What is a good 5e build for a 'Sniper'

Aebir-Toril

When life gives you Lenin, make Leninade!
Any ideas? I was considering a simple, Fighter 1/Assassin Rogue X Variant Human with the Sharpshooter feat.

What are your suggestions for a 'Sniper' (One shot, one kill!) character build?
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
There's only so much you can do to pump the damage on a single ranged shot. You've got your backstab pool, your base damage die, you spell die (Hunter's mark etc) plus maybe another die from battle master or some such. Plus the -5/+10 from SS. Mostly the nova damage on ranged builds comes from multiple shots.

At 20th that ends up looking something like 20d6 + 2d10 + 2d6 + 2d8 + 15. So average of just over 100? That's about as badass as a single shot gets. I'm sure someone can add a wrinkle or two I'm forgetting (and please forgive my crayon on a napkin math there, just a rough estimate).
 

CapnZapp

Hero
What are your suggestions for a 'Sniper' (One shot, one kill!) character build?
My main advice:

Realizing that in a levels and hit point based game like D&D you will seldom, if ever, actually pull off any one shot kills.

(Where the enemy dies going full hp to zero in one hit. Doing five-shot, three-shot and even two-shot kills is another story)

Once you accept that, you should have much better luck, whatever build you end up with.

Good gaming!
 
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Esker

Explorer
You can get slightly better mileage from warlock levels than additional assassin levels (after assassin 3) using pact of the blade + improved pact weapon + eldritch smite) for a few shots, but it's not worth trading away the round after round sneak attack damage for a few more points when you use a spell slot, IMO. Plus it sets you back ASIs, which you will want (DEX, sharpshooter, alert; elven accuracy would be helpful too, but then you can't be human).

In any case, I agree with other posters that you will not get OHKs against targets that matter, so you'd be better off focusing on single turn burst damage rather than maximizing a single shot. You can always narrate multiple attacks as a single one for more of that sniper feel.
 

Aebir-Toril

When life gives you Lenin, make Leninade!
Thanks for the advice [MENTION=6966824]Esker[/MENTION], [MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION], and [MENTION=6993955]Fenris-77[/MENTION]
 

Esker

Explorer
If you are on board with having your damage spread out over multiple attacks, then you want Fighter 5 for action surge and extra attack, probably going battlemaster so you can layer on some additional dice (even with advantage, you'll likely need precision attack not infrequently if using sharpshooter, and you may want something like menacing attack in case you don't manage to finish the job in your first turn, so the creature can't approach you; maybe trip attack to use on your last attack if you have melee allies who will be able to go between you and the target).

Alert is essential for an assassin, since you have to beat the target in initiative. And crossbow expert coupled with extra attack and action surge gives you six shots on that key first turn. So I'd probably aim for Fighter 6 / Assassin 4 at level 10. Then three levels of Ranger for Gloomstalker goodies (additional initiative bonus, plus yet another attack with extra damage in the first round), and a nice feature to help you surprise creatures relying on darkvision. And at that point, another level of ranger gives you another ASI. So at level 14 you're up to five feats/ASIs if variant human: alert, crossbow expert, sharpshooter, +4 DEX. Or you could take the ranger levels earlier, delaying crossbow expert and using hunter's mark as a substitute until you get it.
 
Assassain rogue X.

Be a wood elf. Take sharpshooter at level 4.

Darkvision is important for this character IMO. The extra movement speed is essential for the get away. Access to a longbow is also important.

fighter isn’t really needed as you’ll have advantage/surprise. Once your damage is sufficiently high you may do battlemaster 3 for precision attack or a d8 damage dice. But I’d take the rogue levels first.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Fish for crits.

Focus on stealth, grab something like 3-4 levels of monk (shadow) for minor illusion and pass without trace. Or just use skulker. You can hide as a bonus action, so you’ll be critting a lot more, and doubling that sneak attack damage.

You could also MC Hexblade Warlock or take 3 levels of champion for 19-20 crits, but champ seems like a big investment just for that.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Fighter is definitely needed IMO. Maybe not 6 levels worth to start, but synergizing action surge and multiple attacks is pretty key to a lot of assassin builds. I'd probably start F2 for the save proficiencies and surge, then go R3 for Assassin, and then move on from there. F2 - R3 - F3 is probably how I'd build the first 8 levels for an assassin. If you really want to prioritize your sneak attack pool then you could also just continue on in rogue. I'd probably continue in rogue after 8 either way to keep stacking sneak attack.

The Ranger 3 dip for gloomstalker isn't bad, but it comes at an ASI cost. I'd be more tempted to just replace the F5 with Ranger 5 than to dip both. Ranger 5 gets you the extra attack and the gloomstalker 1st round bonus/ambush goodies (and some spells). I wouldn't go any higher than 5 in Ranger though. It's a cool build, and I like the flex you get from a little bit of spellcasting (hunters mark and disguise self esp).

