Rogue is a character class found in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, although the general archetype (usually by different names) can be found in almost every RPG ever made. Rogues are sneaky, backstabbing, nimble adventurers, and they're just so useful you can't help but keep them around.
Rogues have a variety of skills that make them useful in various situations and, if they get a backstab, cause incredibly high damage, but they only have moderate hp. This may sound good, and they are pretty decent, but they're dead weight in a party with wizards, clerics, druids, erudites, or any other tier 1 (to tier 3 in case of Pathfinder) class. Similarly, they also become utterly fucking useless in combat when something with heavy fortification, an elemental, a construct, an ooze, a plant, or an undead show up. Pretty much, if it's immune to criticals, the rogue can only pout as he becomes a useless skill monkey, unless he starts diving into splatbooks looking for ways to bypass crit and sneak attack immunity. Most embarrassingly they can't sneak attack anything with concealment, which includes anything not standing in at least torch light so they can not, in fact, stab someone in the dark (unless they are a Dwarf or Half-Orc).
Given the power of their sneak attacks, many builds revolve around turning invisible after performing an attack. This may sound pretty sweet, but said builds also often revolve around one specific kind of weapon (ice, radiant, etc.) and so a clever DM can simply not provide any of said weapon. Serves you right for min-maxing, I guess.
Their skillmonkeying is more useful in Pathfinder, where they now have a lot of exclusive skill uses that other classes used to be able to do well enough with the right buffs, and they get rogue talents that give them a little more unique flavor. Yet ultimately they are outdone by the Investigator in the skillmonkey/utility part. The Investigator hybrid class has an even bigger skill list, is more reliant on Int, can buff himself with alchemy and may add 1d6(later 1d8) to his skill/attack/save rolls at will. The rogues now also have the advantage of far fewer enemies having sneak-attack immunity. Nowadays it's mostly just elementals and oozes. Have a Japan-flavored alternate class in the ninja, which changes out some of those skill monkey powers for ki pool and general insane badassery. Each can crosstrain in the other's special abilities.
Arcane Trickster is Prestige class aimed as Rogues who uses casting to enhance sneakiness like a Gish uses magic to enhance smashing things. This contrasts a Bard who has casting and skill uses, but is not at all sneaky. Several attempts have been made to make this a base class. In 3.5 these include Spellthief, Psychic Rogue (detailed below), and potentially Beguiler, which differs in being a sneaky full caster instead of a rogue variant. There are several options for this in Pathfinder including the "Eldritch Scoundrel" archetype, which is roughly on par with a standard Arcane Trickster (unless you enter Arcane Trickster early with the Accomplished Sneak Attacker feat, then it comes out far ahead), Vivisectionist Alchemist and Investigator, plus Inquisitor for a divine variation. Arcane Trickser appears as a Paragon Path in 4E... which means you'll have no magic till 1/3rd of even the longest career is over. 5E makes "Arcane Trickster" one of the three core options Rogues can select as a specialty.
The Rogue/Thief Divide
Back in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the term "Rogue" was used as an overarching category into which several classes slotted - equivalent to the terms "Warrior" (Fighter, Paladin, Ranger), "Wizard" (Mage, Abjurer, Conjurer, Diviner, Enchanter, Evoker, Illusionist, Necromancer, Transmuter), and "Priest" (Cleric, Druid). In those days, Rogue was a blanket term covering both the Thief, the class we now call the Rogue, and the Bard, as both of these classes shared the ability to pick locks and detect traps - it also picked up some setting-based variants, such as the Handler (a kender take on the rogue), and the Gypsy. However, the bard was so much less effective at that job that the category of Rogue and the class of Thief were pretty much synonymous with each other in the fandom.
Thus, when Wizards of the Coast took over and made D&D 3rd edition, the dropped the idea of class categories and just renamed the Thief into the Rogue, in part to give it a wider definition... But, you just can't keep something old-school down; the Thief returned as an Essentials style "simplified" version of the Rogue in 4th edition, and as a Skill Monkey subclass for the rogue in 5th edition.
Introduced in a web article for 3.5, the Psychic Rogue is an Arcane Trickster in a can. In exchange for less sneak attack and fewer skill points per level, a psionic rogue gains the ability to manifest a small number of powers (up to 5th level at level 17) that help him be sneaky. While a simple alternation to the base Rogue, the Psychic Rogue had the hidden advantage that it was a psionic class, which offers some major advantages over an actual Arcane Trickster that are not explicitly stated in the class description. Firstly, Psionic powers are naturally silent and it's also relatively trivial to prevent them from being visually obvious. Secondly, since Psychic Rogue has a manifester level equal to their class level, Psionics makes it easy to learn powers from another list, and you can augment powers up to your manifester level (everyone misses this restriction and cries that psionics are broken) you can effectively get something close to a 9th level spell equivalent or two per day in exchange for blowing the rest of your manifesting. Thirdly you got access to [Psionic] feats like Obtain Psycrystal or Up the Walls.
