Sometimes I know that I may be a bit too old-school because there’s a little twitch in my eye whenever I have to refer to a given class as a Rogue. That’s become my go-to replacing Thief, and it really does make a fair amount of sense: Rogue skillsets are usually more covering a variety of skulky activities, which incorporates but is no means limited to thievery. Not to mention that calling someone a “Thief” seems like it’s underselling the situation.
Especially when the party is frequently engaged in the act of assault, murder, destruction of property, and unnatural acts with corpses.
A while back, I talked about how to understand the lifestyle of the MMO Warrior, because there’s always a Warrior. Just as surely, there’s always a Rogue, or a Thief, or if you have to go a little further afield, a Scoundrel or Stalker. So in the spirit of understanding these conventions, let’s talk about understanding MMO Rogues.
1. Rogues always dress in leather
In real life, being a successful thief involves not drawing attention to yourself. You have to blend into the background or at least look like someone no one would ask a single question about. So most thieves dress in normal but nondescript clothes, and roguish sorts try to look either fashionable or forgettable.
Not so in MMOs. No, Rogues wear leather. Half of the time they wear leather that’s covered in things like little vials of poison or depictions of one elf shivving another elf for the crime of having shiny things. The point is that there is a dress code, and it’s a dress code covered in tanned animal skins.
2. It’s a life of knives
The weapon of choice for Rogues always comes back to knives. That’s not to say every Rogue wields knives as their primary weapons, although a lot of them do, but you’ll always wind up coming back to knives. Sure, there are things called knives in Final Fantasy XIV that are clearly short swords, but then you start throwing knives in a circle and you’re right back to knives all over again.
Frequently you’ll even have a bunch of those knives on your aforementioned leather, as if you’re advertising that you are in fact a Rogue.
The usual runners-up for when knives aren’t available, of course, are guns. I’m not sure where this one comes from. Knives are small and easy to conceal, so that has some rationale. But guns are loud and tend to draw attention, so it seems like Rogues would prefer something else while doing crimes.
3. Every Rogue is connected to crime
Half of the time, a Rogue’s class name is the description of someone who commits a crime. A Thief is someone who steals. A Smuggler is someone who smuggles. A Stalker is someone who sits outside of your bathroom with a camera. But even if you don’t get named after a specific crime, you still exist in the larger criminal continuum. Sure, the Rogue Order Hall in World of Warcraft has lots of spies and such, but it also hires a lot of people with names that would sound normal for mafiosos from the 1950s – because if there’s one thing that works well for espionage, it’s interacting with people known to steal and backstab others.
Of course, this ties in nicely to a mechanical similarity…
4. Stealing is a vital part of being a Rogue
Pickpocket in WoW. Mug in FFXIV. Steal in Guild Wars 2. You get the idea. Sure, you plan to kill this tiger, but before you do that, maybe you can steal from it. Take some of its tiger things, you know.
Half of the time it still works, and none of the time does it make sense. Maybe you get a piece of loot that the tiger would normally drop! That makes no sense because how can you take a tiger fang from a still-living tiger? (In the same way that getting stabbed gets you a knife, presumably.) Or maybe you get something else, like some currency or one of a small pool of items. That makes even less sense because where was it keeping that? Is there some kind of tiger coin purse there?
And sometimes you’re stealing something nonsensical, like GW2 letting you steal, like, the idea of being a tiger. That doesn’t even work on a conceptual level.
5. A Rogue becomes invisible at will
Stealth is the art of avoiding notice. It’s about standing in the shadows, looking unobtrusive, moving where eyes are not, and otherwise slipping from notice. Except in MMOs, where it’s the art of clicking a button that gives you the Stealth status and then laughing as enemies don’t notice you standing right there.
