Author Topic: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook  (Read 35575 times)

Offline Pluto

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The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
« Topic Start: December 03, 2012, 05:43:27 PM »
The Assassin Handbook
Poison, dynamite, mustachio and all




Quick heads-up: This is a guide to the 3.5 DMG PrC, NOT the PF version. If you're looking for help on that one, you'll probably be scratching your head in the spell-ish parts of this guide.

Please comment in the discussion thread over here
. Any comments would be welcome. :D


TABLE OF CONTENTS
          1: Intro/Recommended Reading/Entry
          BUILDING AN ASSASSIN
                  2: Abilities/Races/Templates
                  3: Classes and Dips
                  4: Feats
                  5: Spells
                  6: Items
                  7: Variant Assassins
          PLAYING AN ASSASSIN
                  8: Sneak Attack Mini-Guide
                  9: Death Attack Mini-Guide
                  See also: Poisons Handbook

RATINGS KEY

I'm going to try to keep this part simple:
  • Great: These are the entries that really stand out as powerful choices. They're hard to go wrong with, even if they occasionally fall into the "common ban" bin.
  • Good: If you don't have a plan and nothing else is catching your eye, these are typically safer bets.
  • Decent: These are entries that you should consider. They're relevant and useful, but not no-brainers.
  • Bad: Try to avoid these. I've tried to omit most subpar options from the guide, but I include a few when something's cool-but-terrible (eg. Heart Ripper) or a list is short enough that omitting entries would just be awkward (eg. core races, core Assassin spells, Psionic Assassin powers).
Got it? Nifty. Moving on:

WHY THIS HANDBOOK EXISTS

The first reason - the main reason - is to guide would-be Assassin players through the steps of building an assassin. I'm assuming the main reason you're reading this guide is for a bit of help structuring and narrowing you character-building decisions  and maybe to get a brief rundown on how the class works or how to put its abilities into action. Most of the guide is about building a character, picking races, spells and so forth, but the last two sections are brief rundowns on how to use Sneak Attack or Death Attack efficiently, mostly for newer players who aren't totally confident on how the features work, and who might think hanging out in the shadows for the first three rounds of combat is a viable tactic.

The second reason this guide exists is to give a rundown on what is actually available to the Assassin prestige class. Speaking for myself, before I began research for this handbook, I was aware that the Assassin had a ton of support in various splatbooks, but I wasn't sure what those added up to, or how strong an Assassin built out of full-bore book-diving would be. I've tried to address that by highlighting the best options from all those sources, giving slight descriptions of what things do, and filling the guide with citations.

The final reason this guide exists is to provide a point reference for builds interested in optimizing the Assassin class's concept, which may or may not include the Assassin class – Death attack, poisons and sneak attack gishing. This will go to the least depth, because much of the subject matter has been addressed in previous handbooks like Akalsaris's Poisons handbook and Iconoplast's Sneak Attacking Spellcasters guide, but I will try to link to relevant outside threads where necessary, and to go into other Death Attacking classes in the Death Attack miniguide.
 
WHY PLAY AN ASSASSIN

Let's just get it out there now: the Assassin is not the only way of building a magically-inclined sneak, and it is not the strongest way of doing it. That doesn't mean it can't hold its own ground, but as with most concepts, any comparably-themed build with level 9 spells will probably blow the lesser caster out of the water.

What the Assassin does provide is a concise package of sneak attack, stealthy abilities, and access to a unique array of spells not normally available from a single list. Its splatbook support overshadows almost every class beside the PHB eleven (though the psion and warlock may give it a run for its money), and it's popular enough to prompt semi-frequent threads on this and other optimization forums.

ROLES

Out of combat, an Assassin is all about recon/trap-killing in most parties. It has the social skills and spells to double in a social/face role, but is unlikely to be able to afford prioritizing Charisma, so there's a good chance another party member will have that job covered.

In combat, the Assassin is basically made for one thing: making the other guys die. Its control abilities are limited, and its survival stats aren't particularly reliable, but its damage output is very, very high. The assassin has some other complementary options like debuffing its targets or using UMD to throw a couple spells around, but for the most part, you can expect the Assassin to be the one pouncing on disabled or otherwise engaged creatures and making them dead, instead of acting as a facilitator to set its allies up for the kill.

CLASS STRENGTHS

These are the reasons you'll want to play up when using the Assassin. If you aren't into any of them, you might want to look at classes elsewhere:
  • Sneak Attack: The dice stack up very quickly with additional attacks.
  • Spells: The list is solid, if not stunning, and has received considerable support in various splatbooks. At absolute worst, it's a useful array of abilities for a sneak attacker, often tailored specifically to fit the Assassin's stealthy sneak attacker role.
  • Poison Use: Honestly, this ability isn't that special, but the Assassin gets a variety of spells and access to class features that make good use of it.
  • Death Attack: Save or die with a variety of resources that make it more reliable. Don't mistake this for the Assassin's best trick or something to use combat rounds preparing, but when circumstances align to give the Assassin the jump on its enemies, Death Attack can be a useful freebie.
  • Hide in Plain Sight: The Supernatural version (ie. the good one), where you don't need cover to hide. Very useful for the creepy lurk you always wanted to be.
CLASS WEAKNESSES

These are the issues that an Assassin-builder needs to be very careful to address. They're where an Assassin build is likely to trip up or fall apart:
  • Common Immunities: Most of the Assassin's offensive class features are frequently limited in valid targets – for instance, Sneak Attack, Death Attack and Poison Use are all completely negated by the Construct type. An Assassin has to take steps not to have its abilities shut off by the first undead or golem to cross its path (circumventing this limitation on sneak attacks is addressed in post ##).
  • Fragile defenses: The Assassin's chassis and stat priorities don't do much to keep it up and fighting in combat scenarios. Will saves pose an especially credible threat against assassins, but fort saves and HP also tend to be dangerously low. I am going to suggest accumulating blanket immunities to as many of those effects as possible
RECOMMENDED READING

These are other guides closely related to the Assassin's abilities, toolbox and build components:
  • Arsenic & Old Lace: The Poison Handbook
  • The Rogue Handbook: A Fistful of d6
  • Sneak-Attacking Spellcasters: God's Shifty-Eyed Cousins
  • MacGuyver's Handbook
  • Extra Attacks, Natural Attacks, AoO

    Sources:
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« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 09:37:57 AM by Pluto »

Offline Pluto

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Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
« Reply #1: December 03, 2012, 05:44:02 PM »
    2: ABILITIES, RACES and TEMPLATES

    ABILITIES

    • Strength: Out of melee, there's no need for high Str. In melee, its major effects can be circumvented. Usually a dumpable stat, but it's occasionally required for low levels and feat-strapped natural attack builds.
    • Dexterity: Ranged combat-focused assassins need to crank Dex high. Other assassins don't need to worry about it quite as much, but between armor and Initiative, it's not something any build will want to sacrifice.
    • Constitution: Small HD, weak fort saves and short-range offensive powers are a fragile combination. Cover up what you can.
    • Intelligence: This is where spells and death attack come from. You probably can't afford to really crank this score, but if it's not at least moderately high, you'd be better off leveling in Rogue.
    • Wisdom: None of your key skills or abilities are keyed off Wisdom, so it's low priority overall, but failing Will saves is nasty enough that you can't afford to really dump this stat unless you can muster a good set of blindness and mind immunities.
    • Charisma: Typically a dump stat, except in specifically socially-focused builds.
    RACES AND TEMPLATES

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    « Last Edit: March 31, 2013, 05:13:52 PM by Pluto »

    Offline Pluto

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    Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
    « Reply #2: December 03, 2012, 05:44:45 PM »
      3: CLASSES

      BASE CLASSES

      Individual listings are generalizable safe dips for an Assassin. The Other Classes spoiler contains some entries that can be workable, but are specifically oriented toward more niche builds. Keep an eye on the cutout levels; something like Monk 1 or 2 can give a good pile of useful abilities to the Assassin, but levels past that do a whole lot of nothing.