Complete Psionic introduced the Lurk, which had the same concept of a sneaky manifester. However the Lurk never caught on thanks to the fact that Complete Psionic was a horrible mess Psionics fans pretend never existed while Psychic Rogue was legitimately free content that could be played in an otherwise SRD only game.
This has varied between a Rogue kit and Rogue prestige class in the various editions. Most versions get Death Attack, which is a more powerful sneak attack that you need to study a target before using.
The 3.5 version is the most notable though because it was a spellcaster. In exchange for four fewer skill points per level they got four levels of arcane casting in 7 levels (as fast as a wizard, but with less spells per day) from a limited but useful list. This casting is also really loud for some reason since casting was based off the Bard, who can't cast spells without a verbal component. It was a nice class and fairly easy to enter except that it required you be evil to enter, making it bad guy only. This was addressed in a post on Wizards of the Coast's website. This post introduced the Avenger which was like an Assassin, but required non-chaotic alignment instead of evil since the fluff is you're killing for king and country instead of money. While this was posted on April Fools, featured a poorly Photoshopped Assassin recolored to white and missed replacing a few evil aligned spells on their spell list, the class is still considered official first-party content and still sees use.
The 4th Edition version was unique in that it was a whole new class that introduced a whole new power source (Shadow) that was, woefully, very underdeveloped by only being comprised of a class introduced in Dragon Magazine, the very lackluster Vampire, and two variant classes (Blackguard and Executioner) in a time when 4E was practically sliding its way towards cancellation. It was something of a mid-point between a caster and attacker with a decent choice of weapons as well as being proficient in ki foci like monks. It's key features were Assassin's Shroud (an at-will that targeted one enemy with a stacking damage bonus when invoked as part of an attack), Shade Form (A sustainable encounter power that turns you insubstantial and able to hide anywhere in exchange for vulnerable 5 radiant), and Shadow Step (teleports you from the side of one person to the side of another). Your subclass is defined by guilds, with the following as options:
- Bleak Disciple adds THP whenever you hit a target that isn't bloodied.
- Night Stalker adds Charisma to the damage if any attacks you make while nobody is near them, making you a serviceable solo combatant.
- Executioner's Guild is a precursor to the Executioner variant class, replacing all of your encounter attacks with Executioner's Strike, a multiple-per-encounter attack that adds extra damage to an attack.
The Executioner, which would later be introduced in Heroes of Shadow, kept Executioner's Strike but also gained access to poisons, a set of buildable items that took the place of daily powers and added effects on attacks, the ability to use Dex for MBAs, and the ability to eventually insta-kill things that you put below a certain HP threshold. While most Essentials classes had at least some degree of choice that impacted later levels, this class was particularly maligned for having a choice that only gave you your allotment of at-wills and nothing else.
Rogues in 3rd Edition
3rd Edition Rogue suffers from four big problems. Firstly, some idiot decided weapon finesse had to require a prerequisite of +1 BAB while rogues start at +0 so they can't take it at character creation. Either they have to start as something else, dip something that gets it as a bonus feat at level 2 (Fighter, Swashbuckler), or suck it up for two levels. Secondly, they are dependent upon Sneak Attack to deal any damage, and half the game is immune to it. Thirdly, sneak Attack is really hard to set up, and can be prevented by something as simple as poor lighting: Yes, sneak attack doesn't work in the dark (this is why Dwarfs actually make good Rogues). Four: Magic does most of the things they do better.
In the move to 3.5 they gained Uncanny Dodge and Improved Uncanny Dodge, freeing them of their dead level at 4th and 8th. Still a bad class, but it's at least a useful ability. Late in the system Wizards realized everything being immune to sneak attack wasn't a good idea and released a few patches, but you had to go out of your way and expend resources to obtain them.
Rogues are Tier 4, and likely a low tier 4 at that. They're capable of doing a lot of things, but not all that well.
