When it comes to building new characters in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, most players dive deep into their class and Race selections. Amid the plethora of options sits subclasses, abilities, spells, weapons, proficiencies, and so much more that help make a character feel unique to the player wielding them in their games. For the truly efficient, every drop of power counts, and for the truly creative, every aspect of a character’s creation will influence their play.
If you aim to be either of these types of players or are simply interested in backgrounds and how to utilize them well, this article will be for you. Backgrounds offer ways for characters to gain extra proficiencies or to explore different parts of what a Dungeon Master offers in their handcrafted worlds. They can even earn you inspiration if played effectively during roleplay and combat scenarios if your DM allows inspiration to begin with.
For this article, we will cover the best backgrounds for Rogues in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, separating them by the various Roguish Archetypes- in other words, separated by the available subclasses for Rogues to choose from.
1. The Swashbuckler
The Swashbuckler is a Roguish Archetype that focuses on wielding one or two blades elegantly in battle and excels at single combat. Relying on speed, elegance, and charm, Swashbucklers put on a performance when they fight and look more like professional actors rather than scrappy fighters when operating at their peak ability.
We recommend the Charlatan or Entertainer backgrounds for maximizing the diverse skillset while the Sailor- or more aptly the sub-background Pirate- makes sense for the flavor of the class itself.
For the Swashbuckler, who wields charisma and daring in equal measure, the Charlatan offers an exquisite pairing. Both share a flair for performance and manipulate the environment to their liking or advantage. On top of this, the proficiencies in Deception, Sleight of Hand, Disguise Kits, and Forgery Kits all support the Rogue as a whole, allowing class and Race proficiency selections to be more creative and flexible.
Those who take the Entertainer Background will choose for their character to thrive under the spotlight, using their grace and wit to captivate audiences. This fits with the Swashbuckler who wants to take everyone’s attention when striking down an enemy or claiming whatever objective the party is after.
Proficiencies include Acrobatics, Performance, Disguise Kits, and one musical instrument, acting as the opposite of the Charlatan proficiencies- whereas the Charlatan gives relatively crucial proficiencies for Rogues, the Entertainer gives flexible picks while letting the main class proficiencies pick what the player deems most important.
The Sailor Background fits well with the Swashbuckler for flavor purposes. In fact, the entry in Xanathar’s Guide states many Swashbuckler Archetypes will be sailors or pirates in-game.
The Pirate is simply a variant of the Sailor, granting the same proficiencies but adds a darker tone to your character’s past and an additional feature that influences how the world views you. Regardless of which you pick, you can count on earning Athletics, Perception, Navigators Tools, and Water Vehicle proficiencies when taking this for your Swashbuckler.
2. The Thief
The Thief Archetype is for those Rogues that want to hone their skills in what most would consider dishonest arts. Burglars, bandits, cutpurses, and other criminals will likely follow this archetype; however, Rogues that prefer to remain on the moral high ground can still take this archetype and act as treasure seekers, explorers, investigators, or even the Robin Hood trope.
The Urchin Background and the Thief Archetype share a bond built upon survival and subterfuge. Urchins breed resourcefulness, honing on the Thief’s aptitude for exploiting opportunities in the darkest corners of each city, village, and kingdom. Proficiencies include Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Disguise Kits, and Thieves’ Tools, all standard protocols for Rogues to take when building themselves.
The Guild Artisan
Where the Urchin inherently fits the Thief, the Guild Artisan Background acts as an unexpectedly powerful synergy for Thieves. By operating within guilds’ intricate networks, Thieves leverage their skills to excel as experts in discreet procurements.
Forgeries, counterfeits, and scams seamlessly make their way into businesses surrounded by legitimate paperwork and income, letting Thief players act as good people while actually realizing their own ulterior motives. Insight, Persuasion, one set of Artisan Tools, and one Language all add to the effectiveness of this Background and Archetype synergy.
3. The Assassin
The Assassin Roguish Archetype is perhaps the most self-explanatory option for players: you are a killer. Morally speaking, one can be an evil Assassin that practices their art based on their own vendettas, or they can be a goodhearted Assassin, working for the greater good despite taking the lives of their targets. With clean, efficient strikes and the necessity to get within range of their targets, Assassin backgrounds can be quite varied.
