For all of the awesome features that Rogues in D&D 5e have, nothing is more important to the class than Sneak Attack.
But this ability is also pretty commonly misunderstood!
As a Rogue, you have to have a keen eye and swift hand to take advantage of an opening when you see it.
With this guide, you’ll never miss an opportunity for a Sneak Attack again!
So let’s get right into it!
This is the Ultimate Guide to Using Sneak Attack in D&D 5e.
Sneak Attack Rules
So what do you need to pull off a Sneak Attack in D&D 5e?
Despite the ability’s name, you don’t necessarily have to be hidden to use it! (Though it does help! More on that in a bit though…)
First and foremost, you have to be wielding a weapon that is either ranged or has the “finesse” property. These requirements include weapons favored by many Rogues such as crossbows, rapiers, and daggers.
Secondly, you cannot have disadvantage on the attack.
If you meet both of those requirements, there are two ways to get your Sneak Attack damage!
- Have advantage on the attack roll.
- Be attacking an enemy that has a hostile creature within 5 feet of it. (This will usually be one or more of your allies!)
As a Rogue, you’ll pretty commonly look for ways to hide before attacking an enemy so that you can get advantage on the attack. But there are tons of ways to get advantage on your attacks!
(We’ll cover ways that you can gain advantage later in this article.)
If you’ve satisfied at least one of those requirements and your attack hits, you add your Sneak Attack damage to your damage total!
How Many Times Can You Sneak Attack In A Round?
In the Player’s Handbook, it says that the Rogue can add their Sneak Attack damage once per turn.
This is where a ton of Rogues leave a lot of dice unrolled!
It’s “Once per turn” not “once per round”!
So let’s say your party’s Paladin is current in melee with an enemy Hobgoblin Captain. You rush forward and lunge with your trusty rapier.
It’s a hit!
Because the hobgoblin has a hostile creature (your Paladin) next to it, you seize the opportunity and add your Sneak Attack damage to the attack!
Since your Rogue fancies dual wielding, they use their bonus action to swipe with the dagger in their other hand.
You can’t add the Sneak Attack damage again because you have already used it on this turn. But, hey, when it comes to damage, every little bit helps!
Next it’s the Hobgoblin Captain’s turn.
He strikes the Paladin twice with his greatsword, but your ally is still standing despite the beating.
Hoping to fall back and recruit with the rest of his troop, the Captain goes to move back closer to his allies. He had hoped to drop the Paladin, but he has to take a risky movement action now if he wants any chance of living.
But the Captain is confident that he can take another hit if he has to.
Of course, there’s something he didn’t count on…
Because it’s a different turn in the same round and you still meet all of the Sneak Attack criteria (finesse weapon and adjacent ally), you can lay down the hurt again.
You use your reaction to take an attack of opportunity.
Adding your extra damage from the Sneak Attack table once more, you slay the Hobgoblin Captain before he can ever move away.
Can You Sneak Attack with Both Advantage and Disadvantage?
So what if your attack has advantage from a source but disadvantage from another one?
If you are going to attack an enemy from long range with a hand crossbow (disadvantage) but you’re hidden (advantage), do you still get Sneak Attack?
According to Dan Dillon (game designer for D&D 5e), having advantage on the attack to offset the disadvantage still qualifies for a Sneak Attack. You just roll 1d20 normally.
(Keep in mind, this situation is assuming that your target has an enemy within 5 feet of them! That is what is enabling you to still get your Sneak Attack on them.)
In the Twitter thread about this, I have to admit that I had always understood the rule in the same way as Keith Ammann!
Previously I ruled that having any source of disadvantage (whether offset by advantage or not) disqualified the Rogue from getting to add their Sneak Attack.
Keeping in mind that advantage and disadvantage cancel each other out (and don’t stack), this is very good to know for Rogues and DMs alike!
(Side Note: If you haven’t check out Keith Ammann’s book, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, you’re missing out! It’s great stuff!)
Can You Sneak Attack Undead in D&D 5e?
Unlike some past editions of D&D, Undead and Constructs can be hit with Sneak Attacks in D&D 5e.
In those previous editions, these creature types were immune to Sneak Attacks and even critical hits! The same was true for plant creatures and other monsters that didn’t have a discernable anatomy like oozes.
I get the reasoning behind the rule. After all, what does a zombie or Iron Golem care about you stabbing at its kidneys?
Fortunately for Rogues everywhere, this rule stayed back in D&D 3rd edition.
Sneak Attack Damage
Ok, so now that we’ve covered the rules of Sneak Attack, it’s time to get to the fun part: how many extra damage dice you’re going to get to roll!
This is where even the most mild-mannered of players tends to go into goblin-mode. Without fail, the Rogue will find it impossible not to let out a sinister laugh as they gather their extra damage dice!
(This is especially true on a critical hit!)
It’s ok though! You’ve earned it!
