D&D 5e: Thief Rogue Guide
D&D 5e: Thief Rogue Guide
Role in Party
If there’s a stereotypical Rogue class, it’s the Thief. If you need someone to get somewhere they’re not supposed to be, crack open an impossible safe, or charm a bartender into giving up vital secrets, the Thief is the character you turn to. And if all that fails, the Thief can still happily sneak up on someone and stick a dagger somewhere it’s not supposed to be.
But in 5e, the Thief isn’t just built to sneak into places. They’re also by far the best class in the game at using items, and only get stronger as the player running them learns more about D&D.
Versatile, fun, and powerful. What we’re saying is, if you haven’t played a Thief yet, you probably should.
The Thief Rogue subclass is found in the Player’s Handbook. Click here to pick up your own copy of the Player’s Handbook!
Fast Hands: The principal ability of the Thief subclass, Fast Hands can take a little forethought to get the maximum use out of, but when used correctly this is an incredibly powerful ability.
Available from level 3, the ability expands the Thief’s Cunning Action, allowing the use of a bonus action to disarm a trap or open a lock, or take a Sleight of Hand check. So far, so situational. The real meat of the ability allows the Rogue to take the Use an Item action as a bonus action instead.
Used correctly, this ability adds a ton of flexibility and fun to the Thief subclass. Drop caltrops in front of you or throw an acid vial in the face of a foe, all without impacting your ability to attack, or, more importantly, sneak attack.
There are even several interesting edge cases with the feature, for example, a Thief can equip or unequip a shield with Fast Hands, which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it’s confirmed by the designers themselves. We’ll touch on more in the feats section, below.
Second-Story Work: Also available at level 3, this ability basically gives the Thief a climbing speed, and extends the range of their long jumps by a small amount.
Both are useful but quickly outclassed by the magical abilities on offer to other classes, or magical items.
Supreme Sneak: From level 9, if the Thief moves less than half their speed in a turn, they have Advantage on Stealth checks. This is a big bonus, especially if the Thief also takes Expertise in Stealth, which will push their check high enough that they can comfortably beat the perception of monsters on all but the worst rolls.
Use Magic Device: From level 13, the Thief ignores all limits on magic item use. This is far better than it sounds at first glance because it means the Thief isn’t limited in any way to racial or class items, can use anything rolled on random tables if your GM uses those, and can freely use traditional mage items like wands and stave for a little extra firepower.
Thief’s Reflexes: What’s better than one turn? Two turns. Once hitting level 17, the Thief gets to take two turns during the all important first round.
One turn is taken at normal initiative, the second is taken at initiative -10. There are no limits on daily uses. The only restriction is that it can’t be used if the Thief is surprised.
That’s the ability. Simple, but incredibly powerful.
The base abilities of the Thief are easy to understand, but hard to master. Anyone can see the benefit in drinking a potion as a bonus action, but learning the intricacies of the item list, and what’s best to use when can take a little while to learn.
But that’s a good thing. It means the Thief is a class that can be used by anyone, from veterans who’ve been playing the game since launch, to brand new players rolling up their first character.
On top of item use, the Thief brings a suite of useful abilities that synergize perfectly with the base kit of the Rogue. Better sneaking, movement options, and later on, even taking double turns, which no other class gets access to.
In combat, most Thiefs are going to want to hold back, using a ranged weapon to land sneak attacks, or darting into the flank and neutralizing key targets, while tossing out items and traps.
Out of combat, the Thief can do almost anything. Their skill list is literally unparalleled, with the ability to focus on two with Expertise, as well as perform actions faster than anyone else using Cunning Action and Fast Hands.
Thieves also make exceptional multiclass picks, with natural breakpoints in the subclass, and an ability list that meshes with almost every other class in the game. That flexibility lends a lot to the Thief. Whatever your character idea is, there’s probably a way to build it.
As a subclass, the main weakness of the Thief is how much it can rely on the player to make its abilities worthwhile. Without some investment in understanding items and some pre-planning on how to use them, a lot of the early levels might as well just be a standard Rogue.
Fast hands also tend to fall off in later levels, because items don’t scale with characters. If your campaign is going to be played primarily in the mid-levels, it’s worth talking to the GM to make sure that magic items are going to be appropriately handed out, or that item damage and DC can scale in some way.
The Thief also shares the Rogue’s normal weaknesses. The small d8 hit die and light armor proficiency tend to mean Thieves aren’t the toughest character, though like all Rogues they can be hard to pin down and land meaningful damage to.
Best Race Options
Changeling: Fantastic stats and extra skills are good for any Rogue, but the Changeling’s major ability, to shift their physical appearance, within a few reasonable limits, is literally perfect for any character who plans on doing subtle work. After all, if anyone manages to get eyes on you, a few seconds later you can look like someone entirely different.
Fairy: Always-on flight is an incredibly strong ability, especially paired with a character that can hide as a bonus action and snipe for massive damage with their bow.
Extra spellcasting tied to any mental stat is also nice, especially the ability to Enlarge an ally in combat or Reduce yourself to tiny size to go on even more impressive sneaking missions.
Tabaxi: Tabaxi seem built to be Thieves. Darkvision and two perfect skills, a (redundant) climb speed, plus the ability to just outright double your speed for an entire turn, making a Tabaxi Rogue the fastest level 2 character in the game.
