Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From charming scoundrels and daring swashbucklers to black-clad assassins and light-fingered thieves, rogues are a diverse, versatile, and resourceful class that no adventuring party is complete without.
One of the earliest classes to be introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (after the original wizard, cleric, and fighter trio), I think the rogue is the class that, in both play style and theme, most completely captures the essence of what D&D is like to play.
D&D may have evolved into a much broader storytelling mechanism over the decades, but at its heart, it’s a game about going into dungeons and fighting dragons for their treasure.
Noble fighters and brawny barbarians may be perfectly equipped to fight those dragons – but the dungeon bit? That’s where rogues shine.
Playing a rogue is, appropriately, like unrolling a leather pouch full of delicate, intricate, useful little thieves’ tools that can be applied to just about any situation.
This is a class that relies on speed, cunning, and wit over brute force or arcane power (although some rogues dabble in that too).
I’m not saying that rogues aren’t useful in combat, far from it; this class can go toe to toe with paladins, sorcerers, and samurai when it comes time to dish out eye-wateringly large amounts of damage.
If you want to outwit and outmaneuver your foes just as effectively with your wits as with a blade, pick locks, disarm traps, strike from the shadows, and have the right tool for just about any job, the rogue may be the class for you.
Whether you’re a new player wondering if you should play a rogue for your first character (you should) or a veteran looking to brush up or branch out, this guide takes you through the rogue class from start to finish.
For our introductory guide to all 13 playable classes, click here.
We’re going to take an in-depth look at some of the characteristics that make the rogue really shine, where this class fits within the context of an adventuring party, and some of the ways you can go about roleplaying a rogue.
Then, we’ll take you through the features, abilities, subclasses, skills, feats, and more – basically, everything you need to understand how rogues work and how to go about building your own.
And lastly, we’ve taken a closer look at multiclassing rogues (dipping into other classes to complement this class’s abilities) and put together some suggested quick-start builds to help you get a character up and running in no time.
You can jump to any of this guide’s sections using the contents table, or keep scrolling to jump right in.
Why Play a Rogue?
There’s an argument I see made a lot by the kind of people who think D&D peaked in 1975 and has been on one long, slow, Nietzschean decline ever since: rogues ruined the game.
From the second the thief (the original name for the rogue class) was introduced to D&D in Greyhawk I (1975), we started sliding down our rapid slide into mediocrity like we crit failed a dexterity check.
I’m well aware that this take is hotter than an ancient red dragon’s breath weapon, and I don’t agree with it – or much of the other old vs. new D&D tribalism at all, for that matter; people like what they like and the hobby would be better off if we didn’t shame one another for it.
However, I think there’s an element of the “rogues ruined D&D” argument that helps illuminate why rogues are truly one of the greatest classes for both new and experienced players.
For a little background, the introduction of thieves in Greyhawk I was the first time that a skill system ever made its way into D&D.
Rogues had special (read: weird and cumbersome) percentile-based skills that increased their chances of being able to do stuff like detect traps, climb sheer surfaces, and hide in shadows.
As a result, rogues carved out a role for themselves in the adventuring party as the dungeon explorer.
The party thief was the one who searched ominous hallways for traps, scouted ahead for enemy patrols, and crept into the dragon’s lair to secure oodles of shiny loot.
Now, the folks who say that the introduction of the thief was the death of D&D tend to cite two connected reasons.
The first is that the introduction of skills was the first step on a long road that ended in the death of player creativity (looking at your character sheet for the answers to your problems, rolling Perception checks instead of asking insightful questions about the world, etc.), which I think is interesting and dramatic but ultimately not wholly compelling.
The second point they make is much more interesting and relevant: before the rogue, everyone was a rogue.
In a game that’s ostensibly 50% about fighting dragons and 50% about exploring dungeons, rogues effectively laid claim to pretty much the entire dungeon element of D&D.
Why would the fighter try to disarm a trap or sneak down a darkened hallway to see what was waiting at the other end if there was a thief in the party?
Why would the magic user (old-timey speak for wizard) ever have to prepare the levitate spell when the rogue could just shimmy up and drop a rope?
D&D has been around for so long – and bled into so much of how we think about fantasy adventurers – that it’s kind of hard to imagine a world where “the sneaky one” isn’t a necessary and discrete part of any group of adventures.
However, look at Conan, one of the Ur-Texts for how early D&D designers like Tom Moldvay thought about sword-and-sorcery adventuring.
Conan is, ostensibly, a barbarian, a towering wall of muscles with a great big sword and unresolved daddy issues.
However, in many of the iconic Robert Howard stories (like The Tower of the Elephant) not to mention the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Conan is a thief – as are both of his companions.
They sneak past the enemy guards, climb sheer surfaces, and steal valuable stuff.
It’s arguable, in fact, that the skills that became central to the thief’s toolkit in 1975 took (stole, if you will) those elements of the D&D experience from the other classes.
In a world without thieves, maybe D&D would be less of a game about fighting dragons and more about stealing their loot.
I’m not here to throw out weird alternate history “what ifs” or jump on the “modern D&D is bad” train.
I’m here to say that, if you want the most D&D experience possible, you should be playing a rogue.
In D&D 5e, classes all have their “thing.” Fighters are wicked good at fighting. Rangers are wilderness explorers par excellence, and bards are all about social encounters and supporting their allies.
To get a little broader, each class engages with one of the three pillars of play – combat, exploration, and interaction – described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide better than the others.
Rogues don’t just engage with all three pillars (almost) equally, but they get to be better at those core competencies than other classes that focus on them entirely.
Want to deal more damage than a fighter or a raging barbarian? Play a rogue.
