Last Updated on January 22, 2023
One of the best features that Rogues get access to is Sneak Attack. By catching their foes off-guard, a Rogue can deal extra damage with their weapon attacks.
Combined with the skill proficiencies and utility available to Rogues, and you have a class that is an asset both in and out of combat.
But, how does Sneak Attack work? Is the feature reliable? Let’s look at Sneak Attack and all the creative ways out there for Rogues to hit a foe where they least expect it!
What Is Sneak Attack in D&D 5e?
Sneak Attack is the iconic damage feature for the Rogue class in D&D 5e. It requires a ranged or finesse weapon. Sneak Attack also requires the Rogue to either have Advantage or an enemy of your target to be within 5 feet of it. A successful Sneak Attack does an extra 1d6 points of damage. This number increases as the Rogue gains levels (see chart below).
Here is how the Player’s Handbook lays out the class feature:
Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon.
You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have 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.
In other words, if you are using a finesse weapon and have advantage or a nearby ally, you can use Sneak Attack. Your reward for ganging up on or picking off an unwary foe is a sizable amount of d6’s to roll.
Here’s the Sneak Attack by Rogue level from the Player’s Handbook:
|Rogue Level||Sneak Attack Dice|
It’s worth remembering that these dice only scale up with Rogue levels. If you multiclass your Rogue, your Sneak Attack dice don’t go up unless you go back to taking Rogue levels.
This makes Sneak Attack damage different from the damage scaling we see from things like cantrips for spellcasters.
Get The Most Out of Sneak Attack!
Make sure you’re taking advantage of Sneak Attack as often as possible.
To do this, here are some simple things to keep in mind:
- Equip a Finesse weapon like a Rapier or Dagger
- Have a ranged weapon handy for when the situation arises like a bow, crossbow, or throwing knives
- Use opportunities to hide or otherwise gain Advantage on your enemies.
- Let your allies know that if they can get near an enemy, you can do much more damage to them.
- Remember that allies include summoned figures like a Spiritual Weapon or familiar.
- Remember to use Sneak Attack!! You need to remember to use the skill to get the extra damage. Always be aware of opportunities to get this skill off.
Sneak Attack Rules
While the Player’s Handbook does a good job explaining what Sneak Attack is in a few paragraphs, it doesn’t have answers to all the questions around the feature.
You’d have to crawl through the book to find the definition for things like finesse weapons, allies, and advantage.
Or, you can read the answers to some of the commonly asked rules questions below. Whatever suits your fancy!
What Weapons Can I Use To Sneak Attack?
A Rogue has to use a finesse or ranged weapon to deliver Sneak Attack damage. Ranged weapons are easy enough to define since the Player’s Handbook lays out what those are. However, you’ll have to scroll through the melee weapons to find the ones with finesse.
The finesse property for a weapon allows a character to use their Dexterity modifier in place of their Strength modifier for attack and damage rolls with the weapon.
Essentially, these weapons work well when used by agile characters as well as characters that prefer brute force.
Here’s a list of the weapons with the finesse property that a Rogue is proficient in:
If a Rogue can get proficiency with the scimitar or the whip, those weapons would work with Sneak Attack as well.
A Rogue just has to use a weapon with the finesse property, though. They don’t have to use the actual property of the weapon, it just needs to be there.
So, if you envision your Rogue as more of a bruiser, you can still build towards Strength as long as you use the right kind of weapon.
Finally, it’s worth noting that an attack with a thrown is not a ranged weapon attack unless you’re using a dart. Instead, a thrown weapon attack is making a melee attack roll, but at range.
That sounds confusing, but what it means is that, if you throw a weapon, you can Sneak Attack with it as long as the weapon also has finesse (i.e. a dagger) or is a ranged weapon already (i.e. a dart).
Who Counts As An Ally?
Rogues in D&D 5e love having allies, despite their stereotypes. While previous editions require that Rogues have the analog of advantage to Sneak Attack their foes, 5e Rogues can get their Sneak Attack when they have advantage or when an ally is within five feet of the foe. But, what is an ally in 5e?