To reiterate, that’s 60ft base speed for a turn. Move once, dash as an action, then cunning action dash again for 180ft of movement. A level 3 Thief can use their climbing boost to run 180 feet up the side of a building. That’s around 12 vertical floors, on average. In only 6 seconds. Did anyone say Assassin’s Creed?
Choosing the Right Skills
When it comes to using skills, the Rogue is the single most effective class in the entire game. The only other class that even comes close is the Bard, and even then, the Rogue has the edge unless the Bard is spending magical resources.
It’s especially important for the Thief to take Sleight of Hand, because of their class abilities. It’s not a skill that sees a lot of use in most situations, but it’s invaluable when you need it.
From here, the world is your oyster. Perception is an essential skill, and no Rogue can really pass on Stealth to sneak past enemies.
The Thief also really benefits from Athletics, because that’s the skill used for climbing and jumping, and the subclass gets bonuses for both of those.
Social skills are also vitally important, especially if you’re taking on the role of party face. Persuasion is the most important, closely followed by Deception. Intimidation is the least useful, normally only coming up in interrogations.
Finally, if you have slots left over, taking one or two knowledge skills that are relevant to your campaign is generally a decent choice, considering you have the stats to be good at a lot of them.
Alert: Rogues want to go first, and the Thief wants to go first more than most. An initiative boost means the Thief is more likely to be able to get key items out where they’re needed, start damaging key enemies, or relocate to a safer position if they have to.
For most of the campaign, the extra bonuses based around sneaking and surprise are just the icings on the cake, but Alert is almost an automatic take once the Thief is 17, as it means that their capstone ability, Reflexes, can never be switched off, guaranteeing that second turn.
Mobile: To use Fast Hands, a Thief needs a hand free, so one attack per turn is what most Thieves will have to live with.
The mobile feat lets melee Thieves live dangerously, ducking into range to deliver their single attack and use an item, then retreat without worrying, as that enemy can no longer take opportunity attacks towards them.
10ft of movement also synergizes nicely with what Rogues want to do, especially considering the Thief has a climb speed.
Healer: Fast Hands with this feat turns the Thief into a fast healer. The feat allows the use of a Healer’s Kit to stabilize a dying character and bring them back to 1HP, which by itself is already good as a bonus action.
Secondly, the Thief can use their Healer’s Kit to heal their allies for 1D6+4 plus the character’s level, once on every character, per short or long rest. That’s a lot of healing over the average adventuring day, especially considering a Healer’s Kit costs 5gp for 10 uses. A 4 man party at level 5 will heal 50 HP from this, for the total cost of 2 gold! That’s value.
The Rogue is in the enviable position where almost any background can be useful, simply because the Rogue gets access to all of the skills, and the most important Tool proficiency, Thieves Tools, as part of their level. Standouts include:
Charlatan: Perfect Thiefy skills, and two tool proficiencies to add to your already huge pile.
Courtier: Great skills, and twin languages, for the more discerning, socially oriented Rogue.
Urchin: More great Thief skills, and more tools. Plus fun background fluff.
Armorer Artificer: The Artificer focuses on utility spells, tool use, and magic items. The Thief loves all those things. Taking 3 levels in Armorer Artificer gives a Rogue proficiency in all types of armor, as well as built-in magical armor that offers full Advantage on Stealth, even if you’re in full plate, and an always-on ranged weapon that can still trigger sneak attack.
On top of this, the Artificer bonuses are all useful, including free magic items, spells, and tool proficiencies. It’s a good enough multiclass to take all the way, for example, Rogue 13/Artificer 7 to get Thief’s Use Magic Device ability is a hilarious complement to the Artificer’s ability to just make their own magic items.
Eloquence Bard: The Thief already wants to be a skill monkey and utility character. The Eloquence Bard doubles down on that.
The main abilities here are Silver Tongue, which guarantees a minimum roll of 9 on Persuasion and Deception, to almost guarantee success. (Remember you can take Expertise for both of these, too.)
In combat, when they’re not using items the character will be able to tactically deploy Unsettling Words as a bonus action. This reduces the next save a chosen enemy takes, massively enabling your other party member’s ability to land vital debuffs.
Add this to the usual Bard package, including spellcasting and even more skills, and this is a character that can comfortably scale all the way to 20.
Rune Knight Fighter: We’re taking Rune Knight for two abilities. One is the Runes themselves, which have both passive and active effects. For example, the Cloud Rune gives the Thief permanent Advantage on Sleight of Hand and Deception checks, and once per rest, they can divert an attack from any target within 30ft to any other target within the same range. (Take it from me, this never stops being hilarious.)
The second thing that we want is the always useful Action Surge. An extra action is never bad, but if the character ever reaches level 20, they effectively gain a major capstone in the first round of combat. Take a turn, action surge for another action, then take a second turn using Thief’s Reflexes.
Would I recommend playing a Thief Rogue?
The Thief isn’t as brainlessly strong a subclass as the Swashbuckler or Soulknife, but with a little bit of thought, it can be an incredibly powerful asset to the party, in combat, out of it, no matter the situation.
But the best thing about the Thief is how versatile and fun to play it is. The sheer variety of abilities on offer, especially the massive range of the Fast Hands ability, means that every encounter can be something different even at the lowest levels, and as magic items start to become more common, the Thief only gets better and better.