If you didn’t know, there’s a Ninja class in Complete Adventurer. At first glance it looks pretty neat and even has a cool picture of someone in a ninja suit leaping through the air throwing shuriken all about.
Unfortunately, I think the class missed the mark.
Breakin’ It Down
The closest thing to compare a Ninja to is a Rogue (though there are some very obvious Monk influences). There’s actually a lot of similarities between the two. Here’s some of the things that are the same as the Rogue:
- Base Attack Bonus progression
- Same saves – high Ref
- Hit Dice (d6)
- No alignment restrictions
Some Important Differences
Let’s start out with some of the good differences.
- Ninjas get an AC bonus equal to their Wis mod when unarmored and unencumbered. At higher levels, they get additional bonuses. This is very similar to the Monk’s AC bonus – so similar, in fact, that you can’t combine the two if you’re multiclassed.
- Ninjas get Poison Use at 3rd level and Improved Poison Use at 9th level
- Access to some exotic (monk-like) weapons that Rogues do not get
Now for some of the negative differences.
- Fewer skill points (6 to a Rogue’s 8)
- They do not have access to Use Magic Device or Perform. UMD is probably the most powerful skill in the game and Perform is useful if you wish to eventually go into the Shadow Dancer prestige class.
- The Sudden Strike ability is nowhere close to as powerful as Sneak Attack
That last point is so big that we need to spend some time focusing on it.
Sudden Strike vs. Sneak Attack
In many senses, this is what the “Ninja vs. Rogue” argument really comes down to.
If you’re not familiar with Sneak Attack, read up on it in the Rogue SRD entry. It’s pretty simple – if your opponent is denied their Dex bonus to AC or if they’re flanked, you get to do more damage during your attack.
Sudden Strike appears to clearly be a derivative of Sneak Attack. While exceptionally similar, it’s different in one major way – your target has to be denied their Dex bonus to AC. That’s it. It does not trigger when they’re only flanked. Blech.
In an attempt to make this more useful, many of the class abilities of the Ninja try to give situational benefits that will aid in the use of Sudden Strike. Most of these are the Ki Power class abilities. These abilities feed off of the Ninja’s Ki Power (strengthening the Monk flavor).
Ki Power Abilities
The Ki Power abilities that the Ninja has are as follows:
- Ghost Step – starting at level 2, you can go invisible for one round as a swift action. This will let you become ethereal at higher levels.
- Ki Dodge – at level 6, as a swift action, you can gain concealment (20% miss chance) for 1 round.
- Ghost Strike – 8th level allows you the ability to strike incorporeal and ethereal creatures and to strike creatures on the material plane while ethereal. This effects the next attack you make after invoking this ability.
- Ghost Mind – at 14th level you gain certain resistances to scrying attempts.
- Ghost Sight – Ninjas can see invisible and ethereal creatures at 16th level.
- Greater Ki Dodge – Your concealment increases to 50%.
- Ghost Walk – Upon reaching level 20, you can enter the ethereal plane as per the Ethereal Jaunt spell (caster level equal to the Ninja’s level)
Ghost Step, Ki Dodge, Ghost Strike and Greater Ki Dodge all require you to expend one of your ki uses for the day. Ghost Walk requires two.
This boils down the Ninja’s abilities in a nutshell. They’re very useful, but the fact that the number of times per day to use all of them are drawn from the same pool, greatly limits them.
It’s also very clear that Sudden Strike is meant to be used along with Ghost Step – since being invisible denies your opponent’s Dex bonus to AC against your attacks – which is the only time Sudden Strike triggers. Ghost Strike is useful because at 10th level your Ghost Step makes you ethereal – so without it, you couldn’t actually Sudden Strike people during your Ghost Stepping.
Trying To Play A Ninja
Maybe you still want to play a Ninja. I’m not sure why – I’d just play a “very, very sneaky Rogue” and be done with it. However, if you’re still looking at the Ninja then here’s some things you should make sure you try to get in game:
- Ring of Invisibility – despite it being a standard action to activate, it’ll save some of your Ki Power uses during the day.
- Cloak of Etherealness – by not having to Ghost Step to become ethereal, you can spend more of your Ki Power uses to make Sudden Strikes from the ethereal plane.
- Bracers of Armor – you can’t wear armor, so these would be very useful.
In addition to that, you should take a look at the Combat Modifiers to see what conditions deny your opponents Dexterity bonus to AC.
The Path I’d Take
If I were to redo the Ninja, I’d probably change the flavor considerably.
Instead of the whole Ghost Step path, I think moving in the direction of Hide In Plain Sight would be more appropriate. The Monk feel is somewhat unnecessary. The only true-to-life similarities of the D&D Monk and the real Ninja is some of the weapons that they used. I believe this was the likely starting point for the comparison and from here they added the Monk-styled AC bonus and the “Ki Powers”.
While exceptionally cunning and sneaky, Ninjas were rather martial. Given the general education of a populace, it could be perceived that they were possibly mystical or employed magical tricks, but the things that they did were not mystical or magical by far. That connection is closer to the Samurai.
The core concept of adding damage through their ability to not be seen is spot on. The mechanism they chose to give this bonus, however, seems very inappropriate.
Wrapping This Up
Would I play a Ninja? Probably not. The Sudden Strike ability is the cornerstone of the Ninja’s arsena; but since this is almost exclusively useful when used in conjunction with the Ki Powers and those are limited, it seems a bit weak.
The great thing about Sneak Attack is that it triggers while flanked as well. This makes it a better ability for a group that has good cooperation and tactics. A fighter type with a good sense of the combat and movement rules will be a huge asset to the Rogue for assisting in flanking.
I think a Ninja could make a really good NPC though. They’re probably a better class if you have to be on your own a lot – because you’re simply forced to rely on yourself in order to best use your own abilities. Just keep in mind that there’s little a Ninja can do that a Rogue can not.
As such, if you want to play a “real ninja”, it’s my opinion that you take levels in Rogue and simply play the character how you perceive a ninja to be. If your DM is flexible, you may even be able to trade out some of the weapons that a Rogue is proficient with for some more oriental-flavored ones.