"A rich rogue nowadays is fit company for any gentleman; and the world, my dear, hath not such a contempt for roguery as you imagine." — John Gay
Guide linked on Google Docs, as well.
Table of Contents:
II. Basics of the Class
IX. Builds and Combos
This guide will use the following ratings:
Red is dead. A choice that either adds nothing of value to your character or might even actively hurt it.
Purple is a substandard choice. It might be useful in corner-case situations, but overall it's not worth the investment.
Black is average. You're not hurting your character by taking this, and it might even help in some situations, but there are better choices.
Blue is a good choice. It definitely helps your character in the majority of cases.
Sky Blue is a fantastic choice. An option you should strongly consider above most others.
Gold is mandatory. It's a rare rating that denotes something that is so good that you must take it, or you can't call yourself optimized.
This guide takes from the following sources:
PHB - Player’s Handbook
MM - Monster Manual
DMG - Dungeon Master’s Guide
EEPC - Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
SCAG - Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
VGM - Volo’s Guide to Monsters
XGTE - Xanathar's Guide to Everything
*** Note: Material from Unearthed Arcana is always considered playtest material and will not be rated in this guide. But feel free to discuss it in the thread.
Clutchbone for the original Rogue Guide, which was a big help in writing this updated one. Even on the stuff I didn't agree with, it was highly useful in referencing and a sort of second set of eyes.
What is a Rogue?
The names have changed, the subclasses/kits/archetypes/what have you have shuffled around, the mechanics have evolved, but the general concept of the Rogue hasn't changed much over D&D. It is and always has been the guy you rely on to sneak around, scout ahead, open locked chests and doors, dismantle traps, and (of course) stab people in the back. And the Rogue has always tended to be a character that operates on the wrong side of the authorities.
In 1e AD&D, the class as a whole was named the Thief. The Assassin was explicitly a Thief subclass, with some ability prerequisites, a requirement to be evil, ability to use all weapons, special characteristics in regards to poison, and a pretty good chance to straight up kill an enemy if attacking from surprise – in exchange for a slower progression in actual Thief abilities.
2e AD&D introduced the Rogue name for the first time, but only to denote a group of classes that included what it still called the Thief, as well as the Bard. The Thief was mostly as it was in 1e, and the Complete Thief's Handbook reintroduced the Assassin as one of many Thief kits, with a lot of the same flavor and abilities the Assassin had in 1e – except most glaringly the chance to inflict instant death from surprise.
3e renamed the Thief class as it had been known into the Rogue, and with that renaming also made it generally more effective in combat – to a point. Sneak Attack was MUCH more versatile than the old AD&D backstab, with the ability to use it with ranged weapons, for one. And while backstab explicitly required getting behind someone unawares, Sneak Attack kicked in for many more combat situations than that. Moreover, with the new skills system, Rogues had the most skill points in 3e, and they were able to use them on a variety of skills. They could take skills that replicated the old AD&D Thief, or they could instead decide to focus more on diplomacy, lying, misdirection, bluffing and such.
The Assassin was reintroduced as a Prestige Class in 3e, with Rogues qualifying rather easily. It required evil alignment, featured a Death Attack that required three rounds of setup and had a rather crappy DC, which means it hardly ever worked, and for some reason introduced spells into its arsenal.
Where the 3e Rogue and derivatives faltered, however, was against enemies that were either immune to critical hits (which also negated Sneak Attack) and against other types of enemies that explicitly couldn't be Sneak Attacked ... and boy, were there plenty. 4e took the first step toward addressing that problem, designating the Rogue a Striker class and making Sneak Attack always work as long as the Rogue had Combat Advantage ... but like most 4e classes, perhaps it was a little too focused on combat. Some of those powers it had truly defied logic.
The Assassin, meanwhile, was introduced as a Shadow magic-type using Striker class that was just, well, weird, and by character optimization consensus not very effective. A later version of the Assassin, called the Executioner, was much closer to the AD&D Assassin's more martial roots (still with some Shadow elements), although still behind the 4e power curve due to the broken nature of that system.
5e does continue 4e's philosophy of making nothing immune to Sneak Attack or critical hits, thus still making the Rogue valuable in any combat. But more than anything in 5e, the Rogue's emphasis is on not only using a wide array of proficient skills, but making them the best at using those skills. The archetypes feature the classic Thief and Assassin, with more or less the same flavor and working in the same spirit as their AD&D selves (thank goodness), but with the skill flexibility first introduced in 3e, as well as other archetypes like the Arcane Trickster (originally a 3e prestige class), Mastermind and Swashbuckler.
At its heart, the 5e Rogue is almost like a greatest hits version of previous Rogues/Thieves/Assassins, etc. Their Sneak Attack is more flexible than ever (except for one glaring case, more on that later). As a full class, they have the most number of proficient skills to start with (only one specific subclass of Bard has more). And between class features like Expertise and Reliable Talent, they have the ability to excel on skill checks like no other. They also have some of their more esoteric abilities first introduced in 3e, such as Evasion, Uncanny Dodge, and Slippery Mind. Their archetypes mostly succeed at placing a sharp emphasis on a certain aspect of the Rogue package (e.g. Thief at exploration, finding/disabling traps; Assassin at big damage from the shadows, etc.).
Strengths and weaknesses
- Tons of skill proficiencies, the most of any full class. Only the Lore Bard, a specific subclass, gets more. Also a class skill list with many options.
- The potential to be the best at proficient skill checks, with Expertise and Reliable Talent. Rogues can flat rock the exploration and interaction pillars.
- Sneak Attack makes them the best at taking advantage of Reaction attacks, in particular. Sneak Attack also makes for the most devastating critical hits in the game.
- Reliant on just one attribute (Dexterity), and on top of that gets one more Ability Score Improvements than most other classes (and only the Fighter gets more). This makes for some amazing build versatility.
- As good as Sneak Attack can be, Fighters and Barbarians, and even some Paladins and Rangers, will have you beat on consistent damage-per-round. And any round where you can't Sneak Attack (it happens sometimes) is pretty much a waste.
- A few of your class features, especially at higher levels, while not bad per se, aren't as spectacular as you'd like.
- A lot of what you can do with your skills can be taken care of more easily by characters with magic (sad face). At least you'll have your pride that you don't need no stinkin' magic? (Although one Rogue archetype actually does use magic ...)
- No anti-horde tools to speak of. You’ll be taking them out one at a time, every time. Hope there’s a Wizard or Sorcerer, or even a Ranger or Fighter ready to step up in the party when a swarm comes.