A cowl-clad assassin slips between guard patrols crawling over the King's prized fortress, unseen and unheard by the masses. A young woman, sweat beading down the back of her neck, fiddles with a stolen trinket, sensing value beyond coin within its brass casing. A child, raised on the streets, howls in triumph and laughter as the door's tricky lock tumbles open, only to regret their joy as an ogre roars behind them.
A Rogue is a Rogue, no matter what form it takes: and who doesn't love a ne'er-do-well with a heart of gold? Or soot, if we're playing an evil campaign.
Welcome to the Rogue Class. Enjoy your stay, and your stabbin', and your lootin', and your cheatin'. You're gonna be doing a LOT of it. Rogues are a flexible, martial class that inhabit a powerful niche within any party: they're the fall guy, the lady ready to spin silver into gold through guile and charm, and somebody who isn't afraid to slip a knife (or a key) where it belongs in the dark of night.
Blessed with skills, actions, attacks, and tricks of the trade, a Rogue brings a swiss-army knife to any party, ready to use tools and cunning where swords and spells fail. When playing a Rogue, you'll be inhabiting the archetype that's seen such famous characters as Han Solo, Black Widow, and even Sly Cooper: a thief, operator, or bounty hunter who treads in the dark corners of the world, with a smile on their face and an ace up their sleeve.
The Rogue class is known for three main mechanics: Sneak Attack, Cunning Action, and Stealth. Each one seems... less than legal, if I'm not mincing words. When playing a Rogue, it's best to acknowledge the elephant in the room wearing a burglar's mask—you're not going to be making any friends with people in law enforcement...or who possess things YOU want... or, well, anybody who double-crosses you and lets you live to tell the tale.
See, the fun thing about Rogues is they're a blend of Smarts, Skills, and Stab: they can hit hard, escape quick, and leave a trail of traps, tricks, and trysts in their path, confounding any who dare follow them. So, buckle up—we're taking a deep dive into the complex mechanics and combo capabilities of one of Dungeons and Dragons most ICONIC classes!
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How to Play Rogues 5e
When playing a Rogue in D&D fifth edition (5e), it is important to understand a few common mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons: namely, the idea of Stealth, the idea of Skill Checks & Passive Skills, and the idea of Action Economy. Each one contributes to a Rogue's arsenal of tactics and weapons. Here is a quick breakdown of each:
When deciding to play a Rogue, as any class, it is integral to understand what each of your Class Features brings to the table. Will you focus on their movement, blitzing in and out of combat to deliver pain and tricks, or will you be supporting from the shadows, using Sneak Attack and Poison to whittle away at your foes? Some Rogues even pick up spells and magic items, allowing them to utilize illusions and other nefarious arcane skills to befuddle your DM's most cunning monsters!
Rogues in 5th edition start with the following base stats:
In addition, the 5e Rogue also gains three Class Features at Level One: Expertise, Sneak Attack, and Thieves' Cant.
Expertise lets you choose TWO skills, or ONE skill and your Thieves' Tools, and double your Proficiency Bonus when you apply it to your skill. So, at level one, let's say you chose Athletics, Deception, Perception, and Performance. Picking two of those to become Expertise skills allows you to add +4 from your Proficiency Bonus, rather than the standard +2. Remember! Your Proficiency Bonus grows as you level up, starting at 5th level, then again at 9th level, and so on and so forth! Those Expertise Skills will be CRUCIAL to your Rogue's build, so keep them in mind!
Sneak Attack... is going to get its' own section. Just to let you know: it's great, and it basically makes you hit like a truck doing 100 on the Autobahn.
Thieves Cant is the language, silver tongue, or double-talk ability of the Rogue. It allows you to converse in Thieves Cant, which is either a language all on its own, or a series of ciphers, codes, and double meanings laced within typical speech. When conversing in Thieves Cant, normal folk can't really understand your hidden messages, and furthermore, you can decipher simple sigils or symbols used by Thieves within the area. This is usually to convey safe houses, guilds, or resource depots to you. Who says there's no honor among thieves?After thieving and fighting your way to 2nd level, you will gain even more Class Features: the Cunning Action, and the ability to Aim. Cunning Action is a Bonus Action that allows you to take one of four distinct abilities: Dash, Dodge, Hide, or Aim! Below is an explanation of each:
You may only use Cunning Action once per turn unless you somehow gain an additional Bonus Action.
