Thief 5E Guide | Rules, Tips, Builds, and More For the Thief Rogue

thief 5E

The Player’s Handbook holds the secret to being a true Rogue; the Thief. Unlike the other rogue archetypes, the Thief is a versatile and non-combat focused class. You’re a burglar, but that doesn’t mean you’re a criminal. Perhaps you instead call yourself an explorer, or delver. That makes sense; you’re well-trained in dealing with both locks and magical relics of the past. You have so many potential titles… Is “good adventurer” one of them? Let’s find out in the Thief 5E Guide.

Where’s My Wallet?: Thief 5E

Mechanically, the Thief is exclusively utility-oriented. You get nothing with this rogue archetype that helps you land sneak attacks (other than, arguably, easier stealth) and only one ability that strictly helps you in combat. You’re a stellar scout, a skeleton key, and can use magic items with the best of them! However, your early game is hampered by one ability that’s nearly worthless. So, you’ll need to wait until level 9 for your potential to be realized.

Fast Hands

To start, it’s time for you to get some unlocking done!

Starting at 3rd level, you can use the bonus action granted by your Cunning Action to make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check, use your thieves’ tools to disarm a trap or open a lock, or take the Use an Object action.

Well, that’s kinda underwhelming.

Cunning Action is a legitimate reason to pick Rogue by itself, so adding extra options will always be appreciated. Now, you can rob someone, and make an attack! Sick! The Sleight of Hand allowance is realistically not extremely potent, but you can lie to someone while simultaneously hiding a weapon. That can be useful in some worlds.

Now, unlocking something while simultaneously fighting is a scenario that I could see happening. If combat is going rough, then getting a door open while laying down Sneak Attacks will help the party survive while you deal with another problem. Or, if a trap was activated and is part of the difficulty of the encounter, you can actively handle two problems at once. A little situational, but this lets your thief be more active in any combat situation.

The Use an Object action is a little less impressive. But when you get magic items that require it, you can be really aggressive. Until then, there’s only so much more you get out of being able to flick a light switch while being able to fight.

Overall, these benefits are situational, but you’ll actually see them happening fairly often. And your GM should be willing to consider your unlocking to be just a little faster, since you could use Bonus Actions and Actions on lockpicking.

Second-Story Work

Now if the previous benefit wasn’t exactly strong… Hoo boy.

When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you gain the ability to climb faster than normal; climbing no longer costs you extra movement.

In addition, when you make a running jump, the distance you cover increases by a number of feet equal to your Dexterity modifier.

Yeah, not exactly what you’re looking for.

Alright, climbing. Climbing isn’t necessarily bad. It can be a good replacement for flying really early on, and gets you out of tight situations. Climbing faster than most other creatures will benefit you, since you can Dash and climb like your life depends on it (which it might!). If you can get to a good ledge, you have a vantage point to rain down arrows and Sneak Attacks. Most dungeons have walls, too! Make sure you have a climbing kit (or an equivalent) and anchor yourself to a high place; bam, pseudo flight!

On the other hand, the second benefit is nearly worthless. Through messing with game mechanics and maxing out your possible stats (with perfect magic items!), you can get +10 to your Dexterity modifier. That means you can get a running jump and fly… 2 more tiles. In total. At level 20. I guess it’s better than nothing? But it’s really not that good.

You can make the climb speed work for you, and get another square out of running jumps, but… you probably wanted something a little better out of your early game.

Supreme Sneak

Finally, you get something that’s just solidly good!

Starting at 9th level, you have advantage on a Dexterity (Stealth) check if you move no more than half your speed on the same turn.

Rolling twice on stealth on a class that benefits so much from it is quite good. This is around the same benefit as being invisible, at a fairly low cost. It’ll be a bit of a pain in combat, but out of it, you’ll become a ridiculously powerful scout.

Interestingly enough, this is arguably better than invisibility; you can use it to stay hidden from creatures with Truesight.

You might still want to put Expertise into Stealth, since going at full speed is good for combat. But, if you have both Stealth Expertise and this…

Even your party won’t know where you went.

Use Magic Device

Funny enough, Use Magic Device was used in older editions as a basic skill. Now it’s stuck with the Thief! At least it got better.

By 13th level, you have learned enough about the workings of magic that you can improvise the use of items even when they are not intended for you. You ignore all class, race, and level requirements on the use of magic items.