Want access to a suite of utility and problem-solving skills that rivals a wizard’s spellbook? Play a rogue.
Want to dance your way through social encounters and dexterity checks with equal comfort? Rogue.
The rogue is probably the most versatile class in D&D 5e, and they’re a joy to play as a result.
You not only get to do most of the stuff that other classes are famous for just as well as they do, but you also get access to that whole array of quintessentially D&D experiences that have existed almost solely in the thief’s jurisdiction since 1975.
If you’re a new player who wants as much of the D&D experience as possible (all wrapped up in a remarkably simple, robust package) or an old hand who wants to toy around with some of the most interesting, unique subclasses in the game, the rogue’s got something for you.
The Rogue’s Defining Features
Setting aside for a minute some of the more specialized abilities that rogues get as a result of their Roguish Archetype (subclass), there are several core elements of the rogue that their abilities reflect.
Versatility: Expertise and More
From 1st level, rogues get to pick a few skills that they’re better at than just about anyone else.
Their Expertise feature lets rogues double their proficiency bonus either with two skills or with a skill and with their thieves’ tools.
While Expertise makes rogues very, very good at a few things, they also get access to a large list of skill proficiencies, choosing four at character creation.
Combined with the right background and choice of race, rogues can begin the game with proficiency in a full seven different skills. Only bards can come close to that breadth of competence.
Also, when they reach higher levels, Reliable Talent features act as an effective failsafe for those skills.
This is cemented by the rogue’s capstone ability, which lets a 20th-level character treat one failed attack roll or ability check into a success once per short or long rest.
Basically, rogues are consummate skill monkeys, able to turn a broad variety of tool and skill proficiencies toward any situation.
This makes them into the most effective dungeon explorers in the game, able to disarm traps, avoid detection, and generally able to tackle anything social or exploration-based the party encounters.
Agility: Cunning Action, Evasion, and More
The second big pillar of the rogue class is its ability to remain just as survivable as pretty much every other “martial” class, despite only having a d8 Hit Die and only being able to wear light armor.
Admittedly, keeping a rogue alive is a more active process than, say, a fighter or a barbarian.
This class doesn’t have an unassailable AC or huge pools of hit points to burn. Instead, the rogue excels at outmaneuvering its enemies.
The rogue’s Cunning Action lets them disengage, hide, or dash as a bonus action rather than the standard action, letting them zip in and out of cover and combat without giving their enemies a chance to strike.
Also, at higher levels, rogues become insanely effective at negating damage from enemy attacks using their Uncanny Dodge and later on area of effect damage using Evasion, as well as gaining proficiency in Wisdom saving throws (very few classes get an extra saving throw proficiency after 1st level).
They can eventually ensure that no attack made against them can have advantage. Basically, you don’t need hit points when nothing can hit you.
Damage: A Single Killing Blow
While other martial classes increase their damage and maintain their relevance in combat by increasing the number of attacks they can make per round, rogues never progress beyond a single attack.
That single attack, however, scales its damage thanks to Sneak Attack, which is hands down one of the biggest, baddest damage effects in the game, especially if the attack is a critical.
There’s very little more satisfying about dropping a clenched fistful of d6s on the table and watching the BBEG melt into a puddle of goo.
By 20th level, a rogue wielding a shortsword can inflict 22d6 worth of damage (a very nice average of 69 points of damage) in a single devastating blow.
Then, add to this the fact that rogues can apply their damage both in melee and at range (which makes hiding as a bonus action much easier), and it’s easy to start seeing just how devastating this class can really be in battle.
The Rogue’s Limitations
Okay, first up, the fact that you only get one attack per turn (and your Sneak Attack damage only applies when you either have advantage on the attack roll or an ally is within 5 feet of the target) means that rogues can feel devastating but inconsistent.
When you have one attack per turn and that attack can comfortably deal more than 50 damage, missing that attack (or failing to apply your sneak attack damage) can leave you feeling kind of useless.
Also, while higher-level rogues have features like Evasion and Elusive to keep them safe, at lower levels, the fact that you’re expected to be a martial combatant with light armor and a tiny hit point pool can make it feel as though the slightest mistake could be your last.
Lastly, while rogues excel in many areas, from social encounters to dealing damage, there’s a fundamental absence of battlefield control in this class, which means there’s little you can do other than damage enemies to force them out of position or protect your allies.
You also have exactly zero access to healing, and (other than the Magic Initiate feat) the Arcane Trickster subclass is more or less the only way you’ll be able to augment your abilities with magic.
The Rogue’s Role Within the Party
Despite these limitations, the rogue can still wear a lot of hats and can round out a lot of shortcomings in an adventuring party.
Rogues can provide damage (by the bucketful, both in melee and from range), scouting (they’re stealthy and mobile), utility (in the form of their Expertise and numerous skill proficiencies, as well as unique capabilities like thieves’ tools), and a “face” for the party in social situations (again, thanks to their skills but also because they tend to have features that give them an edge when impersonating people and crafting disguises).
In return, the rogue needs a few things from their party – namely, someone to hide behind when the arrows start flying (a classic “tank” like a fighter, barbarian, or paladin, for example) who helps them apply their Sneak Attack damage, someone to stop the enemy from isolating and focusing on them (controllers like artificers, druids, or wizards work well here), and someone (like a cleric) to heal them in case they get hurt.
For a class that can do so much, rogues aren’t as self-sufficient as they appear, and for an archetype that’s so often described as being a “loner,” they play very, very well with others.
How To Roleplay a Rogue
Rogues are probably the most represented class in all of media, from classic burglars like Bilbo Baggins and Selena Kyle to dashing swashbucklers like Mal Reynolds, Captain Jack Sparrow, Zorro, Edmond Dantes (arguably a Dex-built oath of vengeance paladin, but I digress), Han Solo, Inigo Montoya, Robin Hood, and even James Bond.
