How to make an "assassin" villain intimidating in battle


Advice


Hey all,

As per the title one of the PCs in my game has an archnemesis that is a high ranking member/leader of assassins. Mechanically I was wondering how to make such a character an intimidating force in battle. Maybe I'm thinking too narrow minded but a character like that would probably rely on sneak attack damage as his MO, and aside from having Greater Invisibility to be able to full attack sneak attack, I'm not sure how else this character could challenge the party in a meaningful way. Perhaps a lot of minions to present ample flanking?

Any advice?


If the character is supposed to be a Master Assassin, he likely has a good streak of paranoia running through him as well. This means things like running dossiers on the PCs, setting up traps, making sure the battleground is to his advantage, etc. What that means is that even by his lonesome, he'd never be facing more than 1 character at a time if he can and even when he's facing 2 or more, he's doing so in such a way that their numbers are to his advantage not theirs.


Well, is he an assassin, an Assassin, or a Red Mantis Assassin?

If he's a RMA, the little dance thing that makes them fascinated would be pretty great.
Set up a group of them (with the others being lower level, of course) that all start their Prayer Attack on the first round (they should have high initiative, might want to build towards going first so the effect is there), with the leader targeting his enemy, and the others picking targets.

As long as the head guy keeps up his prayer, then he should be good to move slowly towards the archenemy, concentrating on the prayer as a standard action.

If the enemy fails his safe, but the others don't, then the leader's minions engage the PC's friends.
Remember, the text says "each time a new threat appears" is when they get a new save.
The assassins already in the room don't count as new threats.

Be sure to describe the prayer in full detail, perhaps even writing a prayer to Achaekek himself to recite during his turn.


Just from the top of my head; personally i like to give "boss battles" some unique spins; for example I had a group fight a Shadow Demon in the darkness of the jungle canopy, their goal quickly became to cut/create holes in the canopy to beam light at the right spot to make him helpless.. Kinda like battleship lol ;)

In this case, the first thing that comes to mind is that you can present an array of fake bosses in the fight, and they have to take down the right one, all the while he skirmishes to sneak attack and do other shenanigans... Use the rules as a guideline, but never be afraid to introduce unique effects that you want, as long as it's not totally unfair.. The fakes can be illusions or henchmen and creates a little mini-game inside the fight itself :)


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Which PC has the nemesis? That should help narrow down what this leader should be.

I'm building up an Arcane Trickster in PFS using UC Rogue 1/Exploiter Wizard 3 as the base, getting Accomplished Sneak Attacker to provide the required amount of sneak attack. I use Dimensional Slide to get into flanks, an Eclipsed Continual Flame necklace (just mundane jewelry besides the spell) to provide dim light for concealment, allowing me to continue to use sneak attack. This build, however, is not going to assassinate a plate wearing fighter very well unless I'm straight casting at him. I can shut down a wizard in a heartbeat (casting silence before sliding up to them, for example) and anything with poor flat-footed AC is doomed as the character progresses. I simply don't have the BAB (lol +1 at level 4, +2 at level 6!) to use actual attacks against anything with decent flat-footed, though.

I like the AT for what you're aiming to do, though. You get a little SA action and plenty of wizardry to wreck the party.


The villain is indeed a RMA, so I do like the idea of playing up the Prayer ability.

The PC is a melee bard, specifically a Dervish of Dawn archetype, ie. DEX to hit and damage striker.

For further context this will be a villain that shouldn't be able to be defeated until near the end of the campaign, which ends arounds 16-17. How well would an AT scale with such a high level encounter? Likewise for a more strict interpretation of a typical RMA?


There is a unique magic sawtooth saber that grants a lot of cool abilities. I can remember its name off hand.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Helel13 wrote:

The villain is indeed a RMA, so I do like the idea of playing up the Prayer ability.

The PC is a melee bard, specifically a Dervish of Dawn archetype, ie. DEX to hit and damage striker.

For further context this will be a villain that shouldn't be able to be defeated until near the end of the campaign, which ends arounds 16-17. How well would an AT scale with such a high level encounter? Likewise for a more strict interpretation of a typical RMA?

