New: D&D Shinobu Rogue
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're looking at a new subclass for the rogue: the shinobu. Like the other posts in this series, we will start by looking at the theme of the subclass, what it should do, and what it draws from in history, and then we will look at the mechanics of the subclass.
Like our other subclasses, this is not designed to be "the best rogue subclass," but we do think this will be the best subclass for playing a ninja in the game - from a certain point of view.
I. Shinobu Rogue: Theme and Inspiration
The "Shinobu" was a servant to a warlord in Feudal Japan, with a wide range of responsibilities. Sometimes the shinobu was needed to negotiate with another warlord, and they would represent their master as a diplomat. Sometimes the shinobu was sent as a spy to learn about a neighboring town. And sometimes the shinobu was given a knife and told to end the life of a rival. That last part is what we think of when we think of a shinobu: the "ninja" of movie fame.
The closest we get to that currently in D&D is the Assassin, who launches all-in on the last aspect of being a ninja. But within the greater context of Feudal Japan, there is so much that it leaves behind. The shinobu is designed to fix this, with a heavy emphasis on non-combat aspects of the shinobu while also giving you bonuses to the classic "ninja stuff" like throwing shurikens (in D&D this is daggers with the Thrown property, as shurikens have not yet been added to the game) and evading attacks.
With a spy, you should be able to read lips to gather intelligence without taking a feat. With a diplomat, you should be decent at talking to people in their language, not just because you are good at making a roll, again without taking a feat, as this is part of your archetype, not add-on training ancillary to your archetypal roll.
And that's what the shinobu should offer: a wide range of bonuses to give you tools in all situations. Which brings us to the mechanics.
II. Shinobu Rogue: 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. At 3rd level you gain two bonuses: one for your non-combat abilities, and one to improve your martial abilities. You gain proficiency with Charisma (Persuasion) and (Deception) rolls if you don't have proficiency with them yet. If you already have proficiency, you gain expertise instead (which is awesome).
If you opted to go all-in on these and take expertise in one or more of these skills, you instead treat any roll of an 8 or lower as an "8," insuring that the lowest you could get (assuming a -1 to your Charisma rolls) is a 12, and your highest possible roll (assuming a +3 to your Charisma rolls) is a 27. And these numbers go up as you get to higher levels.
You also gain a fighting style at this level, reflecting how shinobus would be trained back in the day. This is a small but useful bonus, as rogues have lower defense than other martial classes and less attacks, so these should make the most of your turn.
At 9th level (it still astounds me how long it takes to get your subclass features with this class) you have the ability to hide in crowds, and can use other creatures as cover - possibly even as full cover. This is very useful as it means you can perform the Hide action from behind an ally (like a frontline fighter), granting you advantage (and thus sneak attack) on a ranged attack each turn.
At 13th level you have the ability to read lips to gather intelligence, and improve your Wisdom (Insight) rolls, so that you are not taken in by the wiles of an opposed agent. You also improve your use of throwing weapons, making a shuriken just as dangerous (if not more dangerous) than a longbow, albeit with a shorter range.
And finally at 17th level, you gain the ability to study an enemy quickly, allowing you to learn valuable information on the target based on how successful you are. You also gain more reliable damage against targets that you read, as you place your weapon in more vulnerable places.
The best subclasses are ones that are thematic and evocative, with abilities that can be used in and out of combat, and that empower you to embrace the archetypal concept you are recreating. While the assassin might do more damage than the shinobu (though the ability to increase your Attack roll with ranged attacks means you might get to use your Sneak Attack more often, so maybe not? It all depends), it lacks the non-combat features that round out and fully embrace the theme of the loyal agent, willing to aid their party in a wide range of roles. If this appeals to you, consider playing a shinobu rogue.
Until next time,