New: D&D Rogue Aerial Assailant
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! As we continue our D&D series we are looking at the rogue, the only martial class that does not get the Extra Attack feature. Some rogues make up for this through dual-wielding, using a bonus action to add an extra attack on turns when they don't want to use a bonus action for mobility.
But one of the "rogue" archetypes that you see in movies and books is the unarmed rogue who fights with their fists and feet. Sure, they pick up weapons as well, but when they need to swing into action, their fists and legs are capable to fight.
And that's not something you see from a rogue that doesn't multi-class as a monk. Until now. Behold, the aerial assailant.
Aerial Assailant: Theme and Inspiration
The aerial assailant is more common on screen than in books. Whether it's a Marvel superhero fighting with fists instead of weaponry, a martial artist who sneaks into a secret location, or an archaeologist improvising on the job, the trope of a roguish fighter who sneaks past guards and then defaults to brawling is a cool and evocative concept that should be easily playable in a roleplay game.
Aerial assailants rely on stealth and quickness to get them where they need to be, and when the going gets tough or stealth inevitably fails (because audiences don't like quiet heists), out come the big guns for beating down bad guys. But they don't just run in and hit people: there is a certain grace to their movements, staying lithe and agile, making it hard to hit them at range (which is convenient when you are not holding a weapon).
And I know that someone is going to say, "But Aaron: can't you just take 1-2 levels of Monk (depending on whether you want Ki points) and get the same result?" No, and for a few reasons. First, thematically a monk is a person on a spiritual journey, and that may describe some archeologists who fit the theme of the character, but very often it does not describe the character we are trying to create. So unless we are willing to say, "A monk is anyone who is cool with fighting without a weapon, Tavern Brawler feat wielders included," no, the monk's existence doesn't invalidate the need for a rogue subclass that centers around this approach to fighting.
Second, rogues benefit most from investing in Dexterity and Intelligence, and if you require them to also invest in 1-2 levels of Monk you will also need a high Wisdom score (13+) in order to even attempt the combo. This means that either you will have the multi-class option and a poor Constitution score (which is dangerous for two classes that both use d8 hit dice), or you will have to forego the unarmed strikes component by not taking the level of Monk (which is what most people do).
And that sucks, because the concept is really cool and very well executed on screen. And that means we need a new subclass: an aerial assailant (because I like the letter "A," so I fit as many of them as I could into the name of this subclass).
Aerial Assailant: Mechanics
You can find the details of the subclass here, easily printable for your game master to consider if desired thanks to the team at Homebrewery. The aerial assailant adds new benefits to the rogue while also doubling down on the mobility and stealth abilities of the class. Whatever you prioritize with an aerial assailant, you will always have two things: useful weapons and good mobility. Starting at 3rd level you gain the primary feature of the subclass: Aerial Strike. Your unarmed damage (which counts as a Finesse attack) deals a d6 of damage, and you may use a bonus action to perform a second one against the same target or a different target within 5 feet.
This does two things for you. First, it offers you a d6 Finesse weapon, which is on par with the best weapons you can get with the Light property without having to invest in Strength. Second, it allows you to attack more than one opponent (something that is generally not available to rogues), keeping with the thematic characters we are imitating.
You also gain proficiency (or expertise) with either Athletics or Acrobatics, making you that much harder to hold down or take down in a fight. This is necessary for the flavor of the subclass in order to make sure you can hold up against people who will likely have higher Strength than you if they attempt to grapple you, but is also a useful feature in case you need to clear a path in the wilderness, swim, climb, deftly walk across a tightrope - whatever the situation may throw at you.
As you advance you gain the ability to cast the Darkness spell a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier each day to aid you in your stealth capabilities. It does not grant you the ability to see through that darkness, but it does mean that your opponents will be suffering disadvantage to attack you if you are in the cloud of darkness, or disadvantage to attack anyone if they are in the cloud. This is a useful defensive feature to increase your longevity, and also gives you as a rogue a means of doing battlefield control (which is uncommon for the class) to aid your allies.
At 13th level you inflict disadvantage on attacks that come from beyond 5ft of you, making you that much harder to hit. You also gain a niche bonus to your Perform (Charisma) checks that is nice to have when you need it, but has no (likely) effect in combat, and that's fine: not every ability has to help you in combat.
And finally at 17th level, your unarmed damage increases to a d8, and you gain the ability to perform a Medicine (Wisdom) check to find the weak points in the target's anatomy, increasing your damage by a d6 for each attack you perform against the creature for the rest of the combat. This gives you a niche way to scale up your damage even more in combat, albeit by using a skill that is outside of your standard wheelhouse, but by 17th level you should have had enough ASIs to have a passable Wisdom score.
Rogue is not my favorite class, but it's a very evocative and vivid class, and the types of characters you can play with the class should reflect that. If you are the kind of person who enjoys the "Black Widow" or Jean Claude Van Damme-style characters in literature, you should give this subclass a look.
In our next post we will be looking at the sorcerer, examining what a sorcerer with immortal blood might look like.
Until next time,