How to Play a Rogue in 5e, Woman holding a rapier up

A Starting Player’s Guide to Playing a Rogue in 5e

The Rogue is one of the classic playable classes in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. It’s relatively straightforward gameplay makes it easy for beginners without being too simple to be boring.
 
But, how do you play a Rogue in 5e? What subclasses does it have? And, how do you optimize a Rogue character?
 
This guide outlines everything you need to know to start playing a Rogue in D&D 5e.

First off, let’s look at the foundational ideas behind the Rogue class.

Basics of the Rogue Class

How to Play a Rogue 5e, Ninja holding a sword above their head

The Rogue is one of the original 12 classes in D&D 5e. It typically prioritizes stealth and Dexterity and often serves as a scout and melee damage dealer.

Rogues in 5e have a reputation of stealing and sneaking around and just generally causing trouble. They have a heavy theming based around stealth and ambush tactics, so it’s easy to understand why they have this reputation.

As such, playing a Rogue in 5e means prioritizing and understanding a good number of game mechanics.

First off, you need to understand the Rogue’s place in combat is mostly standing by the one of the Tank classes, dealing high damage using Sneak Attack (which we’ll get to later). Rogues have some autonomy, referring to their ability to act on their own, but they do much better when supporting a sturdier character or supported by others in combat.

Second, Rogues rely heavily on a single Ability Score in Dexterity. Their core class features rely on this stat while their subclasses throw in a secondary priority.

Third, while the various subclasses add a different spin on how you play, the Rogue never really drifts too far away from the ambush and stealth-based gameplay.

Finally, optimizing a Rogue is actually fairly easy. While it tends to have quite a few options, you never really need to fill in any gaps, so to speak. That said, you have a variety of options for doing so or for making your character even better at things they already excel at.

Basically, the important thing to remember is what the Rogue excels at and can accomplish for the party. They can fill a few party roles and keeping which one you want to fill in mind helps guide your playstyle.

Which Party Role the Rogue Fills

Rogues typically work best as a Damage dealer out of the various party roles in D&D. That said, they also work well as the Scout and sometimes as the Face of the party.

When it comes to leaning how to play a Rogue in 5e, it may help to understand what role they fill in your party’s composition. They don’t really have the means for serving as a Tank, Healer, or Control. So, what does a Rogue do in an adventuring party?

The three party roles a Rogue may fill are:

  • Damage
  • Scout
  • Face

Now, this isn’t to say a Rogue can’t be other roles. If played or built a certain way, you could create a semi-decent Control Rogue which involves setting traps and cutting off avenues of escape. Alternatively, you may try making a Dexterity-based Tank, utilizing the Rogue’s high Dexterity score, Uncanny Dodge, and Evasion to the fullest.

That said, you’ll have a much easier time making your Rogue to fill one of the aforementioned roles.

Damage Rogue
Honestly, pretty much any Rogue fills the Damage role by default. The most iconic and core class feature for Rogues involves dealing extra damage. So, almost any Rogue build involves filling this role to some degree. Focusing on Damage is easy for Rogues since they have a built-in feature for increasing their damage output in combat.
Scout Rogues
Rogues tend to put an emphasis on stealth in D&D 5e. Their focus on Dexterity and ability to Hide in combat as a bonus action lends them greater ability to sneak around. Additionally, the theming behind many Rogue characters involves prioritizing the Stealth skill with the use of their Expertise feature. As such, they make great Scout characters for checking ahead of the party for hazards including hidden enemies, identifying and disarming traps, and finding other obstacles.
Face Rogues
Playing a Rogue as the Face, or front person who interacts with NPCs in social encounters, of the party requires a more specific build. Rogues don’t need a high Charisma score by default and only have a few social-based features depending on your subclass. As such, these subclasses benefit from having a decent Charisma score, making them better in the Face role. For example, the Swashbuckler subclass utilizes Charisma in its class features which naturally lends to a more social-focused character.

Honestly, what is comes down to is Rogues work best as a Damage dealer and Scout for the party but may serve as the Face if built right.

Since Rogues work well as in the Damage role by default, let’s go over how playing a Rogue in combat works.

