5E Rogue Advice

Vitor Bastos

Explorer
My brother decided to join me in a Descent into Avernus campaign and he asked me for advice to build a Rogue.
However, I never played a Rogue and dont know how to properly build one.
Could you guys chip in?
  1. Best Subclasses? *He kinda likes the Swashbuckler and Arcane Trickster.
  2. Races?
  3. Backgrounds?
  4. Builds?
  5. Good ol' tips?
edit: Ok, now he said he likes both Swashbuckler and Arcane Trickster.
 
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Adamant

Explorer
1: You can't go wrong with most subclasses for rogue, just keep in mind that mastermind isn't as fun if it's extremely combat heavy and assassin likes a sneaky party. My personal favorites are Thief for bonus action potion drinking, and Arcane Trickster for the spell utility. Swashbuckler is also very good. Inquisitive, Scout, and assassin without a sneaky party are decent but not top tier, you can still have fun with them. (Disclaimer: I haven't played assassin, Inquisitive, Scout, or Mastermind yet, so I'm just going off what I heard.

2: Anything with a dex bonus is good, that's pretty much all you need. If the subclass you end up choosing needs a secondary stat a bonus there is helpful but not essential, especially if you have a +2 dex from your race.

3: Choose one that makes a good story, and just use the variant rule for custom background to get skills that you want. If that's not allowed, go for a balance of story and skills you want, since you want a background that makes at least some sense.

4: I recommend looking in I Fought the Law and Won by Gladius Legis for build advice, just remember to adjust for your campaign expectations and if you go arcane trickster Find Familiar may get targeted if you use it for advantage. Also, you aren't proficient in whips, so I don't know why the guide lists that as a weapon possibility.

5: The majority of your damage comes from sneak attack, so if there isn't a way to get it that turn you may want to consider readying an attack for when you can get it.
 

Esker

Explorer
Lots of options with a rogue. What's the rest of the party? If he doesn't have a strong preference going in, then may as well pick a subclass that complements the rest of the characters.

If there's no wizard, arcane trickster can fill some of that role by taking the sage background and being the go-to knowledge guy.

If there's nobody with good scouting ability, then taking expertise in stealth and perception will provide great value (despite the name, I don't necessarily think the Scout subclass is the best choice for this role; Inquisitive or Thief are probably the most natural fit, though arcane trickster could also do well, especially with a familiar).

Swashbuckler tends to be the go-to option for combat-heavy campaigns, since Fancy Footwork helps with hit-and-run tactics while keeping your bonus action free for an off-hand weapon (which is primarily for a second chance to land sneak attack). But it's definitely designed as a melee class, so if the party could use a ranged character, then he might want to look at Scout, Inquisitive, or, again, Arcane Trickster.

Mastermind and Swashbuckler both have reason to invest in CHA, so if the party doesn't have a bard, either one would make a good face, but in combat, Mastermind will be more support-oriented.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
My brother decided to join me in a Descent into Avernus campaign and he asked me for advice to build a Rogue.
However, I never played a Rogue and dont know how to properly build one.
Could you guys chip in?
  1. Best Subclasses? *He kinda likes the Swashbuckler.
  2. Races?
  3. Backgrounds?
  4. Builds?
  5. Good ol' tips?
Things to remember about building rogues.

*You can Hide, Dash, or Disengage as a bonus Action. This means that you have to choose on a round by round basis what your BA is for, and how it will best serve you and your team. This makes even the simplest rogue tactically engaging, but it’s quite easy to understand in play.

*Swashbuckler has the ability that lets you suffer no Opportunity Attacks from a creature you’ve attacked that turn.

*As a rogue, you only really need Dex and Con. Everything else is about skills and story.

*Sneak Attack is once per turn, so making attacks as a Reaction is really good for rogues. Much bigger damage boost than pretty much anyone else.

*Out of combat is easy for a rogue. You’re built for it automatically. Especially if your games tend to actually get past level 10.

