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5E Assassins, Alignment, and Archetypes

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, some of y’all may already know this, but the Assassin is one of my very favorite RPG character concepts, and I am very unsatisfied with its representation in 5e.

Now, I didn’t expect an Assassin class in the PHB, but when I read the Assassin Rogue archetype...<whistle> nope! That’s certainly a type of Assassin, sure. I mean, it doesn’t follow through on having poison proficiency, it’s too hyper focused on “false identity infiltration”, and its combat mechanics only work when it has surprise, which is just...hard to ensure with any regularity, but...cool. So, I’ve spent the last few years thinking about assassins in 5e, how they could be a full class, and also about the sometimes oddly narrow view of assassins that some folks have.

Alignment. The 3.5 Assassin had to be evil. 🙄

sure, Jan. The fighter can butcher hundreds with a neutral alignment, and collect all the gold they want for it, but I can’t play an old school Crusades era styled Assassin without being evil?

Then we get to Archetypes. Folks question why “any class can’t be an assassin”(any class can be a thief, too, folks. 🤷‍♂️), or insist that there aren’t enough viable archetypes tomake a full class worth it. Below is a short list of assassin archetypes, and what they’d do. First, though, what would the base class do?

Well, it would obviously be a DPR class, with situational nova potential, and decent skills (between the ranger and non-lore bard). They’d be able to study an enemy and learn its weaknesses and strengths, get an extra attack when hidden (or when subclass stuff happens), and have a trait that drops a creature to 0hp when the Assassin reduces their HP below a threshold. They’d get proficiency on initiative checks, and possibly be able to surprise even when the rest of the party doesn’t, somehow? The rest of the base class would be dedicated to social exploration stuff, and tricks to make the class impossible to escape, and some kind of defense stuff to avoid heavy armor. Social stealth mechanic
Maybe something like the 4e assassin’s shroud. Very cool concept, just somewhat lacking implementation.

Archetypes.

Executioner. Inspiration; Assassin’s Creed, 4e Executione class. Fast, parkour, climb speed, reaction attacks when an enemy misses, some poisons. Some of this in the base class but boosted here.

Covenant Agent. Inspiration; Religous Assassins, Avengers (the class), light divine magic, maybe a pseudo-smite, or access to a couple smite spells, maybe just ability to make damage radiant. Mix a little Paladin in. Bonus prof: religion. Maybe an Unarmored defense mechanic, make it more like the 4e assassin/avenger.

Wraith. Inspiration; mystic assassins, 4e assassin class, dishonored, nightcrawler. If Shrouds aren’t in base class, they go here. If they are, they get weird here. Teleportation at Will from an early level. 3 preferably. Even if it’s short range and requires line of sight.

Spy/Social Infiltrator. Optional, since this is the one assassin that the assassin rogue does really well.

Class: I’d actually go either ranger or monk for the chassis/comparison point. Maybe with level 1 archetypes, since the flavor is much stronger in the archetype.
 

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I don't think you've answered the question of how these relate to the rogue class/why not give these archetypes to the rogue. Before getting to archetypes and mechanics, what conceptually differentiates a base assassin from a base rogue? I have an answer, and an assassin class, of my own, but what's yours?
 

Tonguez

Hero
Ogami Itto, of Lone Wolf with Cub fame, showed us how a lawful neutral Samurai could be a great ‘heavy’ assasin. The you have the various builds used in Assasins Creed. The point though is that Assasin could be any class - so what makes your Assasin different and not just a Rogue with some poison expertise?

and is Wraith your magic Ninja class?
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I don't think you've answered the question of how these relate to the rogue class/why not give these archetypes to the rogue. Before getting to archetypes and mechanics, what conceptually differentiates a base assassin from a base rogue? I have an answer, and an assassin class, of my own, but what's yours?
What if this isn’t answered in the OP? I mean obviously not in detail, but...I outlined the basic design goals and mechanical focuses and a few defining mechanics in the OP.