How to Play a Rogue in Combat in 5e

Two dual-wielding Rogues facing off

Playing a Rogue in combat means having an understanding in both how stealth and hiding works and how advantage works as well. This is because the Rogue is best suited for ambushing enemies and utilizing their Sneak Attack feature as often as possible.

Before we get into things, playing a Rogue in combat is, all things considered, fairly easy. Their are two basic strategies, one each for ranged and melee combat. The ranged strategy involves hiding with your bonus action and the melee one means sticking with an ally throughout the fight.

Now, Rogue player characters need to have a good understanding of both D&D 5e’s advantage and hiding mechanics.

First off, the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature sometimes relies on having advantage on any given attack. It also works assuming a non-incapacitated ally is adjacent to your target, but this often isn’t the case.

Advantage is a specific mechanic in 5e which allows a character to roll two 20-sided die (d20) for a roll. Sneak Attack doesn’t work with something like the Lucky feat which doesn’t grant advantage, just the ability to roll another d20 for an attack, saving throw, or Ability Check. Knowing how to reliably get advantage on an attack is the next step which is when hiding comes into play.

The second thing Rogues need to understand for combat is hiding. Hide is a specific Action in 5e which allows a character to make a Dexterity (Stealth) check to attempt to hide from nearby creatures. You use the typical rules for hiding so you can’t hide from a creature which can clearly see you; you reveal your location when you make an attack or cast a spell; and you need to meet a certain Difficulty Class, usually a creature’s Passive Perception, to successfully hide from that creature.

If you successfully hide, you then may use the Unseen Attackers and Targets rules for your next attack. These rules state:

When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden–both unseen and unheard–when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Chapter 9: Combat

Basically, this means your first attack you make after successfully hiding has advantage. Remember; you must have succesfully hid from a creature, if you didn’t meet or surpass the creature’s Passive Perception or the creature has some other method of detecting you, your character might not have sufficiently hidden from that creature.

So, having a good Stealth skill is integral for Rogues wanting to benefit from the Unseen Attackers rules and hiding during combat.

Ranged Combat for Rogues

The basic strategy for playing a ranged Rogue in combat is hide whenever you can to give yourself the best opportunity to use Sneak Attack on your next turn.

Now, the biggest downside to this strategy is it works best starting at 2nd-level using Cunning Action to take the Hide action as a bonus action. This way, your regular Action stays open to make an attack.

That said, here’s the basic breakdown of how to play a ranged Rogue in combat:

  1. Find a place to hide
  2. Make a ranged attack on your way to your hiding place
  3. Take the Hide action using your bonus action
  4. Make a ranged attack at the start of your next turn, breaking your stealth
  5. Take the Hide action using your bonus action
  6. Repeat, moving from hiding place to hiding place if necessary

This strategy assumes your character is a 2nd-level Rogue. Unfortunately, 1st-level Rogues have a harder time as they still need to use their regular Action to Hide, meaning they either attack or Hide on their turn. As such, they’re better suited for melee combat until their first level up.

The benefits of taking the Hide action at the end of your turn is twofold. First, your first attack on your next turn has advantage, granting you the ability to use Sneak Attack if you hit. Second, it makes it harder to target your character with attacks, improving their survivability.

If you Hide before attacking, you’d still get advantage on the attack but then your character would not benefit from staying out of sight for the rest of the combat round. So, it’s much better to receive the attack benefit from the Hide action on your next turn.

Melee Combat for Rogues

The basic melee combat strategy for Rogues is always engage with an enemy an ally is already adjacent to.

Sneak Attack works either on attacks with advantage or on attack made against a creature adjacent to a non-incapacitated ally. So, melee Rogues should always prioritize enemies an ally is currently engaging.

The ideal pairing for melee-focused Rogues in 5e is a Battle Master Fighter with the Goading Attack Maneuver or a Paladin with the compelled duel spell. Each of these abilities makes it harder for an enemy to target other creatures, giving a Rogue more survivability in melee. Bonus points if those characters picked the Protection Fighting Style.

