The DnD 5e Rogue Guide

Published on April 5, 2020, Last modified on October 26th, 2020

In this post, we will be examining the Rogue’s Class Features and how you can optimize your Rogue through choosing your Race, Ability Score, Spells, Feats, etc. 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 DnD 5e Rogue. For a quick overview on the Rogue Class, see our breakdown of the DnD 5e Classes. You can see the Rogue Class Features here.

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your Rogue. This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.

  • 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

So if you’re ready, let’s get sneaky!

As a side note, if you love to play a stealthy character, consider pitching our guide to fixing stealth in DnD 5e to your DM. We’ve had a lot of fun with this one.

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.

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. Check with your DM before selecting any of the races not listed below.

Rogues are DEX-based characters, so prioritizing those races will make them better at everything they want to do. CON is also worth considering. Because they want to be sneaking and scouting undetected, races with Darkvision are particularly useful for this class. Luckily, many races come equipped with Darkvision.

Dragonborn: No DEX for a Rogue. Darkvision won’t make up for the poor ability bonuses here.

Dwarf: CON bonus and Darkvision are nice, but Dwarves have a base walking speed of only 25 feet. Mobility and a +2 to DEX are critical for the Rogue Class.

  • Hill: More hitpoints and a WIS bonus. Both are tangentially useful, but there are much better options to choose from.
  • Mountain: Rogues don’t need medium armor proficiency.

Elf: A +2 to DEX, Darkvision, and proficiency in the Perception skill. Nice!

  • Drow ElfYou’ve heard of Darkvision, but how about SUPER Darkvision? While that’s nice, the CHA bonus won’t do all the much and sunlight sensitivity is a nuisance. 
  • 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 is the only saving grace for a Gnome, but an Arcane Trickster would benefit here.

  • Forest: Perfect for an Arcane Trickster because of the DEX and INT bonuses, but not good otherwise.
  • Rock: There could be some interesting utility here when sneaking around using the Rock Gnome’s Tinker ability, but otherwise not exciting.

Half-Elf: No +2 to DEX will be a huge burden for Rogues, but skill versatility can be important for skill monkeys. If your rogue is going to be the party’s face, you can get away with a +2 CHA, +1 DEX, and pickup Deception and Persuasion.

Half-Orc: Ability score increases of the Half-Orc won’t be helpful for a Rogue.

Halfling: Halflings get a DEX bonus, and Lucky is good. Halfling Nimbleness allows for more movement options, which can only benefit a Rogue.

  • Lightfoot: Hiding behind larger party members is much more useful than it sounds for a Rogue.
  • Stout: CON score increase and some poison resistance. Not bad, not great.

Human: Humans are always decent.

  • Vanilla: Getting an increase to all ability scores allows the Rogue to better use the many skills it has in its arsenal. 
  • Variant: A feat at first level is sick. Also a bonus to DEX and yet another free skill.

TieflingThe classic Tiefling from the Player’s Handbook isn’t that great for a Rogue outside of certain builds. Darkvision and resistance to fire is decent.

Background

For this section, due to the sheer number of backgrounds available, I am simply going to list the most useful Rogue Backgrounds.

  • Charlatan: Deception and Sleight of Hand are two skills that Rogues already have access to and are great skills to have. Proficiency with forgery and disguise kits will also come in useful.
  • Criminal: Proficiency with Stealth and Deception and thieves’ tools can help your ability to sneak around and lie, which is right up the Rogue’s alley.
  • Urchin: Sleight of Hand and Stealth are two perfect skill proficiencies for Rogues, and two perfect tool proficiencies Disguise kit, and Thieves’ tools.

Ability Scores

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

The main goal of the Rogue is to have high DEX. Secondary goals can be increased CON for survivability, INT for Arcane Trickster builds, and WIS and CHA for ability checks.

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: Don’t worry about INT unless you are playing an Arcane Trickster.