The Player’s Handbook makes it simple to understand what an ally is, but that hasn’t stopped folks from asking Jeremy Crawford about the topic. Basically, an ally is any creature that will cooperate or aid you in your endeavors.
This can refer to your allies in your party, but also friendly NPCs like a familiar or summoned creatures.
The Benefit of Advantage to Sneak Attack
The other way to qualify for using Sneak Attack is to have advantage on the attack roll. Even if you have no allies adjacent to the foe, advantage on the attack roll lets you gather up all those lovely Sneak Attack dice if you hit.
And, that’s another great part about advantage on attack rolls: you’re more likely to hit. Rolling two d20’s and taking the highest result has a great chance of letting you strike your foe and dealing all your Sneak Attack damage.
Advantage is great for any ability check in D&D 5e, but Rogues in particular love it for their attacks. Rogues are the only martial class that doesn’t eventually get the Extra Attack class feature.
Even certain spellcaster subclasses, such as the College of Valor Bard and Bladesinger Wizard, get Extra Attack over the Rogue.
This fact means that a Rogue has one chance to make their attack successful without dual-wielding weapons. While dual-wielding is great for some martial classes, Rogues will find their bonus action is best for using the Cunning Action options, some of which can help grant advantage.
Getting More Sneak Attack In A Round
There’s one last point in the rules for Sneak Attack that’s easy to miss: Sneak Attack can be done once per turn. This wording means that, if you can find a way to attack foes when it’s someone else’s turn, you can get Sneak Attack added to the damage on that attack.
Outside of opportunity attacks, there are not many ways for a Rogue to attack off-turn with the abilities they have at their disposal. Since a Rogue does not want to stay in melee often, you might have to look to allies for help on this.
For example, Battlemaster Fighters have a maneuver they can use called Commander’s Strike. With this maneuver, the Fighter gives up one attack to let an ally attack a reaction to a foe they can see.
If the attack hits, the ally adds one of the Fighter’s Superiority Dice to the damage. For a Rogue, this would be added to the Sneak Attack damage as well if the Rogue meets all the other conditions for Sneak Attack.
The Rogue Subclasses and Sneak Attack
As a core feature of the class, all types of Rogues will want to take advantage of this feature. However, some of the Rogue subclasses have different ways that they interact with the feature.
Here’s a list of the Rogue subclasses released right now and how they alter or augment the Sneak Attack class feature:
- Arcane Trickster: In addition to their illusions, high-level Arcane Tricksters can use the Versatile Trickster feature to distract foes with their invisible mage hand to get advantage on attack rolls.
- Assassin: Silent and lethal, Assassins can help score critical hits against surprised foes with their Assassinate feature, which doubles Sneak Attack dice if the attack hits.
- Inquisitive: By making a successful Insight ability check against a foe with their Insightful Fighting feature, these Rogues can guarantee they can always qualify for their Sneak Attack damage.
- Mastermind: While their features don’t boost Sneak Attack directly, the Insightful Manipulator feature will let you find foes with weak Wisdom scores, which usually means a low Perception score you can take advantage of to sneak up on them.
- Phantom: Between the Wails from the Grave and the Tokens of the Damned class features, these Rogues have plenty of ways to spread their Sneak Attack damage around to other nearby foes.
- Scout: Only high-level Rogues of this subclass can make more than one Sneak Attack on their turn using the Sudden Strike feature.
- Soulknife: With their Soul Blades feature, these Rogues can improve their accuracy with their psionics blades.
- Swashbuckler: As dashing swordsmen, these Rogues don’t need an ally adjacent to a foe to land Sneak Attack as long as they are the only one engaged in melee with the foe.
- Thief: The Supreme Sneak and Fast Hands features mean that these Rogues can easily sneak up on targets and get more done in a turn using magic or mundane items.
Ultimately, the kind of Rogue you choose to play will help inform how you use or set up your Sneak Attacks. Play into your strengths where you can to make sure that you roll that mountain of dice as often as possible!