Swashbuckler is IMO the easiest Rogue class to play. It provides the most reliable Sneak Attack, and it’s benefits change how the class plays with in a passive way that is easy to understand.

And it’s extremely fun. I say this as a person who doesn’t like the “simple” character options generally.

A lightfoot Halfling makes an incredible Swashbuckler Rogue. (Or any Rogue)

IMO the best way to run a Swashbuckler is rapier and hand crossbow if the DM is willing to be cool about reloading without a free hand, or two scimitars or short swords if not. Depending on that, either take crossbow expert, or focus on getting extra Reaction attacks.

If the DM tends to use a lot of spellcasters, Mage Slayer is excellent. Swashbuckler ‘s benefits make you impossible to get away from, and Mage Slayer makes it so you can Opportunity Attack when a caster casts a spell.
If not, check out Sentinel. Stick to another melee character, and stab someone with SA every time the other melee gets attacked.

I also really like taking Ritual Caster or Magic Initiate on rogues. Find Familiar is amazing for giving you advantage regularly, and Booming Blade on a Swashbuckler is a great way to create catch-22s for melee enemies, where they can either chase you and take extra damage, or stay put and only have subpar backup Ranged attacks to work with.

Lastly, if he wants to duck in and out of the shadows, a terrifying phantom killer, look at Swashbuckler+Skulker+Lightfoot halfling. No need to disengage, leaves bonus action for stealth, and you can Hide when only lightly obscured (skulker), including when obscured by a medium or larger creature (lightfoot), and you get partial dark vision as a bonus (no disadvantage on checks in dim light from skulker).


If he likes multiclassing, there are a lot of good MC builds for rogues.

Swashbuckler/Battlemaster Fighter makes one hell of a Duelist, especially with Riposte giving you pretty frequent Reaction attacks, and Precision making it hard to miss with attacks on your turn.

Any Rogue/Bladesinger Wizard is extremely versatile and hard to kill, and has all kinds of goodies to work with. The two compliment each other very very well, but gameplay is complicated.

Rogue/Vengeance Paladin is baller. Maybe too baller.
 

Vitor Bastos

Explorer
4: I recommend looking in I Fought the Law and Won by Gladius Legis for build advice
Oh nice! I'll show him this guide. Thanks a lot!

Lots of options with a rogue. What's the rest of the party?
Well, so far there is a Wizard (me), a Rogue (my brother) and a Fighter. 5 players in the group.

Swashbuckler is IMO the easiest Rogue class to play. It provides the most reliable Sneak Attack, and it’s benefits change how the class plays with in a passive way that is easy to understand.

And it’s extremely fun. I say this as a person who doesn’t like the “simple” character options generally.
It would be nice to be an easy and fun class for him, cause he played like 3 campaigns with me, all of them incomplete. I would say he played somethin like 30 sessions or so. So he is like me beginner/intermediate.

Would you say Arcane Trickster is way harder to play/manage than Swashbuckler?
 

Esker

Explorer
Would you say Arcane Trickster is way harder to play/manage than Swashbuckler?
Of all the rogue subclasses, AT is the only one that has to worry about resource management (spell slots). Unless I'm forgetting something, every other rogue feature is always-on. So I would say yes, it's harder, but still not that bad. Especially if you take mostly non-combat levelled spells (I'd probably pick Find Familiar, Silent Image, and Disguise Self at first. After level 7 you might want to pick up some combat spells, since there are some great 2nd level options: mirror image, shadow blade, web, suggestion, Phantasmal Force, for example), and at 9th, Magical Ambush is really nice, so you want some spells by then that take advantage of it: Tasha's Hideous Laughter, Suggestion, Phantasmal Force, Blindness/Deafness, for example).

