A Critical Role – The Fantasy of the Rogue

September 8, 2016

The young elf moves silently, quickly through the Lord’s house. She picks her away around the guards, avoids setting off the Nightingale Floor, and arrives at her destination – the Lord’s treasury. So she kneels down, pulls out her simple tools, and begins to work.

They would never recognize him. As a master spy and confidant to the Prince, he was an expert in disguises. Now, though, with the Empress deposed and the Prince in exile, he needed all of his skills to blend in and find out what had happened.

He always had to fend for himself, ever since the humans came in and killed his parents. He wasn’t the fastest orc, or the smartest, but he was tough and he was good with his fingers. He picked pockets to feed himself and, occasionally, he roughed it out with those who caught him. Hasn’t lost a fight once, but he also doesn’t fight fair.

She cleaned her dagger on the jerkin of the merchant who had refused the Guild’s protection. It’s far too bad that the Merchant’s guild had decided he was worth sacrificing for their petty games. No matter, though – it was simple for her, a single thrust, right between the ribs on his back. No sound, no muss, no fuss.

The Rogue is one of the oldest archetypes in storytelling. Rather than using brute strength, the Rogue beats opponents with guile. Even some of the greatest warriors in fiction are better described as Rogues than Fighters – Conan, for instance, who sneaks around, wears light armor, disguises himself repeatedly, and is an expert at well placed blows. The Rogue, though, like the Fighter, is a very, very broad archetype.

It’s difficult to say what unites a court assassin from China, the Japanese ninja, a street orphan surviving however he can in Venice, and the spymasters of Arabia…at first. While stealth and guile are obviously there, the very fantasies of all of these roles are wildly different. They come from different places socially, they have different roles in their society, and they have different focuses and training. Some are well educated, some are consummate¬†athletes, some are desperate and self-trained. Some are brutal, some are efficient, some are desperate.

There is one thing that unites them all, though – precision. The Rogue martial artist is the master of Dim Mak, the death touch. The Rogue assassin doesn’t steal in and chop off heads – she plunges a single dagger into just the right place to kill her opponent instantly. The Rogue disguise master not only looks like their target, they sound and walk like their target as well. In game terms, Rogues critically succeed more often than others. Frequently, they also accomplish something else with that critical success.

The theme of Rogues will be twofold – increase their chances of critically succeeding on certain rolls in certain situations and give them options on what to do with a critical success. In combat that could be just the normal extra damage (or even bonus damage), but it could also be applying a condition to their target – blinding them, hobbling them, disorienting them. With skill checks it could mean a greater order of success than they would normally be able to achieve, giving them advantages on future roles related to their attempts. It may also be able to mask their occasional failures, as they can see when something is going to go awry before it happens, and can compensate accordingly.

Rogues, then, do the greatest sleight of hand of all for a game universe – they have limited control over the very probability of their actions. They are precise, they are focused, and they are always paying attention.

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