The sneak attack pool is great when things go your way and you get to nova stuff, but the extra attacks from the fighter or ranger will help in all those other situations where you don't get to carefully organize a surprise round. I think there's more to building a cool assassin than just stacking as many dice into the surprise round as possible, although that part is also fun.

*edit* hmm ... replace instances of F5 above with F6 - you want that ASI
 
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Esker

Explorer
Yeah, you definitely need action surge if you're building a first round ranged nova character. I'm assuming [MENTION=6795602]FrogReaver[/MENTION] was still optimizing that 1st attack, rather than the first turn, when he said you didn't need fighter. Though even then, you really don't want to miss, so if using sharpshooter, the +2 to hit from archery style is valuable also even with advantage. Wood elf would probably be my choice of race for the darkvision, access to elven accuracy, and mask of the wild, which I think probably outweighs the extra feat on balance, unless you are planning on Gloomstalker relatively early and planning for Skulker at some point, which make most of the wood elf's racial abilities redundant.

It sounds like [MENTION=6993955]Fenris-77[/MENTION] and I agree about the first 10 levels being Assassin 4 / Fighter 6, though I might rather go Rogue 4 right off the bat, then take fighter levels after that. You get your key ASIs a lot sooner that way (4, 8 and 10, instead of 7, 9 and 10), get your assassin identity online as soon as possible, and get an extra skill proficiency, which is nice. The CON saves from fighter aren't that critical since you're not making concentration saves, and action surge is worth more once you have some feat support behind it. But either way.

After that, let's compare Gloomstalker vs additional rogue levels. Ranger 1 is a dead level, which is rough, so you'd definitely rather have Rogue 5. Ranger 2 gets you Hunter's Mark, which is better than having Rogue 5 and 6, unless your bonus action is spoken for (but it probably isn't unless you've taken Crossbow Expert by then: if they're surprised you're hidden already, so you don't need to hide again; and if they're not surprised and you're not hidden, you get advantage anyway as long as you beat them in initiative). Then Ranger (Gloomstalker) 3 gives you another 1d8 plus additional hide-ability and initiative. Between Hunter's Mark and Dread Ambusher, when combined with action surge, you get more damage in that first round than crossbow expert (used with -5/+10) gives you (of course after that first round, crossbow expert is better). And of course, you can get the next ASI/feat at 14th level just as you would if you took more rogue levels. It's not until 16th that you're down. But even then, factoring in the initiative and invisibility to darkvision, and the ranger levels are probably worth it even if you never get crossbow expert. But that's from a perspective of aggressively optimizing that first round; the rogue levels and the feat have lots of other nice things that may well be worth more from the point of view of having a well rounded character.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Yes, [MENTION=6966824]Esker[/MENTION] and I are walking the same road here. :)

I think 2 levels of fighter are essential, as are the four levels of rogue. The other 4 levels of fighter are cool and come with great toys, and I would certainly go that route, but they are less essential to the build IMO, provided you are going to pick up a second attack somewhere else (Ranger, or whatever).

The question of where to start is interesting but not actually super critical. I'd never advise someone to not start rogue if they wanted that extra skill or thought it was essential for their build. That might be a big deal for a campaign that was going to be third pillar intensive, for example, which would mitigate for all the social skills you can get your hands on.

The nice thing about the assassin is depending on what kind of character you're building you can go just about any direction. A old-school assassin- paid killer, disguises, leaves a folded paper crane on every victim - can be built by just staying rogue. But you can do a heap of other fun stuff. Personally, I like a little magic in my assassin builds, and there are a number of ways to make that happen, Gloomstalker being a personal fav, but Sorcerer, Warlock, and Bard all have their MC uses. Ranger sounds like it might fit the vaguely special ops military feel of the OP, but you can really let your imagination run wild.
 

Aebir-Toril

When life gives you Lenin, make Leninade!
Yes, @Esker and I are walking the same road here. :)

I think 2 levels of fighter are essential, as are the four levels of rogue. The other 4 levels of fighter are cool and come with great toys, and I would certainly go that route, but they are less essential to the build IMO, provided you are going to pick up a second attack somewhere else (Ranger, or whatever).

The question of where to start is interesting but not actually super critical. I'd never advise someone to not start rogue if they wanted that extra skill or thought it was essential for their build. That might be a big deal for a campaign that was going to be third pillar intensive, for example, which would mitigate for all the social skills you can get your hands on.