Let’s just make sure that you are adding the right amount of dice to the roll first:
|Rogue Level||Sneak Attack Damage|
|1 – 2||1d6|
|3 – 4||2d6|
|5 – 6||3d6|
|7 – 8||4d6|
|9 – 10||5d6|
|11 – 12||6d6|
|13 – 14||7d6|
|15 – 16||8d6|
|17 – 18||9d6|
|19 – 20||10d6|
Yes, at higher levels you can be rolling upwards of 20d6 extra damage on a critical hit. That’s an average of 70 damage from just the Sneak Attack damage alone!
Yup! If you hit an enemy with a critical hit, you double the dice for your weapon AND for your Sneak Attack damage (if it applies!)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
Rogues. Are. Awesome.
Subclass Specific Sneak Attack Tactics
Creativity and keeping an eye open for opportunities are the biggest trick to getting the most value out of your Sneak Attack.
However, different Roguish Archetypes commonly have their own standout ways of making sure that they can hit the enemy where it hurts.
- Arcane Trickster: Versatile Trickster works with your Mage Hand Legerdemain to let you distract enemies with your Mage Hand and gain advantage on your attack!
- Assassin: Find situations where you can ambush your enemies for Sneak Attacks that automatically crit with your Assassinate ability. Otherwise, look into poisons that can stun/paralyze enemies!
- Inquisitive: Pump up your Wisdom (Insight) skill for your Insightful Fighting feature. You get a whole minute of Sneak Attacks as long as you aren’t at disadvantage!
- Mastermind: Make time to observe your enemies with Insightful Manipulator and pick out the ones with the lowest Wisdom scores. They’ll never see you coming!
- Phantom: Ghost Walk lets you pass through walls. Use the terrain to your advantage to catch the enemies off-guard every turn!
- Scout: As long as you don’t hit the same target twice on your turn, you get an extra Sneak Attack with the Sudden Strike feature!
- Soulknife: Your Soul Blades features let you turn misses into hits in addition to letting you teleport to better positions to get the drop on enemies. Additionally, Psychic Veil lets you turn invisible which can be very useful for ambushing a particularly nasty enemy!
- Swashbuckler: Rakish Audacity is amazing. If the only creature near you is your target and you don’t have disadvantage, you’ll have advantage on the attack!
- Thief: With Supreme Sneak, you get advantage on your Dexterity (Stealth) checks. That’s lots of chances to catch the enemy off-guard. With Thief’s Reflexes, you’ll get two turns in the first round of combat. You can use Sneak Attack on each of these turns!
Because Rogues have even more reason to love getting advantage, I want to go over the various ways that you can make that happen.
As a quick disclaimer, gaining advantage is typically a very situational thing. I’m not sure if it would be possible to list every single way that a character could possibly get advantage on an attack.
To protect what sanity I have left post-2020, this will just cover the basic methods of gaining advantage. If there are any that you can think of that I left out, let me know in the comments!
Also, I would very strongly recommend that you check out our other article that covers Advantage and Disadvantage in D&D 5e. It covers more of the rules and mechanical functions (including how they stack).
Using Cunning Action to Hide
When you’re looking to get the most use of your Rogue’s Sneak Attack, this is going to be your go-to. Well, in most cases anyway. (Some, like the Swashbuckler, prefer the limelight!)
The Rogue’s Cunning Action ability lets them hide as a bonus action. Most Rogues will want to take full advantage of this. By hiding, the character’s next attack will be at advantage against an enemy who did not see them.
This could be as simple as retreating behind a pillar or pile of junk. On the other hand, it might take more creativity to find a place that your character would be reasonably obscured from enemies’ sight.
Generally, it’s wise to ask the DM about possible hiding locations. If a spot would make sense, go for it!
Naturally, you’ll want to have a good Dexterity (Stealth) skill, but that’s not particularly surprising. If your Stealth roll is better than the enemies’ Wisdom (Perception) you can dart in and out of the shadows inflicting massive Sneak Attack damage throughout the fight.
Rogues are great at these kind of hit-and-run tactics, so always be probing for details about your environment. Even a poorly-lit but otherwise open area could come in handy against enemies that don’t have darkvision.
Keeping an eye out for hiding spots is a skill that will serve your Rogue well in the adventurer’s lifestyle!
Other Methods of Gaining Advantage
Attacking from hiding spots is the most common way that Rogues gain Advantage on their attacks in D&D 5e.
But you’ve got more options! It’s a good idea to keep these in mind as well:
- The Help Action: With some coordination, your allies can use the Help action to distract an enemy. This not only gives you advantage on your attack, but the Sneak Attack damage can result in higher damage overall than you each just taking a regular attack.
- Steady Aim: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced a new Rogue feature called Steady Aim. If you haven’t moved this turn and don’t plan to, you can use a bonus action to give yourself advantage on your next attack roll. If you’re at range in the backline or planning to stand and fight, this is great!
