The class just happens to have a natural affinity for unlocking doors or getting into places others normally couldn’t. However, the archetypes change how different rogue characters work mechanically and can inspire how you play them narrative.
The Inquisitive subclass leans heavily into the investigator theme with a focus on unearthing mysteries and secrets that others fail to notice. Your rogue gains uncanny abilities to dissect lies, notice hidden creatures or objects, and decipher clues.
The Inquisitive is also potent at detecting illusions, shape changers, and other forms of magical deceptions. While these descriptions give the subclass a lot of narrative potential, the Inquisitive also holds its own in combat by improving the rogue’s Sneak Attack feature.
However, the Inquisitive’s Insightful Fighting feature gives them the ability to get Sneak Attack solo. The Inquisitive’s capstone ability lets them add more damage dice to their Sneak Attack against creatures affected by Insightful Fighting.
As you fall, you take out your grappling hook and rope, and after a quick toss, you swing to safety. This subclass specializes in having quick hands, scaling buildings, and sneaking better than any other rogue.
Nonetheless, this ability can really open your options in and out of combat, especially if you discuss what counts for an Object with your Dungeon Master. Eventually, you’ll be able to bypass class, race, and level requirements to use any magical item.
Now, your rogue can use wands, scrolls, or even that Holy Avenger your paladin friend was eying. You might hear the Scout be called the spell-less version of the ranger class, but the base rogue chassis makes for a more well-rounded character.
When an enemy ends their turn beside you, the Scout’s Skirmisher feature lets your rogue move up to half their speed (without provoking opportunity attacks) as a reaction. Later on, your walking speed increases by 10 feet, making it even harder to catch up to you or pin you down.
They chime into fights with banter and a smoldering smile, positively oozing with a charm that masks their lethal skills. This rogue subclass specializes in single combat, though the Swashbuckler can be a deadly fighter regardless of the situation.
One part of the Rakish Audacity feature lets a Swashbuckler add their Charisma modifier to their initiative rolls. Their Panache ability, which lets you charm creatures outside of combat, also benefits from proficiency and expertise in the Persuasion skill.
Plus, the Panache feature incentivizes a hostile creature to attack only you, so it potentially forces one-versus-one fights. The Swashbuckler capstone ability also gives them a free do-over with advantage per short rest on a missed attack to turn the tides of any fight.
Moments later, a pouch hovers over to the Arcane Trickster as the invisible hand finishes filtering its mark. Access to magic is tremendous for any character because spell casting provides a lot of versatility.
Your Arcane Trickster’s spell selection gives you a lot of room to really customize your rogue, letting you achieve feats that other subclasses can only hope to mimic. They can normally choose from the wizard class’s illusion and enchantment spells and can occasionally cherry-pick a few from any school of magic.
Whether you want to stick with the tried-and-true lock picking sneak or branch out to a more interesting archetype, there is a subclass for everyone. When approaching these rankings, we considered how a subclass can function on its own as well as how it enhances the class traits all rogue’s share.
The concept of this archetype is enhanced insight and perception above and beyond a rogue’s natural strength. While the inquisitive rogue is better at noticing traps and identifying liars, there is nothing aids them in addressing those challenges once they are noted.
Even the top-level feature Eye for Weakness is substantially weaker than most other subclass traits at that level. It is a fun concept built on intrigue and the social interactions within the game.
However, it is subpar outside very specific campaigns and largely useless in a classic dungeon dive. Each of the features of the class are designed to manipulate NPCs or assist your allies.
You would need a campaign tailored to social interactions and intrigue to make this worthwhile. This archetype is especially strong if you are interested in a ranged weapon build for your rogue.
The subclass also gets skills, increased mobility, and advantage on initiative rolls. The Arcane Trickster is a good option, and it is unique given that it is the only rogue subclass that can use magic.
The subclass uses a lot of illusion and enchantment magic, which fits thematically. Disarming traps and breaking locks is great, but doing it with Cunning Action is wonderful.
Supreme Sneak makes you virtually impossible to detect, while Thief’s reflexes gets you a second turn each round. Fancy Footwork gives you some interesting ways out of melee range when you miss your attacks, and it is only the beginning of what is possible with this archetype.
The Swashbuckler also gets Rakish Audacity, which lets you essentially always use Sneak Attack. Panache gives the Swashbuckler the ability to taunt, which works surprisingly well for a rogue.
There were some challenges pinning down our favorite rogue5E subclasses, but we are happy how the list ultimately turned out. Here are some quick summaries of each subclass, which will give a bit of insight to the theme, generalized game mechanics, and the likely play style to expect.
Theme: Slinking in the shadows, waiting to ambush, and dealing death without even being seen. Game Mechanics: Skilled with poison, disguise, and dealing damage at the start of combat.
Game Mechanics: More bonus actions, like sleight of hand during combat, and better climbing speed. Theme: A magic wielding thief with a penchant for fiddling with things from afar.
