The Stealth Handbook Part I: Abilities and Races [D&D 3.5]

This handbook is for professional sneaky people – basically rogues, rangers and their variants. Dipping other classes and dabbling into magic is addressed, but playing full-casters who happen to be stealthy is not. Also check out JaronK’s Guide to Scouting – it lists what can detect you (darkvision, blindsense, blindsight, etc), and how to avoid each of them. Here, I’ll use the traditional Handbook format. (Minus the conveniently colour-coded fonts. Goddammit, tumblr.)

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Abilities

  • Str: Has nothing to do with stealth.
  • Dex: Has everything to do with stealth!
  • Con: Has nothing to do with stealth, just the regular life-saving attributes of hit points and Fort saves.
  • Int: Directly affects stealth if you go (or dip) Factotum, always useful to skillmonkeys.
  • Wis: This is important for Rangers, Ninjas, Swordsages, and anyone who wants Stealth for scouting.
  • Cha: Directly affects stealth if you dip Marshal and take Motivate Dexterity. Also, Use Magic Device.

Races

The number next to each race is your Hide modifier as you begin play at 1st level, including the race’s boost to Dex, size and racial bonuses, and assuming you put max ranks in it. (Your total modifier will be higher, depending on how well you rolled for Dexterity.) Races are sorted in order of that number, normalised for ECL (which is 1 for all races without Level Adjustment). That’s not the only thing to take into account, of course, it’s just… your head start.

Races with LA 0

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Whisper Gnome                               Tiefling                                               Kenku

Jermlaine / +15 at ECL 1 (MMII): Tiny fey, 40 ft speed, -8 Str/+6 Dex/-2 Con/-2 Int/+6 Wis/-6 Cha. You can play that because the D&D v.3.5 Accessory Update booklet gives it an LA 0. If you don’t mind being a… lil fey rat, by all means, give it a go. And with +6 to Wis, you’ll make a hilarious Ninja or Swordsage. Beware the peculiarities of having 0 ft reach in combat.

Muckdweller / +15 at ECL 1 (SK): Tiny monstrous humanoid, 20 ft speed/20 ft swim, -6 Str/+6 Dex/-2 Cha, Weapon Finesse. If you don’t mind being a “miniature bipedal dinosaur”… see above. Unless you need Wisdom, it has overall better stats than the Jermlaine, and a free feat.

Whisper Gnome / +13 at ECL 1 (RoS): Small humanoid, 30 ft speed, -2 Str/+2 Dex/+2 Con/-2 Cha, +2 Spot, +4 move silently, +2 Listen, Darkvision, Silence SLA. This is just lovely, the number one choice for sneaky people, since it combines excellent stats and flavour, without being too weird.

Kenku / +13 at ECL 1 (MM3): Small humanoid, 30 ft speed, -2 Str/+2 Dex, +4 move silently, Mimicry, good flanker. Comes with its peculiarities, but it’s a classic Rogue race.

Kobold / +13 at ECL1 (RotD/Web) : Small humanoid (or Dragon, heh), 30 ft speed, -4 Str/+2 Dex/-2 Con, Slight build, Darkvision. If you can take Dragonwrought and be completely silly about it (start venerable, take Dragon templates etc), it can be hilarious. You can have +25 to hide at lvl 1, which makes this specific combination [Dragonwrought Kobold, black dragon (or anything that gives a +2 to hide) + Nameless template, see below] the official record holder in stealthiness.

Forest Gnome / +12 at ECL 1 (MM): Small humanoid, 20 ft speed, +2 Con/-2 Str, an extra +4 to Hide in wooded areas, Pass Without Trace always on. If you’ll be spending a lot of time in the woods and go for Wilderness Rogue or Scout/Ranger, this is probably your best bet.

Desert Halfling / +11 at ECL 1 (UA): Small humanoid, 20 ft speed, +2 Dex/-2 Str, +2 move silently, +2 listen, poison use. These are the sneakiest halflings, although they lack the advantages of the Strongheart Halfling (bonus feat, 30 ft speed), which are arguably better in the long run.

Gruwaar  / +11 at ECL 1 (DR317 p25): Small fey, 20 ft speed (or 30, it’s complicated), -2 Str/+2 Dex/-2 Wis/+2 Cha. Less than appealing flavour, and you can do better if you’re after stats, but it’s doable.