Whether you want to play a lovable rogue, a daring sneak-thief, or a black-clad assassin, rogues are one of the most prevalent and enduring character archetypes in fiction.
(Remember my original point about everyone in D&D being a rogue before rogues were an official class? This speaks to the heart of it).
Within the D&D multiverse, players looking to build a rogue have a similarly rich wealth of options for fitting themselves into the world.
Every town and city has its share of rogues, often making their livings on the wrong side of the law as assassins, cutpurses, burglars, and con artists.
Some work independently, and others find safety and gainful employment as part of a thieves’ guild, a crime family, or a cult.
Some rogues even make an honest living as locksmiths, investigators, or exterminators. Anywhere mobility, versatility, and skill with a blade are valued, you’ll find rogues plying their trade.
When you create your rogue, think about which side of the law they fall on, and how any past entanglements they’ve had (whether that means a mob boss chasing them down or a the local constabulary) impact them day to day.
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 they are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, and 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.
The Rogue Class Features
Now, let’s look at the class features that define the rogue in more detail. In this section, we’ll present the defining elements of the rogue class, as well as a little of our own thoughts (in italics) on their effectiveness.
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
For a class that’s supposed to get up close and personal with its targets (and can’t wear anything better than light armor) rogues have some pretty abysmal HP.
This gets made up for by features like Uncanny Dodge and Evasion at higher levels, but from 1st to 4th levels especially, you’re going to need to be very careful.
Armor: Light armor
Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords
Tools: Thieves’ tools
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence
While being restricted to light armor (and being unable to use shields) is a huge drawback, the rogue makes up for this with a strong list of other proficiencies.
Rogues get access to hand crossbows and rapiers as well as their iconic thieves’ tools, which are immensely useful, not to mention a choice of four skills from an extensive list.
While Dexterity is a top-tier saving throw, Intelligence is just okay and rarely comes up. Overall, however, this is a great start.
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a rapier or (b) a shortsword
- (a) a shortbow and quiver of 20 arrows or (b) a shortsword
- (a) a burglar’s pack, (b) a dungeoneer’s pack, or (c) an explorer’s pack
- Leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools
Depending on whether you want to focus on two-weapon fighting for an extra attack (and chance to apply Sneak Attack damage) or ranged combat, the rapier + shortbow or dual shortswords are both strong starting points.
Choose your pack based on the environment you expect to be adventuring in at 1st level.
At 1st level, Expertise lets you double two of your skill proficiencies or one of your skill proficiencies and your proficiency with thieves’ tools.
At 6th level, you can choose two more of your proficiencies (in skills or with thieves’ tools) to gain this benefit.
This is huge, and it lets you rack up pretty huge bonuses to your ability checks even at 1st level. Choose wisely, however, as your Expertise is a cornerstone of any rogue build.
Skills that you’ll probably be using all the time, like Perception and Stealth, are probably going to be the best candidates for Expertise.
Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack using a finesse or ranged weapon.
If you have advantage on the attack roll or if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated and you don’t have a disadvantage on the attack roll.
The amount of the extra damage increases as you gain levels in this class, as shown in the Sneak Attack column of the Rogue table.
Sneak Attack is the rogue’s bread and butter in combat. Being able to reliably apply your Sneak Attack damage (either by hiding using your Cunning Action or ensuring you have an ally who’s willing to stand in the front line) is how the rogue keeps up with other classes in terms of feeling useful in battle.
Sneak Attack Damage Table
You add a d6 to your sneak attack damage every two levels.
All rogues learn to speak the secret mixture of jargon, slang, dialect, and code that makes up the language of thieves cant. This language allows you to hide messages in seemingly normal conversation.
Only another creature that knows thieves’ cant understands such messages. It takes four times longer to convey such a message than it does to speak the same idea plainly.
You also learn a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves’ guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run.
I think people underestimate and underutilize thieves cant, treating it as just another language to be ignored.
However, if you ever need to coordinate with another rogue or thief, this can be invaluable – if situational. It’s lovely flavor but not much else.
This is another cornerstone of the rogue’s build. Cunning Action lets you attack from range and then hide to avoid reprisals and ensure you attack with advantage (and Sneak Attack) next turn.
It lets you strike at melee range and pull back behind an ally without incurring an attack of opportunity. It lets you chase down enemies, get into cover, and generally just be where you need to be.
For a class that relies on positioning so heavily to be effective (never mind survive), learning to use your Cunning Action is a pivotal piece of playing a rogue.
At 3rd level, you choose a Roguish Archetype, or subclass, that allows you to specialize into a particular style of rogue. Your choice of archetype grants you features at 3rd level and then again at 9th, 13th, and 17th level.
From wilderness exploration and burglary to psionic powers, your subclass plays a huge role in your build. We get into subclasses in more detail below.
Ability Score Improvement
Rogues can increase either one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1 at 4th level and again at 8th, 10th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.
You can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.
Alternately, you can forgo an ability score increase and take a Feat instead.
Rogues get ability score increases pretty frequently, and if you roll some great stats or choose a roguish archetype that only requires you to have a good bonus in one or two stats, this means you can round out your character with a whole lot of useful feats.
Starting at 5th level, when an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against you.
The next big boost to the rogue’s survivability. Uncanny Dodge, when deployed carefully in the right moment, can effectively double your rogue’s hit points by halving a huge amount of incoming damage.
Beginning at 7th level, when you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity-saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw and only half damage if you fail.
