D&D 5E [GUIDE] Dealing Death: Handbook of the True Assassin


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
[h=1]Dealing Death: Handbook of the True Assassin[/h]As originally published by GladiusLegis on the Wizards of the Coast message boards
Also available on Google Docs

"Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
Alamut by Vladimir Bartol

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Makeup of the True Assassin
  3. Class Options
  4. Races
  5. Feats
  6. Equipment
  7. FAQ
  8. Builds and Combos

This guide will use the following ratings:
Red is dead. A trap that you will want to avoid at all costs, either because it's ineffective or because it's thoroughly outclassed by another option that accomplishes something similar.
Purple is a substandard choice. It might be useful in corner-case situations, but overall it's not worth the investment.
Black is average. You're not hurting your character by taking this, and it might even help in some situations, but there are better choices.
Blue is a good choice. It definitely helps your character in the majority of cases.
Sky Blue is a fantastic choice. An option you should strongly consider above most others.
Gold is mandatory. It's a rare rating that denotes something that is so good that you must take it, or you can't call yourself optimized.

[h=3]I. Introduction[/h]
What is a "True" Assassin?

Certainly it's a pure Rogue taking the Assassin archetype who goes all the way to Lv. 17 in the class for Death Strike, right?

Well, no. While Death Strike is certainly a sexy ability, it serves more as base compensation for sticking with the Rogue class for that long. While a pure Assassin Rogue no doubt has its own appeal and fun factor, Lv. 17 in that class represents a jarring jump in power that makes you wonder if there somehow were better options and smoother power gains up until that point.

And as it turns out, yes, there are!

All Assassins have to have some levels of Rogue, true. How many, you ask? 3. Yes, that's it. Three Rogue levels, entering the Assassin archetype, is enough to call yourself an Assassin in word and deed. Because in the feature of Assassinate is everything you need to execute (pardon the pun) deadly alpha strikes in every surprise round you can get.

The trick then becomes filling in the blanks after those 3 Rogue levels to take advantage of the automatic criticals madness the Assassinate feature offers. Sure, the Rogue's native Sneak Attack is one way. But there are better ways. Namely, getting more attacks. And getting extra damage dice from other sources, all of which get doubled on critical hits.

Build your Assassin right, and not only will you increase your damage on a smoother curve than just a Sneak Attack bump here and there, but you'll deal so much damage eventually that you'll be asking "What's Death Strike?"

And then you can call yourself a True Assassin.
[h=3]II. Makeup of the True Assassin[/h]
The Essentials

To call yourself a True Assassin, you must possess the following, without exception:

Fighter 2: It is the Fighter class, and not the Rogue class, where every True Assassin starts. And why? Starting as a Fighter, rather than a Rogue, gets you proficiency in Constitution saves, rather than Dexterity. Why is this important? Because CON saves are not only more common, but they're the target of much nastier abilities than DEX saves, which are really only against raw damage. Plus if you're ever of a mind to take a spellcasting class down the line, you'll find that CON save proficiency helps you maintain concentration on those spells more easily. Starting as a Fighter also gets you slightly more hit points, but that's more of a footnote.

Starting as a Rogue would've allowed you a net gain of one more skill proficiency, true, but the CON save proficiency from starting as a Fighter outweighs that concern, especially when more than enough skill proficiencies can be obtained through backgrounds and races.

  • Fighting Style (Lv. 1): Gives you a little boost in damage-dealing capability from the start. This is basically where you define how you're going to deal your death. If you're going the long-distance sniper route (very nice for dealing death beyond blindsight and truesight ranges!), Archery, with its +2 to hit with ranged weapons, is essential. If you plan to do more of your work in melee, dual-wielding is the best route since more attacks mean more crit dice, so you'll want to complement that with Two-Weapon Fighting and its modifier damage on the off-hand. If you're stubborn about using a single weapon, for whatever reason, then Dueling is there for you.
  • Action Surge (Lv. 2): This is EXACTLY why any True Assassin will have 2 levels of this class. Once between short rests, an extra action means another Attack action, and another Attack action means more damage dice to double on those automatic criticals for one grand surprise-round nova.

Rogue 3: This is where you become an Assassin in word and deed. Note that leaving Rogue levels at 3 gives you a Sneak Attack bonus of 2d6, which on crit gets doubled to 4d6, or 14 average damage. That's not an insignificant amount, even with so few Rogue levels.