Air Goblin / +10 (UA): Small humanoid, 30 ft speed, -2 Str/+4 Dex/-2 Con, Darkvision, +4 move silently. That could work. Excellent dexterity boost (if you don’t want to muck about with weird tiny races), which affects more than stealth.

Lesser Tiefling / +7 at ECL 1 (MM/FR): Medium humanoid (planetouched), 30 ft speed, +2 Dex/+2 Int/-2 Cha, Darkvision, Darkness SLA. Tieflings are more thematically appropriate than actually sneaky, but sure, it’s feasible.

Human / +4 at ECL 1 (PHB): Medium humanoid, 30 ft speed. While humans get nothing stealth-wise, their skill affinity (extra skill rank and access to Able Learner), bonus feat, and general flexibility makes them a fine choice for pretty much everything. This is also where I tell you: it’s fine. You don’t NEED a super sneaky race. It helps, but if you prefer to play something not mentioned here, you can pull it off.


Level Adjusted Races

As always, LA is a big bummer – it irreparably slows down your class progression, never mind your BAB and saves. But in some games there’s LA buyoff, and other games are Gestalt, and sometimes it’s just worth it. So if you can afford to use level adjusted races, here they are.

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Poison Dusk Lizardfolk                  Skulk                                          Marrulurk

Brownie / +25 at ECL 5 (Web, +4 LA): Tiny fey, 30 ft speed, -6 Str/+10 Dex/+2 Con/+2 Int/+2 Wis/+2 Charisma, Darkvision. A very sneaky creature, comes with camouflage and HiPS “in areas of dim light, tall grass, or heavy undergrowth” which ain’t bad at all, also evasion and uncanny dodge. Sadly, the LA is horrendous. You can hide, but naught much else.

Skulk / +23 at ECL 4 (RoD, LA +1, 2 HD): Medium humanoid, +8 move silently, 30 ft speed, +4 Dex/-2 Wis/-4 Cha, Peerless Camouflage (move at full speed or run without penalty to Hide), Innate Nondetection (Divination spells require a CL check DC 20), Trackless Path (Survival checks to track you have +10 DC)… Also sneaky, and you can actually work with that LA. Ridiculous (+15!) bonus to Hide, Peerless Camouflage is VERY useful, Nondetection is cool, too. The flavour is appalling though. (I’d describe them as evil Dalits, which, really?)

Shadar-Kai / +10 at ECL 5 or +20 in shadows (FF, LA +1, 3 RHD). Medium fey, 30 ft speed, +6 Dex, Camouflage and HiPS except in daylight, Sneak Attack +1d6, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (spiked chain). Maybe that’s a lot of RHD (also, you’re cursed; see text), but a sneaky fey with HiPS and a reach melee weapon can be hilarious. Interesting flavour, needs some work to shine.

Marrulurk / +18 at ECL 5 (Sand, LA +1, 3 RHD): Small monstrous humanoid, +4 move silently, 20 ft speed, +2 Str/+6 Dex/+4 Con/+6 Wis/+4 Cha, +4 listen, +2d6 Sneak Attack, Cha-based Death Attack, poison use, Darkvision, Point Blank Shot, Rapid Shot. Self-explanatory. If you like their flavour, it’s a pretty sweet deal for a sneaky sniper.

Grimlock / +7 at ECL 5 or +17 underground/in the mountains (MM, LA +2, 2 RHD): Medium monstrous humanoid, 30 ft speed, +4 Str/+2 Dex/+2 Con/-2 Wis/-4 Cha, Blindsight 40 ft, Scent. Again, the usefulness of this one is terrain-specific. But a sneaky Rogue with Blindsight at lvl 5 can be terrifying in the dark.

Poison Dusk Lizardfolk / +14 at ECL 2 (MM3, LA +1): Small humanoid, 30 ft speed, +2 Dex/+2 Con/-2 Cha, their racial bonus to hide applies when “ most of the skin is exposed“.

Forestkith Goblin / +9 at ECL 2 or +13 in the forest (MM3, LA +1): Small humanoid, 30 ft speed/ 20 ft climb, +2 Dex/-2 Int, +4 move silently in the forest, Darkvision. Not too impressive, unless the whole campaign takes place in the woods. This is for DMs more than players.

