Learn all about arcane tricksters and how to use them in our guide to this versatile subclass
The arcane trickster is a rogue subclass in D&D 5e introduced in the Player’s Handbook. They are rogues with a penchant for the magical, retaining their roguish nature and combining it with magical acumen.
Combining magic with stealth and thievery is a powerful combination weaving spells to supplement their natural stealth and penchant for skullduggery, arcane tricksters are a powerful option for rogues. With that spellcasting though, comes a wave of complexity that isn’t recommended for new players. Not only do you have your rogue abilities to consider, but also options for many spells. Get them right, and arcane tricksters can be very powerful, get them wrong and you can find them a real challenge to play.
Arcane tricksters work as assassins in the night, supplementing their skill with deadly magic, as performers, tricking their audience with magical abilities or as comic relief, using their magic for mischief. While few examples of arcane tricksters come to mind from popular cultures, some roguish characters do use magic to some extent such as Bilbo using the one ring (invisibility is a great spell for rogues by the way)! You might also consider troublemakers like Fred and George Weasley. They might be wizards more than rogues, but they certainly fit the arcane trickster archetype. A more left-field option might be the mutants Mystique and Nightcrawler who could shapeshift and teleport alongside their dexterous other abilities.
How does an arcane trickster work?
Arcane Tricksters are possibly the most flexible of the rogue subclasses. This is because they aren’t limited by set subclass features, but rather, you get a small pool of spells you can choose to enhance yourself in the way you want to do things. We’ll talk about a few different tactics you can use as an arcane trickster with spell ideas for how these can be utilised in different circumstances.
Firstly, your sneak attack remains your most effective option for dealing damage. With this in mind, if you choose to get into melee combat, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting sneak attacks in as often as possible. Fortunately, there are a couple of cantrips you can take that allow you to do this while enhancing your attacks with spells. These are booming blade and green flame blade which both add extra damage to your attacks in different ways. These spells are cast as an action, but allow you to still make a weapon attack as part of that action. This leaves your bonus action free to disengage afterwards and move somewhere a little safer (particularly important with booming blade as you’ll need to coax your enemy into moving to get the bonus damage).
To enhance your damage output a little more, and to give yourself another opportunity at a sneak attack, you can take a pair of short swords for two-weapon fighting and take the mobile feat which will allow you to safely disengage a single opponent if you’ve attacked them that turn without using your bonus action to disengage. This allows you to use your bonus action to make a 2nd attack against your opponent.
Once you have access to 2nd level spells, shadow blade can make a great alternative to your usual weapons and is a little less fiddly to make work than booming blade or green flame blade. It grants you 2d8 damage with a hard to resist damage type (psychic) and has the light property so can be wielded with another weapon. Even better, the blade can be thrown and resummoned as a bonus action so can be used at range if needed too.
Instead of rushing heading into melee combat, you might instead choose to attack from range. A light crossbow is your biggest damage dealing weapon here and the reload rule won’t impact your damage as you only get a single attack anyway. Alternatively, you could use shadow blade as described above to double your damage (but reduce your range). It will require using your bonus action to resummon the blades but you should usually be needing to use your bonus action to disengage.
You’ll want to make sure you’re landing sneak attacks with your shots and one reliable way to do this is through the invisibility and greater invisibility spells. Invisibility will give you this (and advantage) for your first attack while greater invisibility will give you this for the whole combat (as long as it isn’t negated).
Unfortunately, you can’t land a sneak attack with spell attacks so while there are some good cantrip options for other spellcasting classes, these will always be weaker than what an arcane trickster can do with a weapon attack and sneak attack.
One other word of caution comes around spells that require a saving throw. Particularly at first, your intelligence will likely be more modest than most spellcasters making you have a less powerful spell save DC making your spells easier to resist. This doesn’t mean you can’t be effective with saving throw spells, but be aware that you’ll succeed on these less than other spellcasters while you typically have more ability to deal damage with weapon attacks than other spellcasters so use such spells with caution. Magical ambush at level 9 goes some way to compensating for this by imposing disadvantage on some spell saves, but is a bit situational so not always reliable.
Out of combat
Out of combat is potentially where the arcane trickster gets even more interesting. You’ll mostly need to take enchantment and illusion spells but can take other spells from the wizard’s spell list, which is the most exhaustive list and you’ll find plenty that work well for a rogue.
You can use these spells to enhance your usual roguish activities such as using your beefed up mage hand to safely trigger traps, unlock doors or acquire items from a distance (often known as thievery). Minor illusion and disguise self can be used to make you appear different. Invisibility is great for sneaking into places (or out of them) and spells like prestidigitation and shape water have a myriad number of uses. There are more great spells you can use to your advantage and we’ve outlined many of the best ones later in this guide.