Gaining Advantage For Sneak Attack
It’s clear at this point that advantage is awesome. While great for everyone, advantage on attack rolls for a Rogue means that their targets are open to their Sneak Attack dice regardless of whether an ally is adjacent to them.
The extra chance to hit also means that a Rogue’s attack is not as likely to miss.
One of the great things about D&D 5e is that it is pretty easy to get advantage on an attack roll if the player is creative or has a DM using some optional rules.
Let’s take a look at all the ways a Rogue might be able to line up a deadly strike more reliably with advantage.
Cunning Action – Hide vs. Steady Aim
Built into the Rogue class is one of the ways for them to get advantage on their turn: Cunning action. This feature lets a Rogue use their bonus action to do all sorts of combat actions that normally take an action to use.
Here’s the text of Cunning Action from the Player’s Handbook:
Starting at 2nd level, your quick thinking and agility allow you to move and act quickly. You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.
The big action here that helps us get advantage is the Hide action. With Hide, a Rogue can dart behind some nearby cover or around a wall and Hide. If the Rogue rolls well enough on a Dexterity (Stealth) check, they take themselves out of view from a foe.
Now, as long as that Rogue isn’t exposed from their spot, they can attack with advantage by beating their target’s passive Perception.
However, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything added an optional feature for Rogues to use. While it might be a little riskier, it doesn’t require an ability check to get advantage. Here’s the text for the Steady Aim feature:
3rd-level optional Rogue feature
As a bonus action, you give yourself advantage on your next attack roll on the current turn. You can use this bonus action only if you haven’t moved during this turn, and after you use the bonus action, your speed is 0 until the end of the current turn.
While this feature doesn’t require an ability check, it sets your speed to zero for the rest of your turn. For Rogues, whose mobility is one of their main survivability tricks, being stuck next to an enemy might not be the best choice for their longevity.
But, if you need to land a Sneak Attack against a weakened foe, this is an easy way to guarantee that improved shot at striking a foe.
Also, a Rogue favoring ranged or thrown weapons might not find the limitation to be bad. If the Rogue can position themselves away from foes and keep taking shots with advantage, then staying still might be the best choice to guarantee advantage.
Ultimately, using Hide or Steady Aim will come down to what kind of Rogue you want to play as. Sneaky, mobile Rogues might prefer the ability to Hide.
Likewise, bruiser Rogues or Rogues favoring ranged attacks might prefer the Steady Aim feature.
There’s more to defeating a foe than just using the Attack action over and over. Some characters excel at using other actions in combat to tip the scales in their favor.
Rogues can take advantage of some of these actions themselves, or rely on allies to do it for them.
Either way, here are some combat actions you can use to help get advantage:
- Help: If an ally uses this on the Rogue, they have advantage on a nearby foe on their next turn, guaranteeing Sneak Attack if the attack roll hits.
- Shove: Characters with high Strength might use this in place of an attack to knock a foe prone, causing the foe to grant advantage on attack rolls against adjacent foes.
Also, while not a combat action, there is an optional rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for flanking. Flanking is a state in which a combatant has two foes adjacent to them, opposite from one another across the enemy’s space.
This state causes the adjacent foes to have advantage on melee attack rolls against the combatant stuck in the middle.
While not all tables play with this rule, it’s an interesting holdover from previous editions. See if your DM uses this optional rule. It can go a long way to giving your Rogue another way to score advantage against a foe in combat – especially, with the Disengage option from Cunning Action!
Not many feats in D&D 5e granted advantage for Rogues, but that does not mean there are zero of them. Instead, you just have to get creative:
- Fade Away: Gnome Rogues can use this feat to turn invisible for a little bit, possibly letting them sneak around and get advantage with their Cunning Action.
- Magic Initiate: While most cantrips don’t help grant advantage, many 1st level spells apply conditions that cause a foe to grant advantage to a Rogue.
