The traditional example of the Sneak Attack. The reason rogues have the feature. The knife in the dark, and the master of surprise. The Player’s Handbook introduced the Assassin as a being who eliminates whatever target they are asked to by any means necessary. You might be a mere bounty hunter, or a tribesman who needs to destroy a life to prove themselves. Either way, you have a unique set of skills that are useful for any adventuring party. Let’s take a gander at them through our Assassin 5e Guide.
Master of Disguise: Assassin 5E
The Assassin has absolutely ridiculous flavor. This rogue archetype has two aggressive abilities focused around killing someone before they can even scream. They gain two features that help you get the jump on people. The aggressive abilities are absolutely incredible and make your party focus around stealth and shock. The other two features are… somewhat weak, and require very specific intrigue campaigns to work.
Before you get any class features, an assassin needs to have the tools to succeed.
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with the disguise kit and the poisoner’s kit.
The fact that you don’t get skills to help you here is somewhat unfortunate.
Disguise kits are flavorful and not bad at all! With their help, you can pretend to be quite a few things. If you’re a small assassin, you can pretend to be a lot of common enemies (including Medium ones if the GM let’s you on stilts!). You can start combats in a lot of interesting and unique ways by simply stabbing someone who willingly makes friends with you. The most common Disguise skills involve Intelligence or Wisdom to make the disguise, and Charisma checks when things go wrong (Deception). Try to bend the field in your favor by doing actions that use your Proficient and Expertise skills.
The poisoner’s kit is less common, but still quite useful. There are, sadly, a lot of things that are immune to poison. If you need to fight Undead in your near future, or constructed beings, then make sure you don’t waste your stuff. Otherwise, go wild! Checks to craft and apply poison to your weapons are GM discretion. Your best bet is probable Intelligence to craft, and Dexterity to apply.
Both of these kits lean towards decent Intelligence scores and then relying on your Kit proficiency to create what you need. You’ll have good Dexterity by default. Charisma might be good for when your disguise is ineffective, or your poison doesn’t take hold.
This is your first strictly offensive ability (unless you count the Poisoner’s Kit!). It’s also pretty decent!
Starting at 3rd level, you are at your deadliest when you get the drop on your enemies. You have advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in the combat yet. In addition, any hit you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit.
If a creature is surprised, they haven’t acted in combat yet. That means you have advantage to score an automatic critical hit. That’s amazing!
And then combat begins in earnest.
So, what’s the best usage of this ability? First, you’ve gotta identify what the threat on the battlefield is, or someone who’s completely alone. If you can take out a scout before they notice you, then you’ve got a free surprise round, and you can refresh Assassinate for the next fight. Your goal is to try and stab them to take them out, and maybe have an Archer or Caster finish the job.
In big fights with multiple creatures, you’re going to want to become as stealthy as possible. If you can, make Stealth your Expertise, and get to the backlines of the enemy team. Then, you can start a fight by auto-critting the enemy’s caster, potentially taking out a major threat before the battle even begins.
You may want to consider being focused on ranged combat. Especially later on, when enemies get Truesight, you’ll want to just out-range their ability to see you.
Get the jump on combat, preferably with an ally or two that focuses on stealth. Then, you can remove major problems before they even begin.
After 6 levels of getting the jump on your enemies, you get something that might help you in intrigue scenarios. An assassin gets this at level 9.
You must spend seven days and 25 gp to establish the history, profession, and affiliations for an identity. You can’t establish an identity that belongs to someone else. For example, you might acquire appropriate clothing, letters of introduction, and official- looking certification to establish yourself as a member of a trading house from a remote city so you can insinuate yourself into the company of other wealthy merchants.
Thereafter, if you adopt the new identity as a disguise, other creatures believe you to be that person until given an obvious reason not to.
This isn’t bad. Really! But it requires two things to work at all.
First, the scenario must arise. You must be in a situation where you can have a week to learn about and join a society or social group. And that has to be useful for you or your party in some variety. Usually, getting a possible identity established is good for you so you can sneak into parties and whatnot. But, that week timeframe is dangerous. Your GM decides how active you have to be during the time, so you might be able to do other things in the background. But, if the party is in 3 days, then you’ll just have to disguise the old-fashioned way.
The other important thing is that your party would have to be willing to wait that long. If you don’t have a party that wants to rush things, you can more often spend the time to get identities in every town you go to. That gives you a wide assortment of identities that you can swap to when needed. Then, creatures (not just townsfolk!) have to believe you until proven otherwise.
If you get both of these qualities, you can have a legitimately good method of gathering disguises that creatures can’t roll against. You’ll be an essential part of intrigue scenarios, and have multiple methods of using Deception to your advantage.
However, if both of these situations aren’t around, then you might be in some trouble. You’ll have to deliberate with both your party and GM by level 9 to see if it’ll work with everyone involved.
