"Rogues, would you live forever?"
- Frederick the Great
2. Know Your Role
3. Ability Scores
6. Rogue Class Features
· Melee vs Ranged
· Skills7. Roguish Archetypes
· Spells8. Multiclassing
9. Feats & Example Builds
10. Tips, Tricks & Handy Links
Ah, the lovable Rogue. The adventurer who lies, cheats, steals, stabs people in the kidneys, and really isn’t all that lovable now is he? Unless, of course, he’s on your side. After all, no one else is crazy enough to stick their fingers into that spring-loaded trap, or to sneak off alone and make a grab for that frost giant’s key ring. He’s a useful chap to have around and you’re pretty sure you believe him when he says that your kidneys, at least, are safe.
2. Know Your Role
Rogues in 5e can expect to dish out respectable amounts of single-target damage while also taking point on a variety of skill checks. Rogues are not front line warriors; they have neither the hp nor the AC for prolonged exchanges. Instead they dart in and out of melee, or fire arrows from afar, while using their dirty tricks to avoid, reduce or even negate damage that comes their way. Keep in mind that although a Rogue's damage output is not the highest in the game, their stronger out-of-combat presence and unique defensive features make up for it.
From this point forward, the following colour coding will be used:
Cyan = Very good
Blue = Good
Black = Average
Purple = Bad
Red = Very bad
3. Ability Scores
Pump Dexterity and do as you will with the rest. Certain class features (Expertise, Reliable Talent, Slippery Mind) can help compensate for low or mediocre scores for certain skills or saves. This guide assumes you're using the point-buy variant for character creation.
Strength: 1/1 related skills are available to Rogues. Viable dump stat. This is for Athletics checks only, and you can get by without it. Aspiring spider monkeys may want 10-14, others want 8-12. You could build a Str-based rogue, but you’ll need specific race, feat, and/or multiclassing choices to make it work, and note that Sneak Attack still needs a finesse or ranged weapon.
Dexterity: 3/3 related skills are available to Rogues. One of the big three saves. This is for attacks, damage, AC, Initiative, skills and class features. Everyone wants 16-17. Str-based rogues will still want 12-14 here.
Constitution: 0/0 skills. One of the big three saves. Hit points are important, but you will develop ways to avoid or mitigate damage. Melee rogues want 14-16, others want 12-14
Intelligence: 1/5 related skills are available to Rogues. Viable dump stat. Arcane Tricksters will want 16-17, others want 8-12.
Wisdom: 2/5 related skills are available to Rogues, including the all-important Perception skill. Viable dump stat. One of the big three saves. Scout-types want 14-16, others want 8-14.
Charisma: 4/4 related skills are available to Rogues. Viable dump stat if you aren’t a people person. Silver-tongued rogues and Swashbucklers want 14-16, others want 8-14.
When choosing a race, you want a Dex boost first and foremost. Also, note that darkvision is more important for Rogues than other classes for two reasons. Firstly, darkness, as a "heavily obscured area”, confers the "blinded" condition which imposes disadvantage on attack rolls, and you aren't allowed to Sneak Attack when you have disadvantage. Sunlight sensitivity has the same issue (disadvantage on attack rolls in direct sunlight), but that’s only a problem for drow & duergar. Secondly, Uncanny Dodge only works against opponents you can see.
[sblock=Player’s Handbook, Common Races]Dwarf: All dwarves get +2 Con, darkvision, advantage on saves vs poison and resistance to poison damage, proficiency with some non-finesse weapons and artisans tools, and a bonus to Int(History) checks with stonework. These husky fellows are built to be front line meatshields, not sneaky skirmishers. 25ft speed limits Cunning Action's mobility.
- Hill Dwarf: +1 Wis and +1 hp per level.
- Mountain Dwarf: +2 Str and racial proficiency in medium armor. This is the only race so far that gets dual +2s. These guys are your best bet for a Str-based rogue.
- High Elf: +1 Int, free wizard cantrip, an extra language, and longbows. These guys were made to be Arcane Tricksters, although they'd still excel in any archetype.
- Wood Elf: +1 Wis. Having +5 ft speed, longbow proficiency, and the ability to hide while only lightly obscured in a natural setting makes Wood Elves into excellent scouts and skirmishers.
- Dark Elf (Drow): +1 Cha. Although they have decent stats, doubled Darkvision range and some innate spells (faerie fire is awesome for Sneak Attacking), sunlight sensitivity is bad if you’re not in dense forests, dungeons, inside buildings, etc.
