The Ultimate DND 5e Rogue Class Guide
What are the best builds, feats, and skills for Rogues in D&D 5E? We’ve got the answers for you right here.
Rogues can be played a number of ways. Your Rogue may be a criminal who is good at pickpocketing and burglary, an assassin who knows how to kill silently, or an Arcane Trickster who uses magic to deceive others.
Regardless of what type of Rogue you play, you’ll need to know how to maximize your skills and abilities for that particular type. That’s where this guide comes in.
All Rogues need to have a high dexterity. So always place your highest ability roll into this stat. Aside from this, there are a few possible builds for a Rogue.
Every party needs a “Face” character; somebody who knows how to talk to people. This type of character is a master of deception, insight, and intimidation. They can get allies on the side of the party or lie and manipulate to avoid combat. If no one else is playing this role within the party, you may want to play your Rogue as this type of character.
For a Face Rogue, make Charisma your second-highest attribute. Choose Con or Wis for your third priority and dump your bad rolls into Int and Str.
An Arcane Trickster is a Rogue who uses magic to deceive others. If you are going to choose this archetype (more on that below), choose Int as your second-highest attribute. Make Con or Wis your third choice. Dump your bad rolls into Str or Cha.
Burglar, assassin, or other “traditional” Rogue
If you are going to play a traditional “thief” or “assassin” Rogue, make Con or Wis your second-highest attribute. Con will allow you to survive combat longer, while Wis will help with Perception and Insight. Throw your bad rolls into Str, Int, and Cha.
Here is a list of Rogue archetypes available in the Player’s Handbook. For each archetype, we’ve listed the most useful features.
This is the archetype most people think of when they imagine a Rogue. Unfortunately, it starts out underpowered. But if you can make it to levels 9-13, Supreme Sneak will give you an advantage on dexterity checks when you move no more than half your movement speed during a turn and Use Magic Device will let you ignore all class, race, and level requirements while using magical devices.
Want to play the fantasy RPG equivalent of a hit man? This is your archetype. At level 3, Assassinate gives you advantage on any attack roll against an opponent that has not yet taken a turn, and gives you an automatic crit against any surprised victim.
A magic-using Rogue, what could be cooler than that? You get Spellcasting at level 3, allowing you to learn Wizard spells. Once you get to level 9, Magical Ambush will make the victims of your spells face disadvantage on saving throws if you are successfully hiding from them. Check out below to see our detailed Arcane Trickster build.
Some races make better Rogues than others. Here are the best Rogue races:
Elf - All elves get +2 Dex, making them naturals for the Rogue class. They also get automatic proficiency in the Perception skill. Wood elves’ Mask of The Wild makes hiding easier, and high elves’ +1 to Int is useful for the Arcane Trickster archetype.
Half-elf - +2 to Cha and +1 to two other abilities is nice for just about any class. And Fey Ancestry will help prevent you from getting charmed or put to sleep
Gnome - Gnomes have advantage on all Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom saving throws against magic. Once you get to level 7, this can help you avoid damage using your Evasion class feature. Forest gnomes also get the Minor Illusion cantrip automatically
Halfling - Like elves, halflings get +2 to Dex, making them perfect for the Rogue class. They are also Lucky, allowing you to reroll 1s on attacks. Lightfoot halflings’ Naturally Stealthy makes it easier to hide behind others, while Stout halflings’ Stout Resilience gives resistance to poison.
Best Rogue class features
Some of the Rogue features are fantastic, and others you will hardly ever use. Here are some of the best ones for levels 1-7.
Expertise - Can be used to double your proficiency in stealth or other Rogue skills
Cunning action - At level 2, allows you to perform a bonus action to Disengage, Hide, or Dash
Uncanny Dodge - At level 5, use your reaction to halve the damage of an attack
Evasion - Rogues get this at level 7. If an effect states that a Dex saving throw will allow you to take half damage, you instead take half damage if you fail or no damage if you make the saving throw
Take these feats to make a top-notch Rogue.
