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Nerd Watching: Playing in the Dark with Knives

Written by Nicholas - Published on September 22, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Skirting the Shadows

There’s been a lot of information floating around about assassins in bits of pieces. Teasers and Gen Con previews abound but nothing solid and conclusive, until now. The first two tiers of the assassins have been released to Insider subscribers, with the epic tier on the way. So what are you non-subscribers missing out on?

A few months back when the class was first announced, I posted about my worries. I was afraid that assassins would just be rogues with a darker cloak. Now that the classes have versatility build into them, how can the assassin be distinct? In the comments for that post WotC’s own Andy Collins dropped in and assured me that I was going to be happy with the direction of the class. Well, the man is a font of pure truth. I’m going to explain to you what the assassin is and the the same time how it is separate from the closest comparison, the rogue.

The Power Source

Rogues come from the martial power source. Assassins come from the brand new shadow power source. But that’s meaningless, is it not? I could say that assassins get their powers from fresh baked cookies but it would not make a bit of difference if they play just like rogues. Luckily that’s not the case. The assassin feels solidly more mystical. The rogue may have fancy strikes with his little dagger, but the assassin can kill a man with the mere shadow of his weapon. The rogue may stab you in the back, but the assassin can make a noose out pure darkness and strangle the life force right out of you. These powers are not always better than those of a rogue, but they are pure assassin flavored. I could show you a utility power that allows the character to steal an enemies very identity, to the point that attacks against the character hurt the enemy. There is no doubt about what class has that power.

The Damage

Rogues and assassins are both strikers, but we’ve seen a huge range of those. No one would say that the monk is just a knock off of the warlock. Likewise, you will not confuse the assassin and the rogue. There is a simple way to under the difference. The rogue is an opportunist. The assassin makes his own opportunity. The rogue will take an easy flank or a distracted target to get his sneak attack damage. The assassin decides on his target and begins to build up shrouds on that enemy. It may take several turns of build up, but when the time comes the assassin will unleash these shrouds for massive damage. The assassin hit is also more dependable. Even if he misses when unleashing the shrouds, it still deals considerable damage.

Similarly, the assassin is no nonsense in getting to his target. The rogue has many shifting powers to get him into the ideal position. The assassin goes further, teleporting, phasing through walls and even becoming living shadow to reach the target he has marked for death.

The Attitude

You have probably figured out by now, the assassin is grim. Rogue characters after often played like silver tongued charmers who you root for even as they break the law. Sometimes you pity them when they get into trouble. Some rogues keep laughing so they don’t have to think too hard about what they do. The assassin feels much darker. It is hard to imagine an assassin who is not comfortable with his work, because they clearly do it with such efficiency. It feels like most assassins must be either emotionally cold, fanatical or just completely sadistic. It works well with some of the bad boy races. If you’re into dark heroes, the assassin couples well thematically (and often mechanically) with revenant, drow, shadar-kai and changelings.

Have you tried out the assassin class or do you find them too emo? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



5 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Playing in the Dark with Knives”
  1. Mike Kenyon says:

    I have a beginner player in my group who loves the sneaky, stealthy types. She has been playing a rogue up till now, naturally, but she loved the idea of the assassin. Teleporting through shadow and becoming a shadow herself were the main draws. I don’t think I even told her about the attack herself. Fortunately, the group just entered the Shadowfell so there is a story element to the change.

    As the DM, I liked reading the assassin class. The extra damage seems easier for her to understand and thus obtain compared to the rogue. It also seems excellent in the hands of an expert: timing the damage is entirely in the player’s hands.

    We’re playing our first game of the year tonight. I can let you know how it goes :)

  2. Bartoneus says:

    I’m right there with you Nick, at first I was skeptical but then when I started reading the class I was very pleased. There is definitely some overlap with the Rogue, but I actually find the class a lot closer to the Avenger in the end except the shrouds introduce some great timing elements into combat that I really enjoy.

    As for the Shadow power source, I’m really excited to see future classes simply because their powers are called “Hexes”, and I’m very confident we’ll be seeing the Necromancer make an appearance in this area.

    I sent Mike Mearls a bunch of questions about the class, as he designed it, and you can see the Q&A here if you haven’t already: http://www.critical-hits.com/2009/09/16/in-depth-4e-assassin-and-qa-with-mike-mearls/

    I will definitely be trying the Assassin out whenever I’m not DMing which will probably not be for a while!

  3. Todd Bradley says:

    From your description, it sounds like an assassin is still the kind of character who engages in battles and rolls for initiative like the rest of ’em. I like the original D&D assassin concept more – someone who works solo to get into position for one single killing blow against an unsuspecting victim, but sucks in any sort of a regular fight.

  4. Alan says:

    i agree with u Todd About the Edition 1 assasin as i play one too i remember i had followed the mark to a bar and while my allie distracted him and i had to poison his drink without anyone seeing. and another target i had followed down a lone alleyway that i learned he took to get home faster from his shop I hit him with a poisoned throwing dagger and my cloak of invisibility to slip away got me 10,000 G.P.


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