There's no "best" spec for leveling a rogue. If you lock a hundred rogues in a room together ... well, for one thing, you'll have one heck of a cleaning bill on your hands. For another, you'll likely end up with three pretty evenly divided groups of players who swear that one spec -- assassination (mut), combat or subtlety (sub) -- is unquestionably superior for leveling, and that the other two are awful.
Truth is? They're all good, and you should try them all (consider switching every five or 10 levels). There are some differences in playstyle and weapon requirements, but they are each effective at dispatching foes and achieving objectives while you're leveling.
The "fastest" way to level is the way you enjoy most. Minute-for-minute, this game is designed to reward the most XP for completing quests. But if you're working on your eleventy-third alt and just can't bring yourself to do the same content yet again, or if questing simply ain't your cup of tea, don't sweat it. Hop into battlegrounds instead, or chain-run dungeons, or do some exploring (don't forget: filling in map regions grants tasty XP!).
The more you treat the leveling process as a grind to endure, the more it will feel like a grind, and the longer that XP bar will seem to get. Find a way to make it more enjoyable for you, and the time will fly by.
Don't think of leveling as a lower-level form of end-game activity. Leveling a rogue is fundamentally different from raid/arena/battleground/ProvingGrounds-ing with a rogue. When you're playing at end game, your stats are different, your DPS rotation is different, your very purpose is different, and you have your full complement of spells, talents and abilities at your disposal. You can't truly prepare for that when you're not even level 90 yet.
The most useful thing you can do for yourself in order to get ready for life at level 90 is to learn your rogue from the ground up. And to do that ...
Don't tunnel-level. If you really want to learn what it's like to play a rogue, you've got to try out every facet of rogue gameplay and stretch those virtual muscles.
Don't let yourself slip into a rut; down that path lies boredom and the shelving of your character. For instance, don't kill every mob the same way: Switch up your openers, try out different combinations of spells, have a little -- dare I say it? -- fun with it.
And however XP-efficient it may be overall, don't only quest. Pop into a battleground once or twice, and see how many people you can kill with Ambush spam within four seconds thanks to the Subterfuge talent. Join a dungeon group while the dungeon's name is red in your Dungeon Finder, and watch the experience points roll in like a tide on your first run. If you're on a PvP server, take a break while you're out in the world to gank a friend or two.
It can be easy to become bored with any class if you only play it one way for 90 levels. Keep things fresh, and you'll be more likely to enjoy the ride. You'll also develop a much deeper understanding of the vast array of tools in the rogue toolkit -- as well as when to use them, and whether (and where) to create keybinds for them on your action bars. All of this will serve you well when you move on to end-game fun, since you'll already have developed much of the knowledge and instincts you need to succeed.
Turn Recount off. Seriously. Off. And all of its Skada-esque relatives, too. All you're doing by using DPS-meter add-ons is making your blood pressure rise unnecessarily.
Due in part to spells and abilities like Deadly Poison, Bandit's Guile and Find Weakness, it generally takes several seconds for rogues to reach maximum damage potential. But in your average dungeon, your group will be slicing through mobs like a -- like a ... sharp thing through soft things, or something -- which means you'll rarely have time to reach that max potential. Don't worry about it.
If you're mut or sub, focus on killing one target at a time; if you're combat, go ahead and flick on Blade Flurry, but don't expect too much from it. In dungeons, trash mobs are meaningless; boss fights are brief and generally inconsequential; and you're just in there to experience content (if you're new), get some quick XP and maybe nab some gear upgrades.
Your DPS is irrelevant, so don't sweat it. If someone else is using Recount and gives you grief, /ignore them; the dungeon will be over soon, and then you never have to see their narrow-minded, judgmental e-faces again.
Don't pretend you're a tank. Rogues are meant to succeed with stealth and cunning; if you try to complete quests by Killing All the Things at once before they kill you, you're going to find yourself frequently doing the graveyard walk of shame. You'll get frustrated, your repair bills will go up, leveling will take longer, and you'll find yourself thinking, "Man, leveling a rogue sucks."
Don't get me wrong: The rogue leveling experience has its downsides, which we'll talk about in a future column. I also realize it can be a fun challenge to see how many enemies you can handle at the same time, and I encourage pushing yourself -- when you're prepared for it and you know what you're doing.
But for many quests that require most characters to smash their faces into kabillions of mobs, a rogue can strategically use abilities like Sap, Distract, Shadowstep and Blind to sneak directly to their objectives. In addition, by moving quickly and efficiently from one mob to the next -- with Slice and Dice and Recuperate rolling the whole time thanks to the Glyph of Deadly Momentum -- a rogue can often kill five enemies in less time than a warrior needs to take on all five at once -- along with the other five she accidentally aggroed in the process.
There's never a "bad" time to level a rogue. Too often, I see people pick a class to level based on their perception of how well that class is performing in raids or arena. I've never understood this. Dominance for any spec or class in any area of the game is often fleeting; WoW's designers are constantly seeking balance, and today's overpowered spec can easily become tomorrow's also-ran.
Rogues are, at their core, the same class today that they were nine years ago. Stealth and utility define their culture. The playstyle involves mashing buttons to build combo points, and then mashing more buttons to spend those combo points on various finishers. Rogues have ever done this, and ever will.
If leveling a rogue doesn't interest you this week, it probably won't interest you any more next week. And the leveling experience on a rogue can't really be compared to the experience on any other class -- even our leather-clad kitty brethren and those whippersnapper whirling dervishes.
The only way to know whether you'll enjoy leveling a rogue is ... to start leveling one. So what are you waiting for?
Let the guide be your guide. In this column, I've dished out some general advice about rogue leveling. You may be hungry for more info, and you may even be disappointed that I didn't dive into greater detail or provide more specific examples.
Geez. You're demanding. What do you think I am, made of leveling advice?
I am not. But Aeriwen (@wavefunctionp) is. Since the early days of Cataclysm, he has steadfastly maintained and updated a leveling guide in WoW's official U.S. rogue forum. All of the gaps that I have left wide open in this column, he has likely filled them within that guide. Visit it, read it, drink it in, coat your weapons with it.
Then go forth and murderfy.
Sneak in every Wednesday or two for our RPPM guide and tier 16 set bonus review, a deep-dive into the world of assassination and combat rogue AoE rotations -- and of course, why we'll always be the bad guys.