Introduction

The Arcane Trickster has been a popular archetype since its inception. The primary drawback of being an arcane magic user is being both frail and conspicuous. Arcane Trickster fixes one of those problems by making you much less conspicuous at the expense of not being a full caster. While that’s definitely a steep price, the unique abilities granted by the subclass are worth it for many players, especially the ability to do neat stuff with Mage Hand. Veterans of 3.5 will also notice that the entire spellthief class has been rolled into the level 17 ability for Arcane Tricksters, which feels pretty appropriate for how little play that class saw.

This subclass will let you live out the fantasy of using magic on unsuspecting persons to perform both light-hearted shenanigans and also straight up murder. Remember that, much like the Eldritch Knight, you don’t play like a spellcaster. You play like a Rogue that happens to have magical capacities.

We also recommend our Rogue Spell List Breakdown which is used exclusively for arcane tricksters.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

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.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: 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 this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Arcane Trickster Features

  1. Spellcasting: The Arcane Tricksters defining feature. You’re limited almost exclusively to Enchantment and Illusion spells for your leveled spells, but both of those schools work very well for Arcane Tricksters. When selecting spells, remember that Sneak Attack requires Dexterity-based weapon attacks, so you can’t apply it to spell attacks. Instead, you’ll generally rely on spells like Booming Blade and Shadow Blade.

    For help selecting spells, see my Rogue Spell List Breakdown.

  2. Mage Hand Legerdemain: Controlling the hand as a bonus action means that you can pick locks and pick pockets while you’re doing other things like fighting or casting other spells, and, since the hand is invisible, you can send it off to do those things unnoticed while you and your allies are busy hiding, fighting, carousing, or whatever else you do with your day.
  3. Magical Ambush: Since your spell DC likely won’t be as good as that of a dedicated spellcaster, this can really do a lot to improve the reliability of your spells. I’m still nervous to recommend spells which require saving throws as a go-to option for the Arcane Trickster, but mathematically it makes sense. Disadvantage works out to slightly more than a -3 penalty, so if your Intelligence is 14 or higher your spells can be roughly as reliable as those of a wizard with 20 Intelligence.
  4. Versatile Trickster: Advantage allows you to Sneak Attack the target, which is primary appeal of Versatile Trickster. However, it has some problematic limitations due to the limitations of Mage Hand.

    Mage Hand takes an action to cast, and with a 1-minute duration you’re likely going to do that in combat or while at a safe distance before rushing the move the hand into wherever you’re expecting a fight. This could be neatly solved by allowing the Arcane Trickster to cast Mage Hand as a Bonus Action, but that’s not the world we live in and a feat or class dip to get Quickened Spell is too expensive to justify.

    Once your Mage Hand is up, you need to keep the hand in range of your target. You can use your Cunning Action to move the hand thanks to Legerdemain, and enemies won’t know that you’re doing so since the hand is invisible. However, this means not using Cunning Action, Steady Aim, or two-weapon fighting, and you also can’t activate the Advantage effect the same turn. If your enemy moves even slightly, they’ll be out of range of your hand and you’ll be forced to move it again. In effect, your Bonus Action is monopolized by having your hand chase enemies around so that you can sometimes get Advantage. And that’s to say nothing of the Mage Hand disappearing if it’s ever more than 30 feet away from you.

    At best, this is redundant with the Steady Aim class feature, and since most rogues only make one attack per turn, they have the same benefit. You could use Versatile Trickster with spell attacks like Scorching Ray, but hitting with Sneak Attack is less expensive and deals comparable damage so that’s generally a bad combination. You’re much more likely to use your hand to get Advantage before attacking when you can’t be invisible or hidden for whatever reason, and if your DM doesn’t allow you to use Steady Aim.

  5. Spell Thief: The obvious use is to steal spells from enemy spellcasters, but, in a game when you might go several levels without seeing a spellcaster, a better option may be to “steal” spells from your party’s other spellcasters. Unfortunately, this is difficult since they’re unlikely to fail the save and it robs your ally of their known/prepared spell for 8 hours, so while it’s a more reliable source it’s also very difficult and costly.

Arcane Trickster Ability Scores

Str: Dump.

Dex: The defining ability for Rogues.

Con: As two of our best spells require melee range, we’d like the hitpoints to not die when our penchant for removing vital organs makes things angry at us.

Int: This powers your spells and all the knowledge skills that you’ll be expected to take since your spells are keyed off it too.

Wis: We’d love more of this, but Slippery Mind will help later and we don’t have the budget for it.

Cha: Dump.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str88
Dex1515
Con1413
Int1514
Wis1012
Cha810

Arcane Trickster Races

Races with innate spellcasting are going to be useful both for expanding on your limited spell list and for taking advantage of Magical Ambush. The Disadvantage can make spells that use a stat you don’t have very much investment into more reliable if using a pre-Tasha’s race like any of the legacy tieflings.

