How to Play Rogue in 5e D&D

Dancing across the rooftops of Beggar’s Nest, the high, salty breeze almost drives off the stench from the streets below. Down there, amongst the market stalls and ramshackle taverns, the rest of the adventuring party awaits your signal. Then you see him—the magister has arrived and it’s time to spring the trap…

Table of Contents

The Rogue is one of the oldest and best-represented character archetypes in fiction. Present in Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology—then heavily influenced by the first, French translation of Arabian Nights in 1717—the daring, dashing rogue has been a part of modern storytelling since its beginning. From George Lucas’s Han Solo to Fritz Lieber’s Gray Mouser, books, cinema, and video games offer rich inspiration for this character class.

How to Use This Guide

Everything in this guide has an emoji, ranking how useful a given ability or feature is to playing this class effectively.

✅ — An absolutely crucial feature. Often forms the backbone of a class’ look and feel. Will provide some bonus that can’t be found through other means.

🆗 — A solid feature that does its job well. Not game-breaking, and certainly replaceable, but a strong choice that shores up some weakness.

⚠️ — A debatable choice. Could work for a specific build, but otherwise is either a wasted opportunity or is just weaker than other alternatives.

⛔ — Outright bad and detrimental. This weighs down the class and just takes up space on the character sheet. A weakness you will have to accommodate for.

These rankings are meant to help you create an optimized class build, but remember, DnD isn’t a game where you need to win to have fun. Weaker but flavorful builds also have their place and can make for fulfilling characters.

Ability Score for Rogues


Dexterity is your number one ability score as a rogue. The attacks you make with ranged and finesse weapons rely on dexterity, your light armor is more effective because of it, and many of your important skills are governed by it. To an effective rogue (in most cases), you’ll want to get your dexterity to 16 at character creation.


Combat-effectiveness also relies on constitution to some extent. Rogues are a martial class. Even if they focus on ranged attacks, they will inevitably draw hostile attention. We recommend a constitution score of 12 at a minimum—higher if your character is going to be doing a lot of front-line fighting. 


Those who wish to develop into Arcane Tricksters will benefit from points in intelligence, as this determines their ability to use spells and magic. For any other type of rogue, this is not a particularly important ability score.


Wisdom can be important if your rogue takes skills like Perception and Investigation which depend on this ability. These skills certainly have utility for rogues during exploration and give wisdom points some value. 


The social rogue or “face of the party will need to consider charisma as an important ability score. Sometimes, it’ll be necessary to talk your way out of trouble. Stealth fails sometimes and Sleight of Hand doesn’t always work. A charismatic rogue can talk his way around these problems. This is an important ability for the swashbuckler, assassin, and mastermind archetypes. 

⚠️ STR

Strength is a dump stat for most rogues. It doesn’t help with their weapon set and there’s usually a character more adept at this stuff in the party who can handle the heavy lifting. 

Rogues and Race

Typically, when we think “rogue”, we picture lithe, nimble characters with fast hands and wits. DnD 5e’s gameplay mechanics represent rogues the same way, favoring those who are fast and dexterous. The races in DnD all have different benefits and drawbacks and it’s worth knowing which races are best avoided from a rogue optimization point of view.

Key Traits

Your character’s ability scores are going to determine their success when using their abilities. For a rogue, Dexterity is the primary ability score. Your ability to pick locks, disarm traps, sneak, and hide are all governed by this ability score. As your rogue specializes at 3rd level, another ability score, either Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma becomes important, depending on the archetype you choose


Dexterity is everything to a rogue. For this reason, races that are naturally large, stocky, or heavy-footed (therefore not getting a racial dexterity bonus) should be avoided. That is—they should be avoided if you want to optimize your character from a mechanical perspective. 


If your rogue is going to be the party’s scout, sneak-thief, lockpick, and disarmer of traps, darkvision is a really useful racial trait. Dungeons, caves, castles, and underground passages are often pitch black at night. This can be exploited for stealth and scouting by a skilled rogue with the racial ability to see in the dark.

