Last Updated on February 20, 2023
In just about any TTRPG, knowledge is power. Having an understanding of your surroundings gives you what you need to create the perfect plan of attack no matter what scenario you find yourself in. This concept of awareness and planning is what fuels the Mastermind Rogue subclass in D&D 5e.
Today, we’re taking a look at the features of this subclass, how they fit together, and, overall, how good of a subclass this really is.
- This subclass aims to be a resourceful, scheming roguish archetype.
- The features of this subclass don’t work toward its goal in a cohesive manner.
- Base class rogue features already let you do most of what this subclass strives for with high odds of success.
What Is a Mastermind Rogue?
The flavor guide to the Mastermind Rogue in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything tells us that this is a subclass focused on people and on the influence and secrets they have. With features like Master of Tactics and Insightful Manipulator, the Mastermind Rogue is a roguish archetype that collects information to create the perfect plans.
On the surface, this is a really interesting archetype that could set up an exciting 5e playstyle. As the “mastermind” name suggests, this is a Rogue who can easily set themselves up as the party’s face and the go-to planner whenever the group comes across obstacles.
Of course, that sort of playstyle requires features to back it up, and it also requires you, the player, to want to take on that role. We’ll look at the roleplaying pieces of this later, but for now, let’s talk about those subclass features.
Mastermind Rogue Subclass Features
The Mastermind Rogue doesn’t necessarily put forward a cohesive collection of features. Instead, it gives us an array of abilities that, once you see them together, create the general vibe this subclass was leaning toward.
- Master of Intrigue – Proficiency with the disguise kit, forgery kit, and one gaming set of your choice. You learn two languages of your choice. After listening to a creature speak a language for 1 minute, you can imitate their accents and speech patterns to pass yourself off as a native speaker, provided you know the language.
- Master of Tactics – You can use the Help action as a bonus action. When using the Help action to aid an ally in attacking a creature, the target of the attack can be within 30 feet of you.
- Insightful Manipulator – If you spend a minute observing or interacting with a creature outside of combat, you can have your DM tell you if the creature has a higher, lower, or equal Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score or class levels if the creature has any.
- Misdirection – When a creature within 5 feet of you is granting you cover against an attack, you can use your reaction to have the attack hit them instead.
- Soul of Deceit – Your thoughts can’t be read by telepathy or other means unless you allow it. You can present false thoughts if you succeed in a Deception vs. Insight contest. Magic cannot determine if you are telling the truth, nor can it force you to tell the truth.
We should be clear, these aren’t in the exact language that is provided in XGtE. If you want to get into a rules lawyer argument about this subclass, please go directly to the source for more precise language. Otherwise, this will do it for you.
Since looking at a book and reading the abilities is something you can do anywhere, let’s actually look at how these abilities work, what they can do, and how they can work together.
Master of Intrigue
As the starting feature for our subclass, this makes a lot of sense. A lot of subclasses throughout 5e are provided with some amount of proficiencies that show special research and training associated with the archetype. Admittedly, this provides a good amount more than you’d typically see.
That being said, these aren’t crazy proficiencies. Everything here could be provided by the base Rogue class; we’re just getting more than we normally could.
The real thing that stands out could honestly be its own separate feature. The ability to mimic speech patterns and accents in order to pass off as a native speaker is… well, it’s interesting.
While this ability might be incredibly useful in a sort of political intrigue campaign with many different dialects of the same language and a whole lot of social roleplay, it isn’t something that fits into the core mechanics of 5e super well.
In 5e, knowing a language means you can speak it. So, unless your DM is very particular about individual characters and origins, it’s basically assumed that you sound like a native speaker of any language you can speak.
Beyond that, you’re probably only going to know about five languages max, even with this feature’s additional languages, so with five minutes of training, you’ve maxed out this ability for the rest of the campaign (barring any decisions to let characters learn new languages).
All in all, this is your standard “smarter than the average bear” feature. It gives us some useful things but isn’t going to be the core of our character.
Master of Tactics
On the other hand, master of tactics is an ability you’ll be using time and time again throughout a campaign as a Mastermind Rogue. For those of you who didn’t know, the help action gives an ally advantage on an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw, so in a game where dice control your fate, it’s incredibly helpful.
Since this moves your help action to a bonus action, it really only matters when you’re tracking actions. In 5e, this is mostly just combat, but it can extend to other high-intensity moments where initiative is tracked.
While you’re in initiative though, this is a very useful ability that allows you to give an ally advantage every single turn so long as you’re not using your bonus action for something else.
Insightful manipulator is an interesting feature since it doesn’t provide any direct benefit to your character. Instead, it gives you the player meta-relevant information that can be used to plan out certain aspects of your party’s plans.
