Pathfinder - Character Optimization - The Unchained Rogue Handbook
I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
This article includes content beyond the official Paizo SRD. SRD links will instead use the unofficial D20 PFSRD.
The Rogue is a staple of DnD-style games, but as Pathfinder has grown, the vanilla Rogue has been left behind in a lot of ways. In the core rulebook, the Rogue was the unmatched master of stealth, skill, and surprise attacks. Over time these masteries have been eclipsed by other classes which overcame a lot of the issues which Rogues faces in core. The Unchained Rogue addresses many of Rogue's biggest pain points, and gives the Rogue enough new and unique abilities to make it interesting in the face of all of the other exciting base classes.
This guide is for the Unchained Rogue. For the vanilla Rogue, see my Rogue Handbook.
The Unchained Rogue has some shiny new abilities added or reworked from the vanilla Rogue. Here's a quick list of the new/updated features, but see "Unchained Rogue Class Features" below for more information.
- Finesse Training: Removes the Weapon Finesse feat tax.
- Updated Talents: Many Rogue Talents have gotten an update.
- Danger Sense: An improved version of Trap Sense, which has always been a throw-away ability.
- Debilitating Injury: A fun rider effect on top of Sneak Attack which gives the rogue some tactical options beyond "do damage".
- Rogue's Edge: Allows the Rogue to take advantage of the new "Skill Unlocks".
Unchained Rogue Class Features
Hit Points: At d8 hit points, the Rogue is fairly squishy. Because many Rogues work best in melee, hit points are a serious concern and Rogues need to be sure to keep their AC high.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB is difficult because many Rogues depend on two-weapon fighting, but flanking and high Dexterity can make up the deficit. Debilitating Injury also allow you debuff and enemy's AC, which can go a long way to compensate for your relatively low BAB.
Saves: Good Reflex saves, high Dexterity, and Evasion make the Rogue exceptionally good at Reflex saves, but they often have issues with Fortitude and Will saves.
Proficiencies: Limited to simple weapons, hand crossbows, and a handful of martial weapons, Rogues have very few options. Fortunately, they get all of the ones that they really need to get by.
Skills: 8+ skill ranks and the longest class skill list in the game. Rogues can do a lot of things, but even with 8+ skill ranks it can still be difficult to cover all of the essentials. Be sure to coordinate with your party to know you're going to need to invest your skill ranks.
Sneak Attack: A pile of d6's to drop on your foes. Sneak Attack is the Rogue's primary source of damage, but because it can be hard to bring into play, Rogues occasionally find themselves useless in combat.
Trapfinding: The bonus to disarming traps is good, but the ability to disarm magical traps is the key component of this feature.
Finesse Training (Ex): One of the most important additions to the Unchained Rogue, Finesse Training give you Weapon Finesse for free at first level, and an effect similar to Slashing Grace at 3rd level. Ranged Rogues will mostly only see this as a fun backup ability when they're force into melee, but melee Rogues will save themselves a required feat, and the 3rd-level ability nets them a massive boost to damage.
Evasion (Ex): With your high reflex saves, Evasion will save you from a lot of damage.
Rogue Talents: Basically Rogue-only feats, Rogue Talents offer a huge number of excellent ways to customize and improve your Rogue. For help picking talents, see my Unchained Rogue Talents Breakdown.
Danger Sense (Ex): A minor improvement over Trap Sense, but the bonus is small and scales very slowly.
Debilitating Injury (Ex): A fantastic rider effect which you add to your Sneak Attacks. Remember that you can only apply one penalty to a target at a time, but your successive attacks will each add an additional round to the duration, which gives you some nice padding if you can't hit the target for a round or two for some reason.
- Bewildered: This will be the lion's share of your Debilitating Injuries. TWF Rogues will find this especially helpful because the AC penalty offsets the TWF attack penalty. At high levels when you get iterative attacks, the scaling penalty will offset the relative -5 bonus on your iterative attacks. Your allies only benefit from -2 to the targets AC, but that's a nice bonus, especially when combined with flanking.
- Disoriented: If you're fighting an enemy by yourself, or if the enemy isn't focusing on your flanking partner, this is a great way to keep yourself alive. If you're not having any issues hitting, this is a good option when Bewildered isn't doing anything useful.