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: 1d8 hit points isn’t the worst around, but Rogue’s will have to be careful about their positioning on the battlefield. 

Saves: DEX saves are among the more useful saves, but INT won’t come up too often.

Proficiencies: A combination of good weapons and access to Thieves’ Tools makes Rogues well equipped for their adventures.

SkillsRogues get to choose four skills! Simply amazing.

  • Acrobatics (DEX): Unfortunately, Acrobatics doesn’t seem to come up as often as the Rogue would like. It is useful for avoiding grapples.
  • Athletics (STR): Rogues are constantly seeking an advantage over their opponents. Being able to climb is one of the best ways to get this advantage.
  • Deception (CHA): The Rogue is a great pick to be the one to handle social interactions with NPCs due to its synergistic class features.
  • Insight (WIS): Same as Deception.
  • Intimidation (CHA): Same as Deception.
  • Investigation (INT): Investigation isn’t bad, but prioritizing other skills is better for the Rogue.
  • Perception (WIS): We’ve said it before, Perception is the best skill in D&D. If you don’t grab it, make sure a couple other party members have high Perception.
  • Performance (CHA): Compared to the other skills listed here, Performance is rather useless for Rogues.
  • Persuasion (CHA): Persuasion is probably the best of the social interaction skills. 
  • Sleight of Hand (DEX): Like Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand doesn’t see much use, but is helpful when it does.
  • Stealth (DEX): The Rogue class was designed with stealthiness in mind. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this.

Expertise: Not only are Rogues proficient in many skills, they can either double their proficiency bonus for two skills or a combination of one skill and their Thieves’ Tools. Failing skill checks with those skills will be much less common.

Sneak Attack: The bread and butter of the 5e Rogue. The damage scales as you level up ensuring that the Rogue’s main source of damage will always be relevant.

Thieve’s Cant: Thieve’s Cant is cool for roleplaying purposes, but even then it only really applies when encountering NPCs that also know Thieve’s Cant. 

2nd Level

Cunning Action: This class feature pairs very nicely with the Rogue’s game plan. Use a Dash, Disengage, or Hide action as a bonus action to line up some Sneak Attacks or to move around the battlefield efficiently. 

3rd Level

At 3rd level Rogues get to choose their Roguish Archetype. All options have their merits, but will require different ability score distributions and feats to be at their best.

Arcane Trickster

Source: Player’s Handbook

See our Arcane Trickster 5e Guide.

Assassin

Source: Player’s Handbook

  • 3rd Level
    • Bonus Proficiency: Disguise Kit and Poisonor’s Kit both have their uses, but don’t expect this to solve all your problems.
    • Assassinate: The main reason Assassins need to carefully choose their feats and stats. Going first is super important to get the most mileage out of this. When it connects, your enemies are in big trouble.
  • 9th Level
    • Infiltration Expertise: This will largely depend on the type of campaign you are playing. For combat-oriented play this will be useless, but story-driven narratives with significant time spent outside combat is where Infiltration Expertise really shines.
  • 13th level
    • Impostor: Same as Infiltration Expertise, but for story-driven narratives it’s probably even better.
  • 17th Level
    • Death Strike: Another multiplier for your attacks. Pulling off Assassinate, Sneak Attack, PLUS Death Strike is insanely lethal.

Inquisitive

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

  • 3rd Level
    • Ear for Deceit: While useful to figure out when someone is lying, it’s situational and also not the end of the world if you do end up getting deceived.
    • Eye for Detail: Better than Ear for Deceit. Enemies that like to hide or go invisible can really hurt your party if you aren’t prepared for it, and not having to use a whole action to search for them is beneficial.
    • Insightful FightingThis is a compelling reason to try out an Inquisitive Rogue. Sneak Attacks are your main source of burst damage, so the chance to use them without having advantage is quite the buff.
  • 9th Level
    • Steady Eye: Perception is a critical skill, and Steady Eye makes sure that you’ll be perceiving all that there is to perceive. 
  • 13th level
    • Unerring Eye: Useful, but the lack of a high WIS score on most Rogues dampens the utility you’ll get out of this thing. Still, it could save you only multiple occasions throughout a campaign.
  • 17th Level
    • Eye for Weakness: More multipliers to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack damage. Sadly, other Rogue subclasses can just pump out much higher numbers with their features.

