Coming from traumatic experiences in 3.5 with rogues, I would like to ask you if sneak attack is viable in Pathfinder.

In 3.5, at level 10 and above, one would hardly ever get a chance to do any sneak attack. Most creatures we fought were immune to sneak attack (and crits) and the ones that didn't hardly ever noticed 2-3 weapon attacks without strength to back them out from my finess rogue.

I convinced my DM to allow me to override sneak and crit immunities using oposite energy types for creatures, like sneak attacking with a wand of cure on an undead, ice daggering a fire elemental, etc. But still the effort put it was not worth the bother. Eventually one dude made a ranger that had Distracting Shot or something of the sort that gave my first attack a flanking attack to give me some consistency. But by then the campaign was over.

I would like to know if a rogue can be a valuable melee beast or if he is still just a skillmoney with sharp-ish claws.


2 Answers 2


This answer doesn’t attempt to define “viable,” instead focusing on comparing the Pathfinder rogue to the 3.5e version, since the question was asked on the basis of “traumatic experiences” with the 3.5e version.

Also, this answer focuses primarily on the original rogue, not the unchained version, since this question and answer predate Pathfinder Unchained. The mere fact that the rogue needed to be unchained should tell you what you need to know about the original. However, the unchaining was very effective, so that version of the rogue is definitely far stronger than the 3.5e rogue.

Fewer Creatures Are Immune to Sneak Attack

Constructs, plants, and (corporeal) undead are no longer automatically immune to sneak attack. That’s a very big deal, since constructs and undead are such common enemies. Elementals and oozes remain immune, as are the new proteans, but those are often not as common. Incorporeal undead are immune unless you have ghost touch (or similar, presumably).

Notably, the 3.5 rogue could sneak attack these things, but it was kind of a pain to do so, requiring particular wands.

It’s Harder to Trigger Sneak Attack

Recent errata to the Stealth rules finally allow those to be used to get a sneak attack (cf. this answer), or multiple with hide in plain sight (which the rogue can now get from the rogue class, though it’s pretty limited), but aside from that most abilities that a rogue had to trigger multiple sneak attacks per round solo are gone. Most of the time grease doesn’t work (and the cases in which it does work are very ambiguously-described), blinking doesn’t work (and even if it did, Pierce Magical Concealment doesn’t exist any more), alchemical weapons can no longer be used for sneak attacks, and so on.

Fortification still exists

The fortification armor property still means a ton of high-level enemies are going to be immune, or have a chance of ignoring, your sneak attack.

Rogues still cannot stand and fight, and optimal damage is still low

Despite how hard it is to actually get full sneak attack damage on the rogue, since they can’t just stand there flanking someone and dishing it out most of the time, that damage is still lackluster. A typical barbarian or fighter will out-damage a typical rogue every time. This isn’t so bad (after all, the rogue has all those skills to play with, particularly Use Magic Device), but where before the rogue could get his Sneak Attack and remain relevant despite the superiority of the straight-martial types, a lot of the time in Pathfinder he cannot get Sneak Attack and therefore does barely anything at all.

The general consensus among optimizers is the rogue was stealth-nerfed

Sneak attack was improved, but the various subtle ways in which melee was shafted in Pathfinder, combined with the various subtle ways rogues in particular were nerfed (the sneak attack nerfs above combined with the watering down of trapfinding, which is almost pointless with the way so many things have detect magic at-will in Pathfinder), have resulted in a more difficult time for rogues trying to carve out a niche for themselves.

Pathfinder has numerous outright replacements for the rogue

The ninja and the vigilante are more-or-less strictly superior to the rogue, able to do everything the rogue does, either better or along with other things. Plenty of other classes are less direct replacements, but can still stand in for a rogue very well.

The unchained rogue is very strong, however

The above all applies solely to the original rogue; Pathfinder Unchained overhauled the rogue, and that version of the rogue is quite strong. It’s one of the best straight damage-dealers in the game, and it still has lots of skills and trickery. The unchained eldritch scoundrel is very competitive for the title of best non-full-caster class in Pathfinder.


Rogues are plenty viable, depending on the kind of campaign and mode of play.

Like monks, rogues aren't the best at a lot of things. But not all campaigns are alike. My pirate campaign has a strong focus on skills and on-ship mobility, so our rogue and monk do very well. If you're playing a game which is in 4e tactical combat mode where it's basically one combat after another with slight bridging, you'll be less happy with the rogue.

A Rogue Isn't Just Sneak Attack

Mainly because Pathfinder isn't just combat. If your campaign has significant political or exploration elements, the skill focus of the rogue can be very strong. Sure, casters can nova some of those things better (find traps, invisibility, etc. ) but you can do them all day every day. Traditional old school style dungeon crawls and long adventuring days are very conducive to the rogue.