Alternatively, melee Rogues can improve their own chances of surviving combat by dipping in and out of adjacency with Cunning Action to use the Disengage action as a bonus action.

Disengage basically means enemies can’t use their reaction to take an Opportunity Attack against you which normally happens when you leave adjacency. So, running up to an ally-engaged enemy, attacking, using Disengage as a bonus action, and retreating is one of the better tactics to employ for melee Rogues in 5e. The downside is you won’t be able to use your bonus action to attack with an off-hand weapon, but this greatly improves your Rogue character’s chances of surviving combat.

Core Rogue Class Features

Woman wearing a bandana around her mouth holding up a shortsword

Most of the Rogues class features focus on improving their survivability in combat, increasing their damage output, or serving as the party’s most stealthiest character.

The most important Rogue class features basically make them better in combat. But, there is one important one which sort of solidifies the class as one of the more skill-focused classes in 5e.

Core Rogue Features

  • Sneak Attack
  • Expertise
  • Cunning Action
  • Uncanny Dodge
  • Evasion

Now, Rogues get many more class features than these, of course. But, these are the most identifiable and useful ones either due to A) their availability (how early they get it, basically anything below 10th-level) or B) the general usefulness. For example, Rogues get Thieves’ Cant starting at 1st-level which is kind of like another language proficiency, but it’s usefulness relies almost entirely on the Game Master’s acknowledgement and incorporation into the game.

With that out of the way, here’s a breakdown of some of the more important class features Rogues get in 5e.

Sneak Attack

Sneak Attack is a 1st-level Rogue feature which is possibly the most iconic ability of the class. It’s a combat-focused feature which grants extra damage dice when the Rogue hits on an attack that has advantage or the target is adjacent to an non-incapacitated ally.

Basically the core class feature, Sneak Attack is one of the biggest draws to playing a Rogue in 5e.

Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon.
You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Rogue

Essentially, you get to add extra damage to the first attack you hit with if 1) you had advantage on the attack or 2) an ally (of convenience or otherwise) is next to your target. This damage starts at 1d6 but increases as you level up.

Sneak Attack Damage

  1. 1st- & 2nd-level: 1d6
  2. 3rd- & 4th-level: 2d6
  3. 5th- & 6th-level: 3d6
  4. 7th- & 8th-level: 4d6
  5. 9th- & 10th-level: 5d6
  6. 11th- & 12th-level: 6d6
  7. 13th- & 14th-level: 7d6
  8. 15th- & 16th-level: 8d6
  9. 17th- & 18th-level: 9d6
  10. 19th- & 20th-level: 10d6

One thing to remember when it comes to Rogues and Sneak Attack; you should try to get Sneak Attack to work as often as possible.

This means you should always either try to gain advantage on an attack or deliberately attack enemies that are next to a non-incapacitated ally.

Additionally, and this is an important tidbit; Sneak Attack works once per turn, not once per round. This means you can take advantage of this feature on other creatures’ turns using your reaction. While this is a bit difficult for ranged fighters, melee-focused Rogues can benefit from Sneak Attack through the use of Opportunity Attacks assuming all other conditions of Sneak Attack are met.

Expertise

Expertise is a 1st-level Rogue feature which grants a bonus to two existing skill proficiencies or one skill and Thieves’ Tools. This gives the Rogue a few skills which they become very good at. Expertise also improves two more skills (or one and Thieves’ Tools) at 6th-level.

Rogues in 5e have the ability to get a lot of skills, making them one of the more versatile classes outside of combat. The Expertise feature then allows Rogues to essentially supercharge a selection of their skills, granting them even greater bonuses beyond what’s normally available to player characters.

At 1st level, choose two of your skill proficiencies, or one of your skill proficiencies and your proficiency with thieves’ tools. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.
At 6th level, you can choose two more of your proficiencies (in skills or with thieves’ tools) to gain this benefit.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Rogue

Basically, you choose two skills with which your Rogue character already has proficiency in and double their Proficiency Bonus for those skills. This bonus essentially passively increases more and more as the Rogue levels up.