  • Expertise (Lv. 1): Double your proficiency bonus on two of your proficient skills. That choice of skills to apply this to is pretty much made for Assassins already: Stealth and Deception.
  • Cunning Action (Lv. 2): Dash, Disengage or Hide as a bonus action is very handy to have around when things go wrong. Completes with an off-hand attack if you're dual-wielding, though, so consider options wisely.
  • Assassinate (Lv. 3): Obviously, this is why you're even reading this in the first place.

Extra Attack (1) (Fighter 5, Paladin 5, Ranger 5, or Thirsting Blade via Warlock 5): However you progress beyond the Fighter 2/Rogue 3 base of all True Assassins, you absolutely MUST get at least one extra attack for your Attack action somewhere in your progression, doubling your offense. This becomes ESPECIALLY important with Action Surge in play, in which case you can get AT LEAST four attacks (!) on your surprise round nova.

If you're keeping score, this means that the True Assassin comes online at character level 8 if you're going strictly Fighter/Rogue, or character level 10 if you're going the Paladin, Ranger or Warlock route.

(And yes, for completion's sake, Barbarian 5 or Bard (Valor) 6 would also get you Extra Attack, but let's face it, True Assassins have no reason to take levels in those classes. Paladin, Ranger and Warlock, on the other hand, do have goods to offer.)

Skills of the True Assassin

You'll start with two proficiencies by default from the Fighter, plus any from your race and background. When you multiclass Rogue, you'll get to take another skill proficiency. For the sake of not wasting anyone's time, and since skill proficiencies are a highly limited resource, and since you're a specialized profession, we're just going to list the skills you should really consider at all.

  • Stealth (DEX): Obviously essential. You'll have to get this from your race or background, or failing that pick this up when you multiclass to Rogue. Most of your surprise rounds will be set up by staying hidden against an enemy's Perception skill. As such, you will also definitely want to apply Expertise to this one.
  • Perception (WIS): This is on the Fighter class list, and you should definitely take this one to start. You don't want to fall for your own medicine, and group checks involving this skill are quite common, so proficiency here keeps you from being a liability.
  • Deception (CHA): This is practically your "social Stealth." As such, consider it necessary, and you'll want to Expertise it as well. You'll need to pick this up from race, background or Rogue multiclass. Depending on how you play it in such social situations, you might be able to set up surprise-round assassinations if you beat your quarry's Insight.
  • Acrobatics (DEX): This is on the Fighter class list, so it's a good choice to start. (Also on the Rogue's.) Comes in handy for countering grapples and shoves, and is used in many cases as the DEX alternative to Athletics.
  • Insight (WIS): Also on the Fighter (and Rogue) class list, and will typically oppose Deception and other attempts from people to lie. Another one of those skills you take to not fall for your own medicine.

Anything else is either "nice to have" or pretty much a complete waste.

Backgrounds of the True Assassin

Ideally, you'll be able to customize your background and just get your pick of the skills above. If you must work with the pregenerated Player's Handbook backgrounds, here are the choices that matter. Note that ALL of the backgrounds that matter will have at least one of Stealth or Deception, which is very important.

  • Charlatan: Deception, plus Sleight of Hand can be useful if you need to slip poison in someone's drink, or something. False Identity comes in very handy if you need to go incognito for your dirty work. Disguise kit proficiency essentially works out to an eventual free tool proficiency of your choice, since the Assassin archetype also gives you that proficiency.
  • Criminal/Spy: Deception and Stealth. Boom. Also thematically perfect. Need I say more? How about thieves' tools proficiency? When you multiclass Rogue, this background makes it so getting the thieves' tools from that turns into a free tool proficiency of your choice elsewhere. Criminal Contact can also come in handy.
  • Urchin: Stealth, plus Sleight of Hand can come in handy. City Secrets can be good for exploration, plus again, that thieves' tools proficiency eventually works out to just a free tool proficiency of your choice. For that matter, so does the disguise kit.

