It's Friday again! And this time, people have made the case for me to post two builds this week. I don't mind, it helps clear out the queue some.
(It's also been a month of me posting these, so I'll shorten the preamble.)
As usual for the showcase, these builds are intended to spur discussion and perhaps inspire a few people in the spirit of the old CO boards. They come from members of my gaming group - me, Radical Taoist, DisposableHero_, Andarious, Sionnis, and Seishi - and I'll always identify who wrote the build at the start, so do not assume I'm the guy behind all of them (because I'm not!).
Unless otherwise noted, showcase builds use 28 point-buy, and have their snapshots evaluated using fractional base attack / saves (because it simplifies the math). None of them actually rely on fractional to be built, though. The format I use showcases their progression at key levels rather than just presenting the build and showing off a few tricks at level 20; most of these are capable of being played 1-20 if you so choose.
With that out of the way, let's get started. This week, two builds: in this thread, by popular demand, I’m presenting a build entirely from Andarious that I’ve been talking about for a while.
Background: This is a take on an “evil genius” build - an assassin that uses magic rather than knives as his weapon. It uses wizard spells and spell-power boosts to augment your abilities as an assassin, and assassin stealth and unique spells to aid you in delivering death as a wizard. It makes use of every trick we could think of to keep the caster levels up – for instance, it manages to get into Assassin without any Rogue levels! The assassin side allows the wizard side to deliver lethal spike damage if the need calls for it, while the wizard side allows the assassin to contribute to situations where stealth and solo operations aren’t in demand.
Be advised: The massive tier difference between the wizard and the assassin, and the extreme demands to keep caster levels up, make this build look far more like a wizard than it actually is (except at the earliest levels – think of it as a wizard who becomes an assassin and uses his magic as his implement of death, rather than a pure-blooded rogue/assassin caster). In reality it’s using wizard tricks to augment the assassin side of things, falling back to pure wizardry when that doesn’t work. Really, the best place to look to boost assassin casting turned out to be wizard casting.
Skill Notes: This build uses a little-known feat in the DMG2 to keep your caster level and your stealth skill ranks up; apart from meeting your prerequisites you’re pretty open. Those prereqs mean maxing out Hide, Move Silently, Spellcraft, and Disguise (cross-class) along with 4 ranks in Knowledge (Arcana) and, eventually, Search 8, Spot 8, and Sense Motive 4. Those last three skills can be handled once Search and Spot become class skills as an assassin, though.
Basic Equipment: Consider yourself a wizard when shopping and you can’t go wrong here. You don’t start out thinking like an assassin until nonmagical gear is essentially free anyway. If you eventually pick up armor as an assassin, remember that ASF still matters to your wizard spells and plan accordingly.
Magical Gear Goals: The usual Intelligence, Constitution, and Dexterity boosters, including an Intelligence tome, are pretty much a given. Furthermore, if there are items in your campaign world that add spells known to the assassin, and they are not currently in your possession, I would like to remind you of your Evil alignment and sneaky-sneaky magical powers to rectify that problem. (Runestaffs might work once you get Residual Metamagic, but for full effect, you need things like the little-known Explorer’s Handbook’s Drake Helm.) Other than that, there are no real standouts: if you have a preferred set of stealth/casting gear, go for it!
Apprentice is a little known DMG2 feat (Page 176) which reflects your apprenticeship to a renowned master. Mechanically, we’re using it to add Hide and Move Silently as class skills, which allows us to easily hit the Assassin prerequisites without losing wizard caster levels.
2 – Wizard – (Naen or Uur sigil / Naenkrau or Uurkrau power word) * Show
If you take Naen, you can use your (eventually) vast array of spell slots for an even greater DC boost; it’s unclear if those “empty” spell slots look to spontaneous slots the way reserve feats do. (If they do, this is your choice.) If you take Uur, you get a small but appreciated boost to all your stealth skills. Note that Uurkrau is phrased using a “may” – you do not want your Dexterity replacing your Intelligence here. (Int factors into your maximum spell level castable even with Uurkrau, and you’ll be using it for your spell DCs, assassin skills, and death attack, so really all this would do is introduce some level of MAD.)
3 – Wizard – (Enhanced Power Sigils) * Show
Not all that useful HERE, but it will be soon. The real power for you is that you just got second-level spells.