Mastermind

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

  • 3rd Level
    • Master of Intrigue: This one is difficult to place. The value of the proficiencies you gain are really dependent on your creativity as well as your ability to use them in the context of the campaign. 
    • Master of Tactics: Master of Tactics makes the Rogue less of a lone wolf and can enable some sick team plays. Help actions are always great, especially as a bonus action, but with so many viable bonus actions available to the Rogue you may not be able to justify using this often.
  • 9th Level
    • Insightful Manipulator: You won’t always have the chance to use this before a fight breaks out. Besides, finding out an enemy’s WIS, INT, or CHA scores doesn’t change how fights play out most of the time.
  • 13th level
    • Misdirection: Moving the damage to an ally who is already covering you is a pretty lame feature.
  • 17th Level
    • Soul of Deceit: A disappointingly specific and situational ability. This is most likely the worst 17th level feature that Rogues can get.

Scout

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

  • 3rd Level
    • Skirmisher: You can move as a reaction, but only after an enemy ends its turn close to you so you probably have already been attacked. It can be a better reaction than Uncanny Dodge in some situations, but usually it’s simply not. If you’re not trying to create some distance to use ranged weapons then Skirmisher is a pretty weak offering.
    • Survivalist: More proficient skills, and Expertise in them at that! Nature and Survival are great skills to have if you don’t have a Ranger in the party.
  • 9th Level
    • Superior Mobility: More mobility is nice, but there are much better ways a Rogue can achieve that than this feature.
  • 13th Level
    • Ambush Master: Advantage on initiative and advantage on attack rolls until your next turn means loads of Sneak Attacks right off the bat. You will want to go first to make this useful so plan your DEX and feats accordingly. 
  • 17th Level
    • Sudden Strike: Yes, it’s more bonus action shenanigans, but this is one of the best available. Additional attacks means additional chances to get off Sneak Attacks.

Swashbuckler

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

See our Swashbuckler 5e Guide.

Thief

Source: Player’s Handbook

  • 3rd Level
    • Fast Hands: More options for your Cunning Action bonus action. Using an item can be useful, but this only becomes quite good if your DM lets you use a potion, since they are technically “magic items” and don’t qualify for Fast Hands.
    • Second-Story Work: Jumping farther is never all too exciting, and climbing faster isn’t much better.
  • 9th Level
    • Supreme Sneak: You will be basically undetectable while sneaking. Very useful as long as your friends don’t get bored by you always feeling the need to scout ahead.
  • 13th level
    • Use Magic Device: I want to love this, but it really depends on what kind of toys your DM gives you to play with. If you manage to get your hands on some magical items that can cast powerful spells, I can easily see this being sky blue. Imagine having some of the utility of being a Wizard without the downside of multiclassing.
  • 17th Level
    • Thief’s Reflexes: Sure the Thief isn’t all that flashy next to the Arcane Trickster or Assassin, but this is one darn good ability. Taking multiple turns in the first round of combat can immediately swing the odds in your favor, especially if you land two Sneak Attacks.

5th Level

Uncanny Dodge: Rogues aren’t the tankiest class in D&D, and Uncanny Dodge is a fantastic way of avoiding damage.

7th Level

Evasion: DEX saves are now even better, ensuring that you will never take full damage from sources requiring one.

11th Level

Reliable Talent: Your proficient skills can’t roll lower than a 10, before adding bonuses. Rogues have many proficiencies, so you will always roll well given that this combos with the Expertise class feature. With 20 DEX you will always roll at least a 23 on DEX based skills (10 from the roll + 8 from proficiency with Expertise + 5 from the DEX modifier).

