A Complete Guide to Playing an Arcane Trickster Rogue in 5th Edition D&D

Sitting alone in the high walkways of Beggar’s Nest you count your days’ loot. Using only a remote corner of your mind, you conjure your Mage Hand, trying to stack the coppers beside you. They topple and several fall through the cracks and roll into the filthy gutter…

Table of Contents

There’s something we love about the magical rogue. Creating illusions, distracting guards, and using an invisible, spectral hand to manipulate the environment at range makes for some epic moments at the table. Often considered top tier amongst roguish subclasses, the Arcane Trickster is certainly one of the easiest to recommend. Let’s get into why…

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.

What’s Arcane Trickster All About?

Arcane Archetype

We have an exercise for you. Think “magically-enhanced sneak thief” and make a shortlist of every character from movies, books, and video games that springs to mind. There’s a good chance that some of the names you come up with fall neatly into the category of Arcane Trickster.

There are a lot of DnD players who play for an equally large number of different reasons—and the Arcane Trickster seems to work for many of them. The mechanical appeal of this archetype comes down to two things—full progression in Sneak Attack and a decent level of progression in your casting ability. Their typical character profile is popular in fantasy books, movies, and games too. Often morally grey, willing to break the law, but with just enough honor to be a valued ally—the Arcane Trickster is fun to roleplay with lots of great reference points in print and screen media. 

There are some classic examples of this subclass in fiction. Our favorite is the beloved Gray Mouser from Fritz Leiber’s work, but any thief/rogue who’s picked up some casting might fit the bill. 

Some of Leiber’s early work for magazines and pulp collections is available free from the non-profit archive.org at this link.

Illusion, Enchantment, Evasion, and Attack

Aside from your base rogue skills (Sneak Attack arguably chief among them), it’s your Arcane Trickster’s casting that sets them apart from other character builds. You are usually limited to cantrips and the magical schools of Illusion and Enchantment. This helps balance the subclass and makes sense from a lore perspective. Many rogues would naturally pursue this kind of magic as it pairs nicely with their skills in infiltration, deception, and general sneakiness. 

The Arcane Trickster (like all rogues) is hard to pin down and hard to hit. They tend to focus on magical abilities that can either boost their stealth, distract their enemy, or get them out of trouble when things go wrong. Not getting hit while delivering damage is a typically roguish trait, and the Arcane Trickster is no different. 

This subclass isn’t going to achieve the god-tier magical abilities of a dedicated caster or the one-hit kills of the Assassin. They can only learn spells up to 4th level, with 11 spell slots available by level 20. But combined with the base rogue abilities, their casting abilities make them an effective class in most scenarios, not only combat.

Disarming Traps and Picking Locks with Mage Hand Legerdemain

Mage Hand is an already useful ability but at 3rd level, the Arcane Trickster takes it to new heights. In addition to becoming invisible, the hand can now:

  • Use thieves’ tools to pick a lock or disarm a trap (within 30 feet – must be visible)
  • Stash or retrieve an object from the pocket/bag/pouch/container of a creature

To use this second ability successfully, you make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check, contested by the creature’s Wisdom (Perception) check. 

The Arcane Trickster’s Versatile Trickster ability at level 13, allows them to use their Mage Hand Legerdemain as a bonus action to distract enemies. This is another ability that plays very well with Sneak Attack, helping you more reliably land heavy hits after combat has already started. 

Arcane Trickster Subclass Features

Your base rogue is all about waiting for the right moment to strike then hitting your enemies at their most vulnerable. The Dexterity-based rogue features from levels 1-3 synergize well with what awaits you as an Arcane Trickster more sneaking, hiding, and striking with deadly force at the perfect moment. The difference as an Arcane Trickster is in using spells to augment these abilities. 

Because so many of the subclasses’ abilities depend on Intelligence, gaining some kind of racial boost to this score will help you get the most from its features (more about races later). Remember, Sneak Attack only works with ranged or finesse weaponsnot with spells or cantrips (with one exception we mention in our spell list below). This, and the feel of the Arcane Trickster, encourage players to build a character that uses Illusion and Enchantment primarily to fine tune their roguish abilities rather than outshine them.

Level 1 (Rogue)

✅ Sleight of Hand

The DM can call for a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check any time you attempt to plant something on someone, pick a pocket, or conceal an object on your person.

✅ Expertise

You can either choose two skills you’re already proficient in and double your proficiency bonuses or choose one proficiency and your thieves’ tools and double those bonuses. 