If you take cues from the Paizo Adventure Paths, you'll notice that while there's combat there is often quite a bit of diplomacy and faction interaction, exploration, skill use, etc. Kingmaker for example is a campaign where you can kick all the butt you want but still fail in building a kingdom. And the plots often have time or location pressure where you can't just quit and sleep to regain spells all the time. The allegedly-objective "tier system" has a lot of assumptions encoded in it, and how actual adventures play out affect it dramatically.

In real dungeons there's a lot of gimmicks. There's a hostage chained to the altar while people fight you. There's a big soul gem thing on a pedestal while the mage attacks you. There's an interplanar gate being opened while people fight you. Often, the fight isn't the goal - stopping the bad thing is the goal. In Pathfinder, the rogue can go stop the bad thing before the fight with the local goons is 1/4 over.

In our Carrion Crown campaign today, we talked our way out of a big werewolf fight. Because our characters aren't psychos whose goal is "harvest souls for the master," we have a goal that we sometimes have to fight people to achieve but we'd prefer not to. Rogues are good at social skills. (Sure, a bard is better - if you have one...)

A Rogue Is Clever

Your bestest skill is Use Magic Device. You're not a caster, but you can be! A lot of what you need to do is talk and sabotage and scout and go behind enemy lines. A lot of this is careful thought, but some is using all the tools available! Buy a wand of invisibility, stroll into flanking, and go to town.

Your fighting has a lot to do with sneak attacking, which in turn has a lot to do with flanking and/or making your opponent lose their DEX bonus. There's a lot of magic item abilities, spells, etc. out there that help you do that - see In what situations would a target be denied a Dex bonus to AC? Then, use things that will create one or more of these conditions. There's also a lot of movement abilities out there, from Step Up to the advancing weapon property to the entanglement of blades rogue talent (and plain old Acrobatics) that can get your rogue into flanking or other good situations the vast majority of the time. There's a billion combos, pick ones that suit you, your party, and the opponents. Obscuring Mist + Fogcutting goggles. Darkness + darkvision. Whatever. It's not as simple as "grease them!" any more but there's plenty of ways to impose those conditions. You are certainly gear dependent, but you can really shine if you look outside the box of "best weapon!" and get the weirder stuff that might normally be "for oracles" or "for cavaliers" but that if you UMD it, is perfect for you.

Also note that all the newer ninja talents are also available as rogue talents - there's a lot of goodness there.

A Rogue Needs Cooperation

A rogue's a good solo character, but in a group the rest of the party can make or break the rogue. Your battlefield control casters and your other fighters can either be always looking for an opportunity to set up your flanks etc. or they can be always screwing it up by selfishly bulling ahead independently. You need to help them into teamwork. You're a narrowly aimed cannon and if the group isn't playing as a team you can be ineffective. If they are playing as a team there should be little excuse to not be reliably flanking or otherwise getting your sneak attack. If the monk is stunning the guy next to you instead of the guy three squares away from you, for example, you are a lot more effective. Figure out what they can do and what you need to do. Dirty Tricks and other combat maneuvers can help smart parties get more kill out of you. Remind other PCs that it's better to kill someone before they get another action, so if they can attack and wound them by 50% and set them up for you to take them down, it's better than them doing 75% of the target's hp in damage, letting them act, and then doing another 75% (with most of it wasted) to take them down next round.

Being a combat monster isn't all there is to life, but even in combat the rogue can do pretty well for himself with smart play. I have found that rogues are definitely if not dramatically better in Pathfinder than 3.5e, and I've seen more players play them as a result. One of the longest running characters in my 5-year pirate campaign is a rogue/assassin, naval engagements go slow and afford him a lot of opportunity for studying targets...

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer ignores the fact that the question-asker found 3.5 rogues “traumatically” underpowered. The Pathfinder rogue is weaker, relatively speaking, than the 3.5 one, so if that was true in 3.5, it’s only going to be worse in Pathfinder. It’s certainly true that the rogue is playable in the right Pathfinder campaign, but the querent makes it clear his group isn’t playing the kinds of low-power campaigns where the rogue can “do pretty well for himself.” \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 14, 2013 at 21:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pointing out a) how Pathfinder play may differ from 3.5e play especially the more APs and Pathfinder-minded stuff you use, and b) I disagree with "weaker" since you can SA more creatures and you seem to be basing "you can SA less" on the lack of grease and blink, and ignoring all the new PF movement powers that help you get into flank. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 14, 2013 at 22:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can add that with the unchained rogue (or with the right feat on a chained rogue) you can add your DEX to your damages instead of your STR, which means you can do a correct amount of damages even to targets you don't sneak. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2017 at 15:45

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