Attributes of the True Assassin

  1. Dexterity: Your everything. Start it at 16 or 17 and get it to 20 as soon as you can. Governs your attack, your damage, your Stealth, your Armor Class and your initiative.
  2. Charisma: Governs Deception, so you'll want a solid score here. If you plan to multiclass Paladin or Warlock you'll need at least a 13 here (you'll likely want about a 12-14 to start regardless); Paladin in particular benefits from a higher CHA than that.
  3. Constitution: Everyone wants more hit points, and you're no exception. CON saves are also the most targeted in the game, and failing those can be nasty. If you don't need anything else for multiclassing, put any points not dedicated to DEX or CHA here.
  4. Wisdom: You can probably get away with a 10 in most cases, but you certainly don't want to dump it entirely, since failing WIS saves, which are fairly common, can be very, very bad. It also governs Perception and Insight. If you want to multiclass Ranger, you need a 13 here.
  5. Strength: Most Assassin builds can dump this with little consequence. The only Assassins that care about this at all are those who want to multiclass Paladin, in which case they'll need this at 13. It is well worth that price of admission, though.
  6. Intelligence: No Assassin needs this. Dump it.
[h=3]III. Class Options[/h]
Once you've accounted for the necessary Fighter 2/Rogue 3 and Extra Attack somewhere, there's several paths to the way of the True Assassin.

Fighter (past 2): The Fighter class has much to offer beyond the necessary 2 levels to get Action Surge. Besides what's listed below, another major selling point of more Fighter levels is more ability score increases (which can also be feats) than any other class. Aside from the standard 4/8/12/16/19 progression, you also get an extra one each at Fighter levels 6 and 14.

  • Combat Superiority (Lv. 3, Battle Master): Four d8 Superiority Dice and your choice of three maneuvers to start. Thing about Superiority Dice is that they get doubled on those delicious auto-crits like all other damage dice, making Battle Master the archetype of choice for True Assassins.
    Recommended Maneuvers:
    Trip Attack: Melee or ranged. Knocking the enemy on its rear is one of the best things you can do. If you're using this as a ranged attack, however, save this for the last attack in your sequence so you don't get disadvantage.
    Precision Attack: Melee or ranged. Sometimes you just want to hit, rather than deal the extra die in damage. The fact you can apply this after your attack roll makes this very useful, indeed. Did a particular attack roll you made look bad? Use this.
    Menacing Attack: Melee or ranged. If they're not immune to fear, make them scared to approach you! If they're even alive after your surprise nova.
    Distracting Strike: Melee or ranged. Good for setting up advantage for an ally if Trip Attack doesn't work (because the enemy is bigger than Large).
    Maneuvering Attack: Melee or ranged. Free surprise-round movement for an ally is good to enable while doing your dirty work.
    Feinting Attack: Melee (practical). This is one for the single-weapon duelists with a high number of Rogue levels and a Sneak Attack high enough to make this useful. Don't use this for an alpha strike, but on subsequent rounds this can be worthy to get Sneak Attack damage when you otherwise couldn't.
  • Extra Attack (1) (Lv. 5): The quickest way for a True Assassin to get to the needed 2 attacks/action, although not the preference for every build.
  • Extra Attack (2) (Lv. 11): Only 11 Fighter levels can get you three attacks per Attack action, and this represents yet another big boost to not only baseline damage, but an Action Surge nova. Works equally well for melee or ranged, making this the most versatile damage boost of those beyond the first Extra Attack.
  • Action Surge (2/short rest) (Lv. 17): A second use of your premier nova ability per short rest is as solid as anything.

Rogue (past 3): The biggest reason to take Rogue levels past 3 is a stronger Sneak Attack, but you also get some neat abilities in addition along the way. Honestly, though, True Assassins shouldn't take any more than 9 Rogue levels. 11 Fighter levels for a third attack, or a high number of Paladin levels for more spell slots to Smite with, are much better for damage-dealing purposes.

  • Uncanny Dodge (Lv. 5): Cutting one hit's damage every round in half with your reaction goes a long way toward survival in combat.
  • Expertise II (Lv. 6): Two more proficient skills get double proficiency. (Or even Thieves’ Tools.)
  • Evasion (Lv. 7): Since you started as a Fighter, you won't make your DEX saves to nullify damage entirely quite as often as an actual Rogue with DEX save proficiency. But even on a failed save, the damage gets cut in half, so this is still very much awesome.

Paladin: If you prefer doing your dirty work in melee, there is nothing better than taking levels of this class. Once you get over the relatively minor hurdle of a little MAD (STR 13 and CHA 13 required), you'll find yourself possessing a wide array of tools that add more damage dice, making your surprise-round novas absolutely scream. However, if you are forced to do your work from range (because of enemy blindsight and truesight), this class' main damage features (Divine Smite and Improved Divine Smite namely) are diminished considerably. You do have spells that add damage dice, however, so it's not a complete waste even then.

