Making Your Own Rogue Subclass

You may decide that you want to create your own rogue subclass that best fits your campaign. Before embarking on this task, you want to be sure that no existing rogue subclass meets your design goals. One of the greatest flexibilities offered in 5e class design is how open it is to reflavor the features. If there is a subclass that can meet your mechanical needs and stylistic vision, it is best to simply use that and save a lot of time in designing, writing, and playtesting.

If, however, you find that no existing subclass achieves the fantasy or has the mechanics to match your vision, this section will guide you toward making a ranger subclass that fits the 5e D&D model. The guidelines will help you create the features for your subclass and detail how you should balance the class to fit within the official options and those offered by Therin Creative and similar content creators.

Please note that despite the guidance offered herein, your subclass may need further tuning. Be certain to spend the time to playtest your subclass.

Class Chassis

The rogue is a class that focuses on skills and striking its foes unaware. Since its Sneak Attack feature requires a melee weapon with the finesse property or a ranged weapon and the rogue typically wears light armor, Dexterity is the favored ability score for the rogue class. Beyond Dexterity, rogues can benefit from Intelligence or Charisma to prop up their skills, and of course gain value from Constitution and Wisdom.

Hit Dice

The rogue has a d8 Hit Dice, which on its own doesn’t make the rogue able to take a beating. Rather, the class is built to function more as a skirmisher with its hit points serving as a cushion for when things go wrong.


The rogue is the strongest class in terms of skill proficiencies, with a selection of four in addition to thieves’ tools. While its class selection is limited, it is deep enough to free the character’s background proficiencies to choose the desired skills not in the rogue list.

The rogue also has proficiency with light armor and just about any weapon it would desire to wield. Overall, rogue subclasses never need to provide the rogue with new proficiency, and should only do so if it is interesting. Tool proficiency can be an exception since rogues don’t have options for tools without giving up a skill proficiency.

Ability Score Improvement

The rogue class is one of two classes that grant an additional Ability Score Improvement feature, the other being fighter. This enables the rogue more flexibility in raising its ability scores or to pick up an extra feat. For this reason, rogue subclasses often choose a secondary ability to use, such as with the Arcane Trickster, Inquisitive, and Swashbuckler archetypes.

Skill Features

Rogues have a number of features that enhance their skills. The Expertise feature grants a meaningful bonus that can compensate for a low ability modifier or pairs with a high one to make the rogue likely to succeed on an ability check.

The Reliable Talent features makes success on moderate and even difficult checks an almost certainty. Rogues are expected to be the best, overall, with skills they choose.

Sneak Attack

It is through sneak attacks where the rogue’s damage budget manifests. Sneak attack damage scales linearly with level and provides an acceptable floor for damage potential, but the rogue with its party have to make it work. Rogue subclasses generally don’t attempt to change the damage potential until 17th level; they rather make getting a sneak attack easier or more reliable.


While rogues lack AC and hit points to face off against stronger foes, they do have situational defenses and tactical options to ensure the rogue’s survival. The Cunning Action feature trades a rogue’s bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action, each of which can keep the rogue out of harm’s reach. The Uncanny Dodge and Evasion feature are among its options to further mitigate harm when they rogue is caught.

When introducing new defenses to the rogue, you should account for its existing options. Also, you should aim to keep the rogue’s bonus action free for its Cunning Action feat, though it is appropriate to allow the rogue to trade it for damage as the Steady Aim feature does or the Soulknife archetype’s Psychic Blades.

Archetype Features

Roguish archetypes grant features at 3rd, 9th, 13th, and 17th level. Be considerate of the early levels when rogues only get one feature level of their subclass before late in tier 2, after which they gain new features regularly.

Building a Roguish Archetype

Once you understand the class chassis, you’re one step closer to building a subclass. You’ll also want to review existing subclasses to get a feel for their design and balance. This section will aid you in understanding what your subclass features should accomplish.

Before starting on the formal work to build your subclass, devise its theme and role. What is your subclass’s purpose? What roles does it fill in an adventuring party? How are its mechanics interesting and unique? Why would a player choose your subclass?

Let’s start by looking at some existing rogue subclasses.

Thief. The original rogue before it was called a rogue. The Thief archetype excels at the rogue’s traditional kit: sneaking, lock picking, picking pockets, climbing walls, and disarming traps. It also gets to use magic devices normally restricted to certain classes, vastly expanding what it could do. Players choose this archetype to be the eponymous thief and to put the party’s magic items to their fullest of use rather than rot in the wizard’s backpack.

Assassin. While any thug can take money to kill, the Assassin is able to get close to its target and take full advantage on catching it flatfooted. This archetype has some potential burst damage above its peers, but is more focused on infiltration than simple killing. Players choose this archetype to get close to their foes and catch them in a moment of vulnerability. They want to be the one that determines with initiative is rolled — ideally with the odds stacked in their favor for a quick victory.

Arcane Trickster. The Arcane Trickster pairs two facets into one roguish archetype — arcane spellcasting and ranged tool interaction. This allows them to deal with locks and trap safer than its peers and opens the wide range of options the wizard spell list entails. Players choose this archetype to gain some wizard spells and empower the mage hand spell for safer dungeon charting or straight-up shenanigans.

Swashbuckler. While the swashbuckler isn’t capable of frontline fighting like a warrior, it is an effective duelist and more than able to duck out of the fray. This archetype leans into a Charisma-focused character. Players choose this archetype because they want to be dashing and daring with a bit of panache. They can duel isolated foes to occupy or eliminate them.