Player Tip: Janky Builds Can Be Fun

Some people love playing a statistically suboptimal character for roleplay reasons.Yes, a dwarf rogue (for example) will move a little slower and doesn’t get any bonus to dexterity. But if you can think of a really fun reason why this unlikely combination of race and class has come together, it might make for a truly memorable character at the table. 

Stretching and toying with the mechanics in odd ways can be just as fun and expressive to some as the min-max style of play is to others. A war-orphaned, dwarven baby adopted by a pair of human rogues in an uncharacteristic act of selflessness could make a great backstory. And the same goes for any other race, class, or backstory combination that veers away from the statistically perfect.

⛔ Dragonborn

Whilst they do have darkvision, Dragonborn don’t get any bonus to dexterity. This makes them hard to recommend if you’re after an optimal build. Dragonborn are large and powerful, as a rule. They also look quite distinctive and are uncommon in many settings. None of these characteristics are ideal for a class that relies on speed, agility, and stealth. There’s rich material for idiosyncratic roleplay though.


⚠️ Standard Dwarf

Short arms and legs usually don’t make for the quickest or nimblest creatures, so it’s no surprise there are few dwarven rogues out there. A +2 to constitution is useful to just about any character and darkvision works for rogues, but with no dexterity bonus and a slow movement speed, it’s hard to recommend a dwarf for your next rogue. 

⚠️ Duergar

The Reduce (3rd level) ability has some potential for a rogue trying to sneak into small spaces. But the same can’t be said about Enlarge which magically doubles the size and damage output of your Duergar and their weapons. It’s a fun racial ability but one more suited to strength-based builds. Invisibility certainly has potential for a rogue but is offset by Duergar’s sensitivity to light. Duergar are also limited to lawful evil in most circumstances. Unless your DM intends to run an Underdarkbased campaign, there’s not much to see here for your average rogue.

⚠️Hill Dwarf

A particularly hardy breed, the Hill Dwarves get bonus hit points—always nice but offering no rogue-specific benefit. The bonus to wisdom granted by Hill Dwarves’ deep intuition has utility in a rogue built around skills like Perception and Insight.

⚠️ Mountain Dwarf

The hardy Mountain Dwarves gain bonus points to strength and proficiency with medium and light armor. Light armor proficiency is already provided by the rogue class and there’s little to recommend in building a rogue around medium armor. This is unlikely to be the correct choice for your next rogue build.


✅ Standard Elf

Rogues depend on speed, timing, and grace. Their use of finesse weapons and dexterity-based skills are a natural match for the elven race. With fast movement speed (a +2 to dexterity), and the Perception skill, it’s no surprise that the base elf rogue is such a common sight at tables worldwide.

⚠️ Drow 

While there is a case to be made for the drow’s superior darkvision being useful in a rogue build, sunlight sensitivity is often not worth dealing with unless your DM wants to run an underground campaign. The charisma bonus for drow could be a benefit depending on how drow are received by the general population in your game’s setting. If your rogue is going to be the face of the party, drow charisma might not work in some settings (unless to intimidate or deceive).

✅ High Elf

The longbow proficiency offered by high elf can make your ranged sneak attacks all the more deadly and the Intelligence bonus is a key component in building an Arcane Trickster. A cantrip pick from the wizard’s spell list is also super useful for rogues. Cantrips like Minor Illusion have immediate value to a cloak-and-dagger class like rogue but even Firebolt can be a nice ranged option if your rogue build is primarily about melee combat

✅ Wood Elf

It makes sense that wood elves are adept at silent, stealthy movement. Their ability to hide in nature presents lots of roguish opportunities when scouting and sneaking outdoors. Longbow proficiency for increased ranged damage and a Wisdom bonus for increased Perception makes the wood elf a devastatingly effective race for rogue character builds


🆗 Standard Gnome

Rogues wishing to learn spells at level 3 to augment their martial abilities and become an Arcane Trickster will find the gnome’s bonus to intelligence useful. Gnomes have darkvision, which is always good for rogues. But unless it’s an Arcane Trickster, your gnome rogue could be slightly suboptimal.

