Roleplaying

Unearthed Arcana Review: Revived Rogue

I’m of two minds about rogues. On the one hand, they’re a good class with a powerful combat kit and skill bonuses unmatched by any other class. On the other hand, I find them to be an incredibly boring class with little to no decision-making on the player’s part, especially in combat. This has put rogues squarely in my “love to have one, never want to play one”* category. Another issue I have with the class is a lack of identity among the subclasses. Whenever someone asks me which rogue subclass is strongest, I can honestly tell them it doesn’t really matter much. The class always has amazing skill rolls, and Sneak Attack, a base feature, makes up the vast majority of the class’s damage output. With recent UA releases, I was hoping to see more a distinct identity or play style in any new rogue subclasses.

What I got was the Revived, which is odd to say the least. The subclass’s flavor is that the character has died at least once before, and the reincarnation process* has, for some reason, made them a sneaky rogue. Does everyone who dies reincarnate into a rogue? What about people who die and are resurrected? Why is this a rogue subclass? The answer to all these questions is one big  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. On the bright side, the new subclass has at least one decent mechanic to balance out its very out-of-place lore. Let’s take a look at those features, starting at level 3.

Level 3 – Tokens of Past Lives

You remember talents you had in your previous life. When you finish a long rest, you gain one skill or tool proficiency of your choice. You can replace this proficiency with another when you finish a long rest.

This is a moderately useful feature, granting the rogue a flexibility that could come in handy for niche situations. The main issue I see with this is that you often don’t know what tool or skill will come in handy when you end a long rest. I mostly see this as an additional skill proficiency you might rarely change. Thankfully, there are two more benefits found at this level.

Level 3 – Revived Nature

Your newfound connection to death gives you the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on saving throws against disease and poison, and you have resistance to poison damage.
  • You don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe.
  • You don’t need to sleep. When you take a long rest, you must spend at least four hours in an inactive, motionless state, rather than sleeping. In this state, you remain semiconscious, and you can hear as normal.

Another decent ability. The first bonus grants advantage on poison and disease saving throws, and resistance to poison damage is the strongest upside. Poison is a fairly common damage type, especially amongst beasts, so you’ll probably get some value from it. Not having to eat, drink, or breathe is either completely useless of very good depending on if the GM wants to make use of survival mechanics. Personally, I’ve never seen that happen, so I would err on the side of “useless.” The ability to skip sleep during long rests is nice, as it lets you avoid bookkeeping over who takes which watch. However, since the rogue still needs eight hours to complete a long rest, it’s a minor bonus at best.

Level 3 – Bolts from the Grave

You have learned to unleash bolts of necrotic energy from within your revived body. Immediately after you use your Cunning Action, you can make a ranged spell attack against a creature within 30 feet of you, provided you haven’t used your Sneak Attack this turn. You are proficient with it, and you add your Dexterity modifier to its attack and damage rolls. A creature hit by this attack takes necrotic damage equal to your Sneak Attack. This uses your Sneak Attack for the turn.

As the main feature at this level, I like what this ability is trying to do, but I think the way it is currently worded is clunky and promotes awkward play patterns. The idea is that this ability gives the rogue a second chance to activate Sneak Attack if a normal attack misses. This is good, as it feels really bad when the rogue misses and does absolutely nothing in a round. However, there are two main issues here. The first is that the bolt can only be fired after a Cunning Action is taken. This messes with the common rogue play pattern of attacking from stealth, taking a Cunning Action, and returning to stealth. I think adding a little flexibility to when the bolt is fired would be a good change.

The other issue is that the rogue’s dex modifier is added to the bolt’s damage roll. This means that, to do optimal damage, the rogue should not activate their Sneak Attack on a normal hit; instead, they should wait so they can activate it with the bolt and add their dex modifier to the damage output twice instead of just once. I don’t believe this is intended, but as written it feels awkward and I hope Wizards does something to remove this unintuitive interaction.  

Level 9 – Connect with the Dead

You can create a link with a spirit through their corpse. When you do so, you cast the Speak with Dead spell, without using a spell slot or material components. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for this spell.

Speaking with the dead in this way temporarily gives you a capability from a past life—you’re unsure whether it’s from your past or the spirit’s. When the spell ends, you gain one random benefit from the Revived Capabilities table. The benefit lasts until you finish a short or long rest.

