The Arcane Trickster is one of the most unique archetypes introduced in the Player’s Handbook. Rogues that follow this subclass are likely magicians or mischief-makers, though a lot of them end up as adventurers. Take the trickster’s arsenal for granted at your own risk; these are still spellcasters with a lot of potential. How much potential, you ask? Read our Arcane Trickster 5e guide to find out.
No Mere Magician: Arcane Trickster 5E
The Arcane Trickster has been in Dungeons & Dragons for a few editions. Usually, you had to multiclass into it, but now it’s simply a core archetype of the Rogue. With such a heavy reliance on Enchantment and Illusion, the Arcane Trickster’s combat utility has been slightly dampened. However, even with that burden on your shoulders, you’ll maintain great control of the battlefield with easy ways to get saving throw disadvantage. You’ll also have a hilarious tool to gain attack advantage by giving creatures wedgies, and the good ol’ “steal a spell” mechanic of Trickster’s past.
The Arcane Trickster is one of two 1/3rd level casters. That means that they receive spells at 1/3rd of the pace of other classes, and only offer 1/3rd of a caster level if you wish to Multiclass. However, this still means your Rogue will have a decent number of 1st – 3rd spell slots, as well as one 4th. Not bad!
You gain a total of 13 spells known by level 20; 4 of them can be from any school, the rest are either Enchantment or Illusion. All of your spells are from the Wizard spell list. That’s pretty stellar for you, since the Wizard spell list is immensely powerful.
Your cantrip choices are somewhat limited – Mage Hand + 2, and you learn an additional cantrip at level 10. Only 3 cantrips on top of Mage Hand isn’t great. But, you get to have a damage option (such as Green Flame Blade) as well as three utility options. Or, you can gain a ranged attack for when you can’t get Sneak Attack and just want to hit them pretty hard.
All of these are based off of your Intelligence. That means your Rogue’s gonna need more than just Dexterity!
All-in-all, Spellcasting is generally just too powerful to say it’s bad, no matter what restrictions are on it. The utility a Rogue can get from Greater Invisibility or even Fireball is incredible. You also have a lot of good lockdown options against creatures with minds, something that no other roguish archetype can accomplish. And, thanks to Rogues not really needing too many stats, you can invest in Intelligence without jeopardizing the build too badly.
The downsides are somewhat minor compared to the upsides. You can’t get sneak attacks on Cantrips, meaning Firebolt can’t give you a valid ranged option. However, Greenflame Blade is a melee attack; since you don’t get Extra Attack, this is a super valuable addition to your kit. Booming Blade is similar, allowing you to use Cunning Action and become a valuable switch-hitter. Later on, you aren’t going to want attack roll spells, since your ranged weapon attacks add so many d6s onto them. Instead take AoE spells if you want damage, and use your Enchantment or Illusion spells to your advantage.
This is an extremely good, but non-versatile, 1/3rd caster. A really neat addition to the rogue’s toolkit!
Mage Hand Legerdemain
Mage hand is the other main “mechanic” of this archetype. Other than just having access to magic, your Mage Hand cantrip is invisible, and can do a few extra things.
- You can stow one object the hand is holding in a container worn or carried by another creature.
- You can retrieve an object in a container worn or carried by another creature.
- Finally, You can use thieves’ tools to pick locks and disarm traps at range.
In addition, you can use the bonus action granted by your Cunning Action to control the hand.
These checks can be made silently using a Sleight of Hand against a Perception check.
So, this gives your Mage Hand a ridiculous number of buffs… None of which are too significant. An invisible Mage Hand is well-liked, since you can do cool things with Deception or really do magic tricks. Otherwise, it’s about as good as having it not be seen using Sleight of Hand normally is.
Stowing and stealing objects from someone is funny, and allows you to theoretically do awesome things. Pickpocketing is normally an interesting mechanic, since you can take keys from someone without them noticing or get a bit of extra money. Now, you can do it from 30 feet away as a bonus action. That’s efficiency! It’s pretty easy to Deception your way out of a bad Sleight of Hand roll, too… if they don’t realize you’re a magic user! Stowing would probably only be useful in very, very specific campaigns. If you need to plant evidence – or a stick of dynamite – on someone, then this lets you do it from far away. Wonderful, and once again extremely easy to use.
Disarming traps from far away is actually a fantastic idea. You won’t have to spend your Expertise on Sleight of Hand (though you should!) since triggering traps from 30 feet away will usually keep you safe. The lockpicking is a bit less impressive; you don’t need to be 30 feet away from a basic lock. However, being able to do all of those as bonus actions? That’s great! That means you can distract someone with Deceptions or fighting while you unlock a chest.
This is an incredibly good buff to your ability to Rogue. You’ll be Roguing so well with this that Thieves everywhere will be scratching their heads in disbelief.
You’ve had 6 levels to get used to your primarily trick-based magic. Now, your tricks are about to get a little more serious.
Starting at 9th level, if you are hidden from a creature when you cast a spell on it, the creature has disadvantage on any saving throw it makes against the spell this turn.
