Meet Havelock. He’s the current character I play in Dungeons & Dragons. Havelock is a (currently) Level 10 Drow Assassin (Executioner build). This post is going to be a guide to what I feel is the best build for an assassin in D&D. There’ll be a bit of theory craft, a bit of lore, and a bit of baseless opinion, so feel free to disregard or complain.
This guide is going to be based on D&D 4th Edition (4e) , rather than the just recently released 5’th edition (5e/D&DNext) because I don’t play 5th edition. I’ll also be using the character builder provided by Wizards of the coast, for no other reason than it allows you to print out spell cards after character creation. Over the years Wizards has added (and removed) some options, so this may not match everything that’s available in the player guides.
When choosing between options in your build, I’ll use the following ratings which should be self explanatory: [Useless], [Neutral], [Decent], [Good], [Great].
So lets begin:
The Assassin Class
So you want to play an assassin. It’s a fine choice, you have a lot of fun and a lot of versatility in this build. Unlike other strikers (damage dealers) you have multiple venues to deal damage, from poisons, to daggers, to garrotes, to shrunken… there are quite a few builds available. This guide will list the main options that are available as well as my top choices. Many of these are up to opinion and you shouldn’t feel obligated to follow these.
|My Assassin, “Havelock”|
The Executioner Build
The point is, we’ll be building an Executioner Assassin. I’ve never played a regular Assassin and I have no intention to start since 4e is slowly coming to a close.
Executioner Option: Finesse vs Shrouds
[Decent] Attack Finesse simply give you an extra 1d8 to damage rolls made with a 1 handed weapon (melee or ranged), which bumps up to 2d8 at level 11 and 3d8 at level 21.
[Good] Master of Shrouds gives you an extra ability:
Choosing your Guild
League of Whispers (Ranged)
The very existence of this guild of executioners is often dismissed as myth or urban legend. The League of Whispers keeps its membership a secret. Although individual members might be known as assassins, their association with the guild is rarely more than a matter of speculation for nonmembers. The league keeps its existence a mystery by executing anyone who discovers the truth. The order holds secret meetings once every full moon, where the members converge to discuss jobs, trade secrets and tricks, and receive orders from their Grandfather of Assassins.
Choosing this Guild will give you the following abilities:
[Decent] Bola Takedown: A basic Crowd Control opportunity. Knocks a target prone.
[Good] Quick Shot: Must use a hand crossbow. Allows you to attack with a crossbow at point blank range without invoking an opportunity attack, then step back two squares.
[Great] Precision Dart: Must use a blowgun. Allows you to shoot a poisoned dart at your enemy, applying 1 poison to them.
This is basically a ranger who uses poison. Very similar to the Demon Hunter class in Diablo III. If you choose this class, I only recommend Bola Takedown if you plan on handling crowd control (typically a controller task, not a striker task). Poison Dart would be your go to ability as it allows you to apply your assassin poison to the target from a distance.
Way of the Ninja (Ranged/Melee)
Of all the warriors in the realm to draw steel in combat, the ninja is the most mysterious. The streets are full of whispered rumors about these silent spies and killers, who seem able to appear anywhere at any time. Some say that ninja can alter their appearances so skillfully that one of them can stand before a victim in the guise of a lifelong friend or trusted retainer, and awaken no suspicion; and that they can kill with a single sword stroke.
Choosing this Guild will give you the following abilities:
[Useless] Ninja-to Rush: Gives combat advantage if you’ve fallen or flown this turn.
[Neutral] Whirling Kusari-gama: Knocks a target prone.
[Great] Poisonous Shuriken: Target 1, 2, or 3 creatures. If it hits, apply a poison to all three targets.
The only good ability is Poisonous Shuriken. It’s really the only reason to become a ninja in the first place. This is essentially a version of Precision Dart that hits multiple targets.
Red Scales (Melee)
This order of assassins works to keep society in balance. If any organization grows too powerful, too corrupt, too wealthy, or too vile, the Red Scales weigh and measure the members of that organization and then collect a payment that they are owed in blood. Though one might call the Red Scales idealists, none can say what truly drives them. Rumors abound that this guild’s Grandfather of Assassins is touched by some planar entity. They say that his eyes are orbs of golden fire, a feature he gained, along with his new policies, only after he returned from a journey to the distant East.
Choosing this Guild will give you the following abilities:
[Good] Garrote Strangle: Allows you to strangle an enemy, grabbing them and forcing them to take a -2 penalty to attacks against yourself so long as you sustain it. Can only be used if you were stealthed or invisible, or otherwise hidden from a creature.
[Good] Poisoned Dagger: Must be used with a dagger. Applies a poison to the target even if it misses.
