Gronk, the undefeated pit champion of the lower district, was recruited into the ranks of the local crime syndicate. On a bounty mission, he confronted a seemingly frail elf. Taunting her, he readied for a surprise attack, but movement in the corner of his eye momentarily distracted him.
It was only a second, but it was enough. In that lapse, the elf swiftly thrust her dagger into his chest. Bewildered, Gronk gasped his final words, “How?” As his vision faded, he witnessed the snowy owl perched gracefully on the elf’s shoulder, as the elf disappeared back into the shadows.
Table of Contents
What is Sneak Attack 5e?
Sneak Attack damage scales with a player’s Rogue level, not their overall level. This means if you are multiclassing your Sneak Attack damage won’t increase.
Sneak Attack 5e Rules as Written
“Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon.
You don’t need advantage on the attack roll if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.
The amount of the extra damage increases as you gain levels in this class, as shown in the Sneak Attack column of the Rogue table.”
Every odd level the Sneak Attack damage is increased by 1 die. For quick reference, see a simplified Sneak Attack Damage chart below.
When Can I Use Sneak Attack 5e?
There are a few key pieces of information when looking at when your Rogue can use Sneak Attack.
- The target needs an enemy within 5ft.
- Ranged or Finesse weapon
- Once per turn
Let’s take a look at each requirement individually.
The first requirement is pretty simple. Any time your Rogue has Advantage on an attack, they can use their Sneak Attack. This is probably the easiest to explain. Any time you would roll Advantage on an attack you can choose to use your Sneak Attack.
Enemy Within 5ft
The next requires your target to have another enemy within 5ft. This one had some debate because in previous versions it simply stated you needed an “ally” within 5ft of your target. To clarify the rules your target just needs an “enemy” within 5ft. It could be any enemy at all, but it needs to be hostile to your target.
Ranged or Finesse Weapon
To use your Sneak Attack you must attack with a Ranged or Finesse weapon. This is another big limitation. You won’t be able to Sneak Attack someone with a Warhammer or a broad axe. It has to have the Finesse property.
All ranged weapons are also eligible for Sneak Attacks. This does not automatically include thrown weapons. All ranged weapons like bows, crossbows, or slings are eligible for Sneak Attacks. If it’s a thrown weapon, it must have the Finesse property to be eligible. This means daggers and darts can be used for a Sneak Attack, but Hammers and Axes cannot since they don’t have the Finesse property. The Light weapon property has no bearing on whether or not you can Sneak Attack.
One Per Turn
Finally, as the rules are written Sneak Attacks can be used once per turn. This means exactly that.
Once per turn. Not necessarily your turn. If you get an attack of opportunity outside of your normal turn, you’ll still get 1 Sneak Attack per turn.
To simplify it even further it usually comes down to 2 factors.
- Ranged or Finesse Weapon?
- Advantage or another enemy nearby?
If you have both of these covered roll that extra damage.
Sneak Attack 5e Strategies
Sneak Attack should be your Rogue’s go-to strategy. They don’t get Extra Attack as part of their class unless Dual Wielding. They need to rely on their extra damage from Sneak Attack.
Dodging in and out of combat with allies or hitting enemies is a classic Rogue strategy. Rogues typically don’t have the HP or the longevity to go toe-to-toe with foes for long, so having a tanky character or a magic user that can manipulate positioning is key.
One thing to consider when looking at D&D tactics is that you’re not alone. New players especially tend to not think about group tactics as a whole. An easy example is an ally giving up one attack for a Shove attack.
Your party member with the highest attack might be able to hit once or twice really hard, and then Shove their target away from them. If successful they can knock the target Prone or Shove them 5ft away. If Prone all attacks against that creature are at an Advantage. Everyone around them can now surround them and Sneak Attack or just hit them with every attack they have.