If you're using Accomplished Sneak Attacker to qualify, you're basically a full wizard. For the record, an APL 16 can expect to fight a CR 19 encounter as a boss, which is a level 20 NPC using PC class levels. Thus, you'd likely look at UC Rogue 1/Exploiter Wizard 9/AT 10 as the final. If you wanted to be slightly blastier, you could sub out 1 level of wizard for crossblooded sorc, but then you're really going for lethality.

Either way, your assassin is then a caster with 9th level spells and 7d6 sneak attack.


Helel13 wrote:

The villain is indeed a RMA, so I do like the idea of playing up the Prayer ability.

The PC is a melee bard, specifically a Dervish of Dawn archetype, ie. DEX to hit and damage striker.

For further context this will be a villain that shouldn't be able to be defeated until near the end of the campaign, which ends arounds 16-17. How well would an AT scale with such a high level encounter? Likewise for a more strict interpretation of a typical RMA?

Dervish of dawn is somewhat associated with Sarenrae, so why not make the "assassin" a Mantis Zealot Warpriest


In my pathfinderized Age of Worms campaign, my pc's were terrified of Krekie ( high lvl kenku assassin) whom i made a slayer. Basically Krekie would pop in at inopportune times and do a death attack then dimension door or stealth away. What made her so scary was she used the party's paranoia of being under constant threat to the fullest. Have your assassin versatile and not be afraid to make a quick getaway. My pc's spent 2 full sessions hunting her down lol


The trick to making an Assassin type BBEG scary is to not play fair. The very nature of an assassin is they don't play fair - embrace that.

Did they leave their gear at the Inn while they went out on the town? I mean, lugging around 80 pounds of gear (even in magical bags), and magic weapons is going to be insanely cumbersome and, in most places, illegal - most cities don't let people run around with greatswords, and if they do at bare minimum they have to be tied into the sheath. Bare minimum. Well, lets replace their potion bottles a poison that causes the drinker to become hyper paranoid, or full blown berserk rage against allies.

Did the wizard decide he was going to go do some shopping? Good on him. The assassin hires a cockney pickpocket who snatches his spell components pouch, then uses a magic item to summon something very nasty that the wizard now has to fight - without spells, and during that fight he slips up and goes for the assassination. Oh, and nobody is going to believe the wizard was completely unconnected to it either - so expect some angry business owners wanting replacement houses because a 22 foot demon tore through theirs.

Your horse is doused in pheromones of a vicious monster local to the area you have to travel through.

A party member is framed for a crime and has to spend time in jail - where the assassin can get to him, or hire people to get to him.

Play with their heads too - leave messages around the camp while they sleep. Line their cooking pot with an explosive compound that flares up when exposed to heat, blinding them, then go for a few daggers to the kidney and disappear. Shoot an arrow through their bag of holding.

Remember, your players can come back to life - plague them with an enemy who is always a step ahead, always a bit more knowledgeable, and always prepared. He's got traps, poisons, minions, allies, bribes, full ranks in UMD and a whole lot of time on his hands.

Scarab Sages

A good assassin will never engage in battle, and will take great pains to never reveal himself or herself. If the PCs every lay hands on him, he should go down hard and fast - but more likely he will have an elaborate escape plan.


A good old fashioned pitfall trap would at least be a memorable way to start an encounter.

Liberty's Edge

Another option is having them be a Slayer.

Slayer 7 plus Accomplished Sneak Attacker gets you 3d6 Sneak Attack and both TWF and ITWF as bonus Feats that ignore prerequisites, so you can have him be Str based. With the Human FCB, it also gets you two other bonus Feats (say, Exotic Weapon Proficiency and Weapon Focus) And gets you studied Target +2 as a Swift Action on a full BAB chassis.

Going Red Mantis Assassin thereafter actually works pretty well to supplement the Str-based melee of the build with buff spells. A level of Swashbuckler would also get you Opportune Parry and Riposte, which could be very col, even if you never use a weapon with finesse.