Since you're already playing a wizard, though, you're going to have INT stuff covered, so he might be better off with Swashbuckler, investing in CHA as his third best stat, and taking expertise in persuasion or deception. Unless one of the other players is planning to go bard, in which case, they're likely to cover that role. But I agree with doctorbadwolf that Magic Initiate Wizard is a great feat choice for a Swashbuckler for Booming Blade and Find Familiar (AT can get those at 3rd, but can't as easily hit and run, so they might want Mobile).
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Also, the custom background rule is the rule. Any DM that doesn’t allow it is houseruling in a restriction.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It would be nice to be an easy and fun class for him, cause he played like 3 campaigns with me, all of them incomplete. I would say he played somethin like 30 sessions or so. So he is like me beginner/intermediate.

Would you say Arcane Trickster is way harder to play/manage than Swashbuckler?
Arcane Trickster is a bit more complex, but not unmanageable for most players.

The rogue is the perfect example of “easy to learn, difficult/satisfying to master”. Even the AT.

If he’s worried about difficulty, I’d say recommend Swashbuckler. He can always add magic other ways later if he wants.
 
My brother decided to join me in a Descent into Avernus campaign and he asked me for advice to build a Rogue.
However, I never played a Rogue and dont know how to properly build one.
Could you guys chip in?
  1. Best Subclasses? *He kinda likes the Swashbuckler and Arcane Trickster.
  2. Races?
  3. Backgrounds?
  4. Builds?
  5. Good ol' tips?
edit: Ok, now he said he likes both Swashbuckler and Arcane Trickster.
1. For a new player I recommend swashbuckler and TWF with short swords

2. I recommend Variant Human and the Actor feat for the swashbuckler. Half-Elfs and halflings work really well too.

3. Backgrounds - any that have the skills you want

4. Rogues don't really have a great build variety. There's a few combat optimization tricks to be aware of - but most of the time any given rogue can pick those up.

5. Be aware of booming blade which can be obtained for a feat and works great on the swashbuckler. Be aware of haste and using the extra action to ready an attack off your turn (only applicable to an Arcane trickster or if you have a wizard in the party that will cast haste on you). TWF is great for more chances to sneak attack. Hit and run a lot - but don't be afraid to allow a few attacks to come your way as spreading damage over the party is generally more beneficial.
 

Esker

Explorer
Hit and run a lot - but don't be afraid to allow a few attacks to come your way as spreading damage over the party is generally more beneficial.
This is a good point; especially after 5th when he gets Uncanny Dodge. Rogues can be surprisingly good tanks, especially with a strategic dip (for most subclasses, a single level of fighter does wonders here; for arcane trickster, two levels of wizard/bladesinger is probably better).

Swashbuckler wants booming blade for the damage boost, particularly if they can induce the enemy to chase them, but if you have an ally in melee with the enemy too, you might not always want to move away if it just means your ally gets attacked instead of you. A swashbuckler with one level of fighter for a shield, defense or TWF style, and a little bit of self-healing, and taking Sentinel at some point, makes for quite a resilient character that can afford to make themselves a target, and get off a second sneak attack in the round if the enemy attacks someone else.
 
This is a good point; especially after 5th when he gets Uncanny Dodge. Rogues can be surprisingly good tanks, especially with a strategic dip (for most subclasses, a single level of fighter does wonders here; for arcane trickster, two levels of wizard/bladesinger is probably better).

Swashbuckler wants booming blade for the damage boost, particularly if they can induce the enemy to chase them, but if you have an ally in melee with the enemy too, you might not always want to move away if it just means your ally gets attacked instead of you. A swashbuckler with one level of fighter for a shield, defense or TWF style, and a little bit of self-healing, and taking Sentinel at some point, makes for quite a resilient character that can afford to make themselves a target, and get off a second sneak attack in the round if the enemy attacks someone else.
I actually prefer TWF over booming blade for the swashbuckler - more reliable sneak attacks. Booming blade is a nice tactical option when it works but it's not at all efficient as after the first turn or so front lines enemies will mostly be engaged with your front lines. Your better off just standing next to back lines enemies most of the time than booming blade and moving away. I see booming blade being fun and competitive with TWF but not superior to it.

