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I'm playing a campaign where the DM randomly selected the race and class of the PCs. I ended up with a half-orc rogue, which does not make much sense from my point of view. I always imagined rogues to be a sneaky class, hiding in order to take advantage of the sneak attack class skill (although I've never played one).

Therefore I decided to play more like a thug/mugger/street fighter character and I need help building it. The campaign is starting from level 1 and there are no limits on the books we can use (SRD material) except from psionics. We can also multi-class with the usual penalties, although I would probably want to stay as a full rogue at least until level 10. A possible build would be:

STR 18 DEX 15 CON 17 INT 11 WIS 7 CHA 12

In particular I have some questions:

  • Is making a STR-based rogue a waste when compared to the DEX-based one? Looking at the feat Weapon Finesse it seems like a waste of stats but the half-orcs have a +2 racial bonus...
  • Even if I max out STR, it will probably still have a very good DEX score, so it might be viable to use both a crossbow and two weapons for melee combat. Flavor-wise it checks out, but what are the mechanics out there in order to make a multi-weapon fighter/rogue?
  • Finally, what are the best options to make use of Sneak Attack in melee combat, without hiding/becoming invisible? This character is going to be the brute in-your-face type so it doesn't make sense to be sneaky. I found at least two options:
    • Making sure to attack first in the round in order to get at least a first Sneak Attack round (Improved Initiative feat).
    • Some skill tricks allow you to sneak attack: acrobatic backstab and hidden blade. In particular the second one seems quite nice but has some heavy pre-requisites (Quick Draw feat). Is it worth it?
    • Grapple? Is it a viable way or even possible to create a grapple rogue that sneaks attack someone to death?
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closed as too broad by Miniman, Thomas Jacobs, SPavel, SevenSidedDie Oct 10 '16 at 19:20

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you multiclass, or must you remain a single-classed rogue? What level are you, and what level do you expect to reach? What resources/sourcebooks are allowed in the campaign? (This is a terrible system for this campaign concept, and frankly half-orc rogue is far from the worst you could have gotten.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 10 '16 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited the question with that information. All core resources are in and multi-class is allowed, although I would probably want to stay full rogue until level 10. The PCs where drawn randomly but some crazy combinations where thrown away and also asigned randomly to the players but making sure the party is mostly balanced. Also, lore-wise we woke up without knowing the class of the character and sort of figured out along the way. \$\endgroup\$ – skd Oct 10 '16 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your question says “there are no limits on the books we can use, except from psionics,” but then your comment says “All core resources are in.” Those are not the same—core is only three books (and doesn’t include any psionics to leave out), while 3.5 has many, many more books beyond the core. The mention of psionics may indicate you instead mean SRD materials, which is actually a bit more than the original core (and include Expanded Psionics Handbook). Which is it? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 10 '16 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I actually meant all SRD except from psionics. \$\endgroup\$ – skd Oct 10 '16 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast This is actually not an optimization question. I though character building questions where on topic, do you have any suggestion to improve it going in that direction? \$\endgroup\$ – skd Oct 10 '16 at 15:37
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A Strength-based rogue can work fine, in principle. We actually have questions about using sneak attack during a rage (Pathfinder-based, but the relevant rules are the same) and seeking prestige classes for a stealthy barbarian/rogue, so the concept is actually one people pursue on their own. As those questions suggest, barbarian is often a decent choice for those concepts.

Specifically barbarian is a strong contender for a single-level multiclass dip: one level gets you rage, or perhaps even better whirling frenzy. That gets you an extra attack, not to mention more HP, more Strength, and so on. It’s also the half-orc favored class, so you don’t take multiclass penalties if your DM enforces that awful rule (almost none do, but then your DM thought this randomized campaign was a good idea so he might also think multiclass penalties are a good idea).

With only one level in barbarian, you only get rage (or whirling frenzy) once per day. More barbarian levels only accrue more rage very slowly, so that isn’t generally worth it. One idea that is kind of interesting is half-orc paragon, which gets a daily use of rage at 2nd level (and +2 Strength at 3rd). Whirling frenzy is explicitly a variant on rage, rather than a barbarian thing, so you can use half-orc paragon rage for more whirling frenzy. If multiclass penalties are in play, racial paragons luckily don’t count towards them, so you needn’t worry yourself about that.

(If you don’t take half-orc paragon, though, you may ultimately resent your race immensely: half-orc is a terrible race that offers you almost nothing useful, certainly not worth its own drawbacks. At least with half-orc paragon, you’d have something nice from your race.)