Dexterity-saving throws are the most commonly associated with big, nasty AoE damage effects, from dragon breath to a ton of evocation spells. Being able to guarantee at least half damage is another massive boost to your survivability.
By 11th level, you have refined your chosen skills until they approach perfection. Whenever you make an ability check that lets you add your proficiency bonus, you can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10.
Note that you don’t treat the final result of the roll as a 10, but rather the d20.
That means (if you have a +4 ability modifier, a +4 proficiency bonus at 11th level, and expertise in the requisite skill) you can never roll lower than a 26 on four of your skills unless you critically fail.
Having a 19/20 chance to blast through pretty much all skill checks is amazing.
Starting at 14th level, if you are able to hear, you are aware of the location of any hidden or invisible creature within 10 feet of you.
This can be situationally useful, but it really is the first rogue feature that isn’t amazing.
By 15th level, you have acquired greater mental strength. You gain proficiency in Wisdom-saving throws.
Wisdom saves are commonly called for to resist enchantment and other mind-controlling effects, which can be really nasty at higher levels.
Beginning at 18th level, you are so evasive that attackers rarely gain the upper hand against you. No attack roll has advantage against you while you aren’t incapacitated.
Simple, effective – another great way to stop enemies from critting against you or otherwise dealing a nasty blow.
Stroke of Luck
At 20th level, you have an uncanny knack for succeeding when you need to. If your attack misses a target within range, you can turn the miss into a hit.
Alternatively, if you fail an ability check, you can treat the d20 roll as a 20. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
A hugely powerful and cinematic capstone ability that really doubles, then triples down on the rogue’s supernatural competence and grace.
Even if this ability reset on a long rest, it would be an amazing get-out-of-jail-free card. On a short rest, it’s stupidly good – even if it doesn’t work on saving throws.
At 3rd level, you can use your bonus action to give yourself advantage on your next attack roll on the current turn.
You can only do this if you haven’t moved during the current turn, and after you use the bonus action, your speed is 0 until the end of the turn.
This optional ability does a lot to solve the rogue’s reliance on their allies to generate Sneak Attack damage, allowing them to focus on solo-ing more powerful enemies in melee or at range.
Creating a Rogue, Step-by-Step
In this section, we’re going to break down some of the decisions you’ll need to make when building a new rogue from the ground up.
For a list of Roguish Archetypes and quick-start builds that work off of the advice in this section, see below.
Regardless of how you generate your ability scores, rogues are going to prioritize Dexterity above all else. Dexterity is everything to a rogue.
It powers their finesse and ranged weapon attacks (which are directly linked to their Sneak Attack damage), their Armor Class (all rogues have to wear Light Armor – if you wear Light Armor, you add your Dexterity modifier to the base number from your armor type to determine your AC), skill with Thieves’ Tools, and most of the other skills that rogues rely on, like Stealth, Sleight of Hand, and Acrobatics.
After Dexterity, you’re going to want to start thinking about the demands of your subclass.
Different Roguish Archetypes demand a good score in different abilities – the Arcane Trickster needs a higher Intelligence to power their spellcasting, and the Swashbuckler benefits massively from a good Charisma score.
There are arguments for just about every other ability score (especially Constitution, as hit points are always going to be in short supply, no matter your choice of subclass) except Strength, which is universally going to be your dump stat.
In general, rogues are going to want to arrange their ability scores like so…
Tier II: Constitution
Tier III: Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma
Dump Tier: Strength
Strength: Rogues rely on finesse and ranged weapons and prefer acrobatics over athletics. Honestly, this entire ability score is the antithesis of the rogue class.
Dexterity: The single most important ability for rogues that powers everything from their weapon attacks to essential skills like Stealth and Sleight of Hand, as well as your initiative bonus.
Get this as high as possible (preferably at least 18 at 1st level using racial bonuses and rolled stats) because a dextrous rogue is an effective one (aka – A rogue that lives long enough to improve their other scores).
Constitution: Constitution is tied to your hit points, and, as a d8 HD class with light armor, hit points are never a bad thing. Other than the Arcane Trickster, Roguish Archetypes won’t have much need for concentration saves, though.
Intelligence: Useful for skills like Investigation as well as if you want to turn your expertise toward more research-aligned abilities like History or Arcana. A great second stat for the more cerebral subclasses like the Arcane Trickster and Inquisitive.
Wisdom: Worth putting points into purely because Wisdom drives your Perception skill, and Perception is how you take in new information, spot enemies before they spot you, and generally learn more about the world.
Charisma: Rogues make excellent faces, so a decent Charisma score is never going to go amiss, especially if you want to play a class that leverages it for their combat mechanics like the Swashbuckler or just want to deceive people like the Assassin or the Mastermind.
When it comes to picking a race for your rogue, you’re going to want to keep a few questions in mind.
Does this race give us the ability score increases that we need? Do we gain access to interesting or useful abilities? Is it freaking cool?
Custom Lineages and 5.5e
It’s worth noting that, if you like the aesthetics and roleplaying elements of a particular race but their abilities don’t fit a rogue, you can recreate them using the custom lineage options available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Also, the way that D&D 5e handles races and innate bonuses (or penalties) is set to change pretty dramatically over the next few years with the coming “Next Evolution of D&D” looking like it might do away with inherent ability-score bonuses altogether, meaning you can play whichever race you want in whatever class and still have it be “optimal.”
All elf subraces (Drow, Eladrin, High Elf, Sea Elf, Shadar-Kai, and Wood Elf) kick off with an excellent +2 Dexterity bonus as well as extra proficiency in Perception and some other useful features like resistance to charm effects.
Then, whatever Roguish Archetype you want to play, there’s probably going to be an elven subrace that fits it perfectly, from the High Elf Arcane Trickster to the Wood Elf Scout.
