New Paths: The Trickster
This installment of the New Paths-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This pdf was moved up in my review-queue at the request of my players.
The trickster class presented herein receives d8 HD, a massive 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons plus rapier, longsword, sap, short sword, shortbow, whip light armor and shields (excluding tower shields) and may freely cast spells while only wearing light armor and/or using a shield. The class receives 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Ref- and Will-saves and gains spellcasting.
Spellcasting of the trickster is slightly more tricky (I’ll punch myself later for that one) than you’d expect: The trickster’s spellcasting is governed by Intelligence and thus is prepared according to convention. However, spells prepared are not expended upon being cast – instead, the spell slot of the appropriate level is expended. Metamagic is handled as for sorcerors and similar spontaneous casting classes. High Intelligence influences the number of spells a trickster can cast, but not the amount of spell-slots he has – this is pretty important for balance, so bear that in mind. So, in summary, we have an actually working blend of prepared and spontaneous casting here for a surprisingly unique take on the old vancian system. And yes, concise rules for cantrips gained (often overlooked) and spellbooks (ditto!) are part of the deal here. This section is rather elegant – kudos here! Tricksters begin play with 4 cantrips known and 2 1st level spells and increase that up to 6 for each spell level, barring 5th and 6th, which cap at 5. 5 is also the maximum spells per day limit. Akin to the alchemist and similar classes, spellcasting caps at spell level 6.
The trickster also receives access to sneak attack and begins play with +1d6, increasing this by +1d6 at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Similarly, at first level, the trickster gains trapfinding. So far, so rogue-y, right?
Well, second level becomes a bit more unique, as the trickster gains a forte on which to focus, of which 4 are provided. Structure-wise, the fortes provide immediate benefits and unlock new abilities at 5th and 9th level. The first would be Acrobat, which not only provides skill-bonuses to movement-related skills and eliminates the need for running starts to get the associated bonus, it also eliminates the armor check penalty for said skills. At 5th level, the trickster rolls Acrobatics twice and takes the better result 3+Dex-mod times per day, while 9th level increases AC when wearing light armor and eliminates the Acrobatics-DC-increase when moving through threatened squares.
The second forte is arcane accomplice, which nets a familiar, though the familiar receives Disable Device and Sleight of Hand as class skills and can deal sneak attack as long as it’s within 30 ft. of the trickster – and yes, this means you can basically double-team on your own, greatly increasing the validity of sneak attack, though, for balance’s sake, a familiar’s sneak attack uses d4s, which proved mathematically feasible in my tests. 5th level goes one step further and nets the familiar all teamwork feats of the trickster, while 9th level provides basically spring attack for the familiar, but only with regards to delivering harmless touch attacks – and yes, this is more versatile than you’d think.
The third forte is Beguile and provides +1 to DCs and +1 to rolls to overcome SR, scaling by +1 at 5th and 9th level – but only when targeting creatures that would be denied their Dexterity-modifier or that are helpless. At 5th level, when successfully feinting, the target would be denied his Dex-mod to AC for the next melee attack or spell targeting by the trickster, but only when performed on or before his next turn. 9th level decreases the required action to feint to a move action, a swift action if the trickster has Improved Feint.
The fourth forte is Spell Pilfer, which is easily the most unique of the fortes: As an immediate action, the trickster can make a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + spell level) to identify the spell and, if successful, the trickster may attempt to pilfer the spell. The caster receives a Will-save versus 10 + 1/2 trickster class level + Int-mod to negate the attempt. If the caster fails, he loses access to the spell known or prepared spell, while the trickster temporarily (1/2 class levels, minimum 1) adds the spell to his list of spells known. While the spell is pilfered, the original caster may not cast it, but the trickster may, provided he has an available spell slot. Only one spell (again, VERY important for balance) can be pilfered at a given time – pilfering a second spell, the previous spell immediately reverts to the owner. This ability can be used 3 + Intelligence mod times per day. It should be noted that tricksters can only pilfer spells they can cast, another VERY important limitation. Now you may have noted that Will-saves are pretty easy for most casters – thus, at 5th level, the trickster’s Wisdom modifier is also added to the DC to resist the pilfer attempt. I am usually fiercely opposed to dual attribute-mods to anything, but considering that Wis is NOT a trickster’s crucial stat in any way, in practice, this is not problematic. 9th level allows the trickster to pilfer spells above his casting capacity, but thankfully with the caveat that the trickster can’t cast such spells – so no abuse possible. This is a very impressive ability in my book, since it makes spell theft work sans holes in the wording, sans abuse. Love it!