The other multiclassing to consider is two levels of ranger, since it can get you Two-Weapon Fighting without 15 Dexterity. It could also get you Improved Two-Weapon Fighting but six levels is a lot for what ranger is offering, at least in an SRD environment where other ranger options aren’t available. Eleven levels for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting is just right out. And if multiclass penalties are in play, you’ll suffer as soon as you have more than 3 levels of rogue.

Is this worth it? It may be: rogue is a fairly underwhelming class, and extra attacks make the most of the best class feature you do have. They also reduce the amount of sneak attack you gain, which is a shame. And you could always bite the bullet and have high Dexterity for Two-Weapon Fighting.

I would probably dump Dexterity either way, though, even if you decide not to go with ranger. It would just mean skipping Two-Weapon Fighting, and that’s OK. Whirling frenzy already gives you an extra attack, and Improved Two-Weapon Fighting only comes much later and at a stiff enough penalty that it likely won’t hit anyway. Thus, no matter what, you still want a big two-handed weapon to swing at people, to take advantage of your Strength score. Your source of sneak attack will typically be flanking. But with a two-hander and Power Attack, you are less reliant on sneak attack than most rogues.

The big question to me is whether or not your DM will go for some highly-technical rules-as-written lawyering. Specifically, the rules for double weapons allow them to be used as if they were a paired one-handed weapon and light weapon for attack penalties. Which means that, strictly-speaking, their damage rolls are not treated that way—they are still treated as if the double weapon was a two-handed weapon. This allows a double weapon to benefit from the 1½×Strength to damage and 2-for-1 returns on Power Attack, which is awesome on a high-Strength character who nonetheless has Two-Weapon Fighting. But it’s also quite certainly not the intention of the rules—Wizards even published a prestige class later on that gave that benefit as its capstone feature.

But you also have a rather weak combination that wasn’t your own choice—your DM may give you this one, perhaps. If so, two levels in ranger to get Two-Weapon Fighting while dumping Dexterity, and three levels of half-orc paragon for whirling frenzy and even more Strength, are well worth considering. If not, then ranger probably isn’t worth it; half-orc paragon may still be, but also maybe not.

Anyway, aside from the level of barbarian and the possible levels of ranger and/or half-orc paragon, the remaining levels could be all rogue, or some of them could be assassin. You couldn’t use spells or study for death attack during a rage (though you probably could study someone for three rounds, and then fly into a rage as you perform the death attack), but spells are useful out of combat and death attack is pretty weak anyway. And prestige classes don’t count for multiclass penalties, if that is a concern. Assassin would grant more versatility and HP; rogue would offer more skills and the high-level talents, which are OK-ish.

Another thought worth considering is the horizon walker prestige class. A single level for the desert terrain mastery option nets you immunity to fatigue, including the fatigue that comes after a rage. Not supremely useful (with only one or two rages in a day, you’re unlikely to want to end it early), but fatigue is a nasty enough condition that it may be worth, say, a 3rd level of ranger to get Endurance. And if you stick around for six levels, which is admittedly quite a lot, you can get the shifting planar terrain mastery, which lets you use dimension door once every 1d4 rounds: that’s some decent battlefield mobility not usually available to a character like this.

Some feat suggestions:

  • Power Attack is a must-have, assuming you take my advice about a two-handed weapon.
  • Exotic Weapon Proficiency (spiked chain) is a particularly good choice for you, assuming you cannot do the double-weapon trick. It allows you to get up in people’s faces and flank them, while still having reach for attacks of opportunity.
    • If you are going with a double weapon, I really recommend just using a quarterstaff. The d8s of an orc double-axe are only an average of +1 damage over a quarterstaff’s d6s, and that’s just not worth a feat.
  • Stand Still is listed in the psionic section of the SRD, but it’s not a psionic feat or in any way psionic. What it is, is rather good. It allows you to perform some battlefield control. Best with reach, which means you have a hard time combining it with a double weapon.
  • Improved Trip is too expensive to take normally, but a second level of barbarian can get it for free, without Combat Expertise or Int 13, if you are a wolf totem barbarian. Worth considering, at least with the spiked chain, as they can trip and then you get a free attack, which is better than Stand Still. Stand Still is still worth having since it works on those you cannot reliably trip.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting is available from ranger, but otherwise the Dexterity requirement is, I think, too expensive. Improved and Greater are both very, very expensive.
  • Combat Reflexes would prevent completely dumping Dexterity, but even with Dex 12, it would be worth it with Stand Still and/or Improved Trip. Not really necessary, since even one AoO a round is pretty good, but could be useful. Might even consider it after picking up some bracers of dexterity at high levels when they’re quite affordable.
  • Hold the Line and Knock-Down are good choices to extend the Improved Trip and/or Combat Reflexes options.
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