Sharpshooter - Great for Rogue that use ranged weapons. It allows you to ignore penalties for long range, half cover, and three-quarters cover, plus take a -5 attack roll penalty in exchange for +10 damage
Mobile - Increases your speed by 10 ft. and prevents you from provoking attacks of opportunity from a creature you are melee attacking
Alert - +5 to initiative, keeps you from being surprised while conscious, prevents your enemies from gaining advantage on attacks if they are hidden from you
Rogue armor and weapons
If you’re playing a Rogue, you want to maximize your dexterity bonus to AC. So always use leather armor or other types or light armor. For weapons, use daggers, rapiers, bows, crossbows, or other finesse or ranged weapons.
Rogue Protection tips
So your party is in danger. How can you protect your friends?
Rogues don’t have many ways to buff party members. But what they can do is recognize danger and avoid it. See “Rogue utility” below for examples of how to do this.
Thieves do not generally have high Con. So in combat, you want to find the best opportunity to make a strike. Hide in the shadows and snipe with a crossbow. You can do terrible damage to your enemies this way. Another option is to wait until your foe is distracted by one of the other party members, then sneak in with a shortsword and stab him in the leg. Now that they are crippled, your party’s fighter or mage can finish him off easily.
Rogues really shine outside of combat. Use Perception and Insight to recognize danger and keep your party out of trouble. If a situation looks too dangerous, leave your party behind and use Stealth to infiltrate the enemy, then report back when you’re done. If you’re playing a Face character, use Persuasion and Deception to find clues, convince guards to let you by, and accomplish other social aims. If playing an Arcane Trickster, use Investigation and Arcana to find answers to your party’s questions about non-magical or magical subjects.
There are several different ways to play a Rogue. You can be a pickpocket, burglar, assassin, con-artist, or some other character type that survives by sneaking around and hiding in the shadows. But no matter what type of Rogue you play, using the class features, skills, and feats in this guide will make you a helpful addition to any party.
A Note on Thieves' Cant
Most DMs rule that Thieves' Cant is not a "language" per say as a closely guarded cypher. A rogue in any language might say something like "The weather is quite fine today, isn't it, Timmy?" and anyone listening or scrying can understand the words, but without knowing Thieves' Cant they don't know that means "Being followed up to five in party." Thieves' Cant is unique because it's not the words, it is coded talk that really sets it apart and makes sure that magic or not, this is a way for rogues, assassins, and thieves to keep their secrets.
Still confused? Here's a PERFECT example of Thieves Cant. Technically they're from different places, so they get confused, but you should get it now ;p
Arcane Trickster Guide
The Arcane Trickster is a character type that’s been around D&D for a long time, and it’s essentially a delicious mix of Rogue and Wizard that works together like chocolate and peanut butter. The 5e Arcane Trickster is an incredibly easy take on the concept that is built into the Rogue Class as an archetype, no multiclassing required. Pick the Arcane Trickster if you like the idea of stealthily casting spells or magically picking pockets.
Arcane Trickster Build
As a mix of Rogue and Wizard, your two most important stats are going to be Dexterity and Intelligence. You’ll usually want to make Dexterity your highest stat, and Intelligence a close second. After those, prioritize Charisma if you want to keep doing the duty of the party “face” or Constitution if you want to be a bit more survivable in combat. Wisdom and Strength aren’t likely to be important for you, unless you’re doing an extremely strange build or multiclass.
As Dex and Int are your most important stats, the “best” races to use are ones that give you a bonus to both. For an optimized Arcane Trickster, play a High Elf, Eladrin, Forest Gnome, Deep Gnome, or Feral Tiefling.
Beyond keeping Int in mind, you really don’t need to do much else to optimize an Arcane Trickster. The build options are going to come down to what spells you pick and how you want to play your trickster.
