Rogue Class Guide for D&D 5e

Learn all about rogues and how to use them in our guide to this versatile class

Rogues are the thieves, burglars and assassins of the D&D universe. Skilled in a variety of disciplines, they use their dextrously trained bodies to sneak, skulk and fight their way through life. While not necessarily bad people, most rogues do live up to their shady reputation. The moral lines enforced by society are regularly crossed by rogues who are happy to spy, steal, lie and even kill to get what they need.

If you’re looking for a sneaky, subtle character with a range of skills and capabilities, then the rogue is for you. They are often deployed as scouts, spies and the disarmer of traps and lockpicker in a party but have even more useful tools and skills at your disposal.

Our guide will tell you everything you need to know about playing as a rogue in D&D 5e from how they work, to the best subclasses to use and how to optimise your character so they pack a punch (or are the sneakiest).

What is a rogue?

Rogues are the sneaky, stealthy characters of the D&D universe. While not necessarily criminals (though most are to be honest), rogues certainly do tread the line of what is morally acceptable in society (and quite regularly step far across that line). This does not mean that all rogues are evil. While many rogues may be burglars, assassins or criminal masterminds, some are simply urchins trying to survive, others may operate as spies for some nation or another while others may be more like Robin Hood; performing criminal acts for the greater good. There’s a huge variety in the types of rogues out there and it’s up to you to determine what kind of a rogue you are and how you ended up being a rogue (the subclass options later in this guide will help you with that).

While rogues are typically stealthy individuals that tend to prefer subtle means over brute strength, they are also capable fighters and cable to go toe-to-toe with your martials in combat, or pack a punch from range. While they are capable in combat though, they lack the toughness of dedicated martials so must be treated with a little more care than your fighters and barbarians, but we’ll explain tactics for this later in the guide.

On top of these capabilities is a broad skillset that is only exceeded by the bard as well as a penchant for getting out of danger. This makes a rogues a very useful and interesting and useful class to play as.

How does a rogue work?

Halfling Bard

With a typically high dexterity and lots of skill proficiencies as well as proficiency in thieves tools (probably the most used tool kit in the game), rogues have a lot to do outside of combat. You’ll want to employ your rogue at the front of the party as a scout, using their excellent stealth to keep an eye out for enemies while keeping enemy eyes off of them. In dungeons, you’ll want to use their excellent sleight of hand skills and thieves kit proficiency to disarm traps and open locks. In some sessions, you may want to be stealing from NPCs or even assassinating targets in their sleep, avoiding a direct confrontation altogether with guards.

In combat, rogues have a few useful tricks up their sleeves. Their main one is their sneak attack which you get at level 1 and scales in power as you gain levels. As a trained rogue, you know where to strike and how to cause the most damage, especially when an enemy is distracted, with your sneak attack giving you bonus damage to one attack per turn. You do need to have advantage on your attack or have an ally within 5 feet of your opponent, but this is easily arranged.

This means that rogues fight best when in a group so you’ll want to coordinate attacks with an ally and take advantage of the flanking rule as much as possible. A lot of rogues will take the two weapon fighting feat too so they can wield 2 weapons and have a second chance at dealing sneak attack damage in case their first attack misses.

While you will want to get stuck into combat to deal powerful sneak attack damage, rogues aren’t particularly durable meaning you won’t want to be overwhelmed by enemies. One of your early abilities is called cunning action which allows you to dash, disengage or hide as a bonus action. This is very handy as you can use the disengage action to get out of reach of enemies without incurring an opportunity attack or can hide or dash when trying to escape enemies.

You’ll pick up other abilities as you level up, especially when you pick a subclass, but we’ll talk more about tactics for these abilities later in the guide. However, the above approaches are fairly universal to all rogues.

Rogue class features

Party RoleStealth, Utility, Support Fighter
Main AbilityDexterity
Saving ThrowsDexterity, Intelligence
Hit Dice1d8 + Consitution modifier per level
HP at 1st Level8 + Constitution Modifier
Armour ProficiencyLight armour
Weapon ProficiencySimple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers and shortswords
ToolsThieves’ Tools
SkillsChoose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth

Rogues get 1d8 hit die making you one of the more vulnerable classes that often get in the thick of combat. On top of this, rogues 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 and ranged 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.

