Arcane Trickster 5e Guide

Published on October 11, 2020, Last modified on January 28th, 2021

In this post, we will examine the different choices you will be presented with when leveling up your Arcane Trickster. Everything from which ability scores to max out to which races will give you the best stats (and everything in-between) will be covered. This article will focus primarily on content from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, but will also delve into some of the content in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Rogue Subclass, the Arcane Trickster. You can find a full overview of the Rogue class here: DnD 5e Rogue.

For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange is an OK option
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized

For our Subclass Guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the 5e Rogue Guide or other Subclass Guides.

Did you know?

D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.

What is an Arcane Trickster?

Arcane Tricksters are Rogues that gain access to spells from the Wizard spell list. The spells Arcane Trickster’s learn are mainly from the enchantment and illusion school. They are considered a half-caster, only getting spell slots up to level 4 and have a maximum of 11 spell slots at 20th level.

On top of the ability to cast spells, Arcane Tricksters gain rougish abilities to use with their spells. This includes an invisible mage hand, the ability to impose disadvantage on spell saves when you are hidden, and the ability to steal the knowledge of other casters’ spells.

Strengths

Arcane Tricksters have an insane amount of utility. The amazing proficiencies and expertise offered by the Rogue class on top of their spells make them able to be of use in any situation.

Also, like Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters merge a linear, martial class with the options provided by spellcasters. This can lead to more varied gameplay and more unique combat scenarios. 

Weaknesses

Rogues are an extremely strong base class to start with. Their ability to be great at every skill, deal massive damage, and avoid damage makes them a force to be reckoned with even at a base level so there aren’t a ton of downsides to the Arcane Tricksters.

However, when compared to other Roguish Archetypes, Arcane Tricksters will lag behind in terms of raw damage output. Also, the nature of the spell casting is quite restrictive so there are better options for a sneaky caster, like Bards and Druids.

Before You Start

Races

Check out our Guide to DnD Races for non-standard races. Keep in mind, most races and subraces are limited by the setting and source material chosen by the DM. Below are some of the best options for Arcane Tricksters from the standard races.

Elf: A +2 to DEX, Darkvision, and proficiency in the Perception skill. Everything here is great for Arcane Tricksters

  • High Elf: Beneficial here is longbow proficiency and a free cantrip from the Wizard spell list. The INT bonus could be useful depending on if you are playing an Arcane Trickster. The cantrip could be Minor Illusion, Mage Hand, or Prestidigitation, all of which are amazing for Rogues, even if you’re not going to be an Arcane Trickster.
  • Wood Elf: Wood elves are your stereotypical choice for Rogues. Everything here is useful: WIS bonus (for Perception), longbow proficiency, higher than average walking speed, and the ability to hide in nature. This is the Skyrim stealth archer come to life.

Gnome: Darkvision and a +2 bonus to INT is great for Arcane Tricksters.

  • Deep: +1 to DEX, 120ft Darkvision, and advantage on stealth checks in rocky terrain is perfect.
  • Forest: +1 DEX bonus, and the Minor Illusion cantrip for free is a solid base to build an Arcane Trickster

Halfling: The +2 DEX bonus, and Lucky make this an amazing choice for Arcane Tricksters. 

  • Lightfoot: +1 CHA will help with face skills and the ability to hide behind larger party members can grant advantage and allow for Sneak Attack damage more often.
  • Stout: +1 CON score increase is solid and the poison resistance is helpful. This subrace is mainly carried by the base Halfling stats.

Variant Human: +1 DEX and +1 INT is a decent base for Arcane Tricksters. The free feat and skill is another huge benefit of going with the Variant Human

Backgrounds

We cover the best background for Rogues in our 5e Rogue Guide, the only changes would be:

  • Hermit: Your pumped INT score can make the two INT skills (Medicine and Religion) more viable. If your party is hurting for a Cleric, this could be a solid option.
  • Noble: History is a decent INT skill, and persuasion is always useful.
  • Sage: Your pumped INT score can make the two INT skills (Arcana and History) more viable. If your party is hurting for a Wizard, this could be a solid option.