After performing a heist or two, striking down an enemy in the first round of combat, or any other milestones the DM determines, you will reach 3rd Level. To quote an ancient Jedi: This is where the fun begins! You've gained your Roguish Archetype! More on that below, but as of this article, there are currently seven official Archetypes:
- 2Arcane Trickster
- 6Swashbuckler (*PIRATE!)
You gain Features from your Roguish Archetype at 3rd level, 9th level, 13th level, and 17th Level. As you continue to gain levels, you begin to pick up more Class Features.
At 5th Level, you gain the Uncanny Dodge. This ability represents a Rogue's preternatural ability to avoid incumbent danger. Using a Reaction, you can choose to take half damage from an attack that you can see. This could be something as simple as a sword slash to a sudden arrow shot into your shoulder. Remember! You need to SEE the attack to use this, so ambushes or invisible strikes won't trigger Uncanny Dodge!
At 6th Level, you gain additional Expertise in skills you've gained Proficiency with!
At 7th Level, you gain the Evasion Class Feature, which is quite powerful, if I do say so myself. Whenever you make a Dexterity Saving Throw against an effect that allows you to save for half damage, you instead dodge completely, taking no damage, if you save against that effect. And if you fail? No big deal! You still take half damage. Fireballs, explosions, and lightning are common effects that force Dexterity Saves, but to a Rogue with Evasion? You can dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge the heck out of these effects!
At 11th Level, you gain the Reliable Talent. This Feature allows you to choose any Skill that you're proficient with when making a roll, and ALWAYS take a 10 as your lowest roll. Some DMs may still rule that a Natural 1 will always be a Failure (Boo, Hiss!), but still! Any roll of 2 through 9 will automatically round up to 10, then get raised even further by your stats and proficiency bonus!
At 14th Level, you gain the Blindsense feature. Essentially, you start to hone your senses to their apex, allowing you to sense the unseen with hearing. If you can hear, you can sense the presence of invisible or hidden creatures within 10 feet of you. Daredevil is a good way to imagine the origin and application of this ability! The one from Marvel. That Daredevil.
At 15th Level, you gain the Slippery Mind. While this sounds silly, it essentially gives you a free Saving Throw Proficiency in Wisdom, so just take that. It's free and Wisdom is one of the best Saving Throws to have proficiency. The flavor of this ability falls a little flat, but when I have a Rogue gain this ability, it's to represent the supernatural luck and experience that they've garnered and collected over their career allowing them to simply... force their success. It's... interesting, to say the least.
At 18th Level, you have become something akin to a living legend. You are Elusive. Any attacks made against you will never be made with Advantage. Unless you're Incapacitated. To be fair, though—it's hard to be Elusive when you literally cannot move a single muscle.
Finally! Level 20! What does the Rogue gain at Maximum Level? You've unlocked, at 20th Level, the Supreme Talent of all Rogues: the ability to say Yes (the Stroke of Luck Feature). In less flowery language, any miss you make was actually a prank and becomes a Hit. Or, if you choose to use this ability on a Skill Check, you automatically take a 20. This ability can only be used Once Per Rest. Rogues: even when they lose, they still win.
And that about covers the Rogue's Class Features! While there are quite a few, most of the abilities are pretty simple to understand—as you level up, you get better at your skills, are harder to hit and pin down, and can use luck and guile to turn the tides in your favor. Keep in mind: these are the Vanilla Class Features. You get your Roguish Archetype as well, to further characterize your place in the story!
What is a Sneak Attack in D&D 5e?
A Sneak Attack is one of DnD's most iconic phrases. If you've seen any Rogue do a single thing, it will be Sneak Attack. So! Since this ability is so integral to the Rogue's identity AND its gameplay mechanics, let's go over the ability.
A Sneak Attack needs to meet two criteria before it can be used:
You must have Advantage on the Attack Roll. Alternatively, an ally can be within 5 feet and YOU do not have Disadvantage on the Attack Roll.
