Friday, February 14, 2014

Seen, Not Heard: Tips and Tricks for Stealth-Based Pathfinder Characters

One of the glorious things about roleplaying games is that players have a slew of options for solving problems. Do they approach the villains under a flag of truce and attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the problem at hand? Do they kick in the doors with steel swinging and magic blasting? Or do they sneak in, take what they need, and vanish like a shadow in the night?

I was never here.
For players who prefer the last option on the list for getting past plot and reaching the goal ahead of the curve, it's important to be as stealthy as you can be. This week on Improved Initiative we lay out a course for players who want to make sure the DM never sees them coming.

Race and Traits

For true stealth experts, you have to begin at the beginning. For those who want to play medium-sized characters the best stalkers are half elves and humans. The former because they receive Skill Focus (Core Rulebook 134) as a bonus feat, and the latter because they can take any sort of stealth-related feat as a bonus feat. For players who are all right playing a small-sized character such as a halfling, gnome, or even a goblin, all of them receive an inherent bonus to stealth because of their size.

Lastly, take at least one trait that offers a +1 stealth bonus, and which makes stealth a class skill for your character from that point onward. Conspiracy Hunter (Council of Thieves) is one example of an ideal trait for a stealth-based character.


Technically speaking any class that offers stealth as a class skill can be quite stealthy. However, it's wise to choose a class that gives you additional, stealth-based abilities that will make you that much harder to find when enemies start rolling dice.

There are four rangers in this picture. One is the tree.
Perhaps the ultimate camouflage expert, the ranger is the master of vanishing into the wilderness and never being seen again. In addition to all of the ranger's shiny feats and tasty tracking abilities, she gains camouflage at 12th level, granting the ability to hide in any favored terrain, and at 17th level the ranger gains hide in plain sight in any favored terrain, allowing her to hide even while being observed.


'Nuff said.
The king of undetected entrances and unseen exits, the rogue is typically the first choice for a stealth-based character. A rogue's power comes from the rogue tricks these characters know. Tricks like fast stealth which allows a rogue to move at full speed without penalty, are useful, but pale compared to the advanced rogue tricks such as hide in plain sight, which duplicates the ranger's ability.


Didn't expect that, did you?
While not typically what one thinks of when it comes to stealth, the inquisitor can move unseen with the best adventurers. While the class has no inherent stealth-based powers, inquisitors do gain invisibility spells, and they can gain additional concealment abilities based on their domain or inquisition. The darkness domain and ambush domain in particular can make moving around stealthily much easier on the individual adventurer. When battle is joined though, the inquisitor won't be left wanting.


There are 27 ninja in this picture.
Arguably the heavy-hitters of the hide-and-don't-seek game, ninja are some of the hardest characters to find when they don't want to be found. With access to rogue tricks like fast stealth, and class abilities like no trace (which makes a ninja harder to track) as well as light steps at 6th level (where a ninja can move while barely touching a supporting surface) they're a cinch for the forerunner. Clinching the victory are the ninja tricks like vanishing trick which grants invisibility, and the advanced trick ghost step which turns the ninja incorporeal for a single turn.


Don't ask... just don't ask.
The end game of characters who like to play in the dark, the shadowdancer prestige class requires nothing more than 5 ranks of stealth, 2 ranks of perform (dance), and the feats Combat Reflexes, Dodge, and Mobility. These characters can vanish in an empty room with hide in plain sight active as long as they're within 10 feet of an area of dim light (excluding their own shadows), and it gets even more ridiculous with abilities like shadow jump, which allow the shadowdancer to turn any area of dim light into a dimension door. No lock picking or guard knock-outs required.


As with so many other areas of Pathfinder, feats are what transform a competent character into a paragon of ability. Stealth-based characters are no different, and it could be argued they need feats even more than some other builds in order to achieve peak performance.