Ability Scores

Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 16th, and 20th level.

Rogues are considered a SAD (single ability dependant) class, this means that most Rogues can do quite well by pumping their DEX and spreading the rest of their skill points as they so choose.

Because the Arcane Trickster’s spellcasting modifier is INT, dumping INT will limit the effectiveness of your spells so we suggest pumping DEX, INT, and CON in that order.

STR: Leave the heavy lifting to your friends.

DEX: Rogues love DEX! You will want to get this to 20.

CON: More hitpoints and better CON saves make the Rogue less squishy.

INT: This is your spellcasting modifier. A solid INT score will help your precious spell slots land more often.

WIS: Can help with WIS saves and Perception.

CHA: Rogues can be a good character for CHA skill checks if needed by your party.

Rogue Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Saves: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Proficiencies: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

SkillsThe Arcane Trickster’s Mage Hand Legerdemain uses Sleight of Hand, which makes it even more important to Arcane Tricksters.

It is also worth noting that, because of the Arcane Trickster’s high INT score, that the INT spells (Arcana, History, Religion, Investigation, Nature) become more important. If you can gain access to one of the INT skill proficiencies through races or backgrounds, it would be worthwhile.

Expertise: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Sneak Attack: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Thieve’s Cant: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

2nd Level

Cunning Action: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

3rd Level

Rogueish Archetype: Arcane Trickster

Source: Player’s Handbook

Spellcasting: Spellcasting allows you to…. cast spells! You choose from the Wizard enchantment and illusion spells lists. Your options are mainly functional rather than damage oriented, but that’s kind of the point. At 3rd level, you may choose one of your three spells from any school of magic, and at 8th, 14th, and 20th level all spells may be chosen from any school, so choose wisely!

Our recommendations for spells for the Arcane Trickster are at the end of the article.

Cantrips: Cantrips add even more utility, especially if you don’t have another dedicated spell caster in your party. 

Mage Hand Legerdemain: Your Mage Hand being invisible makes it far better, especially when factoring that it can get up to no good while in combat (as a bonus action).

5th Level

Uncanny Dodge: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

7th Level

Evasion: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

9th Level

Magical Ambush: Pairs really well with your affinity for stealth and your newfound talent for casting spells. Since you’re not a pure INT-based character, you need all the help you can get with making sure your enemies fail their saving throws.

11th Level

Reliable Talent: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

13th Level

Versatile Trickster: Advantage on attack rolls means more crits, more Sneak Attacks, and therefore more damage.

14th Level

Blindsense: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

15th Level

Slippery Mind: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

17th Level

Spell Thief: This is kind of a clunky ability, especially because the spell can only be 1st – 4th level, and your INT restricts the usefulness in terms of spell save DC. When it hits, it’s a great way to not only temporarily know how to cast a useful spell, but also prevent your opponent from casting it again.

18th Level

Elusive: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

20th Level

Stroke of Luck: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Feats

We cover the best feats for Rogues in our 5e Rogue Guide, the only changes would be:

  • Elven Accuracy: A half-feat that can boost DEX or INT is looking very good to start. The feats effect of granting “mega advantage” will be awesome for never missing when you approach from unseen or use your Versatile Trickster class feature. The fact that this is limited to the elf race isn’t a huge issue because of the elf’s synergies with this build.
  • Lucky: Lucky is rarely not useful and is especially amazing on Rogues.
  • Magic Initiate: Choosing the Warlock spell list will give you access to Eldritch Blast as a Cantrip, and Hex as a 1st level spell. Eldritch Blast isn’t going to do you a huge favor because you can’t use Sneak Attack with it, but Hex is a great way to boost damage.
  • Resilient (CON): Providing +1 CON can help with boosting your HP because of your lackluster hit dice. Proficiency in CON saving throws will help with maintaining concentration on your spells. 
  • Warcaster: Most Rogues will dual wield weapons in order to take advantage of the bonus action offhand attack, this could get funky with your somantic spells so Warcaster is a great pickup. Warcaster also allows you to cast Green Flame Blade or Booming Blade as an opportunity attack, as well as provide advantage on concentration checks. 