✅ Forest Gnome

Choosing a forest gnome for your rogue gives you a +1 to dexterity and cantrip Minor Illusion (INT)both highly useful for this class. Speak with Small Beasts could be of use to some rogues with imagination, but it’s not a core rogue ability. We can imagine some cool opportunities for a rogue to use this ability to scout out new areas with the help of animals like birds.

🆗 Deep Gnome 

If your DM is running a subterranean campaign of some kind, the deep gnome could make a decent rogue. Stone Camouflage gives them advantage on any stealth rolls in rocky terrain and Superior Darkvision allows them to see in darkness as though it were daylight (but black and white).

✅ Rock Gnome 

The Tinker ability has some potential for rogues, presenting a chance to make small clockwork devices capable of creating distractions by starting fires, making noise, and even playing music. The +1 to constitution offered by rock gnomes is always welcome but Artificer’s Lore is less likely to be useful to a rogue. It gives rock gnomes a double proficiency bonus on any intelligence check (history) related to magical, technological, or alchemical objects. To be fair, if you’re roleplaying as a gnomish, rogue, D&D version of Indiana Jones, there may be some fun crossover here (depending on your DM too).

🆗 Half-Elf 

Half-elves don’t get the +2 to dexterity that elves enjoy. This is a big deal and makes them a less than optimal pick. Unless of course, you want to use Skill Versatility to pick out two extra skills of your choice and make up for this deficit. A social rogue build might pick Deception and Persuasion as their extra skills and put two ability points in charisma.

⛔ Half-Orc

The racial bonuses to strength and constitution of half-orcs aren’t of much use for a typical rogue. Not much to recommend here. Half-orcs are too large, strong, and heavy-footed to make good, natural rogues.


✅ Standard Halfling

Small-statured, light on their feet, and with a +2 to dexterity, it’s no surprise that halflings make such excellent rogues. Their Halfling Nimbleness gives them better movement options than you might expect for such a small, short-limbed race

✅ Lightfoot Halfling

Lightfoot halflings can more easily hide than their larger cousins. They are so diminutive and good at this skill that they can even use other party members to hide behind. In the Forgotten Realms setting, lightfoot halflings are more common in the wide world than stout halflings, with the latter preferring to stay at home than venture out. They get a +1 to charisma because of their gregarious, affable nature and Naturally Stealthy allows them to attempt to hide, even if only partially obscured by a creature at least one size larger. All of this makes them ideal material for roleplaying as a rogue.

🆗 Stout Halfling

Stout halflings are larger and naturally stronger than their lightfoot kin. In the Forgotten Realms setting, these hobbits are mostly found in the southern lands. Stout halfling’s natural sturdiness gives them a +1 to constitution, saving throws against poison, and resistance to poison damage. Stout halflings have some interesting features but not quite what we’re looking for in rogue.

✅ Humans

Humans are designed to be a decent blank canvas for just about any character class in the game. Like in our world, there’s a huge range of size and weight amongst different human beings, some small and stealthy, others tall, bulky and powerful. Humans make excellent rogues—we know a few in real life.

All of a standard human’s abilities get a +1. Variant humans can choose only two abilities to increase by 1, in addition to picking a feat at level 1 and choosing an additional proficiency skill. Both standard and variant Humans have utility as rogues. You can’t really go wrong.

✅ Standard Human

If you’re building a rogue around their diverse set of abilities, the +1 to all ability scores that comes from picking a standard human is a nice touch. This could benefit a smooth-talking rogue with high charisma and many social abilities.

✅ Human Variant

As much as standard humans make decent rogues, variant humans might be even better. A feat at first level is great and there are several to choose from that benefit either a ranged or melee rogue build.

Check out Nerdarchy’s extended discussion on which feats work best in a rogue build. 

⚠️ Tiefling

Though they have darkvision, tieflings aren’t a typical choice of race for a rogue build. Their racial bonuses to intelligence and charisma could offer advantages to certain, specific builds (like Arcane Trickster) and resistance to fire is a good feature for just about any character. Approach rogue tieflings with caution. There are some possibilities here but also some pitfalls. Depending on the world your DM is building, Tieflings may be treated with contempt by many and tend towards evil. Discuss it with your DM.