So, first of all, granting disadvantage on Saving Throws is amazing. If a creature has poor Wisdom or Charisma saves, then you almost guarantee that they’re going to fall under your spell. And if they have poor Constitution or Strength, then some of your other utility spells are going to land hard. Even with good saves, the d20 is so important to a Saving Throw’s success rate that you might be surprised to affect creatures as well as you do.
So then the problem is that you need to be hidden. That can be easier said than done; in some combats, there’s very limited sources of cover. And you won’t want to be using Invisibility just to get disadvantage on some other spell. You’ll want to use your Cunning Action to retreat out-of-sight often.
Invisibility should be on your spell list, and now it’s definitely important! You can get a good position and then start hammering enemies with spells that they can hardly save against! Perfect.
In Intrigue Campaigns, this is even better. Get into hiding and then charm someone you need to talk to to make the Charisma check easier. Or Frighten someone who was getting a little too close to the princess from the shadows so she’ll trust you more. You’ve got options with this thing!
So far, your Mage Hand has just been for picking locks – or pockets. Now, your bonus actions can be a bit stronger.
At 13th level, you gain the ability to distract targets with your Mage Hand. As a bonus action on your turn, you can designate a creature within 5 feet of the spectral hand created by the spell. Doing so gives you advantage on attack rolls against that creature until the end of the turn.
So, there’s a few problems with this. One, it requires your hand to be next to the target. That’s not too bad; most enemies don’t want to move after they attack to avoid opportunity attacks, so you’ll likely only need to spend a bonus action at most.
Two, this eats your action economy. Since you’ll definitely want your advantage – for sneak attack or just damage – you won’t have much else you can do with your Cunning Action. Of course, if you need to bail out, then use your Bonus action to Withdraw… But otherwise, start spamming your Legerdemain ability to always have that hand nearby.
At this point, your ranged weapon should always have a way to get Sneak Attacks. Even if you could get sneak attack otherwise, getting advantage on attack rolls next to guarantees damage. It took a while, but at last you’re one of the most consistent sneak attackers in the game.
Finally, at level 17, you’ve learned all you can from your archetype, and… Hoo boy, is this one interesting!
Immediately after a creature casts a spell that targets you or includes you in its area of effect, you can use your reaction to force the creature to make a saving throw with its spellcasting ability modifier. The DC equals your spell save DC. On a failed save, you negate the spell’s effect against you, and you steal the knowledge of the spell if it is at least 1st level and of a level you can cast (it doesn’t need to be a wizard spell). For the next 8 hours, you know the spell and can cast it using your spell slots. The creature can’t cast that spell until the 8 hours have passed.
This refreshes on long rests.
Okay, so, this isn’t incredible. By any means. Against enemy spellcasters, this requires A) them to target you, B) them to fail a save with their spellcasting modifier, which they are likely to be proficient in, C) the spell that you counter is really important. Just b’s caveat is a little overwhelming in most situations, since… yeah, most spellcasters are proficient in their saving throw. You’ll need to rely on some pretty powerful luck (or good Intelligence boosting items!) to make this effective.
But, there’s two things that make this really, really potent. One, if you do succeed and catch a powerful spell, then you’re in for a wild ride. At worst, this is a counterspell that doesn’t need you to have high casting stats to be okay. Countering a lich could cause it to use a Legendary Resistance, which lets your casters get closer and closer to effecting it. Or, in better cases, you can catch an Evocation spell that you otherwise couldn’t have learned and be better at dealing with swarm encounters.
That’s something really important; you can catch spells from other spell lists. That means you could grab Healing Word if your Cleric throws it at you, and help them pick people off the ground. Or you could grab a Paladin’s spell-based Smite – if they choose to fail the save and maybe punch you lightly. Then you become a massive burst character, with both sneak attacks and Smites on the table.
The combination of Spell Thief and Magical Ambush makes you a rather viscous foe for enemy spellcasters to deal with. Use your reaction to your advantage… And then give them disadvantage.
Best Race for Arcane Trickster Rogues
The Arcane Trickster is somewhat unique for Rogues, in that they need Intelligence to function well. Dexterity is still by far the most important stat for you, and you’ll want a respectable amount of Constitution if you plan on getting into Melee.
This is a pretty “whatever” choice, but the High Elf is an extremely good Rogue, and a better Arcane Trickster. +2 Dexterity and +1 Intelligence is perfect. You gain another cantrip from the Wizard list, letting you boost your low Cantrip count to 5 (including Mage Hand). You can also use Longbows instead of shortbows, which is just more damage for you. Elves have useful utility with Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, Trance, and free Perception proficiency.
The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide offered an additional spin on the Tiefling. The Feral Tiefling has all the neat utility of the normal one, but with +2 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence. It’s practically screaming Arcane Trickster! Hellish Resistance and Darkvision are both great for you. If your GM allows you to take the Winged variant and Feral Tiefling, then that’d be perfect! Flight is a great spell, but an even better permanent boon.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Arcane Trickster 5E
The Arcane Trickster may be one of the best Roguish Archetypes in the game. With access to a pretty decent array of spells, relatively easy Advantage in the midgame, and Legerdemain, you’ll be helpful in almost any situation. If your party doesn’t have a Wizard or a Rogue, and you want the best of both worlds? You could do worse than this.