- Hampered: Because combat is very static in Pathfinder, this will rarely be important, but it's a great option when you need to run away or keep an enemy from charging your squishy allies or running away from you.
Uncanny Dodge: The ability to never be caught flat-footed is nice, but somewhat situational. If you are expecting to be attacked, you can do silly things like using Full Defense every round until you get attacked.
Improved Uncanny Dodge: This will basically never come up.
Advanced Talents: Add an extra list of considerably better Rogue Talents.
Master Strike: Basically the Assassin's Death Strike ability. This ability is fine, but Ninjas and Slayers can take it as a talent at level 11.
Because the Unchained Rogue's abilities are mostly the same as the vanilla Rogue's, most Rogue archetypes are compatible. The only questionable part is the change from Trap Sense to Danger Sense. Because Danger Sense is strictly better than Trap Sense (it's Trap Sense with an additional Perception bonus), any reasonable GM should allow you to use Danger Sense in place of Trap Sense because you're giving up more for the same benefits.
For more on Rogue Archetypes, see my Rogue Archetypes Breakdown.
The Rogue is very frequently MAD, especially if the party has very few other skills and no Face.
Str: Only useful for a bit of damage, and Rogues depend almost exclusively on Sneak Attack for damage. Dump to 8, but don't dump to 7 unless you really need the extra points.
Dex: In light armor, Dexterity is absolutely crucial. All but the strangest Rogue builds depend on Weapon Finesse or ranged weapons, so make sure to put a lot of resources into dexterity.
Con: Essential for Fortitude saves and hit points, especially if you're in melee.
Int: Essential for skill ranks. 8+ seems like a lot, but it's nowhere near enough.
Wis: Essential for Will saves.
Cha: A little bit of Charisma is great if you plan to play a Face, but otherwise you can dump Charisma to 7.
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Bonuses to Dexterity are essential, and bonuses to Intelligence or skills are nice too. Darkvision is especially nice at low levels before you can get Darkvision from spells.
Dwarf: Not particularly well-suited to the Rogue, but Darkvision is certainly tempting.
Elf: Bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are fantastic, and some of the Elf's other racial abilities are helpful. The Elf favored class bonus adds additional uses to the minor magic and major magic talents, but unless you really plan to use those talents it won't matter.
Gnome: The penalty to strength hurts our damage a little bit, but small size doesn't hurt rogues much, and provides nice bonuses to Stealth, attacks, and AC. The bonus Charisma helps a bit, though not as much as a bonus to dexterity. The slow speed also hurts a bit, but can be overcome with items, and careful positioning.
Half-Elf: The flexible ability score bonus goes into Dexterity, but many of the other racial traits can be swapped out for more useful options. The Half-Elf favored class bonus is garbage, so take the Elf or Human favored class bonuses instead.
Half-Orc: The flexible ability score bonus goes into Dexterity, the bonus to Intimidate is a nice perk, and you get Darkvision. The favored class bonus is garbage.
Halfling: Bonuses to Dexterity and Charisma make the Halfling a natural Rogue. The Fleet of Foot alternate racial trait allows you to overcome the slow speed, and the bonus to Perception is welcome on any character. The bonus to saves also helps improve the Rogue's weak defenses. Unfortunately, the favored class bonus is terrible.
Human: As usual, the Human is a great option. A bonus feat and an extra skill rank per level open up a ton of great options, and the flexible ability score bonus can go right into Dexterity. The favored class bonus grants additional Rogue Talents, which adds a lot of great options.
- Hidden Hand (Combat): Especially useful if you multiclass into Assassin or otherwise gain a Death Attack ability whichi s typically used during a surprise round.
- Reactionary (Combat): Initiative bonuses are great for Rogues.
- Resilient (Combat): Bonus to a bad save.
- Indomitable Faith (Faith): Bonus to a bad save.
- Inspired (Faith): Since Rogues spend so much time using skills, you have a lot of opportunities to use this.
- Magical Talent (Magic): If you plan to pick up the Minor/Major Magic talents, this fits very well thematically. Pick up a utility option like Mage Hand or Prestidigitation.
- Pragmatic Activator (Magic): If you're not a Face, but you still want to use UMD, this can get a you a huge bonus by ignoring your 7 Charisma in favor of your high Intelligence.
- Life of Toil (Social): Bonus to a bad save.
