Fox’s Cunning — Assessing Assassins

So I’ve been obsessing over this great new series called SPY x FAMILY. Without spoiling past the third episode, the basic premise is that a secret agent has a very short amount of time to assemble a fake family to infiltrate an elite prep school. He accidentally adopts a psychic who is scared anyone will learn about her powers and an assassin who has no idea her fake husband is actually a spy. It has a wonderful blend of comedy and drama, showing two professionals at the top of their game trying desperately to fit in with what the rest of the world considers natural: being a family!

Now why am I gushing about this series in a Pathfinder article? Well, to put it simply, I love the idea of this family as a three person party and it got me to thinking: What classes and archetypes would they be? There’s a number of great spy and vigilante archetypes we could go over for Loid, and for Anya we should probably wait until we get a copy of Dark Archive so we can do her psychic powers justice. But which of the various Assassin archetypes is best for Yor? There are so many great choices, and as someone who has used, build, and/or written options for most of them, I feel uniquely qualified to rate each one! I’m also going to spoil some special feats from my own Dullahan of Golarion book on sale right now on Pathfinder Infinite with this special coupon for my readers until 6/17/2022! If you want more deals like this on Pathfinder Infinite products, check out our Infinite Possibilities Mailing List!

Maybe these options will help you play in a certain highly acclaimed Red Mantis adventure

What is an Assassin?

Strictly speaking almost any class can be an assassin, because almost every class and archetype in the game gives you tools to kill someone. But when we think of an assassin like Yor, and for the sake of this article, we are looking for a skilled operative who uses stealth, disguise, and precision damage to key in on a specific target and do as much damage as possible, as quickly as possible. We want to be dexterous, be able to do lots of single-target damage, and have some defensive measures to survive the job. We want to eliminate our targets primarily using our weapons, and we want a way to do it as stylishly as possible. They also need to use melee, so no Big Game Hunter, Archer, or Firearm classes!

Mark 1: The Assassin

The Good: The dedication alone gives Deadly and Backstabber to your weapon, effectively +4.5 damage that becomes +12.5 when you get a +3 weapon. Now if your weapon already has deadly this only increases the die-size, so I recommend finding weapons with traits similar to deadly such as fatal. The best weapon for this for Yor is probably the Karambit, although her hair-needles are more like Stiletto Pens, but getting Fatal and Deadly on the same weapon is going to give your Assassin a huge first round of damage (especially on a Rogue, which is probably your best bet for a base class). Expert Backstabber and Sneak Attacker give you an additional 3.5-5.5 damage per strike, and Poison Weapon/Improved Poison Weapon applies an extra 2.5-5 damage per strike for a grand whopping total of +23 damage per strike before you crit. And the Piece de resistance? Assassinate does a whopping 21 extra damage for an extra action and your mark automatically dies if they critically fail their saving throw!

The Bad: Unfortunately Assassinate is an incapacitation effect, and nine-times-out-of-ten you are going to want to spend your five actions setting up your Assassinate ability on a named NPC who will likely be higher level than you. Many things in the game are also resistance or immune to precision and poison damage, which the class does nothing to mitigate against. Angel of Death is extremely campaign dependent and in many cases will just ruin a fun recurring villain or be a story-based feat tax. Finally, sneak attacker and surprise attack are only really good for non-rogue characters and you’ll likely want your assassin to be a rogue.

The Fix: You will probably want to multi-archetype and will probably be using this on a non-rogue build, such as a Ranger or Fighter.

Mark 2: The Red Mantis Assassin

The Good: Sawtooth Saber is a pretty good weapon and auto-heightening your proficiency can do some interesting things with certain classes. Basic Red Mantis Magic gives you access to True Strike and the ability to cast a bevy of useful scrolls. Crimson shroud gives you some limited in-combat healing and Achaekek’s Clutch is a decent source of damage. Prayer Attack gives you 2d6 persistent bleed damage!

The Bad: There really is no bonus damage with this class. The spellcasting is prepared and largely from a list that favors utilitarianism. The mantis transformation does very little for you given your specialization in sabers. Vernai Training has the same issues as Angel fo Death. Prayer Attack and Achaekek’s Clutch are your best sources for extra damage, in addition to being able to use the Advanced Sawtooth Sabers well without being a Fighter.