As for the rogue, eh? I’m not worried about that.
Ogami Itto, of Lone Wolf with Cub fame, showed us how a lawful neutral Samurai could be a great ‘heavy’ assasin. The you have the various builds used in Assasins Creed. The point though is that Assasin could be any class - so what makes your Assasin different and not just a Rogue with some poison expertise?

and is Wraith your magic Ninja class?
What poison expertise? And like I said in the OP, any class can be a thief, too. That is utterly irrelevant to whether there should be a thief as it’s own thing.

the wraith is...what I described it as. It could be used for a “magic ninja”, sure. As could an Arcane trickster rogue, gloom stalker ranger, Hexblade warlock, and probably a few others.

the wraith is the mystical assassin.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I’ll update with more details soon. Right now I’m just curious what people think about the basic concepts.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The Assassin has some overlap with the rogue, but more with the ranger, tbh.

The striking from the shadows thing is the main resemblance, and that’s more mechanic for the rogue than concept.
 

What if this isn’t answered in the OP? I mean obviously not in detail, but...I outlined the basic design goals and mechanical focuses and a few defining mechanics in the OP.
With respect, if you outlined your basic design goals, I did not understand them. Could you clarify? Put it this way: what might the introductory fluff paragraph for the assassin base class say that an intro for the rogue would not say?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
With respect, if you outlined your basic design goals, I did not understand them. Could you clarify? Put it this way: what might the introductory fluff paragraph for the assassin base class say that an intro for the rogue would not say?
“Here’s an Assassin. Go kill stuff. The reason will depend on your Guild/Enclave/Whatever.”

I’m not gonna write a whole thing out, here, but snark aside the assassin is the blade in the dark. I’d probably lean on the righteous assassin for the fluff, rather than leave it totally ambiguous, but the subclass concepts are strong enough I’d also maybe bring them online at level 1. Depends on how thing shake out.

I guess I don’t see what needs explaining about the assassin?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
To be clear, I have made an assassin using the rogue as a model, before, and I actually didn’t like it.

instead, I’d look to the monk and ranger for mechanical formatting ideas and comparisons.

Mechanically, the class should have a more focused toolkit than the rogue, with a less “mundane” but not Spellcasting base class, perhaps utilize specialized tools and weapons as a defining trait, and mark targets in some way.

A focused hunter of sentient enemies, using concealable weapons, specialized tools, stealth, and careful study of their target. They should be able to handle small groups well enough to either silence or effectively escape from them, but not tank them.

they should also do something new, right in the base class.
 

Alignment. The 3.5 Assassin had to be evil. 🙄

sure, Jan. The fighter can butcher hundreds with a neutral alignment, and collect all the gold they want for it, but I can’t play an old school Crusades era styled Assassin without being evil?
That goes back to 1st edition, and is justified by this Assassin class being defined as someone who kills people FOR MONEY. If you wanted a class for killing people for reasons other than financial gain you could not belong to that class.

The 5e Assassin class includes characters who kill for reasons other than money, and therefore does not have the alignment restriction. I personally like the 5e take - it makes sense for such a character to not be a team player, and to be out of it's comfort zone away from civilisation.

It also makes it clear that this assassin is not a ninja. Monk does ninja just fine.
 

Coroc

Hero
So, some of y’all may already know this, but the Assassin is one of my very favorite RPG character concepts, and I am very unsatisfied with its representation in 5e.

Now, I didn’t expect an Assassin class in the PHB, but when I read the Assassin Rogue archetype...<whistle> nope! That’s certainly a type of Assassin, sure. I mean, it doesn’t follow through on having poison proficiency, it’s too hyper focused on “false identity infiltration”, and its combat mechanics only work when it has surprise, which is just...hard to ensure with any regularity, but...cool. So, I’ve spent the last few years thinking about assassins in 5e, how they could be a full class, and also about the sometimes oddly narrow view of assassins that some folks have.

Alignment. The 3.5 Assassin had to be evil. 🙄

sure, Jan. The fighter can butcher hundreds with a neutral alignment, and collect all the gold they want for it, but I can’t play an old school Crusades era styled Assassin without being evil?

