I’ve read a lot about using Sap Adept and Sap Master as a rogue in Pathfinder.

What is the best way for a rogue to trigger this feat (use a bludgeoning weapon to deal nonlethal sneak attack damage) ?

Btw: I’m new to D&D, please don’t use too many acronyms and co in your answer.

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    – C. Ross
    Mar 1, 2014 at 17:50

3 Answers 3


The best options

As requested, these are the best options. I do have a discussion of alternatives and why they are inferior below.

Dealing nonlethal damage on Sneak Attacks: Wield a sap

As the feats’ names suggest, you’re supposed to use a sap, which is a bludgeoning weapon that deals nonlethal damage without taking the −4 penalty to attacks that you get for trying to use a lethal weapon nonlethally.

Rogues are proficient in the use of the sap, and as a light weapon it works well with Two-Weapon Fighting, which is a commonly-chosen feat for rogues.

Triggering Sneak Attack: try to flank with allies

That handles the nonlethal damage. For Sneak Attack, by far the easiest way to trigger it is to use flanking with an ally.

Otherwise, you have to try to do something that will deny your target his Dexterity bonus to AC; there are a lot of ways to do that, but all of them are quite situational or prevent you from attacking at the same time, so flanking is usually the better route (that said, if you have an opportunity to attack a target who is for whatever reason denied his Dexterity, you definitely should take that opportunity).

If you use a pair of saps against a target that you have flanked with an ally, you can do a very great deal of nonlethal damage. Of course, getting into that position is quite difficult for a rogue, since you cannot move and use Two-Weapon Fighting in the same turn.

Alternative (inferior) options for nonlethal damage

In general, I recommend against all of these; since they have been mentioned in other answers, though, and for completeness’s sake, I’ll explain why.

Merciful special weapon property

You can use the merciful special weapon property to make some non-sap weapon work like a sap, but there’s not really any advantage in doing so because the rogue is not proficient with any weapons that are especially better than the sap. Light maces and battle aspergilli deal equivalent damage (and the holy water trick of the battle aspergillum is an expensive and pointless gimmick), and things that deal more damage A. don’t deal much more, and B. may be more difficult to use with Two-Weapon Fighting.

The other advantage of merciful, that it can be turned off, is useless because if you do that you cannot use Sap Master; even if you want to kill, you’re better off dealing nonlethal damage, knocking the target out, and performing a coup de grace. It will be faster.

Now, merciful does add +1d6 damage to your attack: that bit is actually valuable to you. But lots of special weapon properties do that, and personally I suggest you get those first because they’ll diversify your damage some in case you fight things resistant to bludgeoning. In other words, I’d much prefer a +1 corrosive sap to a +1 merciful light mace because the former deals some acid damage in addition to its bludgeoning damage, while the latter deals only bludgeoning damage. I’d probably add merciful to my sap eventually just for the damage bonus, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Ranged weapons: softstones, bolas, and merciful blunt arrows

Being a ranged rogue is rough, because you cannot flank at range. Not highly recommended. If you do it, though, you’ll need a way to deal nonlethal damage at range. In this case, merciful becomes your best bet: it can be applied to blunt arrows (or a shortbow) to make them nonlethal, and you get +1d6 damage which is a good deal. Ask your DM for blunt crossbow bolts, so you can take advantage of the rogue’s proficiency in hand crossbows, maybe.

Otherwise, softstones are sling ammunition that deal nonlethal damage without merciful, but since they’re exotic, you’d need Exotic Weapon Proficiency to use them without a −4 penalty: bad deal either way. Bolas, on the other hand, are awesome: since they only require a touch attack, you stand a pretty good chance to hit even when you take the −4 penalty. Even without Sap Master, they’re a solid trick for a rogue to keep up his sleeve. Hard to use as a primary weapon, though.

Bludgeoner feat

The Bludgeoner feat, which basically allows all bludgeoning weapons to deal lethal or nonlethal damage at your choice, is even worse: a feat is far more valuable than a +1-equivalent weapon property, and it doesn’t even have the +1d6 of merciful. Awful choice, please never take it.

Improved Unarmed Strike feat

Similarly, Improved Unarmed Strike, which allows you to meaningfully use unarmed strikes (which are bludgeoning and nonlethal), isn’t a great option: you don’t need the lethal damage option, and saps both do more damage and don’t require a feat. On the other hand, this is a bit better than Bludgeoner since there are other feats and things that work only with unarmed strikes: if you had some of those, Improved Unarmed Strike would be a better option. Plus, hey, if you ever lose your sap, you might wish you’d gone the unarmed route.