Fear and Control Spells
A Rogue standing next to a spellcaster can be a deadly ally. Spells and abilities like Fear and Turn Undead can provoke opportunity attacks against targets, and a Rogue standing by ready to Sneak attack can turn a mild control spell into a damage gauntlet.
The spell must force the target to use their own movement action in order to trigger the opportunity attack. Both Fear and Turn Undead specifically state the target is forced to use their own movement.
Spells like Push literally knock the target away and therefore don’t trigger opportunity attacks.
It’s also important to note that you only get 1 opportunity attack per turn.
With this in mind, a Rogue can be in the back row throwing daggers or darts with the spellcasters. Each of these weapons would be eligible for Sneak Attack damage if they follow the “target has an enemy within 5ft” rule. If the back row is compromised and a spellcaster is engaged in melee, they can cast a control spell like Fear to force the target to run away. This would trigger an attack of opportunity for the Rogue and allow them to attack with Sneak Attack outside of their turn.
Controlling the battlefield is a bit of an advanced tactic that new players don’t typically think about. Working together, players can often do more damage as a team than having everyone blast away with their best attacks individually.
In this situation, if the Rogue was using a bow or crossbow to make ranged attacks they wouldn’t be able to use an attack of opportunity since they are ranged weapons and cannot be used as melee weapons. You may be able to speak with your DM and suggest that you can drop your bow and draw a dagger, but the rules as written prevent this.
Ways to Gain Advantage for Sneak Attack
Beyond the Shove attack, there are plenty of ways to gain Advantage on attacks.
Attacking from hiding is always an option. By taking the Hide action you can conceal yourself and lie in ambush. The first attack you make from hiding will have advantage, but you’ll lose the hidden status.
This leads us to one of the Rogue’s signature abilities, Cunning Action.
At level 2, Rogues gain the Cunning Action ability. This allows them to use their Bonus Action to Dash, Disengage, or Hide. This can let them attack and quickly move out of range, or Hide to prepare for their next attack.
Steady Aim is a Rogue feature first introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. This ability allows the rogue to prepare for their next attack. By using their Bonus Action they gain Advantage on their next attack the turn it’s used.
There is a significant downside for melee Rogues. It sets your speed to 0 for the duration of the turn. Since Rogue’s are high damage with low survivability it’s an easy way to get a Sneak Attack in, but it’s also an easy way to get surrounded.
It is important to note that this does work with ranged attacks. With this, a Rogue can plant themselves on the high ground or in the background and launch Sneak Attack arrows at their enemies every turn.
Another great way to Sneak Attack is to acquire a familiar. With a familiar you can command them to use the Help action while in combat. An example would be our Gronk story at the beginning of this article. An owl familiar would be able to momentarily distract an opponent long enough for the Rogue to exploit their defenses and land a Sneak Attack.
You may also be able to purchase and train war animals like dogs in-game, but that would be up to your DM to decide how that works within your game.
Darkness & Blindness
If you can blind your opponents and you can see, you will gain Advantage on attacks against them. This can be done in a number of ways. Darkness spells combined with Darkvision is probably the easiest, but there are also a few creative ways to do this.
The old “pocket sand” trick would work and you could even make makeshift traps in the form of pepper spray or mace. Creativity is usually rewarded by DM’s so if you have an idea, run it by your DM and maybe train or practice with it during down times with your party.
Feats for Sneak Attack
If using the options feat rules there are quite a few useful feats that can help a Rogue consistently land Sneak Attacks. Here are some of the most useful.
Magic Initiate Feat
The Magic Initiate Feat allows you access to two Cantrips and one 1st level spell of one of the spellcaster class’ spell lists. Find Familiar is only on the Wizard spell list, so you’ll have to pick up Wizard spells. You can pick whatever other Wizard Cantrips you’d like, but Light and Minor Illusion would be good additions to the Rogue’s repertoire.
With the introduction of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Gnomes can gain the Fade Away ability that lets them turn invisible immediately after taking damage. This is a great defensive ability that can be used to the Rogue’s advantage.