4 – Wizard – N/A
5 – Wizard – (Extend Spell) * Show
At this level, you’ve got 8 ranks in Hide and Move Silently thanks to Apprentice, and 4 (cross-class) ranks in Disguise. You’re Evil, and presumably – thanks to your master – you’ve had the opportunity to kill someone just to join the assassins.
6 – Assassin – (Sneak Attack +1d6, Death Attack, Poison Use) (Practiced Spellcaster: Assassin)* Show
Between this and Enhanced Power Sigils, both your caster levels – wizard and assassin – are 6 at this point. That’s a lot of magical power to bring to the table at this level, particularly with Death Attack.
7 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +1) * Show
When caster levels are equal, the ultimate magus picks which one to advance; assume it’s advancing wizard on each level with a choice. Not that it particularly matters – Enhanced Krau and Spell Power will keep your assassin caster level very high, and your insane Intelligence will give you plenty of slots to work with.
8 – Ultimate Magus – (Expanded Spell Knowledge: Targeting Ray) * Show
This is actually a pretty free choice, but Targeting Ray combines very well with your later metamagic and really helps make up for your lower base attack bonus.
9 – Ultimate Magus – (Augmented Casting) (Split Ray)* Show
And now we have the first real “trick” of the build online. Your unused spell slots translate into free metamagic. At the moment with just Extend and Split Ray, it’s best used to multitarget a few basic ray spells (next level, you can use it to get an extra Sneak Attack Scorching Ray (four 5d6 rays isn’t shabby!), for instance), but its true power will appear in a few levels.
10 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +2, Expanded Spell Knowledge: 2nd) * Show
This choice is more or less free; pick a good wizard spell that you would want to use with expensive metamagic. Blur comes to mind, but there are probably better ones out there. At least this one helps out quite a bit in a variety of situations.
11 – Ultimate Magus – (Persistent Spell) * Show
Augmented Casting + Persistent Spell lets you sacrifice your higher-level wizard spell slots (which you get far faster than higher-level assassin ones) in a form of Divine Metamagic, persisting – at CL 13, at this point – some of the more awesome assassin buff spells you can find. (Although you can use Augmented Casting to go the other way as well, since wizards get higher-level spell slots than assassins do and get them far sooner, it actually works out far more efficiently to use the wizard slots to fuel metamagic on the assassin spells, which is why we're using Expanded Spell Knowledge the way we are.)
An almost trivial example is the Spell Compendium’s Sniper’s Shot, which removes the range restriction on your sneak attacks – meaning your only limit is your spell range (Why, hello there, Telekinesis!). Another hilarious example is the Spell Compendium’s Lightfoot– persist that, and none of your movement provokes AoOs. Or, in other words, Tumble is for chumps.
(Well, it isn’t foolproof. You get into the irresistible force vs immovable object paradox if you use Lightfoot to move through a Thicket of Blades. But the mere fact that nothing short of Thicket can interfere with your movement is incredible, particularly since you can now just calmly stroll out of the AoO tank’s reach and blast him with a Split Ray is worth it.)
12 – Ultimate Magus – (Expanded Spell Knowledge: 3rd) (Residual Metamagic)* Show
This spell choice is more or less free, but follow the guidelines above.
Residual Metamagic really is an awesome feat. It’s particularly awesome when you’re in wizard mode (when your assassin spell slots are used to Extend or Split a wizard spell, and then you double-up on its stamina by busting out the scrolls (which will gain the benefit of both Residual Metamagic tactical maneuvers simultaneously).
However, it also works surprisingly well in assassin mode if you can cast a Touch-range assassin-list buff. Cast it (with Persistent applied from your wizard slots), and then bust out a scroll to repeat the process on another teammate. It can become quite economical to pass the buffs around this way, particularly if the spell allows multiple touched targets. (Most of those spells, though, tend to be offensive, so you'd probably want a different metamagic on them.)
13 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +3)
14 – Unseen Seer – (Damage Bonus +1d6)
15 – Unseen Seer – (Advanced Learning: Hunter’s Eye) (Silent Spell, Energy Substitution:Cold) * Show
There are a surprisingly large number of good damage+debuff spells out there for assassins, but several come with an energy type – Fire Shuriken is one example. Our ability to spontaneously apply metamagic without increasing casting time due to augmented casting – and we have enough cheap wizard slots to afford Energy Substitution! – lets us apply these spells in multiple situations. You can enhance this with the Energy Vulnerability spell - just cast that as a wizard - to play with vulnerabilities as you see fit. Note that since it isn't dealing "double damage" or anything but is rather just adding bonus damage (i.e. "+50% damage"), and Sneak Attack on an energy-attack spell is energy damage, you can dramatically improve your damage output this way in a way that no other sneak attack multiplier can.