For example, a 1st-level Rogue (+2 Proficiency Bonus) with a 16 in Dexterity (+3 modifier) and proficiency with Expertise in the Stealth skill would have a +7 in that skill. This is from the +3 for their Dexterity Modifier and double the +4 doubled Proficiency Bonus for a total of +7. Once the Rogue reaches 5th-level when their Proficiency Bonus increases to +3, their Stealth skill gains +9 as you still double their Proficiency Bonus (+3 Dex mod + +3×2 [+6] Prof).

Compare this with a character with the same stats; they’d only have a +5 at 1st-level and a +6 at 5th. Given D&D 5e’s bounded accuracy mechanics (essentially basing successes on a tighter margin), and these increases are huge for any character.

Cunning Action

Cunning Action is a 2nd-level Rogue feature which gives them more options for their bonus action. They may take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action as a bonus action instead of a regular one with this feature.

This feature is possibly one of the strongest for the Rogue class. It basically gives them more bonus action options which help improve their mobility and ability to take advantage of their other features.

Starting at 2nd level, your quick thinking and agility allow you to move and act quickly. You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Rogue

Basically, Cunning Action basically lets a Rogue take select, regular actions as bonus actions instead. These actions are:

  • Dash
  • Disengage
  • Hide

Now, this might seem only so helpful. So, let’s go over why taking these as bonus actions through Cunning Action helps the Rogue.

Dash
Part of being a Rogue either involves getting to a good vantage / hiding spot or quickly getting into melee range. Taking the Dash action as a bonus action means a Rogue can sprint up to an enemy engaged with an ally and still make an attack. Alternatively, given the Rogues relatively few amount of hit points, they have the ability to get away from hazardous areas using Dash as a bonus action and an action.
Disengage
The ability to take the Disengage action as a bonus action is integral for melee-focused Rogues in 5e. Darting in and out of adjacency is ideal for both aiming to use Sneak Attack on enemies and staying alive throughout any given combat encounter. Taking Disengage as a bonus action leaves the Rogue’s regular action open to making their attack.
Hide
Hiding is integral for ranged-focused Rogues as attempting to guarantee advantage on any attack they make means having the ability to use Sneak Attack every turn. Like the other options, taking Hide as a bonus action means leaving the Rogue’s regular action available to make an attack.

Uncanny Dodge

Uncanny Dodge is a 5th-level Rogue feature which gives a character the option to use their reaction to halve the damage of one attack that hit them.

Given their comparatively few hit points for a martial class in 5e, proficiency only in Light Armor, and lack of ability to wield a shield; Uncanny Dodge gives the Rogue a bit of needed survivability. Furthermore, it gives the Rogue something to use their reaction for.

Starting at 5th level, when an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against you.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Rogue

So, a Rogue in 5e basically has the ability to halve the damage from an attack once per round. A character only has one reaction to take, so you only get to use Uncanny Dodge once per round until it resets at the start of your turn.

While it only works once per round, halving the damage from a single, large attack could mean the difference between life and death for a Rogue.

Now, it’s important to note; Uncanny Dodge only works on attacks, not abilities which force a saving throw. So, you can’t use Uncanny Dodge on something like the fireball spell or damage from an effect or ability like that of a dragon’s breath attack.

Evasion

Evasion is a 7th-level Rogue feature which improves a character’s ability to survive and reduce damage taken from effects which force Dexterity saving throws. When the Rogue succeeds on a Dexterity save to take half damage, they take no damage instead. Likewise, if they fail the save, they only take half damage instead of the full amount.

If Uncanny Dodge is only for attacks, Evasion is for Dexterity-based saving throws. Both act as damage mitigation to improve a Rogue character’s survivability.

Beginning at 7th level, you can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain area effects… When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Rogue

Essentially, whenever a Rogue makes a Dexterity saving throw against an effect which causes damage, they take half on a fail and none on a success. Ordinarily, many of these effects would deal full damage on a fail and half on a success.

Let’s look at an example.

An Ancient Red Dragon’s Fire Breath action deals and average of 91 fire damage. Let’s say it’s aimed at two characters; a Fighter and a Rogue. The Fighter would take either 91 damage on a fail or 45 damage on a success. On the other hand, the Rogue would take either 45 damage on a success or 0 damage on a success thanks to Evasion.

