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Guide:Kicksin v1.10, by ilkori

From Diablo 2 Wiki

This comprehensive guide describes how to build, equip, and play a Dragon Talon focused Assassin. It covers every type of play and a wide variety of equipment. (Source)

Diablo II Strategy Guide Info:

  • Patch: v1.10
  • Gametype: PvE/PvM
  • Class: Assassin
  • Author: ilkori
      Please note that strategy guides from v1.10 have vastly different skill and item stats, thus may not be applicable to the latest version of the game.


This is meant to be an all-purpose guide and reference for playing Assassins using the Dragon Talon skill. This includes twink/no twink, hard/softcore, and players 1/8. It is oriented almost entirely towards PvM (player versus monster), with little-to no direct information about PvP (player versus player). Because of the breadth of information covered, it is long, detailed, and complicated. This is not a "Here's the best, use it or die" kind of guide. There are more variants that work with kickers than almost any other build, but certain principles must be followed to ensure success. I have tried to write this guide so that anyone can find what they need. Needless to say, it was a big undertaking. The first section is a basic introduction to the playing and equipment of a standard kicker. Following that is a more in depth explanation including reasons for certain choices. Also in this part is the first mention of the various hybrids that a kicker has. There is a weapon section following this, then technical details, and various appendices including examples, abbreviations, credits, etc. That was a mouthfull, so here is the table of contents:

List of Abbreviations I use way too much

  • C/C: Claw/Claw equipment setup - opposed to W/S (Weapon/Shield)
  • IAS: Increased Attack Speed. Similar but different terms are EIAS and SIAS which are discussed later
  • PvM: Player vs Monster, i.e. playing the game as it was intended, opposed to PvP (Player vs Player, i.e. dueling)
  • WW: Whirlwind skill, granted to the assassin by the Chaos Runeword

A few skills:

  • BoS: (Burst of Speed), MB (Mind Blast), CoS (Cloak of Shadows)
  • DS: (Death Sentry), BF (Blade Fury), WoF (Wake of Fire)
  • DF: (Dragon Flight), TS (Tiger Strike)

Basic Questions

What is a kicksin?

In short, a kicksin is any assassin that uses Dragon Talon as their primary attack. They are known as anything from kickers to kicksins, taloners, or mage slayers. Kicksins are a very fun build, and one of the most powerful assassin builds. Unlike most D2 classes, assassins tend to take a fair amount of skill to master, and kickers are no exception. There are many hybrids that work with Talon, and all the supporting skills depend on what you want to build the kicksin for. I’ll try to list most of these in the guide section, but new variants are constantly being created.

A kicksin is not to be confused with a Dragon Tail kicker, which is another build and works quite differently.

What is a k/t sin or a Dancer?

Basically, these are fancy names for kicker/trapper hybrids. I suggest playing both a pure trapper and a pure kicker before tackling a hybrid. They are more complicated than a pure kicker or pure trapper, and require better equipment to be good. (A k/t sin is just another name for a Dancer.)

What can a kicksin do?

Kicksins have several roles, but to summarize, they are excellent at taking down a single target. In general they also tend to be a little slower taking down mobs (especially in 4+ player games). Like all assassins, they will use many skills. I would suggest configuring 2-3 half-rows for various skills. I use f1-f8, and an additional 7+ keys for quick skill swapping.

What makes a good Kicksin?

Rule number 1 - survive. Rule number two - kill things. Those are the two rules which guide every character in the game, and kicksins are no exception. There is some grey area between the two (the best defense is a good offense).

Outside of the grey world of technicality, kickers are above all fun. Playing this solo and unrushed may be one of the best experiences you've had playing Diablo. My first kicker was such a blast to play that I went through every quest on my own.

What are my build goals?

Several things go to into having this kicksin to survive. For the most part, this will refer to playing Hell difficulty, since that is the first place kickers run into any kind of opposition. (There is a list of abbreviations later.) This list is so important that I have put the whole thing in bold text.