Dexterity is a rogue’s only really crucial ability score, though constitution is always useful to be decent in. This gives an opportunity for rogues to focus on another ability. Strength is basically useless for a rogue as dexterity covers the damage dealing for you. Intelligence might be an option to maximise on the saving throws and a few skills, especially if you want to be an arcane trickster, but the skills and saving throws are rare enough that you might want to leave this to a wizard or artificer. You might want decent wisdom for the perception bonus and the many wisdom saving throws. However, I’d tend to lean towards going big on charisma. Rogues often get themselves in sticky situations they need to talk their way out of and deception and persuasion are likely going to be important. As always though, it can be worth coordinating roles with your party.

Rogues 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.

Rogue Abilities

LevelProficiency BonusSneak AttackFeatures
1st+21d6Expertise, Sneak Attack, Thieves’ Cant
2nd+21d6Cunning Action
3rd+22d6Roguish Archetype, Steady Aim (Optional)
4th+22d6Ability Score Improvement
5th+33d6Uncanny Dodge
8th+34d6Ability Score Improvement
9th+45d6Roguish Archetype Feature
10th+45d6Ability Score Improvement
11th+46d6Reliable Talent
12th+46d6Ability Score Improvement
13th+57d6Roguish Archetype Feature
15th+58d6Slippery Mind
16th+58d6Ability Score Improvement
17th+69d6Roguish Archetype Feature
19th+610d6Ability Score Improvement
20th+610d6Stroke of Luck

As you gain levels, you’ll gain access to a bunch of different abilities. Some of these will be more useful than others. Below we’ve outlined the standard rogue abilities and how they can be used:

  • Expertise (lv1 and lv6): Each time you gain this skill, you can double your proficiency bonus for 2 skills you have proficiency in or 1 skill and thieves tools. This ability makes rogues some of the kings of skill checks as you can heavily boost your capabilities with a handful of skills. On top of this, as your proficiency bonus increases with levels, as does the scaling of this ability.
  • Sneak Attack (lv1): Possibly a rogue’s most important skill, sneak attack allows you to add d6 to one of your attacks each turn, as long as you have advantage or your target is within 5 feet of another of their enemies. This damage also scales as you increase in levels, eventually reaching a whopping 10d6 at level 19!
  • Thieves Cant (lv1): Occasionally useful, thieves cant allows you to speak and write in a secret language known only to rogues.
  • Cunning Action (lv2): Another of your more important abilities. Cunning Action allows you to use your bonus action to take the dash, disengage or hide actions once a turn. This is extremely useful for manoeuvring out of combat range without incurring an attack of opportunity or for sneaking/sprinting away from danger.
  • Uncanny Dodge (lv5): A very useful ability for a class that has fewer hit points than more typical martials. If you can see your attacker, you can use your reaction to half the damage taken. Of course, as you only have one reaction per turn, you can only do this once a turn so be wary of crowds of enemies.
  • Evasion (lv7): When an effect forces you to make a dexterity saving throw for half damage, you take no damage on a pass and half damage on a fail. Extremely useful as many area of effect spells can cause serious damage.
  • Reliable Talent (lv11): Making you even better at skill checks, whenever you make skill check that you have proficiency in, you can treat any roll of 9 or less as a 10.
  • Blindsense (lv14): Despite your lack of magic, rogues with blindsense are able to hear the location of an invisible or hidden enemy as long as they are only 10 feet away.
  • Slippery Mind (lv15): You know have proficiency in wisdom saving throws. Useful against the many wisdom based spells out there.
  • Elusive (lv18): No one can have advantage on attack rolls against you unless you’re incapacitated making you even harder to damage.
  • Stroke of Luck (lv20): Once per rest (long or short), you can choose to hit an enemy if you miss them or treat an ability check as if you rolled a 20. Extremely useful in big moments.

