River Wrangler (Rogue)


Round 2: Design an archetype

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

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River Wrangler (Rogue)

Executors of the will of the river-god Hanspur, their intended victims, and all who have been at the mercy of murderous hands or a strong current know that sometimes a last, desperate twist is the only way to draw another breath. The river wrangler is a wily opportunist, at home on the waterways and skilled at using close quarters and the river itself to her advantage. Most wranglers are followers of Hanspur, though some are escapees from his cruel drowning ritual. Others are mere survivors: guides, scouts, marauders, or refugees who have learned that the only thing that matters on the river is to always come out on top.

Dead Man’s Float (Ex): A river wrangler can hold her breath for an additional number of rounds equivalent to her level. This ability replaces trapfinding.

Stranglehold (Ex): Beginning at 2nd level, a river wrangler may block the airways of her opponents. Any opponent engaged in a grapple with a wrangler and who needs air to breathe must hold its breath (as per the rules for suffocation) for as long as the grapple is maintained. If the grappled opponent is underwater, the duration for which it can hold its breath is reduced by an extra 2 rounds for each round the grapple is maintained. This ability replaces evasion.

River Rat (Ex): Beginning at 3rd level, a river wrangler gains a +2 competence bonus to all CMD rolls and Reflex saves while in aquatic terrain. This bonus increases by +1 for every 3 levels beyond 3rd. This ability replaces trap sense.

Wrangle (Ex): Beginning at 4th level, a river wrangler may apply sneak attack damage to a melee attack when her target is grappled, even if the target is not flanked or denied its Dexterity bonus to AC. This damage also applies if the wrangler uses the “damage” action while grappling an opponent. This ability replaces uncanny dodge.

Flailing Strike (Ex): Beginning at 8th level, when a creature attempts to start a grapple with a river wrangler, the wrangler may make an attack of opportunity, even if the attempt would not normally provoke such an attack. If this attack succeeds, the wrangler deals sneak attack damage, even if the target is not flanked or denied its Dexterity bonus to AC. This ability replaces improved uncanny dodge.

Rogue Talents: The following rogue talents complement the river wrangler archetype: combat trick, distracting attack, finesse rogue, hold breath, resiliency, strong stroke, and terrain mastery (water).

Advanced Talents: The following advanced rogue talents complement the river wrangler archetype: another day, hide in plain sight, knock-out blow, and opportunist.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Ok, I'll fess up, I created the river god Hanspur with this sort of thing in mind. The River Wrangler is one of my two favorite rogue archetypes partly for that reason, and partly because it is a broad archetype that allows for a good range of play.

The strangehold is an interesting ability, and certainly powerful enough that evasion should be the level of trade-off required.

Overall, an interesting rogue here, partly limited by terrain but with a few more general powers. One mechanical problem, but nice work overall.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Initial impression: Nice flavor, good fit in the setting. Good, broad design decisions. With water all around, the stranglehold ability is great. The swaps the PC is called upon to make are good ones. Grapply rogues of the world, rejoice! This is an example of a big idea properly driving your design choices rather than limiting or restraining them or you in how you design. This does not seem like a first draft. I think this is very well done.

I Recommend this archetype for advancement.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Stranglehold: Okay, this is the sort of thing I was looking for in the other Hanspur/drowning abilities. Good job. You're giving up evasion, but if you want to be a grapple-rogue, you're probably not going for the lithe dodgy type, and the "big guy who chokes enemies to death" suits the grapple-rogue well.

Wrangle: Nice use of SA when grappling.

Flailing Strike: Nice.

Good theme, good use of abilities, puts a nice unique flavor on what could easily have been a generic "grappler rogue" archetype.

I DO recommend this archetype for advancement.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8

The abilities this archetype get are great But a rogue, even an optimized rogue, is not really good at normal grapling.

So if you try to grapple with your hands The abilities end up being defensive in nature (somebody have to try to grapple you so you can use them) cause you will fail the CMB hek most of the times.

There is however a good way to go around the problem and it is to use hamatula strike, and I (as a player) would like to use that tactic.

So, I see interesting and useful abilities that I can use in a real game, For this reason I probably will vote you for advancement.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Locke1520

I just turned on my computer and this was the first archetype I've read...I'm impressed. This will be a tough act to follow. Good Luck!


I think there was a feat that allowed to strangle while grappling.

