Updated Sat, May 21, 2011 by Xerin
There is nothing simple to the Rogue. Sure, it may sound like they hit things hard with their weapons and call it a day, but there is a lot more to this class than that. There is a lot of thought, preparation, and theorycrafting involved. With that said let's delve into the Rogue basics.
Rogues are a pure melee DPS class. They don't cast spells or sling bullets. Even as a melee DPS they don't wield massive bastard swords into battle to chop enemies in half. Instead, they have a more refined combat style focusing on smaller weapons (daggers, axes, swords, maces, fist weapons) and using their stealth to move around without being seen.
Choosing a race for a Rogue can be hard, because all 12 of the races can become Rogues except Tauren and Draenei. There are "better" races than others (Human for Alliance, Blood Elf and Undead for Horde), but any race is an alright pick and won't make you useless by any extent.
Professions are a tough one, but we'll try to go through them. The net attack power gain is standardized at about 64 (except Enchanting which gives 80).
Energy is the major resource for Rogues and required for the majority of Rogue abilities. Unlike Mana which comes in a large pool and regenerates slowly out of combat or Rage that generates based on damage taken/given, Energy regenerates at a constant of 10 Energy/1 second at a maximum (untalented) of 100 Energy (120 for Assassination Rogues). Rogues don't need to drink anything to bring their Energy back as it will naturally regenerate at a relatively fast speed (10 seconds to go from 0 to full).
Managing Energy on the other hand is a difficult task. You have to plan around your energy regeneration so you can make the most of it. The worst thing to do in combat is to hit full Energy, so you should always be using abilities that require Energy. On the flipside, you want to make sure you have enough Energy in the future to do finishers or Slice & Dice or to stun/interrupt.
It is both a simple and complicated mechanic. As you level up you'll begin to understand the intricacies of it.
Dual Wielding is the Rogue's way of wielding weapons. You get to put one weapon in each hand (one-handed weapons only, only Warriors can dual wield two-handers). The trade off is that you have an additional 19% chance to miss with each weapon, putting your chance to miss at 24% (everyone has a 5% base to miss with melee) and that's for even level'd creatures. You'll need an unrealistic 28% hit to never miss a boss.
That's alright, though, because of how fast and how often Rogues attack. You'll find that the miss chance won't start being a problem until you're much higher and by then you'll get gear to compensate for it (with hit rating, which increases your chance to hit with weapons and spells).
Active "yellow damage" Abilities, like Sinister Strike and Mutilate, DO NOT suffer from the Dual Wield penalty. Only auto attacks (but they do suffer from the regular miss chance everyone has).
Weapon procs/poisons for instant abilities for main hand weapons will trigger when a weapon hits like normal. So you can get double the procs (some procs do not stack though) and you can poison both weapons and have both poisons trigger independently of one another. When using skills, like Sinister Strike, they will often hit with the main-hand weapon which trigger the procs affixed to the weapon in your main hand (you have a main-hand and off-hand weapon, the main-hand one is the one on the left in the equipment screen). Some skills hit with both weapons, in which case both weapons gain a chance to proc.
You will gain a 50% damage reduction for your off-hand weapon. This can be improved only by specializing in the Combat tree.
You are going to want a very slow main-hand, because slower weapons do more damage with instant attacks which is dependent on energy regeneration which is static. Your off-hand can be as slow as you want it until level 49 when you get Combat Potency maxed, at which point you'll want to get a fast off-hand so it hits more and you get more Combat Potency procs. Combat Potency gives you a static 20% chance to regenerate 15 energy (at rank 5). This isn't normalized to weapon speed, so it's a big thing to take advantage of.
If you're not Combat or picking up Combat Potency, you can pretty much just get whatever speed off-hand you want that fits your talent build.
The damage dealing poisons, Instant and Wound, are applied using a "Proc-Per-Minute" or "PPM" scheme. This means that WoW will take a look at your weapon speed and multiply it by the PPM rate to determine how often your poisons will fire. For example: if Wound poison has a PPM rate of 10 procs per minute and you're using a 1.8 speed dagger then you'll have a roughly 30% chance for your poison to be applied to every strike. (60 seconds / 1.8 speed weapon is 33 attacks per minute, if your poison applies 10 times per minute then 33 attacks / 10 procs = around 30%). This can be a bit complicated, but knowing that in general slower weapon means higher poison proc rate will be helpful in the future.
Combo Points are gained when abilities connect that grant combo points. For instance, if you hit with Sinister Strike you'll gain 1 combo point. Combo points stack up to five and no more. Once you're at five combo points you'll be unable to gain anymore until you consume them.
Finishing moves use combo points as a resource. They require at least one combo point to be on the target in order for you to use them, but gain in power the more combo points that are on the target. Some finishers, like Slice & Dice, can be effective at 2-3 combo points while damage finishers are almost always the most effective at 5 combo points.
Combo points are stored on a target until its corpse disappears or you begin to gain combo points on another creature.
Managing your energy and combo points is KEY to Rogue combat.
At level 20 Rogues can begin to apply poisons to their weapons. There are five poisons in the game: Crippling Poison, Mind-Numbing Poison, Instant Poison, Deadly Poison, and Wound Poison. For more info on poisons see our poison guide and our Rogue Combat Guide.
Poisons do stack with enchants, but do not stack with temporary enchants. Rogues cannot poison other players weapons. Poisons are bought from the poison vendor.
What's the best stat? This depends on your spec. The general rule of thumb is hit up to the yellow damage cap (8% hit) > hit up to the poison cap (17% hit) > expertise up to the cap (26 rating) > agility > haste > hit over the poison cap > critical strike. This is for PvE, for PvP it's safe to always go with agility once you've got 5% hit.
When leveling up, obviously whatever stats you can get are big hits, but aim for Agility and Hit.
The following assumes you're dual wielding and are level 80. Hit rating isn't important past being hit capped for special attacks (which you will WANT to do for raiding), but still remains a concern since white damage missing all the time can be annoying. Yellow damage is abilities, white damage is your auto attack, and poisons are your spell hit.
Yellow Damage: ~960 (8%)
White Damage: ~3360 (27%)
Poison Damage: ~2040 (17%)
Take away ~120 hit rating for every 1% you gain through abilities or talents. (like Heroic Presence).