Fairy from MMoM already made great Rogues and they make excellent Arcane Tricksters. Surprise someone with disadvantage on Faerie Fire and then enjoy getting free Advantage and Sneak Attacks on them for the rest of the fight. Surprise someone with a Reduce and put them in a box. It’s a good time.

Yuan-Ti are another fantastic choice both with innate Suggestion available and Advantage on saves against spells being an incredible defensive option.

Arcane Trickster Feats

Unlike other Rogues who are largely SAD, we want Int high, too. This means we won’t really have space for feats except the hybrid at 4 that optimized point-buy allows for. If you’re playing a Drow, Elven Accuracy is basically cheating, especially when combined with Faerie Fire which the last half of your career will see the targets making saves against with disadvantage if you do it right.

Other than that, nothing different to call out differently than other Rogues.

Arcane Trickster Weapons

Nothing different than any other Rogue.

Arcane Trickster Armor

Nothing different than any other Rogue.

Multiclassing

This section briefly details some obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn’t fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see my Practical Guide to Multiclassing.

A reminder from the Echo Knight Handbook:

Fighter could also be an interesting play if you build it as a Dex-based Echo Knight. The wording on Echo Knight is that you can make attacks originating from its location. This means that if you are hidden from your target but can still see them, the attack will have advantage, even though this is intuitively nonsense because the Echo is right next to them and actually delivering the attack. But RAW, this makes delivering sneak attacks very reliable without having to worry about party positioning or other factors.

A couple levels of Bladesinger is a good compliment. It will push your AC through the roof and help you pass Concentration saves, but it also delays your already-slow spellcasting and the level you get access to Magical Ambush, which is an incredible power spike for you. If you feel like your defenses are really struggling after level 9, though, this can help.

If you’re willing to dip 3 levels, you can become SAD as an Artificer by becoming either an Armorer or a Battle Smith which would let you pump Int over Dex, doubly so if you do Armorer and choose infiltrator and wear a breastplate so you can leave Dex at 14 without feeling bad. Battle Smith would give you a companion that you can order to move around that will let you qualify for Sneak Attack without putting another PC in harm’s way.

Example Build – Small and Tricksy

Stories of fae trickery have been around since there have been stories. We decide to make those stories come to life in a horrifyingly stabby fashion. 

“You cannot call me short-statured. I am of the size of a fairy.”

-Tinker Bell

Abilities

With no multiclassing shenanigans in handbooks, stats mirror the recommendations above.

BaseIncreased
Str88
Dex1517
Con1414
Int1516
Wis1010
Cha88

Race

Fairy. It’s good for all the reasons described above, and we take the hit-and-run tactics Rogues are great at because of Cunning Action to new heights.

Background

As we already do Rogue things very well and we want to lean into the high Int, so we take Haunted One for Arcana and History as well as a free Monster Hunter’s kit. We keep one language (Draconic) and trade the other for proficiency with a Forgery Kit.

Skills and Tools

Being a Rogue, we get a lot of these. We take proficiency in Perception, Stealth, Investigation, and Sleight of Hand at first level (as well as the free Thieves’ Tools). Arcana, History, and Forgery Kit come from Haunted One as mentioned above, and then at level 4 we’ll take Skill Expert to round out whatever you feel like your party needs. That could be both the proficiency and expertise in Persuasion if you’re lacking a Face, split the proficiency into another Int skill if you’re lacking a Druid/Ranger/Cleric/Paladin but still put the expertise into something you care about more, etc.

For expertise from the class, we’ll start with Thieves’ Tools and Stealth, then the feat at 4 is flexible (Sleight of Hand is another excellent choice given that we will have just gained Mage Hand Legerdemain). At 6, if we haven’t already taken Sleight of Hand, do that. Either way, take Investigation.

Feats

Skill Expert at 4 and a Dex ASI at 8 are no surprise. Since Rogues get an extra ASI compared to most classes, 10 is Fey Touched which we completely ignore the irony of. 12 is Resilient (Con) now that we have Concentration spells we care about maintaining. 16 is Shadow Touched for yet more spells and rounding Int up to 18, and finally 19 sees us taking Chef to round out Con while also providing party utility (definitely eat the food made by the Fae, this is a great idea).

Levels

LevelFeatures and FeatsNotes and Tactics
Rogue OneExpertise
Thieves Cant
Sneak Attack
Expertise in Stealth and Thieves’ Tools at first level are what make the Rogue incredible at the exploration pillar, and Sneak Attack is their big contribution to combat.

