So I just started my first dnd session a couple weeks ago. The party needed a rogue, so I made a melee guy who used two-weapon fighting. As with all melee rogues, he was supposed to deal damage in combat by flanking and getting his sneak attack bonus. Except now, after just having reached 2nd level, I find out he doesn't put the sneak bonus on flank attacks. So in combat, he's very low damage, incredibly squishy, and has almost died several times already. I've talked to the DM, and he's unwilling to change his ruling. Moreover, there has been a grand total of zero stealth in the campaign so far., and I'm unlikely to have many more opportunities since the rest of the party would rather charge in at full force. So, my choices are to try to salvage him by making him ranged or not a rogue, keep him and accept that he'll be worthless in pretty much all situations, or get him killed and roll a new character. Thoughts?

The only reason I say the group needs a rogue is that the DM only uses the core and allows no prestige classes other than assassin. So I don't know if that leaves us any other skillmonkey options for getting around traps. Also, his ruling is that I can only sneak attack when the victim is unaware of my presence. Grease won't cut it. I guess what I'm really wondering is if it's too late to try to make him ranged. I do want to play, and I don't want to get him upset by quitting over what he sees as a minor point since we're friends. So is a build like that even viable at this point?

Reviewing the rules, he has some other thing as well that might make a rogue play differently. For one, each class need different amounts of xp to level up from 1250 for 2nd level (rogue) to 2500 for 2nd level (mages). He wants me to play a more hit-and-run/hide character, and he uses Move Silently for all hide and move silently checks and uses Hide basically as a check to do Hide in Plain Sight. We don't get additional attribute points ever, but we do get a feat every level. There are no cross-class skills: 1 skill point = i rank. I'm not familiar with the system and I just don't have any idea how to build a character for this. I don't know if this would balance things out, or how to build a character in this framework. I'm just really lost. I'd really like to keep stay in the game (his storytelling is brilliant, and I really like my character), but is this kind of build viable in this setting, or should I try to switch to ranged and accept a lost feat, or try a new character?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Let's curtail the discussion in comments please. Ask for clarification, or answer below. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 2:13
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm thinking of changing the title of the question to "How can I handle only-being-able-to-sneak-attack-while-hidden?". Not only cannot the question be gleaned from the title, but it is buried in paragraphs too. \$\endgroup\$
    – NiteCyper
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 9:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question does meander a bit. @user2623010, can you clarify wht exactly you want help with (most of the answers just help you with "life choices"). \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 11:49

7 Answers 7


You can't build for this on your own, or with our help

It sounds very much like the DM is using 3.5e rules as a toolbox to create a home-brewed game that works somewhat like the older AD&D 2nd edition did (sneak attacks, XP, and rogues in general work in 2e as you describe these house rule working).

I can understand the motivation—more streamlined rules, keeping a desired playstyle—but I have to question the DM's wisdom in just dropping you into this game unprepared. It's not very welcoming to surprise you with a change of system.

What to do: recruit your DM's help

You want to stay in this game. I 100% guarantee that nothing anyone here says will get your DM to adjust the rules to work how D&D 3.5e works as-written, because it's clear to me that he's made these changes to 3.5e very much on purpose. (Or rather more likely, made a few 3.5e-inspired changes to 2nd edition AD&D on purpose.) He's not going to turn this ship around now.

So your only options are to leave, to stumble along trying to figure it out, or to work with your DM to figure out how to make a character you will enjoy in his game.

I don't recommend the second option, since that's unlikely to be fun or work well any time soon unless you're familiar with 2e already. You don't want the first option, because you really enjoy the game itself, otherwise. (Keep it in mind as an option though—not every game is for every person, and you need to keep an escape hatch if it all goes wrong. If you're prepared to leave if you have to, it's easier to leave gracefully.) That leaves the third option.

