D&D 5e: Phantom Rogue Guide
D&D 5e: Phantom Rogue Guide
Role in the Party
All Rogues are skilled at picking a single target, sneaking up on them, and eviscerating their target in a single attack. But only one type of Rogue can snatch a fragment of the departed’s soul after the deed is done. The Phantom.
Capable of harming multiple targets with one sneak attack, the Phantom can also channel fragments of spirits to learn new skills on the fly, and in later levels even shift into a flying, semi-corporeal ghost form.
Adaptable and fun to play, this guide goes into the Phantom Rogue subclass, how to build one, feat choices, skills, and more.
Whispers of the Dead: At level 3, the Phantom gains a floating skill proficiency, which can be in any skill or tool. Then, whenever the character takes a short or long rest, the proficiency can be changed to any other skill or tool.
This is incredibly useful. The reasoning, that the Phantom channels the skills of long-lost souls, is great, and the ability to choose any skill or tool that the party needs but doesn’t have at the start of the day, or take a 1 hour rest to quick change to whatever’s needed, turns the Phantom into even more of a skill monkey than it already was.
Wails from the Grave: After dealing sneak attack damage to a creature, the Phantom can deal bonus damage to another creature within 30ft, equal to half the sneak attack dice. (It’s rolled separately.) The ability takes no action to use and the extra damage is Necrotic instead of physical, but it can only be used up to proficiency bonus times per day.
The biggest problem with this ability is how little it does at a low level. At level 3, when the Rogue gains this ability, it deals 1d6 bonus damage twice per day. That’s an average of 7 damage, in total. Which is … not a lot.
However, by level 9, it’s 3d6 damage four times per day or 42 average damage. That’s still not a lot, but it’s significantly better, and this will scale to 5d6 damage, 6 times per day.
This ability can also be triggered by the next feature of the Phantom.
Tokens of the Departed: At 9th level, the Phantom can take the life essence from creatures that die within 30ft of them, spending a reaction (and requiring a free hand) to create a soul trinket.
The Phantom can have a total number of soul trinkets equal to their proficiency bonus. When the Phantom has at least one soul trinket on their person, they have Advantage on death saving throws and constitution saving throws.
Soul trinkets can also be destroyed, consuming them, to create one of two effects:
When the Phantom deals sneak attack damage, they can destroy a soul trinket as part of the attack to trigger the Wails from the Grave ability.
Alternatively, the Phantom can destroy a soul trinket as an action to summon the spirit of the creature that died, so it can be asked a question. The downside is that the creature simply wants to be free, and the ability specifically states that it is under no obligation to be truthful.
Despite the limitations, this ability is fantastic. It essentially allows the Phantom to chain Wails-powered sneak attacks in many fights, because as long as one creature dies before the Rogue’s next turn, they gain another soul trinket.
The out-of-combat benefits are flavorful and fun, too. Asking questions of the dead, especially monsters you just killed, can lead to some great RP moments as the party tries to work out exactly how they were lied to if they even were.
The CON save and death save bonus is also a nice bonus.
Ghost Walk: From 13th level, the Phantom can become a literal phantom. Once per day as a bonus action, the character can become ghostly, gaining a 10ft fly speed (slow, but Dash + Cunning Action can give 30ft of movement,) the ability to hover, and the ability to move through objects and creatures.
Also while in ghostly form, all attack rolls against the Phantom are made with Disadvantage, which is a significant combat buff. Ghost Walk lasts up to 10 minutes, and can be activated again subsequent times by destroying a soul trinket.
This is amazing, both as a combat ability and as a scouting or infiltration tool. Flat Disadvantage to enemy attacks can shut down certain encounters, and the nice long duration and ability to hover also lends this ability to ranged attacking builds.
Outside of combat, any Rogue that struggles to see the utility of a fly speed, the ability to hover, and the ability to pass straight through doors and other objects should hang up their thieving license.