Also, speaking of Sneak Attack, Hunter’s Eye is a bloody awesome ranger spell, so having it in our spellbook is a good idea. And it’s about to become a ZOMGAWESOME idea.
16 – Ultimate Magus – (Expanded Spell Knowledge: Hunter’s Eye) * Show
Sadly,this couldn’t be fitted in sooner without messing up the assassin/ultimate magus rhythm, so it shows up rather late. But the big advantage here is that you have Hunter’s Eye – read: +(CL/3)d6 Sneak Attack – as an assassin spell, an assassin CL of 16 at this point, and 6th+ level slots available on your wizard side. Congratulations, you can Persist Hunter’s Eye, and begin unloading absolutely devastating Split Ray Sneak Attacks.
17 – Ultimate Magus – (Twin Spell) * Show
Hey, why not?
18 – Ultimate Magus – (Arcane Spell Power +4, Expanded Spell Knowledge: 5th) (Quicken Spell) * Show
At this point, it can’t hurt, particularly on your offensive spells. Actions matter too much at this point.
You have to pick a 4th level spell here rather than a 5th since assassin doesn’t have 5th level slots, but there are a lot of good ones to choose from. A fun choice would be the PHB2’s Crushing Grasp, although honestly that might be better as a regular wizard spell.
19 – Assassin – (Poison Save +1, Uncanny Dodge)
20 – Assassin – (Sneak Attack +2d6) * Show
Well, technically +3d6 due to Unseen Seer’s damage bonus... or +10d6 with Persistent Hunter's Eye. Not a bad finish.
Magically, this build finishes off with 9th level wizard spells, 4th level assassin spells, and respective caster levels (without equipment boosts) of 24 and 21. This allows us to hit a few rather impressive breakpoints – for instance, Augmented Casting: Persistent Hunter’s Eye at CL 21 gives us +7d6 Sneak Attack, for a total of +10d6 (on par with Rogue 20 or Rogue 10 / Assassin 10). This is very impressive on multi-attack spells, particularly Telekinesis and Fire Shuriken. (Fire Shuriken is unclear – it implies you throw all the shuriken at once given its duration, but the wording is also open to the interpretation that you have to use iterative attacks to throw them, which makes the spell much worse. Use Scorching Ray if your DM uses the conservative interpretation.)
As an example, you can Twin Telekinesis + Quicken Fire Shuriken for twenty-one attacks and the potential for up to 408d6 damage with a zero-round prep time (well, you spend a couple rounds at the start of the day persisting your buffs, but the big thing here is you can unload that without any Arcane Fusion setup times or similar). You can add in Targeting Ray (+8 on your attack rolls as a wizard spell; it can be twinned and split if you want. If you cast it as an assassin spell it’s +7, but you can apply the twinning and splitting as the encounter demands it), Energy Vulnerability (combines perfectly with Energy Sub to dodge known resistances or immunities and target vulnerabilities; interesting, this also multiplies the 78d6 fire damage that Fire Shuriken deals, despite sneak attack not normally multiplying) or Persistent Sniper’s Shot (allows you to make sneak attacks up to the range of the spells – this isn’t useful for Fire Shuriken, but for Telekinesis it’s killer) to make this even deadlier.
Oh, and Augmented Casting also allows you to break the metamagic cap in the same way that Divine Metamagic does. This lets you do things like Persist Sniper’s Eye (the 4th level “ranged death attack” assassin spell in the SpC) and combine it with all of the above (it might allow a death attack out to any range with Persistent Sniper’s Shot as well, which is downright insane with a long-range damage ray).
I’m not going to list all the amazing synergies here – the wizard list is just too long, even if you limit yourself to spells that would interest an assassin. I’ll leave this as an exercise, but suffice it to say, it’s pretty impressive.
Overall Weaknesses: A lot of your strengths come from persisting assassin buffs (and the best of those - stolen from the wizard list - are really limited in number due to Expanded Spell Knowledge), and although your CL is high, dispels are an option. It’s also costly in terms of wizard slots to keep those buffs going, and every persistent assassin spell you cast is one fewer spontaneous Split, Twin, Quicken, or similar spell you’re able to apply in battle later. (However, I hasten to point out that you can “cheat” this limit a bit by using scrolls + Residual Metamagic on certain spells.) Also, oddly for an assassin, you don’t have a lot of free skill points, and you don’t have Trapfinding. In this regard, you really are still a wizard playing at the assassin role, even though your class features really let you get in on that.
