We started this project a few months ago as a way of developing viable versions of the Combat Engineer archetype for D&D Next. My first cut was a full class structure that combined some of the elements of the Rogue and the Fighter with an Alchemy skill set in an attempt to produce a well-rounded, Strength and Intelligence-base heavy melee combatant.
I stipulated, though, that I thought the class would work better as a set of sub-classes of existing classes, i.e. Combat Engineer (Fighter), Sapper (Rogue), and Alchemical Engineer (Wizard). Two weeks ago, I finally put together a prototype of the Combat Engineer subclass, and most folks seem to agree that, yes, the subclass concept worked a little better.
Now it’s time to look at the Sapper (Rogue).
The problem I had developing this subclass was in finding a way to differentiate it from other kinds of Rogues. I started by thinking of things that Sappers are good at--breaching obstacles, openning doors, and blowing stuff up. But the basic Rogue is already good at two of those three things, and if we decide to focus the subclass on demolitions, that presents an entirely new set of problems.
When he wants to blow something up, a Sapper is going to use alchemy, not the arcane arts or runic magic. That’s fine conceptually, but it introduces important issues about how powerful the various alchemical concoctions can be, and it adds potential monetary costs onto the subclass’s basic power set. Also, while I am not wholly committed to doing an Artificer or Alchemical Engineer subclass at some point, I might do it, and I feel pretty certain the WotC will at least put out an Artificer subclass as part of their core rules sooner or later. Any focus on alchemy in this subclass therefore risks becoming redundant. My goal is to add to the basic concepts of the game, not to create competing visions of existing ideas. Part of the reason for doing Combat Engineer subclasses is that I don’t think anyone else is going to bother.
Next I sat down and tried to think about different kinds of Rogues and how they might each attack a particular problem. More than any other class, the Rogue can be different things to different people. The Gygaxian concept for the Basic D&D Thief was a Guild Thief or a Sneak Thief, but in post-4e D&D, we have a lot more than that on which we can build. These days, a Rogue can be any of the following, and more!
- Guild Thief / Sneak Thief
- Assassin / Poisoner
- Aerialist / Acrobat / Swashbuckler
- Con Artist
- Guild Enforcer
- Arcane Trickster
We tend to think of Rogues as stealthy, sneaky types, but this is only one of many different ways to play the class. Most Rogues rely on their Dexterity-based skills, but that’s not mandatory, nor does it cover the whole range of archetypes the class structure encompasses. For example, we’d hardly expect a Con Artist to start picking locks when he’s trying to make a little easy money. That’s what Sneak Thieves do. Con Artists tell lies and swindle marks; this requires a wholly different skill set.
The same can be said for the Sapper.
So what do Sappers do?
To answer this question, I imagined a dungeon that’s home to a dragon’s lair. The dungeon has many rooms, and the dragon lives at its center. On the outside, there’s a cavern where a clan of kobolds lives. Facing outward from this cavern we find an entryway that’s trapped and obstructed by obstacles, behind which stand kobold archers and slingers.
The kobolds try to kill our party as soon as the Player-Characters (PCs) enter the room. Everyone immediately springs into action. The Fighter moves up with his shield to draw fire, the Wizard begins casting a spell, the Bard starts singing an inspirational song, and everyone looks to the Rogue to get them through the traps and obstacles.
Different Rogues handle this problem in different ways:
- The Sneak Thief makes a Stealth check, sneaks up to the traps, and begins dismantling them with his Thieves’ Tools.
- The Assassin ignores the traps, melts back into the shadows, and begins calmly shooting kobolds with his crossbow.
- The Swashbuckler climbs a wall, grabs the chandelier, swings over the obstacle, and lands amid the archers, where he begins causing mayhem.
- The Con Artist walks boldly into the room and proclaims, “We come in peace. Your lord and master has sent for us, and thus are we here to pay homage to mighty Xarian, King of Dragons!”
- The Guild Enforcer says, “We got no quarrel with you lot. But if you don’t let us in, I’ll see every damned one of you burns in Hades!”
- The Spy has already been inside for three days. She leaps from cover, assasinates the kobold chieftain, and this creates an opening for the party’s attack.
- The Arcane Trickster sets off the traps from a distance with a cantrip.
How does the Sapper handle it?