  • Fighting Style (Lv. 2): Not nearly as good as the Fighter's or Ranger's options for the Assassin trade, since the Paladin doesn't offer Archery or Two-Weapon Fighting. Best to either take Dueling in case you get stuck with only a single melee weapon, or Defense for the free +1 AC.
  • Divine Smite (Lv. 2) (MELEE ONLY): The cornerstone of the Paladin's burst damage, so long as you're in melee. The damage dice from this are doubled like all others, making your surprise-round novas scream. Gets better as you take more Paladin levels and get more and higher spell slots to burn.
  • Spellcasting / 1st-level spells (Lv. 2): Some spells here can add more damage dice for a bigger nova on top of Divine Smite.
    Recommended Spells:
    Divine Favor: 1d4 extra damage on all hits, works on ranged attacks as well. This can add up very quickly on a surprise nova with Action Surge, where all those d4s get doubled. If you dual-wield, cast this the round before you approach your target so you get your off-hand buffed from this, too. (You typically want to do that with all bonus-action spells that add damage.)
    Thunderous Smite: Melee only, 2d6 extra damage is nearly that of a 1st-level Divine Smite and stacks on top of that. And it gets doubled on your surprise nova crits, too. Good to use early in your Paladin progression.
  • Sacred Weapon (Lv. 3, Oath of Devotion): If you absolutely, positively need to hit your target, this is as good as it gets ... with some giant caveats. You need to find a place to hide that won't let any light out before using this (for example, a closet or unoccupied room or small alcove away from your target), otherwise your bright shining weapon will give you away. Once you cast this, sheathe your weapon (it stays active as long as you're carrying it) until you can approach your target and strike.
  • Vow of Enmity (Lv. 3, Oath of Vengeance): Not as valuable for you as for a straight Paladin of Vengeance, since Assassinate also gives you advantage, but this is still good to have on reserve if you're forced to fight face-to-face.
  • 1st-level Oath spells (Lv. 3): Vengeance wins pretty cleanly on Oath spells for damage purposes, and 1st level is no exception.
    Hunter's Mark: Adds 1d6 to all hits, which is more than Divine Favor. Gets doubled on your surprise nova, too, and works for melee or ranged. Cast the round before approach.
  • Extra Attack / 2nd-level spells (Lv. 5): You get the all-important Extra Attack and 2nd-level spells at Paladin 5. A big level.
    Recommended Spells:
    Branding Smite: Amazingly, this Smite spell works with a ranged weapon, so if you're forced to strike from ranged, consider this one. 2d6 extra damage dice that double on surprise round, and it can be upcast with higher slots for more damage. Stack with a Divine Smite for more goodness. Cast the round before approach.
  • Aura of Protection (Lv. 6): Arguably the signature of the Paladin class, CHA-modifier to not only all of your saves, but to any allies' saves within 10 feet.
  • Aura of Devotion (Lv. 7, Oath of Devotion): Straight-up immunity to charm, spreads to allies within 10 feet.
  • 3rd-level spells (Lv. 9): A big level for spells, especially if you went Vengeance.
    Recommended Spells:
    Blinding Smite: Melee only, 3d8 extra damage, doubling on your auto-crits like everything else. Oh, and yes, it blinds the target on a failed CON save. Cast round before approach.
    Crusader's Mantle: If you're leading a team of True Assassins, there is nothing finer. Imagine d4s on all hits from you and your team, all of them doubled! Even if you don't have a team of True Assassins, this is really good for your mundane attackers and any summoned creatures. Works melee or ranged.
    Elemental Weapon: If your weapon is nonmagical, it's a +1 to hit and +1d4 to all your hits (which, again, double on your auto-crits). Works with ranged weapons, too. Don’t use this if you’re wielding a magical weapon.
    Haste: An extra attack with all the other damage dice Paladins can get on each surprise-round crit is just gross, and it also helps you in any remaining fighting after the surprise round. Also very clearly the spell of choice if you're forced to deal from range. Just remember to cast the round before you approach so you get the benefit of all attacks on your surprise round.
  • Aura of Courage (Lv. 10): Straight-up immunity to fear, spreads to allies within 10 feet.
  • Improved Divine Smite (Lv. 11) (MELEE ONLY): The Paladin's Lv. 11 damage boost is especially impressive for Assassins who work in melee. The 1d8 — yes, doubled on all crits — gets added to ALL melee attacks. In the hands of a dual-wielder, this feature can actually lead to more damage on a surprise nova round than the Fighter's third attack does, considering Assassins use rapiers or shortswords in melee at most. If only this feature worked at range, it'd be absolutely perfect.
  • 4th-level spells (Lv. 13): Most Paladin True Assassins will stop here, as it's the highest spell level they can get, and their Lv. 14-16 features do not help the profession much. Mostly, you'll use this spell level for your one maximum Divine Smite (5d8, doubled on crit) per day.