For starting equipment, take the leather armor, rapier, shortbow, and the burglar’s pack. Make a point of using the pitons to hammer yourself a little hammock somewhere every night to sleep in.

In combat, we’re going to put the fact that we can fly to good use to keep us alive at a level where we only have 10hp. Stay flying out of things’ reach and, if on your turn there’s no targets you can sneak attack, prepare an action to shoot a hostile creature as soon as your party members are adjacent to one.
2Cunning ActionNow you have the option to duck in and out of melee. Your first turn should be flying to 15 feet over something’s head and preparing an action to shoot it when someone gets close. On your second turn, drop the bow, draw your rapier as you fly down, stab your target, bonus action disengage, and fly 15 feet back up. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
3Cantrips:
Mage Hand
– Booming Blade
– Light/Prestidigitation
Spells:
Silvery Barbs
– Silent Image
– Find Familiar

Mage Hand Legerdemain
We get Mage Hand because it’s required by the class, but we’d want it anyway. Now we can open doors and disarm traps from 30 feet away so that, if it explodes, it doesn’t catch us in the blast. As you don’t have Darkvision, take Light if no one else has already or Prestidigitation if they have. We then round out our cantrips with the only attack we’ll ever do again unless we need our bow: Booming Blade. It can apply sneak attack and, because we’re spending our bonus action to disengage and move straight up, nothing that can’t fly will be able to retaliate.

“But Random”, you say, “how will that help our party member who had to be next to them so we can sneak attack?” Fear not. Find Familiar was going to be on this list anyway because the familiar can take the Help action to grant you advantage on any skill check you make during exploration. But, if you take your fey poisonous snake (yes, I am aware it’s actually venomous and not poisonous, blame WOTC) spirit and wear it like a scarf, it is now a creature that your melee target will perceive as an enemy that is adjacent to your melee target at the time you make the attack which fulfills all the prerequisites for Sneak Attack. I fully realize that this is even bigger cheese than what I was using a familiar for over in the Ancestral Guardian handbook, but, RAW, it works.

DM not letting you get away with that? I kinda don’t blame them. How about instead you ask one of your full spellcasters to use a save-based cantrip, have your target succeed on their save or on an attack roll sometime during the round, Silvery Barbs that success and target yourself with the second half, thus granting advantage and therefore Sneak Attack on your next Booming Blade.

Silent Image is the last leveled spell we take at this level and is great for summoning an illusory box to hide in in midair. Consider this very cheap combat invisibility. You’ll be able to see through it, but enemies won’t unless they spend an action trying to beat your save DC with a likely-unmodified Intelligence check. That means you roll with Advantage and, again, Sneak Attack.

Remember that you also get one free cast of Faerie Fire as well as getting to use spell slots to recast if you wish. Put it on something lumbering and likely to fail the Dex save and then no cheese is required.
4Skill Expert (Dex)
Spell:
– Illusory Script
We discussed some options for Skill Expert in the Feats section of the example build introduction.

As far as spells go, I can’t think of a spell that suits a Rogue with Forgery Kit proficiency better than this. Plus, it’s a ritual so it won’t cost one of your precious spell slots.
5Uncanny DodgeI’m not sure what’s going to be hitting you with attacks given our tactics and most level-appropriate enemies’ lack of flight, but here’s another thing for your Reaction to do when it’s not Silvery Barbs.

Also remember that we get a free daily use of Enlarge/Reduce here. We don’t have slots to recast it yet, but you can either do hilarious things like make yourself tiny and therefore weigh approximately 8 pounds which will let you stand on your invisible Mage Hand, or do normal things like make your Defender larger and better able to perform area control.
6ExpertiseRefer again to the skill section above.
7Evasion
Spell:
– Phantasmal Force
Phantasmal Force is just an incredible spell. Int saves are low enough that, even a point behind the Fundamental Math, your save DC is likely to work and, unlike many other long-term disables, it has no ongoing save. Once again, the target can try to spend its Action investigating to break the illusion, but what creature is going to investigate the animated bands of iron painfully crushing it into the floor? Even if it does, that’s now an Int check against your save DC.
8ASI Dex 18 -> 20
Spell:
– See Text
There are several good choices for your spell here and it’s really going to come down to what your campaign needs. If you’re trying to be sneaky in the dark and you haven’t been able to pick up some Goggles of Night, Darkvision will do you wonders here. You’re also getting into the levels where resistance to non-magical damage is going to be more common. If you haven’t found a magic weapon by now, take Magic Weapon to fix that problem. If neither of those things are true, Web is one of the best area denial spells in the game, especially because of what we’re going to get at next level
9Magical AmbushThis doesn’t change your tactics very much, but it certainly makes you way better at dropping those save-or-sucks prior to or at the very beginning of combat. As mentioned above, this is mathematically a -3.5 on their save roll which means you’re actually ahead of where full casters would be when you’re ambushing magically.
10Fey Touched (Int)
Cantrip:
– Prestidigitation/Mind Sliver
The reason we didn’t pick up Misty Step at level 8 despite it being incredible is that we get it here as part of a feat. While we’re at it, we’re going to grab Hex for the 1st-level spell from Fey Touched. The additional damage is fine, but mostly we want it for the fact that it’s a way to give someone Disadvantage on all checks using a chosen stat and there’s no defense against it. If you’re willing to spend a 3rd-level spell slot on it, cast it on a rat and kill the rat at the start of the day so that you can carry it with you since the bonus action to reapply doesn’t take any components. You can just decide that the person you’re trying to bluff is bad at wisdom (insight) checks, or the guard you’re trying to sneak past is bad at wisdom (perception) checks or even the mayor candidate you want to lose the debate is bad at charisma (persuasion) checks. Really a lot of possibilities there.