In addition to a juicy +2 Dexterity bonus, halflings are a great thematic fit for a rogue (Bilbo might be the most famous thief of all time, and he was definitely a lightfoot halfling) with their Lucky trait that lets them reroll 1s and some useful subrace features.
The lower movement speed can be a bit of a drawback for such a mobility-focused class, however.
If you’re looking to make an Arcane Trickster specifically, the gnome race is a perfect fit with a good intelligence bonus and advantage against magical Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves.
If you want to play up the catlike grace, charisma, and mobility of the rogue, a tabaxi character can be a great place to start. Tabaxi get Stealth and Perception proficiency along with a +2 Dexterity bonus and a +1 bonus to their Charisma.
They can also use their feline agility for a sudden burst of speed, which pairs perfectly with the rogue’s Cunning Action. The only element of the tabaxi that feels wasted is their claw attack, which is dependent on their Strength skill.
The pinnacle of versatility, Variant humans can do just about anything and are the only basic rules race that gets a feat at 1st level, which can be a huge boost to the effectiveness of your build.
You can read more about good feats for rogues below.
In addition to their feat, Variant Humans get to add +1 to two ability scores of their choice, which can be perfect for rounding up odd-numbered scores to get that all-important +1 modifier.
Languages, Skills, and Expertise
Any race you choose is going to be able to speak Common, and beyond that you should choose languages that fit with your background and the campaign you’re playing in.
Skills are basically a core element of the rogue class, and you’re going to want to coordinate between your options carefully so as to accumulate as many as possible.
While top-tier skills like Perception and Stealth are important to prioritize, depending on your choice of race and background, you may end up getting proficiency in those skills anyway, freeing you up to take additional physical specializations like Acrobatics and Sleight of Hand or social ones like Deception, Insight, and Persuasion.
It’s usually good to have at least one and no more than two “social” skills. Any more and you run the risk of redundancy. Otherwise, pick skills that align with your subclass’ key ability scores.
Arcane Tricksters benefit from the Investigation skill since Intelligence is a key stat, whereas a Swashbuckler will be better suited to using their higher Charisma score to power skills like Persuasion and Deception.
When it comes to choosing which two skills to assign your Expertise (as well as the two more you get at 6th level), it’s probably best to focus on options that you’ll use most frequently.
Perception and Stealth are probably the rogue’s most-used skills in and out of combat, although depending on your character concept and the campaign you’re playing in, Deception and Acrobatics can also be strong choices.
Remember, you can also assign Expertise to skills you get as a result of your background or race, so don’t feel limited to explicitly “roguish” abilities.
Also, depending on whether you want to be a thief in the traditional sense, Expertise in thieves’ tools is definitely worth considering.
Choosing skills can depend on your party composition (there’s no sense picking up Arcana if you already have a Wizard and a Knowledge Bard in your group, for example), but the roguish ones are never a bad bet.
Primary: Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Deception, Perception
Tier II: Acrobatics, Investigation, Persuasion,
Tier III: Arcana, History, Religion, Intimidation, Performance, Survival
Absolute Dump Tier: Athletics, Nature, Medicine, Animal Handling
Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history and serve as your primary source of extra skills, tool proficiencies, and languages.
Each background also has its own special feature – something which I maintain is a highly 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 world in which they live, as well as help the DM flesh out that world and draw players deeper into its lore.
As a rogue, backgrounds are a great source of additional proficiencies, both in skills and tools like the disguise kit, poisoner’s kit, and forgery kit.
The Acolyte can be a great source of flavor if you’re looking to play an initiate raised in service to some dark cult or guild of mystics.
You get Insight and Religion proficiency – neither are perfectly optimal, but Religion is one of the few skills the Rogue doesn’t get access to right out of the gate.
Also, you gain access to shelter and healing from those who share your faith.
The Criminal/Spy background also fits perfectly with an Assassin. You gain some useful equipment, proficiency in Deception and Stealth, and access to a network of underworld contacts.
Or, if you prefer to go all-in on the very Game of Thrones intrigue-focused playstyle, the Courtier gives you proficiency in Insight and Persuasion, as well as some extra languages and the ability to have your finger on the pulse of whatever noble intrigues are affecting the local area.
Choose this if your campaign is likely to get political or you want to fully step into the role of the party’s face.
If you are – as is 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) in service to – or running from – some higher authority.
Feats are the subject of a fair amount of debate in D&D 5e.
Some people argue that they’re an underpowered and unnecessary overcomplication of an already complicated game, some people claim they’re overpowered, and some people say that if a +2 bonus to Constitution was good enough for their father and his father before him, it’s good enough for them and the kids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it, and so on.
While a lot of DMs tend to ignore Feats (they’re a somewhat maligned element of 5e), if you’d rather get something a little more flavorful than an ability score bump, they’re a great way to add new abilities, spells, buffs, and utility to the already highly versatile rogue.
If you’re happy with your primary ability scores – which, depending on your chosen subclass, can be Dexterity and maybe one other – rogues get a lot of opportunities to take an Ability Score Increase, meaning you can collect a whole heap of feats by the time you reach 20th level.
There are simply tons of feats available to you, and we’re not going to break down all of them here, but rather offer up a few options that work well with the rogue specifically.
Alert: Gaining a +5 bonus to your initiative rolls is a great way to ensure you get the chance to dish out massive amounts of damage to your enemies before they can do the same to you.
You also cannot be surprised while conscious, and other creatures don’t get advantage on attacks made against you as a result of being unseen.
Sharpshooter: A fantastic choice if you want to be a ranged rogue.