So this is not a “don’t use” so much as a “only use if you’re looking at a bunch of unarmed-only feats.” Bloody_Nine’s answer covers one case where maybe you are using those feats. But even he is doing it by dipping monk to get Improved Unarmed Strike (and Weapon Finesse) for free, and he has a very specific build for it. Usually, you aren’t going to have enough room for all of these feats, and you have to be very careful with them because there are a lot of traps in that direction. Even with Bloody_Nine’s tricks, I’m not completely convinced that they’re worth it.

So ultimately, I maintain that Improved Unarmed Strike is not a good choice in general. You probably won’t ever use any of those unarmed-only feats, and unarmed strikes are far more expensive for you than just using the sap since they require a feat for you and an amulet of mighty fists costs more than an equivalent weapon. Assuming that you won’t be stripped of your weapon often, I’d just go with the sap. Basically, I’d choose to accept that I’ll be much worse off in a rare situation in order to be quite a bit better off the overwhelming majority of the time.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As of 2017, one can also get nonlethality by making a weapon tactically adapted. It costs a pretty penny (2000gp) and increases the weapon's proficiency requirement by 1 step, so it's probably not worth it for most builds. But if you happen to be multiclassing into a class which gives martial weapon proficiency, then using a tactically adapted simple weapon is an option. \$\endgroup\$
    – pi4t
    Jul 4, 2019 at 16:07

If built correctly, an unarmed ninja is far superior to a sap build, both in terms of damage potential and flexibility. Here is why:

  • Start out with one level of monk, Flowing Monk to be exact. By doing this you get Improved Unarmed Strike for free, as well as Weapon Finesse as your free bonus feat. This build is very feat heavy, so this is key. As a bonus, you get the monk's unarmed damage tree for your whole career, as well as those extra bonuses to saves by going one level of monk.

  • From there on out, you will want to lvl up as a ninja. This way you are only 1 lvl behind when it comes to getting your Master Ninja Tricks. When you hit lvl 11 and get Invisible Blade, the world is your oyster and you never have to flank again.

  • Must haves for the build: TWF feat tree, Sap Master feat tree, Shatter Defenses feat tree (this is how you get Sap Master consistently), Vanishing Trick (the only needed ninja trick, you should be putting every other trick into a feat that you can)

  • So how is this build any better than just going w/ a Sap? Well for one its 10x cooler! But with only a few minutes of research you will discover that there are quite a few VERY powerful items/feats that ONLY work with unarmed. Take a look at the Brawling enchant on armor for example... Not only that, but you are ALWAYS armed, can walk right up to someone without them thinking twice (you aren't even carrying weapons so just look like a random civilian), and WHAM punch them in the adam's apple to start combat.

  • Of course there is the cost of Amulet of Mighty Strikes, which is a legitimate concern. My DM houseruled that the Handwraps weapon (uses glove slot) is able to be enchanted just like any other weapon at the same cost. But even without that option, Just getting Agile on the Amulet, and eventually +1 and beyond, you will be just fine (and still ahead of a Sap wielder in plus to hit/dmg due to Brawling Mithril Shirt +1).

  • At level 11+ much of your feat trees are completed so you have more flexibility on how you want to build him. You can keep pumping his damage, or you can make him more well rounded. Plus you have the space to mess with all the cool Master Ninja Tricks and Advanced Rogue Talents.

  • My unarmed ninja/monk is currently lvl 11. I have not seen a build that can consistently out-damage him, and right now the only issue with him is the DM is actively putting in monsters that are immune to non-lethal or Precision damage just to counter me. Which is fine really, it just makes me think about how I will approach those fights differently, so it keeps things fresh.

I don't have my character sheet in front of me, but here is the feat breakdown by level, as best as my memory serves.

  • 1) Improved Unarmed Strike, Weapon Finesse, Two Weapon Fighting. IUS is free w/ monk, Weapon Finesse is what you choose as your free feat by going Flowing Monk, TWF is the feat you take as your standard lvl 1 feat.
  • 3) Sap Adept, Ninja Trick: Vanishing Trick
  • 5) Enforcer, Ninja Trick: Weapon Training (Weapon Focus)
  • 7) Sap Master, Ninja Trick: Combat Trick (Dazzling Display)
  • 9) Improved Two Weapon Fighting, Ninja Trick: ???
  • 11) Shatter Defenses, Ninja Trick: Invisible Blade
  • 13) Knockout Artist, Ninja Trick: Rogue Talent (Opportunist)
  • 15) Greater Two Weapon Fighting, Ninja Trick: Unarmed Combat Mastery
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should add those to the answer. You can also do a link with [text](URL) if you're feeling ambitious and want to link to the SRD for each one. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 9, 2014 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Done, thanks for the assistance. If I get time at work I will go in and put in the links as well. I will also do a breakdown of equipment that are top priority in this build. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9, 2014 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice; I'd already upvoted you so I can't do so again, but I think it does make for a nicer answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 9, 2014 at 16:08

What's the best way for most rogues to use a bludgeoning weapon to deal non-lethal sneak attack damage?