      Factotum
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      Monk
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      Rogue
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      Spellthief
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      Swordsage
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      Totemist
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      Warblade
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      Fighter
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      Incarnate
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      Ranger
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      Swashbuckler
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      Other Classes
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      PRESTIGE CLASSES
      • Dragon Disciple: Unusually useful in this case. Natural weapons, bonus spells beyond what the Assassin can gain from its class levels, stat boosts and easy qualification. Not especially useful in the skillmonkey department, but a solid option.
      • Master Thrower (CWar): Various thrown weapon tricks. The highlights are Weak Spot (thrown weapon attacks resolved as touch attacks), Trip Shot (Dex-based trip attempt as a rider effect on thrown weapons). Plus the Quick Draw bonus feat and Improved Evasion don't hurt at all.
      • Telflammar Shadowlord (UE): Intelligence-based casting, passive blur defense, stacks with Assassin levels for Death Attack and grants the invaluable Shadow Pounce. If you can afford the prerequisites without gimping yourself, it's one of the better ways to round out a build.
      • Unseen Seer (CMag): Most of the features are less useful than more Assassin levels, but the real draw is Advanced Learning, for access to divinations outside the Assassin list. Hunter's Eye (PHB2), Divine Insight (SpC) and Guidance of the Avatar (web) are the real gems for most assassins. At worst, Assassin 9/Unseen Seer 1 is worth more than Assassin 10.
      • Black Dog (Dragonmarked): Stacks with Death attack, fits snugly on top of assassin levels in a 20-level build and is the best-specialized poisoner class around. The downsides are its generally low power, feat tax, Charisma-reliance and monsters' poison immunities, which become increasingly common as challenge ratings rise.
      • Bloodstorm Blade (ToB): Ranged Death Attacks, plus other miscellaneous bonuses for thrown weapon builds.
      • Hellbreaker (FC2): The first level negates Telepathy and See in Darkness and forces nearby spellcasters to make a Spellcraft check to use divinations (it's an easy DC, but a failure chance is a failure chance). The downsides are class level-dependence on later class features and tight feat requirements (Combat Expertise+Improved Trip+Undo Resistance), but at least they complement the Assassin's strengths.
      • Invisible Blade (CW): Full BA Dagger fighter with full sneak attack and free action feinting. Prereqs are weird for a melee build, but work for a thrower. Unfortunately, errata say it can only feint once per round. There's a workable combo to be had here with TWF+Surprising Riposte, but at that point, most of your build's feats are probably locked in.
      • Legacy Champion (WoL): Advances levels in a class potentially beyond the advancement cap of the class itself. So if you have nothing better going on, and want to simultaneously advance sneak attack, caster level and death attack with little fuss, Legacy Champion can do that. Also gets a bit better at using Legacy items, which I will describe and evaluate later.
      • Monk of the Long Death (PGtF): Advances Monk abilities and Death Attack DCs. Easy qualification, but the class has no real draw. It's a bit more appealing with Carmendine Monk or Kung Fu Genius.
      • Ninja of the Crescent Moon (S&F): Monk AC, Improved evasion, full Sneak attack, and at level 4, silence flat-footed melee targets with no save. The errata nerf it from full BA.
      • Ninja Spy (OA): Ninja Spy's big draws are mostly the kinds of things that are most relevant at low levels (such as acrobatics bonuses and weapon proficiencies), but qualification is easy, sneak attack stacks nicely with Assassin benefits and the other abilities don't overlap too closely with Assassin's abilities.
      • Scarlet Corsair (Storm): Relatively easy prerequisites (the hard part is being a pirate, but that's a RP thing), usable as a dip or a build cap for Improved Feint, sneak attack, a couple swift feints and mass demoralization. With Surprising Riposte and Insightful Feint, feinting is something the Assassin can do fairly well if it can front the prerequisites, and with Mortifying Attack, Assassin has some fear-stacking potential to work with.
      • Spymaster (CAdv): Provides a variety of ways to circumvent Divinations (ie. the counter-stealth school), a bit of sneak attack and high skill points. Easy access, but it costs a feat.
      • Umbral Disciple (MoI): Three levels gives a passive miss chance, some skill bonuses and essentia, 1d6 sneak attack and Hide in Plain Sight (the worst version, but it's very quickly and easily available, so it's not all bad). The level 7 ability is also nice, but not enough to justify the 4 extra levels spent getting there.
      • Warshaper (CWar): Easy entry by level 5, extra natural attacks, immunity to sneak attacks, ability boosts, reach with natural weapons and fast healing. Levels become decreasingly useful, but a 1-2 level dip is useful for characters who qualify. (Note the class abilities only work while shapeshifted, so for something like a Shifter entry, Alter Self is going to be needed to keep any sort of decent duration.)
      « Last Edit: December 23, 2012, 09:59:22 AM by Pluto »

      Offline Pluto

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      Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
      « Reply #3: December 03, 2012, 05:46:55 PM »
      4: FEATS