Okay, maybe you’ve played Dungeons & Dragons before, maybe you haven’t. Let’s talk about how good this is. By level 13, you’re going to have some magical items that your party just straight-up can’t use. Maybe your party got a Holy Avenger shortsword with a Paladin nowhere on the horizon. Perhaps you grabbed a Staff of the Python and your Cleric refuses to use it. Maybe your Wizard already knows Polymorph and doesn’t want to use the Wand. 

Now you can.

For some magic items, this isn’t too powerful for you. As a rogue, you don’t need bonuses to spell attack rolls; you’ve got 7d6 in Sneak Attack by now, cantrips aren’t gonna do jack for you. However, you can now use any Wands you find, despite not having any class levels. You still need weapon proficiency to use magic weapons effectively, but you can pick up any class-based magic weapons you want. There’s not many armors that have race or class restrictions, but now if you find one, you won’t care!

Don’t horde magic items if you need money. While you can make any magic item work… Buying magic items that work well is more important. Especially before level 13!

Make sure that your party gets the magic items they need to perform well before you start scrounging. You might benefit a lot from a Robe of the Archmagi… but the Sorcerer might benefit just a little more!

Thief’s Reflexes

Your final ability that the archetype grants you is the only one that strictly helps you in combat. 

When you reach 17th level, you have become adept at laying ambushes and quickly escaping danger. As an Assassin, you can take two turns during the first round of any combat. You take your first turn at your normal initiative and your second turn at your initiative minus 10. You can’t use this feature when you are surprised.

So, two turns is absolutely crazy. That shouldn’t be exactly surprising. Getting the opportunity to move twice, attack twice, and even get two chances to disarm something is extremely good. You can get two chances to reposition, two chances to potentially kill someone… It’s kinda potent!

You only get one extra turn, though. After the first round, you no longer get the benefits of Reflexes, and thus return to 1 turn peasantry. That means you really want to find ways to end combats quickly. You might see the benefits of trying to fight one enemy at a time, or simply having your casters spend a lot of resources. That way, you can backstab enemies really, really hard – and twice – multiple times in just a few rounds.

There aren’t many ways to get two rounds in a turn, so the Thief is totally unique in this. However… If you really, really want to be good in the first round of combat, consider glancing at the Assassin.

Best Race for Thief Rogues

The Thief only requires Dexterity. That’s it. You can have whatever other stats you like! If you’re melee, consider boosting your Constitution so you don’t get slapped to the ground by anyone with a Heavy weapon. Otherwise, you might want Charisma to talk to people, Wisdom to look at things, or Intelligence to know things.


These little guys from Volo’s Guide to Monsters have a lot of anger, and great stats! +2 Dexterity and +1 Constitution is perfect if you wanna get your stab on. Darkvision’s good for sneaking, and Fury of the Small is great, since Thief doesn’t offer you much in damage options. Unfortunately, you waste Nimble Escape since you have Cunning action, but… There’s so much angry potential here. Not to mention Goblins don’t exactly have many magical items based on race!

Simic Hybrid

Take a trip to Ravnica and check out the Simic Hybrid, when you get the chance! The Simic Hybrid’s stats are nearly perfect for you, and you can literally build your character around what your campaign wants. We suggest taking Manta Glide (unless you’re doing a water campaign!) and Carapace. If, for whatever reason, your GM allows Acid Spit to do Sneak Attack, that’s not an awful choice for a ranged build! These half-humanoids might be exactly what you’re looking for.


Last, but not least, if your GM would be okay taking a walk to Theros, you might find Satyr works well for you! You’ll get a massive pile of Charisma, but you still get some dexterity. Magic Resistance is dumb and can get you out of a lot of dangerous situations. You get three proficiencies for free (Performance and musical instrument proficiency are kinda negligible) and Mirthful Leaps can be okay with Second-Story Work. Overall? Not bad at all.

Conclusion – Our Take on the Thief 5E

The Thief is your basic, run-of-the-mill Rogue. To say you’re a Jack of All Trades, master of none is to lie. You’re specifically great at making use of bad situations and climbing your way out of them… sometimes literally. Magic item omnipotence is actually really good, especially if you have a huge pile of wands. You might not feel as powerful in combat as the other archetypes. But, if you want to be a versatile out-of-combat problem solver, try the Thief.

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