The Dark and Edgy DnD 5e Rogue Guide

Published on April 5, 2020

, Last modified on May 4th, 2020

Now you see me, now you don’t.

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.

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.

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.

Before You Start

Races

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: 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 can be 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: The Half-Elf can increase DEX with its free ability score increases and has Darkvision. Proficiency in any two skills brings the Rogue up to a total of six skills. 

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.

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): Pretty situational, but can work if you want to try your hand at a grapple build.
  • 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

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

  • 3rd Level
    • 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!
    • 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).
  • 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.
  • 13th level
    • Versatile Trickster: Advantage on attack rolls means more Sneak Attacks for you.
  • 17th Level
    • Spell Thief: This is great to not only temporarily know how to cast a useful spell, but also prevent your opponent from casting it again. Of course, you will need to actually encounter someone with spells to use this. Your INT also restricts the usefulness in terms of spell save DC, and the spell can’t be higher than 4th level.

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

  • 3rd Level
    • Fancy Footwork: Rogues love mobility, so Fancy Footwork is right in the Rogue’s wheelhouse. Although a bit difficult to understand for beginners, this feature basically means a Rogue can use a bonus action to attack with two weapons, and then move out of the way of each enemy you attacked (no need to use a Disengage action).
    • Rakish Audacity: Being able to use Sneak Attack without advantage is extremely powerful, since your mobility will allow you to single out foes that are positioned at least 5 feet away from their allies. If your character is rolling with CHA to be the skill checker of your party, this becomes godlike. Adding CHA to your initiative roll plus your DEX helps you go first much more often.
  • 9th Level
    • Panache: Lots of utility here. In battle, it lets you take the heat off allies that are in trouble. Outside of battle, you can charm NPCs or creatures that you share a language with.
  • 13th level
    • Elegant Maneuver: The weakest feature in the Swashbuckler’s skill set, but it’s still good. Advantage on Acrobatics and Athletics is always handy.
  • 17th Level
    • Master Duelist: In those critical moments, Master Duelist serves as a fail-safe so that you don’t miss an attack roll. Plus, it replenishes after both short and long rests so you don’t have to use it too sparingly. 

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.
  • 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.

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 taking this over Find Familiar as your unrestricted spell is hard to justify.

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.

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 Dark and Edgy 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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