By using the Steady Aim variant rule to give yourself advantage, you can synergize your attacks perfectly with the Sharpshooter’s ability to take a -5 penalty to hit in exchange for 10 extra damage.
You can also hit enemies from range with ease and ignore half and three-quarters cover.
Piercer: Perfect for a rogue using a rapier or a ranged weapon, especially as you don’t get the multiple attacks per round that other martial classes enjoy.
This feat lets you reroll damage from a piercing attack once per round and use the new result. You also get a nice little +1 bonus to your Strength or Dexterity.
Poisoner: This Feat lets you craft poisons in an hour, as opposed to over an extended period of downtime required otherwise and is a great way to flesh out your rogue’s toolkit.
You can spend an hour and 50gp worth of materials to create a number of doses of poison equal to your proficiency bonus.
You can then coat your weapons with this poison, which remains effective for an hour and forces any enemy to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or take 2d8 damage and be briefly poisoned.
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, especially if you want to augment your use of a disguise kit.
Magic Initiate: Easily one of the best feats in the game and a great way to add a little arcane sizzle to any rogue, whether you’re playing an Arcane Trickster or not.
By picking up the Magic Initiate Feat, you can massively increase the versatility of an already hyper-versatile class. Spells like disguise self or sleep can be excellent weapons in a rogue’s arsenal.
And a cantrip with virtually limitless applications like Thaumaturgy can be a great way to augment your trickery.
Mobile: A great way to compensate for a lack of mobility if you’re playing a race with no relevant bonuses (or a penalty like the halfling) and want to make sure you can still outmaneuver your foes.
You can read our full list of rogue feats here.
At 3rd level, rogues select their subclass (Roguish Archetype), which focuses their abilities toward a specific area of expertise.
These specializations range from turning the rogue into a powerful utility spellcaster to an explorer capable of going toe-to-toe with rangers in the wilderness.
We’ll go into each rogue subclass in detail in their own articles and give you a breakdown of each subclass’ defining abilities here, but here’s a quick overview to help you get a feel for each of them.
Source: Player’s Handbook
Arcane Tricksters blend arcane spellcasting (from the wizard’s spell list) with the classic rogue’s toolkit for one of the most versatile subclasses in the game.
This subclass takes the rogue, which has the right tool for most situations, and gives them a whole additional way to solve problems in the form of a diverse spell list with a focus on illusion and enchantment magic.
If it’s the rogue’s versatility (roleplaying as a Leatherman Multitool) that you enjoy, the Arcane Trickster cranks that dial way, way up.
You’re never going to be a full caster like a wizard or a sorcerer, but the extra dash of magical utility that Arcane Tricksters enjoy complements your roguish core perfectly, whether you’re using minor illusion to distract a guard or your souped-up version of the mage hand cantrip to steal his keys.
The only drawback to a subclass like this that basically grafts a few levels of a different class into a base is that you sometimes run the risk of feeling like you’re spread a little thin.
Arcane Tricksters don’t have the same damage output as other rogue subclasses as you’ll spend more time casting spells that control and confuse your enemies than doing what rogues were actually built to do and stabbing them repeatedly in the face.
It’s also important to make peace with the fact that magic is the spice of your build, not the meat. Your spell roster is going to be small, and your pool of spell slots is going to be smaller.
Nevertheless, newer players may find themselves suffering from a little analysis paralysis with this subclass as both the rogue and the wizard spell list give you plenty of options to work with.
Source: Player’s Handbook
Probably the simplest Roguish Archetype, the Assassin is all about infiltration and dealing massive amounts of damage.
This subclass is great at finding ways to give itself advantage on attack rolls and even get automatic critical hits, which turn its Sneak Attack damage from powerful to BBEG-annihilating-ly deadly.
You also get proficiency with the poisoner’s kit, which adds a nice bit of flavor and versatility to the subclass. However, this is basically where the versatility ends.
The Assassin is simple, elegant, and good at what it does best to the exclusion of everything else. For someone who wants to lean into the potential of a rogue as a highly mobile damage-dealer, this is a great subclass.
If you came to this class for its versatility, there are better options out there.
Also, the Assassin’s combat effectiveness can feel even less reliable than other rogues that depend on sneak attack as the subclass’s key 3rd-level feature, Assassinate, is fundamentally tied to acting before other creatures in the initiative order, which means a bad initiative roll can set you up for a thoroughly underwhelming fight.
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
The Inquisitive is a conceptually excellent subclass that struggles with delivering on what it promises.
In theory, this Roguish Archetype lets you live your best RDJ Sherlock Holmes fantasy – the analytical genius who never misses a clue or a chance to put their knife through someone’s spleen.
In practice, however, this class really struggles to deliver.
Most of its abilities seem geared toward analyzing enemies in combat but don’t wind up feeling particularly impactful or let you feel like a genius detective outside of combat.
Also, the Inquisitive’s two main in-combat abilities, Insightful Fighting and Eye for Weakness, are both underwhelming compared to the stuff other rogue subclasses get at the same levels.
Still, combined with your Expertise, there’s no subclass in the game that winds up being this good at Insight and Perception rolls.
There’s a fantastic idea at the heart of this class, but you may need to do some homebrewing to make it work. Or you could just play a different rogue and get the Observant feat.
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Conniving manipulators and influence peddlers, Mastermind rogues excel at scheming, intrigue, and using words just as effectively as a blade.
Masterminds get a great big heap of useful tool proficiency, including the forgers kit and the disguise kit along with benefits that are comparable to the Actor feat – throwing their voice and imitating others.
The meat of this subclass actually turns the rogue into more of a social-support class, able to manipulate enemies outside of combat and aid allies (you can take the Help action as a bonus action with your Master of Tactics feature) in it.
