Thursday, August 7, 2014

Zenith's Guide to the Ninja, Part I: Introduction, Attributes & Races

Zenith's Guide to the Ninja
Part I: Introduction, Attributes & Races

What is the Ninja?

The Ninja is an alternate (better) version of the rogue.  It replaces trap finding with a ki pool, upgrades Rogue Tricks to Ninja Tricks, and provides a host of fancy weapon proficiencies.  Play a Ninja if you want to play a rogue - a competent but squishy damage dealer with a ton of skills and tools both in and out of combat.  As the ninja you will be able to contribute to most combats, excel in some combats, and provide a high level of utility outside of combats.

About the Guide

Within this guide, I will be addressing the best ways to make your Ninja do what you want.  In general I will not be addressing terrible choices, so you should consider the feats, skills, and tricks within the guide before looking outside of it.  I will be using a ranking system that Treatmonk pioneered in his guides:

Red (*): Signifies a terrible choice.  Except in very specific circumstances, I'll be excluding these altogether.
Orange (**): Signifies a mediocre choice. Not recommended unless you are going for a specific build.
Green (***): Signifies a good choice. Most Ninjas should consider this.
Blue (****): Signifies an excellent choice.  Except in unusual circumstances, all Ninjas should have this.
Pink(*****): Signifies a no-brainer.  Regardless of who you are or what you do, you must take this.  There are only a few of these.

About the Ninja

You can make a range of different characters within the Ninja Class, but a few aspects are inherent to the Ninja regardless of what you do.  I will be assuming these facts throughout the build.

First: With d8 health and no heavy armor, you are going to be squishy.  However, the best way to deal damage is to be in melee.  You will have to rely on Dexterity to up your AC, and you will have to use alternate methods to keep yourself alive.

Second: A whopping four attributes are relevant to your combat prowess (Dexterity, Strength, Con, and Charisma), but not all of them can be high.  Although it is possible to make a Strength based Ninja, doing so draws attribute points from other places.  Because we can the replace uses of Strength with Dexterity through feats, it is better to focus heavily on Dexterity, and semi-dump Strength.

Third: Two-weapon fighting is the way to go.  We don't have the strength to make a two-handed weapon impressive, and our main damage source, sneak attack, is not reduced by wielding two weapons.  Furthermore, Wakizashis are on our weapon list, and they are the best choice for us in any case.

Fourth: Until greater invisibility at level 10, sneak attack from range is prohibitively difficult.  Ranged attacks can compliment the build as an opening volley when the enemy is flat footed, but melee should be the primary focus.

Fifth: Poisons aren't great. In fact, they are pretty bad.  Feel free to grab them for flavor, but focusing on them will cost money and detract from your overall effectiveness.

Sixth: Getting Sneak Attack is hard.  For the first 9 levels, you should only expect to get it 50% of the time.  10th level and above, once Invisible Blade kicks in, you can get it about 90% of the time.  The more melee buddies you have, the better, and a summoner will be your best friend.


Dexterity (*****) is king for Ninjas.  It raises AC, improves initiative, increases reflexes, ups to-hit with melee (assuming Finesse) and ranged, and allows for two weapon fighting.  Buying up to a 20 with racial bonuses would not be unreasonable here, but a 18 will serve you nearly as well.

Constitution (****) will both keep you alive and increase your poor fortitude save.  You are going to be in some dangerous situations as a Ninja and it is important to stay alive. 14 is fine, though higher is better.

Charisma (***) contributes to your Ki pool and social skills.  If you are planning on being the party face or grabbing tricks that rely on Charisma, then move it up to 14.  Otherwise, 12 is enough.

Strength (**) increases your damage, CMD/B, and nothing else.  Although the extra point of damage is nice, you should feel comfortable dumping it. 10 won't cause you any problems.