Domovoi / +12 at ECL 5 (Frost, LA +2, 2 RHD): Small fey, 20 ft speed, –2 Str/+4 Dex/+2 Con/+4 Int/+6 Wis/+6 Cha. Doesn’t look like much, but If you want to go for Factotum and Marshal dipping for Dex+Int+Cha to your stealth (and all Dex skills, and initiative), this is a very fun option.

Pixie / +12 at ECL 5 (MM, LA +4): Small fey, 20 ft/fly 60 ft (good), –4 Str/+8 Dex/+6 Int/+4 Wis/+6 Cha, Dodge, +2 listen, +2 Search, +2 Spot, Dodge, Weapon Finesse, Greater Invisibility (Su). Despite the lure of insane stats and wings and Greater Invisibility at will, the +4 LA makes it very hard to pull off. At first they’ll never see you but you’ll never hit, and later they will see you anyway (invisibility is foiled by so many things) and you still won’t hit. If you really dig the flavour – and I don’t blame you – you’ll have to optimise everything else up to high heavens to be taken seriously in combat.


Templates

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Ghost [x]

Dark (Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave, LA +1): FR-specific so rarely available, but it gives you HiPS AND camouflage. It doesn’t work in daylight, sadly. Also +8 racial to hide and +6 to move silently, +10 ft to your speeds (plural), and Darkvision. This is great, and well worth the LA buyoff. You can also get it via the Failed Shadow Gate location in the same book, however the procedure is very wonky and makes you Evil. But if you can convince your DM to give it to you for the location’s initial cost (a measly 5k gold), just take it.

Dark (ToM, LA +1): Variant and poor relative of the above, since it does not give camouflage. On the plus side, it’s available in any setting, the bonuses to hide/move silently are untyped, and you can get it with an item (Collar of Umbral Metamorphosis).

Nameless (DR#313, Dragon Psychosis Template, LA 0): This is a template for Dragons, and if you’re making a sneaky Dragon then you’re a Dragonwrought kobold, and if you’re a Dragonwrought kobold then your DM hasn’t already bludgeoned you to death with the DMG, so I’m optimistic for your safety when you’ll ask for this. At the expense of -10 to all Int-based skills and losing all spellcasting and SLAs (which you didn’t have), you get a +10 racial bonus to hide and move silently, 20th lvl Nondetection always on, and immunity to mind-affecting effects. Not bad, and the character concept of a paranoid kobold who thinks everyone’s out to get them and therefore MUST HIDE is not bad either. I can see it as hilarious comic relief, and I can see it as dead serious roleplaying. Up to you. If you went through all that trouble, you might as well take the Wyrm of War Sovereign Archetype from Dragons of Eberron, and get a fighter feat every 4 levels for free.

Shadow-walker (UE, LA +1): You get Darkvision, +4 racial bonus to hide, +2 Dex/-2 Con, Light Blindness (like drow elves), and a bunch of shadow-related SLAs. The Con penalty is bad, and you can get better bonuses to hide, but maybe you dig the SLAs.  Flavour-wise, you are connected with Mask, the Neutral Evil god of assassins and assorted criminals in Forgotten Realms.

Chameleon (Und, LA +1): You become reptilian, you get a +10 racial bonus to hide, +4 move silently, a climb speed, and a 10 ft reach Tongue attack. Dark is strictly better for you. Remember that racial bonuses (from race and template) don’t stack.

Shadow (MotP, LA +2): This gives you Darkvision, +50% speed, and Shadow Blend, which grants you total concealment anywhere except in full daylight. So it functions like camouflage. Note that continuous TOTAL concealment + Ring of the Darkhidden is an excellent defencive combo, even if you don’t hide. It has a few other perks, most notably Fast Healing, but still the LA is a bit much.

Ghost (MM/Web, LA varies): Taking ghost normally as an LA +5 template is a terrible idea, but as a template class, perhaps not. A single level gives you etherealness and manifestation (and +2 to hide), and these are enough to make you VERY sneaky. How many levels you’ll take is up to you, but please consult your DM. There are some flavour requirements here (especially if you got Rejuvenation – what keeps you on this plane of existence? what will it take to finally rest?), and incorporeality/manifestation are a freaking nightmare, rules-wise. Be sure you’re both on the same page about how stuff works. That said, there are some wonderful character concepts (and builds, for that matter) that you can make with the Ghost template. Try it!

[originally posted by Rogue on tumblr]

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