Ranger: Some good stuff going this multiclass route if you prefer to work from range in particular. Remember to have a 13 WIS if you want to go here.

  • Fighting Style (Lv 2): All the likely Assassin styles are there — Archery, Two-Weapon Style and Dueling. Pick one of those if you want a little more versatility in how you kill, or take Defense for the +1 boost to AC.
  • Spellcasting / 1st-level spells (Lv. 2): One spell in particular should be catching your eye, and that is Hunter's Mark. 1D6 extra damage on all attacks that gets doubled on crit. Cast it the round before you strike if you have bonus action attacks.
  • Colossus Slayer (Lv. 3, Hunter): This is why you'd go Hunter as a True Assassin. 1D8 once per round against an already wounded enemy, which will kick in on the surprise nova (and get doubled) as long as you hit with at least two attacks during your sequence.
  • Extra Attack / 2nd-level spells (Lv. 5): The necessary Extra Attack plus, I guess, more slots to cast Hunter's Mark with. (Well, some Ranger utility spells here are really good, but don't directly help your surprise nova, so I'll leave mentions there to the Ranger guide.)
  • 3rd-level spells (Lv. 9): Some really good spells here for the Ranger, although none are particularly noteworthy for your surprise nova.
  • Volley (Lv. 11, Hunter): Easily the better of the two Multiattack choices here, even if you do prefer melee otherwise. Gives you an interesting nova option when surprising a large group of enemies. Shower them all with attacks that all have their damage dice doubled on crits, and then Action Surge for a double tap of crits against all of them.

Warlock: One particular spell is a big prize for the surprise-round nova and is available from the first level you dip here. CHA 13 required. If you want an actual predominantly spellcasting Assassin, you'll want to advance pretty far here.

  • Pact Magic (1 slot/short rest, 1st-level) (Lv. 1): Take this to get Hex to deal 1d6 extra damage on all attacks, that yet again all get doubled on a surprise nova's crits. This also can reduce the enemy's initiative thanks to the penalty to ability checks. Even with just 1 Warlock level, that matches the number of Action Surges you get every short rest, so that'll do just fine.
  • 2 slots/short rest, 1st-level (Lv. 2): Cast another Hex between short rests. You don't get a third slot until Lv. 11, which may be farther than you want from this class.
  • 2nd-level spells/slots (Lv. 3): Invisibility is a very nice spell to learn for your trade, basically allowing you to Hide anywhere.
  • Pact Boon (Lv. 3): Take whatever pleases, although if you want Thirsting Blade at Lv. 5, to get your Extra Attack that way, take Pact of the Blade.
  • Thirsting Blade (Pact of the Blade) / 3rd-level spells/slots (Lv. 5): Thirsting Blade is the way to get Extra Attack via 5 Warlock levels. 3rd-level spells come at this level, too.
  • 4th-level spells/slots (Lv. 7)
  • 5th-level spells/slots (Lv. 9): The power of your slots maxes out here.
  • Mystic Arcanum (6th-level) / 3 slots/short rest (Lv. 11): Finally get a third slot, along with one 6th-level spell per day. Nice.
  • Lifedrinker (Lv. 12, Pact of the Blade): It's a static bonus, so it doesn't get multiplied on your auto-crits, but what the heck, it's damage, so take it if you made it this far in the class.
  • Mystic Arcanum (7th-level) (Lv. 13)