Communicate your problem and willingness to move forward

Let him know that you enjoy his game, but were working with a mistaken impression about how characters worked and you're not interested in this view of thieves. He probably (knowing 2e DMs) has his own procedure for changing characters, and getting that process going now will get you into the game sooner and happier than trying to sort it out on your own.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I think you hit the nail on the head here--I rather suspect this is a 2E DM that didn't fully update to the newer rules. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 3:06
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. We'll have to wait and see if OP updates but my guess is that trying to play with this guy is just going to be a very bad idea. I can't imagine what he found so great about AD&D that he decided to rip-apart 3rd to make it resemble that but it seems pretty clear he doesn't understand the mechanical changes well enough to be doing it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 4:02
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain I would not be surprised if he's still playing/running actual 2e, just with the skills, to-hit systems, and spells imported. That would be much more sensible, if you liked 2e fine but saw a few good ideas in 3e. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 4:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mayhaps. We shall see. Or not as the case may be. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 6:09
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think you left out a very big section. Based on the question it appears that the OP was under the impression he was joining a 3.5 game & the DM pulled a bait & switch which I would find to be a huge violation of trust. If that is the case I wouldn't be able to trust that DM regardless of any fixes we were able to make to accommodate a 2e rogue. However, OP did say it was 1st game so he may have simply not understood what that meant if any disclaimers were made up front which means better communication from a DM to a new player. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben-Jamin
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 19:41

Wait, what?

Sneak Attack Does Work While Flanking

What in the world is your DM basing this ruling on? The rules are very clear on this.

The rogue’s attack deals extra damage any time her target would be denied a Dexterity bonus to AC (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not), or when the rogue flanks her target.

Go Ask The DM Again. It's entirely possible he just misunderstands the rules.

If He Doesn't Misunderstand The Rules

If this is a deliberate house rule for some reason I can't possibly fathom, then you should ask for a retcon and totally redo your character, making it into something else. Rogues aren't a super strong class in the first place. Take away sneak attack and a dual wielding Rogue is really weak in combat. You could try to switch to ranged, but you've already wasted a feat on two weapon fighting that you can't get back, and ranged combat is pretty feat intensive.

Even then, ranged combat will still be really weak. With the sneak attack ruling, you will only be able to use it more than once if you've got greater invisibility, or you can stealth after attacking with Hide (which is taken at a -20 on your roll, so it's basically impossible at low level). You'll just be doing bow damage, which is really lame.

If he says that you must play a Rogue and he won't undo his house rule, then I'd just deliberately get killed. Nobody can afford a resurrection at low level, so you can make something else. If he tries to still force you to play a Rogue despite his wonky ruling, quit the campaign. It's not worth the frustration when DMs try to railroad players like that, and I say that as someone currently DMing a two years and running campaign.

If the DM really wants a Rogue in the party, he should not change the rules to make it weaker. Rogues are already not one of the stronger classes in the game, and a ruling like this is really damaging.

On House Rules & Misunderstandings

If this is a misunderstanding on the DM's part of the rules, okay. That happens. If you point out the rules and he corrects the mistake? No problem. I've been running a campaign for years and occasionally I get corrected by my players. :)

If not... you have to ask yourself if you want to stay in a game like this. This kind of seemingly random house ruling that severely harms the effectiveness of a player is a good way to create a toxic environment at the table. The next time someone gets surprised like this, what happens? What if it causes a character death? I've seen that type of thing before, and it ended a campaign.

Consistency in rulings is important from a DM. If he has house rules that affect player effectiveness, he needs to spell those out before you run into them. Allowing you to make a Rogue without warning you how badly he'd weakened it beforehand is not something a responsible DM does, and if he's okay with doing that, you run a very real risk that he'll just do it again in the future. You have to decide if you're alright with being in a game where that's a thing.

On Stealth

At it's base, Rogue stealth isn't that good. Hide as a skill is very limited in when you can use it, and a lot of powerful creatures have spot checks and special senses so high that it's just not going to help you when you really need it. It's largely totally unworkable in combat for sneak attack purposes.