Variants: Apart from the untold flexibility of wizard spellcasting, you can still monkey with the build a bit. Dropping some of your metamagic options in favor of Spell Focus lets you pick up Archmage for the last couple of levels (Mastery of Elements is better than Energy Substitution, and Spell Power is always a desirable option). Alternatively, if you’re lightening up on metamagic, look into metamagic reduction feats to cheapen the load on your buff spells – even a -2 slot adjustment on Persistent Spell would let you use assassin slots to persist higher-level wizard spells! Class-wise, you could also fit in more Unseen Seer insead of Assassin for those last two levels; nothing says you can’t use those levels to advance your assassin casting either. (Strictly speaking this is probably better, but the assassin levels help with skills.) And finally, if you choose to focus only on buffs and forgo Death Attack, you could probably get by with just a 12-14 Intelligence and rebuild to work entirely off of Dexterity using Uurkrau, switching from an evil genius to a more classical acrobatic assassin. (I think the higher skill points are more worthwhile myself, but it is an interesting and more challenging project to try!)
There you have it. An assassin caster where the assassin list is, in fact, the primary source of strength, who resultingly plays like a magical assassin rather than a wizard pretending at the role. The fact that you actually are a wizard, and a very powerful one at that, is beside the point.
Next up: Due to other discussion, next week will probably be the Storm Knight... but other options include my Inevitable Nightmare, Andarious’ Captain Constitution (note: these two builds actually go together), a joint Andarious/Tempest Heavy Crusader, or a theoretical build of mine (the first to be showcased) called Gun Fu. Go ahead and place your votes!
Don't overlook Extend spell on hour/level buffs even starting at level 9 that's a lot of power out of simple spells like Mage Armor (or The SC upgrade).
While I put Persistant Spell into the build at 11, it doesn't actually WORK until 12, it's a bit of a weakpoint in the build, but it was the best feat economy.
Regarding the final 2 levels, do whatever you want really. More Unseen Seer's fine, a PRC you're hot for? Go for it. I just wanted more Assassin CL for the boost in Hunter's eye, those two levels give 2d6 SA and a lot more slots to mess with, or I would not have bothered. As Tempest says, the final levels are quite up in the air, as are many of the feats. It was all about what seemed best for the task at hand.
Regarding equipment, yes there's a high cost to having this sort of power. The guy's basically an egg head. One more thing to keep in mind is the economy this build gets out of Rings of Wizardry, like any Ultimate magus the value is significantly higher for the Wizsassin than for a single school arcanist. This build should certainly have a Ring of Wizardry 4 at the earliest convenience.
Nice! Whatever I thought this was going to be, this certainly wasn't it. Quite the inventive way to use Ultimate Magus, I didn't expect it and I was pleasently surprised. The only way to make it even morre awesome would be to find a war god to worship and get Arcane Disciple: War to get Divine Power. I wonder what this would look like in Epic levels; perhaps finishing out Assassin and going into Arcane Trickster wouldn't be a bad idea.
All in all, this was an awesome build, Stormwind. Kudos, and thanks, to you and the rest of your friends for coming out with these builds that the rest of us can enjoy them.
I like it. I think it's the the first UM build I see that uses Assassin (but it's been a while).
Also, making an Assassin who has glowing symbols around his head is ballsy.
You mention Persisting Touch spells though, which isn't really mainstream (FAQ...).
Also, Complete Mage has a few decent Assassin spells:
Critical Strike => ignore concealment for 1 attack
Deathsight => no need to wait 3 rounds to make your Death Attack
Vital Strike => (corner case) SA even that weird NPC who has True Seeing and Improved Uncanny Dodge.
Unfortunately none of them benefit from Persisting.
This is awesome, I'd play this and probably not get slapped for it too. I'd thought about wiz/assassin/Ultimate magus but could not think of a way to do it.
If you can get Body outside body then you can laugh as your clones all death attack.
I vote Storm Knight. Followed by Gun Fu (Which strikes me as a monk/Bloodstorm blade)
This is Andarious' baby, not mine, and he's already posted here, so thanks all go to him, please!