This obviously isn't as powerful a build as the Arcane Trickster version (I mean, the Arcane Trickster is a full caster), but it's a more conventional route to go, and certainly works.


Give him a Hat of Disguise. Then let him put on a new disguise everytime they meet him, so they are never sure if the friendly innkeeper is really that, or if his cold boddy is rotting behind the kegs in the cellar and Mr. BBEG is trying to poison them again, or trying to slit their throats in their sleep again, or trying to frame them for a murder again.

Let the paranoia grow.

Never fight fair. Run to scheme another day.

Attack them indirectly. Make a plan so that they jave to split up to protect all their loved ones, or leave some deliberatly to their death, to incite distrust and hurt feelings in the group. try to disunite them.

Sovereign Court

Go watch any of the Predator movies. You have one badass hunter vs a team of highly trained mercs... which is basically what you're proposing. Stealth, traps, sniping, hit and run tactics are all what a single NPC BBEG needs to use against the PCs. Using traps to up the paranoia or to inflict conditions on the PCs before they face the BBEG for the final encounter on grounds of his choosing are vital to the success of facing a Red Mantis Assassin.

--Lucky ShamVrock

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

What is the level and make up of the PCs?

You're going to want to have minions or something tie up the other PCs (possibly literally) so the BBEG can focus on his nemesis.

Maybe a bunch of traps or hazards or effects the other PCs are vulnerable to but the nemesis isn't? Something to keep them busy (and their players have fun dealing with!) while the BBEG focuses on the nemesis PC.

Hit-and-run tactics are key. Maybe a sniper? Either weapon or long-range magic (items or spells).


Yes, a little too focused perhaps. Use a slayer who fights two weapon style.

Needs two weapons, high crit range (15+), and the following feats:

Relentless Butcher, Dastardly Finish, and merciless butchery.

Open up with a close range death attack (cleric) and kill/maim the survivors in melee.

My favorite setup was the beggar on the corner asking for coin. Cleric donates and gets death attack/sneak attack/possible butchery in return. Outside store workers join in as "associates" of the slayer.


3rd party available? Stalkers are EXCELLENT for this, with alternating Veiled Moon and Steel Serpent Maneuvers.

I used one to great effect recently with hit and run teleportation tactics. Until the party got bored of readying actions, anyway.

Dark Archive

Have the assassin leave a trail of NPC bodies behind the PCs.

They go to a bar and the fighter flirts with a pretty barmaid? She dies. The cleric is having his armor refitted / repaired at a local armorsmith? He goes back and the smith, and his apprentices, are all dead. They wake up at the tavern and go downstairs to the common room for breakfast? The staff are dead.

To make them *really* dislike the guy, have him kill someone right in front of them, and ensure that they are powerless to do anything to prevent it, perhaps having hired some runner to deliver them a message and then shooting the kid with a poisoned crossbow bolt / death attack before he can get out more than a few words, or having him murder someone across a pit or wall of force or crowded marketplace from them, so that they can see it happening, but not prevent it, or get to him before he vanishes with a jaunty wave.

Direct attacks on the PCs can come after he's made it clear that he's the predator and that he's just toying with them. He can also go after NPCs such as animal companions, bonded mounts, familiars, cohorts, etc., but that is more likely to get the players pissed at you, than the characters pissed at the assassin. (Although him *kidnapping* such an NPC could be a funky way for him to show off...)


Step 1) Get a one-way window or smear of seeing. Multiples if possible.
Step 2) Be an arcane archer or get phasing arrows.
Step 3) Get ways to dimension door.
step 4) distract PC's with monster, minions, traps, etc.
Step 5) Shoot people from behind walls.
Step 6) Dimension door to another place and shoot some more.
Step 7) Teleport away if they figure out all of your hiding places.


I'd like to try and stay away from 3p material.

All great responses so far.

For context the party is:
2h Paladin
Sorcerer
Witch
Aforementioned Dervish Bard

I envisioned this character as an adversary they'd learn to hate and fear by the end of the campaign, so the idea of harrowing them at every turn is exciting.