Star Voter Season 6

Deadman's Float is useless but that might make it the perfect swap for trapfinding. Flailing Strike is a neat ability, and it fits in the rule set, but is of the type (nuh-UH! mine ability trumps) which annoy me badly, so there's that.
Beyond the well executed Hanspur tie-in, this doesn't score high on RK-thematics with me. On the other hand I like all of your flavor text and names. You're the first one to place me legitimately on the fence.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8

The Stranglehold ability seems overpowered at 2nd level. The rogue gains an ability comparable to the Chokehold feat. (that feat requires improved grapple, improved unarmed strike, base attack +6 or monk level 5, and then requires that a grapple combat maneuver check be made at -5 to establish the pinned condition and a chokehold) Letting a 2nd level character automatically establish a stranglehold seems like too much too early in the character's development, but what do I know, the judges liked it and had no complaints. I do like the ability, the idea fits the character well, and the overall build is great.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8

I will make a character with this archetype to see how it does at least in theory craft. Can I post it here or it is against some rule?

Scarab Sages Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7

I am really happy to see that I need to chose and re-chose this year to bring my list of 'ooohhh - looking good' entries down to those eight I can actually vote for, so I want to say: thanks to all competitors for providing a good chunk of fun looking archetypes.

Since I am a bit short on time this month, I will only comment on the Items I voted for.

Good one, probably my favorite of the bunch. Great implementation of the River Kingdoms content, cool flavor and creative, useful abilities.

Good luck with the rest of the contest.

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Clouds Without Water

I will give general impressions, but with 3 areas of particular focus that suit my personal interests. Archetype and ability names: do they show flair? How closely tied to the River Kingdom is the archetype? And last but certainly not least, do I want to play this archetype?

Archetype and ability names: Above average. Thematically coherent, some tie to RK.

River Kingdom tie: Above average. Not as completely as some others, but solid.

Desire to play: Above average. There's utility here, a viable alternative to other rogue choices. Nothing super exciting, but enough interesting choices to make it worth a try. There's a route with a river rogue that plays on the itinerant drifter concept, wish this had gone that way a bit.

Shadow Lodge Star Voter Season 6

Nicos wrote:

The abilities this archetype get are great But a rogue, even an optimized rogue, is not really good at normal grapling.

Not sure if I'm missing something, but it seems to me the River Wrangler doesn't have to be the one doing the grappling. Just attacking a target who is already grappled (even if by someone else in your party).

I do think that this archetype should probably get a bonus to CMB somewhere, maybe with River Rat. Doesn't really make sense to only improve CMD for a class that benefits greatly from grappling.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8 aka nate lange

good template use; obvious RK connection; my biggest problem with this entry is your writing- the opening paragraph is difficult to follow (the first sentence is a serious run-on and the last two fit together awkwardly); also, there's no such thing as a CMD roll (you roll CMB vs an opponents CMD, this is misstated under river rat).

from a game balance perspective- i think you did a good job crafting an archetype with interesting new abilities that are not overly powerful.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6 aka Evil Paul

Great job, one of the strongest archetypes this year, I'd put it in the top 3 at least. Gets flavour, theme, and abilities all right. There is very little to say here - it's a RK flavoured rogue grappler that gets to sneak attack in a grapple, and thus strangle/drown people. Sometimes the only response is a simple thumbs-up, which is essentially what all three judges have done.

See you in the next round sir!

PS: Sam - you should update your profile, which is blank atm. People want to know who you are.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6 aka Evil Paul

N. Edward Lange wrote:

good template use; obvious RK connection; my biggest problem with this entry is your writing- the opening paragraph is difficult to follow (the first sentence is a serious run-on and the last two fit together awkwardly);

I don't have a problem with the prose. Yes, the first sentence is a mess and needs completely re-written but the rest is solid, and there is even appropriate use of a colon thrown in. The only thing wrong with the last two sentences are two spurious commas, but that would be picked up by an editor or subby.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8 aka nate lange

my issue with the end of the intro wasn't grammatical errors, it was that "Most wranglers are followers of Hanspur, though some are escapees from his cruel drowning ritual. Others are mere survivors" just feels really awkward to me.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

While I like your flavor, I don't especially like your writing. It's okay, but you need a bit of work. Fortunately, that's a pretty minor complaint in an otherwise interesting archetype.

The abilities in this are really all-or-nothing, aren't they? You grapple one guy, and then... wait. For rounds and rounds. At least, until 4th level when you can start to do buckets of damage to them.

With the right build, and maybe a level or two of monk, this can become super powerful. But not too powerful, I think - which is important.

