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I want to create a rogue who at some point acquires Speak with Dead. His backstory is that he was raised by necromancers but fled when he was 14-15. Speak with dead is the only necromatic spell he knows.

He does not need to start with this ability, it could be acquired at later levels and adequately explained as to why he did not have it before.

Is this something a rogue could do?

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Yes, with some compromises.

The easiest way is to take 5 levels of the appropriate spellcaster. Unfortunately it is not on the Wizard spell list so Arcane Trickster is out of the question as far as RAW is concerned. But it is on the Bard list, and Bard meshes very well with Rogue. It is also on the Cleric list, and the Trickster Cleric is hella cool, and very Rogue like.

Other, more esoteric solutions.

Take the Ritual Caster Feat; pick a divination ritual, like Divination, Contact Other Plane, Augury, etc.; "reskin" the spell to be you talking to dead things.

Take the Magic Initiate Feat; pick a 1st level divination spell &/or a cantrip; "reskin" it. (Not many good options here though)

Go with the thief subclass; take use magic item; get an item that allows you to speak with the dead - you can use it 'cause you spent time with necromancers.

Get a hold of a ring of spell storing, ioun stone (reserve), or similar item. Have a friendly bard or cleric in the party. (Not as satisfying, I bet though as it is clearly not part of the character....)

Pump your Int; get expertise in knowledge skills; "reskin" skill checks as talking with the dead. If you fail a check, well sometimes the dead don't know the answer.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer; but could you not just use Arcane Trickster and swap out a 3rd level spell for speak with dead? As you say, it's not RAW -- but seems it like a reasonable homebrew compromise to me, in the interest of supporting the backstory. Seems like the simplest option, too.. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Lacy Jun 6 '18 at 3:16

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