Rogue class features
|Party Role||Stealth, Utility, Support Fighter|
|Saving Throws||Dexterity, Intelligence|
|Hit Dice||1d8 + Consitution modifier per level|
|HP at 1st Level||8 + Constitution Modifier|
|Armour Proficiency||Light armour|
|Weapon Proficiency||Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers and shortswords|
|Skills||Choose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth|
Like all rogues, you’ll get 1d8 hit die making you one of the more vulnerable classes that often get in the thick of combat. You do have class features that help with this though like uncanny dodge. On top of this, arcane tricksters are only proficient in light armour meaning dexterity is extremely important for rogues, and not just to get a decent armour class, but also so you can deal decent damage with those finesse weapons. Your proficiency in dexterity and intelligence saving throws makes you great at dodging area of effect spells, though intelligence tends to be one of the least important saving throws to be proficient in.
Arcane tricksters aren’t proficient in a huge array of weapons, but they do get a few d8 damage dealing weapons like rapiers and longswords which is handy. Rapiers are particularly useful as you can duel-wield them with the dual-wielder feat and get two chances at sneak attack while gaining d8 damage. Alternatively, you can stick with shortswords at d6 damage each but still get 2 attempts at sneak attack.
Arcane trickster features
|3||Spellcasting, Mage Hand Legerdemain|
|Rogue Level||Cantrips Known||Spells Known||1st||2nd||3rd||4th|
|3rd||Mage Hand +2||3||2||–||–||–|
|4th||Mage Hand +2||4||3||–||–||–|
|5th||Mage Hand +2||4||3||–||–||–|
|6th||Mage Hand +2||4||3||–||–||–|
|7th||Mage Hand +2||5||4||2||–||–|
|8th||Mage Hand +2||6||4||2||–||–|
|9th||Mage Hand +2||6||4||2||–||–|
|10th||Mage Hand +3||7||4||3||–||–|
|11th||Mage Hand +3||8||4||3||–||–|
|12th||Mage Hand +3||8||4||3||–||–|
|13th||Mage Hand +3||9||4||3||2||–|
|14th||Mage Hand +3||10||4||3||2||–|
|15th||Mage Hand +3||10||4||3||2||–|
|16th||Mage Hand +3||11||4||3||3||–|
|17th||Mage Hand +3||11||4||3||3||–|
|18th||Mage Hand +3||11||4||3||3||–|
|19th||Mage Hand +3||12||4||3||3||1|
|20th||Mage Hand +3||13||4||3||3||1|
You only go up to level 4 spells, but that’s only a little less than a paladin and is enough for what you need to get out of your spells. You’re a half-caster at best (but did you really expect more with all those rogue abilities too)? Arcane tricksters only get access to illusion and enchantment spells from the wizard’s list, but this is enough and grants a great complement of spells for your abilities.
It’s worth noting that you’ll still want to get lots out of your sneak attack as your most sure-fire way of dealing lots of damage. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work alongside spell attacks so you’ll want to rely on spells that enhance your attacks rather than replace them like booming blade and shadow blade.
Mage Hand Legerdemain
You get an enhanced form of mage hand which you can control with your bonus action once you’ve cast the spell and allows the mage hand to be invisible and do some more intricate things than normal like disarm traps or unpick locks (handy if you think you might set off a trap).
One of the challenges for a rogue is their lower spell save DC. Magical Ambush offsets this a bit by causing disadvantage for enemies on saving throws from your spells if hidden from the creature when you cast it. It’s a tad situational and only available in the first round of combat, but should be something you’re able to engineer reasonably often.
Advantage by using a bonus action certainly seems like a great ability, but can be awkward in practice as you already need your mage hand available (and as it takes an action to cast and only lasts 1 minute, that can be tricky to accomplish). Still, the option is there and can be useful at certain times.
A great way to not only negate the effects of a spell, but also to use it for yourself. While a good ability, it does come with a couple of drawbacks, the first being that your spell DC is unlikely to be great while an enemy spellcaster probably does have a strong spellcasting ability modifier so getting this to work automatically places you at a disadvantage. It also depends on you coming up against spellcasters which may not always happen (especially as new monster rules make most spell effects abilities rather than spells now). Being able to recast the spell also depends on it being 4th level or less.
