Is the assassin's death attack too weak?


3.5/d20/OGL


I've been looking over the assassin class and thinking about the death attack.

  • 3 rounds of study without being identified as a foe.
  • Attack roll vs. flat-footed or flanked foe.
  • Save versus [10+Assassin level+Int] (probably maxing out somewhere around 24-30 at 20th level).

    The three rounds seems a bit much, I don't think anyone has ever got it off in a game I played, and the save seems a bit weak to me. Am I wrong? Have you seen it in play and seen it effective?

  • Dark Archive

    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
    pres man wrote:

    I've been looking over the assassin class and thinking about the death attack.

  • 3 rounds of study without being identified as a foe.
  • Attack roll vs. flat-footed or flanked foe.
  • Save versus [10+Assassin level+Int] (probably maxing out somewhere around 24-30 at 20th level).

    The three rounds seems a bit much, I don't think anyone has ever got it off in a game I played, and the save seems a bit weak to me. Am I wrong? Have you seen it in play and seen it effective?

  • Pres Man, I have tried using it as a DM against my PCs, and it's never been worthwhile. IF (and it's a big if) my Assassin can even get it off, the PCs more often than not make their save.

    I understand why the designers made the decision to make the conditions difficult to match due to the devastating effect of a failed save, but these conditions need some tweaking to make it a useful part of an Assassin's repertoire.

    YMMV of course.


    pres man wrote:

    I've been looking over the assassin class and thinking about the death attack.

  • 3 rounds of study without being identified as a foe.
  • Attack roll vs. flat-footed or flanked foe.
  • Save versus [10+Assassin level+Int] (probably maxing out somewhere around 24-30 at 20th level).

    The three rounds seems a bit much, I don't think anyone has ever got it off in a game I played, and the save seems a bit weak to me. Am I wrong? Have you seen it in play and seen it effective?

  • I have always thought it was too weak. It takes too much effort to setup, and then the save DC is pretty low.


    Yeah, it is a concern with having NPCs start dropping PCs left and right if it gets too effective.

    I am thinking of dropping the whole "they can't be aware of you" part and maybe reduced the time to study down to a single round, but you have to concentrate during that round (i.e. use a standard action to study them). Only allowing it once very two rounds doesn't strike me as too power, consider that is their entire shtick.

    Maybe make it a "Flick of the Wrist" type of effect (you have to quick draw a weapon and attack with it in the round to get the death attack).

    Shadow Lodge

    Maybe you could add to the DC based on the number of levels they have in classes other than assassin, like they way Stunning Fist works? Even if it's just +1 DC for every 2 levels, that would increase the DC by 5 for an Rouge10/Assassin10.

    Grand Lodge

    Best way I see is to make the DC based off of character level instead of class level.

    The Exchange

    Bear in mind that the assassin gets sneak attack damage too on those death attacks. Depending on the build, this could be a lot of damage. The way I see it, the assassin of a rogue who trades some sneak attack damage for a chance of an outright kill (albeit relatively low, but probably more than (probably a lot more than) 5%. I can see that you might want to make it more frequent, so it can be used as a class feature, but I'd be careful about changing the DC - you could create an insta-kill monster that effectively s$#@s over your encounters.

    Liberty's Edge

    We had a PC that was an assassin. The assassin was always scouting ahead of the party and was usually invisible. If he came across a lone creature, then 3 rounds later the creature had a fairly good chance of being dead.

    I'm not sure I would want to use this against the PCs. But it sure worked well for the party.

    Paizo Employee Creative Director

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    I've seen PCs slain by assassin death attacks before. To the player, a death attack can OFTEN seem arbitrary, since all of the "buildup" to that save is behind the scenes (since if it works, the 3 rounds of study and the attack roll itself happen without the PC's, and thus the player's, knowledge). Furthermore, it's a save or die effect. When it works, great, but it's not supposed to be something that's easy to pull off. If only to limit the amount of what might be seen by players as arbitrary GM antagonism.

    I haven't actually seen an assassin in play as a player character, though. But I imagine that since a PC is in EVERY fight rather than an NPC (who's generally only ever in ONE fight), the law of averages would dictate that assassinations would be successful pretty often. Provided, of course, the GM doesn't "cheat" by never setting up situations for the assassin PC to use his class abilities (which would be akin to never running combats for a fighter, or only having incorporeal creatures attack the rogue, never using undead against a cleric, or never doing roleplaying encounters for a bard).


    James Jacobs wrote:
    I've seen PCs slain by assassin death attacks before. To the player, a death attack can OFTEN seem arbitrary, since all of the "buildup" to that save is behind the scenes (since if it works, the 3 rounds of study and the attack roll itself happen without the PC's, and thus the player's, knowledge).

    To me that sounds like even more reason to get rid of the restriction that the target can't be aware of the assassin. This restriction forces GMs to use it in a way that is going to seem arbitrary.

    James Jacobs wrote:
    Furthermore, it's a save or die effect. When it works, great, but it's not supposed to be something that's easy to pull off. If only to limit the amount of what might be seen by players as arbitrary GM antagonism.

