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One of my favorite classes is the Rogue, but I’ve heard internet chatter about the Rogue being one of the weakest classes because a Rogue can’t reliably deal Sneak Attack damage in combat. I take this as an offense and a challenge, so I’ve decided to write this article to help Rogue players make sure they’re earning Sneak Attack damage as they zip around the battlefield. Rogues are much more than glass cannons trying to get Sneak Attack, but they need to dish out sneaky stabs in combat to remain relevant to any party’s combat plan.
Let’s talk about Sneak Attack tactics! (AKA Sneak Attack-tics)
Sneak Attack Rules
First of all, I often see Rogues forgetting to increase their Sneak Attack damage when they reach odd-number levels of Rogue. Do not forget to increase your Sneak Attack damage dice to be rolled!
Sneak Attack damage can be dished out once per turn. You would do well to notice that it’s not limited per round, but by turn. If you make qualifying attacks on other creatures’ turns, you can get Sneak Attack damage with those attacks. The most simple out-of-your-own-turn attack would be an Opportunity Attack. To qualify for Sneak Attack damage, you must be attacking with a ranged weapon or a weapon that possesses the finesse property. If your weapon qualifies, your attack circumstance must have one of two things:
- Advantage on the attack roll.
- Your attack’s target must have another hostile creature within five feet of it (usually your ally), and your attack must be rolled without disadvantage.
Satisfy one or both of these requirements, and you can roll Sneak Attack damage if your attack lands successfully. Basically, if you have disadvantage on your attack roll, forget about Sneak Attack. Players often encounter difficulty remembering these requirements, so I recommend giving them the “Sneak Attack Flowchart for Rogues” created by Montgomery (Monty) Martin of the Dungeon Dudes. Several Rogue subclasses treat Sneak Attack differently, but those abilities are exceptions to the general rules.
Gaining Advantage for Sneak Attack
There are numerous tricks for gaining advantage on an attack. I’ll describe several basic methods, followed by feats and spells that could be useful for gaining advantage. Some tactics for gaining advantage will seem redundant with the Sneak Attack enabler of hostile creatures within five feet of the target, but they’re not completely redundant if other circumstances would force you to have disadvantage on your attack. Gaining advantage will make the attack neutral so you can qualify for Sneak Attack with your allies nearby. My tips are not exhaustive (because that sounds impossible), but I’ll give obtainable inspiration to you.
- Hide: The Rogue’s Cunning Action allows hiding as a bonus action instead of an action. This allows the Rogue during combat to feasibly hide their attacks to gain advantage when they subsequently strike from an obscured position. Hiding is not just for sneaking up on people as hiding is clearly described in the “Actions in Combat” section of the PHB. Some DMs have shot down roguish attempts to hide in combat, saying they are clearly seen during combat, but rules errata has made it clear that it’s up to the DM to decide if hiding is feasible. Ideally, a Rogue would have some kind of cover to hide behind while awaiting an opportune moment to strike. If you’re not using your Cunning Action to get out of dicey situations, I recommend you find cover or obscuring environmental features to conceal your attacks as you use your bonus action to hide. You’re not guaranteed to succeed since you’ll be rolling a Stealth check against enemy Perception, but Rogues excel at skill checks like these. Hiding should be one of your top-of-mind methods for gaining advantage on attacks.
- Help: Your allies can use the Help action to give you advantage on an attack. This will take coordination to use properly, but once your party understands this option can allow your damage output to outpace their own, they’ll continue thinking of how to help you get Sneak Attack like the creatures of habit they are.
- Flanking (optional): This optional rule will allow you to team up with allies to get behind foes and gain advantage. The rule is found in the DMG.
- Shove: Allies can shove a creature to the ground, making it prone so melee attacks have advantage to hit it.
- Conditions: Creatures suffering from certain conditions will have attacks made against them with advantage. Those conditions include blinded, paralyzed, petrified, prone (within five feet), restrained, stunned, and unconscious.
- Mounted Combat: If you’re riding a creature, you’ll have an ally that is adjacent to your target, allowing you to gain Sneak Attack damage. If you take the Mounted Combatant feat, you’ll also gain advantage on attacks if the target is not larger than your mount.
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything offers an optional Rogue class feature called Steady Aim. If you don’t move, you can use a bonus action to gain advantage. Steady Aim is AWESOME!
Feats to Gain Advantage
- Fade Away (Gnome only): Being invisible doesn’t automatically make you hidden, but it can help. If you succeed, you’ll gain advantage. Go invisible after you’re attacked, then attack while unseen.
- Grappler: Choose Athletics as an Expertise so you can grapple foes, attack them on your next turn with advantage due to this feat.