Rogue subclasses in D&D 5e

So we’ve looked at the standard rogue abilities and elements of the class, but at level 3, you’ll get the chance to specialise and pick a subclass. The problem is, there’re 9 of these spread across 3 different books, so which one is best for your character? We’ve attempted to rank them below though there are several good options and ultimately, you should pick a subclass that works best for your character and their role in the group. Before we get to that though, here’s a summary of all the subclasses grouped by the book that details them:

Rogue SubclassRoleSubclass AbilitiesSource BookDescription
Arcane TricksterSpellcastingSpellcasting, Mage Hand Legerdemain, Magical Ambush, Versatile Trickster, Spell ThiefPlayer’s HandbookUse spells to confuse and trick their opponents and supplement their roguish abilites.
AssassinStealth, CombatBonus Proficiencies, Assassinate, Infiltration Expertise, Imposter, Death StrikePlayer’s HandbookMasters of stealth and murder; often at the same time.
InquisitiveInvestigationEar for Deceit, Eye for Detail, Insightful Fighting, Steady Eye, Unerring Eye, Eye for WeaknessXanathar’s Guide to EverythingHighly intelligent rogues that are hugely observant and can use their knowledge to aid them in combat and subterfuge.
PhantomInvestigationWhispers of the Dead, Wails from the Grave, Tokens of the Departed, Ghost Walk, Death KnellTasha’s Cauldron of EverythingRogues that speak to the spirits of the dead to aid them in their endeavours.
MastermindCharismaMaster of Intrigue, Master of Tactics, Insightful Manipulator, Misdirection, Soul of DeceitXanathar’s Guide to EverythingMaster tacticians that meticulously study their targets to gain an advantage against them.
ScoutStealthSkirmisher, Survivalist, Superior Mobility, Ambush Master, Sudden StrikeXanathar’s Guide to EverythingHugely perceptive and stealthy rogues that can easily ambush their enemies.
SoulknifeCombatPsionic Power, Psychic Blades, Soul Blades, Psychic Veil, Rend MindTasha’s Cauldron of EverythingUse psionic powers to complement their roguish abilities.
SwashbucklerCombatFancy Footwork, Rakish Audacity, Panache, Elegant Maneuver, Master DuelistXanathar’s Guide to EverythingSwordsmen with a huge amount of finesse and charisma.
ThiefStealthFast Hands, Second Story Work, Supreme Sneak, Use Magic Device, Thief’s ReflexesPlayer’s HandbookThe archetypal rogues that are masters of theft and stealth.

Best rogue subclasses

We’ve determined which subclasses are best based primarily on their capabilities within the game rather than how well they embody certain character types. This will be based on their capabilities in combat, their quality of spells, the quality of their abilities and their abilities outside of combat (such as in role playing situations).

  1. Swashbuckler
  2. Arcane Trickster
  3. Soulknife
  4. Scout
  5. Phantom
  6. Thief
  7. Assassin
  8. Mastermind
  9. Inquisitive

9th: Inquisitive

Wizards Chess
LevelSubclass Ability
3Ear for Deceit, Eye for Detail, Insightful Fighting
9Steady Eye
13Unerring Eye
17Eye for Weakness

An inquisitive rogue is one that has a finely honed mind that can spot the slightest hint of a lie from the slightest flicker of the eyes or a momentary furrow of the brow. They can also spot a weakness in an enemy’s combat style and exploit that weakness to their own benefit.

An extremely perceptive rogue is a very cool and fun idea, but in practice, they become excellent at insight and perception and not a lot else (other than standard rogue stuff). This might be fine in a heavily investigative campaign, but most campaigns don’t lean that way and with little to do about the things you notice, inquisitives are left at a bit of a disadvantage.

Inquisitive abilities

Ear for Deceit – Can’t roll lower than an 8 when trying to tell if someone is lying is handy, but very situational and may rarely come up in some campaigns.

Eye for Detail – You can use a bonus action to check for hidden things or investigate something. It’s OK as you’d normally need to use an action, but there are more reliable spells for this kind of thing.

Insightful Fighting – You can use a bonus action to detect a target’s weakness (though it is a contest so you could fail). It essentially means you can use your sneak attack against enemies even if you don’t have advantage against them. It’s sometimes useful and lasts for a minute (or until you change targets) but in reality, there are easier ways to get your sneak attack.

Steady Eye – Advantage on investigation and perception checks is pretty good (as long as you don’t move too much). It’ll help with insightful fighting too, but works better for ranged builds that don’t rely too much on moving about than melee builds that often move a lot.