Key Class Features

Any boxer will tell you it’s the punch you don’t see coming that hurts the most. The 5e rogue capitalizes on this fact, dealing their best damage when hidden from a target. And like a boxer in their prime, the 5e rogue excels at hitting whilst not getting hit. To achieve this they have developed extraordinary reflexes and movement speed, often reacting quickly enough to avoid incoming attacks or take limited damage on those that get through.

The rogue is also a versatile and motivated autodidact. They have a broad range of skills and proficiencies at their disposal and can pick up new ones faster than other characters. This represents their determination and street smarts picked up from years of living the rogue ‘n’ roll lifestyle (sorry!).

Sneak Attack

Sneak Attack allows you to deal an extra 1d6 damage to a creature you’ve already hit (in addition to your normal attack) once per round. This is only possible if your character has advantage or if the enemy is within 5 feet of something hostile to it. This is often a member of your party but could also be an NPC on the party’s side or a monster with another agenda. Sneak attacks can only be made with ranged or finesse weapons.

Your character has advantage when the enemy you’re targeting can’t see you. This means taking a shot from the shadows will get you a sneak attack too. It’s useful to think of this attack as helpful for striking from an unseen position when your rogue is scouting ahead alone and has no choice but to turn hostile. It’s also a key component in fighting alongside your party.

Note: The number of d6 used for your sneak attack increases by one dice every two levels (eg. 2d6 at level 3, 3d6 at level 5, 4d6 at level 7, etc,).  

Using Sneak Attack Effectively

Given the nature of 5e combat, it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to work alongside your party to focus on wearing down specific threats quickly using Sneak Attack. A rogue and a melee character may often target the same enemy so that the rogue’s sneak attack will come into effect each turn. 

There are many great combinations of this sort in fantasy books and other media but few are as beloved as Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from the literary work of Fritz Lieber. Fafhrd is a classic barbarian—strong and durable but easily bewitched and hot-tempered. His smaller adventuring companion, the Gray Mouser, uses illusion magic to augment his natural stealth, acrobatics, and persuasion.


Rogues have spent a great deal of time learning informally. Most of their skills and abilities are the result of repeatedly watching someone and copying their actions or loose instruction from another rogue. This has made rogues adept at picking up new skills more easily than other character classes.

The result of Expertise is that your rogue can pick four skills from a pretty comprehensive list at level 1. At level 6, your character gains Expertise again. This allows you to choose two more skill or tool proficiencies to double your bonuses in. 

Expertise allows rogues to become proficient at a broad variety of skills, rivaled only by a Jack of all Trades bard build. The idea that a rogue has picked up many talents and the mental framework by which to learn many more makes sense from a roleplaying perspective. 

Rogues are self-reliant, independent, and quick thinking. An autodidact is a person who is capable of teaching themselves without formal instruction. 5e rogues are this kind of person—highly motivated and single-minded if they are determined to learn something. 

Cunning Action

From level 2, a rogue can use their bonus action to either Dash, Disengage, or Hide thanks to Cunning Action. From training, discipline, and practice, the rogue has lightning-fast reaction times, allowing them to act before their enemies have a chance to ready themselves for their next action. All of these speedy actions support gameplay mechanics that are classic features of the rogue archetype.

  • Dash allows the rogue to cover three times their normal movement speed in one action. This is perfect for situations where you are separated from the party and want to get back by their side quickly. You might use Dash because you’ve scouted too far ahead or because the party has come under attack and need your help immediately.
  • Disengage allows the rogue to exit melee combat without your enemy getting an Opportunity Attack. This is perfect when things are getting overwhelming and you need to retreat to the shadows and wait for backup or rely on your ranged ability. 
  • Hide lets your rogue attempt to use shadow or nearby cover to disappear from enemy view. This can be used in combination with ranged Sneak Attack—essentially allowing you to take shots at the enemy then disappear before they pin down your position. 

