Kevin has been playing tabletop games for almost as long as he can remember and currently edits for Jon Brazer Enterprises.
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
- Weapon Finesse
- Bleeding Attack
- Two-Weapon Fighting
- Combat Trick (Point Blank Shot)
- 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.
Master Builder on May 02, 2015:
the rogue's biggest problem iss his reliance on sneak attack and dual-wielding. don't take this archetype. get weapon finesse, and an agile elven curve blade. pick up the feats power attack and furious focus. then decide on whether you want to go with great cleave or vital strike, or maybe spring attack. this gives you high damage attacks that will actually hit, unlike dual wielding with your crappy atttack bonuses. you will have power attack x1.5, and your dex mod for damage. get a holy weapon asap sinve 95% of games will put you up against evil foes all the time. you can put all of your cash into enchantingg a single powerful weapon, instead of splitting it between two crappy knives. you won't have to rely on sneak attack anymore, it will become a bonus instead of a crutch. i personally go with the great cleave/combat reflexes thing. it feels awesome when you play a ninja, sneak up on a whole group of foes, great cleave-sneak attack all of em, turn invisible, then sneak attack all of em again when they move toward the rest of your party. or you can stick to the vital strike tree, buy some enlarge potion pots or something, and deal 4d8+power attack 1.5+dex mod damage. then sprinkle on your pitiful sneak attack dice whenever possible and you're good. seriously, people need to realize how bad sneak attack sucks.
This Guy on April 25, 2015:
Why Bleeding Attack?
Tengu on February 06, 2014:
I actually built pretty much the same character and is a lot of fun to play.
Two traits that works very well with the Knife Master:
"River Rat (Marsh or River): You learned to swim right after you learned to walk. When you were a youth, a gang of river pirates put you to work swimming in nighttime rivers and canals with a dagger between your teeth so you could sever the anchor ropes of merchant vessels. You gain a +1 trait bonus on damage rolls with a dagger and a +1 trait bonus on Swim checks. Swim is always a class skill for you.
Hidden Hand: Your concealed weapons strike fast and true. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Sleight of Hand checks made to conceal light weapons and a +1 trait bonus on attack rolls when making an attack with a light weapon during a surprise round.
Gio on November 02, 2013:
No. First of all ninja is an Alternate Classes from Ultimate combat associated to the rogue, so you can't multiclass in it (if you take 1 rogue lvl and 1 ninja lvl, at 2nd character level you'll have 2d6 sneak attack damage, it makes no sense). Second, the 'Sneak Stab' Knife Master's feature doesn't say "This ability replaces the sneak attack rogue's class feature" but "WHEN YOU MAKE A SNEAK ATTACK with a dagger, kukri etc", so the sneak attack from the assassin works like Knife Master says.
Mendicalt Scythemeister on September 02, 2013:
Thanks for the answer anyway. I'll have to ask our GM, then. :P
Kevin C Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on September 02, 2013:
That's actually a pretty good question, but one I don't personally have the answer to. It could really go either way, and it probably would depend on the GM. I'd probably say for the sake of simplicity that Sneak Attack dice from other classes would follow the same rules for a Knife Master, but that's more of a personal judgment than a rules call.
Mendicalt Scythemeister on September 02, 2013:
Question about the Knife Master Sneak Stab ability. It says "This ability is identical in all other ways to sneak attack, and supplements that ability." Does this mean that if a Knife Master were to take a prestige class, like Assassin, or multiclass into a class like Ninja, that the d6 sneak attack granted by these classes would be boosted up to d8s for light weapons, or would they remain d6's?
Kevin C Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on November 16, 2012:
The easiest way is to just make sure you have a moderate Constitution--I don't like to have anything below 14 for any melee character. If you've got a high Dexterity score, you'll have at least a moderate AC, too. The rest of your survival will probably come from magic items, most especially in the form of an amulet of natural armor and a ring of deflection.
But as far as feats and talents go, there aren't many to draw on. Toughness is always there, which becomes more useful as you level up. The defensive roll advanced talent is also good for those clutch moments.
Rune on November 16, 2012:
Kevin! Did not expect to find you while surfing the web. Glad I did. I like the style of the guides. Any thoughts on how to keep a rogue alive in melee? Talents, feats, traits that go along with a given build?