Then we get to Archetypes. Folks question why “any class can’t be an assassin”(any class can be a thief, too, folks. 🤷‍♂️), or insist that there aren’t enough viable archetypes tomake a full class worth it. Below is a short list of assassin archetypes, and what they’d do. First, though, what would the base class do?

Well, it would obviously be a DPR class, with situational nova potential, and decent skills (between the ranger and non-lore bard). They’d be able to study an enemy and learn its weaknesses and strengths, get an extra attack when hidden (or when subclass stuff happens), and have a trait that drops a creature to 0hp when the Assassin reduces their HP below a threshold. They’d get proficiency on initiative checks, and possibly be able to surprise even when the rest of the party doesn’t, somehow? The rest of the base class would be dedicated to social exploration stuff, and tricks to make the class impossible to escape, and some kind of defense stuff to avoid heavy armor. Social stealth mechanic
Maybe something like the 4e assassin’s shroud. Very cool concept, just somewhat lacking implementation.

Archetypes.

Executioner. Inspiration; Assassin’s Creed, 4e Executione class. Fast, parkour, climb speed, reaction attacks when an enemy misses, some poisons. Some of this in the base class but boosted here.

Covenant Agent. Inspiration; Religous Assassins, Avengers (the class), light divine magic, maybe a pseudo-smite, or access to a couple smite spells, maybe just ability to make damage radiant. Mix a little Paladin in. Bonus prof: religion. Maybe an Unarmored defense mechanic, make it more like the 4e assassin/avenger.

Wraith. Inspiration; mystic assassins, 4e assassin class, dishonored, nightcrawler. If Shrouds aren’t in base class, they go here. If they are, they get weird here. Teleportation at Will from an early level. 3 preferably. Even if it’s short range and requires line of sight.

Spy/Social Infiltrator. Optional, since this is the one assassin that the assassin rogue does really well.

Class: I’d actually go either ranger or monk for the chassis/comparison point. Maybe with level 1 archetypes, since the flavor is much stronger in the archetype.
I am a bit with you on this one. The 5e class is surely a concept with great opportunities on roleplaying, naming it assassin is probably not the best description. Imposter would be as correct.

So let us analyze: What do most people think about assassin, and how is it handled in former editions or (easier for me) what would I expect from that class?

For me an assassin is a ninja. He got some traits of the rogue class and honed some of them to perfection.

He should be perfect in stealth. He should be fast (escape). He should dish out high spike damage to enable one shot kills. He should be good at climbing and jumping (acrobatics). He should be able to evade (multiple attacks from guards who try to corner him). He (maybe) should be proficient with poison to even increase his 1 strike damage potential. He should know some basics about traps locks and alarm systems aka sleight of hand and perception is a must.

All of these things except the poison, a standard 5e rogue already does quite fine !

In former editions they added some backstab dice and lowered the skillpoints in return.
Not feasible in 5e. So what then? One suggestion: assassin never can wear armor not even leather.
They cannot use weapons untypically for a rogue.

So why did 5e resolve it totally different with all of these disguise and imitation shenanigans then?

My guess:
1. Although sneak attack dice can be hefty and there are some combat rogue builds (swashbuckler) who can even use sneak attack almost every time, they are versus mobs normally still not a hit killer. 5e usually does not want 1 hit kills.

2. Although you can get quite stealthy stealth is not as powerful as in other editions. Therefore the disguise stuff, for any not so silent entries to the scene.

Can all of this be improved, e.g. give up the disguise stuff but add more poison (single use)?
Yes, maybe, but poison is often resisted, the cure is trivial and according to RAW you can even buy antidote normally.

The assassin might well be a subclass where 5e is on its limits with its usual philosophies.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Alignment. The 3.5 Assassin had to be evil. 🙄

sure, Jan. The fighter can butcher hundreds with a neutral alignment, and collect all the gold they want for it, but I can’t play an old school Crusades era styled Assassin without being evil?
That goes back to 1st edition, and is justified by this Assassin class being defined as someone who kills people FOR MONEY. If you wanted a class for killing people for reasons other than financial gain you could not belong to that class.

