How To Build an Elven Rogue in DnD 5e: A Classic Character Guide

Fleet of foot, nimble, and deadly, elves are one of the archetypical candidates for a rogue build in Dungeons & Dragons 5e

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the step-by-step process of building an elf rogue, including which subraces work best and which roguish archetypes to consider.

We’ll also go over other considerations, like feats, as well as anything else you might need to make the ultimate pointy-eared thief or assassin. 

Getting Started With an Elf Rogue in DnD 5e: Ability Scores, Racial Traits, and Skills

If you’re playing a classic elf from the Player’s Handbook, then your racial bonuses are going to give you a solid foundation for building a highly effective rogue. 

All elves start out with a +2 bonus to their Dexterity score, which is exactly what we love to see if we’re building a rogue.

Rogues thrive using finesse and ranged weapons like rapiers, shortswords, daggers, and the classic hand crossbow, all of which use Dexterity for their attack and damage modifiers.

Dexterity also powers rogues’ sleight-of-hand abilities, including their iconic thieves’ tools, not to mention other things the class excels at, like clambering up sheer surfaces or melting into the shadows. 

Whether you’re building your rogue as a deadly, glass cannon damage dealer or a slippery sneak thief, then a high dexterity modifier (+4 or +5 if possible) is going to be essential. 

Then, when you pick your elven subrace, you’re going to get a nice +1 bonus to another ability score, which can range from Intelligence (ideal for the Arcane Trickster or Mastermind) to Charisma (perfect for the Swashbuckler or just the rogue’s general ability to serve as the party’s face) and Wisdom (which powers Perception checks). 

Because rogues’ abilities (specifically Sneak Attack) are catered to finesse or ranged weapons, the various Elven Weapon Training racial bonuses are more or less redundant here, as you either already gain proficiency in these weapons as a rogue or can’t make good use of them.

It’s only a small drawback, but it’s a shame to waste a beneficial trait nonetheless. 

All elves also all get proficiency in the Perception skill thanks to their Keen Senses trait. Perception is probably among the strongest, most widely applicable skills in all of 5e.

Not only does it help you avoid ambushes, traps, and other hazards, but I essentially think of Perception as the skill that lets you “unlock” more content. Can’t find secret doors if you can’t roll a Perception check above an 8. 

Rogues are consummate skill monkeys, able to accumulate one of the largest rosters of useful skills in the game, and they can further augment those abilities with their Expertise class feature.

Basically, they’re one of the best classes (bards are probably the only ones who give them a run for their money) at getting the most value out of their skills, and getting one of the best skills in the game for free as a racial bonus is fantastic. 

Elves’ Fey Ancestry feature also makes them resistant to being charmed or magically put to sleep. This isn’t a bonus that’s uniquely useful to rogues, but it’s still great to have in your back pocket.

Also, speaking of sleep, the fact that Elves only need to meditate for four hours a night to gain the benefits of a long rest is perfect for a class that does its best work after the sun has set. 

And, if you’re going to be mostly active in the dark, whether at night or in the depths of a dungeon, the fact elves get Darkvision up to 60 feet (unless you’re playing a Drow, which gives you a whopping 120 feet) pairs perfectly with a class that loves to hang around in the shadows without a light source.

Just remember that having Darkvision doesn’t mean you see perfectly in the dark. Shades of gray, people. Shades of gray. 

Now, let’s look at some of the different elven subraces that are best suited to playing a rogue. Spoiler: it’s most of them

Which Elven Subrace Is Best for a Rogue? 

There are roughly 10 subraces of elf in D&D 5e at the moment (not counting the Plane Shift content).

Because they’re either somewhat unsuited to being rogues, similar to another subrace that does rogues better, or part of Unearthed Arcana content and so not yet officially in the 5e rules, we’re going to be ignoring Sea Elves, Shadar-Kai, Pallid Elves, Elvarial, Astral, and Grugach elves. 

That leaves us with Drow (dark elves), Eladrin (we’re using the revised rules from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes because the rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide suck), High Elves, and Wood Elves.

All four of these subraces make for flavorful and mechanically powerful rogues. 

Drow 

The dark elves, natives of the Underdark known for their cruelty and worship of the demonic spider goddess Lolth, are perfect candidates for a rogue.

All Drow get a nice mixture of weapon proficiencies, augmented Darkvision, and some great innate spellcasting, which more than makes up for their sunlight sensitivity. 

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
  • Superior Darkvision. Your darkvision has a range of 120 feet, instead of 60.
  • Sunlight Sensitivity. You have disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of the attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
  • Drow Magic. You know the Dancing Lights cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the Faerie Fire spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the Darkness spell once and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
  • Drow Weapon Training. You have proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.

Drow magic in particular is ideally suited for any rogue. Faerie Fire can give you advantage on attacks against multiple enemies, which is a great way to guarantee you get to apply your Sneak Attack damage.

Also, Darkness hugely increases your ability to hide using your Cunning Action, even if you’re relatively exposed. 

Your innate +1 to Charisma makes you ideally suited to the Swashbuckler roguish archetype, although you can fit into just about any subclass niche and get a nice buff to your social abilities. 

Eladrin 

Native to the mutable, capricious realm of the Feywild, Eladrin can change their appearance and innate abilities like you or I would change clothes. 

Like the Drow, Eladrin get a +1 bonus to their Charisma score, which makes them good Swashbucklers (their powerful emotions compared to other types of elf also make this flamboyant sword-fighting subclass a great narrative and thematic fit as well).

Their ability to teleport short distances makes them highly effective infiltrators (try the Thief, Assassin, or even Scout subclasses). 