Good luck in this and future rounds!

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

Evil Paul wrote:


PS: Sam - you should update your profile, which is blank atm. People want to know who you are.

Thanks for the reminder! I'd meant to do that a while back. There's at least something there now.

And many thanks to everyone, judges and voters, for the comments and critiques.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6 aka Evil Paul

No worries. +1 vote for Faulkner/McCarthy. -1 vote for Root Beer. Yuk.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka theheadkase

Nooo...you're stepping on my Grapple Monk's territory!!

Just kidding. This is really well done.

The bottom (alphabetically by designer) archetypes are LOADED. I'm rearranging AGAIN because of this.

You've got minor grammatical mistakes, but this is nothing killer...in this round.

Overall, this is great. Superb even.

I DO recommend.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka GM_Solspiral

Good: Yes a snake themed grappler, finally I can sink in the rear naked choke in D&D.
Bad: Bloodchoke should be a higher version of power or chokehold should scale you can get someone KOed faster when you know how.
Ugly: Competes with a stronger brand of snake theme for me in the red addler.
Overall: may steal this, that's high compliment definately a contender for my vote.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

While this has a great tie in to the RKs, and a nice tight theme, I've got an issue with a) rogues simply aren't great grapplers, and b) the mechanic for holding your breath is so generous, that you don't need extra rounds, and it takes forever to actually strangle someone out using it.

Because of that, the only abilities I think are actually useful are river rat, wrangle, and flailing strike. River rat is okay, but a bit odd that first you lose evasion, but then in water you get bonuses to reflex saves, so it makes losing evasion less of a loss, since these guys are going to be in water often.

Wrangle is great - it gives a new useful power that lets rogues actually want to be in a grapple, since they can SA during it.

Flailing strike is sort of cool, but it's more of a power for people who don't want to be in a grapple. Wouldn't a river wrangler already be grappling? How often is someone going to beat them in initiative, and choose to grapple them, when they're going to be starting grapples as often as they can and presumably have high dex and improved initiative most likely.

Overall, the abilities just don't work for me, even if they're appropriate - it's unfortunate that holding your breath is just so generous in Pathfinder, since this type of ability should be a cool one. I think the best way to do something with this theme would be an ability that choked a grappled creature so that it burned through their held breath rounds faster than normal - that might let you actually choke someone out who doesn't have a high con in 3 rounds.


Congrats, I was going to make a Hanspur Oracle for my submission. SO this strikes home with me!

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Epic Meepo

Joel Flank wrote:
I think the best way to do something with this theme would be an ability that choked a grappled creature so that it burned through their held breath rounds faster than normal...

This archetype has an ability that does exactly that (though it applies only when the target is underwater). The ability you're describing is a part of the stranglehold class feature.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8

To me the name is not quite right and it may be a bit too good at its primary ability, though it's still just a rogue. It's worth a second look.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

Eric Morton wrote:
Joel Flank wrote:
I think the best way to do something with this theme would be an ability that choked a grappled creature so that it burned through their held breath rounds faster than normal...
This archetype has an ability that does exactly that (though it applies only when the target is underwater). The ability you're describing is a part of the stranglehold class feature.

That is correct - guess I was reviewing too fast at the end. Still, even WITH that power, it takes 4 rounds to choke out a average 10 con creature - 10 rounds normally, and with stranglehold it's an extra 2 rounds used each round grappled - so that's 3 rounds of breath used up each round - so that's 4, and in the 5th round, you make them unconscious. That's still an eternity in a combat, even if it's way better than 11 rounds. And just forget it if you go against a guy with say a 15 Con, much less a really high one.

The problem is that the rules to lose your breath are SO generous, any attempt to play in that space still make it a bad idea.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

Wow. Thanks, all, for your votes, critiques, and comments!

Now that the round's over, and my next submission is in, I just thought I'd toss out a few thoughts from the process of putting this archetype together (and some that have come to me thanks to your comments), less to respond directly to critiques (all of which I think raise valid points) and more to think aloud for people interested in using the River Wrangler or something like it in play.

I'll deal with the issue of suffocation/drowning first, since it's the biggie.

Stranglehold and Suffocation/Drowning:

Stranglehold was something I fiddled with a good bit. I felt like it was a thin line to walk between too powerful and not powerful enough, especially since the trade-off was for a defensive, rather than an offensive, ability.