Uncanny Dodge

Uncanny Dodge (at level 5) is your rogue’s instinct to draw away from pain combined with their lightning-fast movement speed. When a rogue knows they are hit, Uncanny Dodge allows them to half the damage of the incoming attack. The textbook definition of this rule states that the rogue must declare the use of Uncanny Dodge before the DM declares the damage roll. This means rogues typically save Uncanny Dodge for when they are hit by a powerful enemy, likely to inflict significant damage. 


Rogues gain Evasion at level 7, allowing them to leap out of the way of area of effect type attacks that force a dexterity saving throw. This is an incredible defensive ability. A failed saving throw results in halving the incoming damage—a pass and the rogue takes no damage whatsoever. This stacks with Uncanny Dodge.

Hit Points

Rogues start with 8 hit points plus your character’s constitution modifier. This doesn’t make them vulnerable by any means. But neither do rogues want to hang out in enemy range, absorbing damage.

Hit Points at Higher Levels

Rogues get 1d8 (or 5) plus their constitution modifier for every level after level 1. 


Rogue’s proficiencies cover most basic, ranged, and melee weapons. This, paired with their ability to use Thieves’ Tools make rogues a competent character class right out of the gate. 

There are loads of ways to work the learning of these diverse skills into your character backstory. Many of fiction’s greatest rogues have a mentor—a father/mother (or sister/brother) figure who taught them the skills they needed to stay alive in a hostile world. The nature of the rogue archetype allows for these skills to be explained by your character’s membership of an underground network of…”like-minded individuals


Rogues are proficient with light armor. Bulky, heavy armor that clinks, groans, and clanks as your character attempts stealth is not suitable for a rogue character. For scouting and stealth, light armor is best. 

Depending on your racial pick, you may unlock medium armor or other options. Most people agree that there’s little point in building a rogue around anything other than the lightest, most unrestrictive armor set available. Dexterity is the name of the game. 


Rogues start with proficiency in simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, and shortswords. The longbow racial proficiency for high elves and wood elves pays off here for a ranged rogue build looking to inflict maximum sneak damage. You’ll have higher damage output than with the hand crossbow. Learning heavy crossbow will also help you maximize damage output.


Thieves’ Tools include a set of lockpicks, a handle-mounted mirror, narrow-bladed scissors, a small file, and a pair of pliers. Your rogue’s proficiency with this kit explains the dexterity bonus added to any ability checks involving picking locks, opening doors, or disarming traps. The mirror is great during exploration for peeking around corners and occasionally under doors (depending on their construction).

Saving Throws

Dexterity and Intelligence saving throws allow rogues to react to the kinds of traps and spells (respectively) they’re certain to encounter on their adventures. Being at the vanguard of the party when scouting new, often hostile territory makes the rogue the most likely member of the party to trigger these kinds of defenses. Racial bonuses to intelligence can pay off when the rogue is targeted by an enemy spell or magical trap. 


Rogues can pick four of the following skills, some more connected than others to the archetypal rogue, as presented in fiction.

✅ Acrobatics (DEX)

Your DM can call for an acrobatics roll any time a character is challenged to keep their balance. This could be keeping your balance while standing on the roof of a moving carriage, running along the narrow rafters of a warehouse, or literally walking the tightrope in an improvised circus theater performance. There’s lots of potential for roguish antics here.

🆗 Athletics (STR) 

Athletics checks are used to represent times your character has to use strength to overcome difficult situations using brawn or brute force. This could be fighting against a strong current in a river, forcing the lid from a sealed box, breaking open a door, or hanging on to a flying creature by its dangling saddle straps. 

There are times where this can be useful for any character. But not in a specifically roguish way. Anyway, the fighter in your party will probably take care of most of the strength checks during exploration. 

✅ Deception (CHA)

This is almost a requirement if your rogue is going to be the face of the party. The ability to fast-talk a guard when your stealth fails or explain your way out of a sticky situation, in general, can be of great benefit to the rogue class. Smooth-talking trickery isn’t part of every rogue archetype in fiction, but it’s often present. There are lots of great roleplay opportunities for rogues here. 