      GENERAL:
      • Able Learner (RoD): Buy all skill ranks for one skill point. A skillmonkey's staple. Especially with the Assassin's skill requirements and the incentive to go into some classes with less useful skill lists.
      • Crossbow Sniper (PHB2): Add partial Dex to ranged damage with a crossbow and sneak attack from 60 feet. All the feat taxes needed to make this combat style viable (Crossbow Sniper+Rapid Reload or Hand Crossbow Focus+the usual ranged combat feats) make it less than ideal, but this feat at least gives a reason to give crossbows a second look.
      • Darkstalker (LoM): Sneak around regardless of all the special sensory abilities that might prevent you from sneaking around. If stealth is related to your character in any way, you'll want this.
      • Hand Crossbow Focus (DotU): Weapon Focus and Rapid Reload mixed into one for hand crossbows. If you're using a crossbow (even a Great Crossbow), you probably want this (though weapons other than actual hand crossbows need an Aptitude enhancement for compatibility).
      • Keen Intellect (UE): Use Intelligence for Will saves and Spot/Listen. Stat consolidation is always good, and this doesn't leave a lot of reasons to keep a good wisdom score.
      • Mindsight (LoM): If you have telepathy, this feat lets you perceive anybody with a mind. For scouts in general (not the class), this is amazing, but the Assassin has some hoops to jump through to satisfy the telepathy requirement.
      • Obtain Familiar (CArc): Familiars share your skill ranks and buffs, you can potentially milk them for poisons and they let you just generally take a second set of actions per round. All of those are very useful.
      • Open Chakra (MoI): For conjunction with Shape Soulmeld or continued advancement of an early-game Totemist dip.
      • Shadow Blade (ToB): Add dexterity to damage with certain weapons. If you're going the weapon finesse route and can spare a feat (that "if" is huge), this can make for a big chunk of extra damage
      • Shape Soulmeld (MoI): Lots of benefits addressed later.
      • Surprising Riposte (DotU): If you feint someone, then attack them, they're flat-footed for the round. This combos well with Insightful Feint, Absorb Weapon or Invisible Blade for full action sneak attacks without the normal flanking/status effect/sniping rigamarole.
      • Travel Devotion (CChamp): If you pick up turn or rebuke undead, this is one of the best ways for a sneak attacker to move and full attack in the same round (since it doesn't require a charge, it's much easier to set up the flank than pounce abilities).
      • Weapon Finesse: If you've got to take it, you've got to take it. But note that it can be inexpensively replicated with Feycraft small weapons from the DMG2.
      • Wild Cohort (web): Set up flanks or grapples with a disposable melee character, potentially milk for poisons.
      • Bow Feint (DR#350): I plug feinting a couple times in this guide, but this is just a feat tax to make it work with ranged attacks. There's a 6-feat investment just to put a Rapid Shot+Bow Feint+Surprising Riposte combination together - that might not be prohibitive with certain dips for bonus feats, but it's too strict for me to give this more recommendation than a basic acknowledgement.
      • Faerie Mysteries Initiate (DMC): Keying your HP off intelligence consolidates stats wonderfully for an Assassin. This works wonderfully with Necropolitan.
      SNEAK ATTACK
      • Aleval School (DotU): Inflict a penalty on a save with a sneak attack. Primarily useful for making poisons and Death attacks land; less common immunities than Sickening or Terrifying strikes, but much weaker effect (but it stacks).
      • Craven (CoV): Add your character level to sneak attack damage, but take a penalty to saves against fear and lose the benefit if you're ever fear immune. Your character level means a lot of damage, and it multiplies with criticals. Losing fear immunity sucks. You might want to pack a wand of Remove Fear (it's not an immunity, but it will negate some of the disadvantages of fear effects).
      • Daring Outlaw (CS): Add Swashbuckler levels to your Rogue levels to determine your sneak attack damage. If you go Swashbuckler 3, it's a feat for 2d6 sneak attack. Not as good as Craven, but pretty far from the worst feat you could pick.
      • Deadly Precision (EPH): Reroll 1s on sneak attacks. This shifts the mean damage per die from 3.5 to 4, so even with 10d6 SA, it's just +5 damage.
      • Dragonfire Strike (DM): Gain the option to deal an extra d6 sneak attack damage, but turn all SA into fire damage. The damage boost is useful at low levels, but once fire resistances start becoming common, it loses a lot of applicability.
      • Maiming Strike (EoE): Trade sneak attack dice for Charisma damage. At low and middle levels, the charisma damage might not be able to drop anything faster than sneak attack damage would, but at high levels, monster HP skyrocket, and targeting Charisma is definitely worth your time.
      • Sickening Strike (DotU): Inflict Sickened status with sneak attack. You can look at that as boosting your AC, your DR and your poison/death attack DCs at the same time.
      • Staggering Strike (CAdv): Melee-only. It's a Stagger effect (nice) with a tough DC (double-nice), involving no extra effort on your part (triple-nice).
      • Telling Blow (PHB2): Critical hits trigger sneak attack. There's nothing wrong with that ability, but if you're using it, you're not only not trying to set up sneak attacks on your own - you're burning feats to justify not trying to set up sneak attacks.  If forcing SA conditions is a problem, see post 8 for some tactical ideas.
      • Throat-Punch (CS): For Monk/Assassins, trade a couple damage dice to give spellcasters and command-word item-users a 50% failure chance for 3 rounds. That's not a guaranteed counter, but it doesn't put them in a fun position.
      • Terrifying Strike (DotU): Inflict Shaken status, but doesn't fear-stack. Useful for the same reasons as sickening strike (and it stacks), but with more common resistances and no damage penalty.
      • Undo Resistance (FC2): Drop a sneak attack die to reduce a target's spell resistance by 1, stacking with itself. This feat's use is hugely dependent on party composition and campaign.
      EXTRA ATTACKS
      • Deepspawn (LoM): Two tentacle attacks, fairly intense requirements, but Inhuman Reach is useful and Aberrant Wild Shape can work well with a Shapeshifter dip.
      • Rapid Shot: Straightforward extra ranged attack per round. Point Blank Shot is more useful than many feat taxes.
      • Rapidstrike (Drac): Iterative attack with a natural weapon.
      • Snap Kick (ToB): Extra unarmed strike, even on standard action attacks. If you meet the prereqs and have the resources invested in unarmed strikes to deal with incorporeality/DR/etc., it's a nice bonus.
      • Strength Devotion (CC): Ambiguous whether the slam attack and adamantine natural weapons are limited to the hardness-bypassing ability's duration. If they are ruled to follow the duration, it's okay. If they are ruled not to, it's a very useful feat.
      • Two-Weapon Fighting: An extra weapon attack per round (well, technically a penalty reduction), melee or thrown. Requires high dex.
      • Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: If you have TWF, just buy a Glove of the Balanced Hand (MIC). If that isn't an option for whatever reason, skip it.
      • Greater Two-Weapon Fighting: Unless you're making ranged touch attacks, this comes at a conspicuously low bonus.
      DEATH ATTACK
      • Ability Focus: You probably won't get Death Attack off enough to justify a feat spent on just +2 DC, but if you're really focusing a build on Death Attack, ability focus does make it better.
      • Favored in Guild – Jazred Chalssin (DMG2+web): +4 DC. Tied pretty tightly with anti-Lolth rebel fluff.
      • Mortifying Attack (CoR): Every creature within 30 ft of your successful Death Attacks must make a Will save (DC based on your melee damage) v. Shaken effects and Dexterity denial. Awesome effect, even if Death Attack limitations reduce it to rare use.
         
      POISON USE
      • Master of Poisons (DotU): Apply poison to a weapon as a swift action. If you're using poisoned weapons in melee, you're using this feat. In ranged combat, it's less vital (you can poison arrows ahead of time or throw vials of contact poison), but still useful if you join a fight unprepared
      • Venomous Strike (DotU): Sacrifice 1d6 Sneak attack for +2 to poison DCs.
      • Deep Poisoning (DR#322): Trade 1d6 sneak attack for +1 to poison DCs, up to +5. A very quick way to scale DCs appropriately.
      SPELLS
      • Arcane Strike (CWar): Trade spell slots for melee attack and damage based on the spell's level. This feat is always tempting for melee arcanists, but Assassin spell slots are scarce, so if you're not getting more than 5 attacks per round with a single melee weapon, the slots probably aren't worth it. The one probable exception for a red ranking is an unarmed strike specialist, where the extra damage adds up fast.
      • Master Spellthief (CSco): Stack Spellthief and other Arcane caster levels to determine the level of spells a Spellthief can steal, and the caster level on all arcane spells. With a bunch of spellthief levels, this the easiest way to get full caster level into an Assassin build.
      • Practiced Spellcaster (CDiv): The Assassin doesn't have a lot of effects cued off CL, but extending durations and making dispels less ruinous are never bad calls, especially at early Assassin levels. If you have a feat and no idea what to do with it, this is always solid.
      • Versatile Spellcaster (RotD): Spend multiple low-level spell slots to cast higher level spells. Makes the Assassin's casting more flexible, and high-level slots more affordable (which is a useful thing to do, considering that the lowest level of Assassin spells aren't that hot).
      SHAPE SOULMELD (MoI, unless stated otherwise)