Intelligence (**) increases the number of skill points you get.  Given that you are already rolling in 8 skill points per level, this is entirely a personal decision.  If you want to be a skill monkey, then upping it to 14 will give you 10 points a level to play around with.  If you want to play a dumb killer, then bringing it down to 7 will still yield 6 skill points a level.

Wisdom (**) simply increases your will save.  You are better off spending the points elsewhere and grabbing Iron Will. 8, 10, or 12 are all viable.

    Human (****) Put that +2 into Dex, grab the free feat for a feat starved class, and an extra skill point a level.  Nothing fancy, but boy does it get the job done.

    Halfling (****) The attribute distribution is nearly ideal.  Combine that with a bonus to stealth, AC, attack, and saving throws.  Grab the Fleet of Foot alternate racial trait for full move speed and you are looking at the classic Ninja.  The Swift as Shadows alternate racial trait can also make sniping much easier.

    Half-Elf (***) The bonus to dex is nice, and the skill focus can send you on your way to an  Eldritch Heritage (or be traded out for a +2 Will save with the Dual Minded alternate Racial Trait).  Multi-Talented also helps if you are going for a Fighter dip.

    Half-Orc (***) Besides the option to put +2 into Dex, there isn't much to recommend the Half-Orc.  Orcish ferocity and Darkvision are nice, but not particularly useful.  Grab toothy or tusked for an additional attack and you have a solid choice.

    Gnome (***) We don't have a bonus to Dex, but a boost in Con and Charisma are great. +1 to AC, attacks are wonderful +4 to stealth.  If it weren't for the slow speed and Str hit, this would be a great choice.  If you plan on using Bewildering Koan, then the Gnome is green at least.  Otherwise, he is orange.

    Elf (**) The bonus to Dex is appreciated, but the penalty to Con hurts.  Add in some bonuses against enchantments and you have a reasonable choice.

    Dwarf (*) Stop it.

Featured Races
    Fetchling (****) An amazing attribute distribution, stealth bonuses, resistances, and shadow blending make the Fetchling nearly Pink.  Add in the fact that you are immune to Hold Person and other spells that target "Humanoids," and it is hard not to pick the Fetchling.

    Hobgoblins (****) +2 Dexterity and Constitution without any penalties?  +4 Stealth? Darkvision?  they may be simple, but that's everything we want and nothing we don't.

    Catfolk (****) The attribute distribution is absolutely ideal. Low light and bonuses to perception and stealth area also fantastic.

    Drow (****) A lovely stat distribution.  Darkvision is good, but Light Sensitivity is annoying.

    Ifrit (****) Another great attribute distribution with Darkvision.  The Wildfire heart gives a +4 to initiative, crucial to the Ninja.  You've also got the Outsider bonus of being immune to Hold Person and the like.

    Goblins (***) +4 to Dexterity is amazing, though the -2 Charisma hurts.  +1 to attack, +1 to ac, and +8 to stealth while maintaining a 30 move speed are also fantastic.

    Dhampir (***) A lovely stat distribution and dark vision are marred by horrific weaknesses (Light Sensitivity and Negative Energy Affinity).  However, if you can find a way to get around those, then the Dhampir is a great choice.

    Ratfolk (***) A fine attribute distribution, size bonuses, perception and UMD bonuses, and dark vision, but there are better choices.

    Tiefling (***) The attribute distribution is acceptable, but the Tiefling also gets three resistances, a stealth bonus, the outsider bonus, and dark vision.  Reasonable.

    Tengu (***) The attribute spread is less than ideal, but if you are going for natural attacks you can pick up a bite and two claws at level one. Perception and Stealth bonuses also help.

    Sylph (**) A decent attribute distribution and darkvision, but really nothing else to recommend them.  Workable, but not ideal.

    Undine (**) Similar to the Sylph, the Undine has decent attribute distribution and darkvision, but really nothing else to recommend him.