🆗 Insight (WIS) 

Insight checks are used to represent your character’s ability to sniff out a lie from looking at body language, ways of speaking, and mannerisms. It also governs your character’s ability to interpret people’s behavior and predict their future actions and movements.

From a roleplaying perspective, it makes sense that a rogue would have some skill in this area—surrounded as they are by scoundrels and villains. But, seeing as it’s a wisdom check, it might be of limited benefit to your rogue depending on your ability score (WIS).

✅ Intimidation (CHA)

This skill represents your character’s ability to intimidate people into complying by threat of force or by menacing aura. This makes sense from a roleplaying perspective.

Most rogues have an air of confidence in their martial abilities, quick-thinking, and street-smarts. Even a rogue from a noble background could be expected to have extensive weapons training, education, and some hard lessons learned along the road. This combination of practiced skill, confidence, and quick learning can make rogues a very intimidating class in a variety of situations—especially if they have high charisma.

🆗 Investigation (INT)

Investigation checks are used to represent your character’s ability to look at a situation, assess the evidence presented, and make deductions based on it. This could be examining the victim of an attack in the city morgue to deduce what kind of blade was used in the slaying. A DM might call for an investigation check when your character is looking for a way to operate a gate with no visible lever, rig a walkway to collapse when enemies set foot on it or searching for evidence of your enemy’s origin by examining the remains of their campsite.

Somebody in the party needs this skill but it doesn’t need to be the rogue. Still, if you’re playing a race with a bonus to intelligence, this could be useful in your scouting and exploration work. 

🆗 Perception (WIS)

Your character’s Perception is their ability to pick up on small, sensory information that is otherwise easy to miss. This could mean your ability to hear footsteps through a door, notice you’re being followed through the city streets, or spot the carefully laid ambush in the alley ahead. 

There are many roleplay reasons why this one works. And if your character has some racial bonus to Wisdom, this could be a worthy skill for a rogue. 

🆗 Performance (CHA)

You use a Performance check any time your character uses a musical instrument, singing, dancing, storytelling, poetry, or verse to win an audience to their side. It’s more of a classic bard ability but could have some value to a rogue in a party without a bard—especially if your racial pick gives a bonus to Charisma. 

✅ Sleight of Hand (DEX) 

Sleight of Hand is a rogue’s bread and butter. This skill represents your character’s ability at delicate, manual operations like slipping a sleep-inducing powder into someone’s tea without them noticing, lifting keys from a passing guard’s belt, or placing an incriminating object in the pocket of an adversary. This one is fun, very roguish, and depends on dexterity—one of your key ability scores.

✅ Stealth (DEX

This skill is your rogue’s ability to move unseen, sneak, and remain undetected. Your DM might call for a stealth roll as your character tries to move through the shadows, undetected by the patrolling guards, sneaks up on an orc sentry to dispatch him silently, or hide from enemies alert to your presence in the area. This feels like a core rogue skill to most people and is easy to recommend for mechanical and roleplay reasons.

For an excellent analysis of rogue mechanics from both a player and DM perspective, check out this video from Web DM.

Rogue Subclasses (Archetypes)

From level 3, your rogue can choose their archetype. Though dexterity remains the rogue’s key ability, the archetypes all depend on a secondary ability score, either wisdom, charisma, or intelligence. All are fun to play and have a lot to offer the party. It’s a good idea to be familiar with the archetypes and their optimal ability point distribution before you finalize your character. It won’t be long before you hit level 3 and can start further specializing. 

Here are some key abilities of each rogue archetype and points to consider in your character build: 

✅ Arcane Trickster

  • Arcane Tricksters are a kind of magical rogue. They augment their martial ability and stealth with illusion and enchantment magic. This can help them distract enemies in and out of combat.
  •  Once a rogue becomes an Arcane Trickster at level 3, they access Spellcasting and Cantrips.
  • An Arcane Trickster also learns Mage Hand Legerdemain, making your magical, spectral hand invisible.
  • Because of their dependence on magic, Arcane Tricksters need points in INT.

