Magic and Mayhem
By Creighton Broadhurst
This column aims to provide players with tips on creating effective and interesting characters of various types. Whether you're a beginning player creating your very first character or an experienced gamer looking to put some punch into an old standby, this column is for you.
Arcane tricksters are extremely adaptable characters that blend magic and thievery to attain their goals.
- Spells: Every level of arcane trickster gained provides the character with new spells per day as if the character had gained a level in a spellcasting class he belonged to before becoming an arcane trickster.
- Good Class Abilities: Arcane tricksters gain two main class abilities that augment their already impressive abilities as a spellcaster and rogue. At every even-numbered level gained, their sneak attack damage increases. At 3rd level, they also gain the impromptu sneak attack ability that allows him to sneak attack when not normally able to do so. Additionally, an arcane trickster's mastery of magic and roguish skills is such that he is able to perform Disable Device, Open Lock, and Sleight of Hands checks up to 30 ft. away from the target (particularly useful when disarming very dangerous traps!).
- Good Class Skills: Arcane tricksters get a wide range of class skills to complement their rogue and wizard skills, allowing them to progress well in key skills such as Concentration, Disable Device, Hide, Knowledge, Listen, Move Silently, Open Lock, Sleight of Hand, Spellcraft, Spot, and Tumble. Additionally, they receive four skill points per level, which is a good, but not excellent, amount.
- Good Will Saves: An arcane trickster uses the best progression for Will saving throws (Table 3-1 in the Player's Handbook). Their arcane spellcasting levels boost this further, making them particularly good at resisting mind-affecting effects.
- Good Reflex Saves: An arcane trickster uses the best progression for Reflex saving throws (Table 3-1 in the Player's Handbook). Their levels of rogue further augment such saving throws.
The arcane trickster's advantages come at a price. Here are a few things to consider when designing an arcane trickster character:
- Low Hit Points: Arcane tricksters use 4-sided Hit Dice, making them very vulnerable in a fight.
- Poor Fortitude Saves: Arcane tricksters have the worst progression for Fortitude saving throws.
- Poor Attack Bonus: Arcane tricksters have a poor base attack bonus. This isn't that much of a problem, though, (except for ray specialists), because they should rarely get into prolonged melee. If an arcane trickster does get into melee, he should make sneak attacks wherever possible.
- Loss of Class Abilities: Although advancing as an arcane trickster grants additional spellcasting abilities in one arcane spellcasting class, the character does not get any other benefits from that class. Therefore, arcane tricksters with levels of wizard do not gain bonus wizard feats or additional abilities for their familiars.
Playing an Arcane Trickster
People who play efficient arcane tricksters should keep the following in mind:
All arcane tricksters must have at least three levels of rogue to qualify for the prestige class. However, prospective arcane tricksters have much greater leeway in how they gain the ability to cast mage hand and 3rd-level arcane spells. Bards, sorcerers, specialist wizards, and wizards all grant access to these spells, as does spellthief (Complete Adventurer) and wu jen (Complete Arcane). Thus, choice of spellcasting class depends on the character's stats and his role within the group. Remember, though, that at heart the arcane trickster combines the abilities of two other classes and as such, does not truly excel at either. Arcane tricksters are probably never going to be a group's main wizard and shouldn't try to match their power against enemy spellcasters. Rather, they should concentrate on augmenting their rogue skills through their spells.
|Recommended Arcane Trickster Spells
||dancing lights, detect magic, mage hand, open/close
||animate rope, disguise self, mage armor, shield, ray of enfeeblement, true strike, unseen servant
||cat's grace, darkvision, false life, invisibility, locate object, Melf's acid arrow, mirror image, misdirection, scorching ray, spider climb
||clairaudience/clairvoyance, dispel magic, displacement, heroism, nondetection, ray of exhaustion
||arcane eye, dimension door, enervation, greater invisibility, stone shape
||mind fog, overland flight, passwall, prying eyes, telekinesis, teleport
||analyze dweomer, disintegrate, greater dispel magic, greater heroism, legend lore, shadow walk, Tenser's transformation, true seeing
||greater scrying, greater teleport, phase door
||discern location, greater prying eyes, mind blank, moment of prescience, polar ray
Arcane tricksters with levels of bard should consider taking levels of virtuoso (Complete Adventurer), while more traditional individuals may find levels of daggerspell mage (also Complete Adventurer) useful. Finally, Complete Scoundrel presents a few useful prestige classes that mix nicely with arcane trickster -- magical trickster, spellwarp sniper (particularly for ray specialists), and uncanny trickster.
Arcane tricksters have likely had access to a wide range of skills through their previous classes. Specific skill choices depend on the exact path taken to qualify for the prestige class, but they should max out their Disable Device, Open Lock, and Sleight of Hand skills to maximize their ranged legerdemain class ability. Hide and Move Silently are also useful skills that allow the arcane trickster to get into the best position from which to strike.