Minimum PvM Goals

  • 3-frame follow-up speed
  • 4+ kicks (level 18+)
  • 50%+ Crushing Blow
  • 75% blocking (or 50% blocking if C/C)
  • 65% resistance in Fire/Lit/Cold and 35% physical Damage Resistance
  • Meet minimum skill placements
  • 48+ FHR
  • Crowd Control + Death Sentry
  • Strength for gear, Dex for equipment and max blocking, everything else into Vitality
  • Elite boots
  • Cannot be Frozen
  • 1k Max Kick Damage

Ideal PvM Goals

  • 7/3 Attack Speed
  • 4+ kicks (level 18+)
  • 100% Crushing Blow
  • 75% blocking (or 55%+ blocking if C/C)
  • 75%+ resistance to all and 50% physical Damage Resistance
  • At least one form of absorb for each element
  • 86+ FHR
  • 20%+ FCR
  • Crowd Control + Death Sentry
  • Strength for gear, Dex for equipment and max blocking, everything else into Vitality
  • Myrmidon Greaves
  • Static Field
  • Life Tap
  • High magic/elemental damage
  • Cannot be Frozen
  • 1k Max Kick Damage

What is the basic skill layout?

Kickers have one of the loosest skill requirements of all the assassin builds, allowing them to be customizable to the preferences of each player. Here is the skeleton setup that most builds rely on.

  • 18-20 Dragon Talon

One-point wonders

  • Martial Arts (Dragon Flight)
  • Shadow (BoS/Fade, Venom, Shadow Master, Cloak of Shadows, Mind Blast)
  • Traps (Blade Fury, Death Sentry)
  • 1 all prereq's

Beyond this setup, there are variations for a pure kicker, a kicker/trapper hybrid, and kicker/elemental hybrids. On top of that there are several ways to make a kicker for PvP. I have tried to outline each of these variants later in the guide, including example setups. If you are new to assassins, or even kickers, I would recommend building a pure kicker. Kicker/Trappers are possibly one of the most powerful solo builds in the game, but require incredible equipment and skill to play properly. Kickers are fun builds, and I wouldn’t be surprised if after playing one you would be willing to come back and do another build. At this point you should probably decide what type of kicker you really want to make, and use that to read the rest of the guide. If you still aren’t sure, then pick one to think about as you read on.

The basic "pure" kicker has this setup:

  • 20 Talon
  • 20 Venom
  • 20 Death Sentry
  • 1+ Shadow Master (enough to get lvl 18 with +skills)
  • 2 Mind Blast
  • 3 Fire Blast (extra shot for Death Sentry)
  • 1 in all other 1-point wonders and prereqs

Where do I place my stat points?

Like any other melee build, kickers use enough strength to equip weapons, enough dexterity for maximum shield blocking (or equipping claws if c/c only), with none in energy, and everything else in vitality. Typically this means 156 strength to equip upgraded Goreriders and Stormshield, and about 2 dexterity per level for max blocking (~200 at higher levels).

What is standard gear?

This is a quick list of gear that is considered "standard" for kickers. In fact, this listed gear is somewhere middle of the road for what is out there. Both untwinked and godlike kickers can play this game.

  • Weapon - Crescent Moon / Fleshripper (upgrade to Stormlash)
  • Shield - Stormshield
  • Helm - Guillaume's Face
  • Armor - Duress
  • Gloves - Draculs Grasp
  • Belt - Thundergod's Vigor or Verdungo's / String of Ears
  • Boots - Upgraded Goreriders
  • Amulet - Maras (or another resistance amulet)
  • Ring1 - Ravenfrost
  • Ring2 - Mana Leech/Resists

Total Stats

  • 60% Crushing Blow + weapon
  • Decent Open Wounds (multiple hits don't stack, so the exact % isn't important for PvM)
  • 35-50% DR
  • Some resists (to be finished with charms)

What mercenary do I use?

There are three primary mercenaries that stand out as being best suited to working with a kicker. They are: A2 Might, A2 Holy Freeze, and A2 Defiance. Might is an excellent choice if you can survive on your own in Hell, while Holy Freeze helps with crowd control, and Defiance helps your merc and shadow to become semi-powerful tanks. One of the big concerns with using Holy Freeze is shattering corpses. Actually, only about 1/4 of the corpses will actually shatter from the chill, so it will not be a big hinderance. If you are worried about this, then Defiance would be the better defensive choice.

Playing and Strategy

Assassins are a rather fragile class with some of the most powerful offensive skills in the game. Even with maxed resists and blocking one has to be careful. Assassins excel at being stealthy, sneaky, and have a dozen tools to use. Mastering even one of these can typically get one through the game with flying colors. Your final life will be somewhere in the 1100 range +/- 200. Don't tank things. Play smart and work the crowd. Monster artificial 'intelligence' is very aggressive and easy to predict.

