Thief is one of the starting classes in Dark Souls 3 and the type of class that tends to draw newer players in.
In other RPGs, the thief is one of the three fundamental classes, the other two being mage and warrior. As with most other genre conventions, though, the thief in Dark Souls operates slightly differently from the typical convention.
You can build any class in any way when it comes to the DS games, which is to say that by picking thieves, you aren’t locked out of other playstyles. However, the starting gear and stats that you have do tend to lend themselves to a bleed/poison-ranged character.
The thief starts with the highest luck stat in the game. Why that’s important for us because it affects how effective our bleed and poison build-up is. It’s also the only class to start out with a bow, which means you can start playing ranged far before other classes that need to find a bow otherwise.
Thief builds are particularly technical. So despite being a fundamental class, it’s advised that you wait until you’re familiar with the game to start building one. We don’t like waiting, though, and we take no words of warning. We will walk you through the basic information you need to play the class effectively.
Effective Thief Combat
Before you get into any type of combat or playstyle in Dark Souls, you want to know what kind of build you want to play.
To do this, you need to determine what stats you want to invest in. While these stats are universal, the best thief builds tend to be dexterity and luck focused. Dex will be the most important, given that most of your weapons will scale with it.
A lot of builds even forsake luck entirely. The only build that you should be leveling it in are those that look to take advantage of poison or bleed playstyles.
Decide on whether or not you want a conventional dexterity build or a bleed/poison build. You need to keep in mind that your bleed-style builds aren’t going to be overly effective. The issue is that most regular enemies aren’t alive long enough for your stat effects to do any significant damage, and a lot of bosses are resistant to bleed-style abilities.
If you do opt for this style of play, focus on keeping your debuffs active and stack as many as you can. You want to maximize your bleed and poison damage output. Whether you want to opt for a ranged build or a melee build.
Otherwise, though, you’re going to be playing a rather typical playstyle, with the exception of not using a shield (you can if you want).
Thief Essential Steps
Despite being a technical class to play, the actual building of a luck or dexterity thief isn’t all that complicated, nor is there much difference between the two styles.
Most of the skills in Dark Souls 3 soft cap at 40. This is an important milestone to remember as you progress through the game. While there are certain skills that we can push past the soft cap, the returns that we get are seldom worth the investment.
As well as pushing dexterity to at least 40, you can invest points into luck (for a bleed build) or spec into something like vigor if you’re particularly new to the game. Alternatively, you could build strength instead of dexterity.
That all depends on what weapon you want to use, though. Given that you’re interested in playing a thief, we’ll presume you’d prefer the dexterity-based dagger style of weapon.
In terms of the early game equipment that you want to get your hands on, there isn’t much. The Bandit’s dagger that you start with is the second-best in the game, with the actual best one not being obtainable until way later in your playthrough.
Other non-dagger weapons, like Astoria Straight Sword or a Scimitar, are better than daggers, but we’re focusing on a pure thief playthrough.
Alternatively, Katanas or the Twin Swords are good options later in your playthrough if you want to dabble outside of the dagger weapon type.
Thief Dex/Luck Build
Dexterity and luck builds are the most “meta” of all the possible thief builds available. You get decent damage scaling and some strong bleeding that can absolutely decimate certain bosses.
There are other thief builds out there, but this will be your best choice for a beginner. It’s going to let you get the hang of the fundamentals far quicker than a more technical thief to build will.
Dex 40 – Dexterity is the cornerstone attribute of this build. It’s going to be the stat that determines how much damage you do, given that most of the weapons we’re going to run scale off of it.
Luck 40 – Luck is the second attribute you will want to bring to the soft cap with this build. It determines the effectiveness of your bleed, which is where a good chunk of your damage comes from. You can opt to run Anri’s Straight Sword, which scales with luck over dexterity weapons, but that’s up to you.
As for the rest of your points, there’s no harm in putting them into something like vigor or endurance. Alternatively, you could spec into strength if there’s a specific weapon that you want to use.
Regardless of how else you build this thief, ensure you get that 40/40 split between dexterity and look.
Equipment and Armor
- Hunter’s RingLife Ring
- Carthus Milkring
- Ring of Favor
Our ring setup is designed to reinforce the fundamental skills we’ve set up through our attribute choice. We opt for a 2/2 split between dexterity rings and rings that increase our max HP.
The Life Ring and Ring of Favor combo is particularly powerful. At +3, the Life Ring grants us 10% percent to our total HP. Combining this with the +6% percent from the Ring of Favor is going to do wonders for our total health pool.
The Ring of Favor also comes with a few other buffs for our money’s worth. We get a stamina buff of 11.5% percent and an equip load increase of 8%. The Carthus Milking gives us a flat +3 increase in our dexterity. However, the ring also applies an obscure effect to our character when we roll. You might think that this is important, but it isn’t.
