As discussed on a recent blog post, I don’t like Sneak Attack too much as a mechanic, for a variety of reasons (mostly related to balance and credibility).
Wary of attempting an extensive rewrite of this rather fundamental feature, I concluded that post with a simple House Rule which I will be testing out in my forthcoming campaign…. it states that “without advantage on the attack, Sneak Attack dice are reduced to d4s.”
Actually, the post spawned some pretty interesting discussion / comments, which in turn planted a seed in my mind that I’ve been watering recently in quiet moments.
What has blossomed is these ‘Cunning Tricks’, which I present here now with the twin goals of a) making rogues more interesting to play, and b) giving them a boost in light of my mild Sneak Attack nerf and the general fall off the class experiences at 5th level (when every other class gets something absolutely badass…. and rogues get Uncanny Dodge. Meh!).
Restricted in their usage, and requiring a bonus action to use (thus competing with many of the rogue’s other options), these Cunning Tricks should add plenty of fun and versatility without unbalancing the class (hopefully!).
Many of them feel like the kind of tricks I want to pull when I do delve into this dastardly prototype, so hopefully others will agree they are ‘on brand’. Here we go…
Starting at 5th level, you become a wily adversary and master of improvisation. You know the following Cunning Tricks, which you can perform instead of a Cunning Action (i.e. as a Bonus Action).
Where a Cunning Trick requires a saving throw, the DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Dexterity modifier. You can perform a number of Cunning Tricks equal to your proficiency bonus, after which you must finish a short or long rest before using them again.
You attempt to blind an opponent by throwing dust in their eyes, flicking an object over their head or by dint of a distracting blow. Choose a Large creature or smaller within 5 feet. They must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or be blinded until the start of your next turn.
You attempt to unbalance an opponent with a deft trip. Choose a Large creature or smaller within 5 feet. They must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or be knocked prone. If they fail by 5, you may also reposition them to an unoccupied space within 5 feet.
Tumbling out of danger, you move up to half your movement speed, adding your proficiency bonus to your AC until the start of your next turn.
More Cunning Tricks
Starting at 11th level, you know these additional Cunning Tricks.
You learn how to slip out of the effects of restrictive magic. Whenever you are called upon to repeat a saving throw at the end of your turn, you may retake the save at the start of your turn instead.
When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can use your Cunning Action to try to disarm the target. The creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or drop one item of your choice that its holding. If they fail by 5, and you are within 5 feet, you may choose to grab the item as part of the trick.
Twist the Knife
When you deal your Sneak Attack damage, you may use your Cunning Action to ensure you inflict the maximum damage possible. You can reroll any 1 or 2s on your Sneak Attack dice rolls. You must accept the new roll.
So there we go… that was fun! I’ve kept these fairly simple… as I think rogue players don’t necessarily like complicated mechanics and dozens of choices. What I like about Blinding Trick for example is that it might be best used before or after taking the Attack action, depending on the situation. They’ll be some serious pressure on someone to play a rogue in my next campaign now.
Please share with your favourite scoundrel!
Turns out my Final Thoughts were not my final thoughts… I was thinking about balance, and different ways you could incorporate these tricks into your campaign. More conservative DMs could treat these as ‘class feats’, allowing rogues to select Cunning Tricks instead of an ASI (and More Cunning Tricks as an additional ASI). That might be better if you haven’t nerfed Sneak Attack as I have.
Otherwise you could play around with what level you get the tricks, how many tricks you can perform a short / long rest. See the Comments section for more concrete suggestions.