It can be used to good effect, but it requires getting things like Hide In Plain Sight, or get Invisibility (or the truly awesome Greater Invisibility). But you need prestige classes, items, or a spellcaster party member buffing you to get those things.

Hide is handy when scouting, especially if paired with Darkvision (so you can see without a light source), and in a town setting where you can use it a lot. For combat, Hide is a very poor method of stealth that won't actually do much for you.

Do You Need A Rogue?

It's pretty rare that a party actually needs a Rogue. Are they helpful? Absolutely! My wife is playing one right now, and she seaches for loot, finds the traps, disarms the traps, and laughs at enemies that try to hit her with fireballs. If the Wizard casts greater invisibility on her, she also goes to town and deals big time damage. (And I mean big time, 6 attacks with 6d6 sneak attack dice is really nasty.)

The thing is that there are several ways to get trapfinding (outside of core, core only it's a lot harder). Once you know the trap is there, it can be disarmed lots of ways, including just having someone set it off (summoned monsters are great for this). Locks can be magically opened or smashed through. Other classes can do the "party face" social role just as well.

If you can't get trapfinding, then you have the Barbarian open the door, or send in the animal companion first. I've rarely seen a campaign where traps were so lethal that trapfinding was absolutely essential, and if your DM tries to run one when nobody has trapfinding, he'll soon find himself dealing with a party wipe.

So, you should play a Rogue if you like the class and want to play it. You should not play one out of a sense that they're required. They are not. There are other ways to do almost everything in 3.5.

If I Were In Your Shoes

I'd quit. Your DM might not think it's a big deal, but IMO he has no idea what he's doing if he is changing sneak attack so drastically. He's pretty much destroyed it as a functional ability until you get access to Greater Invisibility, which will be a very long time from now (if a party member will cast it on you, even longer if you have to get it through a wand or something). You will never be competitive in damage with these rules, and as a class with low survivability as well, you'll likely find combat somewhat less than fun.

It's not worth it. I want to have fun when I play, not sit around doing next to nothing most of the night hoping that a trap comes up at some point, especially when the problem only exists because of an absurd house rule.

It's also a friendship risk. If the DM is your friend and you're not having fun in his game due to this, that will risk bleeding into the friendship. Not playing at all is safer.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, what he did was turn sneak attack into sudden strike... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 11:14

This is symptomatic of an underlying problem.

This is not a minor rules variant your GM is imposing: it's a major change to a fundamental mechanic used by many classes and monsters, and I suspect it's just symptomatic of a deeper challenge your group is facing. If so, the rogue thing won't be an isolated incident: based on the other rules changes you've mentioned (XP and feat/stat progression changes are huge), it's already approached the point where you're playing his custom system rather than the D&D 3.5 system.

The GM allowed you to bring in a character build which he had no intention of allowing to function usefully, and he hasn't even thrown you a bone by giving you opportunities to use the rogue's secondary (stealth) features. When you presented him with your concern, he dismissed it as insignificant. This is bad: it's irresponsible GMing and should set off warning signs that a) he's totally without system mastery (and as such shouldn't be toying with the system by imposing house rules); and/or b) there's something in the gaming experience which he prioritises over players having fun with effective characters.

The answers suggesting that you bail are not out of line to do so. However, since the GM is your friend, we should take some effort first to see if we can find the underlying symptom and address it. I'm going to attempt a diagnosis and prescribe a radical cure.

Diagnosis One: The GM wants things to make sense as a story, rather than as a collection of rules.

It sounds to me like your GM is very interested in making mechanics narratively accurate ("sneak attack" has "sneak" in it, so it shouldn't work if the target knows you're there). Unfortunately D&D 3.5 --indeed, D&D in general-- doesn't really support that approach (in D&D it doesn't matter what a mechanic is called; what matters is the rules the mechanic follows).

If your GM continues to use this system he'll be facing regular frustration as the rules don't support his narrative vision, and his players will be unable to rely on the system to remain static in the face of his modifications, which makes character builds almost impossible to rely on. D&D 3.5 is built on an intricate collection of interlocking rules, and changing them for any reason needs a degree of system mastery or it quickly causes chain reactions throughout the game.