As an aside, the ability states that ending their turn inside a creature or object deals 1d10 force damage to the Phantom. But it doesn’t kick them out of the object. Should the need arise, hiding in a wall for 1d10 damage can be much better than eating a full attack or another alternative.
Death Knell: From level 17, if the Phantom finishes a long rest without any soul trinkets, one appears in the character’s hand. Extra soul trinkets are always useful, as they power the Phantom’s key abilities. However, the description says nothing about who the trinket is the soul of, or what happens if the Phantom asks it a question, which is weird. The answer is probably down to GM fiat, so discuss this beforehand.
The second part of the ability is straight fire, though. Whenever the Phantom uses Wails from the Grave, the Necrotic damage is now also applied to the initial target of the sneak attack.
That’s a flat 50% upgrade to sneak attack damage, which is incredible. The only reason this ability isn’t top rated is that it comes so damn late.
The first thing the Phantom brings to the table is utility. A flexible skill or tool proficiency that can be shifted every single time the party takes any kind of rest is incredibly useful. Need to Intimidate someone, but don’t have it prepared? Now you do. Want to understand a skilled job so you can better talk to the tradesmen, sure, let’s go. The Rogue was already the best class in skill use, and the Phantom is even better.
The second thing the subclass has is bonus damage. This starts low, but scales up incredibly hard in both total damage and daily uses, especially when the Phantom hits 9 and unlocks soul tokens to further fuel the uses. In the mid-levels, the extra necrotic damage from Wails of the Dead to other targets quickly adds up, and during later levels, it’s literally just added sneak attack damage.
With that said, soul tokens are the class’s biggest ability. Boosting the class’s toughness slightly, allowing free uses of extra sneak attack damage, and out-of-combat utility by asking questions of the departed is an amazingly diverse skillset.
Later levels bring even more utility, both in and out of combat, with the capacity to turn into a half-ghost and walk clean through walls, plus Disadvantage against all attacks is both fun and powerful.
And all of this will happily mesh with everything that a Rogue already wants to do. Pick a combat style, and the Phantom can work with it.
The single biggest problem with the Phantom as a subclass is that it doesn’t gain access to what could be considered its core feature until level 9. While the Whispers and Wails abilities the class gets at level 3 are nice, it’s the soul trinket mechanic, and everything it fuels, that offer the majority of the subclass’s power.
It’s genuinely a shame that this is the case. Most campaigns are played mostly at low to mid level, and missing out on the most interesting thing your character does until you’re level 9 just doesn’t feel good.
This is compounded by the fact that the class feels weaker than many other Rogue subclasses at low levels, especially at 3, when it gains subclass abilities. The proficiencies from Whispers of the Dead can come in incredibly handy, but it’s pretty binary. You either need the skill or you don’t, and you either pass the check or you don’t.
The Phantom is also relatively linear in combat, like a lot of Rogues. It’s going to want to pick a commanding position from where it can safely land sneak attacks, and that’s about it. The class features even lock the Phantom out of dual wielding, one of the most common Rogue combat styles because it needs a free hand to create a soul trinket.
Best Race Options
Fairy: The Phantom really likes archery, and has abilities that lend themselves to sneaky infiltration. Permanent, no questions asked, flight is amazing for both of those things.
Daily spells, including Fairy Fire for Advantage, are also incredible for the party, and for the times when you can’t sneak attack any other way.
High Elf: Perception proficiency, benefits around sleep, weapon proficiencies, but we’re here for the cantrip. Melee Phantoms are going to want Booming Blade, which adds free damage and a movement rider to every attack the Rogue makes.
Ranged characters might instead want Minor Illusion or another utility cantrip.
Lightfoot Halfling: Great stats, advantage against being frightened, rerolling all 1s, and the ability to hide behind the bigger, tougher members of the party. All nice things for a Rogue to have.
Choosing the Right Skills
Skills are far less important to the Phantom than they are to other Rogues, because of their floating skill slot that can be changed with every rest.
The skill choices for the Phantom are going to be more important with regard to Expertise. Having two skills that the character can excel at defines what the Rogue does.