      Note that as well as providing a soulmeld to shape, these feats provide and advance a meldshaper level. So a build like a Rogue 3/Totemist 2/Assassin 9/Telflammar Shadowlord 6 could use a Shape Soulmeld feat to qualify for Double Chakra.
      • Astral Vambraces (web): DR/magic, and more importantly, two slam attacks with a Hands bind.
      • Blink Shirt: Short-range Teleportation at will. Great for Telflammar Shadowlords; otherwise more a utility feat than a common mobility mode.
      • Claws of the Wyrm (DM): Requires Dragonblooded subtype. Two natural weapons for a feat. Not bad, if a character qualifies.
      • Elder Spirit (DM): Requires Dragonblooded subtype. Skill bonus to UMD and some Knowledges, plus a slew of immunities and Intimidate bonus with the Crown bind.
      • Enigma Helm: Made for a stealthy character, gives Nondetection (granted, an ability which is most potent at low-mid levels), as well as immunity to charms with a bind.
      • Phase Cloak: Climb bonuses, but more importantly, Ethereal movement with the Shoulder bind.
      • Planar Ward: Blocks mind control, as Protection from X.
      • Shadow Mantle: Hide bonus, but more importantly, Blindsight and Total Concealment when combined with a Shoulder bind.
      • Shedu Crown: Telepathy for 2 feat slots, including the bind. Note that while alignment restrictions are placed on meldshaping by most meldshaping classes and several of the melds (Incarnate Avatar, Planar Ward), they are not a part of the system - the [Good] Shedu crown is a legit option for Evil characters that aren't Incarnates or Soulborn.
      • Thief's Gloves: A bonus to thief skills, plus Trapfinding with the Crown bind.
      • Chaos Roc's Span (DR#350): Two nonlethal wing buffet reach attacks. That's cheap for one feat and they stack notably well with other attack routines.
      VILE FEATS
      • Willing Deformity (BoVD): Mostly a dead feat, but opens access to a number of feats that are useful to an Assassin character. At least the Intimidate bonus might be useful.
      • Deformity – Madness (EE): Mind immunity and a 1/encounter will save bonus at the cost of a Wisdom penalty. Given the Assassin's weak will, that immunity is dynamite, and the save bonus compensates for most of the non-mind-affecting will saves you might face. The Wisdom penalty is a drag, but it's a quick way to ignore many of the scariest save effects.
      • Deformity – Teeth (HoH): A bite attack. Not the most efficient way to get it, but an extra iteration of SA damage for melee builds.
      • Deformity – Clawed Hands (BoVD): A claw attack. You can usually get two for the same investment, but an extra application of SA damage for melee builds.
      • Deformity – Tall (HoH): Reach with all melee attacks. Fairly useful if you want to avoid retributive full attacks.
      « Last Edit: May 09, 2013, 09:51:56 PM by Pluto »

      Offline Pluto

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      Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
      « Reply #4: December 03, 2012, 05:47:34 PM »
        5: Spells
        Recommended, core or noteworthy spells:

        LEVEL 1:
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        LEVEL 2:
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        LEVEL 3:
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        LEVEL 4:
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        « Last Edit: May 09, 2013, 10:58:35 PM by Pluto »

        Offline Pluto

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        Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
        « Reply #5: December 03, 2012, 05:48:07 PM »
          6: ITEMS

          MAGIC ITEMS
          I assume you're already going to grab items that just give numeric bonuses to the numbers you care about: saves, AC, intelligence, constitution, your primary combat ability and so forth. This is a menu of interesting Assassin-complementary abilities you can fit between those.

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          BASIC SPELLS-AS-ITEMS UTILITY BELT
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          ALCHEMICAL WEAPONS
          With the Assassin's typically middling attack bonus, these attacks are invaluable for turning a thrower's last iterative attacks, which would otherwise have a low chance of hitting or damaging a target, into ranged touch attacks for debuffs or elemental sneak attack.
          • Alchemical Sleep Gas (FRCS): Make an attack to knock someone out. Lowish save (DC 15 Fort), but cheap effect.
          • Atramen Oil (PlH): Ranged touch attack for a hefty penalty to Fort saves, no save. Useful for setting up for poison or death attacks.
          • Eggshell Grenade, Dust (OA): 10gp. A no-save Blind effect from an attack action makes this a must-have for throwers and archers.
          • Red Tidewater (PlH): Blindness as a ranged touch attack. More expensive than dust eggshell grenades, and allows a save. Only useful as fill-ins if the eggshell grenades are nerfed or banned.
          • Tanglefoot Bags: Entangled status as a ranged touch attack with no save, plus chances of immobilization or flight-disablement. These are a little spendy to throw in bulk, at least until high levels, but they are consistently useful.
          • Torch Bug Paste (CSco): Nonmagically negate concealment with an attack action. These are pretty cheap and just get better and better as concealment methods become more common.
          • Damage Grenades (misc): They come in different prices and slightly varying prices, but they're pretty much all the same: Ranged touch attack thrown weapons that deal ignore DR. Expensive at low levels, but eventually very useful to stock up on, to get through high DR or ACs.
            • Acid Flask: The cheapest, most utilitarian and least-often resisted of the energy grenades. Useful out of combat to burn through locks or other obstacles.
            • Alchemist's Fire/Frost/Spark (ECS): More expensive than acid flasks, but target different defenses. At worst, it's worth stocking a couple for when acid doesn’t work.
            • Holy Water: Damages scary and frequently energy-resistant/immune enemies like Evil Outsiders and Undead.
            • Anachic/Axiomatic/Unholy Water (PlH): Like Holy Water, but for other flavors of Outsider. Useful for punching through energy resistances on the scariest targets.
            • Acidic Fire (ECS): Expensive double-threat. Maybe useful if you don't have a party bookworm to tell you which energy type to use, but generally, the single-element grenades are good enough.
          LEGACY ITEMS

          The Legacy item subsystem is a quirky subsystem introduced in Weapons of Legacy, which seems to try to make players hate it, with stat penalties, gold-sinks and a book full of terrible examples. But the system does provide a way for non-casters and minor casters to reliably access magic in various forms at a frankly low gold cost. I will address the legacy abilities salient to an Assassin. For more information, see the general guide to establishing a legacy here.

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          « Last Edit: December 10, 2012, 11:24:08 PM by Pluto »

          Offline Pluto

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          Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
          « Reply #6: December 03, 2012, 05:49:58 PM »
            7: Variant Assassins:

            Psionic Assassin
            (Secrets of Sarlona)

            One of two cases of a prestige class with a variant. This replaces the Assassin's spells list with psionic powers up to fourth level and PP progression as the Psychic Warrior. To be blunt, this is a weak variant – the Psychic Rogue and various Rogue/Psion/Psionic Assassin [mind's eye version]  builds will outclass it in almost every way. The one advantage the SoS Psionic Assassin has is UMD rather than UPD, but that's a pretty superficial distinction. Regardless, addressing Psionic Assassin-building, the major distinctions beside the obvious:

            RACES

            Typically, as the standard Assassin. Whisper Gnome gains some added advantage, as its Silence no longer hampers its own powers, and Illumian loses some of its advantage, as powers don't benefit from the power sigils. Add the entries:

            • Kalashtar (RoE): Extra PP equal to hit dice. The Extra PP are the major draw, and with the Psionic Assassin's PP shortage are hard to play up too far, but the various special access abilities available to the Kalashtar go from passable (Dancing With Shadows and some Defensive Fighting or Combat Expertise specialization) to highly breakable (like Power Link Quorri Shards which look at the psionics rules and laugh and laugh). Special Access: Quorri Shards, Dancing with Shadows, Kalashtar Monk, Fist of Dal Quor.
            • Elan (EPH): Turns PP into save bonuses and temporary HP as an immediate action to cover the Assassin's major weaknesses, plus some spare PP and Aberration type. Special Access: Enhanced Elan Resilience, Rapidstrike, Improved Rapidstrike
            BASE CLASSES

            For the most part, as the normal Assassin, but add:

            Soulknife (EPH) 
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            PRESTIGE CLASSES