Rogues in Pathfinder
Rogues in Pathfinder suffer from give and take. On one hand, the compressed skills make them able to do more, weapon finesse doesn't have any requirements, and they gained selectable Rogue Talents while the list of things immune to sneak attack was limited to Aeons, Elementals, Incorporeals (unless you had ghost touch), Oozes, Protean and Swarms (not rare, but unlike Constructs and Undead things you aren't going to be fighting all the damn time). On the other hand, the compressed skill system, its reduced penalties for non-class skills, it being easier to obtain class skills and the Bard's new Versatile Performance feature mean other classes can do the skill monkey thing pretty good if not better. You also can't sneak attack with splash weapons because some idiot that thinks martials needed to be realistic declared it OP during the playtest, and most of the talent options suck.
Rogue was so underwhelming it was eventually replaced with the Unchained Rogue, which was a straight upgrade to the original. Partial concealment no longer blocks sneak attack, so you can stab someone in a dark alley. Instead of having to blow a feat to actually hit things with dexterity, a rogue gains it automatically and, at levels 3, 11 and 19, pick a weapon to add dexterity to damage. At 4th level they get the ability Debilitating Injury, which debuffs enemies hit by sneak attack for free and stacks with talents that modify Sneak Attack. At 5th level they automatically gain a skill unlock, which lets you do new things with a skill that vary between being "cool, useful and interesting", "did it with magic four levels ago" and "be mildly better at something you could already do" (mostly the last two). Finally a lot of the Rogue Talents were buffed, and most of the talents going forward sucked less.
Also added late in the system's life was the archetype Eldritch Scoundrel. In exchange for some of your sneak attack, all your armor, half your skill points, half your rogue talents and your first Uncanny Dodge, you become a single class Arcane Trickster. This is nice, except at this point Accomplished Sneak Attacker was already printed, which allowed early entry (Rogue 1/Wizard 3) into the actual Arcane Trickster, which is a better option since your build is then 95% Wizard. "Early Entry" may be synonymous with "Cheese", but this instance has been officially endorsed by being the default build of one of the companions in the Kingmaker video game.
Rogue is still tier 4, though a better tier 4. After Unchained, while much better, it's still tier 4 since it still lacks the power to truly shine in any area that other classes can not in. Eldritch Scoundrel is tier 3 but (again) Arcane Trickster is pretty much strictly better.
Rogues in 4th Edition
Rogues got a huge bump in 4th edition, mostly because the vast laundry list of creatures being immune to Sneak Attack was shredded and fed to a manticore. Sneak Attack, it was argued, was just a general term for any kind of specialized, precisely-aimed attack that did extra damage, and so most of the creatures that were immune to it were a case of taking realism to the point of stupidity. Yes, a skeleton doesn't have a liver to stab, but you can still stick a dagger through its knee or vertebrae and twist them apart. Most subsequent editions of the game held onto this change, including those specifically designed for butthurt 3.X fanboys pissed off at 4e.
The 4e Rogue is a Martial Striker - a Source & Role combination that it shares with the Ranger. Its focus is predominantly on mobile attacks, hitting a target and then moving out of range before they can strike back, in comparison to the Ranger's focus on either peppering foes with arrows or slicing them up in a flurry of blades. Whilst predominantly Dexterity focused, it has secondary class features allowing it to get more use out of Charisma or Strength as a secondary statistic. Properly built, the 4e Rogue is a veritable mincing machine of a class; it's actually possible to build a Paragon level Rogue who can inflict damage with every single action of a turn:
- Minor Action: Tumbling Strike or Low Slash
- Standard Action: Knockout
- Free Action: Two-weapon Opening Attack
- Move-to-Minor Action: Critical Opportuity
- Action Point Standard Action: Bloodbath or Deep Dagger Wound
The Rogue's class features in this edition consist of Rogue Tactics (see below), Sneak Attack (1/round, when you are using a light blade, crossbow or sling, you can inflict bonus damage determined by your tier (+2d6 for Heroic, +3d6 for Paragon, +5d6 for Epic) to an enemy you have Combat Advantage against), and Rogue Weapon Talent - you increase the damage die type of shurikens by +1 size and gain a +1 to attack rolls with daggers.
