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5E Assassins, Alignment, and Archetypes

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.
The D&D alignment system was much more ridged in earlier editions. Firstly it accepted (as do many legal codes) a moral distinction between killing in battle or for self defence, and murder. And secondly it made neutrality the norm. An ordinary decent person who never hurts anyone would be neutral. In order to qualify as good, it was necessary to be actively altruistic - i.e. seeking the benefit of others without reward for yourself. It would be difficult for a mercenary to be "good" under those definitions, since no matter how heroic your actions are the instant payment is accepted it is considered neutral.
 

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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
While the Assassin (rogue) is the infiltrator, the Executioneer is the Half-rogue class like the paladin is to the cleric.

  • Light, medium, shield, martial weapons
  • Less skills, no (or less) expertise
  • Extra attack at 5
  • Light Sneak attack against hobbled target (poisoned, prone, surprised, stunned or restrained).
  • Ability to dispatch lower CR humanoid in one shot ala cleric on a surprised hit.
The urban ''ranger'' go there. There's to much wilderness in the base ranger to make it pertinent in a City. Put the ''cant get lost in a city'' ''ignore difficult terrain in a city'' and double prof in Stealth, Investigation and tracking task in city'' in this class.

Archetypes:
Poisoner: Create poison, maybe bonus in social interaction
Vigilante: Assassin Creed style
Bounty Hunter: trap specialist, gain bonus with net and such.
Wraith: Shroud-Using assassin with 1/3 casting
Avenger: 1/3 Cleric caster
 

Krachek

Adventurer
the classic image of « stab or poison use then Vanish » is also hard to achieve in DnD.
revivify and raise dead can screw assassin job.
You have to wait 1 minute to avoid revivify, severe head to avoid raise dead, and dissolve completely the body to avoid resurrection, and a wish may screw you anyway.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I think you need abandon any thoughts of one-shot one-kill in 5e, it just isn't designed to support it, save maybe as a save or die capstone. Critical hits is probably the best we can do, possibly with additional damage dice to sexy them up.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I think you need abandon any thoughts of one-shot one-kill in 5e, it just isn't designed to support it, save maybe as a save or die capstone. Critical hits is probably the best we can do, possibly with additional damage dice to sexy them up.
If you're telling the story the assassin targets are kinda weak. That Noble? Just a CR 1/4 Noble MM.

The guard. Just a guard.

5E equivalents of 0 level humans, 4E minions.

Level 7 Assassin could probably one shot a CR 1 critter.

So how the DM structures things is important. Getting to the target might be harder than killing it.
 

Vincegetoriix's name of "Executioner" is probably a better name for this suggested warcraft-style high-DPR killer. To me, "Assassin" generally brings up the image of the killer-for-hire who targets specific people as a profession, so relies on infiltration and care to reduce the risk and ensure that they get to spend their fee.
The character type that sneaks a bit and then proceeds to murder their way through the entire household (a la hollywood ninjas for example) is a different archetype to me


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.
Mercenary jobs are more often "win this fight". If a job was offered that was basically "kill this person", then it is indeed likely that only evil mercenaries would apply for it.

The 3.5 edition assassin was required to be evil because of the requirement to enter the prestige class, which was a set of specialised skills and magic taught be a specific organisation. A DM who waived the entry requirement would likely have no issue with non-evil assassins.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Vincegetoriix's name of "Executioner" is probably a better name for this suggested warcraft-style high-DPR killer. To me, "Assassin" generally brings up the image of the killer-for-hire who targets specific people as a profession, so relies on infiltration and care to reduce the risk and ensure that they get to spend their fee.
The character type that sneaks a bit and then proceeds to murder their way through the entire household (a la hollywood ninjas for example) is a different archetype to me


Mercenary jobs are more often "win this fight". If a job was offered that was basically "kill this person", then it is indeed likely that only evil mercenaries would apply for it.

The 3.5 edition assassin was required to be evil because of the requirement to enter the prestige class, which was a set of specialised skills and magic taught be a specific organisation. A DM who waived the entry requirement would likely have no issue with non-evil assassins.
Mercenary jobs often are no fighting. Guard this or train them is more common than actually fighting.
 


vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
At lvl 5, a cleric can one-shot CR 1/2 (up to CR 4) undeads in AoE if they fail a saving throw 2 (up to 3) time per day. Having an Executioner do it on humanoid of the same CR (1/2 to 4) on a single Suprised Humanoid target on a (lets say) Con save its that much.

