The Assassin Rogue in D&D 5e represents that iconic ability of the rogue to quickly and silently take out a high-priority target. These characters strike suddenly and aim to be as decisive in their strikes as possible.
Picking members of a hobgoblin warband off one-by-one, the Assassin lurks in the shadows of the encampment. With her blade gripped firmly, she identifies the next straggler of the group and begins to move silently towards him.
By the time the hobgoblin realizes that he is being attacked, it’s too late. He lets out a single silent whimper as he falls to the ground.
Now only the target remained: the hobgoblin commander who was still asleep in his now-unguarded tent…
This is the Assassin Rogue Guide for D&D 5e.
What is the Assassin Rogue in D&D 5e?
The Assassin Rogue may be a master of disguise who prefers to blend in to their surroundings to get closer to their target.
On the other hand, they may prefer to keep their distance and strike with a decisive shot from a bow or crossbow. Though we can’t forget their talents and notorious preference for poisons…
Ok, so there’s a lot of ways that an Assassin Rogue can use to do their job. Realistically, they are likely to use whatever will best guarantee that they can strike that decisive blow before anyone knows what’s happened.
Whatever approach the Assassin chooses, they are bound to rely on a combination of speed, stealth, and the element of surprise to accomplish their goals.
The Assassin’s Role in the Party
The Assassin Rogue largely fits the typical expectation for a Rogue’s role in the party. They maneuver around the battlefield and strike at enemies when and where they are most vulnerable.
Dealing tons of damage with their trusty Sneak Attack, the Assassin is able to assist their party in making quick work of enemies.
Where the Assassin sets themselves apart is their Assassinate ability, which we’ll go into more detail about in a moment.
Assassins are at their best when the party is able to get the jump on enemies. By setting the Assassin up to be able to strike before the enemy is even aware of the party’s presence, a potentially deadly fight could be over before it even begins!
Otherwise, the party still finds themselves at a major advantage thanks to the Assassin’s bonuses when initiating the combat.
You will want to read our article covering the Surprise mechanic if you’re playing an Assassin Rogue. After all, you’ll be relying pretty heavily on getting the jump on enemies!
Assassin Rogue in D&D 5e Abilities
The Assassin’s abilities are meant to make it easier for the Rogue to get the jump on their enemies. With the element of surprise, the Assassin can take out a threat before they even get a chance to act!
Two of the Assassin’s abilities are amazing at letting the Rogue quickly take out enemies. The others are still very useful, but play to a more intrigue-heavy situation or style of play.
However, whether you’re playing a game with lots of intrigue or not, the Assassin is a powerful ally to have!
When taking the Assassin archetype at level 3, your character gains proficiency with the disguise kit and poisoner’s kit.
Disguise kits add a ton of flavor to the game and can be incredibly useful. This is especially true for an Assassin who is looking for a clever way to get close to a target. With a good disguise, some convincing, and a sharp blade, the Assassin can unload some major damage on an enemy before they even get a chance to retaliate.
With a bit of preparation, poisons can be very useful. Applying some poison to your weapon or dropping some in the target’s wine can have some major effects against enemies.
Just be aware that there are several non-humanoid creatures with resistance/immunity to poison. Against enemies that are Undead, constructs, or fiends, you’re better off saving your poison for later.
Additionally at 3rd level, the Assassin gets their “bread and butter” ability.
With the Assassinate ability, the Assassin gets advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in the combat yet. Plus, any hits you score against a creature that is surprised are automatically considered to be a critical hit.
A surprised creature will not have had the chance to act in combat yet. Against a surprised creature, you roll your attack with advantage and get an automatic critical hit if the attack lands.
This is incredible and well worth the time to set up situations where the Assassin can initiate combat to get this bonus.
Getting the Best Value Out of the Assassinate Ability
So how do you maximize the benefits of the Assassinate ability in D&D 5e?
First things first, you want to identify who your target is.
You want to look for what enemy is likely going to be the biggest threat in combat. This might be a wizard that you can potentially drop with a single Sneak Attack.
If it’s a beefier enemy that you can’t one-shot, laying down the hurt before the combat even begins will make them easier for the party to deal with. A spell or arrow from a party member may be all it takes to drop them once you’ve dealt your Assassinate damage!
Additionally, you want to look for any enemies who are isolated. If you can take them out quickly and quietly, that’s one less threat on the field when combat starts. Consider how important action economy in D&D 5e is, even removing one enemy pre-combat can greatly tilt the scales in your favor!
If it happens to be the high-threat enemy that is away from the rest, that’s even better!
If combat has already started and you have multiple enemies, you’ll want to focus heavily on using your Stealth skill. By getting into the enemies’ backline, you can cause all kinds of havoc.
Sneak Attack the stragglers (with advantage for hiding), use your Cunning Action Rogue ability to take cover again, rinse and repeat!
You may also consider ranged combat to give you even more options to maneuver and hide. Hanging just out of the enemy’s sight and using the environment for cover can also be a reliable way of getting to use your Assassinate ability.
Just remember: focus on surprising the enemy and neutralizing threats before they can become a problem!
At level 9, the Assassin gains the Infiltration Expertise ability.
With this, you are able to create a new identity. This can be very useful for infiltrating certain organizations and getting closer to targets.
After a week of work (and 25gp), you have a new identity complete with an established history, profession, and affiliations. While you can’t establish an identity that belongs to someone else, your new identity is so well-crafted and convincing that others will believe you to be that person unless you give them an obvious reason not to.