An unconventional Rogue build is the Grappler. While focusing on a Grapple Rogue you can focus on Strength over Dexterity to pin your enemies and get opportunity attacks while holding them down.
Spells for Sneak Attack
There are a ton of different spells that can help grant Advantage to your Rogue. Rogues typically won’t be able to cast them themselves, but when backed up by a spellcaster they can be powerful forces on the battlefield.
1st Level Spells
2nd Level Spells
3rd Level Spells
4th Level Spells
The Rogue Subclasses and Sneak Attack
The Assassin ability gives you Advantage against creatures who haven’t acted and grants automatic critical hits for even more damage. Their final ability Death Strike can double all of your damage done.
When the two are combined together the base shortsword damage can be devastating.
When calculating an attack with a Shortsword using both of these abilities without any other modifiers the potential damage range is 20-120 base damage on a single hit.
If successful, the Insightful Fighting feature lets the Rogue use their Sneak Attack against a target regardless of Advantage. This can last for 10 rounds.
Their Eye for Weakness ability can add an additional 3d6 damage to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack.
The Mastermind subclass has no real bonuses for Sneak Attack.
Wails of the Dead allows the Rogue to spread their Sneak Attack damage around. This gives you another attack against an enemy you can see within 30ft after you deal a Sneak Attack. That target takes half your Sneak Attack dice (rounded up) as necrotic damage.
The final two abilities of the Scout are the only ones that boost the Rogue’s Sneak Attack.
Ambush Master grants Advantage to the first target you hit and all allies gain Advantage against that target until the round is over.
Sudden Strike allows the Rogue to make another attack using their Bonus Action, and it’s eligible to use Sneak Attack for both attacks. This is one of the only ways to use Sneak Attack twice in one turn.
Psychic Blades can be used in your offhand if you have a bow in your main hand to perform attacks of opportunity. There are also numerous buffs when using psychic powers in combat.
Psychic Veil allows the Rogue to turn invisible which will grant the user Advantage and Sneak Attack on their next attack.
Finally, their Rend Mind ability can use their Psychic Blades to deal sneak attack damage and potentially stun their opponent.
If dueling alone with an enemy you can simply opt to use your Sneak Attack damage on a hit. You do not need Advantage or another ally as the Swashbuckler.
Supreme Sneak and Thief’s Reflexes can help the Rogue hide and set ambushes better, but they have no specific bonuses for Sneak Attacks.
Optional Rules for Sneak Attack
Flanking is an optional rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The full rules can be found on page 251.
Flanking basically states that if you surround an enemy directly on opposite sides, all attacks against the enemy are done with Advantage.
This is particularly useful for Rogues who need Advantage to use their Sneak Attack. This can be done with any ally, including a familiar or pet.
You can read our full guide on Flanking here.
Sneak Attack FAQs
Can I choose to use Sneak Attack after I roll to hit?
Yes. You can choose to use your Sneak Attack dice after you’ve rolled to hit.
Can I Sneak Attack with Thrown Weapons?
Only if the thrown weapon has the Finesse or Ranged property.
What is the Sneak Attack Rule 5e?
Rogues can add their Sneak Attack dice to any attack once per turn if they have Advantage or if their target has another hostile creature within 5ft. It must be done with a Finesse or Ranged weapon.
What Damage Type Does Sneak Attack Do?
Unless otherwise stated, the Sneak Attack damage is the same as the weapon damage being used. Certain Rogue abilities can do additional damage like Necroitc or Psychic.
Does Sneak Attack with Bows Work?
Yes. Sneak Attack works with all ranged weapons as long as the other criteria are met.
Is Sneak Attack Damage Doubled with Critical Hits?
Yes, the Sneak Attack dice are calculated for nat 20s and critical hits.
Does Nat 20 Affect Sneak Attack?
Yes, the Sneak Attack dice are calculated for nat 20s and critical hits.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.