Resource Management and the Starbroker Rogue
Instead of posting last week, I worked 80 hours. This week looks better at a scant 50-60. Try and contain your envy. I was going to write something outside this series, and try and take it easy to get something done. Instead, I just posted about it a lot on Twitter. I don’t know, man. It’s probably better off over there. It stops me from talking about the Rhine League for a thousand words or whatever – okay, it might have been close. Anyway. Practically, this means I end up discussing one of the two remaining archetypes in the world of the Zodiac and the Far Realm – the rogue. I’ve always liked playing with some outlandish rogue concepts, and this is no exception. Let’s cut the guff, and talk about resource management and the Starbroker rogue.
Previous Discussions: The Zodiac and the Celestial Sorcerer | Aberrations and the Circle of the Zodiac Druids | Dendar the Night Serpent and the Path of Nightmares Barbarians | Living Stars, Blazozoids, and Zodiac Patron Warlocks | Singing Stars, Erinyes, and the Bardic College of Kindly Song| Bitheism, Clerics, and the Service Domain | Superstition and the Starscarred Fighter | Warrior Orders and the Way of the Jade Serpent | Sacrificial Power and the Oath of Binding | Hunting Monsters, Fancy Tools, and the Astral Covenant Ranger
A Dicey Situation
Way back in the early days of D&D 5e when it was still D&D Next – either a Nicolas Cage vehicle or an energy drink – classes got superiority dice. These dice were renewable resources that allowed you to perform a variety of moves – contested by the opponent’s ability modifiers. Fighters got bigger die that also did more stuff, and eventually evolved into the Battlemaster of today that we all know and love. I like these dice not only because I like active play, but because I adore anything that helps the table stay engaged went it’s not their turn. While there is a reasonable expectation to keep people engaged with the table as often as possible, anything that makes this easier and relieves some of the burden from the DM is a good thing. When everyone is contributing, the game shines.
Part of the drive behind the superiority dice was to give players a small pool of meaningful actions they could take frequently throughout their adventuring day. For players of 4e, this is reminiscent of encounter powers – albeit with a purposefully more limited approach. Instead, this was dialed back and moved from classes to archetypes. It would be easy to say this is because 5e has a “choose your complexity” approach to classes and archetypes, and that’s true – to an extent. No one is going to dispute wizard is more complex than fighter. However, it’s up for consideration now that wizard is more complex than sorcerer or warlock – or any other full spellcaster for that matter. Is paladin more complex than rogue? You see what I mean.
Battlemaster is definitely more complex than champion, no question. However, is eldritch knight more complex than battlemaster? In my opinion, it absolutely is because of the spells. If you don’t believe spells add complexity – even with the limited selection of eldritch knight – then I’d love to talk about it in the comments. Would eldritch knight still be the complex option if the core of it was moved out to an arcane hybrid and just the fighter portion was carried in THAT eldritch knight archetype? Almost certainly not. The point here is that complexity is relative. Managing resources and options definitely add to complexity, but it does create situations where you need to recreate the wheel – Philip J. Fry notwithstanding.
Healing Surges and Hit Die
If you played 4e, you probably remember healing surges. Healing surges are a method to limit in-combat healing – until bloat introduced a lot of ways to heal without expending healing surges – and to allow healer-less play via out-of-combat healing. You receive a number of healing surges based on your class and Constitution modifier, and can raise the number with various character customization options. These healing surges restore a number of hit points based on your healing surge value – roughly ¼ of your max hit points. Even though healing surges don’t appear in 5e, their impact is far reaching.
In 4e, you can spend healing surges in a number of ways. When you complete a short rest, you are able to spend any number of healing surges you want. In combat, you can take the second wind action and spend a healing surge – in addition to gaining +2 to your defenses. Most healing abilities also allow you to spend a healing surge to heal and gain additional effects – healing word, for example. Even some items get in on the act. Healing potions allow you to spend a healing surge to regain a set amount of hit points independent of your healing surge value. Other items require the expenditure of healing surges to restore charges or to activate the item. In short, healing surges are a currency everyone gets and has to manage.