            • Ebon Saint (CPsi): An interesting little PrC that has the ability to interrogate and impersonate enemies by sneaking up on enemies and whacking them with its weapons. These interrogations and imitations are very efficient time-wise, but that's not usually a high priority for a D&D build.
            • Psychic Assassin (web): This gets really weird, because at the point you'd use this, you'd have two takes on an assassin variant, with class features designed to do more or less the same things. The appeal of crossing the two is that it's possible t grab some Rogue Special abilities in only 5 levels, while advancing Assassin manifesting for two of those. It's possible that you could negotiate the two variants' levels to stack when calculating Death Attack DCs, but not necessarily likely.
            • Shadowmind (CAdv): It advances sneak attack and psionics, and that's about the best that can be said about it, unless you take the Adaptation note seriously and pick out a new set of specialty powers.
            ITEMS

            Mostly as normal for the Assassin (UMD doesn't change on the class skill list, and Magic-Psionics transparency applies to potentially-applicable magic items and spells), except:

            • Torc of Power Preservation (MIC): 4,000 gp. Neck slot. This item got a downgrade from its original printing, but it's still a fantastic item – get that little bit further around manifesting PP caps and just save some PP. And at least with the updated version, you can do it for cheap.
            CLASS POWERS

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            OTHER POWERS
            These are powers worth accessing through Hidden Talent or Expanded Knowledge.

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            Psychic Assassin
            (web)

            A second take on a Psionic assassin build, this one progressing external manifesting, rather than developing its own. Given that this means it can have access to effects like Metamorphosis and Temporal Acceleration, builds involving Psychic Assassin tend to be far more powerful than those using the Secrets of Sarlona version (or even the regular Assassin class). This can be a bit awkward, because Psychic Assassin is still often a loss in character power for manifesting classes that qualify, but if the idea is to take all the Assassin's abilities and to try to be good at them, the Psychic Assassin is about as good as you're going to find.

            Building a Psychic Assassin is going to look a lot like the Secrets of Sarlona Assassin variant for Feats and magic items. Special ability choices and class options are listed below:

            SPECIAL ABILITIES

            • Blind Spot: 1/day PLA that you could probably learn without much trouble anyway. The save is too low to be a lasting threat.
            • Decoy: Illusions on a psion are unusual, and that much might justify this. But otherwise, it's a 1/day PLA that costs MLs to get, so eh.
            • Enhanced Sneak Attack: Not the hottest ability, but you can slightly outpace normal Rogue or Assassin sneak attack progression with these, if you want.
            • Improved Evasion: If you're in this class, you're probably passing your Reflex saves, making this much less of a step up than its lesser cousin.
            • Mind Cripple: Intelligence damage that can stack up quickly. Often a very good way to disable a target whose HP are too high to wear down.
            • Shadow Jump:
            • Skill Mastery: A huge step toward autosucceeding every skill check you make.
            • Slippery Mind: Resave against some of the scariest effects. Of course, you could also gain immunity without too much trouble, but that doesn't mean it's not nice to have.
            • Feat: Not a showy or unique ability, and not worth losing ML for, but if you're sticking levels into the class for other reasons (probably death attack, or
            BASE CLASSES

            • Psion:
              • Egoist: Between its useful powers for Assassins like Chameleon, Hustle and Metamorphosis and its ACFs like Change Shape and Changeling sub levels (RoE), Egoist is probably the single best discipline for a Psychic Assassin.
              • Kineticist: Doesn't provide much that works specifically with a skillmonkey or a sneak attacker. It's not red because it's still probably stronger than a normal Assassin, but it's the least functional psion discipline.
              • Nomad: Powers generally complement the assassin role and can also gain the Temporal Grace ability, which allows a resave against anything that would impede or prevent movement.
              • Seer: Perception skills, scrying abilities and fate points if it wants them, can make for a useful scout.
              • Shaper: The most meaningful contribution to the Psychic Assassin is Psionic Minor Creation, which is useful for mass-producing poisons, but which, as a first-level power, is very easily available to all the other disciplines.
              • Telepath: Social skills and Schism work well with the Psychic Assassin. The rest of its power list doesn't jibe so well mechanically, but at least has thematic ties with the Assassin.
              • Erudite: The free psicrystal is excellent for a skillmonkey, as is access to every discipline list, but the Erudite's Unique Powers Per Day mechanic doesn't play well with prestige classes. If the Spells-to-Power variant is in use and the Arcane Fusion trick to circumvent UPPD works, change this to the bluest it gets.
            • Lurk (CPsi): Lurk has a decent power list, and its concept works with Psychic Assassin, but it does better with Lurk levels than with Psychic Assassin's lost ML and forsaken Lurk Augment progression.
            • Psychic Rogue (web): Again, this gets about the same abilities as Psychic Assassin, but without the lost ML.
            SAMPLE BUILD:
            Human Urban Ranger 1/Egoist 5/Psychic Assassin 6/Slayer 8:
            BA: 16 fractional, 15 unitary
            ML: 19 before items (up to 8th level powers)

            Feats: Track (B1), Weapon Finesse (1), Two-Weapon Fighting (H1), Practiced Manifester (B2), Knowledge Devotion (3), Linked Power (6), Psionic Meditation (B6), Staggering Strike (9), Craven (12), <Free> (15), <Free> (18)



            Avenger
            (web)

            April Fools posting of a Good Non-Chaotic Assassin on the WotC web page. Nearly identical to the DMG Assassin, except the alignment and fluff.

            The biggest difference between the Assassin and the Avenger is access to certain alignment-dependent feats and PrCs.

            FEATS
            • Sacred Strike (BoED): Exalted feat increases SA die size and overcome DR/Good. Both those benefits are useful by the mid-levels, not so much early on.
            PRESTIGE CLASSES
            • Daggerspell Mage (CAdv): Sneak attack Gish PrC that's just a step down from Assassin in most regards: slow sneak attack progression, lost CL, no HiPS advancement, and abilities that don't work great with the Assassin's spell list.
            One potential downside of the Avenger is that the variant explicitly states its spell list instead of referring to the Assassin's; a strict treatment of the class might take that to mean that all the juicy splatbook expansions the Assassin got over the years are for the Assassin spell list, not the Avenger (even though they're identical if sources are restricted to Avenger web page + DMG).


            Oppressor
            (Dragon #312)

            Though it's labeled and referenced as an Assassin variant, the Oppressor is very different from the basic Assassin PrC: instead of a sneaky Intelligence-based easy-entry mini-gish-in-a-can, the Oppressor is a Charisma-based martial PrC focused on grappling and intimidation effects. Its most notable abilities are dealing sneak attack damage in addition to its grapple damage (which can actually be a substantial damage boost for grapplers), the option to keep a creature it hits below 0 HP at 0 HP and a 1/day Mass Suggestion as a free action after dropping an enemy.

            Building an Oppressor, the shift in attribute priorities shifts the class and feat priorities pretty drastically, devaluing anything prioritizing Intelligence (ie. most of the list), and emphasizing Charisma-based classes.