We’ve been sad about the lack of Minor Wish on our spell list, so now we get to add it if we didn’t take it at first level. If you did already have it, take Mind Sliver instead so that you can help your spells land if you need to have something make a save after the first turn.
11Reliable Talent
Spells:
– Invisibility
While your Stealth check is now a minimum of 23, there are times when being invisible is too good to leave to chance.
Speaking of 23, that’s actually the floor for any Dex-based check you have expertise in which, as a reminder, is 4 things including Thieves’ Tools.
12Resilient (Con)Adding a +4 to your Con saves is going to go a long way to helping you maintain Concentration. At this point, it’s better mathematically than Warcaster, plus you’re so rarely in a place to make Opportunity Attacks that you don’t need it to be replaced with a Booming Blade, and you have a free hand for components since you aren’t using a shield or two-weapon fighting.
13Spells:
– Major Image
Versatile Trickster
Major Image is an incredible tool for taking your creativity and applying it to the world. We also don’t need to take Enemies Abound or Hypnotic Pattern because we already have excellent single-target and AoE disables that are lower level, so mostly you’ll be using your 3rd level slots to upcast until you hit 14.

Versatile Trickster is there in case your DM has been unhappy with your snakescarf cheese, but is otherwise irrelevant since we don’t need the help Sneak Attacking and since we’d much rather use our Cunning Action to Disengage.
14Blindsense
Spells:
– Haste
While it’s nice that this blindsense is always on, you’ve had the ability to use 10-foot blindsense since level 3 because you can just inhabit your familiar’s senses (poisonous snake has 10-foot blindsight). It is nice that this version doesn’t remove your own hearing and sight though.

We are the only Rogue that doesn’t need outside help to do the Rogue+Haste trick. Cast Haste on yourself. This turn, attack with the additional Action, applying Sneak Attack. Next turn, use the additional Action to apply Sneak Attack and then Ready your real Action to Attack again as soon as whatever you’re next to does literally anything. Now you’re on a different turn and get to apply Sneak Attack again.
15Slippery MindNow you’re proficient in the big three saves.
16Shadow Touched (Int)
Retrain spell:
Invisibility -> Mirror Image
Spells:
– Hypnotic Pattern
Shadow Touched rounds out our Int to 18 and will give us Disguise Self in addition to the Invisibility it comes with. That, combined with Enlarge from our race, can let us appear as any medium creature for the purpose of doing Rogue blending-in things.

Mirror Image is another great defensive layer if we’re feeling threatened and it doesn’t require Concentration.

Hypnotic Pattern is different area control than Web, but, importantly, it’s also bigger and it’s one of the few good options we have at this level.
17Spell ThiefSadly, because this uses your Reaction, you can’t Spell Thief someone and then Silvery Barbs them if they succeed.
18ElusiveA fantastic passive defensive buff.
19Chef (Con)
Spells:
– Greater Invisibility
Chef up some tasty treats as often as possible so you can spread the temp HP and enjoy your Con going up to 16.

Finally, Greater Invisibility. Unfortunately, at this point, Truesight is distressingly common on level-appropriate monsters, so don’t rely on this before you’re sure it’ll actually do what you want it to. But it’s still very good. If you’re really not loving it (especially as we always have regular Invisibility thanks to Shadow Touched), replace this with Hallucinatory Terrain which is one of the coolest spells in the game.
20Stroke of Luck
Spells:
– See text
Stroke of Luck is a nice safety net.

For spells at this level, remember that it can be any school. Polymorph, Black Tentacles, and Dimension Door are all excellent choices depending on what you feel you need. Stone Shape is available if none of your full casters have it. If you’re short on bodies, grab Conjure Elemental and summon a pile of distractions. There aren’t many bad choices here.