The Attack must be made with a Finesse Weapon or a Ranged Weapon. A Finesse Weapon is defined in the DMG as a Weapon that allows a PC to use their Dexterity or Strength for Damage and Attack rolls. A Ranged Weapon is any weapon that can be thrown or shot: Arrows, Darts, Shuriken, etc.
When you've met these criteria, you may SNEAK ATTACK! Stab them in the kidneys! Shank em in the ribs! Kick em where the Sun don't shine! When you use Sneak Attack, you add Extra Damage! This starts as a d6, but as you level up, the d6 becomes 2d6, then 3d6, then 4d6, etc. This extra damage can also be modified by your Roguish Archetype feature, so keep an eye out!
Generally, a Sneak Attack can only be made once per round, but sometimes, a kind and benevolent DM will grant you this ability multiple times a turn. DnD is a beautiful game like that.
When you Sneak Attack, keep in mind that the additional damage will be doubled on a Critical Hit as well! So, 1d6 becomes 2d6, 2d6 becomes 4d6, etc.
Furthermore, Rogues can often make their Sneak Attacks even MORE brutal by applying Poisons, or any other form of supplemental damage. Give a Rogue a Vicious Poisoned Short sword and watch your players scoop up handful after handful of extra dice just to see how many can scatter onto a table.
Unfortunately, there are some creatures that can't be harmed by a Sneak Attack in 5e; creatures with Undead or Construct Traits generally have text in their stat blocks claiming that they cannot be dealt additional damage by a Sneak Attack, or similar abilities. Bummer. While it does make sense that stabbing a zombie in the kidney doesn't hurt it much, I would argue that stabbing a Zombie in the BRAIN is a great way for a Rogue to start a long-winded argument with a DM about the spirit of Sneak Attack, rather than the Rules as Written.
Using Cunning Action, Uncanny Dodge, and Evasion
While a Sneak Attack has long served as a Rogue's bread and butter throughout Dungeons and Dragon's long history, 5e has been especially kind to our sneaky, stealthy brethren. The addition of Cunning Action, Uncanny Dodge, and Evasion has helped flesh out a class often defined by their propensity for shoving knives into weak points. These abilities are versatile, powerful, and iconic! Here's some advice on how best to use them:
Cunning Action is a powerful Bonus Action: it can guarantee safety through Disengage and Hide, apply extra damage through Aim (remember, Advantage generally means Sneak Attack is a go!), and even allow you to escape or catch up to a highly mobile fight through Dash. Use your Cunning Actions as often as possible and as strategically as possible: Rogues LOVE doing multiple things at once. Cunning Action not only helps keep a fight fast-paced and tactical, but also helps sell the concept that Rogues are Speedy.Uncanny Dodge is another Speed ability, although this one is focused entirely on Defense, rather than Offense or Positioning. Sometimes, a Rogue's luck will run out, and they're only two turns away from being slashed to ribbons by a killer blade dancer. Uncanny Dodge helps shore up a Rogue's inherent squishiness (curse you d8!) by halving damage from attacks that breach their defenses. The only downside to Sneak Attack? It might put you into melee, which means you're more likely to be struck. With Uncanny Dodge, keep in mind the following:
Evasion is the King of Defense. There have been times in my DnD career that I have seen a Rogue emerge unscathed from a brutal dragon fight that saw others laid low by fire and brimstone. Evasion is POWERFUL. There isn't much to advise for this, as it's simply an always-on passive defense that mitigates damage. What I could recommend, however, is to understand what triggers your Evasion.Evasion is only triggered when you have to make a Dexterity Saving Throw. Spells or abilities will generally ask for these saving throws, and almost all will allow Evasion to be applied. Unfortunately, there are quite a few spells that will target a Rogue's Constitution, Strength, or Wisdom Saving Throw, which does render Evasion quite useless.
Combat Advice: "Friends" and Tactics
For every Han Solo, there is a Chewbacca. Generally, Rogues are in need of a dunce, a meat shield, a tank, to soak up punishment and expose the choice flanks of their hated enemies. Sometimes, the Rogue will call these walking piles of HP, a "friend". Rogues flourish with front-line fighter classes. Fighters, Barbarians, and Paladins all provide offense and defense, but also will generally have abilities to defend, buff, or even trigger additional attacks from their allies! Whether it be a Fighter thrusting a shield to protect you, or a Paladin's Aura making your saving throws skyrocket, a Rogue loves company. Especially company wrapped in steel and screaming battle cries. The less attention on you, the better!