- Mounted Combatant: A Rogue riding a mount might seem strange, but the feat gives Rogues advantage against unmounted foes smaller than their mount, making it useful.
Also, as an honorable mention, the Sentinel feat is an interesting choice for melee rogues. This feat lets a Rogue make attacks off-turn more reliably. But, it also means that the Rogue has to stay in melee longer than they might want to and become the focus of attacks.
A sturdier Rogue than the stereotype might still want this feat, though.
Spells can do all sorts of things in D&D. For Rogues, spells are a good resource to use to get advantage on your attacks against a foe. Whether you decide to play an Arcane Trickster or just pal around with a caster, these spells can help your Rogue get their Sneak Attack dice more reliably.
1st Level Spells
While these spells might not be super powerful, they can still give you what you need to get a Sneak Attack off:
- Command: Enemies forced to kneel or grovel by this spell are prone, which grants advantage for melee attacks.
- Entangle: Enemies restrained by this spell grant advantage to attackers in addition to being less effective themselves.
- Faerie Fire: This spell pulls double duty by granting advantage on attack rolls and revealing hidden foes.
- Find Familiar: Familiars can take the Help action, granting the next person to attack the target advantage.
- Grease: This small area of effect spell can knock foes prone, making them susceptible to the Sneak Attack feature.
- Guiding Bolt: If this spell hits, the next attacker to attack the target has advantage.
- Sleep: When you render a foe unconscious, a Rogue can get their Sneak Attack dice doubled by critically hitting them.
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter: This enchantment spell doubles a foe over in laughter, knocking them prone and opening them up to a Sneak Attack.
2nd Level Spells
Moving up in magical prowess, these spells can do bigger and badder things to grant advantage:
- Blindness/Deafness: A blind foe grants advantage to its attackers since they can’t see them.
- Darkness: This spell makes an area of total darkness that a Rogue can use to hide inside to get advantage.
- Hold Person: Paralyzed foes make for great targets of Sneak Attack since the attacks are treated as critical hits.
- Invisibility: Being invisible grants advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks, making it easier to get advantage through the Hide action.
- Pass Without Trace: Much like Invisibility, a +10 bonus to Stealth can turn a failed Stealth check into a source of advantage.
- Pyrotechnics: This spell can also blind foes, rendering them open to Sneak Attack.
- Web: Another retraining spell, this covers more area than Entangle but still causes restrained foes to grant advantage while caught in the spell’s effect.
3rd Level Spells
Once you reach this level of spell, there are fewer spells that directly grant advantage to attack rolls. Still, there are a couple that can be of great help to a Rogue:
- Sleet Storm: This large area spell knocks foes prone, opening them up to melee Sneak Attacks.
- Summon Fey: While the fey creature summoned can be an ally for Sneak Attack, the Tricksy version of the spell creates an area of darkness a Rogue can Hide in for advantage.
4th Level Spells
As we progress to higher-level spells, they begin to do more than just grant advantage. Still, here are some spells to keep in mind for a high-level Arcane Trickster or as recommendations to a Wizard ally:
- Evard’s Black Tentacles: Damage and restraining tentacles mean this spell wears foes down and opens them up to Sneak Attack at the same time.
- Greater Invisibility: The upgrade to Invisibility, this spell doesn’t drop when you attack for concurrent turns of hiding in plain sight.
- Watery Sphere: This area spell restrains foes and can be moved, allowing the spellcaster to dump restrained targets in plain view of a waiting Rogue.
The Summary of Sneak Attack
Overall, Sneak Attack works as long as you have a nearby ally or advantage on the attack roll. While there are limits to the kinds of weapons you can use with Sneak Attack, the feature is a critical one to play into for Rogues.
Rather than Extra Attack, Rogues get an increasing amount of dice when they use their Sneak Attack feature.
As long as you keep an ally near the fray or have ways to generate advantage for yourself, you’ll have great success as a Rogue in combat.
Skulk about, confuse, or trick your way through your adventures to get the loot waiting at the end of the dungeon!
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].