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Unsplat! [26 Sept 06] A review of the Shadowbane Stalker, plus suggested solutions

As a rule, I try to steer clear of splat books on general principles, but since I was on the topic of prestige classes for cleric/rogues and since a poster to this newsgroup thread recently asked for advice, I thought I would take a look at the Shadowbane Stalker, a PrC from the Complete Adventurer.

My approach is to compare this with the Arcane Trickster (and the Divine Trickster conversion I talked about earlier). Let's look at the PrC point by point, Shadowbane Stalker vs Arcane Trickster. My philosophy is that no prestige class should be more powerful than a similar PrC in the Dungeon Master's Guide. I'll put the rules for the two PrCs in italics as we go along. And it is already getting tedious to keep typing "Shadowbane Stalker" over and over, so from now on I'll just say SbS and AT.


  • Alignment: Lawful Good
  • Gather Info 8 ranks
  • Search 4 ranks
  • Sense Motive 4 ranks
  • Special: Detect evil (from spell or class ability)
  • Special: Sneak Attack +1d6
  • Alignment: Any Non-Lawful
  • Decipher Script 7 ranks
  • Disable Device 7 ranks
  • Escape Artist 7 ranks
  • Know (Arcana) 4 ranks
  • Special: Cast Mage Hand and a 3rd level arcane spell
  • Special: Sneak Attack +2d6
It is hard to become an AT. Your fastest choice is wizard 5 (for third level spells) / rogue 3 (for 2d6 sneak attack damage). Another option is sorcerer 6 / rogue 3. (Let us not consider bard or assassin or blackguard variations -- though such combos may be clever, they won't get you to AT any sooner.) If you take the wizard route, you have to be at least 8th level; the sorcerer route requires 9th level. Note that the level disparity between your rogue levels and your arcane caster levels imposes an xp penalty unless you (A) are a human, half-elf, elf, or halfling or (B) take an extra level of rogue so that as a wizard 5 / rogue 4 you avoid the penalty. Or you could eat the penalty, dwarf or wemic lover.

On the other hand, it is easy to become a SbS. All you need are five class levels total (to get the required 8 ranks in Gather Info). One of those five has to be rogue (for 1d6 sneak attack) and one has to be cleric or paladin (for Detect Evil). That offers great flexibility in class, race, AND allows one to take the PrC a full three levels BEFORE the AT.

Also note that the AT requires a total of 25 ranks in skills, vs 16 for the SbS. And of those 25 ranks, the AT "wastes" 11 on Decipher Script (hello?!? Ever hear of Comprehend Languages?) and Knowledge (Arcana).

Conclusion: The SbS can be taken earlier and at lower cost than the AT. (I'll have more to say about the alignment requirements below.)

Standard Features

  • BAB progression: as cleric
  • Good saves: Will and Reflex
  • Skill ranks per level: 6+Int
  • Weapons and armor: none gained
  • Spells: +8 casting levels over 10 PrC levels
  • Hit die: d8
  • BAB progression: as wizard
  • Good saves: Will and Reflex
  • Skill ranks per level: 4+Int
  • Weapons and armor: none gained
  • Spells: +10 casting levels over 10 PrC levels
  • Hit die: d4
Compared with the AT, the SbS takes a two-level hit on spell progression but gains +2 hp per level, +2 skill ranks per level, and better BAB. My personal opinion is that the SbS comes out a little bit ahead on that trade. If the level hits came at level 1 and level 6, it would be more fair, but coming as they do at levels 4 and 9 just adds insult to injury. You could take a three-level dip into SbS and pay no spellcasting price.

What's more, even if you take the full ten levels of SbS, over a 20-level career, the price is still not so bad. A rogue 1 / cleric 4 / SbS 10 / loremaster 5 has a caster level of 17. A rogue 3 / wizard 5 / AT 10 / loremaster 2 has a caster level of 17. Hmmm ... and the SbS has a +2 BAB, +20 hp, +20 skill ranks ... How is that balanced, exactly?

Conclusion: The SbS has more skills, more hit points, and a better BAB progression than the AT. That seems to be balanced by granting the AT a better spellcasting progression. But in fact, over the course of a career, the total caster levels of the AT and the SbS are the same, so the advantage overall tips clearly to the SbS.

Special Abilities

  1. detect evil, sacred stealth +4
  2. discover subterfuge +2
  3. +1d6 SA
  4. sacred defense
  5. discover subterfuge +4
  6. +1d6 SA
  7. sacred stealth +8
  8. discover subterfuge +6
  9. +1d6 SA
  10. sacred strike
  1. +1d6 SA
  2. ranged legerdemain 1/day
  3. +1d6 SA
  4. impromptu SA 1/day
  5. +1d6 SA
  6. ranged legerdemain 2/day
  7. +1d6 SA
  8. impromptu SA 2/day
  9. +1d6 SA
  10. ranged legerdemain 3/day
It is impossible to compare unless we know what these SbS special abilities do. Here is a summary.

Detect Evil: at will, as a paladin.

Sacred Stealth: At first level, "A shadowbane stalker can channel some of her divine spellpower to become stealthier. To do this, she must lose a prepared divine spell from memory (or give up a potential spell slot for the day if she casts spells as a sorcerer). She gains a +4 sacred bonus on Hide and Move Silent checks for a number of minutes equal to her charisma bonus (if any) plus the level of the spell given up in this manner. At 7th level the bonus increases to +8. Using this ability is a swift action that does not provoke AoOs."