Unerring Eye – You can tell if something is attempting to deceive your senses within 30ft of you such as the presence of illusions or a shapechanger. It’s useful, but a shame it’s tied to your wisdom modifier as this tends not to be an ability score rogues optimise much for.

Eye for Weakness – Increase your sneak attack damage by 3d6 when using insightful fighting. A nice bonus, but pails in comparison to many other 17th level abilities.

8th: Mastermind

LevelSubclass Ability
3Master of Intrigue, Master of Tactics
9Insightful Manipulator
17Soul of Deceit

The mastermind is a tactical genius. They are adept spies and even business leaders and politicians using words and knowledge as their weapons, and when those don’t work, knives and poison will. If you want to play as a rogue built for ultimate damage output, you may want to look further, but if you’re going for something more complex with challenging role playing situations, espionage, forgery and identity theft, then the mastermind is an extremely fun and interesting option. Unfortunately, some of the later abilities for a mastermind don’t really stack up against the promise of the earlier abilities leaving the mastermind in a humble position against the other rogue subclasses.

Mastermind abilities

Master of Intrigue – Proficiency with the disguise kit, forgery kit, a gaming set and 2 languages. Disguise kit is decent but the forgery kit is a little too situational, but if that’s the direction campaigns and your play will go, then it could be a good option.

Master of Tactics – Using the help action to give an ally advantage and at 30ft away is powerful. The only drawback is you’re going to have competition for your bonus action with cunning action and possibly two weapon fighting competing for it too. There is a way around this. Getting the mobile feat means you can move out of melee range without using the disengage action meaning you can slip in and out of combat and save your bonus action for giving your allies advantage.

Insightful Manipulator – You can learn some information about an NPC. It’s not a lot, and most enemies you won’t get chance to observe for a minute, but does have some mild uses if you’re sizing up a potential target.

Misdirection – Being able to transfer an attack against you onto someone else as a reaction can seem very powerful, but that individual must be granting you cover. This is difficult to make happen, especially as you likely won’t be targeted if you’re behind cover anyway. Even when this does happen, you’ll probably end up transferring attacks against an ally, which is OK if they’re tanked up, but might feel a bit of an annoying move for some.

Soul of Deceit – Being able to protect your mind from being read can occasionally be useful, but it’s highly situational and rare it’ll ever get used. It may not even be that useful when you do get to use it, which is poor for a 17th level ability.

7th: Assassin

Rogue 5e
LevelSubclass Ability
3Bonus Proficiencies, Assassinate
9Infiltration Expertise
17Death Strike

Masters of the subtle arts of murder and espionage, assassins lurk in the shadows, observing their targets until they’re at their most vulnerable, and the striking with expert precision.

Assassins are perhaps the easiest rogue class to play as. Their abilities are effective, but don’t demand too much thought around action economy. They also have a nice mix of in and out of combat abilities making them useful in a variety of situations, even if it means they’re not masters of either.

Assassin abilities

Bonus Proficiencies – 2 great proficiencies in the disguise and poison kits.

Assassinate – Advantage against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in combat yet and critical hits against surprised creatures sounds excellent, and it is, but it needs a bit of work to make happen.

You’ll want to make sure you go early in combat to get that advantage so high dexterity (which you should have anyway) will help plus things like the alert feat or anything else that gives you an advantage on initiative order. Surprising an enemy is harder as the whole party will need to succeed on stealth checks vs enemy perception, which can be tricky but coordinating with teammates to optimise for stealth could be a helpful way to go about things.

Infiltration Expertise – This is a tricky one to make work. You need 7 days to establish your disguise, but if your DM is flexible on the rules of surprise (which we’d argue they should be), then you can impersonate someone else, gain someone’s trust, then stab them while you’re close and they’re unsuspecting. You might just need to pass a deception vs insight check. Of course, beyond taking a lot of preparation, it’s very situational.

Imposter – Essentially the equivalent of infiltration expertise, but allowing you to impersonate an actual person. Again, this ability is highly situational and depends on whether your DM presents opportunities for this ability to be used.

Death Strike – Double damage when a target is surprised (and that double is on a critical hit as you always deal criticals when someone is surprised) is excellent but not always easy to engineer so may not be one you can take advantage of all that often.