It doesn’t give us additional invincibility frames, making it worthless in PvE. It can be a visual distraction in PvP, but you shouldn’t be taking this build toward that side of Dark Souls 3.
The Hunter’s Ring, for our purposes, acts as a stronger version of the Carthus Milkring. It gives us a +5 for our dexterity and an +8 overall. Regarding armor, you will want to keep your equip load below 50% percent. You can push that, but make sure you don’t go above 70% percent. Armor doesn’t matter a whole lot in Dark Souls in general.
However, there are a few armor sets that can add to the whole thief aesthetic. The assassin set, the black handset, and the black leather set immediately come to mind. Weapon-wise, you have a lot of choices. The starting Bandit’s Dagger is exceptional and can carry you through the game.
However, the Twin Blades are our favorite weapon to run with this build. You’re not going to beat the blades when it comes to bleed-building potential. The ultimate choice of what to use is entirely up to you.
Our build doesn’t leave any room for investing in spells at all. However, you can spare a few attribute points to invest into attunement if you want. Just make sure you don’t go too fancy with your spell choices.
Thief Archer Build
If up close and personal combat isn’t your thing, you can build up an archer instead. We mentioned it at the beginning of this article, and we have to reiterate it again, ranged isn’t all that good in DS3.
It’s completely possible to make a working archer build, don’t get us wrong, but you’re going to have a much more difficult time progressing through the game.
If this hasn’t dissuaded you, then read on to find out how we spec out our ranged thief builds in Dark Souls 3.
Dex 40 – As with other thief builds, we want our dexterity at 40 to maximize our damage output potential. Going past 40 is possible, but you’ll get diminishing returns for the point investment. There are more quality-friendly bows like the Dragonrider Bow, so if you want to use that, adjust the build accordingly.
Aside from dexterity, the rest of the build is up to you. Leveling up your endurance during the early game and putting any spare points you find yourself with into vigor is advisable.
You’ll be using the short bow for most of the early game, up until you can get your hands on the black bow. Later on in the run, you can spec into strength. However, only do so up to the requirements of certain weapons.
Quality builds work well with archers. Whether you like it or not, the reality is that ranged attacks aren’t going to cut it 100% percent of the time. You should also put some effort into balancing your build for melee combat.
Equipment and Armor
- Hawk Ring
- Ring of Favor
- Chloranthy Ring
You have a lot of room to work with regarding your ring setup for this build. Our ring choice is setup for balance, but you can opt for a more dexterity-focused setup or a ring build entirely focused on health.
The Hawk Ring is almost exclusively useful to archers, so it would be foolish of us not to use it. It extends the maximum zoom of your bows and crossbows, which can come in handy for starting fights on your terms. It also extends the overall range of your bow. This is incredibly valuable, given that a lot of your damage in a fight will come while an enemy is attempting to reach you.
The Ring of Favor is standard, as featured in the other thief build we included in this guide. At +3, it increases your HP by 6% percent, your stamina by 11.5%, and your equip load by 8%.
Lastly, the Chloranthy Ring gives us 10 points per second to our stamina recovery speed. Combine this with the ring of favor, and we’ll have more stamina, then know what to do with it.
Regarding weapons, your best bet is to go with either the Gothard Twinswords infused with a sharp gem and lightning buffs or a lightning Lothric Knight Sword infused for faith scaling. When it comes to weapons, what you should be using is a cut-and-dry scenario. The starting short bow, and later on the Black Bow of Pharis
Your starting short bow can keep you going until you obtain the Black Bow later on. While there are other choices, like the aforementioned Dragonrider Bow, these are the most effective choices, in our opinion.
Like the other thief build, we’re not running any spells here. You can, of course, invest in spellcasting if you want.
A spellcaster build is probably your best bet if you want a ranged build instead of an archer build.
The Best Overall Options for Thief Builds
We’ve covered all of the options you need to be aware of when building a thief, but we will briefly review the important ones.
For your weapons, you should be using either:
A) The Twinblades or the Bandit’s Dagger for a melee build.
B) The short bow or the Black Bow for a ranged build.
The Twinblades have a high damage output potential, and if you’re running a hollowed bleed build, these should be your go to weapon.
If bleeding isn’t something you’re too concerned about, stick with the starting Bandit’s Dagger and stay away from luck.
Like the Bandit’s Dagger, you start with the short bow, which does great for most of the game once you can upgrade to the Black Bow. Until then, you don’t NEED to switch up this weapon choice.
There is a handful of “thief/assassin” like armor sets in the game, although none are needed for your builds to be effective. The Black Leather, Assassin, or Black Handset should do the job if you want the aesthetic.
We hope this guide has helped you get the basic knowledge you need to run a thief effectively in Dark Souls 3. There is so much information we didn’t dive into in this guide, most notably Hallowed builds, which are some of the most powerful thief builds.
We didn’t feel these were beginner-friendly, so we omitted them. If it sounds like something that interests you, countless Reddit posts discuss the builds that you can check out.