Discover Subterfuge: At second level, +2 competence bonus on Search and Sense Motive. +4 at fifth, +6 at eighth.

Sneak Attack: +1d6 at third, +2d6 at sixth, +3d6 at ninth.

Sacred Defense: Like Sacred Stealth, at fourth level, give up a divine spell (or slot) to gain +4 sacred bonus to AC for 1 round per spell level (also a swift action).

Sacred Strike: Like Sacred Stealth, at tenth level, give up a divine spell (or slot) to gain +1d6 per spell level in extra SA damage to next SA made in same round.

Let's take a look at these specials. Over ten levels, the AT gains +5d6 sneak attack damage while the SbS gains only +3d6. AT wins there. The other two AT abilities let you apply your roguish functions in new ways: at a distance (ranged legerdemain) and when you otherwise could not (impromptu sneak attack). But these abilities are strictly limited, by tenth level to thrice a day and twice a day respectively. The SbS abilities, on the other hand, do not let you use your powers in new ways; rather, they just give bonuses to things you already do well. Skills bonuses up to +8 and +6. AC bonuses up to +4. Extra Sneak Attack Damage up to +9d6. And you activate these abilities as free -- "swift" -- actions simply by foregoing a spell. Since you have MANY spells, you can activate these abilities many times a day.

In general, some PrCs grant special abilities that give you a new power, and others boost an existing power. The latter is almost always more potent than the former, due to specialization. Adding new spellcasting (like the assassin) is less powerful as extending spellcasting (like the eldritch knight). Adding a competence bonus to move silent (like the horizon walker) is less powerful than adding a sacred bonus to the same skill (like the SbS), because many magic items grant competence bonuses, but none add sacred bonuses. Making a rogue stealthier is more powerful than making a fighter stealthy.

Conclusion: All of which is to say that on the special abilities front, the SbS clearly beats the AT. Swift actions that boost existing numbers many times a day beat abilites that let you use your powers in new ways a few times a day. The sacred strike ability, adding dice of SA damage as it does, alone erases the AT's +2d6 SA lead. Not to mention Detecting Evil whenever you want to.

A note on sloppiness. What the heck is "spellpower"? There is no such word, not even in the jargon of D&D. There's no reason to make stuff up. And what's this about using a spontaneous slot? Is the PrC talking about divine spontaneous casters? Are there any divine spontaneous casters? Not in the core rules. Or is the reference to spontaneous arcanists? Very odd, and totally sloppy.

And speaking of making stuff up, why adopt a brand new mechanic (trade spells in for uses of a special ability) when the game already has plenty of good ways to do the same thing. One of the great advantages of the 3E rules over earlier verisons was getting rid of illogical nonstandard extraneous resolution mechanisms. Resurrection percent; THAC0; save vs rod, staff, and wand; find secret doors on a 1 when you roll a d6; etc, etc ... we are SO much better off now! Why be so sloppy as to introduce this nonstandard mechanic? Why not use times per day, or maybe give a new use for channelling positive energy?

A note on alignment. Some people may say, "Well, the PrC is balanced because you have to be lawful good." Feh! For players who like to be LG, that's no impediment, and for those who do not, it's a deal killer -- for example, take the fellow deep in this conversation, who says, "One of these days, I hope to play a cleric / rogue multiclass who doesn't have to decide between being Lawful Good (i.e. Shadowbane Stalker) and being crippled in spellcasting."

The issue of how to play a LG character can be complex. Certainly, a lot of players struggle with it. But that does not make alignment a good balancer! A balanced PrC is one that works for all players who take it, based on rule mechanics, not one that is rare because few players want to be LG, but overpowering for those who do.

Solutions and advice. So if this prestige class is not balanced, what can we do to get a decent cleric/rogue PrC? There's clearly a demand for such a combo.

In my opinion, the splat book SbS PrC plainly needs to be nerfed. Start by reducing the hit dice to d6 and the skill ranks per level to 4+Int. Pay for uses of the special abilities by giving up Turn Undead uses, not spells -- and use a Turning Check to see what "level" spell equivalent the use is. A check of 9 or less is like giving up a 0 level spell; 10-12, level 1 spell; 13-15, level 2 spell; 16-18, level 3 spell; 19-21, level 4 spell; 22+, level 5 spell.

Finally, using the abilities as given, ONLY allow spell advancement at even levels. If you want your SbS to enjoy spell advancement at every level except 1 and 6, then cut the size of the sacred stealth, discover subterfuge, and sacred defense bonuses all in half.

Another interesting option is Rich Burlew's Divine Trickster. Sean Reynolds scoffs at the idea of giving sneak attack damage vs. undead, but I like it. I also really like the idea of applying Turn Undead uses to achieve other class skills ... an idea I came up with independently last week. However, Rich's PrC is somewhat on the strong side -- I agree with Void on that. I think I would remove several levels of spellcasting advancement, probably at level 1, when you can sneak attack undead; at level 4; at level 7, when you get Hide in Plain Sight; and at level 10. That said, I like Rich's PrC better than the SbS.

So if you want to play a prestige class designed for a rogue/cleric, there are some excellent options out there ... including the Shadowbane Stalker, once you knock it into shape!

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