Prescription One: So suggest trying a story-first system.

Happily, there are many other RPG systems outside of D&D. No matter what playstyle or mechanic/story relationship your group desires, there's a system out there which supports it without a lot of handwaving.

immediately comes to mind as a more "narrative-first" system intended to mimic the ethos of D&D, but there are literally thousands of RPG systems out there. Many of them let the story guide the mechanics, rather than expecting mechanics to guide story as D&D generally does. It sounds like your GM --and so the entire group-- would be a lot happier in one of those systems, because his desire to use story to define mechanics will be supported by the rules rather than opposed by them.

(Also, many of these systems are designed so it's much harder for any character you create to be useless, so even if he continues to tinker with the rules the system is more robust about preserving your character's agency.)

Check out the tag and see if any of those questions are helpful; if not, maybe direct your GM to this site so he can ask us to recommend a system tailored to the needs of his group. (If you're concerned about the expense and time needed to master a new system, put that concern into the recommendation request: D&D 3.5 is at the higher end of upfront expense/mastery requirements, and many systems are both cheap/free and quick to learn.)

Diagnosis Two: The GM is trying to make D&D 3.5 more like D&D 2e.

I'm adding this one after your second major edit gave a wider view of the situation. It's structurally a lot like the first diagnosis, but with a different direction.

Unfortunately he seems to not understand just how fundamental the difference between these two editions is, and it's tripping up everybody. Just as with trying to force the system to make narrative sense above, it's not going to succeed unless everyone in the group knows that's what's happening and works to support it. Your rogue trouble is a symptom of this miscommunication between GM and players.

Prescription Two: Suggest using D&D 2e, or an existing hybrid system.

Like in the previous prescription, if a system is bucking the group's playstyle the best thing to do is find a more suitable system. If he wants to play 2e, then he should! Then you'll know what to expect.

If there are things he likes about 3.5 and about 2e, then again you can direct him to this site where he can describe what he's looking for in a hybrid-style system and we'll direct him toward a pre-made one if such a thing exists (I would be shocked if it doesn't!).


We cannot, really, answer this question. It’s really for you to answer. But we can provide the real questions you need to consider to make the decision, discuss the pros and cons of each. And you can always ask follow-up questions on how to accomplish whatever you go with.

Ultimately, your only “real” choice is to play or not

This is your first question that you have to answer: under what conditions are you, and are you not, willing to play? Bad gaming is worse than no gaming.

Do you want to play under a DM even if he doesn’t understand the system?

This is the first question I have when I read your story: your DM has some major misunderstandings of how the system works if he thinks this is a good idea. Even if you play a character completely unaffected by this ruling, you’ll still be playing for a DM who doesn’t understand the ramifications of his rulings.

So the first question is, are you willing to do so?

If not...

Then you have to leave. You’re not going to magically turn him into a DM who “gets it,” in all likelihood.

Ultimatums are lame and obnoxious, and arguments or insults are worse, so I would not make a big deal about it, I wouldn’t argue about it or blame the DM for it, I would just politely contact the DM with something along the lines of “I am sorry, but I have decided this game isn’t for me, so I won’t be returning.” Don’t give reasons that might be argued with, don’t set him on the defensive, just state it as a fact and don’t invite argument.

If yes...

Then you still have to figure out how you are going to play in this game. This begs some further questions:

Do you want to be useless?

It doesn’t sound like it to me, but it’s an option. Plenty of people have enjoyed playing a useless character. It tends to work best if your character can perform some kind of comic-relief role. Whether or not you’ll enjoy doing so is up to you. It’s definitely rather slant-ways from the expected functioning of a Dungeons and Dragons character (which usually, you know, explore dungeons and slay dragons).

Second question, then: could you enjoy playing a useless character?

Can you, and do you want, to change the character?