            BASE CLASSES

            • Paladin of Tyranny (UA): The heavy rewards PoT 4 places on Charisma, as well as the save debuff complement the Oppressor's save-based suggestion and frightening abilities, and a Turning pool's access to extra Animal Devotion uses compliments the grappling aspect of the class well.
            • Sneak Attack Thug Fighter (UA):  Notable for full BA/SA for the earliest possible Oppressor entry. Unfortunately, giving up bonus feats makes the prerequisites less palatable.
            • Half-Orc Paragon (UA): Not a stellar option, but almost every one of its abilities is salient to an Oppressor: Intimidate bonuses facilitate better fear-stacking, Rage opens key options in both Intimidation and grapples and the strength boost complements Grappling considerably.
            PRESTIGE CLASSES

            • Dread Pirate (CAdv): Like Oppressor, Dread Pirate is a sneak attacking intimidate-user. Abilities focused on mundane mobility abilities, two weapon fighting and Intimidate bonuses.
            • Scarlet Corsair (Storm): Recommended along the same lines as Dread Pirate - just Scarlet Corsair replaces the mobility features, TWF and numeric Intimidate bonuses with swift action feinting, slightly faster Sneak Attack advancement and additional fear effects.
            • Avenging Executioner (CSco): Plays off almost exactly the same idea as the Oppressor, using similar methods that should force save against Shaken status after fear against Shaken status. The only reason Avenging Executioner isn't blue is that Oppressor says that it deals Sneak attack damage in its grapple checks, not Sudden Strike damage.
            • Black Blood Cultist (CoV): A grappling PrC notable for adding damage to grapple builds. They do stack to get silly damage boosts, but the benefits of Oppressor specifically end at level 2-3 in this combo (depending how much the character values Mass Suggestion).
            FEATS

            • Dreadful Wrath (CoR): Area fear effect triggers when a character makes just about any offensive action in combat. Use it to dump saves or turn the Intimidating Presence ability into a minute-long Frightened effect.
            • Imperious Command (DotU): This is the Intimidation feat. Turn a minor debuff into a meaningful debilitating effect. Combined with the Oppressor's Intimidating Presence, it's essentially a "save or do nothing" effect on anyone who intends to attack the Oppressor.
            • Scorpion's Grasp (Sand): Like Improved Grab, minus the size limit. Useful for opening grapples without compromising damage output.
            • Frightening Presence (Drac): Passive fear-based debuff. Would be a much more useful ability if it weren't capped at creatures of the user's HD or less.
            • Intimidating Rage (CWar): Turn Intimidation into a free action and extend its duration to the length of the user's rage.
            • Bloodsoaked Intimidate (CoR): Make a swift-action Intimidate effect after dropping an enemy. Probably would even be blue, except that it has a junk prereq feat, it only works against an adjacent target and it contradicts the Oppressor's most notable class features (keeping enemies alive regardless of overkill).
            • Kiai Shout (CWar): Another area fear effect. Listed because it's thematically similar to Dreadful Wrath and Frightening Presence. This feat is terrible for its combination of limited daily uses, HD cap, and standard action activation.


            Poisoner
            (Dragon #312)

            Manages to have a much weaker death attack (has to go through poison immunities, has a very low static save), trades casting for some very weak poison abilities, the most notable of which are accelerated secondary poison onset (the second save can take place the next round, if a poison's produced at four times the normal cost) and a +2 DC to poisons delivered via sneak attack.

            I'd give suggestions about building a Poisoner, except that it just takes the useful abilities an Assassin has, and throws them away. Just avoid this steaming pile.



            Replacement Killer
            (Dragon #312)

            Another variant that adds prerequisites and trades casting away for abilities that don't come close to justifying the loss. This time, those abilities are elevated Death Attack DC (but only for the Paralysis option that faces common immunities) and denial of automatic spot checks against the Replacement Killer's disguises.

            Building a Replacement Killer would follow the same lines as a normal Assassin, possibly prioritizing Spymaster levels a bit higher. But the concept behind the RK is better done with a Psychic Assassin (either)/Ebon Saint.
            « Last Edit: December 23, 2012, 01:11:33 PM by Pluto »

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            Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
            « Reply #7: December 03, 2012, 05:50:45 PM »
              8: Sneak Attack Mini Guide

              Sneak Attack has the potential to be a very powerful damage source, but it is highly susceptible to immunities and tactical avoidance, and often comes with low attack bonuses (due to combinations of middling base attack bonuses, penalties accrued by additional attacks and by conflicting attribute priorities).

              This part of the guide will attempt to break down how to force sneak attack conditions, how to penetrate immunities, how to make multiple attacks in a round and how to make them hit reliably.


              FORCING SNEAK ATTACK
              The two primary ways of forcing sneak attack are flanking a target and denying it its Dexterity bonus to AC.

              Flanking is straightforward. Get on the other side of a target from an ally and hit them in melee. Most parties will have other melee range characters, pets or summons to flank with. If they don't, a sidekick is only a feat or two away (Wild Cohort, Shape Soulmeld: Necrocarnum Circlet + Open Least Chakra or the insane Leadership/Undead Leadership/Dragon Cohort line of feats, if they're campaign-legal), or can be inexpensively bought with some GP (either by just buying a pet or grabbing an inexpensive Desert Wind Cloak for Distracting Ember's 1/encounter 1-round flank buddy). It can also be accomplished with the Distracting Attack Ranger ACF, which has an awkward bit of phrasing that may allow a character with 4 ranger levels to flank with himself.

              Denying Dex to AC is a bit more involved. This can be divided further into two approaches: becoming invisible and inflicting status effects. Of the DMG conditions that deny a character's Dexterity bonus to armor class, few are directly available to the Assassin without obnoxiously low saves or sabotaged action economy. But in broad strokes, the conditions that permit sneak attack are: Blind, Feinted, Flat-Footed, Grappled, Helpless, Paralyzed, Stunned.

              Becoming invisible can deny targets their Dex bonus to AC. Practical ways to use this in combat include:
              • Cloak of Deception (ToB): Swift boost for a full round of greater invisibility. If you learn the maneuver through a pair of Least Shadow Hands, it's 3k to use 1/encounter forever. Very good value.
              • Greater Invisibility: Relatively high-level spell, and comes with a standard action casting time, but the most direct way to get the job done.
              • Invisible Fist (EoE): Monk ACF for immediate invisibility for a full round, every 3 rounds. Very useful defense, but also an easy way to force a full round's sneak attack.
              • Ring of Blinking: A bit pricey, and comes with a 20% failure chance on your attacks, but fantastic defensive and utility benefits and permanently deny targets their Dex to ACs.
              • Swift Invisibility (SpC): 30 gp for a wand charge to force one sneak attack against creatures that can't see invisibility. Relatively inexpensive as a backup Dex-denial plan, and already a useful tool for its defensive and utility benefits.
              Status effects can be easily achieved through these methods:
              • Blind: Dust Eggshell grenades from Oriental Adventures are cheap (10gp/ea) and provide multi-round blindness with a ranged touch attack; these are especially useful for ranged builds to throw on their lowest iterative attacks. Red Tidewater from the Planar Handbook could work as a lower-powered fallback.
              • Feinted: Feinting is difficult for many sneak attackers to incorporate into full attack routines, but Invisible Blade, Scarlet Corsair, Beguiler and Assassin [see Insightful Feint and Absorb Weapon spells] all have class features that can combine with Surprising Riposte to make targets flat-footed at the cost of a swift action, which can turn this into a viable combat strategy
              • Flat-Footed: This status is automatically applied to every attack before the target takes a move, so that usually means anything that helps get the surprise round (stealth abilities like skill ranks, Darkstalker, Rings of the Darkhidden, etc.) and initiative (Cunning Insight, Illumian Uur Sigil, etc.) will help apply this condition, as will the Distract Assailant spell (albeit at a low DC). Additionally, flat-footed status can be inflicted by forcing a target to make balance checks; this can be done with Marbles (A&E), Lard (Dung) or the Grease spell – the disadvantage to all of these is that they either require prep time or compete with attacks for a sneak attacker's standard actions.
              • Grappled: The easiest way to inflict grappled conditions is to bring a mook into a fight to grapple for you. The Wild Cohort feat is an easy, cheap and usually acceptable way to bring a grappler into a fight, but its grapplers tend to be weak.
              • Paralyzed: The Assassin's Death Attack can inflict Paralyzed status as an alternative to direct death, as can the Bloodfreeze Arrow spell (CoR, but note the very low DC). This can also be viable for sneak attackers with Monk levels and the Freezing the Lifeblood feat (CWar)
              • Stunned: Stunning Fist and Sudden Stunning Weapons (DMG2) are the most typical ways for a sneak attacker to inflict Stunned status, but it's a pretty common side effect of illusion and lightning spells.
              Many of these can also be achieved by using your party. The rest of your group is probably engaging the baddies, and there's a good chance what they're doing can be turned into a sneak attack: a Fighter that runs into melee sets up a flank; a grappler denies enemies their dex bonus; the Glitterdust, Hold Person or Grease spell that a caster throws at the enemies also makes them vulnerable for sneak attack. The point isn't to beg your allies for free stuff, but there's a good chance your allies are doing something you can use: even if your go-to Dex-denial strategy isn't working in a fight, you might be able to use the other events going on in the battlefield.