Playing as a Rogue, you should not only be searching for weakened or disadvantaged enemies, but anything you can use as a tactical advantage: whether it be the battlefield's layout, the light sources in the room, or even the presence or lack of doors to use. All things can be made into a weapon by a talented Rogue, and while they may thrive in locations without sunlight or locks, never underestimate a good ol' dirty trick.
When playing a Rogue, be creative in combat: throw bottles to distract a dumb barbarian, scream insults and respond to tactics with wit and intrigue. Gather items, like caltrops, nets, and thunder-bottles, to set up ambushes, create choke-points, and make a battle a living nightmare. You have brains, and misdirection is just as powerful as any spell or blade. If you see a Wizard reading a spellbook, maybe it would be a good idea to relieve them of their leather-bound arsenal. Same for a Bard and their instrument, or a Cleric and their Holy Symbol: spellcasters are powerful if left alone, and as a highly mobile, highly creative, highly deadly Rogue, they're more akin to sitting ducks than all-powerful magical anomalies.
Master a Rogue's arsenal: you aren't just your Class Features. Gather items, use tricks, play in the space. Do not, by any means, think that a Rogue is just a Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack is just ONE WAY to embody the archetype of the Trickster Thief. Have fun at the expense of others: THAT'S what being a Rogue is all about!
Rogues, like knives, come in all shapes, sizes, edges, and grooves. Picking your Archetype will not only help inform your character, but also help you use your class to your best advantage.
The Assassin is all about DAMAGE and DISGUISE. When you become an Assassin, you gain the ability to Assassinate: any attack you make against a Surprise opponent is automatically a Critical Hit. In addition, you gain advantage on Surprised creatures or creatures that haven't had a turn yet, making the first round of combat crucial for an Assassin to act. You gain proficiency with the Disguise and Poisoner Kit, further allowing an Assassin to sneak into a place and take out their target.
The Arcane Trickster is a magically delicious Rogue. They gain the ability to cast certain Wizard spells, and modify spells to suit their more thief-oriented desires. To an Arcane Tricker, magic is just another thing to be heisted, stolen, and studied. When you become an Arcane Trickster, you gain the ability to cast Spells. Choosing spells from the Wizard class, your Arcane Trickster starts with cantrips, and gradually makes their way to Level Four Spells. A wizard they are not, but they're close! In addition, you gain powerful modifications to the Mage Hand spell.
The Inquisitive acts as a hardboiled detective within the realm of Dungeons and Dragons. You gain THREE abilities when you choose this Roguish Archetype: Insightful Fighting, Ear for Deceit, and Eye for Detail. These abilities allow you to become quite adept at noticing traps or opening up hidden information: Rogues often have high skills, so the Inquisitive instead allows you more opportunities to use these skills! Ear for Deceit allows you to treat any roll of a 7 or less as an 8 whenever you roll Insight to determine if a statement is a lie. Eye for Detail lets you make a Perception check as a bonus action to notice hidden information. Insightful Fighting allows you to create Sneak Attack opportunities by rolling Insight vs. your target's Deception check. Neat!
The Mastermind takes a Rogue's need for peons and turns it into a strength of the class. With the Mastermind, a player can expect to play a strong role in battle, as well as a strong role in social encounters, thanks to the two class features granted by this subclass: Master of Intrigue and Master of Tactics. Intrigue grants the Mastermind two additional languages, proficiency in the disguise kit, forgery kit, and a gaming set, as well as the ability to perfectly mimic a person you observe speaking for at least a minute! Wow! Tactics , as its name implies, is a battle ability, allowing the Mastermind to grant an ally the Help action as a Bonus Action! Help is a great way to grant advantage to your allies without expending your action, so you can get a large variety of activity done one per turn!