✅ Assassin

  • Assassins have honed their killing abilities to a razor’s edge. Using espionage, disguise, poison, and infiltration, the assassin can always find a way to complete their mission.
  • Once a rogue chooses this archetype at level 3, they gain access to Disguise Kit and Poisoner’s Kit.
  • Assassinate (at level 3) gives rogues advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in combat yet. Assassinate also turns any hit on a surprised creature into a critical hit.
  • From level 9, Infiltration allows you to spend time and money to forge a new, false identity for yourself. You can’t use this to assume the identity of a real living person, however. A rogue might, for example, assume the identity of a new turnkey at the castle to free his imprisoned comrades at the first opportunity.
  • As assassins level up, their high-damage attacks at the start of combat and their ability to trick people with disguises and impersonation continue to develop.
  • Because assassins depend on deception and trickery, CHA is a key ability score.

🆗 Inquisitive

  • Inquisitive rogues can be equal parts loremaster, detective, and crime scene investigator. They have heightened senses, making them excellent at finding clues, hidden objects, seeing through disguises, and telling lies from the truth.
  • At 3rd level, Ear for Deceit improves your ability to pick out lies. When any Wisdom check to determine if a creature is lying is rolled 7 or lower, it’s automatically counted as an 8.
  • Insightful Fighting at 3rd level is what is referred to in MMA and boxing as “fight IQ”—the ability to watch an opponent’s tactics and develop an effective counter strategy. As a bonus action, you can make a Wisdom check contested by your opponent’s Charisma (Deception). On a successful roll, your rogue can use sneak attack even if they don’t have advantage.
  • At level 9, Steady Eye means you get advantage on all Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) checks when moving at half speed.
  • At level 13, unerring eye allows you to detect shapeshifters on sight and sense the presence of illusion magic. Your rogue can’t see through the disguise or the illusion created. But they can sense the presence of some magic attempting to trick their senses within 30 feet.
  • Eye for Weakness at level 17 is a further development of your Insightful Fighting capabilities. While Insightful Fighting applies to an enemy, your sneak attack damage against that creature increases by 3d6.

✅ Mastermind

  • People, influence, words, and whispers are your trade as a mastermind. This type of rogue knows how to navigate courtly intrigue, root out secrets, and wield influence far greater than anyone would guess at a glance.
  • On choosing this archetype at level 3, Master of Intrigue gains proficiency with a Forgery Kit, a Disguise Kit, and a Gaming Set of choice.
  • Masterminds can also pick two languages they are proficient in.
  • Master of Tactics lets the rogue use Help as a bonus action, giving an ally advantage on their next attack roll, if successful.
  • Insightful Manipulator at level 9 allows the rogue to observe creatures or NPCs outside of combat and assess their intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores in addition to their level.
  • Masterminds need points in CHA to fully exploit their gameplay mechanics.

🆗 Phantom

  • Dealing out death as an adventurer, you have become comfortable in its presence. Death is a phantom’s friend. The dead fight on your behalf and lend you their powers.
  • After finishing a long or short rest at 3rd level, Whispers of the Dead allows you to gain one skill proficiency of your choice. The departed souls still clinging to this world lend you their accumulated knowledge. This skill or proficiency lasts until you use Whispers of the Dead again to learn a new one
  • You gain Wails from the Grave at level 3. As your enemies get closer to dying, the power of death affects another creature hostile to you. After rolling your sneak attack on an enemy, you can target another creature within 30 feet to attack. Roll half the dice used for your sneak attack (rounded up). The second creature takes necrotic damage equal to that roll.
  • At level 9, Tokens of the Departed allows you to capture the essence of an enemy’s soul as they die. Any time a creature dies within 30 feet of you, you can have a soul trinket appear in your hand. The DM can either decide what form the trinket takes or have you roll on a table from the Player’s Handbook.
  • A Soul Trinket gives you advantage on Constitution saving throws and death saving throws. The life in the trinket bolsters your own, making you harder to hurt and kill.
  • Choosing to destroy a Soul Trinket after using Sneak Attack allows you to use Wails of the Grave without expending one of its limited use.
  • Destroying a Soul Trinket lets you ask a single question of the soul living inside before it departs. The creature isn’t obliged to be truthful but will answer quickly to be free of its prison. The creature’s knowledge is limited to what it knew in life (as determined by the DM).
  • Ghost Walk at level 13 means you can partially enter the realm of the dead and become a spectral ghost. You have a flying speed of 10 feet, your attack rolls have disadvantage, and you can move through other creatures and objects as though they were difficult terrain. You can use this ability once per rest and it lasts for 10 minutes
  • At level 17, Death Knell improves your abilities in the following ways:
  • Wails from the Grave now affects both creatures. 
  • After every long rest, a Soul Trinket appears in your hands. The dead are drawn to you and you no longer need to actively capture their souls.