Characters can be shelved for a later campaign; new ideas can be generated. You say the group “needs” a rogue, but that’s not actually true: 3.5 doesn’t care much about “roles,” so you really can be anything. The only quasi-unique thing about the rogue is Trapfinding (though a lot of classes from supplements do also have that), but Trapfinding tends to be relatively unimportant.

Aside from that, the rogue is a squishy, somewhat-damaging skillmonkey. Damage isn’t critical (and there are better ways to do it), it doesn’t sound like the party wants or needs much in the way of skill-use, and there are other ways to excel at skills or make them unnecessary. It’s too much to go into details of how here; that could be a separate question. But know it can be done.

Or you can just make something else entirely, since it really won’t matter especially much if your party doesn’t have it. Particularly if you replace it with spellcasting.

Anyway, that’s the third question: do you want to change characters entirely?

A note: if your DM insists on your character actually getting killed off before letting you make a new one, ugh, that’s another serious strike against him methinks, seeing as his unannounced houserule is directly responsible.

Do you want to make this character work?

There are ways of generating flat-footed status as a rogue. Arms and Equipment Guide has marbles, for example, while even in core the wizard could (and honestly should anyway) cast grease, or you could get a wand of grease, and so on. Again, too many options to go into here. None of these are going to be even remotely as effective as just flanking, and the rogue doesn’t have a whole lot going for it here, but it can be done.

Ranged attacks are a decent idea here, since flanking is easily the biggest reason for a rogue to melee in the first place. Feats are problematic if you do, though; you’re already invested in Two-Weapon Fighting, which is extremely feat-heavy, and ranged fighting is if anything more so. You could try to ret-con or retrain those feats, or you could attempt to go for dual-wielded throwing weapons, though that’s extremely difficult with all the feats you need. And if you really wanted to do it, you’d really want to be a marrulurk (Sandstorm race with a ton of benefits for this fighting style), which would probably represent a rather huge retcon anyway.

This is going to be my last question, anyway: do you want to try to make this character work?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Your answer is good, but I wouldn't assume that the DM don't understand the system. As others had pointed out, this seens to be a really extrange homebrewed splice of AD&D and 3.x. I won't say that it is good, but I won't assume DM's incopetence from it. He may be testing those rules for the first time, we don't know. Anyway, I've upvoted it! \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 21:05

Play a different character

Well, there's a bit more to it than that, but it looks like the DM's houserules have nerfed the rogue. Whatever the case, every player should be playing a character they enjoy. If you don't enjoy this character, play a different one. If you do enjoy it despite the fact that it doesn't work the way you want, continue playing.

The first real point I want to make is: playing a class only because the group supposedly needs it, is a bad idea. You don't need a rogue. A rogue might be convenient, but D&D is a flexible game, and there's no single solution for everything. If the campaign hinges on having a character that sucks, it's a not-fun campaign that's not worth playing. So pick something you enjoy and go have fun. (You could even multiclass your current character to Ranger; rogue/ranger is a great combo.)

Discuss it with the DM. This is of course the answer to practically any problem. The DM has a responsibility to make sure everybody is having fun and has some access to the limelight. Nerfing a class that is required for his campaign is a sucky thing to do, because it condemns one player to not having as much fun. But it's also possible that he has different ideas about how a rogue should work. His massive amount of house rules suggests that this is the case. Talk to him about that, and ask yourself if you would consider his interpretation of the Rogue fun to play (and it might even be a lot more fun than the standard Rogue; Rogue is a fragile and often dysfunctional class in 3.5).

House rules are totally legitimate, but the DM should warn you in advance. If the players are used to the standard Rogue, turning it into something different is something a Rogue-player should be aware of. Also: house rules make it a different game, and that game might be broken. Or it might be great. You are now playtesting his homebrew game, which is fine and can be lots of fun, but the DM needs to be aware that stuff he dreamed up might not work like he intended. He has to be flexible and change his house rules when required. His house rules clearly take a lot of inspiration from AD&D2, which was a very fun game, so his rules might work very well. But there's no guarantee. Maybe look into how the AD&D2 rogue is supposed to work.

