“It matters not how we complete our task… only that it’s done.” ~ Altair (Assassin’s Creed, 2007)
Last Friday, Wizards of the Coast released an Essentials Build for the Assassin Class. Called an Executioner, it differs in many ways from the Night Stalker and Bleak Disciple Builds introduced in Dragon Magazine. It most closely resembles the Night Stalker, which makes a certain amount of sense, because they both have certain traits familiar to the classical legends surrounding a ninja.
But which of the two builds is the better assassin? Some have commented on the nature of Essentials Characters being more potent and more efficacious than their Traditional 4E Builds, without having to resort to decision-making (i.e. Encounter and Daily powers) by the Player. Is the Executioner then a “better” Assassin because its mechanics rely less on decision-based powers? Only a head-to-head analysis of each build would reveal the best killer.
Attack Finesse for the Executioner is roughly equivalent to the Night Stalker’s Guild Training damage bonus. However, because it carries no restrictions – such as being against an enemy that is alone and non-adjacent to its ally – it does make the Executioner’s power considerably more powerful. Also, Guild Training is based upon the Charisma Bonus, while Attack Finesse uses a flat 1d6 of damage (which increases by 1d6 per Tier). So as the two Assassins level up, the Guild Training damage bonus of the Night Stalker simply cannot compete with the Attack Finesse of the Executioner.
On the other hand, the Executioner’s Assassin’s Strike ability appears, on the other hand, a bit weaker than the Assassin’s Shroud. Although it does considerable damage by the end of the Heroic Tier – about 16.5 hit points on average by Level 10 and 30 hit points if the target is helpless – however, it is only an encounter power. Assassin’s Shroud does about 14 hit points of damage on an average hit and 10.5 hit points on a miss, but of course takes 4 rounds to set up a full shroud discharge, whereas the Assassin’s Strike is triggered on hit and does not require a hit. There is also a Paragon ability gained at Level 11 which increases the damage from Assassin’s Strike by +2d10, which makes it a massive single attack throughout the Paragon and Epic Tiers.
It would appear that while the Assassin’s Shroud does greater sustained damage throughout a fight, unless the fight is unusually few rounds, but the Assassin’s Strike is guaranteed able to deliver a single massive attack which would make it very potent against solo and elite “boss” monsters. Overall, it rather looks like the Executioner wins the Build Powers round by sheer brutality.
The Executioner At-Wills are a mixed bag, with some more potent, and some clearly less potent than the Night Stalker build. Several of the abilities allow 2[W] damage plus bonuses, but limit the Executioner’s choice of weapon to ones that do 1d4 and 1d6 damage. The Night Stalker can pick up any weapon, even a two-handed sword and make his attacks, doing considerable damage.
However, the Executioner “feels” more like a ninja in its abilities than does the Night Stalker, having special attacks with garrote, hand crossbow, blowguns, and shuriken, often with very evocative combat effects like throws, take-downs, and rendering the victim unable to cry for help.
In sheer damage, the Night Stalker’s At-Wills are more potent due to greater weapon choices. But the Executioner has combat effects added to their At Wills which are hard to ignore. In the duel of At-Wills, the round looks like a draw between the Night Stalker and the Executioner.
With the exception of the Build Ability, Assassin’s Strike, the Executioner has no Encounter attack powers in the Heroic Tier. However, they do gain specific Build Abilities as well as additional At-Wills with new weapon types.
The 3rd Level Executioner Build power, Death Attack, allows the Assassin to kill an enemy instantly if its attack reduces the victim to 10 or fewer hit points. And at 7th Level, the Executioner gains a new weapon attack form, which is a new At-Will to use. By comparison, the Night Stalker has many Encounter powers to choose from, each having a wide variety of combat effects and mobility bonuses. By virtue of versatility alone, this round goes to the Night Stalker over the Executioner.
The Executioner Utilities are fairly interesting, and range from distractions, to creating opportunities to become hidden, to some nifty movement powers, including quick climbing and teleports. These utility powers are on par with many of the traditional assassin powers, although Death Mark is an interesting exception. This Level 10 Daily Utility lets the Executioner “lock on” to an enemy, knowing its distance and direction – and prevents it from hiding from the assassin, even with invisibility! On the traditional perspective, the Night Stalker has considerably greater number of utilities to draw from, although many of them are new ways to gain stealth and combat advantage. Overall, this round would have to be declared a draw as well.
The Executioner also gains powers at 4th and 8th Levels, which somewhat breaks the template for power gains by Character Classes. In addition to getting the Ability Score increases, the Executioner also gains two abilities: Nimble Drop and Flawless Disguise. Nimble Drop grants damage resistance to falling damage, which can scale as high as 40 damage by the Epic Tier! Flawless Disguise can only be used after an extended rest to create a very good disguise (+5 to the Executioner’s Bluff Check vs. an enemy’s Insight to discern the disguise). While not particularly overpowered, these abilities are very handy and fit nicely with the Executioner’s ninja-like theme.
An Executioner Special: POISON USE!
Now what really sold me on the design of the Executioner was the use of Poison! Executioners may make one vial of poison every time they take an extended rest, and the poison “spoils” by the next extended rest, preventing the Executioner from going wild with poisoning weapons. And the poisons can be used both in combat on weapons, but also have a non-combat power which often is employed by adding the poison to food or drink.
Many of these poisons have appeared in previous editions of D&D and have been updated to 4E equivalents. D&D Gamers might recognize names like Bloodroot, Greenblood, and Ungol Powder from 3.5 rules.
The Executioner does get better with his poisons over the course of the tier, and at 5th and 9th levels gains the ability to make two doses, and eventually, three doses of poisons per extended rest. By 10th Level point, an Executioner Assassin knows four Heroic Tier poison types, granting him three doses/uses – essentially, it gives him the equivalent of three daily powers per extended rest.
Of course, a Night Stalker could also make and use poison on his weapons. It costs him a feat to become an Alchemist, and a standard action (rather than a minor) to apply poison to his weapons.
But it also costs a lot of money to make poisons, and the Executioner can make his for free, as long as he has his poison kit on him. The Night Stalker would quickly go broke trying to keep up with the Executioner, poison use for poison use.
So for Special Powers round, the clear winner is the Executioner, with a whole set of powers which the Night Stalker cannot reasonably access or duplicate.
Overall, I think this new Essentials build of Assassin, the Executioner, more closely resembles a ninja than does the Night Stalker. Further, in sheer potency and role-play power, both in and out of combat, the Executioner feels like a more enjoyable class to play than the Night Stalker does. But then again, the Executioner is still in play-testing, and its powers may be changed, altered, or even revamped before the final version is released.
But what do you think? Which of the two Assassin Builds would you want to play if you had the chance?
Your comments and feedback are always welcome, and I look forward to hearing how you judged this Assassin vs. Assassin duel!
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!