✅ Scout

  • Scouts are at home in the wilderness, serving as the eyes and ears of the party. Their skills allow them to ambush enemies with deadly effectiveness and leap out of the way of danger in a pinch.
  • From a roleplay perspective, this could be the kind of rogue who has a military background but now wants a more informal group to travel with. 
  • From level 3, scouts can use Skirmisher, allowing them to move half their movement speed as a reaction when an enemy ends their turn within 5 feet of the rogue. Long years have made you slippery and hard to pin down in a fight.
  • At level 3, Survivalist gives you proficiency in Nature and Survival, allowing your rogue to double their bonus for any check that uses these skills.
  • At level 9, Superior Mobility allows your walking speed to increase by 10 feet.
  • Ambush Master at level 13 makes you adept at setting ambushes and striking first. You get advantage on initiative rolls and the first creature you hit in combat is easier for the rest of the party to hit too. Until your next turn, anyone attacking that same target gets advantage on their attack.
  • At level 17, Sudden Strike allows your rogue to make an additional attack as a bonus action. This attack can still benefit from Sneak Attack, making it a potential one-hit kill for lower-level monsters and enemies.
  • Scouts have learned from experience and need points in WIS to function optimally.

✅ Swashbuckler

  • Swashbucklers rely on speed and skill with a blade just like other rogues. But they also put great store in their ability to charm and manipulate.
  • From level 3, Fancy Footwork allows you to disengage from combat without provoking an opportunity attack and Rakish Audacity gives you a bonus to initiative rolls that equals your Charisma modifier.
  • At level 9, Panache allows you to make a Charisma (Persuasion) check which is contested by your target’s Wisdom check.
  • At level 17, Master Duelist means you can use a bonus action to gain advantage on the next Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check.
  • Swashbucklers depend on charisma, and players wishing to play one will need to put some points in this ability.

✅ Thief

  • A guide to rogues would not be complete without discussing perhaps the most archetypal rogue of them all—the thief. At level 3, your rogue becomes a professional treasure seeker or recoverer of goods. Many rogues don’t like to see themselves as thieves, preferring to steal only from people who are morally corrupt or evil.
  • From level 3, Fast Hands lets you make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check to disarm a trap, pick a lock, or use an object as a bonus action. 
  • Second-Story Work improves your rogue’s climbing and jumping ability at level 3
  • Supreme Sneak at level 9 gives you advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks as long as you are moving no more than half your movement speed.
  • Use Magic Device at level 13 means you can ignore any race, class, or level requirements for the use of magical items.
  • At level 17 Thieves’ Reflexes mean you can take two turns during the first round of any combat (not if you are surprised).

Building Your Rogue

There’s so much room for flair and so much material to use for inspiration that everyone should roll up a rogue at least once. It’s a class that’s always close to the action, scouting, sneaking, and charming their way through the world. If you love playing a character who the rest of the party rely on in a tight spot, the rogue might be for you. Whether it’s by taking out the chief threat in combat with a one-hit-kill, or lifting the keys to your prison from the jailor’s belt, rogues love to turn the tables on their enemies.  My first DnD character was a janky, terribly optimized dwarven rogue called Grognar. He was loud, clumsy, and drunk as a rule—not very useful from a mechanical point of view. But we had a lot of fun and I learned about good character creation the hard way.

Please, let us know in the comments if you’ve ever played or shared the table with any memorable rogues, or if you’re excited to implement any of these ideas into your build. We’d love to hear from you!

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