✅ Sneak Attack

You can strike quickly, exploiting any distraction to your enemies. Once per turn, you can deal an extra d6 damage to a creature you’ve already hit if you have advantage against that creature. You don’t need advantage if there’s another creature hostile to your enemy within 5 feet of it. This makes it a valuable weapon to use in coordination with the tank/fighter of the group.

🆗 Thieves’ Cant

Your life as a rogue means you’ve picked up the odd mix of lexicon, jargon, and misdirection that is the Thieves’ Cant. This form of communication is a little clunky, as it takes up to four times longer than common speech to relay the same message. Only another creature who knows this language can understand what you say. 

You can also recognize and produce a set of signs that can convey simple messages to other thieves and rogues. These messages might warn of danger ahead, mark the location of a safe house, or lead the rogue to interesting treasure an associate didn’t have time for. 

Level 2 (Rogue)

✅ Cunning Action

This ability represents your quick reflexes and agility. You can take a bonus action on each turn of combat, using one of these three abilities: 

  • Dash allows you to cover twice as much ground as usual. 
  • Disengage means you can retreat from melee range without provoking an Opportunity Attack.
  • Hide lets you attempt to disappear from view, potentially gaining another Sneak Attack (you must disengage before you can hide).

Level 3 (Arcane Trickster)

✅ Spellcasting

At 3rd level, you can choose two cantrips (in addition to Mage Hand Legerdemain) and any two 1st level spells from the schools of either Illusion or Enchantment. You can also choose one spell from any school of magic (1st level on the Wizard’s spell list).

  • The Arcane Trickster can only take spells outside of Illusion and Enchantment at a few select levels, so choose wisely. Remember, Sneak Attack requires a finesse or dexterity weapon, spells and cantrips won’t work (with a few exceptions we’ll list later).
  • Intelligence determines your spellcasting ability. You study magic as a Wizard’s apprentice would, learning spells through dedicated study and memorization. Your modifiers are below:
  • Spell save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier.
  • Spell attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier.

✅ Mage Hand Legerdemain

At level 3, your Mage Hand develops further, becoming more useful and stealthy. In addition to being invisible, you can now control it as a bonus action to pick locks, disarm traps, pick a creature’s pockets, or stash an item on a creature. Mage Hand Legerdemain can be an asset in exploration, social encounters, and combat.. You will also inevitably get some classic laughs out of its use at some point in your adventure. It’s kind of tailor made for slapstick moments and fun.

Level 5 (Rogue)

✅ Uncanny Dodge

This core rogue ability allows you to use your reaction to half the damage from an incoming attack.

Level 7 (Rogue)

🆗 Evasion

Your heightened reflexes allow you to react to area of effect attacks. When making a saving throw against this type of attack, you now take no damage on passing the check and half damage if you fail. This is a base rogue ability and stacks with Uncanny Dodge.

Level 9 (Arcane Trickster)

🆗 Magical Ambush

This Arcane Trickster ability works well with your rogue’s tendency to stay hidden from view. When you target a creature with a spell that requires a saving throw, the creature has disadvantage on the check. This is helpful as your Arcane Trickster is not a pure Intelligence build and may not have a particularly high Intelligence proficiency modifier.

Level 11 (Rogue)

✅ Reliable Talent

Whenever you make a roll involving one of your skills (something you are proficient in), anything rolled 9 or less on a d20 is turned into a 10 – highly useful for picking locks, disarming traps, etc.

Level 13 (Arcane Trickster)

✅ Versatile Trickster

This allows you to use your Mage Hand Legerdemain to distract enemies as a bonus action. This is huge – more Sneak Attacks, more critical hits, and more damage. The creature you try to distract must be within 5 feet of your spectral hand. Once you designate a target, it has disadvantage against it for the rest of the turn.

Level 14 (Rogue)

🆗 Blindsense

This allows you to sense illusions and invisible creatures within 10 feet as long as you can hear. This is helpful as it means these creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you.

Level 15 (Rogue)

🆗 Slippery Mind

You’ve developed enough mental fortitude from years of adventuring that you gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws. This represents your character’s years of experience – useful given your character’s likely fairly low Wisdom score.

Level 17 (Arcane Trickster)

🆗 Spell Thief

Spell Thief sounds amazing at first but can feel underutilized given the spell you “steal” must be from 1st to 4th level. When you are targeted by a spell, the caster must make a saving throw. Should they fail this throw, the spell doesn’t affect you and you steal its use. Some Arcane Tricksters use this within the party, asking a higher-level caster to “lend” them  spell for use later.

Level 18 (Rogue)

✅ Elusive

Your roguish slipperiness in combat has become so advanced that you no longer suffer disadvantage on attack rolls against you as long as you aren’t Incapacitated.