Optimising an arcane trickster
Now you know what arcane tricksters are and how they work, it’s time to think about how you build a nicely optimised arcane trickster. While we’ll give you some ideas of different ways of optimising your arcane trickster, you do not need to follow this advice. You might instead want to go for something that flavours nicely for your character or simply want to experiment a bit. There are many ways to create a well optimised arcane trickster but we’ll go through some of the more typical ways to create a highly effective arcane trickster character.
Best arcane trickster ability scores
For arcane tricksters, dexterity remains your most important ability score not only for the extra damage with finesse weapons, but also for the extra durability from a higher AC. You only get light armour so need the bonus to your AC, plus most of your best weapons are finesse weapons (and sneak attack can only be used with finesse weapons) so you’ll want to maximise this.
However, as you’ll be reliant on your spellcasting ability for the effectiveness of your spells, you’ll want to ensure your intelligence is fairly good as a secondary priority. This will likely come at the sacrifice of a good charisma which can be a useful but non-essential ability score for rogues.
Constitution remains important for arcane tricksters too as you remain a fairly combat-focused class under usual circumstances, especially if you want to use your magic to enhance your sneak attacks (which is one of the better ways to play an arcane trickster).
Beyond this, strength is always going to be unimportant for you. Most things you might need strength for, you can do with dexterity. Wisdom is your other option and will help your perception and a bunch of saving throws so is potentially of some use but is not important for an arcane trickster.
We’d typically prioritise your ability scores roughly in this order:
Best arcane trickster races
Typically, you’ll want to make sure you take a race that adds to your dexterity ability score with intelligence and maybe constitution as secondary options. With the customised origins rules outlined in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you can technically take any race and choose how the ability scores are distributed. Also, many more recently released races, particularly those released in Monsters of the Multiverse, have these rules already baked into them.
With this in mind, we’ll take into consideration the rules as they’re presented in their most recent release for each race and consider features that complement an arcane trickster well. These are the best races to use for an arcane trickster:
- Aarakocra – Flight is great for arcane tricksters as it can easily get you out of trouble or keep you up in the air while you take pot shots at enemies. Talons are less useful as they rely on a good strength score (which you probably don’t have). It’s a good option for most rogues, though Fairies and Owlins do work better.
- Autognome – Extra protection from armored casing is very useful for arcane tricksters that can do with the extra toughness. Built for success is great for ensuring you get your sneak attack bonus and you get a few other little goodies too.
- Bugbear – Long-limbed lets you stay out of the way of combat while getting into the melee and preserving your bonus action for something more useful. Proficiency in stealth is always handy for arcane tricksters and surprise attack gives you even more damage on your first turn. To really optimise for a bugbear, consider going with two weapon fighting to give yourself 2 chances to land a surprise attack.
- Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin) – A deep gnome’s skills are very complementary of an arcane trickster. Disguise self and nondetection are great spells for rogues and can be recast with your spellcasting. Magic resistance is always a very useful resistance to have (perhaps the most useful) but is more important for a frontline arcane trickster than one that chooses to hang back (though still useful). You’ll get advantage on stealth checks.
- Fairy – Flight is useful for any class that wants to stay away from enemies and you don’t need to worry about the restrictions on medium and heavy armour as you’ll only wear light armour. You’ll either want to go for long range combat or you can use your flight when you disengage to get even safer from enemies. Faerie fire and enlarge/reduce are great buff spells to have in your repertoire too, and with your subclass spellcasting, you can recast these spells too.
- High Elf – With your free cantrip, you can get booming blade which is a great option for an arcane trickster as you can use it in conjunction with sneak attack and disengage causing enemies to chase you and adding some bonus damage. Add in +2 dexterity, darkvision and perception and you’ve got a pretty great arcane trickster.
- Kobold – Similar to a high elf (weirdly) but you can get booming blade with draconic sorcery for extra hit and run damage and draconic cry is a great way to get advantage for your sneak attack.
- Owlin – Flight is great for an arcane trickster as it can keep you out of trouble, plus you get an extra skill to be proficient in.
Best arcane trickster spells
Arcane tricksters have access to a range of spells from the wizard’s spell list though most of these will need to be enchantment or illusion spells. You can learn cantrips from any school of magic and a 1st level spell that isn’t enchantment or illusion. On top of this, racial features, feats and multiclassing can give you access to other spells.
As a general rule, we’d avoid spell attacks unless they can do something more than sneak attack. This rules out spells like fire bolt though area of effect spells are a good option as this is usually hard for a rogue to access. Spells that can enhance your attacks while allowing you to perform a sneak attack are excellent, especially when they just require a bonus action. The best of these is booming blade. You’ll also want to consider spells that enhance your roguish abilities outside of combat. Spells like invisibility, disguise self and minor illusion are great options here as is mage hand (though you get an enhanced version of this as standard). You should also be wary of using spells that require a saving throw. Your intelligence will likely be lower than many other spellcasters so creatures will find it easier to resist your spells. These can still be effective against certain creatures, you just may need to be careful you don’t waste such actions.