Arcane Trickster Spells

As mentioned above, Arcane Tricksters are restricted to the Wizard’s enchantment and illusion spell lists, except at 3rd, 8th, 14th, and 20th level. To make it easier to know which spells will have to be taken at the aforementioned levels, spells that are not enchantment or illusion will be labeled with an asterisk (*). 

Arcane Tricksters max out at 4th level spells when the character reaches 19th level. Even still, there are some great choices here that can make this build loads of fun to play. As a general rule of thumb, Arcane Tricksters benefit the most by spells that help in combat by ways other than dealing direct damage.

As always, we think it would be the most beneficial to only talk about our favorite spells at each level, and which ones to avoid.

Cantrips

  • Acid Splash: The first of many damage dealing cantrips available. This one is always bad, but the Arcane Trickster really doesn’t want to take any of them. This includes Chill Touch, Fire Bolt, Ray of Frost, you get the idea.
  • Booming Blade: This cantrip is really nice because Rogues can Disengage as a bonus action. You can attack and run away, forcing your foe to take damage if they want to pursue you.
  • Green Flame Blade: Hitting two enemies at once is great, but as far as blades go Booming Blade is the better choice.
  • Mage Hand: You automatically get this cantrip, but luckily it is great in many situations the Arcane Trickster can find itself in.
  • Message: Rogues do often sneak ahead so they won’t be able to communicate to the party, especially if your playgroup is disciplined about avoiding metagaming. 
  • Minor Illusion: Allows you to get creative with your sneaky nonsense. You can hide behind the illusion if you are small enough.
  • Prestidigitation: In the same vein as Minor Illusion. There’s just so much utility here for anything your character is trying to pull off.
  • True Strike: You’ll get free advantage on your next attack, but it does cost you an action. This makes it generally not worth it.

1st Level Spells

  • Charm Person: Another tool for the Rogue’s arsenal of deceptive tactics.
  • Find Familiar*: If you choose an owl familiar, this spell can be the most broken one available to Arcane Tricksters. Command the owl to fly down, provide a Help action (by distracting your enemy, for example), and then fly away without provoking an attack of opportunity with its Flyby ability. Help actions give you advantage on your next attack, so you guessed it….free Sneak Attacks! It’s a bit cheesy, but hey, it works. If your enemies can use ranged attacks, expect your DM to quickly ruin your fun.
  • Hideous Laughter: A nice way of incapacitating an enemy that’s causing you problems.
  • Mage Armor*: You already won’t be able to cast many spells with this Rogue build, and Mage Armor is not where you want to be. The AC bonus is negligible. 
  • Shield*: The AC also won’t be of much help here, and your reaction is better used for Uncanny Dodge.
  • Silent Image: A great spell that allows you to create something in your environment to hide behind or in, enabling Sneak Attacks. It does require concentration, but if your concentration is broken you’re not hiding anyways. 
  • Sleep: Sleep is really good at low levels, but struggles to scale with enemy HP. Once you get to above level 5, doing non-lethal melee damage is a much more reliable way to knock enemies out.

2nd Level Spells

  • Blur: Rogues are somewhat squishy. Take this spell if you find yourself getting hurt a lot.
  • Darkvision*: If your race doesn’t come with Darkvision and your allies can’t give it to you in some way, you should take this spell. Fighting from the shadows enables your Sneak Attacks, but how are you gonna do that if you can’t see?
  • Hold Person: Takes an enemy out of the fray, but if you picked up Hideous Laughter this will become redundant.
  • Invisibility: Do we even need to tell you why a Rogue might want to be invisible?
  • Misty Step*: Every class that can get it’s hands on Misty Step should strongly consider picking it up. Use it for lining up your Sneak Attacks on the battlefield or to escape a sticky situation.
  • Shadow Blade: Extra damage of a rare damage type. It also gets automatic advantage in low light, making it a solid way of pumping out Sneak Attacks.
  • Mirror Image: Makes you harder to hit.