Starting at 3rd level the trickster adds +1 competence bonus to Bluff, Disguise, Escape Artist, Sleight of Hand or Stealth, increasing the bonus by +1 every third level, though the new bonuses gained may be freely distributed among aforementioned spells. 3rd level also nets evasion and 6th, 12th and 18th level provides bonus feats from a limited list. 8th level provides uncanny dodge, 11th improved uncanny dodge.
At the level, as a standard action, the trickster can cast a spell with a range of touch and deliver it as part of a melee attack, with the restriction of only working in conjunction with spells that have a casting time of 1 standard action or less. If the trickster hits, he also deals sneak attack damage in conjunction with the touch spell. Important: Misses mean the spell is lost, not held! This, combined with 3/4 BAB, is an important balancing mechanism…At least until high levels, for at 17th level, it is no longer lost – as a minor nitpick, while it is clear from the wording, it would have been nice to see the class explicitly specify that the trickster can hold only one sneakspell charge to avoid stacking them up.
Spells thus delivered may also not be enhanced by metamagic and, have a crit mod of x2. 9th level provides ranged legederdemain, though the ability is thankfully MORE precise than that of the arcane trickster PrC, specifying how far you can propel stolen objects and increasing the required skill ranks to 5. At 14th level, the trickster receives Filch Spell, which allows the trickster to hijack spells requiring direction (flaming spheres etc.) as a move action 3+Inttelligence modifier times per day. 15th level provides Surprise spells – but unlike the imprecise original take on the ability, this one clarifies from the get-go how it works with magic missiles or AoE-spells. As a capstone, the trickster treats all sneak attack damage 1s and 2s as 3s and automatically confirms all crits when using sneak attack. Additionally, the trickster may add metamagic to sneakspells sans increasing the casting time.
Editing and formatting are top-notch and precise, I noticed but one minor fringe case; other than that – all around precise and well done in both formal and rules-language departments. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports multiple gorgeous pieces of original art. The pdf comes with bookmarks in spite of its brevity – nice.
Marc Radle’s trickster is interesting – it is a testament to how much we love the concept of a rogue-y character that the by now pretty broken (as in: too weak) base class continues to see truly excellent takes on the trope. Regarding customization options, both the talented rogue and in particularly, Legendary Games’ absolutely brilliant Legendary Rogues-book provided options for the “mundane” rogue that retain their viability in the system. Why “retain”? Well, simple: You see, the rogue has been pretty much a casualty to changing design-paradigms in PFRPG – when the core-rules were releases, the value of a rogue talent was obviously set to about a feat or less, while later classes have increased the value of class-specific options – compare alchemist discoveries and rogue talents if you need proof of that…or look at the ninja’s framework and unique tricks and you’ll notice the paradigm-shift.
The trickster, however, is not a simple rogue redesign – it could be summed up as a magus/rogue-hybrid, but that does not do the class justice: Instead of cobbling together two classes, the trickster is a completely unique class. Let me sum up the unique benefits here: The trickster streamlines problematic arcane trickster class features, has a unique spellcasting-blend that plays different from standard classes while being easy to understand and it provides a balanced, strong means to represent the sneak attack double team as well as, most importantly, creating the AWESOME spell pilfer mechanic.
