What Makes the Rogue Class
Every class in D&D has a diverse range of subclasses offering up exciting new abilities and letting you play the character you want to play. Hopefully, those subclasses improve upon foundation set by the base class, but that’s not always the case.
In this article, we’ll be ranking the subclasses of rogue available in 5e. Before we get into that though, let’s talk about some of the criteria we’re basing our judgements on.
A rogue is a stealthy character, their main ability being the Sneak Attack feature. On top of their stealth, rogues tend to be exceptionally skilled, easily picking up the knowledge needed to perform different abilities.
Mechanically, this shows itself in features like Expertise, where a rogue can add double their proficiency bonus to a skill check.
In a subclass, we want features that give us more of what we already have, or something new that synergizes well. Abilities that let us sneak attack more often, or in other ways benefit our sneak attack are excellent.
Abilities that give us an exciting skill set are smiled upon. Of course, abilities that make us more stealthy are also welcomed with open arms.
We don’t want any abilities that are restrictive to us. If there were a feature that gave us disadvantage all the time, that would be pretty bad for our sneak attack.
That would be an obvious red flag, but there are often more hidden restrictive abilities that nerf our rogue rather than making the best rogue possible.
- Arcane Trickster – S Tier
- Assassin – B Tier
- Inquisitive – D Tier
- Mastermind – B Tier
- Phantom – B Tier
- Scout – A Tier
- Soulknife – S Tier
- Swashbuckler – S Tier
- Thief – B Tier
Black Citadel’s Guide to Ranking Subclasses
Color and tier rankings are extremely helpful when comparing different abilities and even subclasses as a whole. We use the following system not just to rank the subclasses, but to rank their features individually.
Each of the tiers judge how well a feature or subclass changes the base class. We consider how well they use the features and theme of the base class to create something new. To be more precise, these tiers show how much synergy a subclass has with the class it is a part of.
- Orange – D Tier. Orange options are bad. These options are unbalanced in the wrong way, and make for a class that is almost difficult to play. Features or subclasses with this ranking take away from the experience of playing the base class.
- 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. Subclasses in this tier are “challenge builds” that experienced players might use to show their grasp of the rules, but new players are discouraged from playing.
- Green – B Tier. A great subclass that provides a lot of fun options, but can be clunky at times. In certain situations, subclasses in this tier can easily perform on the level of A’s or even S’s, but only in those certain situations. This tier defines the expectations for how the class should play. Generally, subclasses in this tier are excellent for beginners.
- Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. This isn’t the “second best” tier, this is the tier where the subclasses and features that do everything right end up.
- Purple – S Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. If an A is getting 100%, this tier gets 110% at the very least. Everything about these subclasses and features go far above and beyond the expectations to create something that is both incredibly fun and incredibly powerful.
Rogue Subclasses Ranked
3rd Level: Spellcasting – This subclass gets a limited spellcasting ability based on the wizard’s spellcasting list. Only a ⅔ caster, you’ll gain access to cantrips through 4th level spells, with the spells being mostly limited to illusion or enchantment.
3rd Level: Mage Hand Legerdemain – One of your cantrips will always be Mage Hand, and that’s because this feature allows you to make an invisible mage hand that lets you do a lot more than the spell normally could.
9th Level: Magical Ambush – This is like a spell sneak attack, giving creatures disadvantage on your spell saving throws if you are hidden from them when you cast the spell.
13th Level: Versatile Trickster – Now you can actually use your mage hand to distract opponents, creating advantage on your attack rolls. I always picture the very cartoonish tap on the shoulder for this one.
17th Level: Spell Thief – The capstone ability here gives you a once a day counterspell that actually lets you ‘steal’ a foe’s spell. If they fail on their saving throw they can’t cast the spell for the next 8 hours, but you can! It does have to be a spell that you have slots for, so choose wisely.
This is one of the most loved subclasses in all of D&D. People love rogues and people love casters in general, so seeing this wonderful marriage of the two archetypes is a real treat.
The fact that you’re getting mainly illusion and enchantment magic makes for a very sneaky spell rogue if that wasn’t evident by the other abilities.
Getting the buffed-up mage hand puts you on par with the telekinesis feat, although you can take that as well to boost yourself up even higher.
