Last Updated: September 27, 2023
The Arcane Trickster’s focus on Enchantment and Illusion spells solidies their niche as tricky and deceptive, but largely locks them out of directly offensive or defensive spell options. While these options can often complement the core rogue’s capabilities, they don’t replace them.
This page applies almost exclusively to Arcane Tricksters. Other rogues who take Magic Initiate may also find this section beneficial. Because Arcane Tricksters are mostly limited to Enchantment and Illusion spells, I’ll focus on those spells here, but I will note some notable options for the total of 7 spells which you can learn that go beyond the school limitation.
It may be helpful to see my Wizard Spell List Breakdown for more advice on spells which go beyond this limitation. Also remember that your cantrips are not limited to Enchantment/Illusion.
When selecting spells, remember that your Intelligence is likely much lower than a comparable wizard, and that you can’t deal Sneak Attack damage with spell attacks. Try to avoid spell attacks and spells which require a saving throw from targets unless you can reliably use them while undetected since Magical Ambush can offset your relatively poor save DC. Also remember that you’ll typically only get one get spell of each spell level which goes beyond the Enchantment/Illusion school limitations. You can now retrain your non-Enchantment/Illusion spells thanks to the 2020 PHB errata.
Table of Contents
- Rogue Spells
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
Optional spells are marked below with (Optional) following the spell’s name. These spells are considered optional rules, as described in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Consult your DM before deciding to use these spells.
Because Sneak Attack only works with weapon attacks, I’ve omitted cantrips which rely on spell attacks. Use a weapon instead. I’ve also omitted most offensive cantrips which rely on saving throws. Because your Intelligence will lag behind dedicated spellcasters, it’s unlikely that targets will fail their saving throws. If you want to deal damage, use Sneak Attack. Reserve your cantrips primarily for utility purposes.
- SCAG / TCoE (Optional):
Attack, then use Cunning Action to Withdraw. Instant hit-and-run tactics,
and if enemies chase you they take xtra damage.
Note that Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything published an updated version of Booming Blade.
- PHB: The damage isn’t as good as a Sneak Attack, but rogues don’t have a lot of spells which require Concentration so if you can set this up before combat or on a turn when you can’t deliver a Sneak Attack it could provide some useful area control.
- PHB: An amusing distraction, but you can usually accomplish the same thing using Mage Hand and a candle or torch.
- XGtE (Optional): Allows you
to attack two enemies at once, which rogues are generally bad at doing.
Note that Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything published an updated version of Green-Flame Blade.
- PHB: Versatile and fantastic, a creative rogue can do a lot between this and Minor Illusion. For suggestions on how to use Prestidigitation to its fullest, see my Practical Guide to Prestidigitation.
- PHB: You get it for free.
- PHB: Rogues do a lot of sneaking around, which frequently involves being separated from your party. Use this to send messages without revealing your position. Of course, the spell requires Verbal components and it’s not clear how loud verbal components are intended to be, so take precautions if possible.
- PHB: Room for plenty of creative, deceptive uses. The 5-foot cube is easily enough to create something to hide behind, provided that your enemies don’t see you create the illusion. :
- EEPC / XGtE: This is as abusable and versatile as Prestidigitation. Freeze a solid 5 foot cube of water and drop it on someone. Pour water into a lock, freeze it, and allow the ice expansion to break the lock. Put a dome of ice over something you’re protecting. Build a small bridge in 5-foot segments. Block a hallway. Freeze a door in place. The uses are numerous and fantastic. If you have a barrel of water and this cantrip, you have a solution to most problems. Honestly the fact that this spell is so much better than its other elemental equivalents (Control Flames, Gust, and Mold Earth) is a good indication of just how awful those spells are. See my Practical Guide to Shape Water for more on how great Shape Water is.
- SCAG / TCoE (Optional): If you are in a position where it makes sense to use this, you should probably be running away. Rogues are really good at eliminating single targets but really bad at handling crowds, and this cantrip won’t solve that problem.
- PHB: If you can afford the time to cast this the round before attacking, you can guarantee yourself Advantage on your attack. If you’re in combat, you’ll have better results attacking twice over two turns instead of wasting an Action on this. But if you can do this before combat starts, it may be worth it. True Strike only has Somatic components, making it easy to cast without revelaing yourself while hidden.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. Uncanny Dodge and Shield mitigate damage from attacks, and Evasion mitigates damage from effects which require Dexterity saves, which includes most energy damage effects like fireballs and most breath weapons. You can use Absorb Elements to mitigate damage from other sources, but since there’s so much overlap with the Rogue’s other features, it’s a situational benefit with not a lot of payoff consider that you only get two unrestricted 1st-level spells. The best use cases for this are effects like a green dragon’s poison breath which calls for a Consitution save, but fortunately those effects are uncommon.
- PHB: Learning a single spell is cheaper than proficiency in a Disguise Kit, but remember that your Spell Save DC probably won’t match a dedicated spellcaster so this may not be as reliabe as using a Disguise Kit.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. An owl can move into melee range, then Dash away using its Flyby ability to avoid provoking Opportunity Attacks. This allows you to easily target foes for Sneak Attack with very little effort on top of the other fantastic benefits of having a familiar. I just wish that the owl wasn’t so significantly better than every other option so that there was a good reason to consider other types of familiars.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. This will raise your maximum AC by 1 compared to Studded Leather. That’s a great benefit, but you get so few spells outside of your school limitations that it’s hard to justify.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. In most cases, this is redundant with Uncanny Dodge. However, Shield boosts your AC until your next turn, potentially negating multiple attacks. In situations where you’re being targeted with numerous attacks, Shield will be considerably more protective than Uncanny Dodge. Still, in those situations ideally you have a tanky ally like a fighter to draw attention, or you’re using other spells like Blur or Mirror Image to protect yourself.