    I agree, that is certainly something to be worried about. On the other hand it shouldn't be so hard to pull off that it is effectively useless. An assassin should be a scary foe for a party, not someone that only a low level mage caught unaware might be remotely worried about.

    James Jacobs wrote:
    I haven't actually seen an assassin in play as a player character, though. But I imagine that since a PC is in EVERY fight rather than an NPC (who's generally only ever in ONE fight), the law of averages would dictate that assassinations would be successful pretty often.

    The problem is with the three round wait time and can't be obvious most players aren't going to bother with it on anything like a regular basis. I mean how many players are going to want to give up three rounds just to get one attack that they have to hope they don't roll a 1 on and even if they hit, they have to hope the target doesn't save. I've had a player who is playing a PC assassin and I don't think they have bothered with the death attack even once.


    Perhaps removing the requirement that the target needs to be unaware of the assassin, and rather require that it has to be unaware of an impending attack by the assassin, would help. I could imagine that the assassin could use a social setting, like a tavern (ever noticed just how many dark, mysterious strangers hang around in taverns?), to watch his target, and then attack him while the target is off-guard - if the DM feels particularly nasty, the assassin can hit while his target is in the restroom, and has his guard down most definitly.
    I think the death attack is better suited as a story consideration than a combat application.

    Stefan

    Scarab Sages

    pres man wrote:
    To me that sounds like even more reason to get rid of the restriction that the target can't be aware of the assassin. This restriction forces GMs to use it in a way that is going to seem arbitrary.

    It becomes even more difficult to pull off, in any game where the players typically expect (or, given the attitude of some on these forums, demand?) they will be making all rolls in the open, themselves.

    The GM has the dilemma of either; suddenly changing the table rules on the players ("Yeah, I rolled three Perception checks for you; you failed them all") and facing the inevitable backlash/tableflip, or continues to ask for Perception checks from the players, which allows them to abuse their player-knowledge ("I have an inexplicable compulsion to cast See Invisibity...").

    He could punish metagaming of this sort, by calling for regular, insignificant checks ("You rolled 35 Perception, eh? Wow. You find a copper piece in the corner of the room.... Oh, and wasn't that See Invisibility your last level 2 slot?), but I think most players would consider those tactics equally arbitary.

    The Exchange

    I've always seen Death Attack as an 'out of combat' ability. Much more appropriate for a hidden, invisible or disguised Assassin than for characters in the middle of a combat. It can be set up and used in combat, but that's not the ideal situation.

    If you must attempt to use it in combat, Invis + poison + Death Attack = bad news for the target.

    Scarab Sages

    Stebehil wrote:
    Perhaps removing the requirement that the target needs to be unaware of the assassin, and rather require that it has to be unaware of an impending attack by the assassin, would help.

    That's certainly how I read the intent.

    It's not enough for the target to be aware someone is nearby; they need to be aware the assassin is a threat.
    A disguise, a bluff, a forged pass, a concealed weapon, or being vouched for by a person trusted by the target, should all create opportunities for Sneak Attack, and hence, Death Attack.

    To do otherwise (i.e. to follow the RAW "The death attack fails if the target detects the assassin or recognizes the assassin as an enemy" to the pedantic letter) prevents any attempt by a non-invisible attacker within line of sight of the target, making many real-life historical assassinations invalid.

    Most people walk past hundreds of others on their way to work each day, stand in queues, press together in crowds; they don't even register these other people. Your eyes are on your feet, or on your destination, on the menu board, on the TV screen, on the sports pitch.

    I'm not going to rehash all the 'Hungry Harry can't steal a chicken' (sic) threads, but JJ has made it clear in the past, that the Stealth and Perception rules rely on a good deal of GM discretion, and if players want their GM to give them stealth opportunities vs distracted targets, they have to play fair by relinquishing some of their godlike omniscience over their own PC's surroundings.


    Let me point out that if the whole "study and sneak up on" part of the death attack ability is suppose to happen outside of combat, then the number of rounds required for it are irrelevant. Because rounds aren't (usually) tracked outside of combat. So if an assassin has to study the target for 1 round or 3 rounds or 5 rounds, it doesn't really make a lick of difference. The only difference it makes is within combat. (Obviously it it took hours it would matter, or even just 10 minutes it would matter, but not a few rounds).


    I guess the three rounds could be an attempt to stop abuse of the ability. Outside of combat, it does not matter much. But in a combat, three rounds is a lot. It might be interpreted as "hey, this is not meant for combat use, but if you have to, we make is quite hard and not very useful. Besides, as an Assassin is evil, it is not meant for PCs anyway."

    Stefan


    pres man wrote:

    I've been looking over the assassin class and thinking about the death attack.

  • 3 rounds of study without being identified as a foe.
  • Attack roll vs. flat-footed or flanked foe.
  • Save versus [10+Assassin level+Int] (probably maxing out somewhere around 24-30 at 20th level).

    The three rounds seems a bit much, I don't think anyone has ever got it off in a game I played, and the save seems a bit weak to me. Am I wrong? Have you seen it in play and seen it effective?

