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My first character was an Arcane Trickster, and he’s still one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played. I started with the D&D Next play-test material, which did not have an Arcane Trickster option. I planned to multiclass as a Wizard because I always thought that was a cool option in Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. But when D&D 5e was officially released, I was ecstatic to see the Arcane Trickster option added, so I worked with my DM to rework my character to use the subclass (and also use the sweet Variant Human race option). Since its release, the Arcane Trickster has been a popular subclass that has stood the test of time, maintaining its relevance despite many new Rogue subclasses joining the game.
The Arcane Trickster specializes in illusion magic and enchantment magic. Illusion magic will require less investment in Intelligence, but enchantment magic is powerful if your character is a smarty-pants. You can learn spells from other schools of magic at levels three, eight, fourteen, and twenty (or when you’re replacing a spell you know from another school of magic). The limitations on spell selection are explained on page 98 of the PHB.
My spell recommendations favor the illusion and enchantment schools of magic and spells that don’t rely on saving throws or spell attacks.
Recommendations are in alphabetical order by spell level. I include spells from the PHB, XGtE, and SCAG. Many spells not on my list will have their place in the game, but my recommendations will almost always be useful for your Arcane Trickster. I present my choices for the most thuggin’ spells in the realms:
- Booming Blade (Evocation): Rogues only need to attack once to deal massive damage, so using a cantrip to enhance that damage is even better. You can also use Cunning Action to Disengage as a bonus action to move away from your target, which would force melee combatants to move in pursuit to take additional damage. For this reason, I prefer BB over Green-flame Blade.
- Friends (Enchantment): You’re only making temporary friends with this one, so use it on folks whom you don’t mind messing up after you schmooze information or aid out of them.
- Mending (Transmutation): Get creative. Hide messages in pottery after you break them open and put them back together. Break and enter, but undo the breaking.
- Message (Transmutation): Whisper through a crowd as if it’s a dark alley. Coordinate efforts between your allies to execute complicated thievery.
- Minor Illusion (Illusion): One of the best cantrips with heaps of utility for creative players. Hide behind an illusory shrub, draw someone’s attention with a concerning noise, or set up a decoy to bait foes into a trap or disadvantageous position.
- Prestidigitation (Transmutation): Quickly wash blood out of your chef’s apron so you can hide the fact that you just dispatched the king’s cook so you can take his place and serve up a poisoned cupcake.
Note: Since the Arcane Trickster automatically learns Mage Hand, I didn’t include it in my recommendations.
1st-Level Arcane Trickster Spells
The following spells included schools of magic that are not Illusion or Enchantment, which can only be acquired at levels 8, 14, and 20; or if you’re replacing a spell you gained at levels 3, 8, 14, or 20. Non-Illusion/Enchantment spells have their schools bolded for your convenience.
- Charm Person (Enchantment): Don’t waste time interrogating someone with violence. Learn what you need using kindness… and mental, emotional manipulation.
- Disguise Self (Illusion): Loki would be proud. Frame fools as you impersonate them. Infiltrate organizations after tying up the member whose identity you’ve stolen.
- Feather Fall (Transmutation): If you’re taking part in a campaign that has heights and falls, consider taking this spell as life insurance at level eight.
- Find Familiar (Conjuration): Familiars can use the Help action to enable your Sneak Attack. They’re also useful scouts who blend in and fit in small spaces. Consider swapping this spell out later on for another spell that isn’t from schools of illusion or enchantment since you can swap those spells freely without worrying about school of magic (see the last sentence of the Arcane Trickster’s “Spells Known of 1st-Level and Higher” section). Getting this spell at level eight may be too late for your style, so pass it up if you’re not feeling it.
- Fog Cloud (Conjuration): Wow, a smoke bomb whenever you need it! Block line of sight from archers and spellcasters. Make melee combatants get lost. Cover your escape. Create a chaotic situation while you snatch a person or object you need.
- Silent Image (Illusion): Fool people into believing something happened. Create convincing decoys and honey pots for manipulating people into situations that allow you to blackmail and manipulate them. Make them fall through a hole that appeared to be a hot tub.
- Sleep (Enchantment): Swap this spell out later since your ¼-caster spell slot level progression won’t keep up with monster hit dice levels. Until then, have fun putting people to sleep (and maybe sending them to eternal sleep with your blade) so you can focus on what’s important in life: loot. You can also innocently put a museum guard to sleep without harming him while he just does his job to feed his family, while you steal a famous painting.
2nd-Level Arcane Trickster Spells
- Alter Self (Transmutation): Where Disguise Self goes wrong (physical contact), Alter Self succeeds. Your
- Arcane Lock (Abjuration): Before you light a crooked politician’s home on fire, secure the doors to be shut with your Arcane Lock. Or just keep your treasure chest locked, I guess.
- Blur (Illusion): A solid defensive spell if you can spare concentration and a turn to cast it.
- Detect Thoughts (Divination): Gain information without having to say a word, or guide thoughts to get to the information you really need. This is most useful against people who are unassuming. If they suspect your are an enemy, they may be busy guarding their thoughts as they tell lies (though they’d have to be pretty skilled at lying to not have clarity of thought).