- Magic Initiative: (see spellcasting section for ideas)
- Martial Adept: Learn a maneuver that grants you advantage. Simple as that, but you won’t be able to use it often. It’s a limited ace up your sleeve unless you multiclassed as a Battle Master Fighter to gain more Superiority Dice.
- Mounted Combatant – I’ve not seen a player build a Rogue PC to use mounts, but it’s technically a cool way to gain advantage with this feat.
- Ritual Caster – Use the feat to learn Find Familiar. It can use the Help action to give you advantage, or you can Ready your attack to trigger when your familiar is by the enemy.
- Shield Master: Since this feat’s shove bonus action requires you to attack first, this feat only works for your allies to gain advantage. This is because Jeremy Crawford has said that the intent of Shield Master is that you must finish all attacks with the Attack action before using the bonus action shove.. You’ll also need to gain shield proficiency since Rogues don’t receive such. You’re better off using Steady Aim.
- Side note: The Lucky feat doesn’t technically grant advantage, so it won’t work for this purpose.
Spellcasting to Gain Advantage
The Arcane Trickster subclass for Rogues can gain spells of up to 4th level from the Wizard spell list, so I won’t include spells of a higher level than that.
- Animate Dead: It’s a stretch, but your undead minions could use the Help action to give you advantage on an attack.
- Blindness/Deafness: This spell can make it easier to hide your attacks and gain advantage.
- Conjure Minor Elementals: It’s a stretch, but your elemental minions could use the Help action to give you advantage on an attack.
- Darkvision: Use in total darkness against enemies that lack darkvision. If you can see them but they can’t see you, it’s sneaking time.
- Faerie Fire: Target foes to make them glow and give you advantage. You learn Faerie Fire with Drow innate spellcasting.
- Find Familiar: Familiar can use the Help action!
- Grease: Trip em and gut em.
- Greater Invisibility: You’ll still need to use your bonus action to Hide, but you’ll probably succeed.
- Hold Person: Attack paralyzed creatures with advantage and score auto-crits.
- Hypnotic Pattern
- Invisibility: You’ll still need to use your bonus action to Hide.
- Sleep: They can’t see you coming if they’re snoozing.
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter: While they fall prone laughing, you start stabbing!
- True Strike: Usually useless but has potential purpose here. Probably pick this as a last resort, or if you like making useless things useful.
- Web: Make them a silky coffin as you restrain them to gain advantage.
Sneak Attack Tactics Specific to Subclasses
- Arcane Trickster: Mage Hand Legerdemain and Versatile Trickster grant you advantage on attacks against a foe when your Mage Hand distracts them.
- Assassin: Please find poisons that can cripple your foes before you attack; otherwise, you don’t have any direct subclass tools for gaining advantage. Other than that, you’re going to specialize in getting the drop on people. Surprise your foes so you can get Sneak Attack while automatically hitting them critically.
- Inquisitive: Your Insightful Fighting feature will enable you to gain Sneak Attack on a chump for one minute.
- Mastermind: At 9th-level, you learn Insightful Manipulator. You observe potential ambush targets to see which of your marks has a low Wisdom stat for perceiving hidden enemies. Focus on surprising that guy!
- Scout: At 17th-level, you gain another attack on your turn that can benefit from Sneak Attack damage as long as it doesn’t target the same creature as your other attack.
- Swashbuckler: This subclass gains Sneak Attack most reliably thanks to its Rakish Audacity feature.
- Thief: At 17th-level, you get two turns in the first round of combat, both of which can use Sneak Attack.
Quick Multiclassing to Gain Advantage
- Animal Companion + Help action (Beast Master Ranger, 3rd level)
- Fighting Spirit (Samurai Fighter, 3rd level)
- Rage + Reckless Attack (Barbarian, 2nd level)
- Spirit Totem, Hawk Spirit (Shepherd Druid, 2nd level)
- Stunning Strike (Monk, 5th level)
- Superiority Dice + Maneuvers (Battle Master Fighter, 3rd level)
- Umbral Sight for invisibility to darkvision in the dark (Gloom Stalker Ranger, 3rd level)
As I mentioned in the premise, there is no way I can make this article exhaustive. It’s up to you to identify and seek opportunities to gain Sneak Attack. Though not exhaustive, I’m certain that my ideas will include some that will help you in your roguish endeavors. Make sure your allies understand Sneak Attack so their teamwork can aid you in attacking sneakily.
Do you love Rogues as I do? Do you want to share other tips for securing Sneak Attack damage to help other Rogues out there in the world? Comment below with your own thoughts that we may gain expertise in the ways of cunning.