Game Mechanics: Help allies do additional actions, disguise skill, and insight to enemy stats. Play-style: You’re quick to find enemy weakness and can rally allies to take advantage of your knowledge.
Theme: Dealing damage while moving all over the battle map, taunting while you run around. Theme: Incredibly perceptive, with an eye for weakness, treasure, and illusions.
Game Mechanics: Focus on perception abilities, coupled with insightful sneak attacks. Play-style: You seek out truth, and use that knowledge to your own personal gains, or the defeat of your enemies.
Game Mechanics: Moves in response to enemies, and skilled in natural survival. I maintain this site as a hobby, and I got access to the book on the same day as everyone else, and I am rushing to catch up as quickly as I can.
ROBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcane content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Rogue subclasses are extremely powerful, frequently granting features at 3rd level which define how your character plays for the rest of their career, and offering a tempting prize for builds which can handle a 3-level class dip. You're limited almost exclusively to Enchantment and Illusion spells, but both of those schools work very well for Arcane Tricksters.
Versatile Trickster : Advantage allows you to Sneak Attack the target. If you want to get into places unsuspected or just straight up murder people, the Assassin is the way to go.
Bonus Proficiencies : Both tool kits are fantastic and open up wonderful options for the Rogue. Assassinate : This is excellent motivation to lead off every combat with a huge damage die, but Sneak Attack requires that your attack be dexterity-based, so you may want to use a Rapier or Heavy Crossbow (which requires you to find the proficiency somewhere) to deal as much damage as possible.
Death Strike : Combined with Sneak Attack and Assassinate, this is an absolutely huge pile of damage. It would be great in a campaign that includes lots of traps, hidden doors, and people who lie to you, but in situations not specifically tailored to the Inquisitive's skillet they fall back on basic Rogue class features.
The Inquisitive is a cool concept, but it needs something active to do once it spots things beyond Sneak Attack. Ear for Deceit : This is really helpful for Eye for Detail and Insightful Fighting so that you can't fail repeatedly in combat solely due to poor rolls.
Eye for Detail : Finding hidden creatures normally requires an action to attempt, which is a serious problem if you're ever attacked by stealthy enemies which like to hide and snipe at you from afar. Of course, in a typical party you can handle invisible enemies with magical options like Faerie Fire or Glitter dust.
The effect lasts for a full minute, so you have plenty of time to benefit without repeatedly spending your Bonus Action on the same target. Eye for Weakness : Extra damage never hurts, but it's not very exciting and compared to other subclasses this is a pittance.
The Phantom has a much more direct connection to the spirits of the dead, gaining proficiencies, damage output, and the ability to turn (mostly) into a ghost. Waiting for creatures to die rather than being reduced to 0 hit points also makes it important for the DM to track death saves for enemy creatures, which is a minor annoyance that most DMs are happy to avoid, so discuss how your DM would prefer to handle that aspect of the subclass.
At low levels, the player's low Proficiency Bonus will keep Wails from the Grave from getting out of hand, and even if they're spamming it constantly the damage is minor, so it's not going to result in a massive boost in damage output. Whispers of the Dead : The ability to pick up a proficiency on short notice is incredibly useful.
If you can combine this with other buffs like Enhance Ability and Guidance, you can get around nearly any skill-based or tool-based challenge if you have time to prepare. Wails from the Grave : Starts very slow (1d6 twice a day), but ramps up exponentially as your Sneak Attack damage and your Proficiency Bonus increase.
The damage is necrotic, which is rarely resisted, and its automatically provided that you made a successful Sneak Attack, so it's great for enemies that may be difficult to hit. The second benefit helps with Wails of the Grave, and it's easily your most frequent way to spend trinkets.
Wails from the Grave is a decent bit of damage by this level, matching what a spell caster can do with many can trips. However, the Proficiency Bonus usage limit won't get you far, so you can destroy a trinket to get a free bit of damage.
The one flaw in the whole thing is that it falls prey to the classic “Bag of Rats” trick. Your DM might justifiably make some adjustments to disallow that (requiring a CR above 0 may be sufficient, especially at 9th level), so try not to lean on the abuse case too much.
This generally won't work with summoned creatures (they need to die, not just be reduced to 0 hit points), and since death and being reduced to 0 hp suddenly mean different things, I encourage DMs to start tracking death saves for enemies. If you can get buffs like Longstreet, they'll do a lot to help both because any flat numeric increase is relatively large compared to 10 ft. and because you can essentially double the effect by dashing without spending your Action.
Death’s Friend : At this level Wails of the Grave deals 4d6 damage, just short of its maximum at 6d6. The second benefit of this feature ensures that you have at least one Soul Trinket at the end of a Long Rest.
