Friday, August 28, 2009

Is Ruthless Ruffian a pointless feature?

New class builds introduced in Martial Power have had different degrees of success. The fighter ones (Battlerager Vigor and Tempest Technique) have been tremendously popular, but also rather overpowered, eventually requiring significant errata. I have talked a lot about Beastmaster Rangers (finding them cool, yet mechanically cumbersome). Today, I'll discuss Ruthless Ruffian, the rogue class feature, which I find guilty of the often overlooked sins of being weak and slightly unexciting.

Generally speaking, mediocre stuff doesn't hurt the game much, as long as there are viable alternatives. There are dozens of hideous feats and powers out there that will never see any kind of errata - they just get ignored. However, as you go to higher level (and scarcer) game elements, the impact of bad options increases. An all around bad character class (and, to a lesser degree, a race) can't be ignored that easily, and is a significant problem. Class builds are just a step below - they should all be at least playable.
To be fair, Ruthless Ruffian is not a terrible feature, but it doesn't provide anything that you can't get elsewhere more effectively, and with less restrictions. In short, it plays like a worse version of Brutal Scoundrel. Its benefits are an expanded selection of weapons, and a situational damage bonus. I'll discuss each one separately.

Weapon selection

Ruthless Ruffians have the ability to use maces and clubs as rogue weapons, which is a nice option flavorwise, but not so much from a mechanical point of view. Clubs are downright terrible weapons, and although maces are comparable to short swords, they are outclassed by daggers, and offer no superior weapon equivalent of the rapier. Without some additional incentive, there is little reason for a rogue to choose a mace as a weapon, other than looking cool (which it admittedly does).
To sum up, the advantages of wielding maces are mostly aesthetical, as they are usually weaker than more traditional rogue weapons.

Damage bonus

Ruthless Ruffians get the same extra damage as Brutal Scoundrels, but they have to jump through many hoops for it. The limited weapon selection results in less accuracy and prevents using ranged attacks, which would be bad enough. But it is the restriction of using just powers with rattling what kills the feature, in my opinion. Simply put, there are not enough such powers to make building and playing a Ruffian a varied an fun experience.
Even if there are powers with rattling at almost every level, there is usually just one option for any given level, and very rarely more than two. Thus, rogues of this build will usually be undistinguishable from one another. Also, since Disheartening Strike is the only rattling at-will, you will tend to use it over and over, ignoring the other one. Not what I'd call a compelling strategy.

An alternate version

Though I don't like how the feature as implemented plays out, I think that just a few tweaks would be enough to make it worthwhile, and maybe even fun. Maces as rogue weapons are an interesting addition, but their use should be optional (and rewarded with some small bonus) rather than forced. Likewise, the focus on the Rattling mechanic could benefit of a bit of flexibility - a way to use the occasional non-rattling power without feeling penalized for it would be very welcome.

Ruthless Ruffian:You are proficient with the club and the mace, and you can use those weapons with Sneak Attack or any rogue power or rogue paragon path power that normally requires a light blade.
When you make an attack, if the attack has the rattling keyword or if the target is taking the attack penalty from one of your rattling attacks,add your Strength modifier to the damage roll.
When you hit with a club or a mace, if the target is taking the attack penalty from one of your rattling attacks, that penalty lasts until the end of your next turn (even if the attack doesn't have the rattling keyword).

Related feats

Ruthless Injury is a feat from Martial Power which grants Ruffians a highly situational benefit. I'd add the following line to the feat: "In addition, when you attack a target suffering any of those conditions with a club or a mace, add a +2 bonus to the damage roll".

The strength-charisma mixup

One of the weirdest things about Ruthless Ruffian is the disconnect between the ability requirements of the class feature itself, and of the powers depending on that feature. On the one hand, you get a bonus to damage based on your Strength, on the other, Charisma is the only secondary ability used in Ruthless Ruffian powers, or powers with rattling, for that matter. The (rarely reliable) build advice recommends "Charisma follows as a close second, essential for getting your way by using Intimidate. Strength comes in third; it’s useful in delivering brutal attacks". Nevertheless, you will almost always prefer to have as much strength as possible, and only look to Cha when assigning excedent points.