Two more levels, and they'll never find me.
Skill Focus and Stealthy

Skill Focus (Core Rulebook 134) provides a +3 to the skill selected for it, which in this case is stealth. Stealthy (Core Rulebook 135) provides a +2 bonus on all stealth and escape artist checks. When the character has 10 ranks in stealth the bonus provided by Skill Focus goes up to +6, and the bonus provided by Stealthy goes up to +4. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Hellcat Stealth

Hellcat Stealth (Cheliax: Empire of Devils) allows players to make stealth checks in bright or normal light, even when observed, at a -10. This feat requires Skill Focus (Stealth), as well as 6 ranks of stealth, but it's a game changer for those who find they're always moving about in broad daylight.

Magic and Alchemical Items

Natural ability will only take you so far. That's why it's a good idea to stack the deck just a little bit in your favor by getting your hands on just the right tools for the job.
No I don't know what it is. Don't put it on your head.
Shadow Armor

Whether it's Shadow, Improved Shadow, or Greater Shadow armor (with a +5, +10, or +15 respectively), this armor helps make it that much harder to see and hear the wearer. This armor provides a solid bonus that makes previously impossible burglaries and sneak thievery quite possible.

Cloak of Elvenkind

A go-to item inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, this cloak (Core Rulebook 507) provides a +5 competence bonus on Stealth checks. It's important to remember that competence bonuses don't stack though, so pick the one that provides the biggest boost to your sneak score.

Dust of Disappearance

Rarely carried except for extreme circumstances, this dust is pricey for 2d6 rounds of greater invisibility. However, it renders the dusted creature completely undetectable by magical means, which is something that players should keep in mind when spending cash on backup items.

Scent Cloak

The only alchemical item to make the list (a more complete list of useful alchemical items may be found here), scent cloak makes someone harder to track by scent. They receive a +10 to avoid being tracked by scent, and if a creature does pinpoint the character in person the scenting creature can't determine an individual, unique smell. They know something is there, but not what or whom.

Closing Notes

This doesn't cover all a player's options for creating stealthy adventurers; but there's plenty of material here for a solid base. That said, players need to know what they plan to do with their obscenely high stealth scores in order to actually get anything out of these build suggestions.

Being able to sneak into an archmage's bedchamber undetected, or to vanish without a trace from a prison cell is a useful ability to have. Not every situation calls for such extreme stealth though, and the silent stalker will still have to figure out how to coordinate with the rest of the party. Make sure, before dumping so much time and effort into building a ghost, that your concept is going to fit into the game and that you'll get to do the things you've built your character to do. Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

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  1. For stealthy PCs, I actually suggest hobgoblins above all others. they have a relevant dex bonus, and have a racial trait for +4 stealth.

  2. If you want to snipe you can take five levels of Unchained rogue to gain Rogue's Edge in stealth giving you this as long as you have 5 ranks in stealth:

    Reduce the Stealth penalty from sniping by 10.

    If you also are playing the halfling race you can take this:

    Swift as Shadows Halflings possess incredible stealth even while moving through obstructed areas. Halflings with this racial trait reduce the penalty for using Stealth while moving by 5, and reduce the Stealth check penalty for sniping by 10. This racial trait replaces sure-footed.

    Making it so you have 0 penalty on sniping, it is still a move action to maintain stealth so keep in mind you will still only gain one attack/round from under your safety blanket (cloak of Elven kind.)

    Another thing that most DM's tend to forget is this:

    In a sparse forest, the maximum distance at which a Perception check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 3d6 × 10 feet. In a medium forest, this distance is 2d8 × 10 feet, and in a dense forest it is 2d6 × 10 feet.
    Because any square with undergrowth provides concealment, it's usually easy for a creature to use the Stealth skill in the forest. Logs and massive trees provide cover, which also makes hiding possible.
    The background noise in the forest makes Perception checks that rely on sound more difficult, increasing the DC of the check by 2 per 10 feet, not 1.

  3. A feat that should really be mentioned here: Dampen Presence

    Not a ton of things have straight-up see invisible/truesight, but many have blindsight or blindsense. Being able to roll stealth versus those senses is huge, especially if you're utilizing invisibility.

    (I play a stealth focused Illusionist.)