Can we really pretend that you successfully surprise as many humanoids in 1 day than a cleric can destroy/frightened undead in the same day (assuming a campaign playing to their strength)?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
I do think that the assassin needs a clearly defined unique ability that no one else has, in order to stave of the “why it ain’t a rogue, y’all!?” Squad. Shrouds could be that, and one function of them could be to decrease the crit threshold. Combine that with 4e’s Lethal (drop to 0 any critter you drop to 5 or fewer hp) quality of life ribbon, and you’ve got a solid defining gameplay style. More on how I’d do shrouds at the end of the post.
But I agree on using monk fight rogue, is just also look to the ranger.

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.
Damn right. Ezio Auditore is, I’d say, Neutral Good. Altair probably starts Lawful Evil, ends up more neutral. I’m playing a rogue right now who used to be a warlock, who is definitely Good. We started this campaign in 4e, so he was just Good.
Assassination as an archetype is a skill set, not a job. A hit man can be any class, and is probably evil barring some kind of “no innocents” code.
An Assassin (capital A is important here) is a person trained to kill for a cause, more likely than an indiscriminate hired killer.
Also, it’s a PC class. The PC might be a trained assassin who has escaped or is trying to escape that life.

While the Assassin (rogue) is the infiltrator, the Executioneer is the Half-rogue class like the paladin is to the cleric.

  • Light, medium, shield, martial weapons
  • Less skills, no (or less) expertise
  • Extra attack at 5
  • Light Sneak attack against hobbled target (poisoned, prone, surprised, stunned or restrained).
  • Ability to dispatch lower CR humanoid in one shot ala cleric on a surprised hit.
The urban ''ranger'' go there. There's to much wilderness in the base ranger to make it pertinent in a City. Put the ''cant get lost in a city'' ''ignore difficult terrain in a city'' and double prof in Stealth, Investigation and tracking task in city'' in this class.

Archetypes:
Poisoner: Create poison, maybe bonus in social interaction
Vigilante: Assassin Creed style
Bounty Hunter: trap specialist, gain bonus with net and such.
Wraith: Shroud-Using assassin with 1/3 casting
Avenger: 1/3 Cleric caster
I’m good with this. Executioner or Avenger would be good names, since they then wouldn’t have the same name as a PHB subclass. I’d probably put shrouds in the base class, but make them less explicitly magical, and then the wraith makes shrouds more weird and mystical.
I think you need abandon any thoughts of one-shot one-kill in 5e, it just isn't designed to support it, save maybe as a save or die capstone. Critical hits is probably the best we can do, possibly with additional damage dice to sexy them up.
I think we can look to the cleric for this. Perhaps a situation where if you deal more than half the target’s HP in damage, and their CR XYZ or lower, they must succeed on a con save or be dropped to 0. At say...5th level at the earliest, maybe it’s the level 11 damage buff.
At lvl 5, a cleric can one-shot CR 1/2 (up to CR 4) undeads in AoE if they fail a saving throw 2 (up to 3) time per day. Having an Executioner do it on humanoid of the same CR (1/2 to 4) on a single Suprised Humanoid target on a (lets say) Con save its that much.

Can we really pretend that you successfully surprise as many humanoids in 1 day than a cleric can destroy/frightened undead in the same day (assuming a campaign playing to their strength)?
This. The assassin doing it to 1 creature at a time, with a damage threshold requirement, at a somewhat higher level, would be fine.

About Shrouds, and Lethal.

*Shrouds would be a mark of sorts that you apply a scaling number of (as a bonus action?).
*If you are hidden or surprised, you apply more, and if the target is surprised and you’re hidden, you apply full shrouds.
*Each shroud is a d10, and you get fewer than the rogue gets SA dice, and use them less often.
*at full shrouds/half total shrouds, your crit range goes down to 19, eventually 18, maybe capping off at 17.
*Shrouded targets grant you advantage if they are Frighthened, Charmed by you or an ally of yours, or below half their HP maximum.
*When you hit with an attack, you can choose to invoke your Shrouds (no action). You add your Shroud dice as a damage bonus to the attack, and all shrouds are removed.
*If you crit a Shrouded target, you gain a bonus to damage equal to your assassin level.