The nice thing about the assassin is depending on what kind of character you're building you can go just about any direction. A old-school assassin- paid killer, disguises, leaves a folded paper crane on every victim - can be built by just staying rogue. But you can do a heap of other fun stuff. Personally, I like a little magic in my assassin builds, and there are a number of ways to make that happen, Gloomstalker being a personal fav, but Sorcerer, Warlock, and Bard all have their MC uses. Ranger sounds like it might fit the vaguely special ops military feel of the OP, but you can really let your imagination run wild.
After a bit of thought, I've decided that Gloom Stalker Ranger/Assassin Rogue/Way of Shadow Monk might work, but other options are not "off the table".

It is important for me to be able to cheese damage from one shot (one shot, one kill!) so Rogue, "crit-fishing", surprise, and getting advantage are all vital.
 

Esker

Explorer
After a bit of thought, I've decided that Gloom Stalker Ranger/Assassin Rogue/Way of Shadow Monk might work, but other options are not "off the table".

It is important for me to be able to cheese damage from one shot (one shot, one kill!) so Rogue, "crit-fishing", surprise, and getting advantage are all vital.
What do you think about the suggestion to narrate multiple hits as a single hit? Just roll all your d20s first, then roll the damage in a big fistful of d8s and d6s. You could treat the number of hits as the number of vital organs you manage to skewer, rather than the number of arrows that stick. I really do think otherwise you're only going to be able to one shot insignificant enemies most of the time: your crit damage on that one attack is scaling about 1d6 per level, with a couple of other boosts here and there (maybe an extra 1 or so per level on average through level 12, between sharpshooter and 2x ASIs) which is enough to keep up with a wizard PC with 12 CON. But monsters scale by CR not by PC level, and the hit die scaling is in the ballpark of 2 to 1 when comparing CR to level. So even with a thoroughly special-purpose optimized character, your single hit damage is going to fall further and further behind monsters' HP pools as you level.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Yup, D&D isn't built for PCs to be able to one shot equivalent level/CR stuff. If you're talking about mooks and mid-level minions it's more achievable. I think the narrative option is the best way to handle bigger targets.
 

Aebir-Toril

When life gives you Lenin, make Leninade!
What do you think about the suggestion to narrate multiple hits as a single hit? Just roll all your d20s first, then roll the damage in a big fistful of d8s and d6s. You could treat the number of hits as the number of vital organs you manage to skewer, rather than the number of arrows that stick. I really do think otherwise you're only going to be able to one shot insignificant enemies most of the time: your crit damage on that one attack is scaling about 1d6 per level, with a couple of other boosts here and there (maybe an extra 1 or so per level on average through level 12, between sharpshooter and 2x ASIs) which is enough to keep up with a wizard PC with 12 CON. But monsters scale by CR not by PC level, and the hit die scaling is in the ballpark of 2 to 1 when comparing CR to level. So even with a thoroughly special-purpose optimized character, your single hit damage is going to fall further and further behind monsters' HP pools as you level.
I am aware, and I'm willing to have the DM (if I ever get a chance to play, rather than DM) narrate multiple attacks as one.

The one-shot-kill aspect was part of the challenge for me, not part of the optimization.
 
After a bit of thought, I've decided that Gloom Stalker Ranger/Assassin Rogue/Way of Shadow Monk might work, but other options are not "off the table".

It is important for me to be able to cheese damage from one shot (one shot, one kill!) so Rogue, "crit-fishing", surprise, and getting advantage are all vital.
What does Gloom Stalker add to a sniper 1-shot-1-kill concept?
 

CapnZapp

Hero
The idea Rogues are better than other classes in killing enemies faster simply isn't true in D&D in general and 5E in particular.

If what you want to achieve is a "skulker quickly and silently disposing of isolated foes" you should not just look at Rogues.

Not to mention how that likely isn't compatible with the idea of D&D as a group activity.

For example, the Assassin subclass might come across as perfect. In actual play, however, we discovered it simply doesn't happen nearly as often as it needs to justify choosing the subclass. The other players simply aren't content staying back and letting the Rogue solo the encounter. And why should they? The point of D&D is to have fun together.

The inescapable truth is that the Rogue is not well designed and balanced.

It's abilities are still grounded in the "sneaking off and do your own thing" mindset. That mindset is spot on for a NPC catburglar working alone, but every PC works in a party as a team. I expect and demand every ability to work with this in mind, and the Rogue falls short more often than most other classes.

The other uncomfortable truth is that the Rogue pays a terrible price for its ability to keep sneak attacking all day long, and it's out-of-combat utility. It also must jump through more hoops than maybe any class to optimize fully (ie gain two sneak attacks per combat round)

I would have liked the 5E Rogue class much more if its sneak attack damage were simply doubled (+d6 every level instead of every other level) and the restriction was "once per round" instead of "once per turn".
 

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