I usually have a set idea for how I am going to approach any given mob of monsters. My first step is the pre-battle prep, followed by the setup, then the mêlée and mop-up. The pre-battle prep involves casting Fade/BoS, Venom, Shadow, and any other BO/BC/Enchant/etc. This happens before the battle round (sometimes during!), so it isn't tied to any kind of sequence (though Battle Command is usually the best thing to cast first). Setup happens as the mob is approached, but not within fighting range. This is where I cast Cloak of Shadows, Mind Blast a few unwary stragglers, and lay down my Death Sentries (and/or Lightning Sentries if using a k/t build). To close the distance, I use a Dragon Flight (or Teleport) to position myself, the Shadow, and lumpy minion for the best fighting. During the fight I fire off a few rounds of Dragon Talon interspersed with Cloak of Shadows and Mind Blast as needed. Death Sentry usually does a beautiful job of polishing off a large portion of the remaining mob after a few bodies have dropped. (In players1 mode, Death Sentry can clear a mob with two bodies. It will take 8-12 to do the same job in players8 mode.)

As you can see, there are a lot of different skills used in standard combat. In addition to these, there are a few others which have occasional uses, such as Blade Fury, and Town Portal. Nearly every dedicated Assassin player has a different setup, but almost none of them keep their keys on F1-F12. Options > Configure Controls is how to change the buttons to a new key assignment. Here is my typical key setup for a kicker/trapper.

  • F1 - Talon (left button)
  • F2 - Normal Attack (left button)
  • F4 - Shadow
  • F5 - Town Portal
  • F6 - Burst of Speed
  • F7 - Venom
  • F8 - Fade
  • E - Mind Blast
  • A - Cloak of Shadows
  • S - Lightning Sentry
  • D - Death Sentry
  • F - Blade Fury
  • G - Blade Sentinal (useful for low levels)
  • V - Dragon Flight

Low Levels

At your lower levels, kickers will excel above any other class for speed and fun. There are a couple secrets to this, and one of the most important is that your final skill is available at level 1. Due to mana costs, it isn't always practical to start using it then, but it is available and potent if you do. Sigon's boots (or other Greaves) and any source of mana leech will give enough mana to sustain you.

Get all of your skills the level they are available. Blade Sentinel even has uses at low levels. There is a leveling section further in the guide if you want to focus on that.

Mini FAQ

Unfortunately, Assassins are plagued with many rumors and misconceptions. These are mainly answers to question that get asked on a weekly basis on forums. So, this is the first step in the detail section. For further clarification on any of these answers, consult with the Technical section. As fair warning, the technical section contains more equations than words.

What affects kicks?

Physical kick damage is calculated from Strength, Dexterity, Skill Bonuses (kicks and Pally Auras), Boot Damage, and %ED from equipment, only. This is not including mods such as elemental damage. Weapon physical damage is completely useless, meaning you want to choose weapons for other mods. Here are the other properties that do work with kicks:

  • Crushing Blow, Open Wounds, Slow Target
  • Magic, Elemental, and Poison Damage (not displayed on the character screen)
  • Knockback (Dragon Talon and Tail have their own knockback, only works for Dragon Flight)
  • Life/Mana steal and Life/Mana after kills
  • %Chance to Cast on Attack/Strike
  • +% Damage (except from weapon)
  • +AR (except on your weapon)
  • +% AR (from anywhere)
  • Blind, Freeze, Prevent Monster Heal
  • MF and Gold find
  • Weapon Range

Properties that do not work with kicks:

  • Deadly/Critical Strike
  • +% Damage to Demons/Undead
  • + Min damage, +Max damage, or +X Damage (so no max damage charms for kickers)
  • Bonuses from Claw Mastery (boots aren’t claws)

Does Venom work with kicks?

Yes. There is a display bug which does not show any poison/magic/elemental damage on the LCS (Lying Character Screen) when using Dragon Talon or Dragon Flight. It is added to kicks but not displayed.

Do facets work with traps?

No. Again, there is a display bug on the LCS. Traps are considered minions, which is why they do not receive the bonus.

Does Grief work with kicks?

No. The +X Damage mod does not apply to Kicks, Blade Fury, or Blade Sentinal. It will work with Blade Shield, all charge-ups, and the normal attack. (The other mods will follow the rules listed above.)

Does Venom cancel Crushing Blow?

No. I don't know where this sick rumor got started, but it is wrong.