D3 Capability
1 You learn how to speak, read, and write a language of your choice.
2 You gain one skill or tool proficiency of your choice.
3 You gain proficiency with one saving throw of your choice.

After you cast the spell with this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

This feature is odd, both mechanically and lore-wise. The way it works is that by casting Speak with Dead, the rogue can communicate not just with the body they cast the spell on but also their own former lives.* What’s weird about this is that the rogue needs a corpse to commune with their own past experiences. I imagine the corpse spirit hanging out and watching while the rogue rifles through their past lives to get a random bonus.

Speaking of random bonuses, those also have a problem. Out of the three, gaining proficiency in a saving throw is obviously the best in almost every situation. When it comes to abilities like these, they either shouldn’t be random or each random result should be approximately equal in power. I would also like to see this ability’s overall power level increased, as even removing the random element would still leave it much weaker than what other classes gain at level 9.

Level 13 – Audience with Death

When at death’s door, you can converse with the powers of death. You have advantage on death saving throws, and whenever you make a death saving throw, your spirit can ask an entity of death a question that can be answered with “yes,” “no,” or “unknown.” The entity answers truthfully, using the knowledge of all those who have died.

In addition, whenever you have 0 hit points and are healed or stabilized, you can change any of your personal characteristics: personality trait, ideal, bond, or flaw.

Another feature I don’t like, this time because of how easy it is to exploit. The first feature is fine, since advantage on death saving throws is useful, if not particularly powerful, and it lines up with the subclass’s flavor. The problems start when we get to the second part. Being able to ask the GM any question that must be answered truthfully “using the knowledge of all those who have died” whenever making a death saving throw is bananas. 

“All those who have died” covers a lot of ground, making the powers of death almost omniscient. On top of this, the condition to ask this question is incredibly easy to meet. The rogue doesn’t even need to be brought to near death by enemies. The party could repeatedly beat the rogue down, let them make two death saving throws to ask questions, then heal them. This could be repeated an almost unlimited number of times. This feature should either be removed or seriously reworked.

Level 17 – Ethereal Jaunt

Like a ghost, you have the ability to slip in and out of the Ethereal Plane. You can now use your Cunning Action to teleport to an unoccupied space within 30 feet of you. You don’t need to see that space to teleport to it, but your teleportation fails, wasting your bonus action, if you attempt to teleport through magical force that is medium or larger, such as a wall of force. If you appear in a space occupied by another creature or filled by an object, you are immediately shunted to the nearest unoccupied space that you can occupy and take force damage equal to twice the number of feet you are shunted.

What a disappointing capstone ability. This essentially adds the spell Misty Step* to the options the rogue can take using Cunning Action. While it is an upgrade compared to just disengaging, it is a moderate one at best. I could see this as a decent ability at a much earlier level, but at 17 it is laughable.

Overall I’m not particularly fond of the Revived rogue. The Grave Bolt ability it gains at level 3 is its best feature, and even that has issues. The fluff of this subclass is also very strange. I have no idea why Wizards picked rogue for this kind of backstory, and any feature that currently references it is middling at best or game breaking at worst

What I’d Change

The first change I’d make is to the subclass’s origin. Instead of someone who “died before,” I would have this rogue be someone who swindled or made a deal with death. Through great cunning or some dark bargain, they have made their way back from the brink into the world of the living.* However this feat was accomplished, it has changed them, and they now carry a piece of death with them. This description explicitly links the subclass’s origin with a traditional roguish trait: being clever. They’re no longer some random person who died before but an active player in their own destiny, outwitting death itself to get a second chance at life. 

As for mechanical changes, most of these abilities are so problematic as to not be worth salvaging. But before we get to those, let’s cover the abilities I’m merely adjusting: Revived Nature and Bolts of the Grave. For Revived Nature, I’d simply add advantage on death saving throws as a fourth bullet point, as I’m removing the ability that previously to granted that bonus.

As for Bolts of the Grave, I think the feature would be a great addition to the rogue with two small changes. The first would be to expand when it can be used to include directly before a Cunning Action as well as after. This would allow the rogue to fire off a bolt before attempting to hide. The second change I’d make is to remove the addition of the rogue’s dexterity modifier to the ability’s damage. This feature should be a second chance at Sneak Attack, not something the rogue needs to consider when planning out their optimal damage strategies.