Level 20 (Rogue)

✅ Stroke of Luck

Once per long rest, you can turn a miss on an attack roll into a hit, or any failed ability check into a 20. This can only be done once per long rest.

The Ideal Arcane Trickster

Dexterity remains your primary stat as an Arcane Trickster with a secondary focus on Intelligence. These two ability scores determine your success using your core rogue skills and magical Arcane Trickster abilities respectively. Racial picks that give boosts to these two abilities are recommended. Though the Arcane Trickster won’t achieve the same raw damage output as some other roguish subclasses, their access to spells makes them invaluable. For this reason, it’s crucial to pick the right spells for the Trickster you want to play. You’ll still deal most of your damage through Sneak Attack with a ranged or finesse weapon, using your magic to augment your abilities in other ways.

Ability Scores

⛔ Strength

Typically a dump stat for Arcane Tricksters. Other members of the party can supply the brawn.

✅ Dexterity

This is your key ability score as a rogue and remains vital to your efficiency as you level up as an Arcane Trickster.

🆗 Constitution

Important for every class. Arcane Tricksters are a martial class and will draw enemy attention.

✅ Intelligence

As your spellcasting modifier, Intelligence is a key stat for the Arcane Trickster.

🆗 Wisdom

As a roguish character, Wisdom (Perception) can be important during exploration. Wisdom saving throws are also useful.

⚠️ Charisma

This can be a valuable ability score for some roguish subclasses but not typically the Arcane Trickster.

Racial Considerations

Racial picks that give boosts to Intelligence and Dexterity work best here. If you plan on fighting in melee range, a respectable amount of constitution is also needed. Darkvision can be valuable to a rogue during exploration and the same can be said for Wisdom. 

Ultimately, we’ve selected only the most optimal racial choices. We, however, do have a soft spot for janky, under-optimized characters with flair. Choose whatever seems most fun to you but the following picks all make for solid Arcane Tricksters.

Elf

  • ✅ Eladrin: With proficiency in Perception, Darkvision, a +2 to Dexterity, and a +1 to Charisma, you could do worse than pick this magical Fey Elf.
  • ✅ High Elf: Longbow proficiency helps you maximize ranged/Sneak Attack damage, a free cantrip from the wizard spell list is useful, and the Intelligence bonus will help with your casting.
  • ✅ Wood Elf: The wood elf is a classic rogue choice for a reason. Pretty much all of their features are useful. Longbow proficiency, the Hide in Nature ability, higher walking speed, and a bonus to Wisdom all have utility for an Arcane Trickster build.

Gnome

  • 🆗 Deep Gnome: Advantage on stealth checks on rocky ground can be useful for any rogue subclass. And with 120ft of darkvision and a +1 bonus to Dexterity, there’s a decent case to me made for playing a deep gnome Arcane Trickster.
  • 🆗 Forest Gnome: The Minor Illusion cantrip that comes with picking forest gnome is a good pick for a budding Arcane Trickster. The +1 to Dexterity is useful to any rogue subclass.

Halfling

  • ✅ Lightfoot: The +2 Dexterity bonus is important but so is this halfling’s diminutive stature. Lightfoot halflings are small enough to use their larger party members to hide behind. This leads to more Sneak Attack opportunities. 
  • 🆗 Stout: The halfling +2 bonus to Dexterity is perhaps more suited to the Arcane Trickster than the poison resistance and +1 to constitution. Neither of these hurt though. The Constitution bonus could be important if you want to go melee.

Tiefling

  • ✅ Feral Tiefling: get a +2 to Dexterity, a +1 to Intelligence, and Darkvision. This is tailor-made for play as an Arcane Trickster

Human

  • ✅ Variant Human: A free feat and skill at level 1 is always a nice touch. And a +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Intelligence also play into an Arcane Trickster build quite neatly.

Feats

There are benefits and drawbacks to choosing feats over ability score increases at select levels. If you want a character that rolls reliably at a few select abilities, you’ll generally go after ability score increase. If you want a more versatile character, you might choose feats in place of these increases. As a rogue, you’ll want to get your Dexterity to 20 as soon as possible. Once an Arcane Trickster, you’ll want to increase your intelligence too. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference—a powerful character can be built either way. Here are some feats worth considering. 

🆗 Crossbow Expert

This makes you ultra-efficient when using crossbows and can help you get a second attempt at a Sneak Attack. Only necessary if you don’t get longbow proficiency from your racial pick.

✅ Eleven Accuracy

This feat (limited to elves and half-elves) allows you to increase your character’s Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma by 1 to a maximum of 20. In addition, whenever you have advantage on an attack using Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma, you can reroll one of the dice (or roll three at once).

✅ Lucky

No one likes missing that Sneak Attack opportunity and this feat allows you to use one of your three luck points to reroll a failed ability check or attack – useful for any rogue.

🆗 Magic Initiate

This feat lets you choose a class, either bard, druid, cleric, wizard (already known), sorcerer, or warlock, and pick two cantrips and a 1st level spell from this class’ list. Very useful for specific builds or for people who want a specific ability without multiclassing.

✅ Mobile

As we said above, even after learning spellcasting, your Arcane Trickster still benefits from being a lightning-fast rogue. Using your Dash action on difficult terrain no longer costs any extra movement, movement speed is increased by 10 feet, and you no longer provoke Opportunity Attacks after making a melee attack – whether you hit or miss.

✅ Ritual Caster

This feat gives you a spellbook capable of holding two 1st level spells from the bard, druid, cleric, wizard (already known), sorcerer, or warlock spell lists. You can cast these spells as rituals with the book in hand. Not for every build but useful in some situations.

✅ Sharpshooter

This feat means no more disadvantage on long-range attacks, ignoring half cover and three-quarters cover and offers a unique mechanic for increased damage. For a -5 on your attack roll, you can gain +10 on your damage roll.

🆗 Skilled

Proficiency in three skills or tools of your choice has lots of utility. 

✅ Skulker

This an excellent choice for most rogues, giving the following benefits: 

  • When you miss a ranged attack while hidden, missing the target doesn’t reveal your position.
  • You can try to hide when only lightly obscured from view.
  • Dim light doesn’t affect your Wisdom (Perception) checks that depend on vision.

✅ Warcaster

This feat represents your experience in casting during battle. You gain the following benefits: 

  • Advantage on constitution saving throws to maintain concentration on a spell when you take damage.
  • You can perform the somatic components of spells even with weapons and/or a shield in your hands.
  • When enemy creatures provoke an attack of opportunity, you can cast a spell instead of an attack as a reaction.

Arcane Trickster Spells and Cantrips

There are many ways to build your Arcane Trickster’s spell list. This subclass is mostly limited to spells from the Enchantment and Illusion schools from the wizard’s spell list. Exceptions to this are single picks from any school (on the wizard’s spell list—maxed out at level 4) at 3rd, 8th, 14th, and 20th level. Because of this limitation, you should choose these non Illusion/Enchantment spells wisely. Where any spells outside of these two schools appear on our list, we’ll state which school it comes from clearly.

It’s possible to build an Arcane Trickster primarily around stealth, infiltration, and Sneak Attack, using magic only to sharpen these skills. The schools of Enchantment and Illusion offer spells to make you near impossible to see and give you tricks to confuse enemies if spotted. There are no incorrect choices here, just different playstyles—some more optimal than others. In smaller parties where each character needs to fulfill more roles, for example, an Arcane Trickster might choose spells that deviate significantly from this more traditional build for utility. 

We mentioned that Sneak Attack doesn’t generally work with spells. But we can take spells that offer us more opportunity to land our heaviest shots by blinding the enemy, turning invisible, or allowing us to hide. And there are a few notable exceptions to the magical Sneak Attack rule that can help our Arcane Trickster land more reliable damage. Shadow Blade is a spell that works like a finesse weapon and can deal heavy Sneak Attack damage. Booming Blade is a damage-dealing cantrip that punishes pursuers and works well with Disengage from your Cunning Action ability.   

Cantrips

✅ Booming Blade

When your rogue disengages as a bonus action without provoking an opportunity attack, this magical blade punishes the enemy if they wish to pursue you.

🆗 Dancing Lights

Useful if your racial pick doesn’t give you darkvision. 

🆗 Friends

This is useful when stealth or Sleight of Hand fails and you need to buy some time. 

🆗 Message

If your Arcane Trickster typically explores at the lead of the party (and your DM is strict about meta-gaming), being able to communicate with someone in the party at range is great. 

✅ Minor Illusion

This adds so many possibilities to your stealth and infiltration abilities and just fits the overall theme of magical trickery

✅ Prestidigitation

This set of minor magical tricks has more utility than we can mention here but can be fun in all kinds of gameplay situations.

First Level Spells

⚠️ Alarm

Set up a magical barrier at the entrance to a room or building that sounds an alarm when a creature crosses it. This can be useful in dungeon crawls or very hostile environments.

✅ Charm Person

Another classic for when your infiltration attempts go wrong, this spell is useful for a variety of trickery.

✅ Disguise Self

There’s some potential here for infiltration and deception and this works with some of your other sneaky abilities. You could, for example, disguise yourself as a person, steal an object in plain view, then plant the object on the person you’re trying to frame.

🆗Find Familiar (Conjuration)

Always a fun one with some unique ways to cheese Sneak Attack.

✅ Silent Image

There’s a lot of room for synergy with your ability to plant things in other creature’s pockets, steal things, and generally skulk around. 

✅ Sleep

Though less effective at higher levels, Sleep can be a great way out of trouble for an Arcane Trickster early on.

🆗 Tasha’s Hideous Laughter

If you’d prefer to take enemies out of action with laughter, choose this instead of Sleep. 

Second Level Spells

🆗 Blur

Rogues are not made for soaking up damage. If you’re finding it hard to hang on to your hit points, consider taking this. 

🆗 Darkvision (Transmutation)

We’d highly recommend getting this from your racial pick if possible. But if not, you’ll likely need this spell to maximize your potential.

✅Hold Person

Another option for taking enemies out of the fight. 

✅ Invisibility

A staple of the magic-wielding rogue, this spell is really fun and arguably unmissable as an Arcane Trickster.

🆗 Mirror Image

A classic defensive option that creates mirror images of you that shift constantly, making it impossible to know which is the real one. 

✅ Misty Step (Conjuration)

You are surrounded by a silvery mist then transported to a visible space of your choosing up to 30 feet away. Useful for any class and a natural fit for a rogue. 

✅ Shadow Blade

This magical blade has finesse weapon properties, so can be used in conjunction with Sneak Attack. Attacking with a magical blade that gives advantage in low light seems too perfect for an Arcane Trickster to pass up. 

✅ Suggestion

This can be useful for clearing a guard from their post without violence or a variety of other trickery suited to this class. 

Third Level Spells

✅ Fly

It’s hard to underestimate how valuable flight can be in DnD 5e.

🆗 Haste

It’s possible to use this spell to get an extra attack, or even a Sneak Attack if the fighter in your party is engaged at short range. But an enemy caster breaking your concentration leaves you unable to take any action until after your next turn.

🆗 Hypnotic Pattern

This hypnotic spiral of color forces your enemies to make a Wisdom saving throw. Any creatures who fail are charmed for the duration of the spell. This is another great option for crowd control and fits the subclass.

✅ Major Image

This is a natural upgrade to Minor Illusion or Silent Image. This spell is definitely in the Arcane Trickster’s wheelhouse—recommended. 

⚠️ Non Detection

Having a spell that can help hide from divination magic is useful. But perhaps not often enough to justify the expensive material component. 

⛔ Phantom Steed

Someone in the party will probably have a better way to travel at speed by the time this is unlocked. 

Fourth Level Spells

🆗 Confusion

This is another decent spell for crowd control. Hypnotic Pattern, Hold Person, or Sleep might be better though. 

✅ Dimension Door

This functions similarly to Misty Step, transporting you across the battlefield. Your Arcane Trickster probably wants one of these two spells. 

✅ Greater Invisibility

This might be the best rogue spell in the game. Attacking while this spell is cast doesn’t break invisibility, making it essential for your Arcane Trickster build. 

🆗 Evard’s Black Tentacles (Conjuration)

This spell creates a 20ft square of squirming tentacles that enemy creatures must treat as difficult terrain. Any creature in the area of effect must make a Dexterity saving throw or be hit with 3d6 bludgeoning damage and suffer the Restrained condition. 

🆗 Phantasmal Killer

This can be a useful way of taking enemies out of the fight. When you cast it, creatures in range are forced to make a Wisdom saving throw. A failure results in that creature’s deepest fears manifesting in the form of an illusion. The creature remains Frightened for the remainder of their turn and makes another Wisdom saving throw at its end. A failure results in 4d10 psychic damage. 

If you’d like to listen to a comprehensive overview and discussion of the Arcane Trickster in video form on your next commute, check out this excellent Todd Talks video over at D&D Beyond’s Youtube channel. 

A Player Favorite for a Reason

There’s so much to love about this class that it’s hard to avoid hyperbole. If you’re the kind of player who loves building a singular, focused character you’ll find something here to satisfy your min-max madness. Likewise, if having a diverse character with a versatile list of skills at your disposal sounds good, the Arcane Trickster will also work for you. There’s mechanical depth and lots of interesting ways for your character to interact with the environment in and out of combat—recommended. 

Let us know in the comments if you’re on board with this subclass, then share it with the Arcane Tricksters in your life.

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