The ability to quickly and effectively find weaknesses in an enemy’s position is not new to Dungeons & Dragons. However, while many classes have had the ability, the Rogue’s Sneak Attack is an essential part of the class in D&D 5E. As a Rogue, it’s important that you take advantage of your enemy whenever possible. Your quick strike with a dagger can hit harder than any Greataxe or Longsword, and you always know where to shoot an arrow. If you’re new to rogue, or are interested in some strategies to maximize this useful ability, our Sneak Attack 5E guide will help!
Sneak Attack in 5E
Sneak Attack is the primary combat ability of the Rogue. In specific circumstances, the Rogue deals 1d6 more points of damage. The circumstances when you can deal this damage are as follows:
This damage scales by 1d6 per 2 levels after the 1st (at every odd level).
The ally clause tends to be just a little bit more useful than the Advantage clause, but there are plenty of chances for you to gain Advantage on your attack roll. Making sure that at least one of these situations is occurring when you make your attack roll is critical if you want to maximize damage.
Let’s talk, briefly, about what situations give you advantage on attack rolls.
- You have a condition or spell effect that says your attacks have advantage.
- The enemy has a condition or spell effect that says attacks against them have advantage.
- You are attacking from a position where the enemy cannot see you.
- You’ve spent an Inspiration Point, a potentially optional rule, but gives you Advantage on a roll.
- You’re using Flanking Rules, and you have an ally in a flanking position.
We’re going to focus on the first three, since those are in every game of 5E.
There are a good handful of buffs that let you roll advantage against your targets. Invisibility is perhaps the most significant one. If the enemy has no ways to counter invisibility, like Truesight, this is guaranteed advantage. Some conditions that grant you advantage include being helped by allies; that’s right, your ally can give you advantage on attack rolls! Usually, this is useless, since the ally has to be within 5 feet of the creature. But hey, sometimes that lets them do the Help action and then run away, and then you’ll still get Advantage.
Spells that cause enemies to have advantage rolled against them aren’t exactly widely-known, but there are actually quite a few. Spells like Guiding Bolt cause the target to take advantage from attacks made against it, which is great for any martial characters trying to hit it. Ask your Cleric or Druid to cast Guiding Bolt on an important target before you (and some other allies) start laying into it with attack rolls.
Being hidden from combat is somewhat rare, but Stealth checks and the Hide action are your best friend. The best way to start a fight is to position yourself perfectly and go for the sneak attack. That’s a lot of damage to start off! Maybe see if your DM will let your party time a full ambush on some unsuspecting enemies! This tactic is especially useful for the Assassin Archetype.
As a quick reminder, situations that give you Disadvantage also negate Advantage! If you would normally have advantage, and you get disadvantage, then you do not get access to sneak attack. That is why having an ally near your enemy is crucial; sometimes, you’ll just not be in that perfect position for your Advantage rolls.
What Counts As An Ally?
Before we talk about Strategies, we need to talk about a really weird question: What is an ally?
This may seem obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. An “ally” is not clearly defined by the game developer. For most DMs, an Ally would mean someone or something – who the player does not control directly – who is willing to help you in combat. That version of Ally means that our Rogue can get Sneak Attack from their friendly Barbarian. Or, they can get it from an NPC who is helping the fight. Or, they can get it from the Wizard’s summoned Dire Wolf.
However, there are some situations where the term “ally” becomes a bit shadier. For example, if you cast Charm Person on a creature, is that creature an ally? They regard you as a “friendly acquaintance”, but during a battle, does that mean they are an ally? Usually, that’s up to DM discretion.
Another example is for the Echo Fighter Archetype. Matt Mercer stated that the Echo is a “feature”, not an ally. However, one could argue that an Animal Companion is also a “feature”. Few think that Animal Companions do not provide sneak attack. One could argue that the Echo is little more than yourself, just in a different place. Another could argue that, since the Echo can be attacked and threatens the squares around them, that the Echo is distracting enough.
Realistically, if you need to ask this question, it is up to the DM to decide if the target or “feature” is eligible to help you out for Sneak Attack. Some DMs go by the book, and others say that the enemy simply needs to be distracted enough for you to find the knife in the liver. Don’t let “is this an ally?” become a rules discussion.
Let’s say, for now, that the DM is going by-the-law; allies are creatures that are fighting on your side that are not specifically the Rogue itself.
The Rogue should be in a party with at least one other melee character. This can be a Cleric, Fighter, Artificer’s Battle Smith companion… Anything. There should be someone who is consistently adjacent to enemies if you want the Rogue to be consistent. You do not have to be melee to benefit from sneak attack, so build whatever you’d like!
In most cases, you should spend your time focusing down whatever target your melee partner is up against. This serves two purposes; you’re taking down threats faster so that your party deals with less damage per turn, and you’re guaranteeing that you’ll have sneak attack. That’s great, and part of the reason to play a Rogue in the first place!
Your allies can help you out, too. If you need to assassinate a target during a big fight, but the melees can’t get to it, your Wizard or Cleric should feel free to summon something nearby. That means that the enemy is going to have to deal with a summoned creature, and you get Sneak Attack without needing to find Advantage. Summoning is a really good way for you to get sneak attack, and is a great choice for bonus spells known if you end up becoming an Arcane Trickster… Though, admittedly, it is a little hard to find the spell slots!
Sneak Attack Oddities
There are a few little situations that make sneak attack weird. While you can’t apply the bonus damage more than once per turn, you’ll still probably want extra attacks. Why? Well, because if you miss your first attack, you want the extra opportunity to hit the enemy! That’s why effects like Two-Weapon Fighting are so popular for Rogues, even in 5E!
In addition, because it says “once per turn” instead of “once per round”, you are technically allowed to sneak attack on other players’ turns, or even enemies’! That means effects that allow you to attack for an ally, or attack an enemy at an inopportune time, is very useful for Sneak Attack. Watch your position; Opportunity Attacks might work out well for you!
Sneak Attack is a super powerful and fun mechanic, which is good; it’s most of the Rogue’s damage later on! Making good use of Sneak Attack by positioning around your party is critical to maximizing your Rogue’s power… But remember that you deal okay damage by yourself! You don’t necessarily need to sneak attack to be useful in a fight.