For the Phantom, in particular, Stealth is highly recommended, as especially in later levels it gets built in tools that work in concert with conventional stealth to make the character almost impossible to detect.
Perception is also a great skill to take and spend Expertise on. Perception is possibly the most rolled skill in the game, and noticing signs of an enemy encounter before it happens lets the Phantom get the jump on them. Just how they like it.
Social skills are also highly recommended, especially if your build includes a positive CHA bonus. Persuasion is by far the most useful, and another fantastic candidate for Expertise, but Deception also has its place.
Sharpshooter: The easiest way to boost damage on a ranged build, a character using Sharpshooter takes a penalty to hit for a massive flat +10 damage.
Bonuses to attack at long range, and ignoring all cover also make it much easier to land the Phantom’s critical single attack.
Skulker: The ability to hide when in less cover and the benefits in dim light are great for any style of Rogue. Staying hidden after missing with a ranged attack is great for ranged builds, but melee builds should always have a couple of throwing knives hanging around.
Fighting Initiate: Pick up a fighting style from the Fighter list. Standouts include Dueling for damage with a single one-handed weapon, Archery for bonuses to hit, and Blind Fighting for limited Blindsense.
Courtier: Twin social skills, and two languages. The Phantom needs Tool Kits less than other Rogues because it can just pick them up at the start of the day, so languages are exceptional.
Pirate: Two fantastic skills, including the all-important Perception, water vehicles, and navigators tools are all things that a Rogue can get a lot of use out of. Plus, this is just a fun background with great flavor.
Charlatan: Two good skills, and two Tool Kits that the Rogue doesn’t already get access to. Add even more Tools to your pile of tool proficiencies.
Battle Master Fighter: One of the most versatile 3 level dips in the entire game, the Battle Master adds a huge amount of flexibility to the main draw of the Phantom. Its attacks.
We would at least consider Precision Attack, which can add to hit rolls to almost guarantee they land, and Riposte, which lets the Phantom counterattack when a creature misses the character, which triggers another round of sneak attacks.
Add into the mix a small amount of free healing, a fighting style, and the almighty Action Surge for an extra action when it matters, for a strong multiclass that could easily take 5 levels or more to grab Extra Attack.
Bladesinger Wizard: An easy way to add some skirmishing power to the class, on top of Wizard spellcasting, the Bladesinger can spend a bonus action to go into a boosted combat stance that adds AC, concentration bonuses, and movement speed. Uses scales up with level, and all the Bladesinger needs is a decent INT score to be useful.
On top of this, Wizard spellcasting and ritual magic add a ton of utility. There are a lot of very useful low-level spells, and this could easily be a full split multiclass, with 9 levels in Phantom and as many into Bladesinger as it wants to take.
College of Spirits Bard: Become the ultimate skill monkey with 3 levels (or more) in Bard. The base package delivers a lot of what Rogues love, including more skills, Expertise, Inspiration for skills, and a fantastic spell list that’s rich with ally buffs and enemy debuffs.
The College of Spirits specifically offers the powerful Guidance cantrip, which neither parent class normally gets access to, as well as the ability to spend an Inspiration die to roll on a list of buffs, all of which are useful, and surprisingly effective despite being randomly generated.
All Bard subclasses are great when multiclassed with the Rogue, so feel free to pick any one of them, because, if we’re being honest, we picked College of Spirits for the confluence of lore.
Would I recommend playing a Phantom Rogue?
The Phantom is widely regarded as a decent Rogue subclass, with a lot of interesting abilities that are flavorful and effective both in and out of combat.
It suffers from relatively underpowered lower levels, but scales hard into the midgame, especially once level 9 hits and the Phantom can start creating soul trinkets from dying creatures. Before that, for most of the class’s levels, it’s going to feel a lot like a standard rogue, just with some extra skills and a tiny bit of damage. So we recommend the subclass for characters who start closer to that level 9 breakpoint.
But once you get there, the Phantom is exceptional. It does things no other Rogue, and very few other classes can do and has a style, flavor, and abilities all of its own.