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Soul Knife Rogue 5e: Psionic Energy is Amazing

Soul knife rogues are an incredibly powerful subclass with a theme that might just rank them as my favorite roguish archetype. While they might sound like a restaurant in New Orleans, they are serving up a lot more than fried fish and black-eyed peas. 

Their namesake are their special weapons, the likes of which only pact of the blade warlocks can come close to. These rogues possess astonishing psionic abilities that allow them to conjure blades of pure psychic energy, along with a whole host of other powers.

No mere assassins, soul knife rogues harness this ability from within themselves to access magical powers like teleportation, telepathy and even invisibility.

Compared to the psi warrior subclass of fighter, these psychic abilities complement the rogue’s already amazing knack for stealthiness and subterfuge.

I’ll get into the mechanics of all of the above as we progress through the article, but I need to immediately tell you how cool the namesake’s psychic blades are.

These rogues don’t need to carry around any physical weapons. Instead, whenever they make an attack they conjure up a blade made of pure psychic energy, which realistically can look like whatever you want.

You can throw it or make a normal finesse attack with it and all of that damage is going to be magical psychic damage. These blades are so amazing they don’t even leave any marks, just a whole lot of damage.

If you haven’t been under a rock for the past decade, you’ve probably seen Loki do something very similar to this in the Thor movies. The magical blade that just deftly slips into existence as the dashing rogue takes a stab at his victim is such an amazing image that gives me chills. 

It’s no wonder that these special rogues are highly sought after as spies and assassins for any number of groups.

Armies, governments, religious orders, and every thieves guild out there is desperate for a master of deception that has everything they need right between their ears.

Class-Defining Abilities

  • Psionic Energy
    • Skill Checks
    • Telepathy
    • Invisibility
  • Psychic Blades
    • Teleportation
    • Stunning Foes

This class is a well-oiled machine. Normally, we look at three or four class-defining abilities. The abilities always (hopefully) synergize well, but they are distinct enough to talk about them in their own light.

For this subclass, every single ability that you can get could be argued to be class-defining, but realistically, they all fall under the two umbrellas of Psionic Energy and Psychic Blades. Even then the psychic blades are only made more powerful by the Psionic Energy.

So what is this “Psionic Energy”? Your psychic powers give you a pool of dice that you can use to activate abilities. On that list of abilities are the telepathy, teleportation, and skill checks mentioned above, amongst other things.

The telepathy isn’t your typical 5e telepathy either. Where most telepathic abilities are one-way communications, this ability functions like a walkie-talkie.

For a number of hours equal to the roll of your die, you and a number of creatures equal to your proficiency bonus can mentally communicate with each other over as far a distance as one mile.

Even if you can only keep this ability going for an hour you’re going to be able to stealthily infiltrate whatever stronghold you’re headed into without having to utter a single word to any of your allies.

This ability completely trumps just about every other method of gaining telepathy in 5e, and it comes to you at 3rd level as soon as you take this archetype.

How about the skill checks. Also at 3rd level, you can add a roll of the psionic die to a failed skill check that you are proficient with. That’s fun, but it would be a waste if you still end up failing after expending your psionic die, right? Wrong!

You only expend the die if you end up succeeding on your check!

This is practically unheard of, and means that you don’t have to ever worry about risking a wasted die. Every single time you fail a check in a skill you are proficient in you should be getting this bonus (unless you’re running low on psionic dice).

Now you’re saying, “Surely that’s it for third level, that’s already better than some subclasses out there.” Not even close. Because you’re also getting the titular soul knifes, or psychic blades, at third level.

These hidden blades are always at your disposal and there’s nothing anyone can do to take them away. Good luck to anyone who tries to tie you up with rope. 

Now of course, blades alone are cool. But what good are magically appearing blades if you can’t throw them and teleport to the spot where they land. Oh the soul knife can do that too? Nice.

Throw in the fact that you get the same benefit to your attack rolls with psionic energy die that you did with skill checks and you’ve got some pretty powerful mental machetes. 

All of these are topped off by the fact that you can eventually turn invisible with your psionic energy. If an invisible rogue is telepathically communicating with his allies and teleports with his magical appearing blades in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, do they make a sound?

No. But they do sneak attack and obliterate their enemy.

Limitations

I feel like I’m betraying the class by even admitting that limitations exist. It is my duty though, so I’ll say it. There’s not enough access to psionic energy.