But remember; Evasion only works on effects which force Dexterity saves. Any effect which forces other saving throws aren’t affected by Evasion.

Primary Rogue Ability Scores

Woman drawing a katana from its sheathe

The best suited D&D stats or Ability Scores for Rogues are Dexterity and whatever your choice in subclass uses. Many of the Rogue’s subclasses establish a secondary score you should prioritize.

Now, none of the Rogue class’ features in 5e directly use Dexterity. It’s not like establishing a Difficulty Class for spells or abilities. Rather, having a high Dexterity benefits Rogues indirectly.

Starting off, the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature stipulates the character must use either a ranged weapon or a weapon with the Finesse property. This means any weapon a Rogue uses must have at least the option to use Dexterity for its attack rolls.

Second, Rogues only start with proficiency in Light Armor. This type of armor in 5e has a lower base Armor Class (AC) than others, but it benefits the most from a character’s Dexterity modifier. So, having a higher Dexterity stat benefits a Rogue’s AC more.

Third, the Evasion feature benefits from having a higher Dexterity score for completely negating damage from Dexterity-based saving throw abilities. Granted, this is a later-level feature, but it’s important for a Rogue’s survivability.

Finally, the Rogue gameplay emphasizes stealth. By default, the Stealth skill uses the Dexterity Ability Score. The higher your Dexterity, the easier time you’ll have successfully hiding both in and out of combat.

So, you see why Dexterity is the most important stat for Rogues in 5e.

This all said, many of the Rogue’s subclasses focus on secondary Ability Scores, ensuring these character’s don’t only have Dexterity to go "all in on", so to speak.

For example, the Arcane Trickster Rogue subclass gives the class access to limited spellcasting. This subclass uses Intelligence as its Spellcasting Ability, so you’d want to have a good Intelligence stat if you play this kind of character.

Leading from this, let’s look over the Rogue subclasses and see how they play differently from each other.

Roguish Archetypes (Rogue Subclasses)

Woman wearing a cloak and wielding a shortsword

The Rogue subclasses in D&D 5e are called Roguish Archetypes. Each Archetype alters how the Rogue plays in certain ways, but keeps the theme and basic idea of a stealth- or deception-based character.

Many of 5e’s Rogue subclasses maintain the class as a martial option. But, there are a few which add more magical or supernatural features, giving the class unique abilities for handling encounters.

Let’s go over each of the Rogue’s subclasses in D&D 5e so you get a basic idea of how each one works.