- Conditions: Some conditions will give you advantage against an afflicted creature. These include the blinded, paralyzed, petrified, prone (if you’re within 5 feet), restrained, stunned, and unconscious conditions.
- Shove: Like the Help action, this also takes some coordination. Have your group’s strongest party member use their Attack action to instead shove the target. If the target fails their check (Acrobatics or Athletics versus your party member’s Athletics), they are either knocked prone or pushed 5 feet back. This is very situational and unlikely to come up, but it’s good to be aware of.
- Mounted Combat: A creature that you are riding counts as an ally that is adjacent to the enemy when you attack enabling your Sneak Attack. With the Mounted Combatant feat, you will have advantage on attacks against targets that aren’t larger than your mount. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Rogue use this tactic, but it could be interesting!
- Flanking: Clever positioning with your party members can give you advantage if you’re using this optional rule. We cover more about flanking in our roundup of 10 Optional Homebrew Rules for D&D 5e.
Feats to Help You Gain Advantage
In addition to the methods we just covered, there are some feats that can make it easier for your Rogue to reliably get advantage on their attacks!
- Fade Away: A gnome-only feat introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything can help you in a pinch. When you take damage, you can use a reaction to go invisible. If you’re only taking a little bit of damage, this could be a clever tactic. Usually, you’ll want to use the Rogue’s Uncanny Dodge to halve the damage instead though. Still, attacking while invisible on your next turn will give you advantage!
- Magic Initiate: Learn 2 cantrips and a first-level spell from the casting class of your choice. This can open up some unique ways of gaining advantage which we’ll cover in more detail shortly.
- Mounted Combatant: As I mentioned before, this could be a unique concept to build a Rogue character around. I loved the Halfling Outrider in D&D 3.5, so I’m curious to see how well a mounted Rogue would play in 5e! If you’re going to go for it, this feat (and letting me know how it goes!) is mandatory.
Feats That Are Nice to Have
These feats don’t necessarily give you advantage, but they’re too good not to mention!
- Elven Accuracy: Another feat from Xanathar’s Guide that is limited by the character’s race (in this case, elves and half-elves only) deserves consideration! If you already have advantage on an attack roll that doesn’t use Strength, you can reroll one of those dice. Effectively, you get to roll 3d20 and pick the highest anytime you are attacking with advantage. This is beautiful!
- Lucky: You get 3 rerolls on attacks, ability checks, or saving throws per day. This doesn’t give you advantage or guarantee success, but it’s useful (if not a bit overpowered) to have Lady Luck on your side!
Spells to Help You Gain Advantage
Taking the Magic Initiate feat gives you some spellcasting ability that may come in handy. Arcane Trickster Rogues will particularly want to look out for spells that can help them better line up for Sneak Attacks.
Categorized by spell level, some standout spell options include:
- True Strike: Situationally useful as it may be, I will still defend this often-mocked cantrip!
- Grease: If they can’t keep their balance, they’ll fall prone. That’s where you come in!
- Faerie Fire: One of my favorite spells. Make them light up like New Year’s Eve then strike!
- Find Familiar: Besides being cute, your Familiar can use the Help action to set you up to strike!
- Sleep: While the enemy catches some Z’s, they’re defenseless!
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter: Attacking someone while they’re on the ground laughing at you is a freaky mental image, but you can’t say it’s not effective!
- Blindness/Deafness: Attacks against a blinded enemy are at advantage and their attacks will be at disadvantage. This is a very solid option.
- Hold Person: Attacks against paralyzed enemies are at advantage. On a hit, it’s an automatic crit. This is lethal!
- Invisibility: You’ll still need to use your Cunning Action to take the Hide action, but it will be considerably easier to get the jump on your target!
- Hypnotic Pattern: Creatures affected by this spell will be charmed and incapacitated while they stare at the pretty lights. You know what to do!
- Greater Invisibility: This is awesome for all of the same reasons as the regular Invisibility spell. But now you don’t lose your invisibility when attacking! (Just don’t forget to use a bonus action to Hide!)
Conclusion – Sneak Attack in D&D 5e Explained
Sneak Attack is the most important ability in the Rogue’s toolkit.
True to the nature of the Rogue class, you want to operate with a type of surgical precision. Being able to swoop in and deal a ton of damage to a weakened or vulnerable enemy can very quickly see the game’s action economy tilt in your team’s favor!
The three biggest things to keep in mind when looking to maximize the effect of your Sneak Attack:
- Keep your eyes open. Look for opportunities to Hide and stay aware of where you need to focus your damage output.
- Coordinate with your team. You can set up some ridiculous combos with the help of your allies!
- It’s a free action to say something clever when landing your Sneak Attack!
Few abilities in D&D 5e cause as much confusion as this one does, so I hope you’ve found this guide helpful!
Still got questions? Let’s chat in the comments!