              There are other ways of forcing sneak attack, but they're generally inefficient. Try not to need them:
              • The Telling Blow feat (PHB2) turns a critical hit into a sneak attack. The most common scenario, using something like Keen Kukris, will only threaten on about a third of its attacks; a crit-focused build like Disciple of Dispater will still threaten less than half the time. Investing resources into forcing SA through one of the other modes produces greater damage with greater reliability. This is a bit less blatantly impractical with low-level ranged builds, but eggshell grenades are still inexpensive and more reliable.
              • The Persistent Attacker ambush feat (CSco) costs a huge chunk of sneak attack, and only forces one SA in the subsequent round. Between the SA dice cost and the single sneak attack that using the tactic permits, expected damage is greatly reduced.
              • The Vital Strike spell (CMag) costs a swift action to force a sneak attack with one of your attacks in a round. It should be clear that one sneak attack in a round is going to be worth much less damage than more than one sneak attack in a round, which is why this spell isn't particularly useful. (Its one advantage is reliably slathering on SA-triggered status effects
              • The Wracking Touch spell (SpC – not on the Assassin's list, but available via wand) also forces sneak attack damage with a touch attack. The spell's one advantage is that the charge can be held to force that sneak attack without eating in-combat actions, but again, being in a position to full attack with SA dice on all of the round's attacks is going to deal much more damage than sneak attacking once.
              PENETRATING SA IMMUNITIES

              There are two really easy ways to penetrate sneak attack immunities:
              • The Penetrating Strike Rogue ACF (from EtCR, Dung) allows half sneak attack damage against flanked SA-immune targets. The downsides are that reading strictly, this isn't sneak attack damage, so it doesn't trigger things like ambush feats or craven, it's only half damage, and it's specific to flanks, so dex-denial strategies don't work with it. The upsides are that Penetrating strike doesn't cost any actions, comes almost free with 3 Rogue levels and that it doesn't care why its target's immune; it just works.
              • Wands of X-strike from SpC are dirt cheap, and allow Plants, Constructs and Undead to all be sneak attacked for full SA damage, even at a range. The downsides are that the spells aren't on the Assassin spell list, the wands occupy either a hand or a wand chamber (Dung), take a swift action to activate and are very specific to the sources of a creature's SA-immunity. These work best with a wand bracer (Dung) for easy access to the full array of wands, even if its swift-action draw effectively leaves sneak attack disabled for the first round of combat.
              Some less effective ways of penetrating SA immunity include:
              • The Razing Strike feat, which acts as a mini-Arcane strike, plus SA against a creature type determined by whether the sacrificed spell was arcane (then constructs) or divine (then undead). Overall, the feat is very shoddy, unless the campaign is heavily laden with encounters of the specific creature type.
              • Greater Truedeath/Destruction Crystals (MIC): Expensive, creature type-specific, takes up a weapon augment slot and requires a +3 weapon to enhance, but doesn't require any levels or activation time.
              • Deathstrike Bracers (MIC): Not particularly expensive and apply to almost all crit-immune creature types, but a very tight daily limit (3 rounds/day).
              Concealment is also an automatic SA shutoff. There are several ways around it, but the most direct is just denying concealment. This may be achieved through Magic Items (eg. Blindfold of True Darkness, Blindsighted weapon, Revealing weapon), spells/powers (eg. Ebon Eyes, Touchsight) or permanent build resources like Shape Soulmeld (Shadow Mantle) + Open Lesser Chakra (Shoulder).

              A less efficient way of circumventing the limitation is the CMage Critical Strike spell, which ignores concealment for a single attack. Applying the bulk of sneak attack damage to a single attack is antithetical to the most damaging strategies, so sensory concealment-negation will typically be more desirable.

              MULTIPLE ATTACKS

              The more attacks you can make while sneak attacking, the more sneak attack damage you do. That much is pretty simple. The complicated part is building for extra attacks, then making it work tactically. This guide gives a quick list of ways to increase a character's attacks per round. For most Assassins' purposes, there are three main directions for maximizing attacks per round:

              • Volley Archery: The major advantages are that full attacks are easy for you to make, and that full attacks are hard for your targets to make against you. The major disadvantage is that sneak attacks are more difficult to force than they would be by engaging in melee. Most extra attacks with this approach come from Rapid Shot, haste, the Splitting weapon enhancement and Arrow Demon polymorphs (not practical with the Assassin's levels and class features, but with a wand, skin of the proteus, phylactery of change or UMDed custom runestaff, it can be more practical).
              • Two Weapon Fighting: Low-hanging fruit for melee attacks. The notable downsides are high dex requirements (typically means Weapon Finesse, ranged combat or item-reliance on Feycraft gear) and attack penalties to all of a round's attacks. The upsides are relatively straightforward access and a certain degree of flexibility between melee and ranged combat. This style is complemented most directly by Swordsage or Warblade dips for Tiger Claw boosts.
              • Natural Weapons: For melee-focused sneak attackers, these usually pay off the most directly. Their major advantage over TWF is their reduced penalties: while attacking with natural weapons, every attack is made with the same modifier, with a static reduction from the full bonus. This means a sneak attacker can both make a lot of attacks in a round, and expect them to have a good chance of hitting. The disadvantages are that more attacks mean higher enhancement costs, and that ranged combat becomes more difficult (essentially requiring Blood Wind). These are most easily obtained through Alter Self and class dips (especially Totemist). Note that when used alongside a weapon, they do not override a character's iterative attacks from Base Attack.
              Note that the first two setups are one Quickdraw feat away from becoming competent throwers, which is salient for several angles of a sneak attacker's routine, namely Master Thrower and grenade weapons' Touch attack resolutions, and the delivery of other alchemical weapons like tanglefoot bags and eggshell grenades.

              FORCING HITS

              The potential problem is that if a character can't hit, the character can't sneak attack. Catching someone in a position to sneak attack often accompanies a +2 bonus and targets flat-footed AC, but with sneak attackers' low attack bonuses, that's sometimes not enough. There are two major ways to increase hit chances: Increase your character's attack bonus or decrease the target's AC.

              Increasing attack bonus is something most characters do. I'll assume most of it's going on already, by accumulating the normal weapon and ability enhancement gear, vying for tactical bonuses in combat from flanking, higher ground, etc. Devotion feats (Law and Knowledge especially), Rage clones (Barbarian's Rage or Ferocity, Wildrunner's Wild Scream, etc.) and ToB's Discipline weapons are very fast ways to boost those numbers up.