- Lightfoot Halfling: +1 Cha. Naturally Stealthy (use Cunning Action to hide behind an ally and immediately shoot off a Sneak Attack), is probably the single best ability for rogues to have.
- Stout Halfling: +1 Con. Being resistant to poison is good, but not nearly as great as Naturally Stealthy.
- Variant Human: +1 to two stats. Grab a skill and one of the recommended feats and go to town. No darkvision.
Gnome: +2 Int, 25 ft speed, darkvision, advantage on all mental spell saves. Only one subrace is worth it.
- Forest Gnome: +1 Dex and the minor illusion cantrip. These guys make great Arcane Tricksters.
- Rock Gnome: +1 Con instead of Dex and worse subracial features. They should just go wizard instead.
Half-Orc: +2 Str and +1 Con. Like the Dwarves, Half-Orcs are made to smash, not to sneak. For a Str-based rogue, you will want to multiclass or pick up a feat to improve your armor. At least Half-Orc rogues benefit from Darkvision, Relentless Endurance, and Savage Attacks.
Tiefling: +1 Int and +2 Cha. While thematically having a Tiefling rogue makes a lot of sense, mechanically it's a weak choice. Darkvision, fire resistance, and some spells don’t make up for a lack of an attack stat.[/sblock][sblock=Dungeon Master’s Guide Races]Aasimar: +1 Wis and +2 Cha. These shiny fellows are meant to be clerics or paladins, not rogues.
Eladrin: +2 Dex and +1 Int. All the base elf traits plus Misty Step 1/short rest and longbow proficiency. Perfect for becoming an Arcane Trickster. Misty Step pretty much functions as an upgraded Cunning Action(disengage & dash), allowing you to escape even from grapples or restraints and travel a bonus 30ft in any direction and across obstacles as a bonus action.[/sblock][sblock=Elemental Evil Player’s Companion Races]Aarakocra: +2 Dex and +1 Wis. Flight (at first level!) plus Cunning Action and/or the Swashbuckler's Fancy Footwork pretty much gives you a flyby attack, which is super. Just note that you can't Sneak Attack with your talons and that you will probably need your DM's permission to choose this race. No darkvision.
Genasi, Air: +2 Con, +1 Dex. Good stats, plus levitate once per long rest, and you can hold your breath forever. No darkvision.
Genasi, Earth: +2 Con, +1 Str. Pass without trace, once per long rest, and ignore rocky difficult terrain. You could probably make a Str-based rogue with this, with pass without trace making up for a low Dex score for stealth. No darkvision.
Genasi, Fire: +2 Con and +1 Int. Darkvision, fire resistance, some fire spells.
Genasi, Water: +2 Con and +1 Wis. Acid resistance, amphibious, swim speed, some water spells. No darkvision.
Goliath: Covered under the Volo's Guide to Monsters section.[/sblock][sblock=Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide Races]Deep Gnome: +2 Int and +1 Dex. Great Arcane Trickster stats with 120ft Darkvision and situational advantage on Stealth. Same advantage on saving throws vs magic and 25ft speed as other gnomes. They also have access to a fantastic racial feat that grants at-will nondetection plus one casting of blindness/deafness, blur, disguise self each per long rest.
Duergar: +2 Con and +1 Str, superior darkvision, advantage on saves vs illusions and being charmed or paralyzed, enlarge/reduce and invisibility, sunlight sensitivity. Decent Str-based rogue.
Ghostwise Halfling: Core Halfling features, +1 Wis and telepathy. Solid, but no darkvision.
Half-Elf Variants: I measure these against full-blooded elves rather than against Half-Elves. With that mindset, Elves trade +2 Dex/+1 [x], perception proficiency, longbow proficiency, and trance for +1 Dex/+1 [x]/+2 Cha. Wood Elves get the worst deal as they have to choose between Fleet of Foot and Mask of the Wild.
- Half-Wood Elf: Fleet of Foot isn't worth it, but Mask of the Wild is good. Full-blooded Wood Elf is probably better, but this is still decent.
- Half-Moon/Sun (High) Elf Variant: Certain Cantrips are quite good (greenflame blade or booming blade come to mind). Your spellcasting stat is Intelligence.
- Half-Drow Variant: Drow Magic (faerie fire, specifically) without sunlight sensitivity, better than being a full-blooded Drow. Your spellcasting stat is Charisma.
- Half-Aquatic Elf Variant: Swimming speed is definitely not worth two skills. It doesn't even come with water breathing.
- Protector: +1 Wis, 1 min flight & extra radiant damage per long rest.
