But, few games take place in a combat-free vacuum, and so the trick to creating an effective rogue is to find a balance between skill mastery and combat prowess. The first section will lay out essential and other useful skills, as well as talents and archetypes that complement them.
The final section will provide sample builds that demonstrate how the two sides of the class come together to create a unique whole. If you have the Intelligence score to allow you to choose extra skills, stick to ones that your character will often use or that you really want to excel at.
Especially for rogues who specialize in melee combat, maneuvering to a flanking position is key to maintaining a respectable amount of damage, which means moving through a lot of threatened areas over the course of the game. Keep your modifier high, as your Acrobatics check has to beat the Combat Maneuver Defense of your opponent in order to avoid the attack.
Expert leaper, ledge walker, peerless maneuver, and fast tumble (advanced talent). The best of these, though, is the fast tumble advanced talent, which allows you to move at full speed when using Acrobatics to avoid attacks of opportunity.
The roof runner archetype from Ultimate Combat lets you use your Acrobatics to fall greater distances than normal, so long as you have structures to bound off of as you descend, though. Coax information, convincing lie, honeyed words and rumormonger (advanced talent).
Coax information lets you use Bluff (or Diplomacy) in place of Intimidate to influence NPC attitudes. Honeyed words lets you roll twice for a Bluff check and choose the best result.
Rumormonger lets you use Bluff to spread rumors through a town, though why this is an advanced talent, I’m not sure. The burglar archetype lets you use Bluff to create a distraction if you’re ever spotted while using the Stealth skill.
The rake archetype loses trap finding, but does gain a scaling bonus to Bluff checks in place of trap sense. The charlatan archetype also gets a couple of bonuses for Bluff (such as the rumormonger advanced talent at 3rd level), but it loses trap finding as well.
As a result, you’ll want to keep your Disable Device skill maximized unless there’s another character with trap finding in the party. Even if there is, this skill is useful for opening locks and jamming other mechanical devices, so it’s still useful in most campaigns.
The following rogue talents generally work well with your Disable Device skill and trap finding: Trap smiths can also bypass any trap they succeed in disarming at level 8, which can be useful if you’re trying to leave no signs of your tampering.
It has broad applications both inside and outside of combat, so choosing not to maximize it is usually a poor decision. Perception is also how you find any traps your group would otherwise stumble into, so it’s doubly important for a rogue.
Canny observer, follow clues, trap spotter, and thoughtful reexamining (advanced talent). Canny observer grants a +4 on Perception checks made to make out the details of a conversation or to find concealed items (included traps!).
Follow clues allow you to track as though you were using Survival, and trap spotter has already been mentioned above under Disable Device. While Stealth isn’t strictly necessary, rogues are often scouting ahead of the group, searching for traps and other dangers, and they certainly don’t want to be caught by a roaming enemy all by their lonesome.
Stealth (along with Perception) also allows you to act most often during surprise rounds, which helps you deal your coveted sneak attack damage. Though there aren’t any rogue talents or archetypes dedicated to it, Use Magic Device is one of the best skills any character can have access to.
Of course, in a game without ready access to scrolls and wands, you’ll get less out of this skill. You can use the extra skill(s) to further customize your rogue, specializing in Diplomacy, Sleight of Hand, or whatever else suits your character.
Their limited number of feats and lower base attack bonus means they’re best at focusing on a simple, straightforward fighting style. In all cases, a rogue wants to maximize the number of sneak attacks that he makes, as this is his major source of damage.
Ranged Combat: Rogues specializing in ranged combat get more full attacks than other rogues; however, they have a harder time maintaining their sneak attack damage because they don’t have the option of flanking. Without a reliable way to guarantee greater invisibility, ranged rogues will generally lag behind in the damage department.
There is an additional combat style that I won't cover in detail because it is outside the scope of this guide: One-Handed Fighting: Conceptually, a rogue with a single weapon (say, a rapier) is common, but these types will generally lag behind significantly in the damage department.
In terms of feats and ability scores, they can be built like a rogue using a two-handed weapon, if you decide to play one. The other effective way to have a character stylistically similar is to off-hand a dagger or other thematically appropriate weapon and go the Two-Weapon Fighting route.
As with skill mastery, most rogues that want to be effective in combat should be looking to take the crippling strike advanced talent. Not many classes can readily do Strength damage, and it works to cripple a lot of opponents.