3rd Level Spells

  • Catnap: Catnap is never one of the best spells, but Rogues really do not want to be filling the role of a support class.
  • Fly*: Lots of utility both in and out of combat. Rogues can often find creative ways to make Fly powerful.
  • Haste*: Haste is universally loved by players, and can be great for Rogues since they lack Extra Attacks. However, using your turn to buff yourself only to immediately have your concentration broken is devastating. If you’re the daring type, go for it.
  • Hypnotic Pattern: Crowd control is a desirable trait to complement any party.
  • Major Image: An even better way to create an illusion than Minor Illusion or Silent Image. There is simply so much you can do with this spell.
  • Phantom Steed: Situational and not worth the spell slot it rode in on.

4th Level Spells

  • Confusion: Decent crowd control if you find your party lacking it.
  • Dimension Door*: Can be better than Misty Step depending on the situation.
  • Greater Invisibility: The best buff a Rogue can ask for. Attacking won’t break your invisibility, unlike its weaker counterpart. This is a must-have for all Arcane Trickster builds.
  • Evard’s Black Tentacles*: Crowd control that grants the Restrained condition, allowing you to attack with advantage for Sneak Attack.
  • Hallucinatory Terrain: The usefulness of this spell is really limited, and other spells you or your party members can cast will likely be able to achieve a similar outcome.
  • Phantasmal Killer: There is potential for loads of damage here along with the Frightened condition, but by the time you can cast 4th level spells you probably want to spend your turn doing something else.

Example Arcane Trickster Build

1st Level:

  • Race: High Elf
    • Proficiencies: Perception
    • Cantrip: Shocking Grasp
  • Background: Charlatan
    • Proficiencies: Deception, Intimidation
  • Ability Scores: STR 8, DEX 17, CON 13, INT 16, WIS 10, CHA 10
  • Skill Proficiencies: Investigation, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, Stealth,
  • Equipment: Shortsword, shortbow, burglar’s pack, leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools
  • Expertise: Stealth, Perception
  • Sneak Attack
  • Thieves’ Cant

2nd Level:

  • Cunning Action

3rd Level:

  • Rogueish Archetype: Arcane Trickster
  • Cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Booming Blade
  • Add Spells: Find Familiar, Hideous Laughter, Shield

4th Level:

  • ASI: +2 DEX (DEX 19)
  • Add Spells: Charm Person

5th Level:

  • Uncanny Dodge

6th Level:

  • Expertise: Persausion, Deception

7th Level:

  • Evasion
  • Add Spells: Invisibility, Blur
  • Drop Spells: Charm Person

8th Level:

  • Add Spells: Misty Step
  • Feat: Elven Accuracy (+1 DEX, DEX 20)

9th Level:

  • Magical Ambush

10th Level:

  • Feat: Lucky
  • Add Spells: Charm Person
  • Add Cantrip: Chill Touch

11th Level:

  • Reliable Talent
  • Add Spells: Suggestion

12th Level:

  • Feat: Warcaster

13th Level:

  • Versatile Trickster
  • Add Spells: Hypnotic Pattern

14th Level:

  • Blindsense
  • Add Spells: Fly

15th Level:

  • Slippery Mind

16th Level:

  • Add Spells: Fear
  • ASI: +2 INT (INT 18)

17th Level:

  • Spell Thief

18th Level:

  • Elusive

19th Level:

  • Add Spells: Greater Invisibility
  • ASI: +2 INT (INT 20)

20th Level:

  • Add Spells: Evard’s Black Tentacles
  • Stroke of Luck

Hope you liked the guide! If you have any questions or feel like we missed something for the 5e Arcane Trickster, go ahead and post a comment below. If you like our content subscribe to Arcane Eye!

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Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and continually strives to help players and DMs have fun playing D&D. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios.