              Decreasing target ACs is most directly and most efficiently done by making touch attacks, such as those facilitated by Wraithstrike, those associated with grenade weapons, Master Thrower's Weak Spot thrown weapon trick, or those associated with spells like Flame Dagger or Ice Axe. Common status effects also reduce the target's AC, such as entangled, prone, or many of the conditions that trigger sneak attack vulnerability.
              « Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 04:53:38 PM by Pluto »

              Offline Pluto

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              Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
              « Reply #8: December 03, 2012, 05:51:07 PM »
                9: Death Attack Mini Guide

                Death Attack is probably the Assassin's most recognizable feature, but it poses some problems when brought into a combat environment: observation time creates a tactical dilemma, Death Attack's DC tends to be low compared to targets' saves, it is melee range by default (typically not favorable to an assassin) and immunities are very common.

                This section of the guide will attempt to break down the sources and tactical usage of Death Attack, DC-boosting methods and abilities that might make it more usable in a variety of circumstances.

                SOURCES OF DEATH ATTACK
                • Assassin: The default. Int-based, melee-only, DC = 10+level+Int.
                • Black Dog (Dragonmarked): Charisma-based, explicitly stacks with Assassin
                • Black Flame Zealot (CDiv): Explicitly stacks with other Death Attack classes
                • Cultist of the Shattered Peak (LEoF): Available as the level 5 capstone at DC 15+Int (ie. its DC is technically  level-independent, if really nitpicking the rules).
                • Dark Hunter (CWar): Available at the level 5 capstone, identical to Assassin.
                • Darkwood Stalker (CWar): Available at the level 10 capstone, specifically targets Orcs, Wisdom-based DC.
                • Imaskari Vengeance Seeker (Underdark): Explicitly stacks with other Death Attack classes
                • Justice of Weald and Woe (CoR): Longbow-only, available as the level 10 capstone at DC 20+Int (ie. its DC is technically level-independent).
                • Lurk (CPsi+web): Available at the level 20 capstone of the True Thief ACF. Notable for referencing the Assassin class, including its DC 10+Level+Int on a base class, and for allowing easy ranged sneak attack through the Ranged Lurk Augment feat.
                • Marrulurk (Sand): Charisma-based DC that scales with any Hit Dice and Charisma per the Rules Compendium, but doesn't stack levels with Death Attack classes.
                • Monk of the Long Death (PGtF, explicitly stacks with other Death Attack classes)
                • Psychic Assassin (web): Identical to the base Assassin.
                • Strifeleader (F&P): Available at level 7 as the Assassin, gets a +4 DC increase at the capstone.
                • Telflammar Shadowlord (UE): Available at the level 6 capstone, explicitly stacks with Assassin.
                • Thayan Slaver (UE): Enervating Attack technically is not Death Attack, but it stacks with the DC and is useful for many f the same purposes.
                • Deathstalker of Bhal (DR#322): Charisma-based; 5-level class that counts class level twice for Death attack DCs.
                OTHER IMPROVEMENTS TO DEATH ATTACK
                • Binder 3/5 (ToM): The Focalor vestige (level 3 vestige, available at level 5 or 3 with improved binding) provides a no-save aura of -2 to all saves, effectively raising Death Attack's DC by 2.
                • Blackguard: Aura of despair provides a passive -2 to saves with no saving throw allowed. This effectively makes Death Attack DCs 2 points higher.
                • Hexblade 4 (CWar): The Dark Companion ACF from PHB2 gives a passive -2 to saves, raising the chances of a successful Death attack.
                • Legacy Champion (WoL): Nearly-full level progression to a Death attack class you had prior to the LC levels. This potentially pushes effective level for a class's death attack DC beyond the full level of the class. This adds up particularly quickly in the case of the Deathstalker of Bhal.
                • Paladin of Tyranny 3 (UA): Provides Aura of Despair like a Blackguard, but as a base class without feat requirements or any competition for level 6-20 choices with other PrCs.
                • Uncanny Trickster (CSco): Like Legacy Champion, progresses levels in other classes for all their features' purposes. Easy entry, but 3 levels long - only 2 of which progress other classes.
                TACTICALLY USING DEATH ATTACK

                The first problem you'll notice with Death Attack is the preparatory time. Most fights are over in three rounds; with the possible exception of solo play, an assassin should never dedicate combat time to setting up a death attack. A round or two of sneak attack will do the job faster, with fewer immunities and less chance of a save. The Deathsight spell can partially alleviate the problem for those who can cast it – especially if you've finagled a way to quicken it (like a Circlet of Rapid Casting or similar).

                But most of the time, Death Attack is best treated as a freebie for those encounters where you sneak up on someone and can spend some observation time prior to combat, and as a non-option if things don't work out that nicely for you. Notice that the mandatory rounds of unnoticed study do not have to immediately precede your death attack, and that the first attack you make after that study does not have to be death attacks. Feel free to soften a target up with a couple ambush feats before laying the death attack out.

                The second problem you'll notice with Death Attack is that it rarely sticks. By default, the save is low and Fortitude saves are high. This can be addressed in two ways: boosting the save and reducing targets' save bonuses. Some of the relevant methods are listed below.

                The third problem is that it places an attacker squarely in melee range. With the Assassin's frail framework, low armor requirements and contradicting ability requirements, it is not often the most robust class in terms of weathering those attacks. The least build-constraining way to use deal with this problem is to dig deep to keep the Assassin's survivability up (miss chances and AC are your friends), but there are four ways to make Death attacks from outside melee range:
                • Justice of Weald and Woe's Death Attack capstone is made at range as a default. This is the most direct way, but it doesn't combine well with other Death Attack PrCs without houserules.
                • The Sniper's Eye Assassin spell. Action economy and high level make this difficult to use well without using tricks to shift the spell onto a spell list with more spells or higher-level spell access.
                • Bloodstorm Blade's Thunderous Throw ability, which resolves ranged attacks as melee attacks.
                • The True Thief Lurk ACF with the Ranged Lurk Augment feat. It doesn't come together at all until an absurdly high level (20) and taxes the feat-starved Lurk for even more feats.
                BOOSTING DEATH ATTACK'S DC

                The most direct ways to boost death attack DCs are, most obviously, boosting Intelligence and maximizing class levels in Death Attack-boosting classes, but those alone rarely go far enough to make it reliable.

                Feats:
                • Ability Focus: +2 DC
                • Favored in Guild – Jazred Chalssin (DMG2+web): +4 DC
                Items:
                • Bracers of Murder (MIC): +2 DC, among other benefits.
                • Assassin's Dagger: +1 DC with dagger.
                Debuffing:
                • Aura of Despair (from Paladin of Tyranny, Blackguard, Binder, etc.): -2 Fort save
                • Hexblade's Spooky Ghost Panther (PHB2): -2 Fort save
                • Sickened (from eg. Sickening Strike): -2 Fort save
                • Shaken (from eg. Terrifying Strike): -2 Fort save
                • Aleval School (DotU): -2 Fort save
                • Atramen Oil (PlH): -4 Fort save
                • Constitution Damage: Variable Fortitude penalty
                • Negative levels: Variable Fortitude penalty
                « Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 01:10:05 PM by Pluto »

                Offline Pluto

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                Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
                « Reply #9: December 03, 2012, 06:20:42 PM »
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                « Last Edit: December 23, 2012, 02:09:31 PM by Pluto »

                Offline Pluto

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                Re: The 3.5 Assassin's Handbook
                « Reply #10: December 03, 2012, 06:21:03 PM »
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                « Last Edit: December 23, 2012, 02:09:37 PM by Pluto »