy as flanked for 1 minute.

This unusual wording allows anyone to flank without the usual setup. Assuming no argument is made about it simply not being possible to take advantage of this "flanking" with a ranged weapon, it allows a Rogue to Sneak Attack from range without denying Dex.

So, if there's someone in your party who is likely to get in a melee attack in the first round of each combat (even if that is the Rogue) and that someone can be convinced to take this feat, the Rogue is set.

Do not recommend: Grapple

While it may be tempting to pair up with a big bruiser and have them grapple opponents while you pepper with ranged attacks, the strategy becomes awkward in practice. At low levels, you will not have the Improved Precise Shot feat, so shooting into a grapple will be a dangerous game. At higher levels, monsters with enormous grapple check modifiers and/or Freedom of Movement effects become rather too common for grappling to be a reliable strategy at all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Tome of Battle has several strikes that turn a foe flat-footed, which may be worth mentioning. The action costs on Clarion Commander are... rough. I’d rather it be easier to use but not last so long. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmmm, good call. Most (all?) of them are melee-only, but I never really considered that they don't render the opponent flat-footed only with respect to the initiator. I'll try to remember to look some up... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ernir
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 17:01
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ There is another tactic worth considering: fear. Frightened and panicked opponents must flee as quickly as possible, which usually means running, and unless they have the Run feat they lose their Dex bonus and can be sneak attack shot in the back as they run away. If you can get them to cower, even better. Most fear effects stack so there are a ton of different ways today pull this off. \$\endgroup\$
    – Epiphanis
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note the Pathfinder version of the Blink spell does not negate the Dexterity bonus to AC to your opponents. That's is only valid in D&D3.5. \$\endgroup\$
    – Balacertar
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 1:58

A ranged rogue usually can not get sneak attacks after the opponents have acted (surprise round if any plus first round while still flat footed). The rules are set up so that you can't just SA all the time with ranged. You get sneak attack when opponents are a) denied DEX bonus to their AC, typically from being flat-footed or b) flanked by the rogue, and you can't flank with a ranged weapon because it doesn't threaten targets.

You can try:

  1. Sniping - you can try to Stealth after a shot, which has a -20 penalty but then you're hidden again and can attack opponents flat-footed.

  2. Other ways of making opponents flat-footed, where Greater Invisibility and Grease are the most popular but having your comrades inflict the flat-footed condition somehow also works.

There are probably "uber combos" out there that can let a rogue get ranged SAs in other circumstances but in general, no, SA'ing with ranged is limited to the first part of the combat by design.

The rogue is not "useless" at that point, he can be as good as anyone with a ranged weapon, just perhaps not getting his SA on every single attack. You can read Rogue Eidolon's Rogue Class Guide for an archery rogue build that is quite competitive.


I always thought what worked best is the ninja trick vanish, it lets you at least get some more in until you can afford the ring or have enough levels of char to be a shadow dancer and get HipS


Like anybody else, barring special feats/abilities, a rogue archer may gain the benefits of Hiding against an observer as a skill check during any movement in/through a square that has partial or total concealment or cover and the observer isn't already observing you, "even casually" (PHB 3.5 p 76). That usually means you have to make your Hide check before you enter line-of-sight with the potential observer (i.e., you already have total concealment).

Once you enter the observer's line-of-sight (from your movement, his, or changes in the environment) the result of your Hide check becomes the DC that observer has to beat with an opposing Spot check in order to see you. If he succeeds, you retain any partial concealment/cover you have from your environment but you are observed and the observer does not become flat-footed relative to you. If he fails, you are not observed and you are effectively invisible to him during that action.

Although the rules don't spell it out clearly enough for anyone's taste, it is generally agreed that taking any action to draw attention, including making an attack, immediately ends the effect of a Hide attempt. There is some disagreement on the exact implications of this. Many people interpret the rule as that all effects of hiding immediately end. Others believe that the benefits of hiding persist during the single action that ended it, so the attack would be as if from invisibility, with a +2 to the attack roll and no Dex bonus to the defender.

My interpretation is different from both of these, and I have no idea if the game designers would support me, but I still consider it an interpretation rather than a house rule. As far as I'm concerned, any effect that renders an individual flat-footed relative to you (as an unsuccessfully contested Hide check does) persists until the flat-footed individual's next turn, just as the condition ends during the character's first turn during any combat encounter. Thus, an attack from hiding wouldn't get the +2 of an invisible attack, but the flat-footedness of the target persists until that target's next turn. (Same goes for a terminating [non-Improved] Invisibility spell.)