3 thoughts on “Arcane Trickster 5e Guide

  1. By my reckoning, using Points Buy you can start your High Elf Arcane Trickster with Str 8, Dex 17, Con 13, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 10.

    With Tasha’s my first ASI would be spent getting Artificer Initiate. That would give us Guidance, which is arguably the best cantrip in the game, and Cure Wounds, which makes your Arcane Trickster more self-reliant, and also allow him to patch someone up when the Cleric/Bard/Divine Soul Sorcerer/Celestial Warlock is otherwise occupied. Since they key of Intelligence Artificer spells fit easily with the Wizard/Arcane Trickster/Eldritch Knight and the wording for the Artificer Initiate say you get one free cast of the spell and then can cast using spell slots as normal.

    At level 8 I’d take Elven Accuracy to boost the Dexterity to 18 and give a re-roll when I have advantage. Since Rogues rely on maximizing single shot damage that’s pretty valuable.

    At level 10 I’d take Resilient (Constitution) to bump Constitution to 14 and give an extra 10 HP. Proficiency in Con saves will be helpful if using concentration spells. At level 12 add +2 to Dexterity to get it to 20.

    Proficiencies: Elves come with Perception, and with a combination of background and class skills that’s another six. I’d say the most important are Stealth, Persuasion, Deception, Sleight of Hand, Athletics, and Insight. At level 1 I’d take expertise in Persuasion and Perception. At level 6, Stealth and Deception. Although Thieves’ Tools are useful, I don’t think expertise there will come up as often as the other four.

    For background, Charlatan is a bit of fun. Keeping one or more secret identities that you can flit between is always entertaining. Proficiencies in disguise kits and forgery kits may come in handy.

    In terms of spells.

    Cantrips: Mage Hand (obviously), Chill Touch (a ranged attack never hurts, and Necrotic damage is resisted far less than Fire, this would have been my level 1 High Elf choice), Minor Illusion, Booming Blade (thunder damage is resisted less than Fire so this edges out Green Flame Blade for me, according to Tasha’s you can’t use this with Shadow Blade, but sometimes you won’t have the slots to spend on Shadow Blade).

    Level 3. (level 1 spells) Disguise Self (being a Charlatan it’s good to be able to present yourself as a different character when the opportunity presents itself), Silent Image (misdirection is the key), Find Familiar (this is probably the best non Illusion/Enchantment spell at this level).

    Level 4. Artificer Initiate feat. Cantrip: Guidance. Level 1 spell. Cure Wounds. I’d pick Jeweler’s Tools as the artisan tool of choice.
    (level 1 spells) Tasha’s Hideous Laughter.

    Level 7. (level 2 spells) Invisibility, (trade Tasha’s Hideous Laughter for) Shadow Blade.

    Level 8. (level 2 spell) Misty Step.

    Level 10. (cantrip) Prestidigitation (level 2 spell) Suggestion.

    Level 11. (level 2 spell) Hold Person.

    Level 13. (level 3 spell) Hypnotic Pattern.

    Level 14. (level 3 spell) Fly.

    Level 16. (level 3 spell) Fear.

    Level 19. (level 4 spell) Greater Invisibility.

    Level 20. Polymorph.

    That’s how mine would look.

    1. This is awesome Jason, thanks for posting your build! Chill Touch and Shocking Grasp were definitely a toss-up for the High Elf’s cantrip but I took SG because of the free advantage on armored enemies (doesn’t work with Sneak Attack, but the extra assurance is nice) and the free disengage. If you hit with the SG you can dash away, instead of having to use Cunning Action to disengage.

      1. That’s very true.
        One of the things I like about High/Wood Elves is that Elf Weapon Training gives you longbow proficiency.
        Rogues can use sneak attack with ranged weapons, but the longbow is one weapon they don’t have innate access to.
        Plus you can use your Charlatan skills and disguise self to masquerade as a Ranger, then get your party lost because, “Of course I’ve never been outside the city. Why do you ask?”

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