The Fix: Heroes of Lost Omen: The Paradigm adds a bunch of new feats to the Red Mantis Assassin, including options to get 6th-level spells, some two-weapon fighting feats, and a Giant Mantis animal companion. Alternatively, you could multi-archetype.

Mark 3: The Gray Gardener

The Good: Harsh Judgment let’s you point at someone and get a bonus to Intimidate them. Voice of Authority let’s you get a pseudo-Surprise Attack using Intimidate, which keys very well with Battle Cry. Accurate Swing gives you +1/die to damage, and Execution is very much like the Assassin’s Assassinate except it does 28 extra damage, only requires that single action of set-up, and doesn’t have the incapacitation trait!

The Bad: Most of the feats have to do with intimidation and sense motive, not dealing extra damage to a single-target. You also have to take the Vigilante dedication, but that can help if you want to re-enact Spy x Family…

The Fix: Dullahan of Golarion (on sale with this special coupon) has two additional feats for the Dullahan Archetype that are quite easy to adapt to any Gray Gardener. Tireless Hunter (Feat 6) let’s you follow a foe who attempts to move away from you and gives you the basic undead benefits, so it pretty tied to the base Dullahan archetype, but Harsh Vengeance should work on any Gray Gardener and is worded in a way that that makes it perfect for PCs with both Attack of Opportunity and/or Opportune Backstab!

Archetype Dullahan, Gray Gardener
Prerequisites Harsh Judgment
Trigger A creature critically hits you
You condemn the creature who dared to strike you to death. You use Harsh Judgment against the creature who hit you. This does not end your condemnation of any other creature you’ve chosen with Harsh Judgment, including other creatures you’ve condemned using Harsh Vengeance.  If the condemned creature is within your reach, you gain an additional reaction this round that can be used only for a reaction that selects the condemned creature as a target.

Mark 4: Rogue Multiclass Archetype

The Good: Additional skills will help any Rogue and many Rogue class feats are extra-compatible with being an assassin. Sneak Attacker adds an extra 2.5-3.5 dice of damage.

The Bad: You probably want to play Rogue as your base class as an assassin. The non-scaling Sneak Attack and the lack of Surprise Attack is going to make it hard even if you also take the Assassin Archetype, and usually the bonus damage from Sneak Attack combined with how easy it is to make someone flat-footed with Gang-Up is going to make you want to take the base class rather than the dedication even if you are swinging for 2 less than a fighter or ranger.

Mark 5: Ranger Multiclass Archetype

The Good: Hunt Prey fits an assassin perfectly. Being able to take Twin Takedown is awesome for a Red Mantis assassin (or any Rogue, really). Skirmish Strike also helps quite a bit if you need another feat to offset your dedication, and offsets all your other assassination tricks like Hunt Prey and Harsh Judgment costing extra actions. You can even use the extra actions to apply poisons!

The Bad: There aren’t very many feats for assassins in the Ranger list, but Twin Takedown is so darned good that it’s hard to call this a major flaw.

Biased End Result

The best assassin is probably going to want to take multiple archetypes! This is natural in a free archetype game, and akk of my games are free archetype games. But even outside of a free archetype game, Rogues don’t need that many of their class feats (Opportune Backstab and Gang-Up being the two huge exceptions). I personally went Ranger and Red Mantis Assassin for flavor, but if I was asked to do it all over again I would probably consider Ranger along with both Gray Gardener and Assassin: Stacking Hunt Prey, Mark for Death, and Harsh Judgment with Battle Cry and a bunch of different sources of precision, bleed, poison, and extra damage while mitigating my relatively lower attack modifier with flat-footed and frightened? I’m loving it. But what would you pick?

Dustin Knight

Dustin has been playing and improving on RPGs since AD&D in 1999. He ran games and conventions around California while studying Graphic Design, Philosophy, English & Architecture. After developing a tabletop game seminar he began working freelance for Alderac Entertainment Games. During his stint on the East Coast, he became a Venture Lieutenant and began reviewing Pathfinder mechanics for Organized Play. After moving to Washington in 2019, he met Alex Augunas at Paizocon and developed, designed and wrote for Everybody Games LLC. He has since published work with Rogue Genius Games and Paizo. He can be found on the Know Direction discord where he goes by the username "KitsuneWarlock".