Since you’re probably using a composite short bow or throwing weapons, Strength is helpful to add more damage to your attacks. You’ll want a moderate Constitution, but since you plan to hang back, you can afford a lower score than melee-focused rogues.
A high Wisdom (for Perception) is helpful for you, since getting the drop on your enemies to gain sneak attack damage is more important for you than it is for other rogues. Intelligence is nice where you can spare it, and unless you’re focused on social skills, you don’t need Charisma.
Point Blank Shot is more useful for you than it is for other ranged combatants, since you’re going to spend much more time within 30 feet of your enemies to deal sneak attack damage. If, instead, you’re using a crossbow or firearm, you’ll want Rapid Reload instead, and rogues focused on throwing weapons will need to take Quick Draw.
Weapon Focus is always helpful as a means to bolster your lower attack bonuses. Normally, I don’t suggest using a lot of rogue talents for combat purposes, but ranged types may need to use them to help them get their sneak attack dice.
If you take the I pool and ninja trick talents, you can gain a swift action invisibility power, which can help you set up sneak attack damage more often. The sniper (Advanced Player’s Guide) increases the range at which you can deal sneak attack damage, which is useful, especially for bow-focused rogues.
Strength is your primary score, to keep your attack rolls and damage steady. Your mental scores aren’t terribly important, but try not to dump the ones that affect your chosen skills.
Furious Focus Intimidating Prowess Dazzling Display Shatter Defenses Furious Focus helps those attacks you make when moving into combat hit (since you might not be able to flank), so it’s a solid choice.
The nice thing is that you can also get sneak attack damage against shaken foes through Shatter Defenses. The rake archetype (Advanced Player’s Guide) has great synergy with the Shatter Defenses feat, as it allows you to make free Intimidate checks by trading out 1d6 of sneak attack damage.
This makes it easier to keep your foes demoralized while you’re dishing out the pain. Rakes do give up trap finding (which feels like a refrain for this guide at this point), so keep that in mind.
Focus on Constitution after Dexterity to keep your hit points up since you’re going to be spending a lot of time 5 feet away from your enemies. Weapon Finesse reduces your multiple ability score problem and makes your attack bonuses higher overall since you need high Dexterity for your other feats anyway.
Most two-weapon rogues won’t have a high Strength, but if you get lucky dice rolls, you can’t go wrong with these feats as a way to increase your damage output. If you have a good Intimidate modifier, you can use Shatter Defenses to set up more situations in which you get your sneak attack damage.
The rake archetype mentioned above can also work well for two-weapon fighting rogues if you have an Intimidate focus and Shatter Defenses. If you’re looking to use daggers or other knives as your weapons of choice, the knife master archetype (Ultimate Combat) lets you use d8s for your sneak attack dice, but as usual, they have to give up trap finding.
Outside of combat, she can track down more enemies to slay with the follow clues rogue talent. At higher levels, the bloodthirsty blender will take the other Two-Weapon Fighting feats, and she might consider fast tumble (to help her get into flanking positions more easily) and slippery mind as advanced talents.
This allows him to drop his Intelligence score in favor of Charisma to help out Intimidate. At higher levels, the brute will want to take Dazzling Display and Shatter Defenses.
At home in the wilderness, the scout likes to spend time away from the group, finding traps and gathering intelligence. He relies on his Stealth to make sure his first shots always count and probably spends a lot of time sniping in combat if he has available cover.
For rogue talents, once he has vanishing trick for those tough-to-get sneak attacks, he takes terrain mastery so that he can pick up hide in plain sight as an advanced talent at higher levels, though he wants to get skill mastery first (since he hasn’t focused too much on his skills otherwise) and then hunter’s surprise. To avoid that, try to make sure you really excel at the skills you specialize in so that the spell casters don’t feel the need to take over with their spells.
Even better, if you carry around a wand of invisibility and have Use Magic Device maxed out, you can save him yet another slot (which can be used on the simply excellent glitter dust). There’s no good reason that you have to play second fiddle to spell casters as you level up if you’ve made sure to keep your skills competitive.
You can do this while maintaining a strong combat presence, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated in this guide. I'm thought the ones that keep you alive rock if taken in moderation and the ones that don't (positioning attack) are a waste.
I haven't focused on traits in the guides because they usually won't have a huge impact on a build. You'll have a high Initiative anyway, but going first is really great, as it gives you another chance to catch your enemies without their EX bonus.
I happen to be making a rogue (Rake) myself for a game, two-weapon fighting style human, and I have been wracking my head for which traits to pick.