As one would expect, this works best in campaigns with lots of intrigue. Having to take a week for all of the preparation and work necessary to create the identity may not vibe in certain situations. Your party will need to be ok with taking a week to do other things while you create the identity.
Furthermore, if you are needing the identity to infiltrate an event that is in less than a week, you won’t have enough time to prepare.
If your party is fine with hanging out for a week and you have time to create your identity, it can give you some interesting options on your adventure. It is fully possible to have a different identity in every town or city that you visit!
Because creatures can’t roll against your identity like they might roll against a disguise, this can be a very reliable infiltration tool that is worth the time and gold to create!
The Assassin’s level 13 ability adds to their effectiveness in all things espionage.
By spending at least three hours studying a person’s behavior, the Assassin can perfectly mimic that person. This includes their speech, behavior, and handwriting as long as all three have been observed.
The casual observer will not be able to tell a difference between you and who you are impersonating. Someone who suspects something may look closer, but you still get advantage on any Charisma (Deception) check you make to avoid being detected.
As with the Infiltration Expertise ability, this works best if you coordinate with your party. Being able to observe a guard captain, for example, gives you the information you need to impersonate them. Assassinating them and taking their identity as cover would give you free reign to explore and provide valuable recon information to your party.
Nevertheless, this ability relies on your party agreeing to a plan that makes use of your skill. If they would prefer to storm the base instead of just sitting there while you do recon work, it may be better to stick with the majority to avoid frustrating other players.
Finally, at level 17, the Assassin Rogue gets the Death Strike ability.
With this ability, a surprised creature that the Assassin hits with an attack must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 8 + your Dexterity modifier + your proficiency bonus). If the creature fails this saving throw, the attack’s damage is doubled.
Generally speaking, a level 17 Rogue will have a Dexterity score of 20 and a proficiency bonus of +6. This means that the DC is 19 unless you have any magic items that would make it more difficult.
So because the creature is surprised, you are attacking with advantage. Your Assassinate ability means that the attack will automatically result in a critical hit, which doubles the damage dice. If the target fails their save, the damage doubles again from Death Strike.
So at level 17, you’re looking at:
(Crit Weapon Damage x2 + Dexterity modifier + Crit Sneak Attack x2) x 2
Let’s say you’re using a rapier and have a Dexterity score of 20. You hit and the target fails their save against Death Strike. It would look like:
(2d8 + 5 + 18d6) x 2
For an average damage of:
(9 + 5 + 63) x 2 = 77 x 2 = 154 DAMAGE!?!?!?!
(Just for laughs, it would mean a maximum damage of 258 in this example.)
This is enough to drop most enemies in a single hit. If they’re still standing afterwards, they will not be in good shape!
In many ways, the Assassin is what most players picture when they think of a Rogue. Only the Thief archetype is potentially more iconic to the base class.
This means that there is absolutely no shortage of sources for inspiration when connecting your Assassin Rogue to the game’s world.
The most classic example is that of a Bounty Hunter.
They might be a member of a guild or organization who specialize in fulfillment of certain contracts. If this feels too morally gray, the organization may only accept contracts for justified killings with full approval from the authorities.
On the other hand, they might be more accustomed to life outside of an organization. They might be more of the lone wolf type or may be most comfortable in a small group.
Any Assassin is bound to be resourceful and, with their knack for intrigue supporting them, it’s fully possible that they might have numerous backstories and reasons to join the party.
Is the Assassin Rogue Archetype Good?
The Assassin can put out some incredible damage. The Death Strike ability does a lot to help the archetype stand out in the late game.
For the Assassin, the value is mostly packed into that first strike. After dealing a ton of damage to initiate combat, the Assassin doesn’t particularly have many extra abilities to rely on that aren’t available to all Rogues.
To really shine as an Assassin, it’s worth taking some time to coordinate tactics with your team. If you just leave it up to the initiative rolls, you’ll basically never get to use your abilities to their full effect.
These conversations can certainly be had in-character to add to the roleplaying of your game. If you have a plan and pitch it well to the party, they’ll be more likely to go along. If you don’t communicate these goals, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
Speaking of which…
Injecting intrigue and spycraft into a campaign can be fun, but it relies on everyone at the table wanting to play that kind of game. Otherwise it gets boring and frustrating in a hurry.
It might be incredibly fun for the Assassin to create their disguise, do a bunch of recon and fully explore a location, possibly make time for some sabotage, then come back and report what happened. But all the while, the other players at the table are rolling their eyes, scrolling Instagram, or anything else.
If you aren’t playing a game with lots of intrigue, it will be very difficult to get value out of your level 9 and level 13 abilities. That may be important to you or you might not particularly care.
Either way, it is something to consider before choosing this archetype.
Consider what type of players are at your table!
(Pssst… we talk about the different types of players in this article that you should check out!)
Conclusion – The Assassin Rogue in D&D 5e
Assassins are at their best in the first round of combat or in a campaign with lots of social interactions.
With the ability to deal crazy amounts of damage and blend into any crowd, the Assassin is a subclass that’s got both flavor and function.
With some planning and coordination, you won’t just be a high-damaging shadow filling your enemies with paranoia and dread: you’ll look good doing it.
That said, if you’re looking at playing an Assassin, you’ll definitely want to check out my Complete Guide to the Rogue in 5e!
If you want to learn how to get the most out of your Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability, you’ll want to check this article out!
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