14th Level

Blindsense: Invisible creatures can be punishing, and you’ll likely be glad to have this class feature at least once during a campaign.

15th Level

Slippery Mind: Rogues don’t typically roll with high WIS. Even so, proficiency is really handy.

18th Level

Elusive: By this point the Rogue won’t go down easy, even with its average hit points.

20th Level

Stroke of Luck: You may have noticed how powerful the Rogue’s class features are, and Stroke of Luck is the icing on the cake. Never again will you miss an attack or fail an ability check! At least once per short or long rest, that is.

Feats

Picking feats over ASI is something any Rogue should consider. However, this decision largely comes down to the build you are playing. Most Rogues will become powerful as their DEX approaches 20 and can afford to take some feats here and there. Meanwhile, Arcane Tricksters like to invest points in INT as well, and by focusing on feats you might find yourself with low stats further down the line. In any case, these are the feats that are most often considered when building a Rogue.

  • Alert: A +5 to initiative is HUGE, and helps the Rogue (ideally an Assassin build) to be extremely effective. Being immune to surprise attacks is also fantastic.
  • Actor: Can come in really handy and pairs well with the Assassin.
  • Crossbow Expert: This is a tricky one. Crossbow Expert gives you a second chance at landing your Sneak Attack, but Rogues also want to maximize their DEX as soon as possible and there are better feats available. This one really depends on your playstyle and personal preferences.
  • Lucky: We love the Lucky feat here at Arcane Eye, and it’s especially good for a Rogue. Because Rogues are proficient in so many skills, this feat is an extra insurance policy to not fail ability checks. Also helps you connect with Sneak Attack for that burst of damage.
  • Magic Initiate: If you are playing with Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide spells, picking up Green Flame Blade or Booming Blade is extremely worthwhile for Rogues.
  • Mobile: Mobile – you guessed it – improves your mobility. Rogues like to inflict massive damage and then get out of the way, making this the perfect feat to compliment that playstyle.
  • Sentinel: Sentinel is great for Rogues who like to be in the middle of the fray, allowing them to perform more Sneak Attacks and immobilize enemies.
  • Sharpshooter: If you’re playing as an archer, this is pretty much a must-have.
  • Skilled: Having even more proficiencies pairs extremely well with the 11th level class feature Reliable Talent. Your character can become the go-to for almost any ability check.
  • Skulker: Another amazing option for archer Rogue builds. Helps you pull off sneak attacks and hide. Still useful without making ranged attacks.

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

2 thoughts on “The DnD 5e Rogue Guide

  1. The only thing I disagree on is Shield. It’s absolutely amazing for my rogue (who gained shield proficiency through the moderately armored feat), who has a base AC of 19, to have 4 rounds of AC 24, and after that to take half damage. Since Shield takes effect after the attack is rolled but before damage happens, you can choose whether to use Shield or to use Uncanny Dodge, depending on the attack roll.

    1. Hey Durin!

      Of course there are many ways you can choose to build your Rogue (they are very versatile after all!) but we haven’t found that to be particularly optimized for what we like to do with the class. Rogues excel at their mobility and burst damage, and love to weave in and out of combat, avoiding even taking attacks in the first place. In our opinion, leaving the tanking to the Fighters and Barbarians of the group and focusing on your strengths is a better use of what the Rogue can bring to the table. As seen in the guide, we believe there are much better options for feats and spells that can really make the class shine. We think spell slots should be saved for those busted spells (like Find Familiar) and high DEX is key, so choosing high impact feats is of utmost importance if you want a feat. Unfortunately AC also becomes less important at higher levels where enemies roll with high attack bonuses.

      Of course that is just our opinion, and you can build your Rogue to suit your particular needs. Your method does make for an interesting take on the class, we will be sure to try it out in the future and will include it as an option in the guide. Thanks for your insightful comment!

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