You only get access to twice your proficiency modifier, give or take one that you can replenish with a bonus action once per short rest. At 3rd level that’s four or five uses and it maxes out at twelve or thirteen uses a day by 20th level. 

It seems like that should be plenty, and in comparison to other “pool of dice” abilities out there, it really is. What makes it anything short of perfect is how often you’re going to want to use the abilities.

I’d say most gameplay happens between 8th and 14th level, so eight uses is pretty standard. That means you have to decide over the course of a day when it’s worth it to use the dice.

You might want to leave a missed attack in favor of gaining an extra use of invisibility, or choose to teleport and regret it when you really need to succeed on a skill check later on.

This limitation is standard for anything that has a pool of dice, slots, ki points, whatever. By definition, it sets a limit on how often you can access your special abilities.

So realistically, while this does qualify as a limitation, it’s not a setback. Nor does it make the class any less impressive.

In fact, the failsafe of not expending dice when you fail on the ability check or attack roll really covers a huge limitation that most resource-based abilities miss.

Typically, that’s just a gamble you have to be willing to take and you end up only using it when you’re absolutely certain the bonus will help you succeed.

The only other limitation is another one that barely fits the bill, but is worth mentioning. The blades are magical weapons that deal psychic damage.

While this is great for most encounters, you’ll find yourself very confused if you come up against one of the rare creatures with psychic immunity.

It’s a good idea to keep a standard normal weapon on you for these situations, as rare as they may be. Do remember to remove it if you’re doing some sort of infiltration and pulling the “look, I came unarmed” trick.

Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System

Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information.  In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • RedC Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
  • GreenB Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.  
  • BlueA Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 
  • PurpleS Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way.  No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.

Race Choices

The soul knife flavor text in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything actually gives a few suggestions, which is a bit interesting, so I’ll include those along with my top picks for race.

They’ll be marked like thisTCoE, so that you know which ones are official WotC suggestions.

My choices are based on ability score modifiers and various features that the races might give this class that can create great synergy.

The following races are great options for a soul knife rogue:

  • GithzeraiTCoE +1 INT, +2 WIS. The stats don’t really match up here at all, since the psychic powers actually have no connection to any mental abilities. However, the githzerai do have their own natural psionics that gives them access to the Mage Hand, Shield, and Detect Thoughts spells, with wisdom being the casting ability. Some additional telepathy for non willing participants and mild telekinesis is a bit fitting. 
  • Wood ElfTCoE+2 DEX, +1 WIS. Wood elves do give us our priced dexterity, and the wisdom is a nice boost if we want to focus on wisdom based spells in a feat we pick up down the line. We also love getting mask of the wild for rogues, allowing us to casually hide when only lightly obscured by natural phenomena.
  • Elf+2 DEX, +1 (other). Any elf is realistically a good option with some natural resistances and each different subrace providing their own abilities. An eladrin with their fey step ability could be particularly exciting to gain access to Fey Step and a fun ability on the side dependent upon your season.
  • Goblin+2 DEX, +1 CON. I can’t say how funny a goblin with impressive psychic abilities sounds, but they are a great match. Their nimble escape and ability to deal extra damage to larger creatures is great for any rogue.
  • Ghostwise Halfling+2 DEX, +1 WIS. Any halfling makes a good rogue, but this halfling introduced in the SCaG has an innate telepathic ability that will nicely supplement your psionic telepathy, allowing you to more comfortable use your energy die on other options.
  • Feral Variant Tiefling+2 Dex, +1 WIS. This replaces the ability score for any of the bloodlines, so you have your pick of fun spells or abilities that the various bloodlines and variant options offer. Bloodline of Glasya gives you Minor Illusion, Disguise Self, and Invisibility, all of which supplement the subclass excellently.

Skill Choices

We tend to choose these based on our highest stats, but choosing a different route based on how you want to roleplay isn’t a bad idea, especially since adding your proficiency bonus might compensate for a not-so-good ability modifier. 

Rogues get to choose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth.

Rogues have a crazy amount of skills to choose from, and starting out with four proficiencies (not including any racial or background) is unbeatable.

Acrobatics (DEX) – A great skill but the stealthiness this class provides you might not need access to this as often as other subclasses.

Athletics (STR) – Not incredibly important, but can come into play at times.

Deception (CHA) – It’s a great option for a rogue that at some point might try to slip into an event claiming they’re unarmed.