Of course, you could just use the bag of rats trick to get free Soul Trinkets, so this benefit isn't as impactful as ROTC wanted it to be when they wrote it. Master of Tactics : Help gives the target Advantage, which is pretty great for a lot of characters.
Insightful Manipulator : A fun way to meta game, but not always useful since in most games you typically won't get to spend a minute chatting up enemies before weapons come out. Misdirection : Light foot Halflings have the ability to hide behind creatures one size larger than they are, which will often also give you cover.
Cunning Action can also solve the same problem, so Skirmisher feels like a miniscule addition your capabilities. Ambush Master : Plan to pick up the Alert feat for the bonus to Initiative rolls.
Sudden Strike : This extra attack consumes your bonus action, so two-weapon fighting is redundant. Allowing you to Sneak Attack twice in a turn effectively doubles your damage output, which is amazing at any level.
Your subclass features are fueled from a pool of Psionic Energy dice which work in many ways like the Battle Master Fighter's pool of Superiority Dice (spend a die to do a thing, and you typically roll the die and add it to the effect in some way). The most notable aspect of the Soul Knife is how safe it is to use Psionic Energy Dice.
Rolling dice to use your subclass features is almost never a gamble for the Soul Knife, and few other classes/subclasses with similar resources can say that. With some exceptions, the Soul Knife always get something for their Psionic Energy Dice, and if you fail on whatever roll you often get to keep the die you used.
That makes it easy to stretch your limited resources through the day, and it's an incredible comfort for players who have consistently poor rolls (or who feel like they do). The Soul Knife's reliable resource pool makes them a comforting option for players who might have trouble weighing risk/reward calculations at the table when handling things like spell slots.
But even if you're fine with those decision points, it's an all-around reliable and effective subclass with a lot of offers. Across a full day of adventuring that's a small pool to work with, and you need to be cautious about spending your dice rather than burning through them in the first encounter.
The Soul Knife's Psionic Energy Dice are much easier to retain than the Psi Warrior's because they aren often't expended if you fail a roll, but even so at low levels you'll need to be prudent about when something is worth a die. Psychic Whispers : Mary's Telepathic Bond is a 5th-level spell, and you're replicating its effects (mostly) at level 3.
You're limited to adding 2 allies when you get this (you're in the group for free), but the number increases with your Proficiency Bonus. The ability to make a second attack as a Bonus Action if you have another free hand is great.
Two-weapon fighting is already a great fallback option and since you don't need to draw daggers to repeatedly throw them you don't need to strain your Free Item Interaction every turn to keep your hands full of pointy things. The second attack applies your Ability Modifier to damage since you're not actually using the two-weapon fighting rules.
Soul Blades : Two ways to turn your Psychic Energy Dice into solutions to frequent problems. If you do hit, you're trading your Psionic Energy Die for a Sneak Attack.
Psychic Teleportation : Even moving the minimum of 10 feet is enough to get you out of grapples and many area control effects, as well as through many tight openings like arrow slits. However, if you need to cross a large gap you'll find that the unpredictable range is frustrating.
Fortunately, you choose whether you want to teleport after you roll the die, so you never need to worry about accident teleporting yourself above a pit of acid or something, but you're committing to spend the die before you roll it so look for other options if you're not likely to get as far as you need to go. An hour is a long time, and you can do a lot of things without breaking Invisibility, including things like disarming traps and taking the Help action to help allies in combat.
Rend Mind : Note quite as good as Hold Monster, but about as close as you can get without casting it. You get this once per day for free, but it's probably worth spending three Psionic Energy Dice to recharge it if you find another target with poor Wisdom saves.
The Swashbuckler all but eliminates these times, making the Rogue an even more reliable source of damage. Fancy Footwork : You only need to attack the target, not hit them, so if you miss and don't want to stay in melee range you're free to retreat unimpeded.
The choice between using Cunning Action to Disengage and relying on Fancy Footwork will depend both on what you're wielding and on how many enemies you need to evade. As long as you can get away from other enemies (such as by using Cunning Action to Disengage) you're nearly guaranteed to be able to Sneak Attack.
Oh, and as if this wasn't absurdly good already, you add your Charisma bonus to Initiative checks on top of your Dexterity. Panache : Tanking generally isn't in the Rogue's skillet, but the first portion of this ability is essentially a taunt.
Elegant Maneuver : Advantage is great, especially on a skill like Athletics which is used to Shove enemies prone. This won't combine with Shield Master's ability to Shove as a Bonus Action.
Master Duelist : Sometimes you can't risk missing, and in those cases this is a lifesaver. Fast Hands : Disarming traps and open locks can typically wait until you finish combat, but using an item as a bonus action can include cool things like caltrops, healer's kits, and some magic items.
Supreme Sneak : If you combine this with Expertise, you are as close to undetectable as you can get without being magically silenced and invisible. Use Magic Device : This opens up all manner of weapons, wands, and staves which are normally limited to specific characters.