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D&D 5e Guide – How To Play A Rogue

5 Minute Read
May 21 2021
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Rogues are a classic adventuring archetype. Stealthy and skilled, they can be fun; this handy guide will help you get started with a rogue.

If you break down D&D’s adventuring archetypes to their most basic elements, you’ll come away with three main archetypes: Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief. Funnily enough, that’s not too far from how it was in the Original D&D, with Fighting-Man, Magic-User, and Cleric–but Clerics are more like Fighter/Mages (who use divine magic, but magic nonetheless). Thieves weren’t added until the first Greyhawk expansion, and when they were added, they were all about doing things in the dungeon.

Opening locked doors, looking for traps, prowling silently–thieves could do it all. And in 5th Edition, rogues have grown beyond these humble origins. Rogues are typically good at using their skills and dealing one really strong hit. The rest is details, but we’re here to help you figure out what details you want best. Let’s take a look.

Rogues’ Tools

In 5th Edition, the Rogue fits into a variety of roles, but there are two big tools you’ve got in your arsenal. The first of these is Sneak Attack. Sneak attack is an ability that lets you add extra damage to a successful attack if one of the following statements is true:

  • You have advantage on your attack roll
  • You have an ally within 5 feet of your target and you don’t have disadvantage on your attack roll

Barring a few subclass options, that’s it. You can only add this extra damage once per turn–which is an important distinction. If you have a spell such as Haste, you can use your hasted action to attack, dealing your sneak attack damage, and then you can use your normal action to ready an attack against your foe, allowing you to use your reaction to make an attack once it’s not your turn–thus you can get two sneak attacks in one round.

And you’ll need to, because Sneak Attack is really your best attack tool. If you can’t pull it off, your damage will quickly fall behind the rest of the party–but that’s okay because as a rogue you’ll have a few other tools.

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Expertise is the other big thing you’re good at. This ability lets you double your proficiency modifier when using skills that you select, which means you’ll be more likely to succeed, even at very difficult tasks. It can be a good idea to check with your DM to see what skills are likely to come up, but in general, Stealth and Perception are almost always good options, and Persuasion or Deception is a good bet too if you plan on doing any kind of talking in your party.

Finally you’ve got a surprising amount of mobility with your Cunning Action. This is where Rogues really shine–they can disappear into shadows or dash across a battlefield faster than almost everyone, except for monks. And the best part is, every rogue has all of these options. Once you get to your subclass you can really customize your play style.

Arcane Tricksters are a classic combo. This subclass is all about utility. You’ll blend magic with your Rogue’s skills. You’ll also┬ábe able to use spells like Mage Hand to pick pockets or disarm traps at range. And with your illusion and enchantment spells, you’ll have plenty more than just sneak attack to do in fights, if you can get the right spells to distract or disarm enemies.

Assassins take the single target damage of the Rogue and ultra specialize in it. The ability to generate automatic critical hits is important for sneak attackers. You can also perform a death strike, so you’ll be good at killing your opponents one at a time. This one can take a little bit of work to get right, so talk to your DM before selecting it. The assassination ability is very strong, but it’s also very situational. So you might want to make sure you’ll have the chance to pull it off first.

Inquisitives combine a rogue’s love of having the right skills (in this case with a focus on learning secrets) for the right job. Of course, a good inquisitive can also make sure their sneak attacks hit harder. Meanwhile, they’re still fairly reliable in terms of seeing it land.

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Masterminds can manipulate, disguise, and spy on your enemies. But they’re also surprisingly good at supporting the party. Master of Tactics and Misdirection are great tools in the middle of a fight. And outside of combat, they are great at making friends.

Phantoms are Rogues that have been touched by the power of death. They command spectral magics in order to deal extra damage. This is an odd rogue, but it’s probably one of my favorites. You’ll be dealing damage a fair amount, but will also have grave powers that make you useful when exploring.

Scouts are masters of mobility. Cunning action has nothing on the positioning aspects of a Scout. Abilities like Skirnisher and Superior Mobility can ensure you’re where you need to be. You can use your abilities to keep enemies close or far away while you whittle them down with ranged attacks. And while you don’t gain a combat trick until 13th level, both 13th and 17th have some great abilities on offer. Who doesn’t want to use Sneak Attack twice in a round?

Soulknife Rogues are another unusual choice–they use the power of their mind to manifest blades of psionic energy. If you want to play an invisible rogue who can deal extra damage, then this is the class for you.

Swashbucklers are perfect for being the most stylish, charming, charismatic brawler you can be. You’ll be great at holding an enemy’s attention, with special abilities like Fancy Footwork helping to keep you alive. Meanwhile, abilities like Rakish Audacity and Master Duelist help you to punch well above your weight.

Thief of course, is the classic archetype. With abilities that let them do all the normal rogue stuff, but like, turned up to 11. You can thief harder, better, faster, and stronger than the others. You’ll have one of the widest varieties of bonus actions out there as well. Access everything from trapfinding, to lockpicking, to straight up taking two turns in a row.

At any rate, that’s the Rogue in all their glory. They’re a little fragile, but can pack a powerful punch and several other actions on their turns.

Happy Adventuring!

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