The one nod toward realism is the fact that stealth usually makes you move more slowly, like that’s the penalty instead of part of what makes you stealthy. But every single Rogue seems to have some kind of ability to go into a semi-transparent stealth state. The only game that seems interested in really playing with the idea of “being stealthy” is The Elder Scrolls Online, and that’s a game without a specific “Rogue” class. So take from that what you will.
6. Ambidexterity is also part of the territory
Why don’t you see real-world people using two handguns very often? Because it’s not actually useful. Handguns are designed to be fired with two hands (take some lessons on proper firing stances) and even if you can wield one in either hand, you’re still stuck with regular stereo vision. So you’re pointing those two inaccurate guns at the same one target as someone with one gun.
But that shan’t deter the noble Rogue. No, the Rogue needs a weapon in both hands and won’t be satisfied with a two-handed weapon. Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Scoundrel can at least be satisfied with a proper pistol firing grip, but then it also needs to have a second shotgun for close-range combat. Because shooting someone with a normal blaster just tickles if you’re closer than five feet, or something.
Oh, wait, no, it’s because you need a backstab.
7. Backstabbing is more painful than regular stabbing
Rogues love their backstabs. Show me a Rogue without some ability that boils down to “hit an enemy from behind and it deals more damage” and I’ll show you some other leather-wearing knife fetishist. Of course, the whole point of backstabbing in the real life is that the person doesn’t know they’re about to get stabbed. It hurts, but getting stabbed in the front hurts about as much. Don’t try it at home to find out.
In MMOs, stabbing someone in the back is something that’s not just a good idea but one you can do repeatedly. WoW will even let your Rogue do it repeatedly and without having to be behind your target, making it either the worst-named ability ever or the weirdest reacharound in history. And how does that even happen? “Urgh, that dude in leather stabbed me in the back! Well, the good news is that he won’t do that another dozen times, right? Ow, again! The pain is compounded by my inexplicable surprise!”
8. All Roguish behavior is very nimble
Who remembers that Conan (the barbarian, not the comedian) was originally a thief? A mugger, specifically, because when that dude asked for your money, it seemed like a reasonable request. Being someone big and scary has long been a good approach to crime, but all MMO Rogues are the quick and nimble sort.
Not to worry, though; Rogues can use that dexterity to hurt people more, while conversely being stronger is of less help if any. Yes, you want to be more nimble because that’s what makes a knife hurt more, while really strong guys are actually less scary to be stabbed by. Because they ought to be Warriors who are yelling and breaking stuff.
9. Inflicting serious injury is totally normal
An awful lot of Rogue abilities describe injuries that should not really be something you replicate multiple times. For example, WoW loves its ability Eviscerate. Do you know what evisceration is? It literally means removing the digestive tract by slicing open the abdomen. I don’t think I can do that multiple times over the course of a fight, let alone trying to figure out how I’m managing that on a golem.
Of course, it keeps going. Mutilation seems like it’s pretty one-then-done; you’re either mutilated or not. Internal Bleeding should be the sort of thing that quickly requires medical attention. A Garrote doesn’t tend to end with someone wincing and saying, “Whew, that hurt a bit, eh chaps?” These seem like rather finite abilities. Perhaps you’re just trying to do this stuff and you’re particularly incompetent?
10. You’re probably around for tricks instead of anything else
Final Fantasy XI players do not want to party with Thief for damage, or tanking, or pulling, or… well, lots of possibilities. No, they want a Thief around for one reason and one reason only: Treasure Hunter, which passively improves the loot you get. Having thieves around just passively means you get more stuff for some reason. If you do a little damage along the way, that’s cute, but the Blue Mages have the situation largely under control. Stand in the back and look dangerous.
Maybe you’re picking locks, maybe you’re disarming traps, maybe you have some other utility. But the odds are high that you get to stick around in groups because your various larcenous tricks also provide some universal party benefit that can’t be acquired any other way. So your party slot is assured, but it’s not because you’re awesome.
Then again, you’re the one wearing more leather than the average herd of cows. Maybe you’re just trying too hard to be cool.