Lethal is: When you reduce a target of an attack to 5hp of fewer, you instead reduce them to 0hp. This would scale with tiers, but the idea isn’t for it to ever be super high. It’s there to make the assassin the guy who never leaves someone just barely still alive with an attack.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.
Also, the idea that “assassin” means “murderer for hire” is kind of a weird fantasy-ism. Assassination is politically-motivated murder, which is something D&D adventures of all classes engage in from time to time. I see what @doctorbadwolf is going for here, but I’m not sure “assassin” is the best name for the class. Too much baggage tied up in that name, I think it might be better described as like a “Nightblade” or something.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Implementing something like shrouds, if we are likening that to finding weak spots, could be accomplished in two ways. One, you observe the target for X time, call that the stealth method; or two, after fighting an opponent for a round (or something to that effect). So it works on the "case your target basis" but also works in normal melee but would be indexed at larger target and not so much mooks. In both cases observation is the key.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
As soon as it passed into the West, it was immediately used to mean a murderer for hire. See, e.g., references in Italy in the 14th Century.

The first known western explanation that I know of is that an assassin is a person who kills other people for money.
My understanding is that in the west the word Assassin was used to refer to the Ḥashashiyan, who were mistakenly believed to have been motivated by money, and later got generalized to mean anyone who employed similar techniques (which more often than not were more about intimidation and psychological warfare than actual murder). Regardless, in the modern day it means politically or religiously motivated murder.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Lethal is: When you reduce a target of an attack to 5hp of fewer, you instead reduce them to 0hp. This would scale with tiers, but the idea isn’t for it to ever be super high. It’s there to make the assassin the guy who never leaves someone just barely still alive with an attack.
Exact, this is what my 4e executioner had (up to 40 damage at epic levels, right?) and it was fun and satisfying, even with the high hp bar of 4e monsters.

For what I've seen, undead of cr 4 have about 30/40 Hp but Turn Undead require a save and is 3/sr. So lethal threshold being something like: 5 (at 5th level), 10 at 9, 15 at 14 and 20 at 18th could ok I think if its against a creature under a status effect:

Lethal Strike:
At 5th level, when you attack a humanoid while it is under the following effect: Surprised, Poisoned, Blinded, Stunned, Paralyzed or Unconscious and the attack would leave it at 5 hp or less, it falls to 0 hp immediately instead. The threshold increases to 10 hp at 9th level, 15 hp at 13th level and 20 at 17th level.

Exploit Weakness:
Beginning at 1st level, your attack against a creatures under the following effect: Surprised, Poisoned, Blinded, Stunned, Paralyzed or Unconscious deals 2d6 extra damage of the same type as the weapon your using. This damage increases to 3d6 at level 11 and 4d6 at level 19.

Archetypes features:

Student of Poison (Poisoner): You gain proficiency with poisoner's kit. If a creature would make a save because of a poison, you add your proficiency bonus to the DC to resist the effects of the poison. You also have advantage on all check made to gather and harvest poisons and their components.

Envemomed Strike (Poisoner) You ignore resistance to poison damage when you damage a creature. The first attack that hits after you roll initiative deals an extra 1d12 poison damage. This damage increases by 1d12 at level 10 and 18.

Hunter's Binding (Bounty Hunter): When you finished a long rest, you can craft a number of Hunter Traps or Manacle equals to 1+ Int mod. The DC to avoid and escape the trap or manacles equal to 8+Prof+Int mod. The damage of the traps is 2d4 instead of the usual 1d4, and this damage increases by 1d4 at 5th level, 9th level and 14th level. If your DM use the variant rules for Tying Knots found in XGtE, creatures have disadvantage to escape your knots.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Well, the mistake is what took because that's how it came into the western vernacular. To the extent it has a particular connotation, that's usually because in the modern era, it's more important people that we think of as being "assassinated."

I appreciate that it can have different connotations (as in the assassination of JFK, or even referring to athletes as assassins because they are good) but if you look around, you will see that it is just as commonly used in murder-for-hire, much like "hit man."
I disagree. In day to day life, when I hear the word “assassination” it’s generally about the killing (or more often attempted-killing) of a political target. Only in the context of fantasy do I see the word being used to describe killers for hire, and even in that context it’s inconsistent. For example, fans of A Song of Ice And Fire often refer to the Faceless Men as assassins, but the fiction itself does not. The Order of Assassins in Assassin’s Creed is motivated by political philosophy rather than money, and are canonically direct successors of (a factionalized version of) the actual Ḥashashiyan. Heck, even in fantasy fiction that features assassins who do kill for money, the money itself is usually a secondary motivation at most, used to fund the order. That’s what seems to really define assassins in most fantasy fiction, is organization. The Faceless Men, the Order of Assassins, the Dark Brotherhood, they’re all political and/or religious orders first and contract killers second.
 



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