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
  • 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; if the effect requires a saving throw, the DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. The effects are as follows:
    • Autumn. Immediately after you use your Fey Step, up to two creatures of your choice that you can see within 10 feet of you must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by you for 1 minute or until you or your companions deal any damage to it.
    • Winter. When you use your Fey Step, one creature of your choice that you can see within 5 feet of you before you teleport must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
    • Spring. When you use your Fey Step, you can touch one willing creature within 5 feet of you. That creature then teleports instead of you, appearing in an unoccupied space of your choice that you can see within 30 feet of you.
    • Summer. Immediately after you use your Fey Step, each creature of your choice that you can see within 5 feet of you takes fire damage equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of 1 damage).

You can get the full rundown on how Eladrin’s seasonal abilities work (as well as how to roleplay them) here

High Elf 

The archetypically graceful, haughty, agelessly beautiful elves, High Elves aren’t what initially jumps to mind when you think of a shadow-skulking criminal.

However, the High Elves’ natural affinity for magic and +1 Intelligence bonus makes them the perfect candidate for an Arcane Trickster build. 

You get a free cantrip of your choice from the wizard’s spell list. Great options include Prestidigitation, Minor Illusion, and Message.

My favorite pairing for a rogue, however, is Shape Water. The ability to obscure, manipulate, and freeze a 5-foot cube of water has all sorts of cool, roguish applications.

Being chased? Create and then freeze a solid pane of ice across the floor behind you, forcing your pursuers to cross what is now difficult terrain.

Thieves’ tools not doing the job? Fill any mundane lock with water, freeze it, and watch the expanding ice pop the lock right out of the door. Open sesame. 

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
  • Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the Wizard spell list. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it.
  • Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
  • Extra Language. You can read, speak, and write one additional language of your choice.

Wood Elf 

Lastly, while these wild Legolas types are usually typecast into more of a ranger role, Wood Elves make undeniably great rogues.

You get a +1 bonus to your Wisdom, which powers you Perception checks, not to mention your Mask of the Wild feature makes hiding using your Cunning Action even easier while in nature.

You also get a nice buff to your movement speed. 

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
  • Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
  • Fleet of Foot. Your base walking speed increases to 35 feet.
  • Mask of the Wild. You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.

Wood Elves are naturally well suited to playing the Scout subclass of rogue but can stretch to just about any option. 

Subclasses: Which Roguish Archetype Is Best for an Elf Rogue? 

When it comes to picking a roguish archetype, any elf can pretty much fit into any niche, but there are a few combinations that synergize better than the rest. 

Drow Assassin

A suite of natural infiltrator abilities combine perfectly with the Assassin’s need to get the drop on its enemies.

Use your Darkvision to see enemies coming before they see you; use darkness and faerie fire to compound those abilities.

Because Assassins treat any hit against a surprised creature as a Critical and can later deal double damage against those targets, playing a subrace that thrives in the dark is hugely complimentary. 

Eladrin Swashbuckler 

The Eladrin’s Charisma bonus, teleportation ability, and natural flamboyance makes them ideal swashbucklers.

Your Fey Step ability also gives you extra effects like charming, frightening, or inflicting fire damage on your enemies. All great stuff. 

High Elf Arcane Trickster 

An extra cantrip to augment an already overstuffed toolkit, high Intelligence, and an extra language is nothing to sniff at.

High Elves are an innately magical subrace, so pairing them with the most magical roguish archetype makes perfect sense. 

Wood Elf Scout 

The Scout is all about sneaking around in nature and movement speed, which the Wood Elf takes to a whole other level. Outmaneuver and outfox your enemies, diving in and out of combat.

Gain proficiency in Nature, Survival, and Perception out of the gate, and use your Mask of the Wild to hide more effectively in your chosen terrain. 

Which Feats Are Best for an Elf Rogue? 

If you’re happy with your Ability Scores and want to augment your elf rogue in new and interesting ways, consider taking one or more of the following feats. 

Elven Accuracy

The combination of an Ability Score Increase and double advantage on attack rolls when you already have advantage (something you’re going to want to be getting as much as possible as a rogue) make this easily among the best racial feats in the game. 

Elven Accuracy 

Increase your Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

Whenever you have advantage on an attack roll using Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma, you can reroll one of the dice once.

You can check out the full guide on Elven Accuracy and how to make the most of it here. 

Best Subclass Pairing: Wood Elf Scout

Alert 

The Alert feat ensures your character never gets surprised while they’re conscious – perfect for an elf who never technically sleeps.

Also, the +5 initiative bonus makes this a very powerful pickup for the Assassin subclass. 

Alert

  • The character adds +5 to their initiative rolls.
  • The character can’t be surprised while conscious (i.e. not asleep or knocked out from combat).
  • The character doesn’t grant advantage on attacks against itself against enemies it can’t see.

Best Subclass Pairing: Drow Assassin 

Ritual Caster 

A slightly left-of-field pick, but hear me out. The Ritual Caster feat lets you cast two 1st-level spells as rituals, but you only need the one: Find Familiar.

Acquiring a familiar gives you an extra buddy in combat that can take the Help action on its turn, giving you advantage on an attack roll and therefore activating your sneak attack damage. 

Ritual Caster

  • When you choose this feat, you acquire a ritual book holding two 1st-level spells of your choice. Choose one of the following classes: bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You must choose your spells from that class’s spell list, and the spells you choose must have the ritual tag. The class you choose also must have the ritual tag. The class you choose also determines your spellcasting ability for these spells: Charisma for bard, sorcerer, or warlock; Wisdom for cleric or druid; or Intelligence for wizard.

You can read the full guide to using the Ritual Caster feat most effectively here.