Whichever interpretation is "correct," here are some things to consider in playing a sniper rogue:

The -20 Hide check costing a move action to reestablish hiding after a shot is difficult but very possible at higher levels, with Hide- and Dex improving enhancements and against opponents with bad Spot checks.

Snipers favor positions at 90-degree angle corners. Firing around the corner gives you the necessary cover to maintain the Hide. Every other turn you can take a move action to retreat behind the corner, break line of sight with total concealment, and return to the firing position with your Hide re-established (repeat this trick too often, though, and savvy opponents will counter it by advancing or readying actions against your reappearance).

As with any stealther, remain aware of the limitations of your source of concealment. If you yourself are affected by it, it negates any precision damage including your own sneak attack! Ordinary darkness is almost useless in dungeons since nearly everything will have Darkvision. Magical darkness is better but very far from foolproof, especially once True Seeing comes into play. Smoke/mist effects are generally the hardest to overcome, both for your target and yourself. If you can gain the benefit of a blindsight effect, smokesticks become your favorite gear -- and any fool who thinks True Seeing makes him immune to stealthers is in for a rude awakening.

A sniper's favorite feat should be Shot On the Run. With it, you can move in and out of zones of concealment fluidly. If you can sneak out of and back into total concealment and still attack within a single turn, that's a huge advantage that obviates the -20 post-Sniping Hide attempt.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If the target has no Line of Sight to you, there is no reason to even bother rolling Hide; they cannot see you. You would roll as you re-enter their Line of Sight. And unless you re-enter into Cover/Concealment (or have Camouflage or certain versions of Hide in Plain Sight), you still can’t roll Hide, and if you leave that Cover/Concealment (without Camo/HiPS), you cannot continue to Hide. Finally, your “interpretation not houserule” is explicitly contradicted by the rules (Rules Compendium), so yes, it is a houserule (a good one, I might add, but that’s neither here nor there). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 7:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, true seeing doesn’t let you see through magical darkness (the darkness is real, typically an Evocation, not faked as with an Illusion or Transmutation). And by utilizing Shot on the Run, you are automatically giving up your extra attacks (incompatible with full attacks, Rapid Shot, Manyshot, etc.), making it very difficult to make your precision damage worthwhile (since Sneak Attack et al. rely on racking up many triggering hits). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 7:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ (sorry if this comes off as a bit harsh; this is still a good answer in that it offers clear, consistent advice backed up by your experience. I just feel it is important to get the facts right; some of the details you list are not standard and that should be noted.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 7:10
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan : I agree with everything in your first comment, except the part about my interpretation/house rule being directly contradicted by the Rules Compendium, which may be true but I can't identify specifically what excerpt you mean. The True Seeing writeup on PH 3.5 p. 296 says "The subject sees through normal and magical darkness..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Epiphanis
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 8:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also agree with all your statements re the tradeoffs of using Shot on the Run, but think they are totally worth it for a rogue. If you can make a single sneak attack each round, that's actually pretty awesome damage output; if you can do so while getting total concealment between your turns, that's some fine gravy! \$\endgroup\$
    – Epiphanis
    Commented Dec 9, 2013 at 8:38

[PH; pg76] Skill: Hide: Sniping: If you've already successfully hidden at least 10' from your target, you can make one ranged attack, then immediately hide again, with a -20 penalty to that Hide Check after the shot. [PH; pg83] Skill: Spot: -1 penalty for every 10 feet of distance; -5 penalty if target is distracted.

Note that the Hide Skill specifically states ONE Ranged Attack, meaning that you can only make a single standard attack, or a special attack that only requires a Standard Action, since the Hide Attempt afterwards uses your movement action, despite not actually moving. Due to this, any Class that has a Sneak Attack or similar feature has to use one of the two tactical scenarios to "Snipe":

Bombardment: Hide in the first round or surprise round, and every other round thereafter. Between each Hide round, make a Full Attack within 30' of your target from Hide. This will provide a strong burst damage every other round once your base attack bonus is high enough for extra attacks, and/or use with the Rapid Fire feat.

Pin-point Shots: Find a suitable location that provides cover and fire a single shot at a target from Hide, then remain stationary to use your movement action to hide. This provides consistent damage every round and is more useful at the lower levels before you can make more attacks in a round.