This is an amazing class, although it does provide an interesting question. Does a rogue need to cast spells? If you’re someone who wants to focus on one thing at a time, this really won’t be the best option, since it spreads you pretty thin.
There are other subclasses that can do all the amazing things the Arcane trickster does without worrying about spell slots.
My overall ranking is an S-. It certainly has everything we’re looking for, but players who don’t like multiclassing, or who just want to play a normal rogue without spells will have a very hard time keeping track of everything.
3rd Level: Bonus Proficiencies – Proficiency in the disguise kit and poisoner’s kit.
3rd Level: Assassinate – Advantage on any creatures that haven’t taken in a turn in combat yet, and your hits on surprised foes automatically become critical hits.
9th Level: Infiltration Expertise – You can make a fully functioning disguise complete with a history, profession, and basically whatever else the situation calls for.
13th Level: Impostor – Now you can impersonate others after spending just 3 hours studying their behaviorisms. Savvy observers might be able to question you, but you do have advantage on deception checks.
17th Level: Death Strike – When you hit a surprised creature they must make a Constitution saving throw. If they fail they take double damage. Remember that this is on top of the Assassinate ability’s automatic surprise crits.
Here we have the spy class. This class isn’t just good with disguises, they’re the best out there. Half of their abilities let you become the best infiltrator out there, which is great if you’re doing some infiltration missions, but pretty useless otherwise. If we’re looking for a broad application, this class doesn’t get us there.
Of course, its damaging abilities are pretty good. Automatic crits are a huge blessing, so surprising creatures will be a big focus for you. Surprise is very hard to get though, so don’t count on this succeeding.
As for the advantage on creatures that haven’t taken their turn yet, well that’s not so impressive. Really, you’ll be getting in one (or maybe two if your DM does surprise rounds in combat) use of these each time you go into combat.
This is a very specific archetype, good at what it does if your campaign is going to be centered around subterfuge. However, if you want a character that can do all of this, just make a changeling rogue in any other subclass. Create your identities and infiltrate all you want, and benefit from abilities that actually trigger often.
3rd Level: Ear for Deceit – Insight checks to determine if a creature was lying automatically yield an 8 if you roll a 7 or lower.
3rd Level: Eye for Detail – You can make Perception and Investigation checks as bonus actions?
3rd Level: Insightful Fighting – You can make an insight check against a target’s deception check to be able to discern weaknesses. When you succeed, you make sneak attacks against that target unless you have disadvantage.
9th Level: Steady Eye – You gain advantage on Perception and Investigation checks if you move no more than half your movement in a turn.
13th Level: Unerring Eye – As an action, you can sense if you’re being deceived.
17th Level: Eye for Weakness – The target of your Insightful Fighting now takes an extra 3d6 damage from your sneak attacks.
This is a bad class, and I really struggled to decide whether this should get a C or D tier ranking. On the surface, this is a really cool detective rogue, with a very Holmes-esque feeling to it.
However, most of the abilities fail to do anything meaningful. All of the abilities related to making checks have something to do with combat, which isn’t typically where these checks are happening.
In fact, some DMs (myself included) won’t allow for search actions in combat except for under very specific circumstances.
Then, Unerring Eye is a very weird ability that just feels like the most watered-down version of truesight that you could get.
The only saving grace, and the source of my uncertainty, is the Insightful Fighting and its 17th level upgrade. It’s such a reliable way to get sneak attacks, especially if you have expertise on Insight, that it almost makes the subclass worth choosing.
In the end, I’m going to give this a D-tier ranking, because anyone that just strolled across this subclass and thought it looked cool would be in for a rude awakening.
In very rare situations this could become a good option, but that situation is really only a DM catering to the weird wordings of these abilities.
3rd Level: Master of Intrigue – You gain a slew of tool proficiencies and two language proficiencies. You also can imitate speech patterns and accents, passing yourself off as a native speaker of a language that you can speak.
3rd Level: Master of Tactics – You can take the help action as a bonus action. If you’re helping an ally attack, the target of their attack can be up to 30 feet away instead of 5 feet.
9th Level: Insightful Manipulator – You can learn how a target’s Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma scores, or their class levels, relate to yours (higher, lower, or the same).