It would be easy to see 5e hit dice as a direct parallel to 4e healing surges, but it isn’t quite that cut and dry. Hit die aren’t consumed by healing spells or abilities. Healing potions don’t consume them – unless you house rule them because you are expecting to run a healer-less campaign, like I do. For the most part, magic items don’t require them for activation or recharge. Instead of a base number of healing surges, you gain hit die based on your level and they are sized appropriately to your class. In fact, the most direct carry over is the fact you can spend any number of hit die at the end of a short rest and recover the hit points.
However, the initial line from the D&D design team was roughly, “we don’t want to treat hit die as a fungible resource in our official content, but it’s not bad to do so in your own or third-party content.” Of course, this was ignored in XGtE with a feat for dwarves. Anyway, the fact remains it is the exception in the core 5e products, rather than the rule as in 4e.
The Recent History of Sneak Attack
As I am sure everyone is aware, rogues are synonymous with sneak attack in D&D. In 3.X, sneak attack scales to 10d6, and applies to any attack that meets the qualifications. Targets must not be a construct, incorporeal, plant, ooze, or undead, and must be denied their Dexterity bonus to their armor class. Rogues got a base of three attacks in that edition, as well. This is, of course, irrespective of any additional wacky feats, multi-classing, magic items, or prestige classes. If you want to get into that stuff, Brandes Stoddard is ya boi. Anyway, it was a major damage kicker – to say the least.
4e reigns in sneak attack quite a bit. You can only apply it once per turn – or per round, depending on version you are playing – and it only scales up to 5d6, increasing every ten levels. Because of the way 4e works, everyone is doing a ton of damage all over the place, so this 5d6 was a pretty big deal to push them ahead. It is even more meaningful after you take the requisite feat path that 4e relies upon so heavily. It deals more damage, you apply it on critical hits, it deals persistent damage, and – interestingly to me – debuffs enemies in exchange for forgoing one of the dice. In some cases, the debuffs are free, but they are of varying strength. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the free stuff is better than the stuff with cost, just because, ya know, 4e billion book bloat. I will say, there is a feat for everything, so if you want to fight with a chair or spiked chain, you still get your sneak attack damage at the low, low cost of a feat. A deal any rogue can appreciate.
As with other things, 5e sees a reversion of sneak attack back to 10d6. However, it retains the once per turn restriction it gained in 4e. It’s fairly trivial to apply the sneak attack, and it applies to all types of creatures. I would say this is an increase in general reliability and comparative throughput. I’m hard pressed to say rogue is worse than in previous editions, and I don’t think it’s light on the damage at all – I have heard many people mildly gripe about the rogue’s damage. At any rate, the rogue isn’t quite the damage dealing powerhouse of yesteryear, but they get a lot more toys and a few archetypes dedicated to either mastering or expanding those toys. They might not be the most damaging, but they still do very well. This is an interesting niche in which to insert rogue, but it’s a conscious shift from the past.
Just to illustrate what I am discussing above, here’s a brief chart to show some “damage ratings” of some various martial types. Let’s talk about my assumptions. Fighters and paladins will be using the Great Weapon Fighting fighting style. Barbarians, fighters, and paladins will be using a two-handed sword and will have the Great Weapon Mastery feat starting in the second level-band. Rangers have the Sharpshooter feat starting in the second level-band. Rogues will dual-wield and will pick up the Dual Wielder feat in the second level-band – not ideal, but just doing a flat comparison using similarities. In the 11-15 band, fighters, barbarians, and paladins will pick up the Pole-arm Mastery feat, and swap to glaives for damage. I’m going to be assuming a +4 ability modifier at 1-10, a +5 at 11+. Monsters in the bands will have ACs of 13, 15, 17, and 19 – respective of each band.
Damage will be averaged across 100 attacks, and the amount of turns needed to reach 100 attacks will be used as a divisor. For example, 600/100 would represent you need 100 turns to deal an average of 600 damage in that time. That formula will result in a “damage rating” for the band – 6 in the above example. I won’t be assuming any spells, items, or archetype feature expenditure – improved critical, superiority die, frenzy, etc. Divine smite is factored in as if all spells are spent as divine smites. Critical hits will be a flat %, meaning if you crit on a 20 then you will get a critical hit calculated once every 20 hits. Rage is assumed to be best case scenario – 10 round duration. Not exactly scientific, but enough for this dirty modeling.