    Kobold (**) Kobolds deserve honorable mention for the +2 to dexterity, but -4 strength and -2 constitution easily cancel it out.  The size bonuses and natural armor bonus are nice, but not enough.

    Assimar, Orc, Oread(*) Nope, nope, and nope.

Noteworthy Uncommon Races
    Merfolk (****) Holy hell, +2 to Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma? +2 natural armor bonus?  With the Strong Tail alternate racial trait we get up to a land speed of 15.  If you can find a way to deal with the speed issue or you are doing an aquatic campaign, this might be perfect.

    Strix (****) +2 Dexterity, a fly speed, bonuses to perception checks, and a +1 to attack and damage against humans.  The -2 to Charisma hurts, but hey, a fly speed.

    Wayang (****) +2 Dexterity and Intelligence, but -2 Wisdom. Bonuses to perception and stealth, as well as small size bonuses.  An alternate racial trait will also allow you to cast invisibility.

    Kitsune (***) The Kitsune have a lovelty attribute distribution, but not much else to go on.  Still, not unreasonable.

    Vishkanya (***) Nice attribute distribution, and bonuses to perception and stealth.  However, most of the offensive traits overlap with the Ninja abilities and are wasted.

    Svirfneblin (***)  The -4 charisma hurts, but +2 dodge to AC and +2 to all saves allows you spend  at feats on Extra Ki to make up for it.  With small size and spell resistance, this is an interesting choice at the very least.

    Grippli (***)  With a bonus to Dexterity and Wisdom, and a penalty to strength, these guys aren't looking too bad.  Small size and an automatic climb speed are also nice.  Consider also the self-producing poison, if you are into that kind of thing.  If you are playing a campaign in a swamp, these guys are something to consider.

    Nagaji (**)  The attribute distribution is passable, but there isn't much more that helps this race's case.

    Vanara (**)  The attribute distribution is passable, but there isn't much more that helps this race's case. Climb speed is certainly interesting, but not particularly necessary for a Ninja.


Given that the Ninja is an alternate rogue class, he qualifies for a few rogue archetypes.  Remember, the Ninja can take any rogue archetype that only replaces class features that the ninja has.  That basically leaves the below:

Scout (****) will allow you to get sneak attacks on charges, and, later on, sneak attacks whenever you move more than 10 feet (think spring attack).  Given that uncanny dodge is only so-so, I would recommend the archetype for nearly any Ninja.

Bandit (***) If you wind up with a lot of surprise rounds, then this is definitely worth it.  If no, then uncanny dodge may be better.

Sanctified Rogue (***) Augury is not too helpful, but a +1 bonus to fortitude and will are nice.

Burglar (**)  If you are spending a lot of time sneaking around and disarming traps, then this is nice. Otherwise, don't bother.

Trapsmith (**)  If you have a ton of traps, I suppose it could be worth it. But in general, don't bother.

Part I: Introduction, Attribute, and Races
Part II: Ninja Tricks
Part III: Feats
Part IV: Equipment, Multi-Classing, and Builds


  1. Out of curiosity: Given that you can take rogue archetypes as a Ninja, would that not mean that you can also take Rogue FC bonuses? That might affect some ratings for races that get things like 1/6 level to talents and so on.

    1. It's a bit muddy, but I think most GMs would assume that you can take the FC bonuses.

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  4. Have you considered adding the Android race to the list, as well as the racial archetypes for Android and Kitsune (Nanoshade and Formless Ninja, respectively) in your ratings? There may be more I'm forgetting, keep in mind!

    For the Android anyway, the Nanoshade turns their Ki Pool into a Nanite Reserve which functions with Intelligence instead of Charisma, as well as making anything that relates with a Ki Pool relate with it instead. In essence, it shifts their attribute for "Ki" by a total of four points positively if both started as the same value before modifiers. In addition, the bonuses you get from Nanite Reserve's block of features as opposed to Ki Pool's seem to be a lot better.

    You should give it a look, it's pretty damn good.