Thief (PHB)
The Thief subclass focuses on quick thinking and maneuverability. While the name implies stealing from others, it actually has little to do with actual theft. Basically, the Thief Roguish Archetype gives you even more options for your bonus action when you first take the subclass, makes climbing easier, grants you the ability to use a wider range of magic items, and eventually even gives your character an extra turn at the start of combat encounters.
Assassin (PHB)
The Assassin subclass does give a Rogue character a bit more burst damage, but it actually gives you more social encounter options. When you first choose this Roguish Archetype, you get a few bonus equipment proficiencies and the ability to deal more damage against surprised creatures. After that, you get a couple features which actually focus more on infiltrating groups and deceiving others in social encounters. That said, the Assassin Archetype does end with a damage-focused feature.
Arcane Trickster (PHB)
The Arcane Trickster subclass is basically the Rogue’s one-third spellcaster option; it gives Rogue characters a little bit of magic to supplement their martial prowess. This Roguish Archetype’s features then add interesting modifications and ways to use their spells including a strong focus on improving the mage hand cantrip. The capstone feature for the Arcane Trickster allows a Rogue to temporarily steal a spell from another creature, allowing your character to cast and preventing the burgled caster from casting that spell.
Inquisitive (XGtE)
The Inquisitive subclass focuses on improving a Rogue’s perceptive capabilities and identifying deceit. Basically, this Roguish Archetype focuses no turning a Rogue into a detective-like character, usually through granting them improvements to Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) checks. They also have an easier time detecting falsehoods. That said, they also get a feature called Insightful Fighting which, thematically, gives insight into how an opponent fights, making exposing a weakness easier for these Rogues.
Mastermind (XGtE)
The Mastermind subclass puts a heavy focus on navigating social encounters or, at the very least, social elements of other encounters. This Roguish Archetype essentially leads to playing a master manipulator, deceiving your way through social encounters and obfuscating your intentions otherwise. Interestingly, the Mastermind Roguish Archetype also improves the Help action, making them a unique choice for aiding allies during combat.
Scout (XGtE)
The Scout subclass essentially turns a Rogue character into a nature survivalist. They gain proficiencies for surviving the wilds and later benefit from increases to their movement. That said, this Roguish Archetype excels in brutal, almost guerilla-like combat with a feature allowing them to exit adjacency when an enemy ends their turn next to a Rogue with this subclass. Additionally, Scout Rogues come with a couple later-game features granting them bonuses when first entering a combat encounter.
Swashbuckler (SCAG, XGtE)
The Swashbuckler subclass is basically a classic pirate or other high-seas adventurer. That said, they’re not strictly tied to oceanic adventures. Rather, this Roguish Archetype places a heavy emphasis on the idea of a swashbuckler’s charms and boisterous nature, utilizing a character’s Charisma Ability Score to augment their Initiative rolls and hinder their opponents. Swashbuckler Rogues also need a decent understanding of 5e’s two-weapon fighting rules as the subclass allows a character to move away from an enemy assuming they made an attack against that creature.
Phantom (TCoE)
The Phantom subclass gives the Rogue a grim and intimate association with the souls of the dead. Essentially, a character who chooses this Roguish Archetype gains the ability to manipulate souls through their various features. For example, the Phantom’s Wails from the Grave feature adds an extension to Sneak Attack as wailing from deceased souls surrounds a target. You also get interesting features using Soul Trinkets like improving your Rogue character’s chances of succeeding death saves.
Soulknife (TCoE)
The Soulknife Roguish Archetype is basically the psychic subclass for Rogues. You gain abilities to use psionic powers to deal damage and augment your physical prowess. Through the use of a pool of Psionic Energy dice, Soulknife Rogues gain abilities to supplement ability checks, communicate psychically with other creatures, increase damage done with their Psychic Blades, and even teleport. The aforementioned Psychic Blades is also a great feature as it lets a Rogue create a temporary weapon made of psionic energy which basically means they’re never unarmed.

Optimizing a Rogue Player Character

Elf Rogue wielding a curved shortsword

Optimizing your Rogue essentially means optimizing around your Dexterity stat and getting abilities which support your character’s stealthy nature.

Basically any character optimization guide revolves around maximizing your primary Ability Score and then committing to the core design philosophies of a class.

With that in mind, Rogues rely heavily on Dexterity, so you’ll want to choose a race (if playing with the default ruleset) which grants a bonus to this stat. If your race pick gives your character a trait which improves their ability to sneak or their damage output in some way, even better.

Before we get into the optimizations, I want to say; play your character how you want to play them. Yes, these suggestions are good for optimizing a character, but they’re aren’t "rules" you must abide by. I’d never say you can’t play a character wrong (because that’s objectively untrue, regularly not using class features is an example), but you should never feel pressured to make a 100%, min-maxed character every time you play if you don’t want to. If everyone did that, we wouldn’t have any variations in character builds and things would get boring quickly.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the Rogue optimizations.

Races

Any race or lineage which grants a bonus to Dexterity or has a stealth-based trait is a good pick for Rogues. Races like the High Elf, Lightfoot Halfling, and Bugbear are all good options.

Basically, if you’re playing with D&D 5e’s default rules, you’ll want to pick a race which grants a bonus to your character’s Dexterity stat. Since the Rogue class puts such an emphasis on this Ability Score, that should be your first priority.

Beyond that, any race with a trait for improving either your sneaking capabilities or combat prowess is should be your next focus.

For example, the Aarakocra’s Flight trait gives your character an immediate improvement to their mobility, making them great for a ranged Rogue. Alternatively, the Lightfoot Halfling’s Naturally Stealthy trait gives them more options for hiding during combat, making gaining advantage on their attacks to trigger Sneak Attack easier.