The Scout is a movement and positioning focused Rogue, allowing your character to not only move as a Reaction when an enemy ends its turn next to you, but also granting you Bonus Proficiencies in the Nature and Survival Skills! Scouts excel at luring enemies towards an ambush, searching terrain and buildings alike for advantages or treats, and making sure that they keep themselves alive to do it all over again! When you use a Scout, keep in mind that the class is geared towards a game based on combat encounters with complex terrain and similar features!
The Swashbuckler is a Pira- er, I mean, a Rogue that excels at dueling, derring-do, and death-defying stunts! Graced with a Rakish Audacity, a Swashbuckler can add their Charisma modifier to all Initiative checks, as well as allowing a Rogue to Sneak Attack without need for Advantage or allies! They become masters of dueling, able to dodge in and out of combat thanks to their Fancy Footwork: anytime you hit an ally with an attack, you can't be attacked by them in return! As the name implies, a Swashbuckler is inspired by famous duelists from old, and leans heavily on the trope of a noble rogue, capable of out-dueling a dozen guards with panache and flair!
The Thief is, oddly enough, a Rogue archetype that heavily focuses on...well...thieving. With their ability, Fast Hands, you gain the ability to open locks, trip traps, and sleight of hand items away from your enemies as a Bonus Action! In addition, they gain an agility called Second Story Work, allowing a Rogue to climb fast and jump further: perfect for scenes set atop city rooftops, with a mask-wearing thief being chased by a legion of city guards! Or airships! Airships work too!
For further information on each of these subclasses, keep an eye on the site!
What’s the Best Race for a Rogue in 5e?
Generally, a good Race to pick for a Rogue would be one that adds to the character's Dexterity or Charisma or Intelligence ability score. However, like all aspects of Dungeons and Dragons, a Race should be chosen based on the player's preferences and their character idea. Feel free to ask your Dungeon Master if you can use a different ability score set, or modify it to fit your needs. In addition, Human tends to be a very powerful Race, so if you're looking for something a bit more diverse, I've assembled a list below!
Aarokocra, for example, can FLY! Goblins are tiny, and have an ability that not only add additional damage once per rest, but also a natural inclination to speed and stealth! Tabaxi, similarly, have an ability to double their movement, and a natural climbing speed! Tieflings, while not gaining a natural increase to Dexterity, do offer some cantrips and magic, as well as some unique defensive abilities and a buff to Charisma and/or Intelligence, further raising a Rogue's already impressive skills.
Best Rogue Builds (Skills, Backgrounds & Feats)
A good assortment of skills for a Level One Rogue to pick up are:
These abilities grant a wide variety of benefits, allowing a Rogue to use their skills often. When choosing Skills, consider what will be common enough to be useful.Feats are a powerful option for further customization of your character. Able to be chosen once every 4 levels, or sometimes given as a powerful quest reward, Feats grant your character abilities and knowledge not tied to a single class or background. Some examples, such as Athlete, also raise one of your stats. Generally, some strong Feats for a Rogue are
Keep in mind, Backgrounds allow you additional proficiencies, so try not to double up on any choices! I've always been partial to Criminal, however, as it introduces a helpful NPC to the Rogue, which can allow the DM to introduce side-quests or information, as well as giving the Player a foil or ally to bounce off of for some fun role play!Alert, Lucky, Mobile, Observant, Resilient, and Skilled.
Consider these Feats if you're thinking of taking one, or if you've already raised your stats to their maximum level.
Role-playing as a Rogue
Rogues are a motley crew: by their own name, they are defined as people who don't play fair, observe standard morality, or own any allegiance to authority or a higher power. Rogues, by definition, are out for themselves and little other. When creating a Rogue, think about the following questions:
After answering these questions, consider what type of weapons your Rogue uses, what talents and tricks have they perfected over their life, and do they owe a favor or two to some nasty folk? When playing a Rogue, keep in mind that they are often unafraid or unable to escape the darker side of life: greed, vanity, desperation, predatory practices, and abuse of power or privilege. While these themes can be quite dark, a capable DM and Party can help tease out or embrace these aspects of a Rogue and find the fun in it. Nothing can be more thrilling than unlocking a chest within a noble's sanctum after planning out and executing a heist! Lean into the fun side of the criminal: if things go back, you can always find a new party, eh?
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