For the purposes of our recommendations, we’ve picked the best spells available to a vanilla arcane trickster.
|Spell level||Best arcane trickster spells|
|Cantrip||Booming Blade, Green Flame Blade, Mage Hand, Message, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, Shape Water|
|1st||Disguise Self, Find Familiar, Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, Silent Image, Silvery Barbs|
|2nd||Blur, Darkvision, Invisibility, Misty Step, Shadow Blade, Mirror Image, See Invisibility|
|3rd||Fly, Haste, Hypnotic Pattern, Major Image|
|4th||Black Tentacles, Confusion, Greater Invisibility, Stone Shape|
Best arcane trickster backgrounds
There are quite a few good options for backgrounds for a swashbuckler so use a background that will complement what you want to do well. We’ve listed below the backgrounds we think work well with a swashbuckler:
- Charlatan – Deception and sleight of hand are great skill proficiencies for arcane tricksters and disguise and forgery kit proficiencies are great too, especially if you want to use your spellcasting for stealthing around. The ability to forge documents is a little niche but could be useful in some circumstances.
- Courtier – Proficiency in insight and persuasion are great and 2 languages is useful too. As an intelligence based character, you’ll likely be leaned on for intelligence based skill checks.
- Criminal – Deception and stealth are great skill proficiencies for an arcane trickster. You already have thieves tools proficiency so can swap for a similar tool proficiency.
- Faction Agent – Insight and the choice of another skill make a great choice of proficiencies. You also get 2 languages and affiliation with a powerful organisation.
- Far Traveler – Insight, perception and a language are pretty good for a swashbuckler. Unfortunately, proficiency in an instrument isn’t that great but you could make use of it.
- Urban Bounty Hunter – 2 skill proficiencies from a choice of 4 great options plus thieves tools and a gaming set proficiency.
- Urchin – Sleight of hand and stealth are great skill proficiencies and thieves tools and disguise kit are great kit proficiencies, plus you can move across cities really quickly.
Best arcane trickster feats
when taking an ability score increase or using a variant Human, you can gain access to feats, taking one instead of the ability score increase. Some DMs will also give you a feat when you create your character for added flavour. Just check with your DM that they allow feats.
Feats can add powerful options to a character, but it’s important you pick feats that will complement a arcane trickster’s skillset nicely. We’ve pulled out some of the best options below:
- Alert – Excellent if you’re playing a Bugbear arcane trickster for that more guaranteed surprise attack. Even without that, going first in combat can be a decent option.
- Dual Wielder – If you want to go with two-weapon fighting, then this will give you a bonus to your AC and allow you to wield d8 damage weapons like rapiers with both hands rather than d6.
- Elven Accuracy – +1 to your dexterity or intelligence plus whenever you have advantage on your attacks, you get to roll one of the dice again making it very hard for you to miss when you’ve got advantage. Arcane Tricksters have a lot of ways of gaining advantage so this should be a lot of the time.
- Fey-Touched – +1 to your intelligence and a free use of misty step that can be recast with your spell slots is great for getting out of danger. You also get another 1st level spell to add to your repertoire.
- Inspiring Leader – Grant a bunch of temporary hit points to everyone (probably) in your party. Very handy when preparing for battle but works best with a high charisma which may be a challenge when you also need to focus on intelligence.
- Lucky – Making 3 rerolls a day is powerful for any class!
- Magic Initiate – Get 2 cantrips and a 1st level spell from any spell list. Great for getting top cantrips from other classes especially as you’ll have a limited number of known spells.
- Mobile – No need to use your cunning action to disengage and you can move further which is great for getting safe (or getting at someone’s throat). Plus you can now use your bonus action to dash or do something else.
- Resilient – Some extra constitution is always welcome and advantage on constitution saving throws is especially helpful for concentration.
- Skill Expert – Better at even more skills is great.
- Skilled – 3 more skills to be proficient in is also great.
- Skulker – Great for rogues in dark places that like to use ranged weapons making it easier to hide and shoot at enemies.
- War Caster – A really useful one for arcane trickster that are likely to want to wield two weapons at once as it will allow you to do this while using somatic components for spells. You’ll also get advantage on constitution saving throws for concentration. Spell opportunity attacks are probably less helpful for an arcane trickster, but still a great feat for you.