[h=3]IV. Races[/h]
Common races

Dwarf (Any): Nope. Stat bonuses don't match, in any case, and there's nothing to really make up for it.
Elf (High): Only the +2 DEX bonus, Darkvision and automatic Perception proficiency are at all relevant. The INT bonus and the INT-based cantrip sure aren't.
Elf (Wood): Now we're talking. Gets the +2 DEX and automatic Perception proficiency all Elves get, the +1 WIS isn't a waste since it's a needed save, and the extra speed and Stealth in lightly obscured areas are huge.
Elf (Drow): Stats all in the right places with +2 DEX and +1 CHA, plus the usual Perception. Farther-reaching Darkvision than other Elves, too, for better night operation, although Sunlight Sensitivity can be a pain during the day. With a decent CHA you can even make use of the innate Drow spells to a degree.
Halfling (Lightfoot): +2 DEX and +1 CHA, and Small size doesn't hurt considering your typical Sneak Attack weapons are all fair game. Lucky protecting you from that dreaded natural 1 is also great. Only weakness is lack of Darkvision. Lightfoot lets you Stealth whenever a Medium ally can obscure you.
Halfling (Stout): Replaces the +1 CHA with +1 CON, and the Stealth boost with resistance to poison. Still pretty good, if not quite as good as Lightfoot at the assassination trade.
Human (Stock): Meh. +1 to all stats and nothing else, especially when the bottom of them are likely to go to waste, is unimpressive.
Human (Variant): This version of the Human, on the other hand, is fantastic for anything in the game, and assassination is no exception. The bonus feat makes this race, letting you get an ability at Lv. 1 many other characters would have to wait until at least Lv. 12 to get. Free skill proficiency of your choice is also great. And you get two floating +1 bonuses to put where you need to (DEX and probably CHA in your case). Only weakness at all is lack of Darkvision.

Uncommon races

Dragonborn: Nothing other than a +1 CHA helps you remotely in the Assassin's trade. Doesn't even get Darkvision.
Gnome (Any): +2 to INT is a total waste. Pass.
Half-Elf: Arguably the best at the job. +2 to CHA and two +1 bonuses to put anywhere else you want (obviously one of those goes to DEX). Darkvision to help you on those night missions. And two free skill proficiencies of your choice. The total package for the True Assassin.
Half-Orc: Despite no real relevant stat bonuses (except STR helping to qualify for Paladin multiclass), this race doesn't totally suck at murder. Darkvision's there, and extra damage on all crits from Savage Attacks is pretty nice.
Tiefling: Another +INT race. Generally pass, although +2 CHA and Darkvision help a little. Still, you can do better.

[h=3]V. Feats[/h]
Most True Assassins will likely wind up an ability increase/feat short of your typical single-class characters. Thus, judicious picking of feats is especially critical, although you'll probably have more options than most if you stick strictly to Fighter and Rogue levels.

Alert: If you can't get a surprise round, you at least want to make sure you go first so you can stilll get advantage the first round of combat, if nothing else. This feat all but guarantees that will happen. A prime pick for Assassins, for sure.
Crossbow Expert: If you're working from range, this is a prime choice. Getting a bonus-action attack from dual-wielding two hand crossbows helps your surprise round damage all that much more, and ignoring the loading quality means you'll get all the attacks expected of you when using crossbows. Perfect.
Dual Wielder: Arguable whether an average of +1 damage (+2 on crits) from upgrading from 2 shortswords to 2 rapiers is worth it. But it doesn't really hurt, either, as long as you maxed out your DEX first.
Magic Initiate: If you don't want to dip Warlock levels to pick up Hex, then consider this alternative. You only get one casting of that spell per day in this case, but that can be useful for that one big surprise nova you want to really make hurt.
Sharpshooter: A great choice if you work primarily from range. Removing disadvantage from long range lets you snipe reliably from wherever you please practically (like well out of everyone's blindsight or truesight ranges), and ignoring anything short of total cover is also sweet. The hit-for-damage trade is good sometimes (namely, if you're forced into straight combat), but not so good for a surprise nova, since you don't get static bonuses multiplied on crits or any other time.
Skulker: Terrific for a pure Rogue (Assassin) who only ever gets one attack on their Attack action. For you, on the other hand, not quite as necessary, since you're bound to hit at least once with as many attacks as you'll put out on a surprise nova. Hiding in light obscurity is nice, though, if you're not already a Wood Elf.

[h=3]VI. Equipment[/h]
Coming soon.

[h=3]VII. FAQ[/h]
Coming soon.

[h=3]VIII. Builds and Combos[/h]
All of the class and level combinations below have at least four ability score increases (or feats). You really do not want to dip below that.