13th Level: Misdirection – You can have a target that is providing cover to you to take an attack meant for you.
17th Level: Soul of Deceit – Your thoughts can’t be read by telepathy unless you allow it, or you can create fake thoughts. Also, if something tries to tell if you’re lying, it will always believe you are telling the truth.
This class has a few exciting abilities. The help action provides advantage to attacks or ability checks, so using this often as your bonus action will have a lot of great d20 rolls around the table.
Most of the other abilities are good when you can put them to good use, which isn’t too difficult. The only tough one is Insightful Manipulator, which can be pretty helpful if one of your allies really needs to force a saving throw, but otherwise it kind of falls into obscurity.
The weird ability here is misdirection, which brings up a seldom referred to 5e mechanic, cover via creatures. We’ve all hid behind rocks and trees, but how many of us remember that you can hide behind a creature.
Most of the time, that creature is going to provide half-cover, giving you a +2 to AC. With misdirection, you can have them take the attack, no saving throw provided or anything, which is huge. Just react and boom, done.
As it says, this subclass is a master of tactics, which requires some effort on our part as well. This subclass fits nicely in the B tier, with all the potential to jump into a higher rung if someone really commits to the tactician role.
3rd Level: Whispers of the Dead – You get to choose a rotating tool or skill proficiency at the end of a short or long rest.
3rd Level: Wails from the Grave – You can deal necrotic damage to a second creature after you make a sneak attack. Available your proficiency modifier times a day.
9th Level: Tokens of the Departed – You create soul trinkets from people who die within 30 feet of you. You can use these to gain advantage on death and constitution saving throws, gain a free use of Wails from the Grave, or to ask a question of the deceased.
13th Level: Ghost Walk – You can assume a spectral form that can pass through objects, fly, and even puts attack rolls made against you at disadvantage.
17th Level: Death Knell – You deal the necrotic damage from Wails from the Grave to both the first and second targets. If you have no soul trinkets at the end of a long rest one appears in your hand.
This is a really cool rogue archetype that focuses on a sort of haunted theme, pulling their powers from ghosts and trapped souls. This could be an A tier with some reworking, but as it stands it fits squarely in B.
Typically, taking a subclass gives a large power spike and then plateaus until the later subclass features come online and boost us up again. In this subclass, we see a really steady incline of power from alright abilities at 3rd level to a really amazing ability at 17th.
The soul tokens are the heart of this subclass. In most subclasses with a resource, be it psionic energy, superiority die, or whatever, those abilities tend to come into effect in a limited capacity at 3rd level and affect more powerful abilities as you gain levels.
It’s a great formula and seeing the phantom rogue break tradition by throwing us soul tokens all the way at 9th level, almost halfway through our character progression, it’s just a bit disappointing.
All that being said, you play this subclass in a high level campaign or one shot and you are in for a real big treat with plenty of damage to give and souls to steal.
3rd Level: Skirmisher – If an enemy ends their turn within 5 feet of you, you can move half your speed as a reaction without provoking opportunity attacks.
3rd Level: Survivalist – You get proficiency and expertise in Nature and Survival.
9th Level: Superior Mobility – Your walking speed increases by 10 feet, along with your climbing and swimming speed if you have any.
13th Level: Ambush Master – You have advantage on initiative rolls. Attack rolls against the first creature you hit during the first round of combat have advantage until the start of your next turn.
17th Level: Sudden Strike – You can make a bonus action attack after you’ve taken the attack action on your turn. This bonus attack can be a sneak attack, but you can’t make more than one sneak attack against a single creature in a turn.
The scout is meant to be the closest to a ranger archetype that the rogue class has to offer. Interestingly, the ability that sets them in the A tier has nothing to do with damage.
Skirmisher is such an incredible feature for a rogue that wants to stay in control in a nimble fashion. Here we see a rogue that can move at lightning speeds to put themselves at a strategic advantage over their foes.
Especially once we get 10 extra feet of movement at 13th level, most races that choose this will be moving something like 20-25 feet as reactions.
Comparing this to the phantom, which is a very similar overall power level, the scout gets a great ability right away, and everything after that seems to improve upon the foundation set at 3rd level.
It’s because this feels powerful as soon as you take it that this is truly an A-tier subclass.