He throws smoke over the obstacle to provide obscuration, and then he goes to work with his breaching tools. He’s not so much sneaky as he is hard to see through the smoke, and he’s definitely not dismantling the traps with a set of lock picks. Instead, he’s using bolt cutters, a crowbar, an axe, or even explosive charges. It’s not a question of whether or not he’s nimble enough to disarm the traps. The question is this: Is he smart enough to breach the obstacle without blowing himself and his friends to pieces in the process?
Imagine a stout dwarf sapper with a monstrous rucksack, a battleaxe, and a bag of tricks for any occasion. This is the archetype I’m trying to replicate. He’s not sneaky, but he’s still ready and able to help the party find secret doors, deal with traps, get across obstacles, and do all the other things that go along with exploring and looting a dungeon.
Rogue Style: Sapper
You are an expert in mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability. You use obscuration, explosives, and main force to get your party in, secure the loot, and get out safely.
Sapper’s Skill Set; Bonus Proficiencies
Sapper’s Skill Set
You’ve learned the basic skills required to be a Sapper. You know how to spot and disarm traps and obstacles, how to make smoke powder cannisters, and how to employ them as part of a combat breach. When you make a Skill Check to search for obstacles, traps, or secret doors, you add your Proficiency Bonus. In addition, you can use the extra action granted by your Cunning Action feature to throw your smoke cannisters up to 50’.
A smoke cannister is an alchemical concoction that bursts upon impact. It does no damage, but it creates a cloud of heavy smoke 10’ in diameter. The area inside the cloud becomes heavily obscured, and creatures that rely on sight cannot see through the cloud.
Cost: 20 gp
Sappers can assemble up to three smoke cannisters during a standard Long Rest. If they purchase the required components and do the alchemical work themselves, it reduces the cost of the cannisters by half.
You gain proficiency with the Battleaxe and Warhammer and with Breaching Tools. When you use breaching tools to breach an obstacle or trap or to open a door, you add your proficiency bonus. You must describe exactly what you plan to do with the tools, and your DM will then decide whether your action requires a Strength or an Intelligence check.
- Grappling Hook
- Pole, wooden (10’)
- Ram, portable
You have learned to combine your smoke cannisters with standard Alchemist’s Fire to create Basic Breaching Charges. You can use the extra action granted by you Cunning Action to use deploy breaching charges against doors, traps, obstacles, and other inanimate objects. Any creature who is within 10’ of your charges when they go off, including you, must make a DC 11 Dexterity saving throw or take 2d4 points of force and fire damage.
Using breaching charges against a door, trap, or other inanimate object requires an Intelligence skill check. If you use breaching charges against a trap that deals damage, and you fail your skill check, you still disarm the trap. However, you also set it off and may take damage depending on its effects.
Basic Breaching Charges
Basic breaching charges are an explosive combination of alchemist’s fire and smoke powder. The charge is contained in a concave 6” disk. The shape of the charge focuses the force of the blast, making it ideal for controlled detonation. However, since the charges are shaped, they must be put in place carefully in order to be effective. One cannot throw breaching charges and expect them to be effective.
Breaching charges are usually employed with a timed fuse. The fuse can be cut to any length, up to a full minute.
Cost: 50 gp
Experienced sappers can make their own breaching charges if they have time and the correct components. Buying the components halves the cost of the charges, but assembling each breaching charge takes approximately four hours.
You have become a demolitions expert. You can breach anything from a complex obstacle to a castle wall if you have enough time and resources. When you make an Intelligence check to breach or demolish something with explosives, you add +5 to the skill check roll.
Additionally, you’ve learned to create Satchel Charges. You can use the extra action granted by your Cunning Action feature to deploy your satchel charges against doors, traps, obstacles, or anything else. Any creature who is within 15’ of your satchel charges when they go off, including you, must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 2d10 points of force and fire damage. The damage is halved on a successful save.
Using satchel charges against a door, trap, or other inanimate object requires an Intelligence skill check. If you use satchel charges against a trap that deals damage, and you fail your skill check, you still disarm the trap. However, you also set it off and may take damage depending on its effects.
Satchel charges are a highly explosive combination of alchemist’s fire, smoke powder, and runic magic. The mixture is packed into a canvas satchel which can be thrown up to 25’.
Satchel charges are often employed with a timed fuse. The fuse can be cut to any length, up to a full minute.
Cost: 80 gp
Experienced sappers can make their own satchel charges if they have the correct components. Buying just the components halves the costs of the charges themselves, but assembling each individual charge takes approximately four hours.