[Neutral] Quick Lunge: A 1-square shift followed by a knockdown attack, and if you hit you can shift back where you started. I don’t think I’ve even used this ability in game.
This is the option I chose Red Scales, as it fits more in with the Assassin theme than any other build, and besides, you get to freaking strangle people.
Now you may be thinking, “But wait, Red Scales has only 2 [Good] and [Neutral] 1 option, whereas each of the other guilds have at least 1 [Great] option by your own rating. Aren’t you hurting yourself by choosing Red Scales?”
The answer is, maybe, it depends on if you look just at game mechanics alone. I however plan to Role Play as an assassin, and to me, having the Garrote and Poison Dagger just seems more Assassiny to me.
Level 1 Poisons (Choose 4)
[Good] Bloodroot Poison (D 394) Deals 6 extra poison damage & dazes target.
[Neutral] Carrion Crawler Brain Juice (D 394) Deals 4 damage & slows target.
[Decent] Greenblood Oil (D 394) Deals 10 damage & the target cannot regain hit points.
[Good] Id Moss Powder (D 394) 2d10 damage & 5 ongoing psychic damage.
[Useless] Nitharit Poison (D 394) 2 ongoing damage.
[Good] Ungol Dust (D 394) 3d8 damage & 5 ongoing acid damage.
Id Moss Powder and Ungol Dust are both good choices, but I go with Ungol Dust over Id Moss. You definitely want to choose 1 or the other. I’m writing a specific entry about dice rolls and which dice combinations are better, but suffice it to say that the most likely outcome on a 3d8 roll is either a 13 or a 14 (9.4% probability) vs 11 (10% probability) on a 2d10. As a general rule, when it doubt, go with the higher number of die rather than the higher die number, if that make sense.
Level 15 Poisons (Choose 1)
[Useless] Black Lotus Extract (D 394) Deals 8 extra damage
[Great] Insanity Mist (D 394) Deals 3d10 + Dex mod damage, & ongoing 10 psychic damage
[Good] Lich Dust (D 394) Deals 10 extra poison damage & target is weakened.
This one’s a no-brainer. I should mention that Black Lotus Extract has a non-combat option of dealing 40 poison damage in a Role Playing setting, so you may want to chose that option, depending on what type of games your DM runs. If you plan on killing a lot of people out of combat, Black Lotus Extract is a good option. However, for strictly combat purposes, Insanity Mist is the way to go. The most likely damage output on it will be either 16 or 17 (7.5% probability) and it gives 10 ongoing damage (psychic, for some reason, but damage is damage). The weakened ability of Lich Dust is nice, but I feel that Insanity Mist will help you down your enemies quicker.
Level 25 Poisons (Choose 1)
[Neutral] Dark Reaver Powder (D 394) Deals 10 poison damage & dazes target until end of next turn.
[Decent] Dragon Bile (D 394) Creature falls prone and is stunned until end of next turn.
[Great] Eye of Basilisk (D 394) 6d10 + Dex mod poison damage & target is slowed.
This one again is a no-brainer. Choose Eye of the Basalisk. The most likely outcome on a 6d10 roll is either 32, 33 or 34 (5.5% probability). Now, that 5% probability doesn’t seem like much, but keep in mind that 33 is also the median damage, as well as the average damage. That means that you have just as likely a chance of getting a damage roll higher than 33 as you do of getting one lower than 33. You also add your Dexterity modifier to this damage, which at level 25 should be pretty high, considering that we’re pumping Dexterity every 2 levels, unless you really need Charisma for something. The prone & stun on Dragon Bile is nice, but situation, and Dark Reaver Powder is absolutely useless unless you really need to take someone out for only 1 turn. Dragon Bile does the same thing, but gets a [Decent] rating because it both stuns and knocks the target prone, meaning they have to use a move action to get up on their 2nd turn after being stunned.
[Great] Drow – Dark Elves, Drow play great Assassins. Gives you a few extra damage dealing abilities. Automatic +2 to Dexterity and +2 to Charisma for some reason… I guess Drow are pretty Charismatic
[Great] Changeling – Good for role playing, as you can infiltrate your enemies and pretend to become one of them. You also get the Becomer feat, allowing you to basically perfectly mimic a single race. Automatic +2 to Charisma and +2 Dexterity.
[Decent] Eladrin – Can choose between being either a Sun Elf or Moon Elf. Each give inherent bonuses to certain abilities like Bluff or Streetwise and a weapon proficiency. Automatic +2 to Intellect and a choice of +2 to either Dexterity or Charisma. If you choose Eladrin, go with the Dexterity.