The 5e Assassin class includes characters who kill for reasons other than money, and therefore does not have the alignment restriction. I personally like the 5e take - it makes sense for such a character to not be a team player, and to be out of it's comfort zone away from civilisation.

It also makes it clear that this assassin is not a ninja. Monk does ninja just fine.
idk mercenaries kill people for money, why are they allowed to be neutral or even good? assassins are just mercenaries who work on very specific targets. it's that whole "backstabbing people to death is EVIL just THE WORST" attitude that made them evil, but I don't want to get into an argument over alignment, I'll be up all night.
 

Tonguez

Hero
To be clear, I have made an assassin using the rogue as a model, before, and I actually didn’t like it.

instead, I’d look to the monk and ranger for mechanical formatting ideas and comparisons.

Mechanically, the class should have a more focused toolkit than the rogue, with a less “mundane” but not Spellcasting base class, perhaps utilize specialized tools and weapons as a defining trait, and mark targets in some way.

A focused hunter of sentient enemies, using concealable weapons, specialized tools, stealth, and careful study of their target. They should be able to handle small groups well enough to either silence or effectively escape from them, but not tank them.

they should also do something new, right in the base class.

This sounds to me to be very close to an Urban Ranger, have you looked at that as a Chassis to build Assasin from?
 


“Here’s an Assassin. Go kill stuff. The reason will depend on your Guild/Enclave/Whatever.”

I’m not gonna write a whole thing out, here, but snark aside the assassin is the blade in the dark. I’d probably lean on the righteous assassin for the fluff, rather than leave it totally ambiguous, but the subclass concepts are strong enough I’d also maybe bring them online at level 1. Depends on how thing shake out.

I guess I don’t see what needs explaining about the assassin?
Ezio Auditore: climbs things, jumps off things, sneaks around, and stabs people unexpectedly in various vital organs. You're absolutely right, he doesn't need explaining. His activities are so archetypal in fantasy and adventure fiction that D&D has long had a rogue class specifically to do them. Contrast...

Corvo Attano: as above, but with shadow magic. You can build a D&D rogue to do what he does, but the rogue isn't written specifically to do what he does. So here, I think, there is room for an assassin class.

Once you've got that twist on the basic sneak-and-stab archetype, whether it's "shadow magic" or something else, you've got something to pin a new design on. But just saying "assassin" isn't enough, because that title can mean a lot of things, and sometimes it means a rogue -- the rogue even has the subclass to prove it. So what's the twist?
 

Krachek

Adventurer
Assassin archetype is often view as a solo jobber, while DnD is a team work.
Hitpoint mechanic don’t help to make one shot kill. Big boss with legendary resistance are hard to kill one shot, and thus require team play,
so we get back to assassin squad concept, where a wizard or a fighter is equally useful as a rogue. The solo rogue assassin character is hard to achieve in DnD.

assassin == evil? probably, and definitively not good Alignment.
but DnD leave place to moral ambiguity, or moral fluidity.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I'd probably roll with a mix of monk fighter and rogue for the class abilities. I think the best way 5e has to replicate the assassin's melee ability is probably a crit fishing build. If you borrowed the champions extended crit range and maybe dropped in an ability like elven accuracy you'd have solid crit fishing based on manufacturing advantage rather than surprise, which sounds closer to what you want. Toss in two weapon fighting, a second attack, unarmored defense, uncanny dodge, and some kind of death touch capstone and I think the base class would look about the way you want. Sneak attack would be nice, but it depends on design room. Three skills plus thieves tools, expertise in stealth, a bespoke weapon list, and a d8 HD and you're rolling.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
An assassin is James Bond, and all the other double ohs.
I had a longer response but I will not post it. The whole build is built to Kill people quickly. As to the former editions of having assassins being evil, I fully approve!
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
There's a whole range of alignments that could fit a stealth based ambush attacker who hunts weak spots. The class name Assassin, much like Warlord, is just a cool name, let's not get too tied up about loaded terms.
 
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