Keep in mind the swashbuckler can make an attack against 1 enemy, the TWF attack against another and move away from both without taking OA's. That's another benefit of the TWF approach.

Oh and I forgot the most important benefit - it leaves your feats free to do other things.
 
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Vitor Bastos

Explorer
This is a good point; especially after 5th when he gets Uncanny Dodge. Rogues can be surprisingly good tanks, especially with a strategic dip (for most subclasses, a single level of fighter does wonders here; for arcane trickster, two levels of wizard/bladesinger is probably better).

Swashbuckler wants booming blade for the damage boost, particularly if they can induce the enemy to chase them, but if you have an ally in melee with the enemy too, you might not always want to move away if it just means your ally gets attacked instead of you. A swashbuckler with one level of fighter for a shield, defense or TWF style, and a little bit of self-healing, and taking Sentinel at some point, makes for quite a resilient character that can afford to make themselves a target, and get off a second sneak attack in the round if the enemy attacks someone else.
And how do you feel about them off-combat? RPing, solving problems, etc...
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I actually prefer TWF over booming blade for the swashbuckler - more reliable sneak attacks. Booming blade is a nice tactical option when it works but it's not at all efficient as after the first turn or so front lines enemies will mostly be engaged with your front lines. Your better off just standing next to back lines enemies most of the time than booming blade and moving away. I see booming blade being fun and competitive with TWF but not superior to it.

Keep in mind the swashbuckler can make an attack against 1 enemy, the TWF attack against another and move away from both without taking OA's. That's another benefit of the TWF approach.
It’s a play-style thing. It’s been over a decade since I last saw a fight where people weren’t moving around a lot.

The main benefit of TWF for a Swashbuckler in a dynamic fight is moving away from two enemies with no OA, and getting reliable SA when you’ve no way to get advantage.

But also, rogues are better at killing artillery very quickly than almost anyone else in the game, so it’s often worthwhile to just do that as a rogue, and then engage the guys your tank is keeping busy once the backfield snipers and casters are dead.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Best Subclasses? *He kinda likes the Swashbuckler and Arcane Trickster.
Swashbuckler is the best rogue subclass in terms of damage output per round, at least on paper. Arcane Trickster has some excellent utility by virtue of being a spellcaster, even if their spells are very limited. Access to Fond Familiar is especially useful. Thief is a very strong option, particularly due to Fast Hands, though this feature’s value is diminished if the DM is already pretty generous with item use in combat. Assassin looks very attractive because of the auto-crit against surprised targets, but in practice it’s too situational for what it does, and the subclass doesn’t get much else. Scout is a good option if you want to go for a ranged build instead of dual-weapon.

Anything with a Dex bonus will do. Lightfoot Halfling and Wood Elf are both primo choices due to +2 Dex and expanded Stealth capability (again, devalued somewhat if the DM is already generous with requirements for hiding). Half-elf is pretty good especially if you’re going Arcane Trickster because they can be a bit MaD, and +2 Cha and two floating +1s is excellent. Variant human, as always, is a very strong choice. I recommend Mobile or Crossbow Expert as your 1st level Feat, though Skulker is also a solid option.

Backgrounds?
Anything is fine, really. Criminal is very thematic and the Underworld Contact feature could theoretically be pretty useful if the DM does anything with it. Sailor (Pirate) gives a very valuable feature in Bad Reputation, and is on-point for a Swashbuckler. Guild Artisan (Merchant) is an excellent choice if the DM will allow you to take the mule and cart in your starting equipment.

Builds?
Good ol' tips?
There are basically two optimal paths you can take here - dual-wielding, which has the higher DPR potential, or ranged, which is the safer option defensively. But also, you really can’t go wrong as long as you’re getting those Sneak Attacks in.