Where am I going with this history lesson/comparison? Well, the trickster is stronger than the vanilla rogue – no doubt. It frankly SHOULD be – there are three classes that need versatility/power-upgrades: Rogue, monk and (versatility-wise/unique class feature-wise) fighter. The trickster is stronger than the rogue can deliver solid damage – much like a magus, this class is a glass cannon, though one that also is a rather good face/skill-monkey: Since the class receives A LOT of skills per level AND has Int govern just about everything, it will, by necessity, be able to cover a lot of bases. That being said, good Dex and Str are still important, build-wise, so maxing out Int sure is viable, but probably won’t net you maximum efficiency. Now personally, since I gravitate to a more subdued gameplay, I’ll settle on 4+Int skills per level in my home game, analogue to the alchemist – but the class’s default is not broken per se – it’s just geared more towards higher powered gameplay. When you reduce skills to 4+Int, you pretty much get the alchemist’s level of potency, at 6+Int it’s slightly above the class.
Ultimately, though, skills per level is more a matter of taste than a balance-concern and, more importantly a no-brainer-level easy modification of the chassis literally anyone can perform. All in all, the trickster as presented here is a pretty awesome, viable class that plays in a very unique way and mops the floor with any other take of the arcane trickster I’ve seen so far. Now, I do have one complaint and it pertains to the pdf’s size: If anything, this pdf left me wanting archetypes, more options, feats, favored class options – none of which are in this book. Sure, they are not explicitly required, but they would have been nice and I sure hope this will get expansions in the future.
Yeah, I’m rambling, I know. It’s just not every day I get to see a class like this. You know that I’m pretty much a huge advocate of modularity of class features, of options and complex systems. However, once in a while, most often by the pen of Scott Gladstein or Marc Radle, I stumble over a class that has a framework I consider too light on the player-agenda side…and still end up loving it for the impressive, elegant simplicity exhibited in the design. Just about everyone can play this class – it’s simple, concisely presented and easy to grasp. More importantly, unlike many less complex classes, it allows for a significant array of diverse playstyles and has a unique identity: This class has plenty of “only the trickster can do that”-moments, particularly when spell pilfering, which is, in one word, glorious.
How to rate this, then? Well, it should be taken as a testament to how well the class is written and presented that this conclusion was no never-ending ramble on how we need favored class options, archetypes, etc. The trickster is an awesome class with several innovations in its abilities I absolutely adore…and yes, this is allowed in my game. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, missing my seal of approval only due to the lack of supplemental material…so when do we get the expansion?
You can get this elegant, cool class here on OBS!
Honestly I really have to disagree with your take on the Trickster. I was really excited when I heard about this because Kobold Press usually puts out such good stuff and bought it right away. Even at a price of $2 I felt ripped off by getting 6 pages without an original thought on them. Every ability is cobbled together from other sources and a 6-level caster with access to the full wizard/sorcerer spell list is OP enough not to be allowed at most tables.
If you’re looking to play something in the wheelhouse of a roguish caster, I’d look to something like Ertw’s Beguiler (which is completely free and has 30 pages full of unique, original content) and pass the Trickster by.
First of all: Thank you for commenting! Concept-wise, the trickster is not that novel, that much is true. However, I think you’re a bit hard on the class. While it is true that the components of the class have featured in previous releases, I do believe there is value in the overall package – the spellcasting is pretty unique and the respective things the class can do are rather cool as well. Granted, one has probably seen a couple of them before, but on the other hand, quite a few abilities have been streamlined and made more workable.
While, as a *person* I prefer more original classes like e.g. Interjection Games’ respective classes, as a *reviewer* I can’t really fault the class for what it is. It would be like e.g. complaining about a Prestige Archetype class being based on a PrC.
As for wiz/sorc-list of up to 6th level – yes, this is rather strong, but unless you want to suck at either ranged combat or melee, also opens up the old MAD-issue. As mentioned, my playtest did work rather well and sans stealing the thunder of other classes, though personally, I’ll use 4+int skills. That being said, I’ve seen quite a few takes on the arcane trickster-style class and this was the most refined I analyzed so far – certainly better than the arcane trickster base PrC.
For base rogue-y characters, I prefer Legendary Games’ rogue redesign (more player-agency etc.), but I do believe this has value. It’s not perfect and brief, but what’s here is functional.
I’m certainly sorry you felt ripped off by this class. 🙁
I will take a look at the Beguiler you mentioned – certainly sounds interesting! Thanks for pointing me in that direction!!