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A Guide to the Knife Master Rogue (Pathfinder)
The knife master (Ultimate Combat) is a short-but-sweet rogue archetype that increases your effectiveness while fighting with daggers and other similar weapons (including kukris). If you’re planning to build something of a weapon specialist for your rogue, this archetype gives you a solid damage bonus, though this benefit does come at the cost of your enhanced trapfinding abilities.
At 1st level, the knife master exchanges the trapfinding bonus (as well as the ability to disarm magical traps) for the hidden blade ability. This grants a bonus equal to one half your rogue level on Sleight of Hand checks made to conceal light blades (a fighter weapon group including the dagger, kama, kukri, rapier, sickle, starknife, and short sword). This ability is overall less useful to the typical adventuring group than trapfinding. For that reason alone, you should consider choosing knife master carefully. If it’s clear that your group isn’t worried about traps (because someone else has that covered or the campaign won’t see many of them, for example) but they are in need of a competent damage dealer, knife master’s loss of trapfinding is no real loss at all. Hidden blade itself is also useful in more “social” games, where you can’t always carry a weapon around in the open.
Knife masters also gain a modified sneak attack ability called sneak stab at 1st level. When making a sneak attack with dagger, kerambit, kukri, punching daggers, starknife, or swordbreaker dagger (Advanced Player's Guide), you’ll roll d8s for your extra damage dice, rather than d6s. On average, that’s an additional point of damage for each die of sneak attack dice you have which can become significant at higher levels when you have multiple attacks per round. This also has the nice benefit for small rogues of counteracting the drop in weapon damage dice they have to deal with. Keep in mind, though, that sneak stab reduces the sneak attack damage dice you use for all other weapons to d4s, which will apply to most ranged weapons (unless you rely on throwing daggers, which you probably should).
Since knife masters lose trapfinding, they don’t have as much use for trap sense, and they trade that bonus for a Dodge bonus to Armor Class against attacks made with light blades. The bonus scales at the same rate as trap sense. Like hidden blade, this ability doesn’t have a lot of general use, but neither does trap sense, so you probably won’t often notice the switch. In a campaign that won’t see many traps, the extra bonus against rogue-like enemies will probably come in handy. If you ever run into an enemy knife master, you’ll be doubly glad you have the bonus.
With all that in mind, two weapon options will generally be “optimal” for a knife master: the dagger and the kukri. Daggers offer unparalleled flexibility—they offer both piercing and slashing damage (which is useful for overcoming some damage reduction) and double as ranged weapons, allowing you to be effective at both melee and ranged combat (though their short range increment won’t make you much of a sniper). Kukris give up the flexibility of the dagger in favor of an increased critical range, but you do have to gain proficiency with them (a fighter level never hurts for the extra feat). The other weapons that work with sneak stab will perform well enough (as the majority of your damage is coming from sneak attack dice anyway), though.
So, here’s one way you can build a knife master for combat. Contrary to my usual advice, I recommend the bleeding attack and combat trick rogue talents (instead of a pair focused on skill use), as knife masters are skewed toward damage dealing in the first place. This build has daggers in mind, though you can use starknives in much the same way (if you can get proficiency with them). As with many melee rogues, Two-Weapon Fighting is a go-to for you, but this build also takes a few ranged feats to increase your flexibility in combat.
Halfling Knife Master 5
Ability Score (15 Point Buy): Str 10, Dex 17, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 10
Feats and Rogue Talents
1 Weapon Finesse
2 Bleeding Attack
3 Two-Weapon Fighting
4 Combat Trick (Point Blank Shot)
5 Precise Shot
As you gain levels, you’ll want to consider feats like Weapon Focus and (of course) the rest of the Two-Weapon Fighting feats (though you can probably avoid Double Slice and Two-Weapon Rend unless you have abnormally high Strength for a rogue). You might also consider taking Quick Draw and Rapid Shot at higher levels if you can afford to carry a brace of daggers for situations where melee is just too dangerous. If you’re not using daggers or starknives, you’ll probably want to skip the ranged combat feats above, focusing perhaps on Charisma and Intimidate to shoot for Shatter Defenses awhile down the line.
As mentioned above, the knife master is a pretty simple archetype, but it’ll do the job for you if you’re looking to enhance your damage dealing power as a rogue. An extra five damage per sneak attack (at say, 10th level) is nothing to laugh about in a game where a +2 damage bonus (say, from weapon training or Weapon Specialization) is a significant gain for a build with multiple attacks. Just be sure your group can afford your lack of trapfinding, and enjoy playing House of Flying Daggers.