Weapon Finesse is a good feat choice for arcane tricksters, as they will undoubtedly use a light weapon (or a rapier or whip if they have levels of bard) as their primary melee weapon. Arcane tricksters also have poor Fortitude saves, so taking Great Fortitude can offset this disadvantage. Finally, Nimble Fingers gives bonuses to Disable Device and Open Lock which, in turn, increase the efficacy of their ranged legerdemain class ability.
The classes taken before arcane trickster probably use lesser Hit Dice -- d4 or d6 being most likely. Given that, an arcane trickster's hit points are probably quite low. Thus, these characters should concentrate on getting their armor class as high as possible -- otherwise, they do not have the endurance to stay in a fight. Buying multiple, low power magical items bestowing different bonus types is a cheap and easy way to do this. Also consider purchasing a mithral shirt with the twilight special ability (PH II pg. 21 and Book of Exalted Deeds). Such items have no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure chance, making them a valuable investment for arcane tricksters. Buying an amulet of health is a great move to boost your hit points, as is learning false life. Gloves of dexterity are a particularly good buy for an arcane trickster. If he has taken Weapon Finesse, the gloves boost his initiative modifier, armor class, Reflex saves, both melee and ranged attacks, and numerous important skills.
In a fight, arcane tricksters should use sneak attack as often as possible -- otherwise, they are quite weak combatants. Arcane tricksters will in all likelihood have a good Dexterity score, making them good ray specialists or archers.
Sample Arcane Trickster: Dimble Turen
Deeply tanned with fair hair and brilliant, bright blue eyes, this gnome wears normal traveler's clothes of deep earthy hues.
Male gnome rogue 3/bard 7/arcane trickster 3
NG Small humanoid (gnome)
Init +4; Senses low-light vision, Listen +4, Spot +1
Languages Common, Gnome
AC 22, touch 16, flat-footed 18; Dodge, +1 against traps, +4 against giant-type creatures
(+1 size, +4 Dex, +5 armor, +1 deflection, +1 natural)
hp 74 (13 HD)
Fort +9, Ref +16 (+17 against traps), Will +11
Speed 20 ft. in armor type (4 squares)
Melee +1 cold iron rapier +14/+9 (1d4+1/18-20)
Ranged mwk shortbow +14/+9 (1d4/x3)
Base Atk +8; Grp +4
Atk Options +1 on attack against kobolds and goblins, impromptu sneak attack 1/day, sneak attack +3d6
Special Actions bardic music 7/day (suggestion, inspire competence, inspire courage +1, fascinate 3 targets, countersong), ranged legerdemain 1/day
Combat Gear lesser metamagic rod of extend, pearl of power (2nd-level spell), ring of counterspells (silence), silversheen, wand of cure moderate wounds (25 charges)
Bard Spells Known (CL 10th):
4th (1/day) -- dimension door, greater invisibility
3rd (3/day) -- cure serious wounds, dispel magic, major image (DC 17)
2nd (4/day) -- cure moderate wounds, invisibility, minor image (DC 16), rage
1st (4/day) -- animate rope, cure light wounds, expeditious retreat, silent image (DC 15)
0 (3/day) -- detect magic, know direction, mage hand, message, open/close, read magic
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 1st):
1/day -- dancing lights, ghost sound (DC 14), prestidigitation, speak with animals
Abilities Str 10, Dex 18, Con 15, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 16
SQ bardic knowledge +9, gnome traits, trapfinding, trap sense +1
Feats Dodge, Great Fortitude, Iron Will,Nimble Fingers, Weapon Finesse
Skills Balance +11, Bluff +8, Climb +1, Concentration +6, Craft (alchemy) +2, Decipher Script +7, Diplomacy +6, Disable Device +16, Escape Artist +11, Hide +11, Jump +7, Knowledge (arcana) +4, Knowledge (history) +5, Listen +6, Move Silently +10, Open Locks +16, Perform (sing) +12, Search +11, Sleight of Hand +8, Spellcraft +5 [ranks +5, Int +0], Spot +1, Tumble +11
Possessions combat gear plus +1 cold iron rapier, masterwork shortbow with 20 arrows, +1 twilight* mithral shirt, ring of protection +1, cloak of resistance +1, amulet of natural armor +1, lens of detection, gloves of dexterity +2, masterwork thieves' tools
*see Player's Handbook II pg. 21
Dimble had the following ability scores before racial adjustments, Hit Die ability score increases, and stat boosting items: Str 12, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 14.
Have a spell or feat combination you use with the arcane trickster? Any additional advice you would include for this prestige class? Let us know, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Creighton Broadhurst is a member of Living Greyhawk's Circle of Six and a mad-keen World of Greyhawk fan. He is currently trying to survive the Savage Tide. It's not going well. That's what you get for playing a one-legged dwarf…