If you’re playing in a highly social, roleplay-heavy campaign all about secrets, lies, and pointed stories about your childhoods, there is probably no better subclass in D&D 5e.
If you’re playing a classic hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, this subclass is going to feel pretty underwhelming as virtually all of its features are geared toward non-combat situations.
Still, I have a real soft spot for this Roguish Archetype, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for the conniving spymaster archetype or just about any urban setting campaign.
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Phantoms are rogues that have developed (willingly or otherwise) a mystical connection with death itself.
They get a necromancy-themed skill monkey ability that basically allows passing ghosts to teach them the skills they had in life, which is highly versatile and thematically amazing.
You also get to apply extra necrotic damage tied to your Sneak Attack, which scales nicely as you level up and helps compensate for your lack of extra attacks.
Later, you gain the ability to trap fragments of people’s souls in little chachkis and then burn those trinkets to fuel your abilities, not to mention temporarily become a ghost.
Honestly, this is such a fresh, exciting take on necromancy that I’d recommend playing this subclass just for the novelty factor.
Generating class abilities by speaking with the dead is a welcome break from all other forms of necromancy, which are firmly tied to the cleric and wizard spell lists.
This subclass does take a fair few levels to become interesting, however, and you may struggle to feel particularly impactful before 9th level compared to other classes (and even roguish archetypes).
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Basically, this subclass takes the rogue out of their assumed urban or dungeon setting and answers the question: What if taking spells away from the ranger actually made the class better at … uh, ranging?
The Scout is an exploration- and mobility-focused rogue subclass that comfortably outclasses the ranger when it comes to Nature and Survival checks (in which you get extra, free Expertise) as well as excelling as an ambush attacker.
Scouts can use their reactions to move up to half their movement speed again, which, combined with Cunning Action’s ability to hide, disengage, or dash, means you’re more or less guaranteed to be exactly where you need to be at any given time, and you certainly won’t have to stay in melee range if you don’t want to.
Also, at 17th level, the Scout becomes the only rogue that’s capable of applying its Sneak Attack bonus twice in a single round of combat, making this into one of the most powerful late-game damage subclasses in the game.
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
The combination of a rogue’s deadly grace and psionic powers makes the Soulknife rogue a highly effective and remarkably reliable class to play – using psionics to dish out more damage and conjure blades of pure psychic energy.
Soulknife rogues get a pool of psionic power dice that let them do crazy stuff like teleport, communicate telepathically, and boost their skill checks even more (because that’s something rogues totally need help with).
Unlike a lot of subclasses that use meta-currencies to boost their abilities and those of their allies (like the Battle Master fighter’s Superiority Dice or Bardic Inspiration), a Soulknife will very rarely waste a psionic power die they choose to spend, which makes this subclass feel surprisingly risk-free to play.
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
The Swashbuckler takes the sneaky, fragile rogue and turns it into a flamboyant, damage-focused, solo melee monster.
This subclass is all about swinging from chandeliers, dancing around larger and more powerful enemies shouting engarde!, and presumably having a very well-groomed mustache.
Swashbucklers get to add their Charisma bonus to their initiative rolls and apply their Sneak Attack damage when they fight enemies one-on-one, mano-a-mano.
You later become so adept at charming, witty repartee, even in the heat of battle, that you can impose disadvantage on your opponents.
Source: Player’s Handbook
Inspired by the original version of the rogue class (also called the thief) from the first edition of D&D, this subclass is all about (usually vertical) mobility, picking locks, disarming traps, and other non-combat proficiencies.
Basically, the thief is to dungeon and urban settings as the Scout is to the wilderness: an unparalleled explorer.
Thieves can use their thieves’ tools as a bonus action, use magical items that weren’t intended for them, and even take a full two turns on the first turn of combat as their capstone.
Honestly, I have a soft spot for this subclass because I’m a sucker for old-school D&D and the thief is as faithful a recreation of the original incarnation of the rogue as I think could exist in 5e.
However, when it comes to feeling effective in the highly balanced, elaborate combats of modern D&D, the Thief feels a little bit like it’s lacking cohesion and some of its abilities (like Second Storey Work, which modern D&D ends up making quite situational) and Supreme Sneak (which you could more or less replicate with a Cloak of Elvenkind) are a bit lackluster.
If you want to take D&D 5e’s equivalent of a classic car out for a test drive, however, the Thief manages to bring a bit of that old-school flavor into the context of the modern game.
Multiclassing can be an effective way of adding even more versatility to a character, accentuating its strengths, or compensating for its weaknesses.
It’s also another useful tool if taking a particular class from 1st to 20th level doesn’t line up with a character concept you have in mind.
You can check out our guide to some of the best multiclass combos in the game, but we’ve also rounded up a few of our favorite options for rogues below that keep three key points in mind:
Ability Score Synergy
Rogues tend toward having high Dexterity and a secondary (or tertiary if you also focus on Constitution) ability score tied to their subclass.
Multiclass options that can also make use of Dexterity are going to be worth considering.
That said, some Roguish Archetypes are pretty close to being Single-Ability-Dependent (SAD), so multiclasses that require points in a different stat (multiclassing requires you to have at least a 13 in your secondary class’ main ability score) are still feasible.
Complement and Compensate
The golden rule of multiclassing: pick something that makes your base class better at what they already do (or at least doesn’t make them worse at it) or (preferably and) helps make up for any glaring issues they might have.
For rogues, this means improving combat abilities with finesse and ranged weapons, or further expanding their impressive roster of skills, and (on the compensation side) introducing some survivability, healing, and battlefield control if possible.