And again: consider if that's what you want to play. A bait and switch suckering you into playing a character you don't enjoy is not cool.

As for easy solutions if nothing else works:

  • Make a new character that you will enjoy more
  • Multiclass to Ranger; you're already considering two-weapons and ranged. Guess what the Ranger excels at. And if you can keep putting points into Disable Device, you can still be the party's trapfinder.

Most people play D&D very much by the rules, mostly as a kind of tactical wargame with story elements. Which is great. I love it. But if you play it that way, it responds poorly to rule changes. The rules are meant to be balanced as they are. That said, your DM seems to be a very good storyteller, who uses D&D more as a storyteller game with tactical wargame elements. If so, you can basically use any system and bend it any way you want.

There is a decision to make: is his story telling so great, that you can live with any arbitrarily bent system? I've met storytellers that were that good, maybe he is. Then he's a rare gem, keep him.

Maybe he's not. You need a way to work with the system you have or leave. Leaving seems another question entirely, so lets look at surviving in the system you have available. With only basic rules, the need for a skill monkey and the disadvantages using sneak attack leave you with a very interesting option: go bard. If your DM allows it, you can redo your character, or you simply start taking levels in bard as you level up. The bard does all you need: it's basic rulebook, gets a ton of skill points (not as much as a rogue, but plenty anyway), can do almost everything a rogue does and lacks sneak attack. Instead it has other advantages that are probably less restricted. With the additional feats, maybe it can be a real jack-of-all-trades and fun to play, especially in a story-heavy game that does not need the min-maxing of tactical wargaming.


D&D is a ROLE PLAYING GAME, not a first person team shooter. You and most of the answers here are worried about your DPS and other factors.

Now, there are many details you have left out. You said you started your first session 2 weeks ago, and there have been no stealth opportunities. You haven't mentioned how many sessions you have played. If you play once a week, then you have played twice. No stealth opportunities in 2 sessions is certainly not unusual. Secondly, is this an ongoing campaign, or will you play for a certain time or until an event and play start a new game.

Play your character and have fun. The D&D should not be about who can out DPS who, or even how much DPS you can do. It's about roleplaying. Your DM has something in mind by changing the rules. Usually this ends up very bad, because the rules have been carefully thought out and shouldn't (arbitrarily) be changed. But this does not change the fact that you can have fun roleplaying despite your characters shortcomings (due to DM adjustments). Think about your character and who he/she is. What they want, how they would react to situations. If they want to kill things (DPS) maybe you could become a firebug, dosing all opponents with oil from a "flanking" position and setting them ablaze. Maybe your character is just a pest, not doing any real damage but harassing the party's opponents and distracting them so the beefier people can get a better shot. These are just a couple of quick scenarios that popped into my head. In any case, have fun with the character, even if it's not as powerful as you hoped. If your DM is a storyteller type as you mentioned, he will enjoy your roleplaying more than your DPS and you most likely will get rewarded at some point.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1, some of the most fun I've had is when playing 'useless' characters. That said, we've used the 'sneak attack only when victim is unaware' home rule for years without a problem. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 16:29
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @user2623010: ...left something out of your comment? ;) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 18:24
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems pretty irrelevant to the asker's question. Yes, it is important to have 'fun' beyond dice rolling sometimes, but I feel like the asker's request for assistance when a legitimate concern about his character's viability is at stake is warranted. It's not as if he can just ignore that this rule exists. At the very least, this answer seems a bit derisive to the asker's plight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 19:28
  • 13
    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for completely ignoring the issue that sitting around being totally ineffective in combat might not actually be fun. "Just have fun anyway" is not useful advice, and the tone about it being a "ROLE PLAYING GAME" is frankly insulting. It's not contradictory to both role play and want to not have your character's effectiveness house ruled into oblivion by a DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 12:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ While the part of "Have fun" made me upvote this answer for a few seconds, I removed my upvote and turned it on a downvote. This answer don't really tries to resolve the issue at hand. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 21:10

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .