© Wizards of the Coast by Scott Murphy

Arcane Trickster Rogue 5e Guide: A Box of Tricks & Knives

The Arcane Trickster is a roguish archetype that brings a dash of magic and a whole heap of utility to a class that can sometimes feel a little one-dimensional. 

Rogues in Dungeons & Dragons 5e have a tendency towards focus, specialization, and can be somewhat lacking in utility options. The Assassin is focused on, well, assassinating people.

The Thief excels at stealing things, and the Scout can go toe-to-toe with the Ranger when it comes to exploration. 

While all Rogues benefit from Expertise and a broad toolkit of skills, these often have the effect of once again doubling down on what Rogues do best: sneaking, stabbing, and stealing.

And, once you’ve figured out what your roguish archetype does best, sticking to that plan can run the risk of slowly sinking into a morass of (admittedly highly effective) tedium.

Hide, stab, sneak attack, rinse, repeat. 

If it’s versatility you crave – being able to come up with exactly the right tools for any job, no matter how small, awkward, or strange – then the Arcane Trickster might be the subclass for you.

The combination of the Rogue’s broad skill list, martial capabilities, and proficiencies with a respectable spell list and access to some magical trickery makes for a formidable addition to any party.

In our guide to playing the Arcane Trickster Rogue in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, we’ve put together a comprehensive, scannable breakdown of everything that sets this subclass apart from other roguish archetypes.

We’ll break down the Arcane Trickster’s defining abilities, strengths, and weaknesses – as well as how to overcome them.

We’ll look at some of the options for multiclassing with an Arcane Trickster – although there are fewer reasons to multiclass this already multifaceted subclass than with more focused classes. 

Then, we go into detail concerning how to build an Arcane Trickster from 1st level, breaking down which races, skills, ability scores, and backgrounds synergize best with this subclass.

We’ve also included some suggestions for Feats that can help round out your Arcane Trickster in new and interesting ways. 

Once we’ve covered character creation, we’ll look at the unique features that define the Arcane Trickster as you level up from 1st to 20th level, as well as present you with an example build to help you make your own budding god or goddess of mischief.

 

Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System

In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.

Green – B Tier. A solid choice, but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or can be very good but only situationally.  

Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 

Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

What is an Arcane Trickster?

The Arcane Trickster is a roguish archetype that brings a dash of magic and a whole heap of utility to a class that can sometimes feel a little one-dimensional.

This subclass combines the Rogue’s stealth and martial abilities with spellcasting from the Wizard spell list, with a focus on illusion and enchantment magic.  

Rogues in Dungeons & Dragons 5e have a tendency towards focus, specialization, and can be somewhat lacking in utility options. The Assassin is focused on, well, assassinating people. The Thief excels at stealing things, and the Scout can go toe-to-toe with the Ranger when it comes to exploration. 

While all Rogues benefit from Expertise and a broad toolkit of skills, these often have the effect of doubling down on what Rogues do best: sneaking, stabbing, and stealing.

And, once you’ve figured out what your roguish archetype does best, sticking to that plan can run the risk of slowly sinking into a morass of (admittedly highly effective) tedium. Hide, stab, sneak attack, rinse, repeat. 

The Arcane Trickster, on the other hand, is all about broadening your skillset, using magic to gain more utility.

The spells you have access to are never going to be as powerful as a Wizard or even most other “half-casters” like Bards and Druids, but spells like Minor Illusion, Silent Image, Sleep, and Disguise Self all have the potential to be perennially useful, and all thematically contribute to being a master of misdirection and deceit. 

The Arcane Trickster’s Defining Abilities 

  • Spellcasting utility
  • Improved Mage Hand 
  • Highly disruptive in combat  

The first thing that sets the Arcane Trickster apart from other Rogues is the subclass’ access to spellcasting. You immediately gain access to mage hand and two other cantrips from the Wizard list, as well as three 1st level spells – two of which need to be from the illusion or enchantment schools of magic.

This immediately focuses your playstyle towards misdirection and outsmarting your opponents – perfect for a character who’s all about making their enemies look at one hand while the other plunges a knife into their back. 

While the Arcane Trickster is definitely a dabbler in the arcane arts, rather than a full spellcaster, Roguish spellcasters have obviously put some effort into learning how to turn what was already one of the most versatile cantrips in the game into the perfect thieves’ tool: the Mage Hand Legerdemain.

This is only one of the most interesting abilities when it comes to flavor and near-limitless applications. You can cast the mage hand cantrip to summon a spectral hand that can perform simple tasks up to 30ft away as usual.

But the Arcane Trickster can also make the spectral hand invisible, and you can perform the following additional tasks with it:

  • You can stow one object the hand is holding in a container worn or carried by another creature.
  • You can retrieve an object in a container worn or carried by another creature.
  • You can use thieves’ tools to pick locks and disarm traps at range.

You can perform one of these tasks secretly by beating the target’s Perception check with a Sleight of Hand roll.

You can also control the hand with the bonus action granted by your Cunning Action, meaning you can accomplish fun little distractions, pick locks, steal items, or any number of other things while you’re otherwise occupied or even in combat.

There’s a fantastic list on reddit of 100 uses for your Mage Hand Legerdemain, from planting playing cards up an opponent’s sleeves before you accuse them of cheating, to setting up small traps and tripwires to take down an opponent. 

Later on, at 13th level, your Versatile Trickster ability lets you distract enemies in combat using your mage hand, granting yourself advantage on your attack against the target. 

Your mage hand is powerful, but so are your other offensive and control spells as, once you gain access to Magical Ambush at 9th level, you impose disadvantage on any spell saving throw if you are hidden from the target.

This combined with your Cunning Action, which lets you hide as a bonus action, makes you a real thorn in the side of any enemies trying to deal with the attentions of the rest of your party.

Add your Spell Thief ability to the mix, which lets you steal a spell from an enemy (which also prevents them from casting it) for a day, and you become a hugely disruptive force on the battlefield, able to put enemies at a disadvantage, draw attention away from your allies, confuse, confound, and tie up threats. 

Of course, all that utility inevitably comes at a price… 

The Limitations of Playing an Arcane Trickster 

  • Weak magic compared to other spellcasters 
  • Weak damage compared to other Rogues
  • Versatile Trickster overlaps with Steady Aim 

First of all, calling the Arcane Trickster a “half-caster” might even be a little generous. You’re going to be stuck casting 1st and 2nd level spells until 13th level, and your spellcasting fully maxes out at 19th level with access to just one 4th level spell.

This means your magic is going to feel less and less powerful as you progress, particularly if there are dedicated casters in your party. This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, as there are still plenty of applications for low level utility spells even at higher levels.

Just don’t imagine you’re going to be slinging Flame Strikes and Cloudkills with the real magic users. 

To add insult to this injury, your added utility magic also comes at the cost of roguish abilities that boost your damage output. The Assassin, for example, can deal more than 100 damage in a single blow, and the Swashbuckler excels at gaining sneak attack damage on every hit.

The Arcane Trickster, on the other hand, is all about advantage, disadvantage, and harrying their opponents with illusions and charms, rather than raw damage. If your party relies on you to fill the classic “striker” role in the party, you and they might wind up disappointed. 

Multiclassing

Multiclassing with the Arcane Trickster can honestly feel like spreading an already thin layer of butter over a whole other slice of toast.

You’re already one class trying to do two things at once, so trying to add a third ingredient to the mix runs the risk of diluting the character into a mess of underwhelming compromise.

However, by picking multiclass options that focus on the things the Arcane Trickster already does well, we can potentially compensate for some of the subclass’ shortcomings. 

Bladesinger Wizard 

The Bladesinger was officially introduced as part of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and accomplishes the seemingly paradoxical feat of making the Wizard into a competent melee combatant.

By gaining access to this subclass’ Bladesong ability at 2nd level, you can give yourself a whole host of bonuses, from an extra 10ft of movement speed to an AC buff equal to your Intelligence modifier. Perhaps more importantly, the more levels you put into Bladesinger, the better spells you get access to.

Want to play an Arcane Trickster and emphasize your magical abilities without completely tanking your effectiveness in combat? Try between two and five levels of Bladesinger – anything more is kind of a waste of the class’ extra attacks. 

Fighter

If it’s martial combat prowess you feel is lacking from your Arcane Trickster, then a few levels of Fighter can do a lot to boost your survivability and damage output.

You gain the Second Wind and Action Surge abilities with just a couple of levels, as well as a Fighting Style (I’d advise Defense or Superior Technique) and all the weapon proficiencies you could desire. 

Ability Scores

Primary: Dexterity, Intelligence

Tier II: Constitution, Charisma 

Tier III: Wisdom

Absolute Dump Tier: Strength 

Strength: Almost completely useless. Skip it. Anything higher than 10 is basically a waste. 

Dexterity: When you sit down to build any Rogue, your first concern is going to be a high Dexterity score. You’re going to be wearing light armor, so your Dexterity is going to determine your AC. You’re going to be using ranged or finesse weapons, so your Dexterity is going to link to your damage. And you’re going to be directly relying on your Dexterity to have a high initiative bonus, which is linked to the majority of your damage output. Get this to 20 as soon as you possibly can. 

Constitution: More hit points are, as always, never a bad thing – especially for a class that thrives on flying solo. 

Intelligence: This is going to be your spellcasting modifier, making it almost as important as Dexterity. Your Intelligence is also tied to Insight, Investigation, Arcana, and Religion checks, which are great. 

Wisdom: Useful for Perception checks to get the drop on enemies, but otherwise not a core element of your build. 

Charisma: You’re actually rather well equipped to serve as the party’s face, so a high Charisma score can end up being useful if you’re trying to trick and talk your way past the palace guards.

Races

As established above, we’re going to be prioritizing Dexterity and Intelligence, with Constitution and Charisma as secondary concerns. That means any race with a Dexterity and/or Intelligence bonus is a good place to start, with other concerns like features, languages, and skills also taken into account. 

The Forest Gnome and Lightfoot Halfling are included as part of the Player’s Handbook. The Tabaxi and Eladrin are found in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and rules for the Feral Tiefling are included in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

Forest Gnome: All Gnomes get a +2 bonus to their Intelligence, and Forest Gnomes get a nice little +1 to their Dexterity, making for an excellent basis when you’re building an Arcane Trickster. 

You get darkvision (a vital component of any self-respecting Rogue) and your Gnome Cunning ability gives you advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws. You also get an extra cantrip in the form of minor illusion (right in your wheelhouse) and can speak with beasts, which serves as a little extra flavor and can potentially give you access to some useful scouts. 

Lastly, you have the chance to take the Fade Away Feat, which lets you use your reaction to become invisible after taking damage. 

Lightfoot Halfling: All Halflings get a nice +2 Dexterity bonus, as well as their ability to reroll natural ones. The Lightfoot subrace gets a nice +1 Charisma, which is good but probably better utilized in a different roguish subclass. 

Tabaxi: D&D’s resident cat people are, unsurprisingly, natural Rogues. Their +2 Dexterity and +1 to Charisma make them dangerous, nimble warriors. There’s a lack of an intelligence bonus here, however, which the Tabaxi’s extra movement and climb speed doesn’t quite make up for. 

Feral Tiefling: Standard Tieflings get a +2 Charisma and +1 Intelligence bonus. The Feral variety introduced in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide gets to replace that Charisma bonus with Dexterity, making them one of the better candidates for an Arcane Trickster in the game. On top of a useful set of ability bonuses, you get the Tiefling’s Hellish Resistance to fire damage, and some innate spells that sync up really well with the Arcane Trickster’s existing abilities.

Eladrin: All Elves get a juicy +2 Dexterity Bonus, as well as some handy innate spellcasting and resistance to magical effects that charm or try to put them to sleep. The Eladrin – fey elves tied to the seasons of the Feywild – also gain +1 Charisma and the ability to Misty Step, teleporting up to 30ft. This is not only a great way to get in or out of combat in a pinch, but the Eladrin’s chosen season also grants them special effects caused by their fey step. 

Backgrounds

Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history, and your primary source of skills.

Each background also has its own special feature – something which I maintain remains a woefully underused aspect of D&D; take the Criminal’s natural ability to draw upon a network of contacts for information, leads and jobs, or the fact that the Sage’s Researcher feature means that, even if they can’t recall a piece of lore, they know exactly where to go to get it.

Background features are a fantastic way to make your character feel competent within the environment in which they live, as well as help the DM flesh out the world around you. 

As an Arcane Trickster, your background could easily speak to the origin of your roguish or magical abilities. You could be the Urchin, taken in by a kindly and patient Wizard who tried to set you on a different path, if you want proficiency in Sleight of Hand and Stealth – allowing you to spend your basic class proficiencies on other skills. 

You could choose the Charlatan for proficiency in Deception and Sleight of Hand, or the Criminal for Deception and Stealth; either one is a great way to establish yourself as a thief or confidence trickster who uses their magic to dazzle and befuddle potential marks. 

If you are – as it the case with many Rogues – the product of training by a thieves’ guild or some temple dedicated to creating holy assassins and spies, you could choose the Faction Agent (gaining Insight and one Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma skill of your choice, as appropriate to your faction) or Acolyte (Insight and Religion) in service to – or running from – some higher authority. 

Skills

The Rogue’s starting skill list is pretty fantastic. You get to choose four skills from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth at 1st level, which is fantastic. Only Bards are better skill monkeys.

Combined with your background and any proficiencies granted by your race and you could start the game with proficiency in up to eight skills, which goes a long way towards fleshing out the universally capable Swiss Army Knife that the Arcane Trickster excels at being. 

Primary: Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Deception, Perception, Arcana

Tier II: Acrobatics, Investigation, Persuasion,  

Tier III: History, Religion, Intimidation, Performance, Survival

Absolute Dump Tier: Athletics, Nature, Medicine, Animal Handling 

Feats

Feats can be a great way to round out or augment your character’s abilities. If Feats are something you’re interested in taking, try playing a Variant Human or any race using the Custom Lineage optional rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

If you choose to play the Forest Gnome mentioned above, the Fade Away Feat is pretty much a requirement for any gnomish Rogue. 

Actor: If you end up pulling double duty as the face of your party, the Actor Feat can be a useful way for you to get by without using up one of your spells learning Disguise Self. 

Mage Slayer: As a subclass that thrives on disrupting and throwing enemies off balance, the ability to throw out opportunity attacks against anyone casting spells within 5ft of you can be a great way to dish out more damage per round – potentially overcoming some of the raw damage limitations this archetype suffers from. 

Magic Initiate: One of the biggest problems the Arcane Trickster faces is a relatively weak pool of spells and spell slots. By picking up the Magic Initiate Feat you can massively increase the versatility of your spellcasting by choosing spells from outside the Wizard List (or just outside of the illusion and enchantment schools) or double down on spells for an even deeper box of magical tricks. 

Mobile: A great way to compensate for a lack of mobility if you’re playing a race with no relevant bonuses and want to avoid taking spells like Misty Step or Expeditious Retreat. 

Ritual Caster: While you have access to the Wizard’s spell list, you cannot cast spells as rituals. Picking up the Ritual Caster Feat allows you to access useful stuff like Find Familiar, which can help grant consistent advantage and up your chances of getting to deal Sneak Attack damage. 

War Caster: You are all about multitasking – casting spells, directing your mage hand, and running around fighting at the same time. The War Caster Feat helps you stay focused in combat, cast somatic spells even while dual wielding weapons, and fire off a cantrip in place of making an opportunity attack. Good stuff all round. 

Progression

Let’s take a look at the unique features that take an Arcane Trickster from 1st level to 20th. Note that this guide won’t be covering the class features available to all Rogues like Cunning Action, Expertise, and Sneak Attack in detail. 

1st & 2nd Level 

Until you choose your roguish archetype at 3rd level, you’re going to be playing a Rogue that’s identical to any other. Your hit die is a d8, your saving throws are in Dexterity and Intelligence, you can speak, read and write Thieves’ Cant, and you get a huge pile of skills from which you can pick four in conjunction with those offered up by your background and race. 

You also get Expertise (which allows you to double your proficiency bonus either with two skills or one skill and your Thieves’ tools. 

Perhaps most importantly, you get Sneak Attack at 1st level, which lets you deal some extra damage once per turn to a target that’s either incapacitated or within 5ft of one of your allies, or if you have advantage on the attack roll.

This will scale as you level up, and remain your primary source of damage throughout your character’s progression. 

Lastly, at 2nd level you gain Cunning Action, which lets you use your bonus action to hide, disengage, or dash, making you more capable of slipping in and out of danger with ease. This synergizes really well with your Magical Ambush feature from 9th level onwards. 

3rd Level 

When you hit 3rd level, you can select the Assassin roguish archetype. You gain the following… 

Spellcasting: You can cast spells now – the bedrock of this subclass. You start by choosing two cantrips from the Wizard spell list, in addition to mage hand. You also get three 1st-level wizard spells of your choice, two of which you must choose from the enchantment and illusion spells on the wizard spell list.

Your spellcasting modifier is Wisdom, and you gain more spells as you level up. 

Arcane Trickster Spellcasting

Mage Hand Legerdemain: You have learned to apply your roguish talents to your mage hand cantrip. You can turn the spectral hand invisible, and perform additional tasks with it, including: 

  • Stowing one object the hand is holding in a container worn or carried by another creature.
  • Retrieving an object in a container worn or carried by another creature.
  • Use thieves’ tools from range by manipulating them with the hand. 

9th Level

Magical Ambush: When you cast a spell that targets a creature from which you are hidden, you impose disadvantage on its saving throw. This is especially useful given the fact you can use your Cunning Action to cast a spell, hide, and cast a spell again.

Note, you do not gain advantage on spell attacks, so you’re somewhat limited in terms of which cantrips you can pair with this ability repeatedly – although Poison Spray is a solid contender. 

13th Level

Versatile Trickster: You gain the ability to use your mage hand to distract your enemies in battle. Using your cunning action, you can direct the hand to interfere with your enemy, granting your advantage on attack rolls against that creature until the end of your turn.

This is a very powerful way to guarantee Sneak Attack damage against solo opponents. 

17th Level

Spell Thief: Now – in what I think is one of the most thematically cool class features in the game – you learn the ability to literally steal a spell from an enemy’s lips.

Once per long rest, when a creature casts a spell that targets or affects you, you can use your reaction to try and steal it. The caster makes a save using their spellcasting ability modifier against your spell save DC.

On a failure, the spell fizzles as though counterspelled, negating any effect upon you. Also, if the spell is not a cantrip but also of a level you can cast (1-4) you steal the spell for 8 hours. You can now cast the spell and the creature you stole it from cannot. 

Note that, if a spell is a cantrip or higher than you can currently cast, the rules as written still say you can negate the spell’s effects. Also, some people suggest stealing a spell from an ally early in the day, meaning they now no longer have to burn a spell slot to cast it.

This can be a great insurance policy; steal a low-level heal so that, if your Cleric or Paladin goes down, your party isn’t now totally devoid of healing. As cool as this can be, the lacklustre spell pool the Arcane Trickster has access to, and the fact this is effectively the subclass’ capstone ability, make this feel a little underwhelming.

Personally, I’d like this better if you could target spells of a level up to your Proficiency bonus, or bonus + spellcasting modifier, with the caveat that you could either take the spell and use it yourself, or negate the effects and prevent the caster from using it for 8 hours. But still, good ability on balance. 

Example Arcane Trickster Build Progression from 1st to 20th Level

Now, we’re going to build ourselves an Arcane Trickster which you can follow from 1st to 20th level and be sure you’re going to end up with something optimized, useful, and hopefully fun to play.

Because this archetype is all about mischief, trickery, and generally messing with your opponents, who better to base this example build on than everyone’s favorite murderous prankster, Norse god of mischief himself, Loki?

We’re going to focus on illusion magic, enchantment, and generally being as slippery as possible.  

1st level

Ability Scores (Standard Array): Strength (8), Dexterity (14), Constitution (10), Intelligence (14), Wisdom (12), Charisma (13). 

Race: Eladrin 

Ability Score Increase: Dexterity +2 (16), Charisma +1 (14)

Size: Medium

Speed: 30ft 

Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Fey Ancestry: You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.

Trance: Elves do not sleep. Instead they meditate deeply, remaining semi-conscious, for 4 hours a day.

Languages: Common, Elven

Fey Step: As a bonus action, you can magically teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

When you reach 3rd level, your Fey Step gains an additional effect based on your season. For more information on how an Eladrin’s Fey Step works, check out our guide to the Feywild Elves here. 

Proficiencies

Armor: Light armor

Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords, 

Tools: Thieves’ tools

Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence

Background: Charlatan 

Skills: Perception (race), Deception, Sleight of Hand, (background), Stealth, Insight, Investigation, Performance (class). 

Expertise: Deception, Stealth 

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d8 per rogue level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per rogue level after 1st

Equipment 

  • Rapier (1d8 piercing damage, finesse)
  • Two daggers (1d4 piercing, finesse, light, range, thrown)
  • Leather Armor (light, AC 11 + Dexterity) 
  • Shortbow (1d6 piercing, ranged, light), 20 arrows
  • Burglar’s pack  
  • A set of fine clothes
  • A disguise kit
  • Tools of the con of your choice (ten stoppered bottles filled with colored liquid, a set of weighted dice, a deck of marked cards, or a signet ring of an imaginary duke)
  • A pouch containing 15gp

Sneak Attack: 1d6 

Thieves’ Cant

2nd level

Cunning Action

3rd level

Roguish Archetype: Arcane Trickster 

Spellcasting: 

  • Cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation
  • 1st: Disguise Self, Charm Person, Sleep

Sneak Attack: 2d6 

Mage Hand Legerdemain 

4th level

Ability Score Increase: +2 Intelligence (16)

Spellcasting: 

  • 1st: Silent Image 

5th level 

Uncanny Dodge 

Sneak Attack: 3d6 

6th level 

Expertise: Perception, Acrobatics

7th level 

Evasion 

Sneak Attack: 4d6

Spellcasting: 

  • Swap: Sleep for Invisibility
  • 2nd: Shadow Blade 

8th level 

Ability Score Increase: +2 Dexterity (18)

Spellcasting: 

  • 2nd: Suggestion

9th level 

Magical Ambush 

Sneak Attack: 5d6

10th level 

Ability Score Improvement: +2 Intelligence (18)

Spellcasting: 

  • 2nd: Nystul’s Magic Aura 

11th level 

Reliable Talent 

Sneak Attack: 6d6

Spellcasting: 

  • 2nd: Hold Person 

12th level 

Ability Score Improvement: +2 Dexterity (20)

13th level 

Versatile Trickster 

Sneak Attack: 7d6

Spellcasting: 

  • Swap: Silent Imager for Major Image 
  • 3rd: Fear  

14th level 

Blindsense

Spellcasting: 

  • 3rd: Haste  

15th level 

Slippery Mind 

Sneak Attack: 8d6

16th level 

Ability Score Improvement: +2 Intelligence (20)

Spellcasting: 

17th level 

Spell Thief

Sneak Attack: 9d6

18th level 

Elusive

19th level 

Ability Score Improvement: +2 Charisma (16)

Sneak Attack: 10d6

Spellcasting: 

  • 4th: Dimension Door 

20th level 

Stroke of Luck 

Spellcasting: 

  • 4th: Greater Invisibility

A Beginner’s Guide to Playing an Arcane Trickster

The city guard lunges in pursuit, chasing the back of the retreating thief down yet another twisting, turning alleyway.

Ahead, the figure pauses, confronted by a dead end. Grinning, the guard levels their spear and lets fly, only for the smile to fall from her face as the weapon passes straight through its target, clattering harmlessly against the cobblestones.

The figure turns, revealing the shimmering, illusory face of an elven woman. She blows the guard a kiss and dissipates into the shadows. By the time the guard reaches her post once again, the thieves have been and gone, and the museum’s prized artifacts are nowhere to be found. 

The Arcane Trickster is a fantastically evocative, versatile subclass that blends the natural stealth and backstabbery of the Rogue with an expanded magical toolkit.

Tricksters use illusion and enchantment – tricks of the light or honeyed words laced with suggestion – to gain access to forbidden places, get close to their intended targets, or cause chaos in the heat of battle. 

While most Rogue subclasses focus on exploration or inflicting huge amounts of single-target damage, the Arcane Trickster takes a broader view; they’re a multitool as opposed to the Assassin’s stiletto dagger.

While this means that they’re the roguish archetype least suited to assassinating their foes or otherwise dishing out massive amounts of raw damage (not that they’re a slouch in this department by any means), Arcane Tricksters have access to a dizzying array of tools, from mind-altering enchantment spells and illusory images, to the classic Rogue abilities like cunning action and evasion. 

They can do a little bit of everything, which actually makes them more akin to the Bard class than a traditional Rogue. If you like playing the “face” of your party, and enjoy toying with feebleminded foes, there are few subclasses that will suit you better. 

The obvious pop-culture touchstone for an Arcane Trickster is Loki, the Norse god of mischief and everyone’s favorite villain from the MCU (everyone with taste, that is).

However, there’s a whole wealth of trickster god mythology in the real world and Dungeons & Dragons to draw from.

There’s Anansi, the East African trickster god who outwits, outmaneuvers, and outsmarts bigger, more dangerous foes. An illusion-weaving, storytelling shapeshifter is perfect fodder for an Arcane Trickster. 

Just to get a little abstract for a second, I would definitely base my Arcane Trickster on my favorite trickster of all time: Bugs Bunny. The mixture of evasion, befuddlement, and mind-bending weirdness that you can create could very easily give your Rogue the illusion of Toon Force.

Also, the new The Wild Beyond the Witchlight book now lets you play as Rabbit people, so there’s that. Speaking of being fey touched, how about a Satyr from Mythic Odysseys of Theros? The Arcane Trickster unquestionably makes for a “puckish” figure. 

You can also take this class down a more serious route. Try channeling the mixture of dextrous combat and occasional magic used by agile jedi like Ahsoka. 

However you choose to characterize your Arcane Trickster, just make sure you’re embodying someone who tackles problems side-on, using deception, flattery, and a dash of magic to trick their opponents rather than fighting them head on; there are better classes (or even roguish archetypes) for that.