- Scourge: +1 Con, 1 min radiant damage aura & extra radiant damage per long rest.
- Fallen: +1 Str, 1 min fear gaze & extra necro damage per long rest. Could work as a Str-based rogue.
Goliath: +2 Str and +1 Con. Athletics proficiency and a once per short rest damage mitigator that doesn't scale. You could probably make a Str-based rogue with this, I guess, maybe. No darkvision.
Kenku: +2 Dex and +1 Wis. Forgery expert, 2 extra roguish skills, and sound mimicry make for a natural rogue, but no darkvision. The roleplaying sounds like a headache (incapable of creativity, can only speak by mimicking previously heard sounds).
Lizardfolk: +2 Con and +1 Wis. No attack stat, no way.
Tabaxi: +2 Dex and +1 Cha. Darkvision, limited double speed, climb speed, perception and stealth. Can’t ask for more.
Triton: +1 Str, +1 Con and +1 Cha. Amphibious, some water spells, and cold resistance. No good for most except maybe Str-based rogues, but no darkvision.[/sblock][sblock=Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Monstrous Races]Bugbear: +2 Str and +1 Dex. Darkvision, +5ft reach (!), stealth skill, and extra surprise damage. Awkward stats, but overall this is pretty sweet.
Goblin: +2 Dex and +1 Con. Small but still has 30ft speed, darkvision, limited minor extra damage vs larger foes, and bonus action disengage or hide (which is redundant for rogues). Good stats, but features are uninspiring.
Hobgoblin: +2 Con and +1 Int. Darkvision, two martial weapon proficiencies, a limited bonus to missed attacks/failed rolls. Not rogue material.
Kobold: +2 Dex and -2 Str (not a typo, that’s a minus). Small but still has 30ft speed, darkvision, limited ability to grant advantage to allies by groveling, and sunlight sensitivity. Even with the Dex and darkvision, kobolds are only for players who want to roleplay a serious underdog.
Orc: +2 Str and +1 Con. Darkvision, bonus action sprint (made redundant by Cunning Action) and intimidation. Mediocre Str-based rogues.
Yuan-Ti Pureblood: +2 Cha and +1 Int. Darkvision, suggestion, magic resistance(!), and poison immunity(!). Powerful package, just not for rogues. [/sblock][sblock=Unearthed Arcana Races (not legal in D&D Organized Play events)]Changeling (UA: Races of Eberron): +2 Cha and either +1 Dex or +1 Int. Proficiency in two social skills, 2 extra languages, 1 extra tool proficiency with double bonus (thieves tools is best), a defensive reaction ability, and the amazing Change Appearance action. Downsides are they don't get darkvision, can't Change Appearance into small size or change your clothing, and Unsettling Visage competes with Uncanny Dodge for your reaction.
Kalashtar (UA: Races of Eberron): +1 Wis, +1 Cha, and +1 other (pick Dex). Reaction to roll Wis saves with advantage, telepathy, advantage (but not automatic proficiency) with one social skill, and borderline-useless immunity to psychic damage and dream-related magic. No darkvision, but good stats, telepathy is great for sneaking, and advantage + Expertise + Reliable Talent is serious overkill for persuasion, or Insight for Inquisitive Kalashtars.
Minotaur (UA: Waterborne Adventures): +1 Str and +1 Str, Int, or Wis. Oddly enough, you can build a Str-based Arcane Trickster with this, if that strikes your fancy. Note that you can't Sneak Attack with your horns. No darkvision.
Revenant subrace (UA: Gothic Heroes): +1 Con, hp regen up to ½ health, free resurrection 24hrs after you die. This overwrites your previous subrace, so it’s best used with elves for their core Dex bumps and darkvision. There are also rules for using it with humans, dragonborn, and tieflings, but don’t. Talk with your DM to see if being a Revenant is right for you.
Shifter (UA: Races of Eberron): All shifters get +1 Dex, darkvision, Perception proficiency, and 1 minute of shifting (character level+Con bonus temp hp) per short rest.
- Beasthide: +2 Con, Athletics proficiency, and (+1d6 temp hp and +1 AC) while shifting. Great for melee rogues.
- Longtooth: +2 Str, Intimidation proficiency, and gain strength-based 1d6 bite attack while shifting. Can't Sneak Attack with the bite.
- Swiftstride: +1 Dex and +1 Cha, Acrobatics proficiency, +5 feet speed, and while shifting get additional +5 feet speed plus a reaction to move 10 feet away from adjacent enemies without triggering opportunity attacks. Awesome for ranged rogues, but for Scouts the reaction ability is made completely redundant by the Skirmisher ability.
