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 toward 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…
Ready your weapon and prepare to move in swiftly with deadly precision.
This is the full guide to the Assassin Rogue in 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 are a lot of approaches 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.
Role in the Party
Assassin Rogues largely fit 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 my 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 Features 5e
The Assassin Rogue’s features 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 features 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!
Recommended: Sneak Attack in D&D 5e
Bonus Proficiencies (Level 3)
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 also 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.
Assassinate (Level 3)
Additionally at 3rd level, the Assassin Rogue gets their “bread and butter” ability.
When you’re catching enemies before they’ve even had a chance to act, you know exactly how to hit them where it hurts the most!
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.
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.
Obviously, this is pretty amazing and particularly rewards spending some 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 an enemy spellcaster 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 still 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 party’s 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!
Infiltration Expertise (Level 9)
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.
This is particularly going to matter more in a game with a fair amount of intrigue and roleplaying. The value that you get from creating a new persona and weaseling your way into certain groups will largely depend on that roleplaying.
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.
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.
However, 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!
Just make sure you don’t mix those identities up!
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!
Recommended: Complete Guide to the Rogue in D&D 5e
Impostor (Level 13)
The Assassin’s level 13 feature adds to their effectiveness in all things espionage.
While you weren’t able to disguise yourself as specific people with your previous feature, Impostor fixes that. As long as you’re able to spend the time observing them, you’ll be a dead ringer!
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.
As with the Infiltration Expertise feature, 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 could then give you free rein 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.
Death Strike (Level 17)
Ok, so we’ve had more of a focus on intrigue-based features with usefulness that mostly depends on the group and type of campaign being played.
However, the Assassin’s capstone feature takes us back to what the Assassin does best: surprising enemies and hitting them really, REALLY hard.
And by that I mean you’re hitting them absurdly hard.
Just see what I mean…
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.
By the time you’re getting this, it’s a safe bet that your party knows the drill. Coordinating and letting you get into position to initiate combat and quickly remove a high-priority target whenever possible is likely just an understood thing at this point.
Now there’s even more of a payoff for this though!
Generally speaking, a level 17 Rogue will have a Dexterity score of 20 and a proficiency bonus of +6. This means that the DC for Death Strike is 19 unless you have any magic items that would make it even more difficult for your target!
Now let’s put this all together…
- 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 more than enough to drop most enemies in a single hit. If they’re still standing afterward, 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 that specializes in the 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 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 as you start the combat with a bang. 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, 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 during your Session Zero before choosing this archetype.
Consider what type of players are at your table!
Conclusion – 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.
But what are your thoughts on the Assassin Rogue? Let’s chat in the comments!