By Nick Langley - September 11, 2009
Yeah, Baby! The Assassin! I’ve been waiting for this guy since the launch of 4th Edition. I kept expecting to see an announcement of the Assassin for the Player’s Handbook 3, but instead they feature the whole class in Dragon Magazine #379! This thing isn’t like a beta test that they’ve done for previous classes. There are build options, lots of powers, and a ton of feats. This is a fully functioning class.
This is the Assassin re-imagined. The Battlestar Galactica of D&D classes. It’s more of a rebirth than a revision. Assassin’s live, stalk, and strike through the shadows and that is not a metaphor. It’s the source of their power. You’ve seen Arcane, Divine, Primal, and even a glimpse of Psionic. These guys use the Shadow power source. It’s completely unique just to them. Guess that’s how cool they are.
This is their Sneak Attack. It’s basically “Study Target” but with a really cool name and a strong visual. The Assassin can apply a new shroud to a single target as a free action once each round and the effect can stack up to four times. A single shroud adds an extra 1d6 damage dealt with the Assassin’s next attack if they choose to expend it. If you do the math that’s an extra 4d6 damage. This bonus increases to 1d6+3 at level 11 and 1d6+6 at level 21. So at level 21, this deals and extra 4d6+24 damage to a single target. It’s a ton of extra damage. You might wonder what the incentive to keeping the shroud instead of using it up every round. First of all, if you miss with an attack that you use the shrouds for, you just deal damage as if there was one less shroud on the target (so if it’s just a single shroud you’d deal no extra damage). There are also a lot of powers that give bonuses for how many shrouds you have on a target.
This key class feature does the Assassin so much more justice than Death Attack ever did. For one, it’s a much cooler name. It’s also not just a slight variation on the Rogue’s Sneak Attack. Assassin’s Shroud is a special mechanic that rewards the player for having some patience when they want to make their big strike, much like an Assassin might when they kill a target.
The traditional 4th Edition choice of getting an odd little bonus and depending on which bonus you choose it also grants you bonuses that are unique for certain powers you might choose.
Bleak Disciple: You get temporary hit points from hitting unbloodied targets. Survivability is cool and all, but for a striker? Color me uninterested.
Night Stalker: You gain a bonus to damage rolls equal to your Charisma modifier against targets that aren’t adjacent to your enemies. Now this is what I’m talking about. An Assassin that picks off the stragglers.
This is a powerful ability and essential to what the Assassin does. This is perfectly handy in combat, but what makes me excited are the out of combat implications. You basically get in a shadow to become a shadow for as long as you want to sustain it or until you attack. I bet this is deadly when used with Shadow Step…
An at-will power that lets you teleport from one shadow into another as a movement action. This changes how I would think in combat. I would always try to position myself next to targets to I could make a quick escape without provoking Opportunity Attacks.
All of these are really great, especially considering these are the “out of the box” at-will powers that haven’t been added through supplemental books. The two that stood out to me the most are Inescapable Blade and Executioner’s Noose.
Inescapable Blade: A melee attack with an extended reach that ignores cover. The only drawback is that it deals only unmodified weapon damage. It’s such a strong visual (Here’s a quote from the description: “Your weapon’s shadow closes the distance, and mundane obstacles do not slow it”) that just fits the Assassin really well.
Executioner’s Noose: A ranged attack that hits target with a shadowy noose that deals damage, pulls them towards you, and causes them to be slowed until the end of your next turn. You can also just imagine the look of a big shadowy noose coming out of an Assassin’s hand to strangle and drag their enemy. My only beef with this super cool ability is that it might be a little overpowered with the Slowed effect getting thrown in.
I won’t go too in depth with the Assassin’s powers yet because this is only the Heroic Tier they’ve release. So far this stuff is very interesting. A lot of powers play on the Assassin’s Shroud ability and get special modifications from what kind of Guild Training you might have chosen. The utility powers are probably what excite me the most, because almost all of them play upon the idea of super stealth.
Heroic Tier Feats
I’m just going to address a few individual feats that I found interesting…
Dawn Hunter Training: Elven Accuracy allows you to reroll all damage for an attack instead of rerolling an attack roll. The best part? You choose the higher of the two, not just the second roll like you so often see with these kinds of abilities. On a more subtle note: Dawn Hunter? Is this an Elven faction of Assassins? The name of this feat almost interests me more than the feat’s effects in and of itself.
Brutal Shroud: Allowing you to reroll the damage dice for Assassin’s Shroud until none of them show a 1 is WAY better than you might first think. This is basically at least a +1 damage bonus for each damage die rolled for Assassin’s Shroud, but what this is really great for is kicking up the average die you get for these damage rolls. This increases the chances of you getting a number above a 3 by 20%, giving you some really nice potential for higher numbers.
Venom Hand Master: Sounds like a title earned right? There’s a lot of that with these feats, which I totally dig. The Assassin ignores Poison Resistance and Immunity. Holy crap! This sounds crazy good, but it is kind of specific. How often do you run into Poison Resistance? Not that much but that’s probably why they made this feat so dang good.
Obsidian Cave Recovery: Actually makes a Dwarf Assassin a great choice. You recover the use of your Shade Form encounter power whenever you use Second Wind. This is even better than it sounds because there are some obscure abilities out there that recover uses of Second Wind. You could potentially use Shade Form three times during an encounter if you have the right combination of stuff.
Not A Conclusion
Though I’m very impressed with the polish of this class so far, I can’t come to a final verdict yet until they release the Paragon and Epic tiers for this class. So keep an eye out for Part 2 and Part 3 of The Assassin Rebirth!