6th: Thief

Thief 5e
LevelSubclass Ability
3Fast Hands, Second Story Work
9Supreme Sneak
13Use Magic Device
17Thief’s Reflexes

The archetypal rogue is a thief. Someone adept at sneaking and stealing. A burglar and a cutpurse, thieves are adept at taking what isn’t there’s and have exceptionally dextrous hands allowing them to accomplish the subtleties of sleight of hand in a masterful way.

While you might expect a thief to focus on out of combat abilities around stealing and burglary, their abilities actual revolve more around being exceptionally quick in combat. This makes them a generally useful and well-rounded class. The main challenge with a thief is using their fast hands ability to good effect which will require a bit of thinking outside the box and purchasing some gear in advance.

Thief abilities

Fast Hands – You can use a bonus action to do things like use your thieves’ tools, make a sleight of hand check, disarm a trap, unlock a door or use an object. This can be an exceptional ability if used cleverly, especially when being able to use a bonus action for an object like caltrops, a healers kit or throwing a bottle of acid (which essentially gives you another attack).

Second Story Work – Sometimes a very useful ability, but it can be very situational and you’re reliant on the DM creating situations where climbing in combat might be useful. Other creatures get better abilities that accomplish a similar thing like flight.

Supreme Sneak – Advantage on stealth checks is very handy for a highly stealthy character.

Use Magic Device – Unlocking magic items that are normally blocked to a rogue is a great ability and gives you opportunities to use some unique magic items.

Thief’s Reflexes – A second turn in the first round of combat is an exceptionally powerful ability to have.

5th: Phantom

LevelSubclass Ability
3Whispers of the Dead, Wails from the Grave
9Tokens of the Departed
13Ghost Walk
17Death Knell

Phantoms have a direct connection with the dead allowing them to utilise their powers and even communicate with the recently departed. Normally the domain of clerics, phantoms walk on a different kind of shady line than most rogues, gaining information from the dead and killing with pure necrotic power.

The phantom is a strong subclass with some very powerful abilities that give some strong options both in and out of combat. Thematically, they work really well as investigators and those familiar with the occult too.

Phantom abilities

Whispers of the Dead – An extra skill or tool proficiency that you can change every rest if you need to is very useful as long as you can plan ahead. Place it on something reasonably useful (prioritising your best skills for permanent proficiencies) then when you need to fit a certain role, you can swap it around.

Wails from the Grave – Half your sneak attack on a second opponent without having to expend an action (or even a bonus action) multiple times a day is really powerful. It’s necrotic damage too which is rarely resisted and you don’t need to roll to hit so even better against creatures that are hard to hit. It may feel like a small bonus at first, but the damage quickly ramps up with your level.

Tokens of the Departed – A fantastic ability with a lot of versatility. There are 3 powers you gain access to. One gives you advantage on constitution saving throws. Another gives you extra uses of Wails from the Grave. The final one allows you to ask someone that’s died a question. All are useful abilities.

You do need to make sure you have spirit tokens to use these abilities which are generated by killing things which isn’t too hard to accomplish, and you’re limited by your proficiency bonus as to the number of spirit tokens you can produce, but overall, a fantastic ability.

Ghost Walk – You can walk through walls and fly/hover slowly (10ft to be precise) but this is extremely useful for skulking about places as it lasts up to 10 minutes. It can also be great in combat if you need to escape through a wall for example or quickly move into another room or up a floor. Enemies also have disadvantage on attack rolls against you. Just be aware that it does make you slow, but if you’re clever, it should work perfectly well.

Death Knell – Wails of the Grave now deals necrotic damage to the original target as well as the second target. You also get a soul trinket when you end a long rest. At 17th level, this means you’ll do a lot of extra damage against your foes!

4th: Scout

Scout 5e
LevelSubclass Ability
3Skirmisher, Survivalist
9Superior Mobility
13Ambush Master
17Sudden Strike

Essentially a ranger in rogue’s clothing, scouts are stealthy and more used to the wilds than the urban home of most rogues. You’re adept at survival and spotting and tracking your enemies. Scouts are one of the safer subclasses of rogues as they’re built for long range combat and steering clear of the thick of battle.