Don’t Stack Key Abilities
Rogues can only apply Sneak Attack once per turn, so choosing a multiclass option that grants an extra attack is kind of a waste – as are classes that require you to constantly use your bonus action, which is pretty much always going to be taken up by your Cunning Action.
All that being said, let’s take a look at four perfectly viable options for a rogue multiclass.
Keep in mind that these options assume that you’re going to be taking most of your levels in rogue.
There are few classes that can’t benefit from 1-3 levels of rogue (with Sneak Attack, Cunning Action, Expertise, and a Roguish Archetype, it’s easily one of the best subclasses in the game for a multiclass dip), but those are X/Rogue Multiclass builds and we’re doing Rogue/X here.
Also, when picking whether or not to multiclass your rogue, consider the fact that Sneak Attack is one of the primary reasons to take Rogue as your main class.
Because the highest level of Sneak Attack is gained at Level 19 (and gives you a juicy 10d6 extra damage), taking more than one level in another class means sacrificing some of that damage.
Assassin Rogue/ Grave Domain Cleric
Quite possibly the biggest damage output of any character build in the game as the cleric’s Channel Divinity option Path of the Grave lets you inflict double damage on a target for a whole round.
Combine that with the Assassin’s already fearsome Sneak Attack and Assassinate Damage (and again later with Death Strike), and this build can feasibly dish out more than 200 damage on the first round of combat.
You also gain access to some useful spells to round out your utility even further – not to mention shadowy death clerics are a perfect thematic fit for the Assassin (or the Phantom if you want to put concept above optimization).
Mastermind Rogue/Battle Master Fighter
For the ultimate battlefield tactician, the Battle Master’s Maneuvers combine perfectly with the Mastermind’s Master of Tactics feature, letting you buff your allies and control the battlefield.
The rogue can also benefit from early fighter abilities like Second Wind (more survivability) and Action Surge (great on any character), although there’s little sense in taking more than three levels outside of rogue for this blend.
Thief Rogue/Circle of the Moon Druid
Play the ultimate “cat” burglar with this shapeshifting master of stealth.
You probably won’t need to put more than a couple of levels into your druid as you’re going to be using Wild Shape primarily as another tool for evading detection rather than as a tool in combat (since Sneak Attack requires a weapon).
Swashbuckler/Oath of Vengeance Paladin
Dexterity-based Paladin builds are hugely underrated, and the fact that the Swashbuckler rogue already wants to invest in Charisma as well makes this combo synergize really well.
Being able to apply Sneak Attack damage and Divine Smite to the same attack is downright dirty, the fact the Oath of Vengeance also gives you access to spells like Bane and Hunter’s Mark is awesome, and your Vow of Enmity is another great way to get even more damage on a single target.
Rogue Quick-Start Guides
Now that we’ve broken down the rogue’s defining features, abilities, and subclasses, we’re going to give you some quick-start builds that you can use to get different flavors of rogue up and running in no time – inspired by some of our favorite rogues from TV, film, and video games.
An Errol Flyn-inspired outlaw that focuses on ranged combat and feats of daring.
- Class/Subclass: Rogue Scout
- Race: Wood Elf
- Background: Noble
- Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Investigation, Stealth; Perception; History, Persuasion
- Expertise: Perception, Stealth (1st); Acrobatics, Deception(6th)
- Feats: Alert, Sharpshooter, Piercer
- Starting Equipment: Rapier, Shortbow (20 arrows), Explorer’s Pack, Leather Armor, 2 x daggers, Thieves’ Tools
The master of whispers, always one step ahead and ready to stab you in the back.
- Class/Subclass: Rogue Mastermind
- Race: Forest Gnome
- Background: Courtier
- Skills: Deception, Investigation, Perception, Stealth; Insight, Persuasion
- Expertise: Deception, Perception (1st); Insight, Persuasion (6th)
- Feats: Observant
- Starting Equipment: 2 x Shortsword, Burglar’s Pack, Leather Armor, 2 x Daggers, Thieves’ Tools
Captain Jack Sparrow
Everyone’s favorite anarchic, chaotic, conniving bastard pirate man.
- Class/Subclass: Rogue Swashbuckler
- Race: Variant Human (Dual Wielder Feat)
- Background: Criminal
- Skills: Acrobatics, Insight, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand; History; Deception, Stealth
- Expertise: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand (1st); Persuasion, Deception (6th)
- Feats: Dual Wielder, Lucky, Inspiring Leader, Defensive Duellist
- Starting Equipment: Rapier, Shortsword, Explorer’s Pack, Leather Armor, 2 x Daggers, Thieves’ Tools
The world’s greatest detective with a penchant for punching and rats with wings.
- Class/Subclass: Inquisitive 17/Swarmkeeper Ranger 3 (Reflavor your swarm as bats, obviously)
- Race: Wood Elf
- Background: Inheritor
- Skills: Acrobatics, Intimidation, Investigation, Stealth; Perception; Survival, History
- Expertise: Stealth, Investigation (1st) Thieves’ Tools, Perception (6th)
- Feats: Tough, Observant
- Starting Equipment: 2 x Shortsword, Burglar’s Pack, Leather Armor, 2 x Daggers, Thieves’ Tools
You killed my favorite NPC; prepare to die!
- Class/Subclass: Swashbuckler Rogue 17/ Oath of Vengeance Paladin 3
- Race: Half Elf
- Background: Haunted One
- Skills: Acrobatics, Perception, Persuasion, Stealth; Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Survival
- Expertise: (1st) Acrobatics, Persuasion (6th) Insight Intimidation
- Feats: Piercer, Tough, Martial Adept
- Starting Equipment: Rapier, Shortbow (20 arrows), Explorer’s Pack, Leather Armor, 2 x daggers, Thieves’ Tools
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.