Best arcane trickster skills
Rogues are one of the most skilful classes (behind only bards) and gain access to proficiency in more skills than any other class except bards. You’ll likely be called on a lot for anything dexterity based skills as well as some of the intelligence based ones too. Arcane Tricksters are also great at filling in the skill gaps in a party so work with your party to see what skills you’ll need to fill.
Below we’ve ordered the most important skills for an arcane trickster roughly by their importance but depending on your party, you may want to focus on different skills ahead of others:
- Stealth – Really important for all rogues that want to catch enemies unawares or sneak around somewhere.
- Perception – If you’re in dungeons, you’ll likely be exploring out front and you’ll need a high perception to make sure you spot those traps. Proficiency will be particularly important as your wisdom likely won’t be really high.
- Insight – Important skill for a character that will likely do a lot of talking.
- Investigation – Important skill for a character that will likely do a lot of investigating, especially as you should have a decent intelligence score.
- Persuasion – the most important charisma skill. While you may struggle to be charismatic enough to be the party face, you’ll likely need to talk yourself out of many a sticky situation.
- Deception – Often important for rogues trying to do things they shouldn’t be.
- Intimidation – Reasonably important face skill, especially for moments of interrogation or even negotiation, but your mileage may depend on your temprament.
- Acrobatics – Most characters will want this or athletics to avoid grapples and for other physical checks. Swashbucklers are better at dexterity so acrobatics makes more sense.
- Sleight of Hand – If you expect to be picking pockets, or quickly swapping idols from plinths Indiana Jones style, then your rogue is the right character to be proficient in sleight of hand. It’s not an integral skill though.
Best arcane trickster weapons
Arcane tricksters have proficiency with simple weapons, hand crossbows, rapiers, longswords and shortswords.
As your primary combat ability should be dexterity, you’ll want to focus on using finesse or ranged weapons. This means despite the d8 damage, a longsword is rarely a good option for a rogue. Fortunately, rapiers also offer d8 damage and are finesse weapons so represent your best option for melee combat. Shortswords make a reasonable alternative but at d6 damage, are usually a lesser option unless you want to do some two-weapon fighting, in which case, they’re your best option. You can take the dual wielder feat to use rapiers for two weapon fighting which can be a great option too but will occupy your bonus action.
For ranged weapons, a light crossbow is your best option. It has d8 damage and while it has the reload property, this doesn’t affect most rogues as you can only make 1 attack a turn anyway so offers no disadvantage.
Best arcane trickster armour
Most arcane tricksters are only proficient in light armour making studded leather your best option. Even if you multiclass or take a feat that allows heavier armour, you probably won’t get much benefit from it as your dexterity will likely be quite high anyway and medium or heavy armour will likely inhibit your stealthiness.
Best arcane trickster multiclass options
Multiclassing can be a powerful way of getting extra abilities from another class and when used right, can really optimise a character. Getting it wrong though, can leave you with abilities that don’t complement each other well.
The main thing to think about is your ability scores. Typically, as an arcane trickster, you’ll have high dexterity, decent intelligence and decent constitution so will want to lean into classes that utilise these ability scores.
With that in mind, some classes just don’t work well for an arcane trickster. For example, any spellcaster that doesn’t use intelligence is likely to be a poor option unless you only intend to take buffs or healing spells. Some arcane tricksters do have decent charisma which might give you options here but it’s tricky to focus on 2 sets of spellcasting abilities. Arcane tricksters will have similar issues with monks who rely on wisdom and unarmed strikes which don’t allow for sneak attacks. Barbarians also offer a poor choice as you’ll want to maximise on power with a big heavy weapon that relies on strength (which arcane tricksters almost always dump) plus you can’t cast spells while raging.
However, there are some great classes for arcane tricksters to multiclass into which include:
- Fighter – Fighting style can be great to get more out of your attacks while shield proficiency goes some way to improving your durability.
- Ranger – You can get a fighting style to improve your combat abilities, plus giant killer will let you use your reaction to get an extra attack in and give you a second sneak attack each turn.
- Artificer – Taking 3 levels in artificer will let you become a battle smith or armourer. This will allow you to take beefier armour to toughen you up in combat (especially for the armour) and you can limit your dexterity to 14 as intelligence becomes your attacking ability allowing you to become a more proficient spellcaster with higher intelligence. Both subclasses get a bunch of other extras like infusions, a companion or super armour.
- Wizard – A level or 2 will give you a few more spell choices to play with that aren’t as limited as the arcane trickster’s repertoire. Getting to 2nd level will give you a wizarding school with Divination being a great option as portent will let you replace a couple of d20 rolls for you or anyone else with a couple of pre-rolled d20s causing near auto passes/fails twice a day.