Barbarian math is a little complicated because of brutal critical. What I did was any band that sees a brutal critical die increase is weighted based on the levels in the band. The numbers reflect that. Likewise, rogue has some kinks around the math for sneak attack. The way I calculated that was the cumulatively likelihood you would miss two attacks in a row, and then applied that to the sneak attack damage across the average. For example, if you would hit 9/10 times, you’d only miss twice in a row 1/100 times. So, I would take the that 1% chance and out of applying sneak attack 100 times, I’d subtract one from the average. Anyway, that’s the quick and dirty of it. Again, perfect? Of course not, but it gets the idea across.
|Class | Lvl Band||1-4||5-10||11-15||16-20|
What That Chart Means
This is pretty interesting to me. This is all without archetypes, but it’s pretty crazy to look at fighter and then work your way back to battlemaster. In the lower bands of play, it definitely needs a damage boost comparatively, but top end? Crikey. It’s obvious that’s not a focal point for people. I’m also not saying it’s all about damage, but this should illustrate some of the more stark disparities in the classes. It’s also true ranger’s numbers could trend upwards with spell use, but it’s much more difficult to consistently model than paladin. It also wouldn’t come close in terms of overall damage…and the baked in utility of paladin is better – but we all know paladin is S tier. Anyway, saying ranger is artificially low here is fine and I won’t disagree too hard – but know the amount it rises is NOT comparable in any model I tried with it.
What this means – to me at any rate – is this chart should prove a helpful guide. It’s easy to see where archetypes might be able to fill the gaps to bring various damage points up – if you want to making a damaging archetype. It’s equally easy to see the areas where you don’t need to dole out the damage when creating something. The reason why the Thief archetype is so good for rogues should be readily apparent, looking at this. Rogue – other than the first band, is really solid on damage. They don’t need a lot of damage splashed all over to bring them up to snuff. Even Assassin doesn’t touch too much on damage except the low band and the extreme top end, where that extra damage is going to be fine.
This is by no means definitive, but I think it’s a good visualization of something I haven’t seen before.
Resource Management and the Starbroker Rogue
Another thing that chart illustrates to me is rogue could be comfortable dropping some sneak attack die during specific attacks and come out okay in the long run. Heck, as long as it was a renewable resource, you could probably spend them down for effects without too much worry – as you would with superiority die – refreshing them on short rest. Of course, it would take some massaging at low levels to make that work, but it’s not insurmountable. Regardless, that’s not the route I am pursuing here, but it’s something to noodle on.
Instead, the Starbroker Rogue is all about managing the the deals within her star vault – a box forged from the remnants of a fallen star that once used to be part of Auris in the heavens. The box is capable of creating temporary, binding covenants between those that offer to the box and Auris. It is unclear if Auris is necessarily aware of these deals, but her nature as the Binder means that it doesn’t entirely matter. Into this box, the rogue can place a number of things – health, prowess, or secrets. In exchange, the Auris keeps watch over these things, and grants a gift in return. Of course, there are rumors of baleful stars that have fallen, and are now trading in these same secrets.
The box is limited, as it possesses only a portion of the star. These deals last only for a short period of time, but the rogue can refresh them with additional cost. Otherwise, the deals expire and the box becomes empty once again. This management of temporary and long term combined with the push and pull of combat, social engagements, and exploration, makes up the core play of the archetype. Sure, they are as effective as any other rogue in combat, but they are facilitators, wheelers, dealers, and keepers of secrets. People know they deal in secrets, and seek them out accordingly.
Through accident or intent, you have learned about a fallen star. You have heard the whispers that those who are brave enough may shape a portion of the star to their will, creating a vessel for secrets and that which is held most dear to be offered to the stars for something in return. Starbrokers are a close-knit society, gathering information and secrets wherever possible. They know information has its price, but the ability to keep secrets is of immeasurable value.
|3rd||Bonus Proficiencies, Star Vault|
|9th||Keeper of the Vault|
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with alchemist supplies and smith’s tools.
Beginning at 3rd level, you have created your own star vault from a fallen star through a combination of smithing and alchemy. The star vault is a cube that doesn’t open, is 3 inches to a side, and is adorned with astral imagery. In order to bind the vault to you, drops of your own blood are added during the creation process. The star vault can be destroyed and become stolen or lost. However, it always finds its way back to you whole and complete within an hour of the sun setting. Secrets remain in the star vault, even if the star vault is missing or destroyed – behaving as they would if the star vault was in your possession.