[Decent] Gnome – The real benefit here is in Stealth. Gnomes can make a Stealth check anytime they make an Initiative roll and have any kind of cover or concealment. Automatic +2 to Intellect and a choice of +2 to either Dexterity or Charisma. If you choose Gnome, go with the Dexterity.
[Decent] Halfling – Not a lot of benefit here, but does give an ability forcing an opponent to re-roll an attack against you. Automatic +2 to Dexterity and +2 to Charisma.
[Decent] Goblin – The Goblin Tactics power allows you to shift 1 square as a free action when hit, but other than that not much choice here. Automatic +2 to Dexterity and +2 to Charisma.
[Great] Hengeyokai – A shapeshifting animal, you can choose a few options that give bonuses to Stealth or Acrobatics, both good choices for Assassins. Automatic +2 to Dexterity and +2 to Charisma.
[Good] Revenant – The Dark Reaping ability allows you to deal an extra 1d8 plus Charisma modifier damage once per encounter as a free action, which is nice. Also you can choose to have your past life option be one of the other races listed so you can meet pre-requisites, like Drowmesh armor, for example. Automatic +2 to Dexterity and +2 to Charisma.
[Great] Human – The standard choice. As a human you get a bonus feat choice at level 1, which is useful, and +2 to any ability you like. A versatile choice.
Background & Theme
Strength was previously an important ability, but in the most recent version of 4e it is now completely useless as Executioner assassins can choose between Attack Finesse or Master of Shrouds, both of which replace Strength with Dexterity as the modifier you use when making melee basic attacks.
|From the D&D Insider Character Builder|
Level 2 Utility
[Neutral] Distracting Illusion – Creates an illusion that can be used to distract your enemies.
[Great] Silent Stalker – Allows you to move your speed to within 2 squares of an enemy & remain hidden. This is great because you can later take a feat that allows you to make a stealth check whenever you become hidden!
[Neutral] Smoke Bomb – (Encounter) Creates a burst 1 zone of obscured squares that lasts until the end of your next turn.
[Decent] Summon the Mists – (Daily) Creates a zone of 5 squares that are obscured until end of encounter. A better version of Smoke Bomb basically.
Level 6 Utility
[Decent] Darkness – Creates a burst 2 zone that obscures everything within it until the end of your next turn.
[Useless] Feathery Tread – Allows you to levitate, which can be good by allowing you to ignore difficult terrain. In general, however, its a waste of a feat.
[Useless] Ghost of the Rooftops – Allows you to climb and jump a distance up to your speed. Good for certain situations I suppose… except you might as well just make an acrobatics check as your acrobatics should be fairly high.
[Great] Vanish – Allows you to literally vanish whenever you are hit by an attack, ranged or melee, with a teleport!
Level 10 Utility
[Useless] Death Mark – Allows you to always know where a target is and they can’t become invisible to you. Only useful in Role Playing heavy games.
[Neutral] Eyes Unseen – Allows you to see and hear anything that happens from a square in addition to the square you’re standing in. Good if you need to scout out a position.
[Neutral] Veil of a Thousand Faces – Assassins have a class feature called Flawless Disguise which allows you, during an extended rest, to craft a disguise, giving a +5 bonus to Bluff checks when NPC’s attempt to see through your disguise. Veil allows you to craft a new disguise as a standard, at will action, with only a +2 to Bluff rather than the +5. Not really useful in my experience.
[Good] Walk Through Shadow – An additional Teleport (since you already chose Vanish at level 6).
You definitely want to be able to hit your targets. Anything that would increase your accuracy is a definite priority
Level 1 Versatile DefenseTwo-Weapon Defense – +1 bonus to AC and Reflex when wielding a melee weapon in both hands.
Level 1Venom Hand Master – Ignore Poison Resistance. I was forced to choose this feat when my DM began crafting monsters immune to poison.
Level 2 Assassin’s Cloak – Gives a Stealth check option whenever you become invisible, as many of your abilities do.
Level 4Ki-Focus Expertise – +1 to attack rolls made with a Ki Focus (all of them) and +1 to damage rolls agains Bloodied targets.
Level 6Master at Arms – +1 to attack rolls made with a weapon (all of them).
Level 8Silent Shadows [Guild] – +2 to Stealth checks.
Level 10Two-Weapon Fighting – +1 to damage rolls when using a Melee Weapon.
Ki Focus (All Guilds)
Rapier (Ninja & Red Scale)
Red Scale Executioners
League of Whispers
Way of the Ninja
Shuriken & Kusari-Gama are obvious choices for the Ninja. Other than that, you’ll be going with a Rapier for your melee damage.