After that, any race which grants you more skill proficiencies is a good bonus. Rogues act as "skill monkeys", as they’re sometimes called. Basically, they get a lot of skill proficiencies between the class and your choice in background. Furthermore, Rogues have the ability to have dramatically better skill rolls for certain checks thanks to their Expertise feature. So, the more skills a Rogue has, the better.

Some good character race options for Rogues in 5e include:

  • High Elf (PHB) – Free cantrip (usually booming blade)
  • Lightfoot Halfling (PHB) – Ability to hide behind larger creatures
  • Bugbear (VGtM) – Long-Limbed is great for keeping away from enemies
  • Fairy(WBtW) – Flight & faerie fire for a chance at advantage
  • Owlin (SCoC) – Flight & proficiency in stealth

These aren’t the only good options; just a few examples you might want to consider.

This all said, if you’re playing with Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything Customized Origin rules, you have the ability to alter which Ability Score bonuses and some of the other traits you get at character creation. At that point, you’ll want to consider the traits you get more closely, basing your choice more on that since you have the freedom to increase your Dexterity stat regardless of which race you choose.

For example, the default Yuan-ti Pureblood isn’t a great racial option for Rogues in 5e. They don’t grant a bonus to Dexterity, making them a less-than-optimal choice. But, with the Customized Origin rules, they become an amazing pick as they get advantage against magical effects, a damage immunity, and you can still get your Dexterity bonus.

So, check with your GM if you’re playing by the default or Customized Origin rules at character creation.

Skills

Rogues tend to do best with Dexterity-based skills simply by virtue of many of their features using it. That said, certain subclasses benefit from focusing on Intelligence-based skills while playing a Face Rogue means prioritizing Charisma skills.

As mentioned earlier, Rogues are often considered the skill monkeys of D&D 5e. Between the class itself and the Expertise feature, they have the ability to be extraordinarily good at a few, select skills.

So, to maximize this opportunity, understanding the best skills for a Rogue in 5e is important for optimizing your character.

Strictly speaking, Stealth should be your first priority. Hiding in combat and sneaking ahead of the party is one of the most important things a Rogue character offers to a game. Ensuring you have a good Stealth modifier means fulfilling one of the core themes of the class.

After that, staying observant is important for Rogues as they often find themselves acting on their own either acting as a scout or for detecting hazards. As such, the Perception, Insight, and Investigation skills all come in handy and serve a Rogue character well.

The Charisma-based skills come next. However, these are mostly important for Rogues looking to play as the Face role for their group. That said, Persuasion is still a good skill to put a slight focus on as its the most useful.

After that, its up to how you want to play your character. Athletics isn’t usually a priority for Rogues, but maybe you want to play something of a bruiser Rogue.

Some of the most important or best skill proficiencies for a Rogue in 5e are:

  • Stealth
  • Perception
  • One or more of the Charisma skills (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion)
    • Most likely Persuasion as it’s the most useful
  • Insight
  • Investigation

Any other skill is situational and thematic to your character concept. For example, a Scout Rogue may want to focus on Nature and Survival, though understand neither of these directly help in other areas as neither use the Dexterity stat. Alternatively, the Sleight of Hand skill, one of the more thematic and classic choices for Rogues, is situationally helpful but you may want to play it up as a Thief.

Backgrounds

The Criminal Background is basically the default Rogue background. But, backgrounds like the Urchin and Courtier are also good and viable choices.

The biggest benefits from backgrounds in D&D 5e are the extra skill proficiencies. As such, you’ll want to pick a background which grants proficiencies that make sense for a Rogue.

Depending on your background, you can free up otherwise standard skill proficiencies Rogues typically go for. For example, taking the Urchin background gives you proficiency in Stealth which means you don’t need to deliberately pick that skill at character creation from the options the Rogue class gives you.