The star vault may hold a number of secrets equal to your Dexterity modifier (minimum of one). These secrets are given to the stars after you complete a long rest, and your vault becomes empty once more. Giving a secret to the vault requires a bonus action by an adjacent creature willingly giving the secret. All penalties from secrets and benefits from gifts last until the creature giving the secret finishes a short or long rest.
In exchange for giving secrets to the vault, the creature receives a gift.
The star vault accepts the following secrets:
Secrets of Health. Creatures sacrificing their health may choose to have their maximum hit points halved, have disadvantage on saving throws against becoming diseased or poisoned (losing any advantage or immunity they might possess), or have disadvantage against becoming restrained, stunned, paralyzed, or petrified (losing any advantage or immunity they might possess).
Secrets of Prowess. Creatures sacrificing their prowess may choose to reroll the maximum result on any damage rolls they make and take the second result, not be able to benefit from advantage, or have attacks against them score a critical hit on a 18-20 (if the creature attacking them already has an increased critical hit range, that range increases by 2).
Secrets of Promise. Creatures sacrificing a promise must break a promise to tell a secret to the vault. In exchange, the creature is cursed, choosing one ability score and suffering disadvantage on ability checks and saving throws with that ability, and suffers an additional 1d4 necrotic damage whenever it suffers damage.
In exchange for these secrets, the creature may choose one of the following gifts:
Blessing of the Stars. You gain the benefit of the bless spell, and do not have to maintain concentration.
Charisma of the Stars. You gain the friends cantrip. Your casting ability for this is your choice of Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom. (As a reminder, please use Brandes Stoddard’s version of friends. Or don’t, I’m not your dad. Unless my children are reading this in the future, and then you better use it.)
Curse of the Stars. You may cast the hex spell as a 1st-level spell once without expending a spell slot. Your casting ability for this is your choice of Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom.
Favor of the Stars. You gain the benefit of the divine favor spell, and do not have to maintain concentration.
Luck of the Stars. When you roll a 1 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll. You may not use this gift if you gained disadvantage from your secret.
Performance of the Stars. You gain the benefit of the enhance ability spell, and may choose which effect you gain from it. You do not have to maintain concentration on this effect.
Shroud of the Stars. You may cast the pass without trace spell as a 2nd-level spell once without expending a spell slot. Your casting ability for this is your choice of Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom.
Keeper of the Vault
You have learned to master the vault, and claim some of its secrets for your own. When you hit with an attack and apply your sneak attack, may sacrifice one sneak attack die to gain one of the following abilities for that attack:
Crippling Strike. The creature must succeed on a DC 8+Your Dexterity Modifier+Your Proficiency Bonus Dexterity saving throw or become restrained until the end of your next turn.
Enfeebling Strike. The creature must succeed on a DC 8+Your Dexterity Modifier+Your Proficiency Bonus Constitution saving throw or have disadvantage on Strength and Dexterity ability checks and saving throws until the end of your next turn.
Ensorcelling Strike. The creature must succeed on a DC 8+Your Dexterity Modifier+Your Proficiency Bonus Intelligence saving throw or spell attack rolls against them are made with advantage until the end of your next turn.
Weakening Strike. The creature must succeed on a DC 8+Your Dexterity Modifier+Your Proficiency Bonus Strength saving throw or have disadvantage on attack rolls until the end of your next turn.
Sacrificed sneak attack die are for sacrificed for that attack only. You may use this feature a number of times equal to your Dexterity modified (minimum of 1). Once you have done so, you must complete a long rest to regain all uses of this feature.
Starting at 13th level, you have learned to seal these secrets within your vault, preventing them from returning to the stars. You may sacrifice one of your hit dice to seal away on secret in the vault. This allows the penalties from secrets and benefits from gifts to remain until the creature providing the secret completes a long rest. The creature giving the secret must willingly state, “I seal my secret within the vault” for this to take place.
Once done, charisma of the stars, curse of the stars, performance of the stars, and shroud of the stars may be refreshed upon completing a short rest.
Sacrified hit die remain sacrificed for as long as the secret remains in the vault.
When you reach 17th level, your star vault now empties when you complete a short or long rest.
Additionally, you may cast knock as an action, using your choice of Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom as the casting ability – chosen the first time you use this feature.
Art by: racerxondar