- Hold Person (Enchantment): Controversial as to whether this spell is good or not. If foes pass their saving throws, you accomplish nothing. If they fail, you automatically crit those paralyzed fools with your melee blade. Hold Person is very swingy, either epically succeeding or failing. Choose it if you’re a gambler.
- Invisibility (Illusion): You need stealth to get wealth.
- Nystul’s Magic Aura (Illusion): “Magic item? WHAT magic item? This is just my wedding ring.” Have fun deceiving folks, especially in markets or gambling groups.
- Mirror Image (Illusion): No concentration required for this top-tier defensive spell. Just remember enemies with blindsight or truesight will see you plainly.
- Phantasmal Force (Illusion): I wouldn’t have picked this spell if it wasn’t for the fact that it forces an Intelligence saving throw. Brutes can reliably fail Intelligence saving throws even with ok rolls, regardless of your spell save DC (if you didn’t invest in your Intelligence). This spell can effectively remove a brute from a fight, or even common spellcasters who rely on Wisdom or Charisma stats.
- Shadow Blade (Illusion): Summon a thematically appropriate blade anytime, so you don’t even need the dozen knives up your sleeves. Your damage output will be increased nicely too.
- Spider Climb (Transmutation): Spider-man, Spider-man! Scales whatever a Rogue who wants to run on walls without terrestrial limitations can! Plus you can Naruto-run up walls and ceilings (if your DM is nice enough to not require you to have your feet and hands on the surface you scale).
- Suggestion (Enchantment): Humanoids and monsters alike will bend to your will, but only if they fail a saving throw and you can spare your concentration. Invest in Intelligence if you plan to use this spell a lot. Suggestion is a powerful spell for manipulative characters, but just about anyone can find uses for it.
3rd-Level Arcane Trickster Spells
- Fear (Illusion): While it may rely on your spell save DC, I can’t ignore the benefits of making enemies run away from you (provoking opportunity attacks) while they drop whatever they’re holding. Spellcasters could drop arcane focuses, and martial combatants could lose their best weapons.
- Fly (Transmutation): If you chose Spider Climb at an earlier level, consider swapping it out now to learn Fly. Your speed will be crazy as a Rogue since you can Dash as a bonus action and action on the same turn. Walls will not hold you back. Feather Fall may not be needed either if you chose that spell, assuming you’re in for a fall long enough to cast Fly instead.
- Haste (Transmutation): Use your Haste action to attack. Make sure you have Sneak Attack damage with that attack. Then use your normal action to Ready an attack. This will allow you to attack as a reaction outside of your own turn. You can Sneak Attack an additional time per round with this tactic. This can effectively double your damage output if done correctly. Haste has other benefits, but this tactic is the big benefit for a Rogue.
- Major Image (Illusion): This is the first truly versatile, adaptable illusion spell you can use. I recommend swapping out another illusion spell for this one, such as Silent Image or Phantasmal Force.
- Nondetection (Abjuration): For the Rogue on the run from the law (the gods and their divine servants). No concentration necessary, by the way.
- Phantom Steed (Illusion): I love the idea of a Rogue that uses a mount to increase mobility and free up bonus actions. Some handsome guy wrote an article all about this concept (I recommend it as a quick read).
4th-Level Arcane Trickster Spells
- Charm Monster (Enchantment): When you run out of people to charm, pick up Charm Monster. You can sway the emotions and friendships of all creatures. If you find creatures who lack loyalty to your enemies, you may convince them to switch sides.
- Dimension Door (Conjuration): Always a good exit strategy, even for slippery Rogues when they find themselves in a jam. It’s also cool to just wave goodbye and disappear in a puff of smoke as you begin a getaway.
- Fabricate (Transmutation): Counterfeiting time! Learn to use a few artisan tools so you can easily create replicas and counterfeits. Trick a spellcaster into buying counterfeit components that are created with materials that merely mimic the real deal. You could also just quickly create works of art to sell.
- Conjure Minor Elementals (Conjuration): Summon your minions who can blow up when they die. I’m talking about Mephits, homie. Their Death Burst ability could potentially damage, blind, restrain, or create a smokescreen. They’ll also function as allies as you attack foes with Sneak Attack. Magma Mephits can cast Heat Metal, and Ice Mephits can cast Fog Cloud. Mephits also fly.
- Greater Invisibility (Illusion): Remain out of sight even while harming and charming. This is a must-have spell for Arcane Tricksters. You may swap out Invisibility to gain Greater Invisibility. The duration is shorter, but you can attack and cast other spells while remaining unseen.
- Stone Shape (Transmutation): If you liked the Arcane Lock arson idea, you can pull something similar off by sealing a stone doorway with Stone Shape. Maybe swap out Arcane Lock at this point unless you’re dealing with many wooden doors and doorways that need sealing. You can mold a stone blade for in a pinch.
These are my picks for the best Rogue Arcane Trickster spells at each spell level. You can’t choose all of them, but you should pick some or all that you can from these recommendations. Select your spells based on what makes sense for your level, then swap them out when appropriate. Consider the setting and style of your game and identify spells that will impact your game. Your character will become undeniably cool and useful.
Thanks for reading, and good luck with your next adventure! Which spells would you add to my list? Let me know in the comments.