- Forlorn (Elf Racial): Bonus to a bad save.
- Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial): The same effect as Reactionary, but doesn't take up your Combat trait.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Great to move around in combat without getting killed, but you only need to be able to reliably hit a DC of 15, so you don't need to invest a ton of skill ranks.
- Appraise (Int): Too situational.
- Bluff (Cha): Helpful for any face, and feinting is a nice way for melee Rogues to get some self-sufficiency in combat.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Craft (Int): Craft (Alchemy) can be useful if you like to use alchemical weapons, but you can do just fine without it.
- Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for any face.
- Disable Device (Dex): Essential for Scouts who need to handle traps.
- Disguise (Cha): Too situational. Buy a hat of Disguise.
- Escape Artist (Dex): Too situational.
- Intimidate (Cha): Helpful for any face.
- Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Knowledge (local) (Int): Useful for identifying humanoids and for plot stuff in some campaigns.
- Linguistics (Int): Have someone cast tongues.
- Perception (Wis): The most-rolled skill in the game by a huge margin.
- Perform (Cha): You are not a Bard.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful for any face.
- Sleight of Hand (Dex): Too situational.
- Stealth (Dex): Essential for any Scout.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
- Use Magic Device (Cha): This can open up a lot of great options if you like to use wands and scrolls for tricks that you can't do without magic.
- Bookish Rogue: Generally when you set your Minor and Major Magic talents, you select options which are important to your build.
- Dastardly Finish: Fear stacking can be very effective, but Rogues have very few mechanics to do it on their own.
- Extra Rogue Talent: Rogue talents are fantastic, and many of them offer better options than feats.
- Talented Magician: The Elf can get just as many extra uses with two levels worth of favored class bonus.
- Shadow Strike: Usually it's a better idea to remove the concealment, but if your party likes to use effects like Fog Cloud, this can be a huge advantage in combat.
- Twinned Feint: Very situational, and you need to have a bunch of Improved Feint feats for it to matter. You won't reasonably be able to use this until you pick up Improved Two-Weapon Feint.
Combat Expertise: Not useful on its own, but it
opens up a lot of other great options.
Improved Feint: Allows you to Feint and
attack in the same round, allowing you to use Sneak Attack without
flanking or hiding. However, if you're in melee you are almost certainly
using two-weapon fighting, so Two-Weapon Feint is likely a better choice
- Deceptive Exchange: Amusing, but ridiculously situational. I would let someone do this with a Bluff check without requiring a feat.
Disengaging Feint: The Withdraw
action lets you move twice your speed, affects all opponents
which threaten your current square, and doesn't require a
Bluff check. If you don't want to move in a straight line
you can use Acrobatics to tumble.
- Disengaging Flourish: Just use Acrobatics to tumble.
- Disengaging Shot: This allows you to Feint, attack, then move all in one turn. Certainly a tempting option, but situational.
Two-Weapon Feint: Functionally the same
as Improved Feint, but a better option for two-weapon fighters.
- Improved Two-Weapon Feint: This makes feinting and two-weapon fighting a viable combination. It sucks to give up one of your attacks, but your opponent loses their dex bonus to AC for an entire round, and not just for your attacks.
- Surprise Maneuver: Combat maneuvers aren't typically a good choice for Rogues, but if you want to use them this will get you a hefty bonus.
- Improved Feint: Allows you to Feint and attack in the same round, allowing you to use Sneak Attack without flanking or hiding. However, if you're in melee you are almost certainly using two-weapon fighting, so Two-Weapon Feint is likely a better choice for you.
Sap Adept: +2 damage per Sneak Attack die, but you
can only deal nonlethal damage.
- Sap Master: Double your Sneak Attack dice with Saps. It's nonlethal damage, but your Sneak Attack damage is (roughly) 1d6+1 per Rogue level, which is fantastic.
- Sneaking Precision: Critical feats aren't a good choice for Rogues. Leave this one for Slayers.
- Strangler: With 2/3 BAB combat maneuvers are hard for Rogues, making Grapple an unlikely choice. If you combine this with Agile maneuvers and Surprise Maneuver, you might be able to make this work.
Two-Weapon Fighting: TWF Rogues have been a staple
for a long time, and for good reason. Rogues have little use for shields, and
two attacks means two piles of Sneak Attack damage.