Short answer: Like normal sneak attacks, but using a sap.

Long answer is that best depends on your definition of best (i.e. awesome/cool or damage per round?) and the type of rogue you're playing. It has multiple parts: 1. How to sneak attack, 2. Why the sap is great for most 3. Why alternatives? 4. What alternatives?

1. How to sneak attack?

In pathfinder is a (complicated) question, that I'll only answer superficially. The easiest way was already mentioned by @KRyan, which is flanking. Other ways involve skill checks, such as via stealth or bluff (feinting), or slight of hand (hiding the weapon until it's in your face). Basically it comes down to the target being caught off guard, that is As Jason Buhlman said

"creatures are denied their Dexterity bonus to AC "if they cannot react to a blow" (CR pg 179 under AC). It was our intent that if you are unaware of a threat, you cannot react to a blow."

2. Why the sap for most rogues?

In most cases, just using a sap (or two), as suggested by the title of these combat feats is ideal. As it seems you've already noticed, you cannot normally use a lethal weapon to deal nonlethal damage in a sneak attack. This is because using a lethal weapon in this manner gives a -4 penalty to hit, thus makes you less accurate, and sneak attacks are a form of precision damage.

  • The sap deals non-lethal damage by default, thus you don't get that penalty to hit, and therefor you can use it for sneak attacks.
  • Unlike all other non-lethal weapons, rogues are already proficient with saps.
  • The sap is a light martial weapon. Martial means fair damage.
  • Light weapons can be used with Weapon Finesse. Most rogues take that feat, as it lets you add your dexterity modifier to the attack rolls, making it more likely that you hit. Most rogues dump strength because their primary damage source are sneak attacks, and because of rogue's low base attack bonus it is important to boost bonuses to attack rolls in order to hit at all.
  • Light weapons are more useful for two weapon fighting, make great offhand weapons. Most rogues like two weapon fighting, because (if you're flanking, get to do a full-round action, and actually hit despite the penalties) you can do more sneak attacks per round for devastating damage. Combined with the feats you're asking about the results can be tremendous.

The sap has very few downsides: - The sap is not two handed (which matters for some brute rogues). - The sap is not a distance weapon (which matters for sniper rogues). - The sap can not be used to deal lethal damage (which rarely matters).

3.Why bother with alternatives?#

  • Short answer: if you're like most rogues don't bother. While the feat tax is fairly high (a way of saying you need a lot of feats to accomplish what you want), in this case at least Weapon finesse, Two-weapon fighting, Sap Adept and Sap Master, all of which are combat feats, the results are high Damage-per-round.
  • However pathfinder allows for diverse rogues, discussed in this guide, some of which might like the alternatives. Note I'm not saying these rogue types are better, but if you are one of these rogue types, then there are alternatives to saps that could be better for you.

4. What alternatives?

  • Strange options (Use your fists/hands or exotic weapons)
  • Use Bludgeoner feat with any bludgeoning weapon (feat)
  • Use Merciful magic on blunt ammunition (160 gp/projectile) +1d6 bonus nonlethal damage
  • Use Merciful magic on blunt weapons (8000 gp/weapon) +1d6 bonus nonlethal damage


You have to get rid of the penalty for using lethal weapons non-lethally.

Strange options - most likely non-options

Some weapons beside the sap are non-lethal to start with, but very few deal bludgeoning damage. There are some exotic weapons (with which rogues aren't proficient, thus -4 to hit penalty), namely the Bolas and the Softstones sling ammunition. Little starstones ammunition might work as well, but their damage pre-sneak-attack is fixed at 1 and they glow, which a GM might rule makes it harder to sneak attack in the first place. Your fists also count, but normally deal less damage than a sap, and you count as being "unarmed" so when you attack the enemy gets an Attack of Opportunity! Unless you have the Improved Unarmed strike feat. There are ways to make this feasible, such as dipping in monk or ninja to get the feat "for free", but I don't know a "best", or even good way.

Magical enhancement - expensive, but comes with +1d6 bonus damage and versatility

You can magically alter a weapon to make it merciful for the cost of a +1 bonus. However a weapon with a special ability must also have at least a +1 enhancement bonus. So for a "+1 merciful" weapon you're paying 8000 gold pieces. What you're getting is a weapon that not only deals nonlethal damage, but adds 1d6 points of non-lethal damage on top. And it can be deactivated at will to make it lethal again (though without the extra +1d6 bonus).

Note that you can enhance ammunition for 1/50th of the price. So one merciful bullet or arrow costs 160 gp. However by default Weapon rules these will break/lost/be destroyed at 100% of hits and 50 % of misses.