Soulknife. Adopting the mantle of the soulknife class from 3rd edition, this archetype uses psychic power to make it a better rogue and fuel its core conceit: the psychic blade (originally mind blade). One advantage these rogues have is that, even if relieved of their worldly goods, they remain armed. Players choose this archetype to gain psionic powers and make weapons with the character’s mind.

Enforcer. The Enforcer archetype is the thug, favoring more brutal techniques and intimidation, but remaining quite adept with traditional roguish skills and tools. Unlike other rogues, the Enforce can favor Strength over Dexterity. Players choose this archetype because they want to beat down their foes, often with a club or mace.

Each rogue subclass does something unique and pushes the rogue kit in a certain direction, but at its core, each is a rogue, tapping the rogue’s versatile toolkit and combat abilities.

Building the Subclass

This guide covers building a roguish archetype consistent with official published material. Each roguish archetype has a distinct approach to its craft, adopting new techniques or enhancing existing ones beyond normal means.

Subclass features are granted at 3rd, 9th, 13th, and 17th level. Except for 3rd level, each Roguish Archetype feature should only grant one subclass feature. Consult the Rogue Subclass Features table for when you should grant features.

There are exceptions for the rule of only granting a single subclass feature:

  • Ribbon features are frequently weak on their own, so in certain cases you may grant a second, minor feature, which could be another ribbon feature.
  • The feature has some complex interactions that are much clearer when separated. Often this is indication that something should be cut, but in rare cases, it makes sense to split a feature for comprehension.
  • You are expanding an existing feature in a minor way. Sometimes it’s better to include the enhancement in the core feature, and at other times it could be a note in another feature.

Rogue Subclass Features

Rogue LevelFeature
3rdIdentity Feature, Ribbon Feature
9thUtility Feature
13thDefensive/Traversal Feature
17thCombat Enhancement Feature

Identity Feature

3rd-level [Your Rogue Subclass] feature

With this feature, you want to grant the Roguish Archetype the facet of its kit that separates it from all other rogues. The Identity feature should be unique and do one of two things. One option is to grant the rogue a new way to use its Sneak Attack feature. The other option is to introduce a new mechanic that transforms how the rogue might play.

This decision is determined by your subclass’s flavor. Do note that new mechanics could inadvertently increase the rogue’s damage; to some degree this is okay, but be aware how much you’ve expanded its power budget. Look at the Assassin, Arcane Trickster, and Soulknife archetypes to get an idea for how much increased damage is reasonable. If a damage bonus is too high, you may be able to salvage the feature’s concept by including a limit on how often it can be used to adjust the performance to an appropriate average across the entire adventuring day.

Your feature can focus more on utility than one direct combat value. Spells and psionic powers typically hit both points, but as long as the spells or powers compete with the rogue’s Sneak Attack feature, you shouldn’t experience significant power creep from your subclass (however, pairing with certain problematic spells can have undesirable impact).

Ribbon Feature

3rd-level [Your Rogue Subclass] feature

This is feature serves to flavor the archetype and should affect the exploration or social pillars of play. For a rogue, this is typically used to bolster a skill or grant some tactical (not necessarily combat) value.

You may prefer to grant the archetype a specific skill proficiency (generally because you plan to use it for a later feature) or one or more tool proficiencies that round out the subclass’s flavor.

In certain cases, such as with the Soulknife roguish archetype, your Identity feature may function as the Ribbon feature for 3rd level. In this case, you can replace the Ribbon feature with a different type of feature that could even be offensive in nature.

Utility Feature

9th-level [Your Rogue Subclass] feature

With a Utility Feature, you want to enhance the rogue’s interaction with the exploration or social pillar, or even grant it some increased traversal ability This feature should make the character feel even more roguish, as it should interface with the rogue’s core kit or Identity feature.

Defensive/Traversal Feature

13th-level [Your Rogue Subclass] feature

You want to augment the way the rogue gets around or provide it a direct or indirect defensive interaction. This feature is pretty broad, so look at how other rogue subclasses fill this feature to get an idea for the scope it entails. You want to be cautious about being duplicative of the 9th-level feature in feel or function; players aren’t going to be excited if their rogue just gets better with a skill or tool for a second consecutive feature.

Traversal and situational defenses are the more interesting options, and allow you to further carve a niche for your subclass and make it extraordinary in its field.

Combat Enhancement Feature

17th-level [Your Rogue Subclass] feature

At the end, rogues typically get a feature that enhances their combat prowess. In its simplest form, this can be extra damage, but you can also make it more indirect, such as through conditions or set ups that allow party members to exploit a target.

In any event, if your archetype hasn’t received a feature that makes it more dangerous, this feature needs to deliver. You may consider tying it to the Identity feature, that certainly creates a clear fantasy for the subclass, but this feature can also stand on its own. Just be sure the feature ties into the overall subclass package in a way that is flavorful or mechanically consistent with the design vision.

The Rogue Feature Pool

If you comb through the official rogue classes, you will note that their features don’t always align with the above guidelines, particularly in cases where the Identity feature provides utility throughout its advancement, such as with the Arcane Trickster’s spell. In this event, you will want to round out your features to some degree. Consider replacing the 9th and /or 13th level features with a different feature type.

Combat Expansion. Grant the rogue something new it can do in combat that doesn’t directly increase its damage budget.

Defensive. Grant the rogue a situational defensive option that is interesting.

Identity Enhancement. Further what the Identity Feature can accomplish, including granting it some combat value.