Double Slice: Worthless.
- Two-Weapon Rend: Your damage from Sneak Attack will completely eclipse this.
Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: 4 total attacks
can mean a huge amount of damage.
- Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: With 2/3 BAB and TWF penalties, it's very difficult for a Rogue to hit with their third iterative attacks, so it's perfectly acceptable to skip this feat.
- Two-Weapon Defense: Dodge is strictly better.
- Double Slice: Worthless.
- Weapon Finesse: You get it for free!
- Dagger: A good choice for two-weapon fighting and for throwing. Finesse Training can only give you dexterity damage to melee damage, but that makes the dagger an excellent option for ranged or melee builds because it's so easy to switch from melee to ranged.
- Hand Crossbow: Cool, but not very effective. You can dual-wield hand crossbows, but you will need to class dip into Alchemist or Witch to get something which allows you reload while dual-wielding.
- Light Crossbow: A good ranged option, and it doesn't care about your Halfling Rogue's 5 Strength.
- Rapier: Critical threats aren't very important to Rogues, but the rapier is the biggest melee weapon available to the Rogue. If you plan to use two-weapon fighting, skip this so that you can use Finesse Training's damage bonus on both weapons.
- Shortsword: The dagger's damage is only slightly lower, and daggers are considerably more versatile.
- Shortbow: The obvious choice for archery Rogues, but remember that Strength penalties apply to bow damage, so a crossbow may be a good choice instead.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.
- Studded Leather: Your starting point. This should last through early levels. Don't bother enhancing because you're going to get a Mithral Shirt pretty quickly.
- Masterwork Buckler: Unless you're using Two-Weapon fighting, the masterwork buckler is a cheap and easy AC boost.
- Mithral Shirt: Mithral Shirt will be your best bet for AC until your Dexterity bonus hits +10, which will be extremely high level.
- Haramaki: Strictly better than padded armor. With no maximum dexterity bonus, you can afford to make your Dexterity absurdly high without restriction, and can still keep enhancing your armor.
- Mage Armor: A wand of Mage Armor gets you +4 AC for an hour at a time. For the same 9150gp for +4 Haramaki, you can buy 12 wands, netting you a total of 600 hours of mage armor. If you have a wizard in the party, buy them a pearl of power 1 for 1000gp, and they can get you hours/level of mage armor for essentially nothing.
- Sword of Subtlety (Unique): Very pricey, but a +4 to attacks and damage makes this effectively a +5 weapon for slightly more than the price of a +3. Certainly not a go-to option, but nice if you have someone in the party to craft one for you.
- Animated Shield (+2): The best shield that a Rogue can use without issue is a buckler, so the return on investment is much worse than it is for Fighters and other martial classes. Still, it can be a very welcome AC boost for TWF rogues.
- InvisibilityDMG: Improved Invisibility is better in combat, but a Ring of Invisibility is the gold standard of scouting, infiltration, and surprise.
- ProtectionDMG: A bit of extra AC is always welcome for melee Rogues.
- Darkvision: Fantastic for scouting, and with hours/level duration an eternal wand will last all day.
- Fog Cloud: Smokesticks are for suckers. Fog Cloud is a great escape mechanism.
- Mage Armor: See "Armor", above.
- Cloak of ElvenkindDMG: Tempting, and they make sense thematically, but your Stealth bonus is likely already very high without wasting gold and your cloak slot on this.
- Cloak of DisplacementDMG: A great defensive option, but remember that it can't be used to hide in plain sight.
- Cloak of ResistanceDMG: Essential on every character every time.
- Belt of DexterityDMG: Dexterity is the Rogue's bread and butter. Get one early, and enhance it often.
- DarkvisionPHB: Darkvision is essential when so much of your skillset requires sneaking around in the dark, but at hours per level duration you may be able to convince a party member to spare you a spell slot every day.
- Reduce PersonPHB: If you're medium you can reduce yourself for an easy +2 to Dexterity. If you're small, only do this if you're fighting at range.
- See invisibilityPHB: With no built-in way to handle invisible creatures, the ability to always see them is a fantastic benefit. You can't Sneak Attack targets with concealment, so See Invisibility is a much better option than effects like Glitterdust which only allow you to locate invisible creatures, but don't remove their concealment.