Scouts are a great go-to option if you want to be tracking sniping off enemies from a distance. Most of your abilities are combat focused, but you do get expertise in nature and survival which will help compensate for your likely diminished wisdom.

Scout abilities

Skirmisher – You can use your reaction to move half your speed when an enemy ends their turn within 5 feet of you. While it can conflict with uncanny dodge, reactions generally aren’t used that much giving you a great way of getting out of danger without using your bonus action on cunning action (you can do something else instead).

Survivalist – Proficiency in nature and survival is decent but you also double your proficiency bonus for these skills which should make up for your likely average wisdom.

Superior Mobility – An extra 10ft of movement is very helpful, especially for a subclass that likely wants to keep their distance from enemies.

Ambush Master – Advantage on initiative rolls and advantage for all allies against the target you hit for the next turn is great for getting rid of powerful targets early.

Sudden Strike – An extra attack as a bonus action that also gives you a second sneak attack is very powerful.

3rd: Soulknife

Soulknife 5e
LevelSubclass Ability
3Psionic Power, Psychic Blades
9Soul Blades
13Psychic Veil
17Rend Mind

The soulknife is capable of combining psionic powers with roguish abilities. Those with psychic abilities can find that a life as a rogue can be appealing, using their mind bending abilities to aid their thievery.

They have some excellent abilities that can be utilised both in and out of combat to excellent effect. Not only this, but a character with psychic abilities can go wild with a backstory around how they obtained those abilities in the first place.

Soulknife abilities

Psionic Power – One of the best rechargeable abilities around as you essentially get a pool of dice double your proficiency bonus to use on various abilities, but usually if you fail with their use, you don’t expend the dice meaning you can take risks with these dice without worrying if you’ll fail and waste a die (unlike bardic inspiration or superiority dice). At level 3, you get 2 abilities either allowing you to add a dice to a failed ability check or to use one to communicate telepathically. Both great abilities.

Psychic Blades – You can manifest psychic blades that can be used in melee attacks or be thrown. You can even throw 2 of these blades and don’t even need to worry about 2 weapon fighting so this works great for ranged builds. In addition, they do psychic damage which is rarely resisted.

There are a few drawbacks though. You can’t make opportunity attacks and use your sneak attack at the same time as you’ll be unarmed (you can get a free use of sneak attack when making opportunity attacks as sneak attack is once per turn, not once per round). You’ll also want to be wary of creatures that are resistant to psychic damage as that’s the only damage type you’ll be doing.

Soul Blades – You can now use your psionic energy dice for combat abilities. Homing strike gives you a chance again to hit an enemy that you’ve missed which is an excellent ability. Psychic teleportation will let you teleport a small distance which can be useful, though this particular ability is a little more unpredictable than most teleportation abilities as the maximum distance is random.

Psychic Veil – Invisibility for an hour is excellent and very useful for a lot of things both in and out of combat.

Rend Mind – You can add stunned to one of your sneak attacks which is obviously very useful but does have an opportunity for the enemy to save against it. It’s not as sure fire a way of causing your enemy problems as a lot of 17th level abilties which is a shame.

2nd: Arcane Trickster

Arcane Trickster
LevelSubclass Ability
3Spellcasting, Mage Hand Legerdemain
9Magical Ambush
13Versatile Trickster
17Spell Thief

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 of 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.

It’s worth noting that your spellcasting ability is intelligence, so while it would be more convenient to use charisma for all those face skills you get in addition to spellcasting prowess, if you plan to play as an arcane trickster, you’ll want to make sure you buff up your intelligence, potentially at the sacrifice of something like charisma. Fortunately, charism isn’t essential for rogues, only dexterity is with a little bit of constitution, so you have ability score points to spare.

Arcane Trickster abilities

Spellcasting – 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).

Magical Ambush – 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.

Versatile Trickster – 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.

Spell Thief – 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.

1st: Swashbuckler

Swashbuckler 5e
LevelSubclass Ability
3Fancy Footwork, Rakish Audacity
13Elegant Maneuver
17Master Duelist

Here you have it, the best rogue subclass is definitely the swashbuckler! They’re good at almost everything from combat to stealth and investigation to face skills. The only thing they can’t really do is magic (unless you multiclass) but we mustn’t get greedy!