...That being said, if I build this character to be TOO powerful I'm afraid it'll do some derailing to the challenge level of some of the other planned scenarios. Acceptable deviations however :)

A TWF Slayer sounds appealing, though I don't have much experience with the class.

As far as traps and hazards, any particular recommendations? I'm a relatively new GM so I'm not very familiar with the nastier/more effective ones

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16

Little psychological touches work well for this as well. The party finding an item he leaves behind for them that when touched generates a silent image of his archnemesis' loved ones asleep or going about their daily routine is the kind of threat that makes a person see red.

Hit and run attacks using poison and disease laced weapons, long term spell effects and curses that keep the party constantly off balance so that even during downtime, they're still thinking of him and expending resources to deal with his tactics.

The assassin forces the Paladin to make an ugly choice, just because it's one less powerful person between him and his ultimate target. This might be one of the few scenarios where trying to make someone fall is actually good story.

Frame the witch in the midst of a superstitious or overly religious town or region. The best way to approach a target is keeping them constantly off balance, perpetually paranoid and never knowing where the next attack is coming from.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Target Reflex saves, so the bard is more likely to make it, and the others get stuck.

EDIT:

Lesser rod of daze spell + fireball or wand of dazing fireballs.


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Have a disposable NPC of proven battle prowess be there to be one-shotted in the first round.

Nothing is more intimidating than demonstrated lethality.


Sundakan wrote:

3rd party available? Stalkers are EXCELLENT for this, with alternating Veiled Moon and Steel Serpent Maneuvers.

I used one to great effect recently with hit and run teleportation tactics. Until the party got bored of readying actions, anyway.

From Path of War.

To be fair, the fight might have been a little easier if we had a caster.

Grand Lodge

Had a parrot familiar kidnaped once. The kidnapper had lots of fun pulling out feathers in the middle of the night ruin my sleep due to empatic link - distance torture and spell denial !!

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16

Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:

Have a disposable NPC of proven battle prowess be there to be one-shotted in the first round.

Nothing is more intimidating than demonstrated lethality.

And have him look directly at the PC's and smile when it happens.


I immediately thought "get a little Anton Chigurh vibe going." Unstoppable, deliberate.


Want a really scary assassin? Unchained Monk with Monk of the Mantis archetype

With a level 18 character taking accomplished sneak attacker, they have only 6d6 sneak attack, but read on to understand the true terror of the build

Feats
1 snake style
Monk lvl 1 bonus -- retrain at level 10 to medusa's wrath
3 weapon focus unarmed strike
5 Accomplished sneak attacker
7 snake sidewind
9 snake fang
11 dimensional agility
13 dimensional assault
15 dimensional dervish
17 dimensional savant

if you go to 19, pick up beliers bite for 1d4 bleed on unarmed strike

Give this character an agile + speed amulet of mighty fists, and a permanent greater magic fang, they can always make a full attack using either flying kick or dimensional dervish

with dimensional savant, if you beat any of them on initiative, you will have 6 attacks at full BAB (1 normal, 1 speed, 2 flurry, 2 medusa's wrath) plus 4 at lower bonuses, all of these attacks will get sneak attack since they are flat footed, which comes 2d8 + 6d6 + 5 dex mod damage per hit. With a dex of only 28, each hit averages 44 damage, even if only 4 of the 10 attacks hit, that is an average of 176 damage, which should be enough to put down a single person rather easily (maybe not the paladin)

For attacks where you don't win on initiative, you do the same thing, except you make your first attack a stunning fist attempt, succeed or fail, all attacks except the first one are sneak attacks, and if they fail the stunning fist save, you get two extra attacks at full BAB.

Since the paladin is the only party member with a good fort save, most of them have a good chance of failing the stunning fist save.

for practical reasons, I would always recommend killing the witch first, then the sorcerer, then, because this is supposed to be an evil nemesis, kill the paladin, saving the bard for last.

then begin your evil GM laugh.

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