The Sniper
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This page is about the combat role, not the military designation. For military history and other matters pertaining to military snipers see Sniper.

Basic Information

The Sniper is a combat role of someone who combines ranged combat with the element of surprise. This may involve a gun (like a real-world Sniper would use) or it may be done with magic, super-powers, etc. In an RPG combat, The Sniper may be a One Hit Kill type, rely on Ranged DPS or may even be focused on Terrain Denial. The main point is they attack you in situations where it's hard for you to counter-attack.

This tends to overlap with various other combat roles and tropes:

  1. The Sniper is similar to The Bushwacker, but lacks the speed, skill or stealth to escape a duel.
  2. Alternately, they may be ridiculously good at stealth, so rely on it over all other tactics. A long-range version of the Bushwhacker or The Ranger.
  3. With a big enough weapon it's Glass Cannon or The Nuker, depending on how resilient the sniper is.
  4. If you're going for crippling wounds, pinning them down or disrupting enemy morale, it's a little like The Mezzer or The Trapper.
  5. Ace Pilots may well use the same tactics as The Sniper. Such pilots may fire a single (computer-assisted or heat-seeking) shot, then take off over the horizon (or duck behind an asteroid).



Game and Story Use

  • As a Combat Role, the occasional presence of The Sniper as an NPC can really shake up combat expectations and force players to think on their feet.
    • The Sniper strikes the target from a range that most characters can't duplicate.
      • Depending on the game-system and situation, this may allow them to hit targets that others can't.
        • Such as a character in the back ranks when playing a game with a battle map and detailed combat positioning.
          • One way to balance the squishy Glass Cannon wizards of a D&D game is to mostly throw melee threats at the PCs, which lets The Tank have regular spotlight moments laughing off attacks while the wizard sits behind them. Then every so often you include The Sniper in an encounter to threaten the wizard just to keep him on his toes … and to keep the tank from feeling like he's the only one who gets picked.
      • The sniper may be able to make attacks that the enemy can't properly respond to.
        • Give the sniper an unusual and extremely-long range weapon, or some difficult terrain, and he may get several shots off before the PCs can get into position to return fire.
      • Be careful not to over-use The Sniper as an NPC archetype. A lot of the fun of tactical positioning and teamwork in crunchy game systems goes away if snipers end up in every fight and can always target the guy you're trying to protect. It's more fun if snipers show up rarely, and greatly change the nature of the fight when they do show up.
    • The element of surprise likely means the sniper's shot starts the battle, and/or is the first sign that The Sniper is even in the scene.
      • A lot of fun is to be had if the GM plays it close to the vest. For example, you might start a fight against more traditional melee bruisers, with no indication that there's snipers involved. The GM would make secret Stealth checks at the end of each round to represent the sniper getting into position. If the roll is failed, you put the sniper on the map, but give the PCs one round to act before The Sniper takes his first action. If the roll succeeds, the first clue they get (other than the GM rolling dice behind his screen) is an extra attack that seems to come out of nowhere.
      • Some GM's like to start sessions In Media Res, and a sniper is a great way to do it! Doesn't matter where you left off last week, this week we're starting with an attack roll.

Building This Character

Character Level

  • The Sniper could in theory be any character level, but usually they'll need to be high-level to provide a credible threat. That's less true in games that feature critical hits or other mechanics that decouple damage output from character level.


  • Dexterity or it's equivalent is probably the most important stat for The Sniper. It's usually what you roll for ranged attacks and to stealthily get into position. If it's also used for Combat Initiative checks in your system, then it's that much more important.
  • Melee combat is the last thing your sniper wants to get involved in, so Strength (or its equivalent) is probably a dump stat.


  • Stealth is a vital skill for The Sniper if operating in the military sense (see Sniper for ideas).
    • If screened by The Tank or some Mooks, or well positioned behind difficult terrain, actual stealth may be unneccesary. In the real world a sniper who isn't hiding is a dead sniper, but that may not be the case in all RPG systems.
  • The Sniper usually needs decent levels in a reliable attack skill. This is doubly true if they're a PC (because a sniper who can't hit isn't much use to the party).
    • Marksmanship or whatever you use to make a Ranged Attack in your game system is the obvious choice.
    • A sniper that uses Magic would be a nice subversion of the expected tropes, and would work rather well.
  • Perception is key if you get into a sniper duel.
  • Alternately, for NPC snipers you might try semi-incompetent high-damage but low-accuracy shooters. It makes the fight scene a lot more random, but also that much more dramatic provided that the PCs understand the danger if a lucky shot actually hits them.
    • Goblins with catapults or rocket-launchers work wonderfully in this context.

Special Abilities

  • Invisibility is even better than mundane Stealth.
  • Special movement-related powers can help The Sniper get into position, and will help them escape if the enemy manages to charge their position. Teleportation, Flight, or a Jetpack would be very helpful.
    • Something that lets you fire from a different position than your real one (whether portals or drones) can disguise your location.
  • Spells or abilities that affect terrain or the enemy's movement would be really useful too. Something like the "entangle" spell would work amazingly well for this role.
  • Your Combat Initiative system may define whether or not sniping even works in your game. Anything that boosts those initiative rolls will be a big help making this work.
  • Anything that improves your accuracy or damage. Armor piercing and critical hit damage is especially important.

Flaws and Hindrances

  • As stated, strength is your dump stat. A sniper character in need of bonus points or a compelling character flaw could do a lot worse than taking something that nerfs the melee rolls they don't want to be making anyway. Being a weakling or a coward would be perfect.
  • Extremely fragile NPC snipers might be interesting, though I suppose that falls more properly under Glass Cannon.
    • Snipers have the potential to be really annoying to the players. Letting the NPC snipers go down mercifully quick when the PCs final get to counter-attack might be a good way to keep it balanced and fair.
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