The primary "variable" class feature for the Rogue is called "Rogue Tactics", which broadly dictates what kind of rogue you are. In the PHB, Rogue Tactics is divisible into the Artful Dodger (Charisma modifier is a bonus to AC vs opportunity attacks) and Brutal Scoundrel (Strength modifier is bonus damage to Sneak Attack), which are the basis of the "Trickster Rogue" and "Brawny Rogue" build examples respectively. Martial Power 1 adds the Ruthless Ruffian Rogue Tactic, which grants proficiency with the mace & club, lets you Sneak Attack with those weapons, and boosts up the damage of your Rattling keyword rogue powers by your Strength modifier - this Tactic is the basis of the "Cutthroat Rogue" build, a Str/Cha sample build that relies on intimidation tactics and brute force attacks for a "thuggish" motif - its counterpart, the "Aerialist Rogue", is an acrobatic alternative build for the Artful Dodger tactic, focused on the various mobility-boosting or granting powers added in that splatbook. Martial Power 2 offers the final Rogue Tactics alternative, the Cunning Sneak, who is much more stealthy than usual - it also grants an alternative to the standard Rogue Weapon Talent in the form of the Sharpshooter Talent, which grants you a +1 to attack rolls with either crossbows or slings (chosen at 1st level) and the Far Shot feat for free. That book's sole build example, the "Shadowy Rogue", can key off of either or both of these variant traits.
The Essentials series of books also gave the Rogue a variant in the form of the Thief. This class pretty much focused entirely on their skill-monkey aspects with a bunch of utility powers that could be exploited at-will, though Sneak Attack still existed and they also had the 1/Encounter Backstab to add to both the hit and damage rolls. Thief also allows all MBAs to use Dex to hit and damage while also adding a bonus for all the basic Rogue weapons, sparing a whole feat's usage. Unfortunately, your choice in powers is cut quite short, as is the case with most Essentials classes.
The 4e Rogue is most infamous for having one of the most controversial, "blatantly gamist" powers, in the form of Bloody Path.
Rogues in 5e get a d8 hit die, lots of skills (not quite as many as a Bard, but with more powers to make them the more reliable skillmonkeys) and are much better in combat than their 3.5 predecessors. This stems mostly from the fact that their backstabs now trigger on advantage or an adjacent ally instead of only when the opponent is flatfooted, meaning that they have the potential to get sneak attacks almost every round. Also helping them out is the Cunning Action, which lets them use a bonus action every turn to hide or disengage from an enemy, making them very skilled at hit-and-run kidney shankings. Plus, as part of the ongoing 4e move away from this kind of thing, nothing in the game is immune to sneak attacks. At 3rd level, the rogue chooses between the Thief, a more skill-oriented path, the Assassin, which is essentially the PrC from 3.5, or the Arcane Trickster, who gets spells, cantrips, and a lot of skill with Mage Hand.
They're the only martial class in the game that doesn't get Extra Attack at any point, but the extra damage on a sneak attack more than makes up for it. Especially since they crit harder than just about anyone else in the game.
They can only sneak attack once a turn, and need their bonus actions to run away and hide, though, so while there's room for melee rogues this edition, two-weapon rogues are pretty well gone outside of very-niche builds (nonsense, rogues get free sneak attack so long as the double-team their enemies). Especially with how weak two-weapon fighting is without the Fighting Style option for it, that rogues don't get (also nonsense, getting a second chance at your sneak attack is more than worth it) .
The Gothic Heroes UA Article adds the Inquisitive, which is similar to Pathfinder's Investigator, and is basically Sherlock Holmes with a little Van Helsing added in for flavor. Ear for Deceit and Eye for Deception makes them more adept at sensing when somebody is lying and at finding hidden creatures and objects. Insightful Fighting lets them make a Wisdom vs. Charisma check to gain the ability to launch Sneak Attacks against a creature without actually needing combat advantage to do so. Steady Eye increases their bonuses granted by Eye for Deception. Unerring Eye lets them intuitively sense when they are within of a shapechanged creature or an illusion. Finally, Eye for Weakness increases the Sneak Attack damage they do when they use Insightful Fighting by +2d6.
In a recent UA, they were given a new archetype, the Scout, a kind of rogue/ranger hybrid. It mostly boosts mobility and buffs allies, but does feature a pretty devastating damage capstone. Features include double proficiency in Nature and Survival (level 3), the ability to move half your speed as a reaction (level 3), a boost to movement speed (level 9), granting allies a bonus to Initiative if you manage to surprise enemies (level 13), and the ability to sneak attack two different targets each turn (level 17).
All four were reprinted, with minimal-to-no changes, in the Xanathar's Guide to Everything sourcebook.
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:|| Blackguard - Binder - Cavalier - Elementalist - Hexblade - Hunter|
Mage - Knight - Protector - Scout - Sentinel - Skald - Slayer - Sha'ir - Thief
Vampire - Warpriest - Witch
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Bladesinger - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Artificer - Mystic|
|The Classes of Pathfinder|
|Core Classes:|| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
| Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
| Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
| Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|