Then, you get increasingly more abilities to help you sneak into situations. This one takes less long, but allows for natural saves.
At 13th level, you gain the ability to unerringly mimic another person’s speech, writing, and behavior. You must spend at least three hours studying these three components of the person’s behavior, listening to speech, examining handwriting, and observing mannerisms.
Your ruse is indiscernible to the casual observer. If a wary creature suspects something is amiss, you have advantage on any Charisma (Deception) check you make to avoid detection.
Three hours is still a long time, especially if you want to disguise as a bandit or servant of an undead master. But, if your party lets you work, you can get some value out of this. You can watch a scout’s mannerisms and speech as they walk around an area. Then, you can Assassinate them and take their identity, allowing you to gather information for your party as you return and talk to your new allies.
Of course, a similar scenario can be applied to actual intrigue situations. If there’s someone that has a party invitation that finds themself alone, then surely you could take their place. Over three hours of watching them, and enough Intelligence (History) checks, you might get good enough small talk to avoid raising suspicion.
However, you still have the same problems as before. 3 hours is a long time, so if you have harsh deadlines, you can’t use this. And if your party just wants you to shut up and Disguise kit your way in there, you probably should to avoid frustrations. Try to only take this archetype with a calm party, if you want to make use of this stuff.
It only took 14 levels, but it’s finally time for the Surprised aspects of your class to shine through once again!
Starting at 17th level, you become a master of instant death. When you attack and hit a creature that is surprised, it must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 8 + your Dexterity modifier + your proficiency bonus). On a failed save, double the damage of your attack against the creature.
That’s pretty awesome! On your typical rogue, you’ll be at 20 Dexterity with a +6 Proficiency bonus (without magic items!). DC 19 isn’t too easy for most creatures to succeed at, and with magic items you’ll be likely to have DC 20-21. That’s a huge chance to double your attack…
And then critically hit! That’s 4x the damage!
So, on surprised creatures, you get advantage on the attack roll and your attack hits for 4x the damage. That’s absolutely bonkers! You’re essentially basically hitting someone for 40d6 by level 19, something a caster could only dream of doing. And that’s just through class features! I’m not even considering weapon enchantments, Dexterity modifier, or anything connected. That’s an insane amount of damage! Even in the super late-game, very few enemies will be able to tank that hit and still be in great fighting shape.
The first round will be crucial for you. You’ll almost need to one-shot an enemy to be doing your job. After the really impressive first hit in a round, you… kinda just become a rogue without an archetype. You better make sure that your hit takes someone out! Not that that’ll be hard; if you get the jump on someone and they fail the Death Strike saving throw, you’ll one shot really powerful beings, like Liches.
Best Race for Assassin Rogues
Assassins need Dexterity; stealth and landing attack rolls are essential for your job as taking someone out immediately. Afterwards, your Charisma should probably be at a place where it’s not embarrassing if you get caught out. You don’t wanna be rolling a -1 when you’re caught in a disguise! Of course, if you don’t mind making Deception an Expertise, you’ll be fine with low Charisma.
While Kobolds may be one of the weakest races introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, they still make for excellent rogues. Dexterity is all you really care about for being an Assassin, and while you’re graced with a -2 Strength penalty (for some reason), you’re probably just fine with 6 Strength. Pack Tactics is easy advantage on attack rolls, and you’ll be happy with Groveling if an assassination attempt goes wrong. Light Blindness is a chore to work through; if your GM is kind, consider asking them for the equivalent of sunglasses for yourself, or just use Pack Tactics to work your way through it.
Being naturally small is good for identities. It lets you have a wider range of size options to easily disguise yourself on. Just make sure your Disguise Kit has some stilts.
If you’re looking for something relatively simple, then Lightfoot halflings are for you. +2 Dexterity is what you’re wanting, and +1 Charisma is just fine. Lucky’s wonderful for you, as is Nimble. Hiding behind the Fighter is just a good idea; you could have a Paladin talk to an enemy while slowly getting closer to them, and then get the drop on them while they’re surprised! Unfortunately, it’s insanely difficult to get Surprise more than once in a combat. So… just make good use of your allies’s shadow.
A Consideration: Human
Humans aren’t bad for you. Even non-variant human allows you to get 14s in all stats, making you good at skills. And Variant Human allows you to pick up Alert and always go first! Not bad, if you want to see the power of Alert and Assassinate.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Assassin 5E
The Assassin is one of the coolest subclasses in the entire game, but suffers a lot from the typical dungeon experience. You get a single attack roll to shine, and then you become archetype-less… if your GM is doing a typical slashing crawler. In social campaigns, Assassins can become incredibly good, allowing you to get access to disguises in perfect situations. If you either don’t mind losing your archetype after the first round of combat, or you’re entering a social campaign, this is a fantastic choice!