Insight (WIS) – Great to have, and if you can add your psionic energy die to a failed roll you’ll be very happy.

Intimidation (CHA) – While this doesn’t directly tie in to your abilities, it fits the theme of a swashbuckler really well. Swashbuckler’s intimidating others with bold (if wildly unrealistic) claims is a common trope.

Investigation (INT) – Not very necessary, you can do your own investigations on stealth alone.

Perception (WIS) – Perception is a skill that’s never bad to grab, but it’s not necessary.

Performance (CHA) – I can’t see many scenarios where a soul knife would put on a performance.

Persuasion (CHA) – Persuasion is always nice as an antithesis to deception for getting your way.

Sleight of Hand (DEX) – Great to have. Can be very fun if you’re trying to pickpocket while invisible or some other fun idea.

Stealth (DEX) – Always a must have for rogues, even if you can stealthily get around without it.

Background Choices

We get a lot of skills thanks to the rogue class. While we still want to look for good skill proficiencies, we can put a little more focus into other features that a background can provide us for.

Realistically, any single background could work well for this class, although the criminal, charlatan, and spy backgrounds are typical go-tos for stealthy rogues.

The premise that your abilities could’ve just manifested means that you could’ve been doing anything before you decided to take up the stealthy life of a rogue adventurer.

Feat Options

This subclass presents us with some really fun opportunities for feats. It also has enough good features going for it that we can skip features that might be more compulsory for other rogue subclasses and opt for more exciting choices.

The following are some great options for a soul knife rogue to pick up:

LuckyAlways a great feat to have, the opportunity to reroll your attack rolls, ability checks, or saving throws might save you a psionic energy die for a more useful situation.

Magic InitiateAccess to some spellcasting can really round out this subclass. While  any class’s spell list can have fun gems, I enjoy the wizard’s spell list and adding the Mage Hand and Encode Thoughts cantrips into your arsenal, along with whatever 1st level spell you want to go for, maybe Disguise Self or Unseen Servant.

While the 1st level spell is going to be fun, it’s the cantrips that are really important, since you are going to be able to cast them as much as you want. Make sure to grab something that either: a. Deals a damage type different than psychic; or b. Improves/ synergizes well with your psychic abilities.

Shadow TouchedIf you’ve already grabbed up Magic Initiate, throw this on and you’ll be able to cast Invisibility and another spell of your choice. I would definitely go with Magic Initiate first though, since it does give you cantrips.

Keep in mind that this is only a one a day use for either spell, unless you plan on getting spell slots from a multiclass, in which case you should just multiclass… but you really shouldn’t multiclass, this subclass and class in general is just too good to miss out on a single level.

TelekineticYou already have amazing telepathy, why not add in the ability to move things with your mind at will. Since this gives you a boosted version of the Mage Hand cantrip, don’t choose Mage Hand as a magic initiate cantrip if you choose to go for this.

Mage SlayerSince your psychic blades do count as weapon attacks, this would be an excellent way to get more attacks in, especially if you happen to be invisible when someone casts a spell and opens themselves up to a reaction attack.

Soul Knife Domain Rogue Progression

Features that you automatically obtain through the Rogue class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the Soul Knife archetype subclass will appear in Pink

Filling out the Character Sheet (Level 0)

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

Proficiencies

Armor:Light armor

Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords

Tools: Thieves’ Tools

Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence

Skills: Choose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth

Equipment:

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) dungeoneer’s pack, or (c) an explorer’s pack
  • Leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools

1st Level

Expertise:

Choose two proficiencies which you have, either in skills or thieves’ tools. You now double your proficiency bonus for these ability checks. 

Sneak Attack:

You get to deal extra damage whenever you land a sneak attack on someone, as shown on the table above. Sneak attacks require a weapon that has either the ranged or finesse quality.

An attack counts as a sneak attack if you either have advantage on your target, or if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, they aren’t incapascitated and you don’t have disadvantage on them.

Later on this subclass will give you a lot of opportunity to become an unseen attacker which is a great way to get advantage. Also, your soul knives will be finesse weapons, meaning these magical blades will always be a candidate for sneak attack.

Thieves’ Cant:

You understand Thieves’ Cant.

Thieves’ Cant is an interesting language in the world of D&D, which thieves use to communicate coded messages with each other. Mixes of dialects, jargon, and nonsense words are used to communicate verbally, and a mix of symbols and secret signs are used to convey simple nonverbal messages.

