Let's Play...A Low Dexterity Rogue
As part of this series, we are looking today at how to play a low-Dexterity Rogue: a person who can help the party with damage output and skill checks, but with a trick: you suffer a penalty to all of your Dexterity rolls.
This one, I confess, was a bit tricky, but we will start as we always do by building out the character concept, and then maneuvering the build into a place where it is useful to the party while fulfilling the low Dexterity requirement.
I. Character Concept
So, I'll be honest: it's hard to explain or find an example of a low Dexterity Rogue as the class comes out of the Thief from 1st Edition, which lived and breathed off of its Dexterity. And the class still does to this day: it's very Dexterity-centric, using it for a lot of its best skill checks and attacks.
Your ability to sneak, perform acrobatic feats, and strike using Sneak Attack are not great if your Dexterity is low, and means most "cat burglar" type characters will not be reflected in a low Dexterity character. But there's one rogue that comes to mind that might work...
Ever think of Han Solo as a Rogue? He totally is, but he's not really a DEX Rogue (even though he is pretty good at shooting things some of the time). He's got a good Charisma score and is pretty smart, but his Dexterity is not great (think about him snapping that twig as he tries to ambush the scout trooper as one example, or how many times he misses the stormtroopers in Mos Eisley).
If Dexterity is not your highest stat, you have room to improve things like Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma with your starting base stats. And that leads to new realms of opportunities for your character.
II. Character Build
We will start the build by saying that since Intelligence is the secondary Rogue stat you should prioritize making this a good stat. The next stat will determine heavily on how you want to play this, as you can do quite a bit of damage with a Dexterity or a Strength-based rogue. We will start with a Dexterity-centric attacking rogue, and then move into why you might consider running a Strength-centric attacking rogue.
Since you will have a low Dexterity score, you will probably want to play a rogue like the Arcane Trickster or Inquisitive who can use their Intelligence to aid them with hit/damage rolls, because you will have a penalty to your rolls from your base stat.
But this is part of the advantage of D&D's system: your static bonuses are typically no match for whatever you roll on the die, so advantage on a roll is far better than a +4 (the difference between a -1 and a +3), and possibly better than even a +6 (the margin between a -1 and a +5). So advantage on your attacks will cover some of your flaws, even as you're fighting an uphill climb.
This is also true for damage: if you roll more dice (which you do with Sneak Attack damage) you can overcome the benefits of the +4 to +6 you'd get off of a higher stat. Sure, it's less damage than you would otherwise do, but comparative to other classes you are still doing a lot of impact damage.
The other thing this frees you up to do, however, is have really good secondary stats, as you can easily have 2-3 very strong stats that do not include Dexterity. So if you wanted to max out your Constitution, or have a really high Intelligence and Wisdom for your Investigation and Perception checks, this is very easy to do with this build. You could also take a high Charisma if you want to go more of the "Jack Sparrow" or "Han Solo" route, and (as you'll see below), there's even a good reason to go high Strength as well, even though you can't use non-Finesse weapons with Sneak Attack.
The other nice thing about rogue subclasses is that almost none of their abilities give you bonuses that you can use X times per day based on your Dexterity stat (though the DC for the Death Strike ability at 17th level for Assassin is reduced, admittedly): the subclasses tend to focus on the Intelligence side of the build, and that means we can pour more of our Ability Score Improvements into Intelligence far earlier than we normally would with a rogue.
Unavoidably, we should also mention that your Armor Class is shot with this build, as you are only proficient with light armor and you are getting a penalty to your AC thanks to the low Dexterity. Your higher Constitution will help a little in mitigating this, but if you're really concerned about this, your only real option is to either 1) take the Arcane Trickster subclass and prep Shield, 2) take a lot of pretty useless feats (which I don't recommend), or 3) multiclass into a class/subclass that can get proficiency with heavy armor and have a Strength of 13+ to wear heavy armor.
The third option is actually not bad, as you can get very useful abilities from, say, a 1st level cleric or fighter. This would allow you to wear heavy armor (and you can easily have a 14-15 Strength with this build), benefit from that static AC, and still do your Sneak Attack damage with, say, a rapier. And this is where we discuss building a Strength-centric rogue.
The wording for Sneak Attack says: "The attack [to trigger Sneak Attack] must use a Finesse or a ranged weapon." Notice what this doesn't say, which is "a weapon using your Dexterity": it says a finesse weapon, meaning that we can use a rapier and our Strength stat if we want to, and still get the bonuses of Sneak Attack.
So the short answer on how to make a good damage dealing rogue with low Dexterity is to take 1 level of War Cleric (so you can make two attacks per turn a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier) or 2-5 levels of Fighter (so you can make loads of attacks), get that heavy armor to cover your AC needs, and kill everyone with your overpowering might. That's how you do it.
I'm not personally drawn to the rogue, mostly because I feel like it lives and breathes off of one stat a little too much. But there are ways to work around that, and I'm now more interested in playing a rogue that is not your typical sneaky rogue. So this is an unforeseen blessing of this series: being attracted to concepts I won't normally play.
Do you think it's impossible to play a low-Charisma Bard? Check out our post next week for how to play that concept well, coming to you next Friday!
Until next time,