Note also, adding this will get more expensive the more magic a weapon already is. If you find a "Baseball bat +5" that you can use, it might be worth considering the following feat.

Feat - permanent, but expensive, solution

The Bludgeoner allows you to attack without added penalties for using a lethal bludgeoning weapon to deal nonlethal damage. And thereby allows using a lethal bludgeoning weapon to deal nonlethal damage with a sneak attack.


Now that we found ways of getting rid of the penalties (magic or feat) you have to find a weapon and context that's worth the hassle of not just using a sap. Which as said before is hard.

First: The brute type favors strength over dexterity and uses two handed fighting, which is less feat intensive, as with high strength not only do you not need to get weapon finesse to be able to hit things, but you also get bonuses to damage, so that if you hit with a non-sneak attack you're not completely useless. Also a lot of the time in actual play you don't end up getting full round attack actions, because you have to get into position first. A dip in a warrior type class allows for using better big weapons and heavier armor, and with less Dexterity the limited dex bonus to armor class doesn't hurt as much. If and only if you're running with one of these and are going to take a martial level dip (figher, barbarian, etc.) is there anything better for melee than the sap.

Options include a light hammer (can be used as a throwing weapon with 20 ft range), a flail (or heavy flail, either does more damage (1d8, 1d10 with 19-20 crit range instead of just 20) and can be used for some maneuvers), and an Earth breaker (does 2d6 damage, and triple instead of double damage on critical hit).

Note that the math in ideal situations (rogue actually gets the full-round action attacks, and hits) favors the two weapon fighting rogue, who can basically ignore the base damage because of all that bonus damage. Only if you have to spend your move action to feint or charge (with scout archetype) get into position and have only the standard action left to attack with does this build do more damage, and even then only slightly. It's more a preference thing. Still since it takes less feats to achieve this build can perform sooner. Since Bludgeoner is a terrible feat in the long run, you could consider taking it and retraining (costs 50*character level gold pieces and 5 days worth of training time) once you have enough money for merciful (about lvl 5, unless you want to buy other things first).

Result is 2d6 earth breaker + 1d6 merciful + Xd6 sneak dice + 1.5(two handed)*strength modifier + 2X Sap adept + Xd6 Sap Master.

For example for a 6th level character with 18 strength and 1 lvl in fighter, rest rogue, X is 3. That makes 9d6+12, so 21 to 66 non-lethal damage if you can sneak. And "only" 3d6+6, so 9 to 24 otherwise.

Second: The archery rogue is really hard to pull off, because getting sneak attacks in after the first round is difficult. When you do, you want devastating damage to make it more satisfying to play this type of character. The Sap Adept and Master add bonus damage if you can pull it off. However, archery is already fairly feat intensive on it's own, so again not optimal but non the less feasible, and since best to me is what is most fun to you, knowing this is an option is worthwhile.

Blunt Arrows. Like all arrows (unlike sling bullets), pulling them out is a free action. If you're the bow sniper in the bushes kind of rogue, who wants the target to stay alive, this works.

So do normal sling bullets, especially if you're a Halfling with Warslinger (free action reload) or Swift as Shadows (less stealth penalty for sniping) alternate racial traits. Being small also helps for stealth (and thus sniping).

The Light Mace or Battle Aspergillum are equal (light and rogue has proficiency) to the sap, except that they can also deal lethal damage, which as said before isn't much of a benefit. However if you're going with the feat for the arrows, there's no downside to using a light mace instead of a sap.


Note the Enforcer feat will let you intimidate to demoralize enemies whenever you deal non-lethal damage and if successful the target is shaken (-2 to all their rolls) for a number of rounds equal to the damage dealt. Which with all those sneak bonuses is basically the rest of the fight.

Potentially worth consideration There's a trait that lets you deal non-lethal damage with slashing weapons. If you are choosing a weapon other than sap for style rather than power (say you want a quarterstaff, or what not), perhaps the GM will let you make up a trait like that.

Another thought: I was working under the assumption that you already have your rogue planned out and are only changing details. If that's not the case, consider taking the first level rogue for trap finding and extra sneak damage, then take some Bounty Hunter levels. At 2nd level, he can choose to make his sneak attack damage counts as nonlethal damage, even if delivered with a lethal weapon (which allows for using blunt arrows). This also would allow earlier access to the sap master feat, due to sneak damage from different sources. (i.e. 1 rogue / 3 bounty hunter had 3 dice of sneak damage, a 4th level rogue has 2) - and it adds proficiency with bolas.


With what ever method you chose, make enemies unaware of what's about to happen, and then non-lethally devastate your enemies!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sap actually deals bludgeoning damage that is non-lethal \$\endgroup\$
    – Shf
    Jun 7, 2019 at 12:39

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