2nd Level

Cunning Action:

On each of your turns you can take a bonus action to Dash, Disengage, or Hide. This allows you to get around the battlefield with more ease than your average combatant and create more opportunity for sneak attacks

3rd Level

Steady Aim (Optional):

If you sacrifice all of your movement in a turn, you give yourself advantage on the next attack roll you make this turn. This will be especially useful once you pick up invisibility down the road.

Psionic Power

Pay attention because this ability is going to affect every other ability you have.

You get access to a pool of d6 Psionic Energy die equal to twice your proficiency bonus. You regain all expended uses on a long rest. You can also regain a single expended use on a bonus action; you can’t do this again until you’ve completed a short or long rest.

When you reach certain levels in this class, the size of your Psionic Energy dice increases: at 5th level (d8), 11th level (d10), and 17th level (d12).

You can use your Psionic Energy die to activate the following abilities:

  • Psi-Bolstered Knack. If you fail an ability check with a skill you are proficient in you can roll a Psionic Energy die and add it to your check. You only expend a use of your dice if you succeed on the check, which is absolutely amazing.
  • Psychic Whispers. As an action, you can choose a number of creatures up to your proficiency modifier to establish a telepathic connection with. The connection lasts for a number of hours equal to the roll of your die. 

Unlike normal telepathy, you can communicate with them and they can also communicate with you. This only works if the creatures you choose speak a language, and the connection only works if you are within one mile of each other.

Psychic Blades

These are the soul knives you came here for. Whenever you take the attack action you can summon up a magical blade with the finesse and thrown properties to attack with.

It deals 1d6 psychic damage plus the ability modifier you made the attack roll with. The blade vanishes after you make your attack, and leaves no physical trace on your target.

In addition, you can make a melee or ranged attack with a second psychic blade as a bonus action after you attack. This second blade deals 1d4 rather than 1d6.

4th Level

ASI: 

You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.

5th Level

Uncanny Dodge:

If you can see your attacker when they hit you, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage.

6th Level

Expertise:

You get to add expertise to two more skills, or thieve’s tools.

7th Level

Evasion:

When you have to make a Dexterity saving throw in order to take half damage from an effect you now take no damage on a successful save and half damage on a failed save. 

An example of this would be Fireball, which forces the target to make a dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the target would normally take 8d6 fire damage, and a successful save would take half. Instead, a rogue now takes half of 8d6 on a failed save and no damage on the successful save. 

It’s important to remember that this ability has no impact on other effects a dexterity saving throw might cause, such as being knocked prone.

8th Level

ASI

9th Level

Soul Blades

You can use your Psionic Energy die to activate the following special abilities with your Psychic Blades:

  • Homing Strikes. You can add a Psionic Energy die to a missed attack roll with your Psychic Blades. Similarly to the Psi-Bolstered Knack, you only expend a die if you succeed. 
  • Psychic Teleportation. As a bonus action, you manifest one of your Psychic Blades and throw it at an unoccupied space you can see, up to a number of feet away equal to 10 times the number rolled on your Psionic Energy die. You teleport to that space and the blade vanishes.

10th Level

ASI

11th Level

Reliable Talent:

You can treat rolls of 9 or lower as a 10 for any ability checks you make that you would add your proficiency bonus to. To clarify, this ability works on ability checks, not attack rolls or saving throws. 

12th Level

ASI

13th Level

Psychic Veil

As an action, you magically become invisible, along with anything you are wearing or carrying, for 1 hour or until you dismiss this effect. This invisibility ends early immediately after you deal damage to a creature or you force a creature to make a saving throw.

It’s important to note that it ends when you damage a creature, not whenever you attack a creature.

You can use this feature once until you take a long rest or expend a Psionic Energy die to regain a use.

14th Level

Blindsense:

You know where any hidden or invisible creatures within 10 ft of you are, so long as you can hear.

15th Level

Slippery Mind:

You gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws.

16th Level

ASI

17th Level

Rend Mind

When you use your Psychic Blades to deal Sneak Attack damage to a creature, you can force it to make a Wisdom saving throw (DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your DEX modifier). If the save fails, the target is stunned for 1 minute or until it succeeds on a save, which it can repeat on each of its turns. 

You can use this feature once until you take a long rest or expend a Psionic Energy die to regain a use.

18th Level

Elusive:

So long as you are not incapacitated, no attack roll has advantage against you.

19th Level

ASI:

20th Level

Stroke of Luck:

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.

