In a new “Ampersand” column on the Wizards site, Bill Slavicsek shows, in its entirety, the new 4e rogue class writeup. Go read it! Now, my thoughts.
1. I don’t like the new PC roles and don’t like their prominent placement as the very first thing in the writeup. You’re class X, therefore you are expected to fill role X. It’s too constraining. Welcome to the “new alignment”, where you’ll be embroiled in endless arguments about “that’s not a striker feat,” “that’s not what a striker would do,” et cetera.
2. I like the fixed hit points and the simplified skills – just trained or untrained, no ranks. My gaming group is using a similar house rule already in 3.5e to minimize fiddliness. Intelligence apparently doesn’t affect your number of skills, which is odd.
3. They have “default builds” for the class – you can ignore them, Bill says, but they take up a lot of space in the writeup and again are located up front.
4. The rogue class features are fine, except – a bonus with shuriken? That’s pretty goofy. So far my gaming groups have had the good grace not to use shuriken and nunchaku and katanas and all that unless you are playing an Oriental character; this is D&D not Rifts. Also, the Artful Dodger power (Cha to AC vs opportunity attacks) seems much worse than Brutal Scoundrel (Str bonus damage to sneak attacks). Unless opportunity attacks are much more common in 4e, which may be the case. It’s also notable what’s missing. Evasion, trapfinding, uncanny dodge, trap sense, and all the level 10+ “special abilities” from 3.5e. Sneak Attack dice are lower but it looks like most of the maneuvers let you do some bonus damage too so I imagine that comes out in the wash.
5. Powers. Semi similar to Book of Nine Swords maneuvers, which is good. What’s interesting here is all the subtle variations – there are attacks that, to hit, use Dex vs AC, Dex vs Reflex, Dex vs Will, Dex vs Fort… The implication being that in 4e if you have any single bad save, you’re going to get chopped up because people can choose to act against it even in combat. Also, the way I read this, the rogue can pretty much always use their Dex to hit instead of Strength.
6. There is prominent note of “combat advantage”, which appears to be like 3.5e flat-footed and flanking and denied Dex bonus to AC and bluffed all rolled up into one more generic mechanic. Yay for more generic mechanics.
So all in all, a decent writeup. I am concerned, however, about the channelization of characters 4e seems to prescribe, making them even less unique from character to character. The roles, builds, and tree choices seem reminiscent of World of Warcraft, where in the endgame you really only have maybe 20 distinct character builds, 10 of which are viable. “Oh, you’re a shadow priest, OK, I now know 95% of all I need to know about you” is desirable in a MMORPG with pickup groups, but seems quite constraining to a tabletop roleplaying experience.