Some of the best backgrounds for Rogues in 5e are:

  • Urchin
  • Charlatan
  • Criminal
  • Faction Agent
  • Investigator

Of course, your background choice is mostly thematic. But, if you’re playing by the default options, these backgrounds give you more Rogue-like skill proficiencies. That said, you can alter the skill proficiencies pretty freely even with the rules in the Player’s Handbook, so check with your Game Master if you want a more thematic background for your character concept.

Feats

Rogues typically benefit from feats in 5e which either support their role in the party, grant extra skill proficiencies, or cover a weakness the class suffers from.

Some of the best feats for a Rogue are those which make them deal more damage. That said, feats allowing a Rogue to move unhindered or those which help them on securing an early spot in Initiative also help.

However, there are some non-combat-focused feats like Actor, Dungeon Delver, or Inspiring Leader (arguably a combat feat, but used outside of battle) which support the Rogue class in their efforts away from the battlefield.

Some of the best feats for Rogues in 5e include:

  • Alert
  • Mobile
  • Piercer
  • Sharpshooter (for ranged Rogues)
  • Skilled

5e has quite a few feats, so this is just a sampling of your options. Some feats work better for Rogues than others, so understanding your character build and how you want to play them is important.

D&D 5e Rogue FAQ

Woman Elf Rogue wielding two daggers

Do Rogues Get Two Attacks?

Rogues may get two attacks if they engage in two-weapon fighting with a Light weapon in each hand. That said, Rogues do not get Extra Attack in 5e, so they don’t gain the ability to make multiple attacks using the same Attack action.

If you’re looking for Extra Attack, then Rogues don’t get two attacks. Plain and simple; Rogues don’t get Extra Attack.

That said, Rogues have the ability to make two attacks through the use of two-weapon fighting. By wielding two Light weapons, a Rogue may make one attack using their Action and a second attack using their bonus action and their off-hand weapon.

Can Rogues Dual Wield in 5e?

Yes, Rogues may dual wield in 5e following the regular two-weapon fighting rules.

Every class has the option to dual wield with two Light weapons in 5e. Rogues are no exception.

Do Rogues Have Spells?

Rogues do not have spells by default unless you choose the Arcane Trickster Roguish Archetype as your subclass.

The Rogue base class and most of the Roguish Archetypes don’t have spells. Only the Arcane Trickster subclass grants a Rogue the ability to cast spells or if you choose specific feats.

Do Rogues Need Charisma?

Most Rogues don’t need Charisma as their class features don’t use this Ability Score. However, the Swashbuckler Roguish Archetype does use the Charisma stat in some of its features, so you should have a good Charisma score if you’re playing this subclass.

Charisma isn’t a necessary Ability Score for the Rogue base class and most of its subclasses. That said, the Swashbuckler subclass benefits from having a decent Charisma stat. Furthermore, Rogues can make for good Face characters by focusing on a good Charisma score and putting proficiencies in the Charisma-based skills like Persuasion and Deception.

 

Summary on How to Play a Rogue in 5e

That about covers everything you need to start playing a Rogue in D&D.

Rogues are basically the most stealth-focused character class in 5e. They prioritize ambushing their enemies and dealing damage through one big sneak attack. Aside from combat, Rogues also have a reputation of being skill monkeys as they get a lot of skill proficiencies and have the ability to excel in them more than other classes. Optimizing a Rogue character involves maxing out your Dexterity stat and supporting your role in the party be that purely Damage, assisting in exploration and trap removal as a Scout, or engaging in social encounters as the Face of the party.

What’s your favorite Rogue subclass to play? Do you prefer playing a ranged- or melee-focused Rogue? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

Make sure to follow Role Player’s Respite for more class breakdowns, rules clarifications, and inspiration for your game!

1 thought on “A Starting Player’s Guide to Playing a Rogue in 5e”

  1. We like to play using the optional flanking rules. It gives the melee rogue more options to achieve advantage and Sneak Attack. Comat is more interesting as well. I use my tanky Cleric to grapple targets, forcing them into flanking position for the rogue.
    We also play that a character who began his turn hidden can sneak up behind a target in combat and stay hidden. I find the hiding rules stating that this is usually not possible are absurd since combat is extremely distracting. Of course this assumes the character’s Stealth has beaten the target’s passive Perception.

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