Soul Knife Rogue Builds

For the following example build we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores. The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.

Race: Ghostwise Halfling

Background: Spy

Ability Scores: STR 8,  DEX 17, CON 14, INT 10, WIS 14, CHA 12

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Stealth, Insight, Intimidation, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand

Language Proficiencies: Common, Halfling

Tool Proficiencies: None.

Equipment:  A crowbar, a set of dark common clothes including a hood, and a pouch containing 15 gp, a shortsword, a shortbow and quiver of 20 arrows, a burglar’s pack, leather armor, two daggers

1st Level

Expertise:

We’ll take Stealth and Deception to start off.

4th Level

ASI: 

We’re going to immediately take Telekinetic and gain access to the buffed up Mage Hand cantrip. At 4th level this means we’re telekinetic and telepathic, essentially a full psychic. 

6th Level

Expertise:

Next we’ll grab Insight and Persuasion.

8th Level

ASI: 

Let’s boost up our DEX by +2.

10th Level

ASI:

We can take Mage Slayer to fight a little more reactively.

12th Level

ASI:

Let’s do +1 DEX and +1 CON

16th Level

ASI: 

Magic Initiate with Mind Sliver and Encode Thoughts for our cantrips and Disguise Self for our 1st level spell.

19th Level

ASI: 

Let’s just boost out CON by +2


Beginner’s Guide to Soul Knife Rogue

The soul knife rogue is an excellent class for anyone looking to play something that has all the stealth of a rogue with a little extra magic to make them stand out. They take all of the things that make rogue great and make it a better class.

There are multiple ways that one can become a soul knife rogue, but it all stems from a powerful psychic energy within your character. That energy could come from some connection to the feywild, your race, or even years of studying.

It’s manifestation could be a complete mystery. One way or another, you have these powers and the way you harness them is pretty amazing.

Stealth and Psionic Powers

Rogues are highly focused on stealth, but the base class doesn’t necessarily give them any straight-up benefits to hiding, other than the obvious focus on dexterity and a few smaller abilities. It’s up to the subclasses to harness that stealth, or not, and focus it with whatever theme they have.

The soul knife rogue focuses their psychic energy into a few different abilities that really add to the overall subterfuge of this class. The main one is the fact that they never have to carry a weapon.

With a magical blade of psychic energy ready to go at any time, there’s no need to carry around a physical blade, especially if you’re attempting to infiltrate somewhere that you might be searched.

Another really amazing ability this roguish archetype gains is telepathy. Their specific type of telepathy is far better than a lot of others that come from various spells and racial features for one key reason. 

The soul knife’s telepathy works two ways. 

You can link your entire party up to a telepathic radio station essentially and completely avoid talking during whatever mission your brand of stealth is necessary.

To top it all off they even get to become invisible, shrouding themselves in psychic energy like the Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four. Use this to sneak behind enemy lines, or in the midst of combat while you’re hidden to become an unseen attacker. It’s invisibility, do whatever you want with it.

Brain Blades, Psychic Swords, Mental Machetes

Whatever you want to call them, a pair of daggers that you summon with the power of your mind is cool. They are a pair of daggers by the way.

While you only make your main attack action with one, you can immediately follow it up with a second materialized blade that deals 1d4 instead of 1d6 damage (plus modifiers).

These blades are impressive for a few reasons. We already covered the stealth aspect, the next largest is that they are magical weapons. Most martial combatants run into a difficult problem at higher levels when creatures start to develop resistance to nonmagical weapons, and this just casually strolls on by.

They’re not only magical, they’re psychic damage dealing, which means they are a damage type with one of the smallest rosters of monsters boasting immunities or resistances to thwart it. You’re not some amateur with a poisoned blade or a sword of fire, you have psychic weapons.

If you were worried about not making your attacks at any point, your psionic energy gives you the ability to add an extra die to your attack rolls whenever you miss. 

For me, what tops it all off is the ability to teleport when you throw your psychic blade. I can’t even begin to think of all the fun uses in and out of combat. With the ability to teleport yourself up to 120 ft away just by throwing your magic dagger you will feel unstoppable. 

All of these components give you an amazing template for a character that’s going to be a blast to play.

How you roleplay them is completely up to you because there isn’t any tragic backstory or creed that this rogue subclass has to follow. They have amazing psychic powers and they’re cool.

After that, it’s up to you.

As always, happy adventuring