These strategies can be supplemented or even enhanced with the following feats: [PH pg99]Rapid Reload and [PH2 pg77]Crossbow Sniper: These two feats extend your Sneak Attack bonus damage out to 60' instead of 30', gain 1/2 your DEX mod as bonus damage, and at the higher levels if you use a Hand or Light Crossbow can make multiple attacks in a round. [DR339 pg87]Concealed Ambush and [RotW pg148]Able Sniper: these two feats help mitigate the Hide penalty for sniping, reducing the penalty to -10 instead of -20, and granting a +4 Hide Bonus after making a attack from Hide, respectfully. [RotW pg154]Woodland Archer: provides three tactical bonuses useful for any archer, specifically the "Moving Sniper" feature: If you succeed in a Sniping Attack, the following round you can make a single attack, take a Move Action, and then make a Hide check to remain hidden. [PH2 p78]Deadeye Shot: This feat is great for teamwork, by using a ready action that activates when an ally hits an enemy with a melee attack, you get an immediate attack against that target, which denies their DEX bonus to AC against only your attack. This only requires 3 feats, and you can get your Precision Damage without having to Hide. Finally, you have the option of using Shot on the Run with Manyshot, but this requires 5 feats in total to pull off, and your target only gets Precision Damage (the Sneak Attacks) only once, while the Woodland Archer only needs 2 feats. With an enchanted weapon (or ammunition in this case) the Manyshot route has greater damage potential if you can afford the feats. As a side note, I suggest the feat [PH2 pg83]Telling Blow: If you successfully confirm a Critical Hit with a weapon, add your Skirmish or Sneak Attack bonus damage after the multiplier has been applied.

If you still feel uneasy about your Hide Checks, you can also look at [PH pg100]Skill Focus - Hide, and [PH pg101]Stealthy to add +3 and +2, respectfully, to your Hide checks. Try playing a Small Race, such as a Gnome or Halfling, or if you don't mind a level adjustment of +1 and your DM allows it, look into [MM3 pg96] Posiondusk Lizardfolk.

Class Options or Multi-Class: [Base] Ninja: can use their Ki to turn invisible if they are spotted after a snipe attempt. Their Sudden Strike damage is virtually the same as a Sneak Attack (See Complete Adventurer) [Base] Scout: Although their Precision Bonus Damage is half as much as a Rogue type, they gain Camouflage at later levels along with other bonuses that make Sniping easier to pull off, and the requirement is only that you have to move before your attack. [Prestige] Assassin: gains Hide in Plain Sight at 9th level (14th level Character), and still retains optimal Sneak Attack bonus damage. [Prestige] Order of the Bow Initiate: upgraded Precision Damage from d6 to d8, with the only condition being that you have to use a Bow and be within 30' of your target (or 60' at 10th level OotBI).


Two prestige classes offer ranged sneak attacks without special circumstances to be met:

  • Master Thrower (Complete Warrior): The "Sneaky Shot" - A "Thrown weapon trick" acquired with 1 level dip in Master Thrower. An opposed check "Sleight of Hand" (Master Thrower) vs. "Spot" (defender) as a move action negates opponents Dex-Bonus to AC - i.e. a master thrower with outmaxed sleight of hand gets his ranged sneak almost every round. Bad point: only thrown weapons. Dart is a good choice as it has 20 feet range increment and weighs only 1/2 lb.- in the end it does not matter for a sneak-attacker if the base weapon deals 1d3 or 1d4. Javelin has 30 feet range - but carrying dozens of javelins is not an option to most rogues. Prereqs: +5 base attack, point blank shot, precise shot, weapon focus (thrown weapon) --> available after rogue 7, character level 8.

  • Arcane Trickster: The arcane caster plus rogue prestige class offers 1 "impromptu sneak attack" per day at Levels 3 and 7. --> prestige class available around character level 10, i.e. impromptu sneak at character level 12.


Generally, the rogue in question must jump through hoops of some kind or another in order to be able to use their sneak attack.

Without flanking, there are few ways to sneak attack without absurd hoop jumping, and most of those are melee (feinting, etc). So you have rogues tossing grease at people, wasting their turn doing some skill trick or hiding, or taking some obscure set of feats or abilities designed around enabling ranged sneak attack, and notable/memorable solely because they do so.

In other words, 'does he become useless?'.

Well, yes. Without minmaxing, and optimizing, yes. The fact that people have come to accept this state of affairs and offer all sorts of workarounds doesn't change that the regular ranged rogue gets a very short schrift.

Especially in pathfinder with no backwards compatibility - most of the ways to ensure a ranged sneak attack are 3.5-only.


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