  • I hada player play a ranger/assassin, he was terribly effective. Often the target made thier save and died anyway from the damage. but he often got the kill. I didn't think 3 rounds were too hard to get at all, this sn't a pitched battle kin of ability, but a sneaky ability, this should be the opening move of a battle, 3 rounds is nothing.

    I don't thinkit really needs changing, it simply makes int even more inmportant asa stat.


    Reading what you originally posted - "3 rounds of study without being identified as a foe." That's not real tough for a shopkeeper trying to sell the target something, or for almost anyone standing around in a crowded marketplace. Other situations might include attacking from concealment, assassin disguised as a guard, etc. Assassins are supposed to be clever.

    The death attack is like a coup de gras but the target doesn't have to be helpless. That's pretty powerful. Additionally, the damage done even if the save is successful is significant. I have to agree with Elthbert, though you could add in Dex or Str to the DC if you feel that too many targets are making that save....


    Elthbert wrote:
    pres man wrote:

    I've been looking over the assassin class and thinking about the death attack.

  • 3 rounds of study without being identified as a foe.
  • Attack roll vs. flat-footed or flanked foe.
  • Save versus [10+Assassin level+Int] (probably maxing out somewhere around 24-30 at 20th level).

    The three rounds seems a bit much, I don't think anyone has ever got it off in a game I played, and the save seems a bit weak to me. Am I wrong? Have you seen it in play and seen it effective?

  • I hada player play a ranger/assassin, he was terribly effective. Often the target made thier save and died anyway from the damage. but he often got the kill. I didn't think 3 rounds were too hard to get at all, this sn't a pitched battle kin of ability, but a sneaky ability, this should be the opening move of a battle, 3 rounds is nothing.

    I don't thinkit really needs changing, it simply makes int even more inmportant asa stat.

    It they are dying from the damage then the ability is still not doing much, and since it is the staple ability of the class it should do more. The chances of anyone making the save are high, and the chance to get another death attack off are quiet low in most people's games since combat tend to last about 3 rounds. The other issue is that you have to hide, and not be noticed as the attacker. Once you have been noticed as the attacker it is pretty hard to nullify that. There is a another thread on this that goes into greater detail as to why the ability sucks.


    I do find it interesting to see the PF ninja's master trick seems to have addressed some of the issues I had with the assassin's ability.

    Ultimate Combat wrote:
    Assassinate (Ex): A ninja with this master trick can kill foes that are unable to defend themselves. To attempt to assassinate a target, the ninja must first study her target for 1 round as a standard action. On the following round, if the ninja makes a sneak attack against the target and the target is denied its Dexterity bonus to AC, the sneak attack has the additional effect of possibly killing the target. This attempt automatically fails if the target recognizes the ninja as an enemy. If the sneak attack is successful and the target of this attack fails a Fortitude save, it dies. The DC of this save is equal to 10 + 1/2 the ninja’s level + the ninja’s Charisma modifier. If the save is successful, the target still takes the sneak attack damage as normal, but it is immune to that ninja’s assassinate ability for 1 day.


    The only thing I see that is broken about the assassin's death attack is the wording "The death attack fails if the target notices the assassin or recognizes the assassin as an enemy." I would strike "notices the assassin or" from that, since a disguised assassin can still strike from plain sight - though he must still be flanking. Disguised as a bodyguard, the target would expect him to be near or even behind and would definitely not be expecting an attack from a bodyguard (thus flat footed and denied dex to AC).

    Once an assassin is in combat it is highly unlikely that anyone will fail to recognize him as an enemy and therefore it is unlikely that he could get off another death attack in any given combat, even if the combat lasted more than three rounds. It is not a combat ability, it is an ambush ability - though theoretically if another character had an ability that caused the target to be flat-footed your DM might allow a death attack.

    Actually - Rogue/Assassin/Shadowdancer would be nasty with Hide in Plain Sight....


    I've always felt a neat way around the Low DC is to sacrifice Sneak Attack damage to increase the DC save on a -1d6 SA/+1 DC but you can only sacrifice 1d6 SA per Assassin level. This allows really high level Assassins to really become fearsome foes while the lower level ones are considered "apprenticing".

    As for the wording "notices the assassin", I've assumed that it meant noticing the assassin for who/what it actually is. This means the PC has to succeed in a Slight of Hand check to conceal a weapon of some sort (the bigger the weapon, the harder the DC). He'd then have to make a Bluff check to either A.) Not be seen as suspicious or B.) lie directly to his target. Another route would be to Hide from his target until the opportune moment.

    I'd also just use the Ninja's Assassination trick that pres man described above.


    It seems pretty clear that there is a consensus on most issues surrounding the death attack. The save DC could be a little higher, detected as a foe trumps detected, etc. It is clearly a story based, out of battle ability. In a one on one fight with improved invisibility, it could be interesting, though lol.

    I thought about building one recently, but my concept got debunked. No one has mentioned the fact that it must be a melee attack. I wanted to make a crossbow sniper/assassin. Not even within 30' can death attack be used.

    Also consider the other classes with instant death attacks, as compared to the assassin. It does seem like he has been unfairly punished for his wicked ways.

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