3rd Level: Psionic Power – Gives you a pool psychic energy dice which you can use to activate a telepathy ability or to increase your ability checks.
3rd Level: Psychic Blades – You create magical, psychic damage-dealing blades made of psychic energy as part of your attack action. The blades are finesse so they work with sneak attack, and you can even make a bonus attack with the second blade which you can throw.
9th Level: Soul Blades – Allows you to use your psionic energy dice to boost your attack rolls or teleport by throwing your blades at an unoccupied space.
13th Level: Psychic Veil – You can become invisible until you deal damage. You get one free use, and then can use your psionic energy dice to activate it any additional times.
17th Level: Rend Mind – Lets you stun a creature when you deal sneak attack damage with your psychic blades. The only downside is that it costs three psionic energy dice once you’ve used your free use.
This is an amazing subclass of rogue that takes the concept of psychic energy and really puts it to use. The blades appear at will, so you don’t need to worry about concealing weapons whenever you’re on an infiltration mission, and they’re magical weapons you get as early as 3rd level. So long nonmagical damage resistances.
The boosts to attack rolls and skill checks are incredible, especially since your psionic energy die increases up to a d12 at 17th level.
This class is so good that incredible abilities like telepathy and teleportation just feel like bonuses, little cherries on top of the soul knife sunday.
3rd Level: Fancy Footwork – You don’t provoke opportunity attacks from a creature that you have made a melee attack against this turn.
3rd Level: Rakish Audacity – You add your charisma modifier to your initiative rolls. You also don’t need advantage for sneak attack if your target is the only creature within 5 feet of you.
9th Level: Panache – You can persuade a hostile creature to attack only you, gaining disadvantage against targets that aren’t you and being unable to make opportunity attacks against targets other than you. You can also persuade a non-hostile creature into becoming charmed, treating you as a friendly acquaintance.
13th Level: Elegant Maneuver – You can use a bonus action to gain advantage on the next acrobatics or athletics check you make this turn.
17th Level: Master Duelist – If you miss on an attack roll you can roll it again with advantage. You do only get to use this once per short or long rest.
The Swashbuckler is one of the best subclasses out there for a rogue. And interestingly, everything after 3rd level is kind of subpar, even if it fits the archetype extremely well.
It’s the two 3rd level abilities that excel and create an S tier subclass. Not only does this have a great way to avoid opportunity attacks, it’s also coming in with an excellent new way to get in sneak attacks.
Realistically, Rakish Audacity’s sneak attack method is so easy to create. All it takes is being close to an opponent without another opponent within 5 feet because you still have the method of creating sneak attacks when an ally is within 5 feet of your target.
This means that this rogue subclass is basically always going to have their sneak attacks online, without having to worry about hiding or sneaking around.
Everything else after 3rd level becomes a huge bonus on top of what is an amazing start.
3rd Level: Fast Hands – You can use Cunning Action’s bonus action to make a sleight of hand check, disarm traps or locks, or take the Use an Object action.
3rd Level: Second-Story Work – Climbing doesn’t cost extra movement and your running jump distance increases by your dexterity modifier.
9th Level: Supreme Sneak – You have advantage on stealth checks if you take less than half your movement in your turn.
13th Level: Use Magic Device – You ignore class, race, and level requirements for using magic items.
17th Level: Thief’s Reflexes – You get to take two turns during the first round of combat.
I think just about every class has a subclass that does little more than embody the flavor and mechanics of the base class. For a fighter that’s the champion, for the paladin it’s the oath of devotion, and for rogues it’s definitely the thief.
Fortunately, this is a bit better than the others I’ve mentioned, leaning into the rogues existing features in exciting ways, and providing a small bit of versatility that makes all the difference.
We see a stealthier rogue that can do a lot more interesting things on their turn, perhaps flitting around disarming traps while others hold off the big bad. The high-level abilities are also very exciting.
Use Magic Device could give the rogue a lot of potential, even if it’s just using a scroll or two, and it’s really only limited to player creativity and DM permission. Then of course there’s Thief’s Reflexes, which is like a more specific version of fighter’s action surge, one that really plays into the rogues focus on surprise.
All in all, this is a solid B-tier subclass, giving us exactly what we expect from a rogue with no embellishments that really astonish us.