5 Effective Combat Tactics For Assassins

Assassin's AmuletTo give you a taste of Assassin’s Amulet, my upcoming new book for game masters, here is a very brief excerpt from the GM Advice chapter.

Many GMs struggle with running killer NPCs. One big goal of the book is to arm you with enough actionable advice that you’ll scare the crap out of your players if they ever catch wind of an NPC assassin ever again.

Part of this GM training involves learning some general principles of engagement when running assassins.

I hope you find this advice useful.

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Chief caveat for assassins in combat situations: avoid combat if possible.

The most favorable combat situations involve fighting with allies. However, assassins tend to work alone, which causes tactical problems.

In all the tactics below, hit-and-run is the only reliable method to combine with any combat tactic. Using an assassin’s amulet in combination as a means of escape makes this even more reliable.

1.  Maximize Sneak Attack Opportunities

Sneak attack is the best option for assassins in combat. Do anything you can to give NPC assassins this opportunity so they can cause damage while trying to get away.

It is difficult, though not impossible, to flank an opponent without an ally – anything that removes an opponent’s Dexterity bonus or causes him to become flat-footed will grant such an opportunity.

Feint/Improved Feint: using the feint option of the Bluff skill, the assassin spends his first round trying to cause the opponent to be off-balance or otherwise unready.

This denies the opponent his Dexterity bonus to his Armor Class on the assassin’s next attack, giving the killer a sneak attack.

This tactic provokes an attack of opportunity, so use it carefully. Give the assassin the Improved Feint feat when it becomes available.

Foes defeat this tactic using Sense Motive, if they have that skill, or a raw check aided by their Wisdom modifier.

Therefore, an assassin should scout out foes to determine their ability to sense others’ motives or see through such tricks as feinting.

The killer must know in advance if a foe can defeat feint. This saves the assassin a full round of futility plus exposure to a potential attack of opportunity.

Invisibility: except for class dipping with caster levels, which is not recommended, becoming invisible means using a magic item and the Use Magic Device skill.

An invisible assassin initiating combat denies their opponent a Dexterity bonus to that attack, and so the foe must suffer a sneak attack.

Blindness: like invisibility, if the opponent is blind, the assassin is effectively invisible (see above).

Possessing the feat chain Critical Focus and Blinding Critical is helpful, though unreliable, as the NPC must engage in at least one round of combat with no advantages, and he must succeed on a critical hit, which can never be counted on.

Eggshell grenades-pepper (from Oriental Adventures) are a mundane device that require use as a thrown weapon. With a successful hit affecting a five-foot area, the opponent is blind, though he gets a save to avoid the circumstance. Any magic item that causes blindness will also do this.

2. Single Striking

A one-shot kill relies on high Strength combined with Power Attack and using a two-handed weapon, granting half-again Strength bonus on attacks. Unfortunately, Strength is generally a tertiary stat for assassins, following Dexterity and Intelligence.

Focus on causing as much damage as possible with a single attack using magic, magic items and equipment to eke out all the extra damage you can.

Enhance this tactic with Dodge, Mobility and Spring Attack, as well as the vital strike feat chain. While this is feat intensive and takes away valuable feat slots to make an effective assassin combatant, the three feats mentioned allow him to strike without attacks of opportunity, so offer better survivability.

Having the Quick Draw feat also gets the weapon in hand quickly. Combine this with sneak attack and this could be a one-shot kill.

3. Two Weapon Fighting

Using two weapons in combat means more opportunities for sneak attack. The assassin should possess the Weapon Finesse feat to rely on the character’s Dexterity instead of Strength

While effective, this combat tactic does not cause as much damage as the single strike tactic, though it uses far fewer feat slots for combat.

4. Sniping Using Ranged Weapons

If the assassin can prepare to choose a hidden spot to attack from this can be an effective combat tactic. However, it requires time unseen to prepare such an opportunity.

The assassin must hide, shoot at their target, and then move to another location to repeat the process. The assassin must be skilled with ranged weapons and will spend his combat feat slots doing so.

This tactic does not accommodate being caught unawares and forced into melee, so the two previous combat tactics are more reliable.

Take the Arcane Trickster prestige class instead of Assassin so ranged sneak attack is possible to make this a more viable combat tactic.

5. Using Traps

Indirect combat offers a usable strategy, but also requires some time in preparation prior to engaging in combat. Simple is sometimes most effective.

For example, tossing caltrops in areas of expected movement for oncoming combatants or use of tanglefoot bags.

Consider allowing assassins to use portable traps either mundane or arcane, where the assassin can arm, disarm, move and rearm such a device in a move-and-wait or move-and-run-away tactic.

Always consider poisoning any blade, ranged weapon or traps to improve damage and escape chances, as well.

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If you liked these tips, you should check out two more previews of Assassin’s Amulet:

50 Assassin Hooks

Assassins make awesome NPCs. Thing is, they often have paper-thin character development. Well, you can fix this right now. Start by giving your next assassin one of these tasty hooks. Get your hooks now >>

How to Roleplay Assassins

Assassins should be compelling in every encounter in which they appear. This excerpt describes how to run assassins as compelling characters to roleplay and deadly adversaries to fight. Read the roleplaying advice >>

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