- Wildhunt: +2 Wis, Survival proficiency, and while shifting get a fairly weak tracking ability. This is fine, I guess.
- Abyssal: Same as vanilla tiefling.
- Infernal: +1 Con, spells randomly determined from a short list, increased hp. Not worth it.
- Envoy: +1/+1 to two ability scores of your choice, +1 skill proficiency, +1 tool proficiency, +1 language, doubled proficiency with one tool (Theieves Tools are best) that is integrated with your body. Double wow! Only downside is no darkvision.
- Juggernaut: +2 Str, strength-based 1d4 unarmed strikes, powerful build. Not for rogues.
- Skirmisher: +2 Dex, +5 feet speed, and move stealthily at full pace when traveling alone for over 1 hour (which is useless). No darkvision. Honestly, just pick the Envoy instead.
- Ibis-Headed: +1 Int, half proficiency bonus on non-proficient Int checks. Great for Arcane Tricksters, although Swashbuckler is also a strong choice as Flight+Fancy Footwork=Flyby Attack.
- Hawk-Headed: +2 Wis, Perception proficiency, and you don't have disadvantage on long range weapon attack rolls. I would never allow this in any game that I DM. Aside from the +2/+2, a precedent set by Mountain Dwarves, Flight combined with the long range buff lets Aven rain death down from 320ft in the air, which is ridiculously broken. 600ft if they get longbow proficiency from somewhere.
Minotaur (PS: Amonkhet): These are essentially half-orcs that traded in their darkvision for a headbutt natural weapon. Fine for a Fighter, but not for a Rogue.
Naga (PS: Amonkhet): +2 Con, +1 Int, bonus action for conditional +5 speed, two natural weapons, poison immunity, poisoner's kit proficiency. Bad for Rogues, and IMO just badly designed.
Aetherborn (PS: Kaladesh): +2 Cha and +1 to two other stats, darkvision, necrotic resistance, intimidation proficiency, and two bonus languages. Almost as good as Half-Elves but with a very interesting flavour. Born from magical mishaps, these hedonistic creatures rarely live longer than a few years, so why waste time following the rules? I'd also give them the Trance trait, as the text says they don't sleep.
Vedalken (PS: Kaladesh): +2 Int and +1 Wis, advantage vs Int/Wis/Cha saves vs magic, and double proficiency bonus on Int checks about magic or technology. These stereotypical scientist-types are more or less medium-sized Rock Gnomes, better suited as Wizards (or Artificers, eventually) than Rogues.
Kor (PS: Zendikar): +2 Dex and +1 Wis, 30ft climb speed while not wearing heavy armor, Athletics & Acrobatics proficiencies, and the Halfling traits Lucky and Brave. These mountain dwellers would be perfect Thieves, if they had darkvision and if you can explain away their tradition-bound, community-oriented nature.
Merfolk (PS: Zendikar): +1 Cha, 30ft swimming speed, amphibious, one extra language. There are some weird game design choices going on with these emotionally detached fellows. In any event, they're probably better suited to the classes that they get their cantrips from.
- Emeria (Wind) Creed: +2 Wis, Deception & Persuasion proficiency, one druid cantrip.
- Ula (Water) Creed: +2 Int, navigator's tools & Survival proficiency, one wizard cantrip.
- Cosi (Trickster) Creed: additional +1 Cha & +1 Int, Sleight of Hand & Stealth proficiency, and one bard cantrip.
Goblins (PS:Zendikar): +2 Con, small, 25ft speed, darkvision, fire resistance, unarmored AC = 11+Dex. These impulsive rock-eaters aren't your traditional D&D goblin. They aren't any good either; they don't have a second ability score increase. Avoid.
- Grotag Tribe: Animal Handling proficiency.
- Lavastep Tribe: Advantage on stealth checks in rocky or underground terrain.
- Tuktuk Tribe: Thieves' tools proficiency.
- Tanjuru Nation: +1 Cha, proficiency in two skills or tools of your choice.
- Joraga Nation: +1 Dex, otherwise same as Wood Elf. Still great, even without Trance.
- Mul Daya Nation: +1 Str, superior darkvision, sunlight sensitivity, chill touch, hex, & darkness spells, based on Wisdom. You could go Strength-based with these guys.
- Gavony Province: Same as basic Human.