Beneath the veil of scholarly pursuit, Assassins find intriguing companions with the Sage background. With access to poisons or forbidden knowledge, Assassin-Sages meld lethal proficiency and esoteric understanding, embodying a shadowy enigma that strikes from the shadows.
Your earned proficiencies include Arcana, History, and two languages of your choice. Additionally, you choose a specialty for your studies and gain the Researcher Feature for your character.
Criminals and Assassins go hand-in-hand with each other. Taking the simplified approach to why one is an Assassin, Criminal Rogues can utilize their nefarious pasts to paint a canvas of shadowy stories full of intrigue, deceit, and deadly precision. Criminals gain proficiency in Deception, Stealth, one type of gaming set, and Thieves’ Tools.
The Far Traveler
The enigmatic allure of distant lands beckons Assassins with the Far Traveler background. As a master of covert affairs, an Assassin can leverage their foreign origins to weave intricate narratives, capitalizing on the mystique of the unknown. This background thematically fits with exotic Races based on their Dungeon Master’s world-building.
Examples include but are not limited to Aarakocra, Tieflings, and Drow. Your proficiencies include Insight, Perception, any one language, and either a musical instrument or gaming set of your choice. The last option is typically directly related to your homeland and its culture.
4. The Arcane Trickster
For those looking to take up magic for their character, Arcane Trickster is the perfect choice for a Roguish Archetype. Boasting a variety of spells and lending itself to almost any flavor for characters, the Arcane Trickster is one of the strongest Archetypes available in core content.
Merging arcane arts with divine devotion, The Arcane Trickster-Acolyte fusion is an enchanting tapestry of mysticism. Offering a potential reason for gaining magic through worshipping a deity, Acolytes can transition between the shadows and the ethereal, wielding daggers, bows, and spells equally. Proficiencies in Insight, Religion, and two languages, as well as friends in fellow temples will support your journey greatly.
The Hermit archetype resonates profoundly with the introspective nature of an Arcane Trickster. This background’s seclusion fosters a deep connection with magic, paving the way for a rogue who navigates both the tangible and the intangible realms with artful grace. Medicine, Religion, Herbalism Kits, and one language of your choice all come with the Hermit’s territory as proficiencies.
The Mastermind focuses on people and the influence or secrets they have. Spies, courtiers, and schemers will follow this archetype, but so will those hoping to become leaders or to gain control of the overall momentum of the adventure. A wide variety of proficiencies are required to successfully manipulate friends and foes alike, so plan accordingly before taking this Archetype.
The Noble understands what wealth, power, and privilege are. They also understand how to use these ideas to their advantage. Carrying a noble title, Masterminds can easily make their way into powerful circles to gain leverage over matters that cannot be solved with a blade. Earned skill proficiencies are History and Persuasion, one gaming set for tool proficiencies, and one language of your choice is learned.
You also gain the Position of Privilege feature, granting you many accommodations from both high nobles and the common folk. Most importantly, however, is that Noble players can work directly with their game’s DM to ensure fair yet exciting opportunities to play the background to its fullest.
The Guild Artisan
Making a second appearance on our list, the Guild Artisan’s affiliation with craft and commerce serves as a compelling foil for the Mastermind’s manipulative endeavors. Behind the mask of respectable craftsmanship lies a master schemer, orchestrating elaborate plots beneath the veneer of legitimate trade.
Conclusion Best Backgrounds for Rogues in DnD 5e
In the realm of Dungeons and Dragons, rogues’ journeys unfold through the synergistic interplay of both their archetype and background. In each combination covered in this article, a distinct portrait is painted- an artful dance of shadows, a symphony of deception, a quest for truth, or a blend of these myriad facets.
As you create your character, keep in mind your backstory as well as the story you hope to tell through the game’s own narrative. Utilize both your Roguish Archetype and your chosen background to surprise your tablemates and realize the fantasy you want out of your character.