Best Spells for Arcane Trickster 5e
The big difference between an Arcane Trickster and most other rogues is your spellcasting, and there’s a bunch of wizard spells that can be incredibly useful to a rogue’s playstyle.
Oddly enough, one of the best reasons to BE an Arcane Trickster is a cantrip you receive automatically when you select the archetype, Mage Hand. Mage hand is an incredibly useful spell on it’s own, but you also get the class feature “Mage Hand Legerdemain” at 3rd level. This powers up your mage hand beyond what other casters are capable of. Slip a bomb into somebody's pocket, open a suspicious door from a distance. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to unlock a trapped chest from safety 30 feet away.
Beyond the insidious goodness of your powered up mage hand, I advise using one of two general Arcane Trickster builds: “Stealth Utility” or “Magic DPS”
A lot of sneaking scenarios could be solved if just the guards looked away for only a moment, or a bit of information got to the right person at the right moment. If you want to solve this sort of problem, try taking the Message and Minor Illusion cantrips to start with, they’re simple ways to get out of a lot of bad situations.
You can really rely on your sneak attack as your damage dealer, and just pick and choose utility spells like Disguise Self, Knock, Fly, and Invisibility. Think of yourself as a problem solver, and you can bypass a lot of threats before they know you’re there.
Rogues are already excellent damage dealers, and adding a few spells can increase that rate in a rather sneaky way. You sadly can’t add your sneak attack damage to spells, but there are ways you can add spells to your sneak attack. The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide gave us a couple of wizard cantrips that you can cast as part of an attack. I recommend grabbing Greenfire Blade and Booming Blade, their big limitation is the use of an action, but as sneak attack can only trigger once a turn anyway, and it can trigger off the attack made as a part of these spells, you essentially get to stack their damage together.
Once you get up to 2nd level spells, things can get really crazy. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything gave us the gorgeous spell Shadow Blade. It’s a concentration spell that creates a magical shadowy blade you can make melee weapon attacks with, and beyond how cool that sounds/is it is also a light, finesse, and thrown, weapon that deals a base 2d8 psychic damage.
Let’s count this out, assuming a 7th level Arcane Trickster with let’s say 16 in both Dexterity and Wisdom. Conjure a Shadow Blade, maneuver yourself to get a sneak attack, and then use Greenfire Blade whenever you attack with it. The Shadow Blade deals 2d8 + 3 psychic damage, Greenfire Blade deals 1d8 fire damage and 1d8 + 3 fire damage to the guy standing next to him, and you deal 4d6 sneak attack damage. That’s 3d8 + 4d6 + 3 damage (and 1d8 + 3 to another guy) EVERY TURN. Now go forth and try not to use your magical stabbing power for evil (or don’t, you are a Rogue after all).
**Xanathar's Class Updates**
Inquisitive (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
If you’ve ever wanted to play Sherlock Holmes, this is how you do it. You gain a bunch of skills and bonuses to investigations and you can outwit your enemies to gain advantage for your sneak attacks. Probably one of the best picks if you’re heading into a mystery adventure where you’ll be needing to look for clues.
Mastermind (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
This is the rogue you play if you want to manipulate events, without putting yourself in harm’s way. Aside from all the unique roleplay tricks, you also get an ability that makes interesting use of the “help” action. You can easily keep out of danger, while granting your allies advantage from a distance. Grab this for a roleplay heavy adventure, and just use your physical abilities as dump stats.
Scout (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Scout is honestly my favorite rogue archetype; you gain some survivalist abilities like a ranger but the “skirmisher” ability is just so darn useful. You get to play “keep away” when an enemy gets close to you, and you can sometimes go entire combats without the enemy getting a swing on you.
Swashbuckler (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Swashbuckler’s are stylish charismatic rogues that use their panache to artfully dodge their opponents and talk their opponents into duels. Grab this if you want to play a rogue dripping with charisma and charm.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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