For dual-wielding, you ideally want to take the Swashbuckler subclass or the Mobile Feat. You’ll use hit-and run tactics. If you can get Advantage on attacks against a creature, go for that, if not go for a target that’s adjacent to one of your allies. If your first attack hits, run for cover and use your bonus action to hide if you can, or dash if you can’t. If your first attack misses, use your bonus action to attack with your other weapon and run for cover. If your second attack misses, just hope they target your ally instead of you.

If you want to go ranged, you’ll basically want to stick to cover, use your action to attack enemies that you can get advantage against or that are next to your allies, and your bonus action to hide. Take Crossbow Expert when you get the chance so you can make a second attack with your bonus action if your first attack misses. Consider taking Sharpshooter to get around cover, but don’t use the -5 to hit +10 to damage option unless you have advantage cause Sneak Attack makes that -5 hurt you more than it does other classes.

Arcane Tricksters have a third option with Booming Blade as your action, disengage as your bonus action so they take more damage if they follow you. Gets better with Mobile so you can save your bonus action for Mage Hand Ledgermain.

Another option, if you’re less concerned with pure white-room DPR is to be the party’s sacrificial lamb forward scout. This is where I think the Thief subclass really shines. Dungeon Delver, Observant, and Skulker are excellent choices for this style of rogue.
 
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Esker

Explorer
And how do you feel about them off-combat? RPing, solving problems, etc...
About Swashbucklers in particular? I think rogues in general are one of the best out-of-combat classes due to expertise. A swashbuckler with expertise in persuasion/deception + insight makes one of the best characters to be in the social pillar (really any rogue, but swashbucklers and masterminds get other benefits from the charisma), second only to bards, who get expertise and spells, and can focus entirely on charisma. Warlocks can also do very well at the social pillar with the right invocations and spells.

At the other end of the social spectrum, I'm playing an arcane trickster who dumped charisma, but who has expertise in stealth, perception, arcana and investigation, and winds up being the scout, non-social problem-solver, and go-to knowledge person for the party (we don't have a wizard). Wizards have spells to do that sort of thing (it's hard to beat arcane eye for scouting), but they can't necessarily always afford to expend the resources required to do it, so it's nice to have somebody who can be great at those things at-will.

Rogues will never be as effective in combat as a well-optimized fighter, but they make up for it out of combat.
 

Esker

Explorer
I actually prefer TWF over booming blade for the swashbuckler - more reliable sneak attacks. Booming blade is a nice tactical option when it works but it's not at all efficient as after the first turn or so front lines enemies will mostly be engaged with your front lines.
I think booming blade should be considered together with find familiar. I probably wouldn't be a high elf as a swashbuckler to get booming blade by itself, but if you can get advantage from your familiar reasonably often I think you end up doing better with booming blade than with TWF after level 5, even if you don't get the secondary damage. (I might be mis-remembering but I ran some numbers on that comparison at some point in another thread.) And since you can get both, plus another cantrip (minor illusion is what I'd take) from a single feat (or by being an arcane trickster), I think it's a worthwhile investment. Probably not at level 1 if vuman, but maybe at 4 or 8. Of course rogues multiclass well in general too; a swashbuckler face with three levels in warlock offers some nice benefits (mask of many faces, book of ancient secrets; friends, mirror image, etc.).
 
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I think booming blade should be considered together with find familiar. I probably wouldn't be a high elf as a swashbuckler to get booming blade by itself, but if you can get advantage from your familiar reasonably often I think you end up doing better with booming blade than with TWF after level 5, even if you don't get the secondary damage. (I might be mis-remembering but I ran some numbers on that comparison at some point in another thread.) And since you can get both, plus another cantrip (minor illusion is what I'd take) from a single feat (or by being an arcane trickster), I think it's a worthwhile investment. Probably not at level 1 if vuman, but maybe at 4 or 8. Of course rogues multiclass well in general too; a swashbuckler face with three levels in warlock offers some nice benefits (mask of many faces, book of ancient secrets; friends, mirror image, etc.).
I don't find familiar advantage to be that reliable of a tactic.
 

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