- PHB: While not nearly so powerful as Major Image, if you just want an object or a visual effect, Silent Image does the job just as well. Throw up a fake wall, door, or portcullis to slow pursuers. Create a piece of furniture like a box or a chest, then hide inside it and stab people when they try to open it like a pointy jack in the box. Illusions are limited more by your creativity (and your DM’s willingness to play along) than by the spell’s text.
- SCoC: Extremely powerful, but also very complicated. See my blog post on Silvery Barbs for details on the numerous abuse cases which the spell allows.
- PHB: A fantastic defensive buff, especially if you’re fighting in melee where you’re going to be targeted by a lot of attacks.
- SCoC: A great way to pretend to be good at a skill for a little, but it’s outside the Arcane Trickster’s school limitations and it may not be consistently useful enough to justify.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. Darkvision is crucial for a class that benefits so much from fighting in the dark, so if you don’t have this from your race or from an ally, you should strongly consider it.
- AI: Are you playing a silver-tongued rogue, but in real life you’re barely able to string two syllables together? Here’s your solution. But be warned: while the spell doesn’t allow a saving throw, it only fixes the past 6 seconds.
- PHB: Essential.
- SCoC: This is what Cunning Action is for.
- PHB: As effective as Blur (at least until you take a couple hits), and it doesn’t require Concentration.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. Fantastic short-range teleportation with only Verbal components, so you can use it to easily escape grapples and restraints.
- PHB: Find a way to cast Thaumaturgy to raise your voice’s volume, then cast this spell on a piece of paper and scream into it for as long as you are physically capable. Set the trigger to “when the paper is unfolded”. Leave the paper for someone to find, or use mage hand to open it at a distance. Instant distraction. The material component is inexpensive by the time you can cast this, and the duration is “until dispelled”, so you can carry about a big stack of pre-cast Magic Mouth spells for all sorts of shenanigans.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. Rogues don’t have any other good options for dealing with invisible foes.
- XGtE: Basically a magic rapier that deals psychic damage, which is very rarely
resisted. The blade has both finesse and thrown, so it has all the best
parts of a dagger with twice the damage of a rapier.
You can upcast the spell to increase the damage dice, but you really don’t need to. Guaranteed Advantage while attacking a target in dim light or darkness means that you can easily apply Sneak Attack, and compared to your pile of sneak attack dice the extra d8 isn’t worth your extremely limited higher-level spell slots.
The updated versions of Booming Blade and Green-Flame Blade now require that you use a weapon with a monetary value, and unfortunately Shadow Blade doesn’t meet that requirement so you can’t combine Shadow Blade with an attack cantrip.
- TCoE (Optional): The problems solved by this spell can generally be solved by Cunning Action.
- SCoC: Very good, but outside your school limitations and it doesn’t affect you.
- PHB: It’s hard to overstate how powerful flight is.
- PHB: Used as intended, Haste is a decent short-term buff that will give you
either some extra movement or an additional chance to hit if your one attack
per turn misses. In most cases, you can get the same benefits from your
Bonus Action by using Cunning Action for movement or Two-Weapon Fighting for
an additional attack.
But Haste also has an abuse case which you can use to reliably get a Sneak Attack outside of your turn. On your own turn, use the bonus Action from Haste to attack. If you miss, you’ve still taken the Attack action on your turn, so you still qualify for two-weapon fighting if you need another attack (and provided that you meet the other requirements). Then spend your normal Action to take the Ready action. Use a sufficiently broad condition like “anyone other than me moves or acts”, and choose to attack as your response to the condition. Then when someone else tries to do something you can attack using your Reaction, potentially dealing another Sneak Attack (remember that Sneak Attack is once per turn, not once per round).
- PHB: Fantastically versatile, and creatures don’t make a saving throw. Instead, they need to know to touch the illusion or make an Intelligence (Investigation) check, or they need to physically interact with the illusion. Even then, you can buy yourself a great deal of time while the target tries to figure out your illusion.
- PHB: Good, but not totally essential. Divination spells include things like See Invisibility, so if you or your party relies on invisibility of any kind this protects from several maigcal countermeasures to both stealth and invisibility. However, most enemies aren’t spellcasters and won’t have access to those divination options, so you can’t justify casting this every day. The spell also has an expensive material component specifically to deter you from casting this all the time. Still, with an 8-hour duration, if you need this spell it’s going to do exactly what you need it to do.
- PHB: By the time you can cast this, your allies can likely produce much better ways to travel long distances.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. Scouting safely is important, and it’s a major part of the Rogue’s role in the party. Still, you’ve been scouting for 18 levels without this and you’ve somehow survived this long.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. While Misty Step solves the vast majority of your teleportation needs (especially in combaty), Dimenions Door has considerably longer range and doesn’t require line of sight, thus allowing you to quickly infiltrate or escape an area which might otherwise be impenetrable.
- PHB: Outside of your school limitations. I really wish that this spell was better, but it’s simply too situational. It only works on raw materials, so you can’t pull tricks like turning a door into toothpicks or something equally useful.
- PHB: Probably the most important spell that anyone can cast on a rogue.
- PHB: Situational. Unless you specifically need the 24-hour duration and the massive area of effect, Major Image will suffice.
- PHB: Tempting and potentially very powerful, but you can’t use Sneak Attack with the natural weapons which you usually gain from being polymorphed and you’ll deal more damage with Sneak Attack and a dagger than you will by turning into a tyranosaurus.
- PHB: This is one of the must useful spells in the game. Castles, dungeons, caves, mountains, and all manner of other locales include an abundance of stone. The ability to reshape that stone to your purposes in an instant is immensely useful. This is a spell limited only by your imagination. A 5-foot cube is plenty of space to wreak all kinds of havoc if you’re clever..