I think this should be changed, either by having the feature use Cha, or by changing the powers to trigger off Str. Even though it's easier to go for the feature, I feel the right choice is to go for Strength, and revise the powers. If you prefer to use Charisma, my proposed version of the feature might not be the best choice, as it would lead to really high damage numbers in scenarios with high charisma, Sly Flourish, and the damage bonus from rattling.

Either way, this is the list of affected powers (i.e. those with rattling or Ruthless Ruffian bonuses that key off Cha)

- Terminating Threat
- Defender's Cohort
- Compel the Craven
- Stinging Squall
- Stupefying Violence


  1. Mind if I help with the wording?

    RUTHLESS RUFFIAN: You are proficient with the club and the mace, and you can use weapons from the mace group with Sneak Attack or any rogue power that normally requires a light blade.

    When you use an attack that has the rattling keyword, or if the target is taking the attack penalty from one of your rattling powers, add your Strength modifier to the damage roll.

    When you hit with a weapon from the mace group, if the target is taking the attack penalty from one of your rattling powers, that penalty lasts until the end of your next turn (even if the attack doesn't have the rattling keyword).

    How's that? I know there's no Superior Mace right now, but it doesn't hurt to include ALL mace group weaposn and think ahead.

  2. The idea is good, but your wording would have the unintended effect of allowing the use of greatclubs and morningstars after taking the proficiency feat. Which is actually an interesting idea, though I'm not convinced about two-handed weapon wielding rogues.

    "one handed weapon from the mace group" would work just fine, though.

  3. A small ruffian (halfling or gnome) would already have to use his mace with both hands though. And letting ruffians take proficiency with morningstars or greatclubs could serve as a repalcement for the lack of superior maces to match rapiers.

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  5. In one campaign, I introduced a character race called "Oni." They were allowed to use Kanabou, which were kind of like Mordenkrad but are the mace type.

    UNFORTUNATELY, that STILL doesn't let you use them with rogue powers, but I made an exception for the game. Was totally OP-a rogue wielding a bastard sword for 1d10 damage is one thing, but wielding a mordenkrad level weapon for 2d6 is another entirely. Still, it was pretty awesome.

  6. I like this fix, but i wish Wotc did something to correct the problems you talked about. I dont mind if they simply ignore some useless feats, but not an entire class feature. I had some hopes before MP2: they did create some new powers and some lesser and greater styles give some advantages with the ruthless ruffian, but i'm still disappointed.
    But kudos on "bat aside" - clubbing rogue need more of this!

  7. I found ruthless ruffian devastatingly effective for a hybrid rogue barbarian. It allows barbarian two handed weapon powers, rogue sneak attacks, and way higher defenses than you would expect of a hybrid striker-striker. Barbarian has superior options for gaining consistent combat advantage thunder hawk rage being the best.
    How do you think the combination of taking hounding assault (the level 1 rogue daily that adds rattling keyword to all melee attacks till the end of the encounter) and using your barbarian attacks (based on strength) would work? Would you add your strength to the damage roll twice? Is there a clear rule that would deny additional strength mod damage to a strength based attack? Ruthless ruffian doesn't say it applies only to rogue attacks like sneak attack does. The build seems plenty powerful without the extra strength on strength attacks, but I cant think of a reason it shouldn't stack. Maybe it would be easier to think about a non hybrid rogue making an opportunity attack post hounding assault, wouldn't the damage on such an attack be increased by twice str modifier? Just curious what others think.

    1. It does have some cool synergies when you hybridize barbarian - for one, the other rogue builds are only really compatible with dual wielding barbarians - but I wouldn't go as far as calling it 'devastatingly effective'.
      Unless I'm mistaken, your combo does work, and you'd be able to double up on Str bonus with your barbarian attacks. On the other hand, it's not all that much better than other damage-enhancing dailies, and the daily attack itself is Dex-based, so you probably won't want to go all out with a 20 starting score in Str. Also, keep in mind that the extra damage is much less impressive after you discount the damage loss for wielding a crappy weapon.

    2. I'd also recommend also MCing ranger with Two-Blade Warrior and picking up multi-attack powers like Blade Cascade. There's no per turn limit on the ruthless ruffian bonus, so with Hounding Assault/Executioner's Mien you can apply it every hit along with any other static bonus.

    3. Maybe houseruling in a +1 attack bonus with maces for ruthless ruffians would help deal with the inferior accuracy? With a feat they can get the brutal 1 property, so I don't think the d8 damage is all that bad