Now, back to the abilities I’m completely reworking. I’m removing the following features: Tokens of Past Lives, Connect With the Dead, Audience With Death, and Ethereal Jaunt. While there are adjustments that could be made to try and fix them, I believe a more holistic approach will yield better results. In their place I have created the following abilities.

Borrowed Experience – Level 3 (replaces Tokens of Past Lives)

Touching a corpse lets you gain a measure of the skills it had in life. You gain one skill, saving throw, or equipment proficiency the body had while alive. This feature remains active until it is used again.

Since I’m dropping the whole “past lives” motif, the original ability no longer made sense. This new ability combines elements of the original with pieces of Connect with the Dead. I like the flexibility it provides, and it encourages the rogue to find the bodies of specific creatures to gain a specific bonus. It also grants the rogue access to things like heavy armor proficiency, something the class would never gain on its own.

Visage of the Grave – Level 9 (replaces Connect With the Dead)

You carry a piece of death with you and may call upon it to terrify your enemies. As a Bonus Action, choose any number of creatures within 60 ft that can see you to make a wisdom saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + constitution modifier + proficiency or become frightened of you. Creatures under the effects of this feature satisfy the conditions for Sneak Attack. Additionally, any Sneak Attack made against a creature under this effect deals an additional 1d6.

The effect lasts until 1 minute has elapsed, the creature can no longer see you, or until they make a successful saving throw, which they can attempt again at the end of each of their turns.

Once you have used this feature you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.

Since this subclass is one step removed from undead, it should be scary. This new ability reflects that. I also like giving the rogue, traditionally a single-target damage-dealer, a battlefield control ability. It’s a cool, unique thing this subclass can have. I also wanted at least one ability of this subclass to tie back into Sneak Attack, the rogue’s main feature.

Ferryman’s Toll – Level 13 (replaced Audience with Death)

You can cast Soul Cage without using a spell slot or requiring any components, drawing the soul into yourself. Once you have used this ability you cannot do so again until you have finished a long rest.

Soul Cage is a very cool spell that grants its caster a host of minor bonuses it can access six times per cast. These include: healing, granting advantage on a roll,* asking the soul a question, or scrying a place the soul saw in life. Unfortunately, this spell rarely sees use due to the high-opportunity cost of spending a level 6 spell slot for a grab bag of minor effects. However, for a non-spellcasting class, gaining access to this ability allows for a host of opportunities not normally available. The ability to ask the soul questions also keeps the flavor of the original without creating any game-breaking situations.

Dance With Death – Level 17 (Replaces Ethereal Jaunt)

When you are reduced to 0 hit points and are not killed outright, you can choose to drop to 1 hit point instead and become immune to all forms of damage and negative spell effects until the end of your next turn. After 1 minute you are immediately reduced to 0 hit points and begin making death saving throws. Each time you used this feature within the 1 minute window counts as one failed death save. You cannot be stabilized by any means besides 3 successful saving throws and if you die this way you cannot be revived by any means.

With this ability, I’m replacing an exceedingly lackluster capstone with a unique mechanic that leverages the subclass’s flavor to play with death saves, something rarely done anywhere else in 5E. This ability also combines mechanical risk with dramatic storytelling, as the rogue could use this ability to win almost any fight. However, doing so would leave them gone forever, outside the reach of even Wish. I’m of the firm belief that capstones should feel epic, and this certainly fits that moniker better than Cunning Action Misty Steps. And that’s it. All it took was a near-complete overhaul of the subclass, and now I’m quite happy with it. As for Wizards’ version, I hope they find a better vision for the subclass before putting it to print. 

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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Comments

  1. Tom

    Getting sneak attack from bolts. Then getting sneak attack from a held attack action has made this subclass extremely strong. There was a developer post talking about taking advantage of this gameplay mechanic.

    • Ari Ashkenazi

      That’s a very good point I hadn’t thought about, should probably include a “if you use this feature for sneak attack you can’t do so again until the beginning of your next turn” on grave bolt

  2. Ethan

    The Revived Rogue appears to be a nod to the character “The Nameless One” from Planescape: Torment, the D&D CRPG. The Nameless One has a similar backstory and skill set. If you look at the subclass that way it makes more sense.

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