Suffocation/drowning rules are tricky in that they sidestep one of the key measures of an opponent's power -- hit points; once the air runs out, it's save or die. Obviously, more powerful creatures often have higher Constitution scores, CMB bonuses and CMD scores, but you're really getting into the territory where physical ability scores are the determining factor rather than hit dice. This isn’t necessarily game-breaking, but it does change some of the economics around, so I felt like it was important to tread carefully.

On the other hand there is the major problem that many people pointed out -- suffocation takes a long time, maybe too long to be useful in the average combat.

One version of the ability I considered did indeed force the opponent to burn through breath faster, regardless of whether the opponent was underwater. I decided that was a bit much, but it might be worth at least considering replacement of a rogue talent with an ability that forced an opponent out of water to burn through its breath more quickly.

I also considered scaling the ability, but I didn’t spend too long trying to figure out how this would work, since it didn’t really make sense to swap evasion for a scaling ability. Now, swapping a choke ability for sneak attack could be interesting if it were done right, but, at least for RPG Superstar purposes, I didn’t want to tear the class down and rebuild it so completely.

Another option might have been having opponents with fewer hit dice than the Wrangler burn through breath more quickly (say, an extra round per HD less than the Wrangler’s level). Hard to figure out the balance on that, but I think it would be ok, especially if it came at the cost of a feat or a talent.

I did very much consider something along these lines as a replacement for a rogue talent or advanced rogue talent:

Knock the Wind Out (Ex): If a River Wrangler succeeds at a sneak attack (including a use of the Wrangle ability) on an opponent that is holding its breath, the Wrangler may choose not to deal sneak attack damage, but instead reduce the number of rounds the opponent can hold its breath by a number equal to the number of sneak attack damage dice he would have rolled.

That’s the sort of thing that could really start to make a difference without unbalancing the game quite as much as guaranteeing a three-round knockout or something, but I was wary of swapping out rogue talents (since SKR’s advice thread specifically cautioned against it), so I let that idea rest. I’d be interested to see how it would work in play.

Some other things to remember about Stranglehold ability: first, the rogue can still take actions while maintaining the Stranglehold. She can be attacking (and, eventually, sneak attacking) as the grapple continues and her opponent runs out of breath. Second, the creature can't speak or cast spells with verbal components. This is a bit situational (most spells aren't going to work in a grapple anyway), but, even beyond ensuring that your grapple is locking down an enemy caster, I kind of like the image of the Wrangler doing a “silent takedown” on the palace guard (images of Arkham Asylum). Finally, even if the Stranglehold doesn’t end up KOing opponents in the majority of grapples, it does put the grapple on a timetable, one that favors the Wrangler. That’s a nice defensive little twist. How long do you really want to hold on to someone that’s successfully, if slowly, choking you?

All that said, I realize this is a tricky design space to play in, but I was interested in giving it a shot, and it's great to have the chance to have some great gaming minds think through the problems and solutions.

A few other thoughts about the archetype:

An earlier version replaced the 10th-level advanced rogue talent with an ability (Scrabble) allowing the Wrangler to make a Grapple check while wielding a light weapon with no -4 penalty. I'd still be fine with making this an advanced rogue talent, and that could help answer (if belatedly) some of the concerns about rogues’ troubles with grappling.

It’s true that Flailing Strike could be counterintuitive, since the Wrangler would often want to be grappling, but a key theme of the archetype for me is that she would only be in close quarters on her own terms. So, less a complement to the Stranglehold ability and more a defensive attribute that fits the theme and lets the Wrangler dictate the terms of the grapple.

One aspect of the archetype that ended up getting dropped a bit was an initial focus on getting people from a watercraft or riverbank into the water. For a while I considered bonuses to Acrobatics and various combat maneuvers while on a watercraft or near to the water. I’m not sorry I dropped this (too situational and a bit of a headache to figure out the swaps), but if anyone’s curious, that was a bigger part of the archetype early on.

Finally, the “CMD Roll” referred to in River Rat is indeed an error. It was a holdout from when it was a CMB bonus, but I decided to pull it back to CMD to keep it a primarily defensive ability in line with the ability it replaces. I’d still be open to tinkering with all of this a bit, and I don't know that a CMB bonus would be all that out of line.

Sorry for the walls of text, and sorry it's taken me so long after voting closed to post in this thread. But I really appreciate people taking the time to share their thoughts, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t all go unheeded. And I would like this to see actual play, so any improvements are a good thing. Thank you again, everyone, for all of your comments and for your votes. See you next round!

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