(Note: All Fighter levels beyond 3 are of the Battle Master archetype, all Rogue levels beyond 3 are of the Assassin archetype, and all Ranger levels beyond 3 are of the Hunter archetype.)

Fighter 17/Rogue 3

  • 6 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, Action Surge 2/short rest, 6 Superiority Dice (d10s), 2d6 Sneak Attack

Surprise nova round damage, Lv. 20

+11 vs. AC 20, w/ advantage = .84
Action Surge (3 attacks/action), 2 shortswords or hand crossbows (via Crossbow Expert) (1 bonus action attack) = 7 attacks

Per hit (auto-crit) damage:
+2d6 (7) shortsword/hand crossbow crit
+2d10 (11) Superiority Dice crit (6 attacks only)

Once per round damage:
+4d6 (14) Sneak Attack crit

6*(.84*23) + (.84*12) + (1-.16^7)*14
= 140

Fighter 12/Rogue 8

  • 6 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, Uncanny Dodge, Expertise II, Evasion, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 4d6 Sneak Attack

Fighter 11/Rogue 9

  • 5 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, Uncanny Dodge, Expertise II, Evasion, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 5d6 Sneak Attack

Surprise nova round damage, Lv. 20

+11 vs. AC 20, w/ advantage = .84
Action Surge (3 attacks/action), 2 shortswords or hand crossbows (via Crossbow Expert) (1 bonus action attack) = 7 attacks

Per hit (auto-crit) damage:
+2d6 (7) shortsword/hand crossbow crit
+2d10 (11) Superiority Dice crit (5 attacks only)

Once per round damage:
+10d6 (35) Sneak Attack crit

5*(.84*23) + 2*(.84*12) + (1-.16^7)*35
= 151.76

Fighter 11/Rogue 3/Paladin (Vengeance) 6

  • 4 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, Divine Smite, 2nd-level spells/slots, Aura of Protection

Surprise nova round damage, Lv. 20

Using Hunter’s Mark + 1 2nd-level Divine Smite
+11 vs. AC 20, w/ advantage = .84
Action Surge (3 attacks/action), 2 shortswords (1 bonus action attack) = 7 attacks

Per hit (auto-crit) damage:
+2d6 (7) shortsword crit
+2d6 (7) Hunter’s Mark crit
+2d10 (11) Superiority Dice crit (5 attacks only)

Once per round damage:
+4d6 (14) Sneak Attack crit
+6d8 (27) 2nd-level Divine Smite crit

5*(.84*30) + 2*(.84*19) + (1-.16^7)*41
= 198.92

Fighter 4/Rogue 3/Paladin (Vengeance) 13

  • 4 ASIs/feats, 2 attacks/Attack action, 4 Superiority Dice (d8s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, Divine Smite, 4th-level spells/slots, Aura of Protection, Aura of Courage, Improved Divine Smite

Surprise nova round damage, Lv. 20

"Conservative" nova (using Hunter’s Mark + 1 4th-level Divine Smite)
+11 vs. AC 20, w/ advantage = .84
Action Surge (2 attacks/action), 2 shortswords (1 bonus action attack) = 5 attacks

Per hit (auto-crit) damage:
+2d6 (7) shortsword crit
+2d8 (9) Improved Divine Smite crit
+2d6 (7) Hunter’s Mark crit
+2d8 (9) Superiority Dice crit (4 attacks only)

Once per round damage:
+4d6 (14) Sneak Attack crit
+10d8 (45) 4th-level Divine Smite crit

4*(.84*37) + (.84*28) + (1-.16^5)*59
= 206.83

"All out" nova (Hunter’s Mark + Divine Smite on each hit, burning 1 4th-level, 3 3rd-level, 1 2nd-level)
+11 vs. AC 20, w/ advantage = .84
Action Surge (2 attacks/action), 2 shortswords (1 bonus action attack) = 5 attacks

Per hit (auto-crit) damage:
+2d6 (7) shortsword crit
+2d8 (9) Improved Divine Smite crit
+2d6 (7) Hunter’s Mark crit
+2d8 (9) Superiority Dice crit (4 attacks only)
+8d8 (36) Divine Smite crits (averages to a 3rd-level Smite, taking the one 4th and one 2nd into account)