Swashbucklers are suave swordsmen with the stealth of a rogue and the swordsmanship of a warrior. They’re highly trained weapon masters and capable of manoeuvring easily through combat. If you’re looking for a highly effective warrior that can sneak, steal and chat your ear off, then the swashbuckler is for you!

Swashbuckler abilities

Fancy Footwork – Essentially a way to slip in and out of combat (as rogues should) without using your bonus action to disengage. This is great as it allows you to take two weapon fighting instead, giving you an extra chance to land that sneak attack (or just add a bit more damage). You do need to attack the foe to make this work, but it’s not like you even need to land a hit!

Rakish Audacity – You can add your charisma modifier to your initiative score which is already pretty good, but you can also land a sneak attack without advantage and when no other creatures are within 5 feet of you which is very useful.

Panache – You can either force an enemy to attack only you by giving them disadvantage against your allies or charm a non-hostile creature with your silver tongue. This can be very useful as if you’re clever, and with all your manoeuvrability, you can force enemies to either have disadvantage or incur opportunity attacks from your allies, plus using uncanny dodge to soak up the damage. Just make sure you have expertise in persuasion.

Elegant Maneuver – Advantage on acrobatics checks is pretty decent but a bit situational and does take up your bonus action, meaning you’ll usually take it to avoid or get out of things like grapples.

Master Duelist – Reroll a missed attack with advantage is pretty good, but only available once per combat at best. It might save your skin when you can’t afford to miss though!

Optimising a rogue

Now you know what rogues are and how they work, it’s time to think about how you build a nicely optimised rogue. While we’ll give you some ideas of different ways of optimising your rogue, 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 rogue but we’ll go through some of the more typical ways to create a highly effective rogue character.

Best rogue ability scores

For rogues, it’s all about dexterity. 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.

Constitution is always useful, especially if you’re playing a frontline rogue. You’ll appreciate the extra hit points and slightly better saving throws. A lot of rogues also need some face skills as you might need to do a bit of deception or persuasion while trying to infiltrate somewhere or distract a guard.

Beyond this, strength is always going to be unimportant for you. Most things you might need strength for, you can do with dexterity. Intelligence will help your insight and investigation, but that’s about it unless you’re an arcane trickster (who will definitely want to have a decent intelligence). Wisdom is your other option and will help your perception and a bunch of saving throws so is potentially of some use.

We’d typically prioritise your ability scores roughly in this order:

  1. Dexterity
  2. Constitution
  3. Charisma
  4. Intelligence (unless you’re an arcane trickster, then you’ll want to boost this a fair bit)
  5. Wisdom
  6. Strength

Best rogue races

Typically, you’ll want to make sure you take a race that adds to your dexterity ability score with constitution and charisma as secondary options (or possibly intelligence if you want to play an arcane trickster). 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 a rogue well. These are the best races to use for a rogue:

  • Aarakocra – Flight is great for rogues as it can easily get you 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 rogues, though fairies and owlins do work better.
  • Autognome – Extra protection from armored casing is great for a melee rogue that could do with the extra toughness. Buit for success is great for ensuring you get your sneak attack bonus with your single attack each turn (probably) 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 rogues 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.
  • Changeling – If you’re playing a campaign with lots of social intrigue, then a changeling is a great option! A couple of face skills and the ability to appear in whatever form you like is very powerful for a rogue, especially a high charisma rogue. You may find this race a little more limiting in combat heavy campaigns though.
  • Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin) – A deep gnome’s skills are very complementary of a rogue’s. Disguise self and nondetection are great spells for rogues, magic resistance is always a very useful resistance to have (perhaps the most useful) and advantage on stealth checks is helpful for any dexterity based class.
  • High Elf – With your free cantrip, you can get booming blade which is a great option for a rogue 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 rogue.
  • 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.
  • Kenku – Can mimic the voices of others, which is great for charisma based rogues, have 2 extra skill proficiencies plus multiple opportunities to give yourself advantage on skill checks you have proficiency in making you nearly unstoppable for a few skill checks everyday. As rogues are one of the go to skill classes (the other being bards), beefing up your skill proficiencies is a great way to go.
  • 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 a rogue as it can keep you out of trouble, plus you get an extra skill to be proficient in.