You choose two of the aspects available (INT, WIS, or CHA score or class levels), and your DM tells you if a target creature’s aspects are higher, lower, or equal to yours. We can start by ignoring class levels since very few NPCs have actual class levels in 5e.
Then, we’re left with the three “mental stats” in 5e. Knowing another character’s mental stats can be helpful in a few different scenarios, but it takes some precision planning to pull it off.
You might use this information to direct your casters in which saving throw spells they should cast. You might use it to decide whether or not you should try intimidating a character. Really, you would use it to guide your decision-making in any sort of scenario that involves these three ability scores.
However, you don’t learn what their scores are. You only play the first round of a higher or lower game, and maybe that knowledge will help you out.
It’s clear that this was an attempt to create some sort of tangible insight-based feature, but it really fails to miss the mark because it has no direct impact on the game.
If your table has never paid attention to cover, this is probably going to be a very confusing ability for you to wrap your mind around. Cover is provided to a character if a large enough object is between them and the source of an attack.
There are different types of cover, but we’re really only looking at half-cover with this ability since creatures tend to only provide half-cover to other creatures. Arguments can be made that a large creature would provide more cover to a small creature than a medium creature, but that’s for your table to decide.
Anyway, the normal benefit of half-cover is that you gain a +2 to AC, but there isn’t any mechanic in 5e that says the source of the attack has a chance to hit the character providing cover. While that would make sense and definitely might be a homebrew option at some tables, this subclass feature at the very least makes it an option for a Rogue.
This can definitely be helpful, but it means constantly moving around to put another person between you and your attacks. For that to work well, the other character would have to be very close to you. Otherwise, the source of the attack could probably just move a few feet to get a better angle on you where you no longer have cover.
On paper, this ability looks great because it allows you to just put any damage you might take onto your enemies. In reality, though, this feature requires a level of planning and foresight that is near impossible to pull off in a 5e combat scenario. Without incredible battlefield control, manipulation spells, and more at your fingertips, this isn’t a feature you can rely on to do any heavy lifting.
Soul of Deceit
Our capstone ability for the Mastermind Rogue is probably the coolest thing here. You’ve become such an incredible Rogue that your thoughts are imperceptible to any form of telepathy, and you can lie so fantastically that not even magic can detect your deceit.
This is one of the most powerful social abilities you’ll come across in 5e that isn’t straight-up magical influence, and it represents a really cool archetype of character that I’m sure many RPG enthusiasts would love to play.
The only bad part of this ability is when it comes to you. Your final feature, your capstone feature, should be an ability that exemplifies all the work your character has put in to get to where you are. In 5e, it should be beyond just powerful; it should put you in a place where you can compete with the gods themselves.
Unfortunately, the soul of deceit is just another peppering of social abilities that makes you a bit better at what you do. It doesn’t give you any real power or influence.
How Good Is the Mastermind Rogue?
The Mastermind Rogue is an incredible concept, but it’s not one that translates into the mechanics and overall playstyle of 5e well. Sure, 5e is an RPG that can really bend to the whims of its players, changing to match the desires of any group. Still, at the end of the day, it’s a fantasy adventure RPG that doesn’t quite have room for the sort of “behind the curtains” character that is portrayed with this archetype.
The first thing we should look at is how well this subclass fits together, both within itself and with its base class.
It’s hard to see what the goal of this class is just from looking at any one feature. If you step back though, you can see that “gain information and plan accordingly” is the basic tagline of a Mastermind Rogue. All of its features allow you to learn something new or put your information to good use in some way.
As far as driving themes go, this isn’t something that feels like it should be unique to one character. Any 5e character should be able to do this, which is why we have skills like Insight and general actions like Ready and Help.
With that, we should be seeing features that make the Mastermind stand out from the crowd and work together to make this Rogue better than anyone else at what it wants to do. Instead, we get one great ability that lets us use the help action better than anyone else and a bunch of other abilities that kind of help us out.
This could’ve been excused if these other features built upon our help action by adding more effects onto it. Or, we could’ve seen features that improve our ability to do Roguish things. In fact, we see the opposite.
Our ability to use Help as a bonus action is in conflict with Cunning Action, a base class ability that already gives us three excellent bonus action options. Our Misdirection feature feels like it completely ignores our amazing Uncanny Dodge reaction that halves any incoming damage.
Even our capstone ability rivals the base class capstone feature, Stroke of Luck, which gives us guaranteed success on an ability check, letting us achieve Soul of Deceit levels of deception with none other than a simple deception check.
The Mastermind isn’t a bad concept, but it is a pretty bad subclass. It fails to provide a cohesive game plan, doesn’t bring the power level necessary to achieve its goals, and flies in the face of existing 5e mechanics. While we love the idea of a scheming and resourceful Rogue, this isn’t the subclass that’s going to help you get there.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.