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The Art Of Hitting Things Very, Very Hard

Well, it seems I've finally figured things out in terms of finding the "replace the Rogue" solution in Neverwinter Nights 2. It comes with the understanding that you only need to dump 3 skill points per level to keep the neccessary skills up. That's trivial and, as long as you have that first level of Rogue, DC 20/35+ traps are doable (I think).

Taking Able Learner and having a decent intelligence score means you could technically have a level 1 Rogue, level 19 (+) anything. Many races can do this without penalty. Don't fret about your ability scores, Disable Device and Search are not even dexterity based, although Open Lock is.

Poor Neeshka (the provided pure Rogue tiefing of the main campaign) how little we need her... however, the Rogue's plight it's about to get worse.

Sneak attacks: Picking your pockets of any real damage?

If there's any new discovery I've come across since yesterday, it's only that "sneak attack" isn't a big deal. It mostly has to do with the critical hit formula, which does not multiply the damage from sneak attacks or added weapon damage (e.g. an extra 1d4 fire damage). It does multiply strength bonuses, power attack damage, and basic weapon enhancement (e.g Longsword +4). This difference is what ultimately undermines the value of sneak attacks.

It's hard to get excited about 8d6 sneak attack damage (8-48 bonus damage, avg 28) when any +4 strength yahoo with a Keen Greatsword +3 is doing 1d12 + 15 (16-27 avg 21.5) damage on a basic (not improved or frenzied) two-handed power attack 80% of the time, and 2d12+30 (32-54 avg 43) damage 20% of the time (a critical - not taking into consideration it must be confirmed).

The yahoo has a BAB up to 5 points higher (by level 20) which adjusts to a +2 advantage to hit after the -3 from the power attack is factored in. However, this is not maximum level, or the sneak attack dice and strength/enhancement/power attack mods would be higher.

My new Rogue/Fighter/Weapon Master, already performs quite effectively at character level 5. By level 17, he'll have an expanded scythe critical (5x instead of the 2x above) capable of over 100 damage 20% of the time. If I wanted to play it safer, I could have specialized with the falchion and inflict about half that damage in criticals over 40% of the time. (Again, these percentages reflect unconfirmed criticals.)

What if I ditched the weapon master and went with the far-less-feat-intensive Frenzied Berserker? This class has an enhanced power attack that can transform the +6 improved power attack damage to +12, which doubles again with a two handed weapon. +24 power attack damage with a -6 BAB adjustment. Frenzied Berserkers also have Supreme Cleave (two free attacks per defeated foe), promoting ripe conditions for everything in melee range to die in one round. Why cast fireball when you do way more reliable damage than a fireball?

The numbers don't lie: Sneak attack is no match for power attack alone. The difference is a minor advantage towards power attack normally, but critical hit interaction totally overpowers the difference by multiplying it. I often wondered how, about midway through the official campaign, Khelgar (the provided fighter) was often able to inflict high double-digit damage. Now I know.

Not that sneak attack is completely useless

Despite having just proved it an underdog in melee damage, I can think of a few situations in which sneak attack can be handy. To an extent, I've worded this Blog entry poorly - it's not like Sneak Attack is directly competing with power attack.

First off, sneak attack requires no investments of attribute points. The strength point savings from not taking power attack can be used to improve combat viability in other ways, such as with dexterity (armor class and Weapon Finesse) wisdom (divine spells and Zen Archery) or intelligence (arcane spells, skill points, and Combat Insight).

Second, sneak attack does not require any investment of feats. It does require certain class levels are taken, but certain character concepts are going to have those classes anyway. In comparison, Improved Power Attack requires two feats (and the above mentioned attribute requirement).

Third, sneak attack is free extra damage. A 5d6 sneak attack translates to an average 21 points of damage. A power attack at that level might do more damage, but sneak attacks require no BAB reduction and will work in conjunction with a power attack. Even though sneak attack damage wont' be modified on a critical, the extra damage is welcome.

Finally, sneak attacks do have an advantage in that they aren't as that hard to do as critical hits. At first, it seems you need feats like Hide in Plain Sight or a reliable distraction, but it's actually even easier than that. The sneak attack requirements can be met by a foe who has "no sight of attacker." Thus, it's as simple as just blinding the enemy or having Greater Invisibility cast on you. I haven't tested this, but it should work.

The main point I'm making here is sneak attack is never as quick and reliable as just hacking things to bits with high strength, two-handed power attacks. It has a purpose (mostly in low strength builds) but it's not the awesome combat advantage I once thought it was. (I get a sense of de ja vu when I think about Fireballs -- spell resistance and realizing the average of 10d6 is 35 put an end to excitement over that.)

Perhaps next I should consider defensive viability of the classes. A high strength power attack specialist can certainly dish it out, but how well can he take it compared to a 25 dexterity character? A monk may have a medium BAB, but is the wisdom AC modifiers and perfect self damage mitigation worth it? A wizard's fireball may be unreliable in applying damage, but do spells like Premonition make up for it? It's interesting to consider that AD&D 3rd edition's rules may have gone topsy turvy, where the less warrior-like you are, the better you are at being the tank in the end.


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