Once per round damage:
+4d6 (14) Sneak Attack crit

4*(.84*73) + (.84*64) + (1-.16^5)*14
= 313.04

Fighter 4/Rogue 3/Paladin (Devotion) 12/Warlock 1

  • 4 ASIs/feats, 2 attacks/Attack action, 4 Superiority Dice (d8s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, Divine Smite, Sacred Weapon, 3rd-level spells/slots, Aura of Protection, Aura of Devotion, Aura of Courage, Improved Divine Smite, Hex 1/short rest

Fighter 12/Rogue 3/Ranger 5

  • 5 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, 2nd-level spells/slots, Hunter's Mark, Colossus Slayer

Fighter 11/Rogue 5/Ranger 4

  • 5 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 3d6 Sneak Attack, Uncanny Dodge, 1st-level spells/slots (3/day), Hunter's Mark, Colossus Slayer

Fighter 6/Rogue 3/Ranger 11

  • 4 ASIs/feats, 2 attacks/Attack action, 4 Superiority Dice (d8s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, 3rd-level spells/slots, Hunter's Mark, Colossus Slayer, Volley

Fighter 12/Rogue 7/Warlock 1

  • 5 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, Uncanny Dodge, Expertise II, Evasion, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 4d6 Sneak Attack, Hex 1/short rest

Fighter 12/Rogue 5/Warlock 3

  • 5 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, Uncanny Dodge, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 3d6 Sneak Attack, Hex, Invisibility, 2nd-level spells/slots (2/short rest)

Fighter 12/Rogue 3/Warlock 5

  • 5 ASIs/feats, 3 attacks/Attack action, 5 Superiority Dice (d10s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, Hex, Invisibility, 3rd-level spells/slots (2/short rest)

Fighter 4/Rogue 3/Warlock (Pact of the Blade) 13

  • 4 ASIs/feats, 2 attacks/Attack action (via Thirsting Blade), 4 Superiority Dice (d8s), 2d6 Sneak Attack, Hex, Invisibility, 5th-level spells/slots (3/short rest), 6th-level spell (1/day), Lifedrinker, 7th-level spell (1/day)

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First Post
This is great work.

A suggestion for an assassin taking Ranger levels: the Pass Without Trace spell gives +10 to Dexterity (Stealth) checks, and ensures the caster (and companions) can't be tracked, except by magical means.

Great for getting into a camp, fort, etc., unseen (except by the local wizard, of course), and giving a better chance for the all-important Surprise Round.


First Post
Based on posts by Jeremy Crawford on Sage Advice, the Assassinate ability only kicks in if you beat your target's initiative in the surprise round, even if they are unaware of you when the combat starts. This makes the Alert feat almost gold for players that want the most out of this ability. You will want to maximize your initiative modifier in any way you can (e.g. Weapon of Warning).

Check out the section on surprise within the latest Sage Advice Compendium:


EDIT: This isn't actually new. Mike Mearls made a similar statement a couple of months ago, but it seems that Jeremy has confirmed the ruling.
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Yeah, pretty much. Even before that ruling I was close to rating it gold anyway. The Sage Advice also pretty much shoehorns every Assassin-based build, pure or MC, into being DEX-primary.

(I'm not updating this one, by the way. I might write a more focused Assassin guide later on, though.)


rogue 12/fighter 8.

you get 7 feats and 6d6 sneak attack, 2 attacks, no fail skills,

feats: alert, sharpshooter, skulker, observant, lucky, and +4 dex


First Post
Elemental Monk 15/Fighter 2/Assassin 3.

Fangs of the Fire Snake nova + Action Surge + Assassinate.
12d8 - 6 crit attacks (Action surge, 2 ki for flurry)
12d10 - 6 crit FotFS bonus damage (9 ki)
+30 - ability mod
= 126 fire damage

Being able to do that at 15ft reach is pretty sweet
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rogue 12/fighter 8.

you get 7 feats and 6d6 sneak attack, 2 attacks, no fail skills,

feats: alert, sharpshooter, skulker, observant, lucky, and +4 dex

If you want guaranteed high ability checks, add bard 2. Leave fighter at 6 or even fighter at 5 and bard at 3. Jack of all trades and rogue reliable talent work together which with alert will make your initiative check at least 23 at level 20. With cutting words you will beat everyone's initiative reliably. Maybe even be bard 6 and fighter 2 so you have action surge and magical secrets for haste or hunter's mark. No battlemaster dice though.
You could also be champion for remarkable athlete to make your initiative quite unfailable. Criting outside surprise rounds at 19 and 20 is a nice added benefit.

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