- Kessig Province: +1 Dex & +1 Wis, Survival proficiency, 40ft speed (!), Dash action ignores difficult terrain, and when you melee attack a creature, it can't make opportunity attacks against you for the rest of your turn. Great for two-weapon fighting, although being a Swashbuckler accomplishes the same thing.
- Nephalia Province: +1 Int & +1 Cha, proficiency in four skills or four tools. The specific wording indicates that you choose ether skills or tools, so no mix-and-matching.
- Stensia Province: +1 Str & +1 Con, Intimidation proficiency, and +2 hp per character level. Decent Strength-based Rogues.
Aim for two good skills, or one good skill and some nice extras. Note that if a character gains the same proficiency from two different sources, you can choose a different one of the same type (ie a skill or tool). This might make Backgrounds with redundant proficiencies marginally superior as they basically let you choose whatever skill or tool you want in exchange*.
[sblock=Player's Handbook Backgrounds]
Acolyte: Insight, Religion. Insight is good if you didn’t dump Wis, Religion is bleh, two extra languages can be a dud or a blessing depending on your campaign or DM, and the feature is very campaign specific (ie “What do you mean there isn’t a Temple of Waukeen in this town?”). Take this if you really want to play an agent of Shar/Tymora/etc for roleplaying.
Charlatan: Deception, Sleight of Hand. Two relevant skills, two relevant tools, 55gp worth of swag, and a fluff item like loaded die or signet ring. Sweet. The feature can be handy for forging DOA bounties for assassinations or warrants for search & seizures.
Criminal: Deception, Stealth. Two relevant skills. You already have proficiency in Thieves’ Tools so choose whatever tool you want to replace it. Criminal Contact could be useful for “find that guy” type quests or sending warning messages or something (“the orcs are coming, pass it on”), but I’d bet it’ll more often than not turn into a DM tool for delivering quests/plot info. Spy variant can legitimize your activities.
Entertainer: Acrobatics, Performance. One good skill, one okay tool kit & an instrument. One free instrument, costume, and 15 gp. This feature is actually pretty good. Can help advance plot as well as save money on lodgings. Less good if your DM regularly forgets to enforce such expenses. The Gladiator variant swaps the free instrument for an "inexpensive" weapon, but it doesn’t give you proficiency. So, no free whip proficiency for rogues unless your DM houserules it.
Folk Hero: Animal Handling, Survival. Bleh. Bad skills, bad tools, bad equipment. Only saving grace is the feature which nets you free safe houses to hide from local authorities or rivals. Robin Hood fluff is nice for roleplaying.
Guild Artisan: Insight, Persuasion. Two good skills (if you didn’t dump Wis), one language. Crafting mundane items is not generally worth it, but padlocks or manacles could be useful. Membership feature is DM-dependent for questing help, and won’t be of any help if there’s no nearby guildhall (“What do you mean there isn't a Scrivener Hall in this town?”). Another downside to this Background is that it actually costs you 5gp/month. Merchant variant can net you a free language and a mule & cart, and thematically it mixes better with the adventuring lifestyle.
Hermit: Medicine, Religion. This does nothing for you.
Noble: History, Persuasion. One good skill, one language. Feature can help get you into all the good parties. Just don’t blow your Sleight of Hand checks on the dance floor. Fluff can be interesting, playing as a bastard child or sliver tongued dandy. The Knight variant feature is poop.
Outlander: Athletics, Survival. Athletics is okay if you didn’t dump Str. While having a free trap can be nice at low levels, and the feature could potentially save your party on buying rations, nothing else here really speaks for you.
Sage: Arcana, History. Yeah, no.
Sailor: Athletics, Perception. Two decent skills, bad tools, some interesting swag. Too bad the free weapon doesn’t work with Sneak Attack. Ship’s passage can be nice depending on your campaign (note that Faerun is somewhat landlocked), but the variant Pirate could be so much fun (and so much trouble in the wrong player’s hand)! YMMV.
Soldier: Athletics, Intimidation. Two decent skills, land vehicle proficiency could potentially be useful, lackluster tool and equipment. Choose Officer or Scout and go bully the local town’s guard with your rank.
Urchin: Sleight of Hand, Stealth. Two great skills, one good tool, a free dagger, and a pet mouse (!). The feature is pretty bad though; it’ll be useful maybe once in your campaign and only then if you’re lucky.
*You can create a custom background as per PHB p125. If so, choose any two skills, any two tools/languages, any equipment package, and whatever feature appeals to you. I'd recommend one that gives free food and/or lodgings (eg Entertainer, Folk Hero, Outlander) or political influence (eg Guild Merchant, Noble, Solider).