Best rogue backgrounds

There are quite a few good options for backgrounds for a rogue 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 rogue:

  • Charlatan – Deception and sleight of hand are great skill proficiencies for rogues and disguise and forgery kit proficiencies are great too. 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.
  • Criminal – Deception and stealth are great skill proficiencies for a rogue. 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 rogue. 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 rogue 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 rogue’s skillset nicely. We’ve pulled out some of the best options below:

  • Alert – Really useful for characters that want to go first in combat. This is especially useful for assassins and bugbear rogues (or any bugbear really).
  • Actor – A great way to further enhance your charisma skills with +1 to your charisma, advantage on deception and performance checks, and the ability to mimic speech. Works well with a high charisma rogue, especially a swashbuckler.
  • Crossbow Expert – Great option for a ranged rogue giving you a second attack as a bonus action from range and giving you a second chance to get in your all important sneak attack.
  • 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.
  • Fey Touched – Increase your charisma by +1 and get misty step and another 1st level spell with a free use every long rest. Misty step is a great spell for rogues to get out of danger.
  • Inspiring Leader – Grant a bunch of temporary hit points to everyone (probably) in your party. Very handy when preparing for battle and is better for high charisma rogues.
  • 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 like booming blade which works with your sneak attack.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Best rogue 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 and potentially a lot of charisma based activities too (if you don’t have a bard, paladin or warlock, or if you’ve pumped a fair bit into charisma which isn’t a bad idea) so these skills will be important for you. Rogues 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 a rogue roughly by their importance but depending on your party, you may want to focus on different skills ahead of others:

  1. Stealth – Really important for rogues want to catch enemies unawares or sneak around somewhere.
  2. 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.
  3. Persuasion – the most important charisma skill and one you’ll want to invest in if your rogue is going to be the face of the party or involved in a lot of social situations.
  4. Deception – Often important, especially for rogues that like to talk their way into or out of a sticky situation.
  5. Insight – Important skill for a character that will likely do a lot of talking.
  6. Investigation – Important skill for a character that will likely do a lot of investigating but can be shared with other party members, especially if you have a wizard or artificer.
  7. Intimidation – Reasonably important face skill, especially for moments of interrogation or even negotiation, but your mileage may depend on your temprament.
  8. Acrobatics – Most characters will want this or athletics to avoid grapples and for other physical checks. Rogues are better at dexterity so acrobatics makes more sense.
  9. 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 rogue weapons

Rogues 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 and 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. Daggers are weaker, but are a good option if you want to be able to switch between melee and ranged combat while dual wielding.

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 rogue armour

Most rogues 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 inihibit your stealthiness.

Best rogue 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 a rogue, you’ll have high dexterity, decent constitution and possibly decent charisma or intelligence so you’ll want to learn into classes that utilise these ability scores (though it is possible to be competent in other ability scores too and this may change which multiclass options are best for you). We’ll focus on a typical rogue build though, like the type we’ve described so far.

With that in mind, some classes just don’t work well for a rogue. For example, Spellcasters using wisdom tend not to work so well like clerics, paladins and druids as you’ll likely dump wisdom. Rogues 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 rogues almost always dump).

However, there are some great classes for rogues to multiclass into which include:

  • Artificer – Access to booming blade and the ever useful infusions are excellent options for a rogue. If you get up to artificer subclasses, you may have a lot of competition for your bonus action which you’ll need to work out in combat but there are loads of options. And it’s not too difficult building an intelligent rogue.
  • 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.
  • Sorceror – A charisma based caster works well for rogues who can easily focus on charisma. Draconic bloodline will give you a bit of extra armor class and you can take booming blade will give you a bit of extra damage while still letting you make a sneak attack.
  • Wizard – It’s easy to get decent intelligence on a rogue and you can grab booming blade as a cantrip. Bladesinging gives you some great melee perks plus a boost to your AC.

Published by DM Ben

Ben is an experienced dungeon master and player who's been immersed in the D&D universe since he was a teenager over 20 years ago. When he's not writing for Dungeon Mister, Ben loves creating fiendish puzzles and devious dungeons for his players. He's an especially big fan of the Ravenloft and Dragonlance settings.

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