How do Fade, Burst of Speed, and Venom cancel each other?

Fade can work with Venom and Burst of Speed can work with Venom, but Fade cannot work with Burst of Speed. Any new Fade will cancel any active Fade or Burst of Speed, and any new Burst of Speed will cancel any active Fade or Burst of Speed. An equal or higher level of Venom will cancel any active Venom (but not the other way around).

Do points in Fade give passive PDR%?

While Fade is active, every point invested in Fade will give a 1% physical Damage Reduction. None is given when Fade is inactive. This hidden bonus also includes +skills (i.e. level 30 Fade gives 30 DR).

Blade Fury: Melee or ranged?

Ranged. See the skill detail for more explanation.

Fade or BoS?

Depends on playstyle and equipment only.

Shadow Warrior, Master, or no shadow?

Depends on playstyle and personal preference only. The Warrior is for control freaks, the Master is fire and forget, while having no shadow allows higher skill levels elsewhere, and less of a distraction if you aren't used to having an autonomous minion. See the skill description for further details on how each works.


The "Pure" Kicker

This build is the most basic build for a kicker. This is what I would suggest for any newcomer to kickers. The skills and basic equipment for this build were listed near the beginning of the guide.

Kicker / Trapper hybrids (aka K/T Sins or Dancers)

One of the most powerful PvM builds in the game, this gear-dependent build will absolutely destroy everything in its path. Before playing this build, it is *strongly* suggested that one first play both a "pure" kicker and a "pure" trapper build as it is very easy to misunderstand the workings that come together in this class. For a trapper build, I suggest the PvM trapper build written by JRichard.

The first guide I have seen for this build is written by C-Beat and called the Dragon Talon/Trapper build. His guide is very good reading, and the principles still apply. I have tried to bring his guide down to the age of 1.11, and to account for untwinked and Hardcore play, in addition to my own perspective which is slightly different from his. From here, I will assume that his guide has been read.

The two routes are to go with Fire traps (Firedancer) or Lightning traps (Lightdancer). Lightdancers are more powerful, and more prominent. Firedancers are less common, but more unique (and still viable). The name of Firedancer originally came from Urlik_Skarsol who solo'd hardcore untwinked with a build similar to the one I explain here. Lightdancers is what I call the pure lightning variation, or simply Dancer for short. The main difference between these two builds is skills, as equipment and playing style will stay nearly identical between the two.

With the Dancers, there is an equipment choice to use between being primarily a trapper, or primarily a kicker. Only with the most ungodly equipment can one become both with high effectiveness. The focus on kicking uses the same goals as listed earlier. A trapper-oriented build focuses primarily on +skills. The level of your traps (and points in synergies) determines how good they are. It is quite possible to play a trapper with no defensive equipment at all, provided that one is quick on their feet and has excellent control of their toon.

The Lightdancer

This is the most common skill setup. If all the abbreviations have you lost, check the Skill section or the Abbreviations near the end of the guide.

  • 12 or 18 in Talon with +skills
  • 20 Death Sentry
  • 20 Lightning Sentry
  • 3 Fireblast
  • 0 or 1 Venom
  • 0 or 1 or 18 after +skills in a Shadow
  • 1 BoS, Fade, CoS, MB, BF
  • Rest into synergies for Lightning Sentry (I split mine evenly between CBS and Shock Web)

The Firedancer

Urlik_Skarsol's build was a hybrid between Lightning and Fire traps. In Hell, he used primarily the lightning traps, which is why I recommend going the other route for most people. This could be a fun variation, and I would like to try this build eventually (along with a dozen others I may never have the time for). For anyone wanting an outline, this is what I'd recommend (untested).

  • 12 or 18 in Talon with +skills
  • 20 Death Sentry
  • 20 Wake of Inferno
  • 20 Wake of Fire
  • 0 or 1 Venom
  • 0 or 1 or 18 after +skills in a Shadow
  • 1 BoS, Fade, CoS, MB, BF
  • Rest into Fireblast(3+) or Shadow

Other Variants

The other builds that employ Talon are far less common, and rarely use Talon as described in this guide. PvP builds take advantage of the speed and AR, while the Phoenix Strike hybrid uses this skill as a high AR finisher rather than a primary damage dealer. For the sake of space and sanity, they are not included in this guide. However, I would recommend these guides for anyone interested:

  • <speederlander's pvp kick/ww hybrid>
  • <skygoneblue's nat's set pvm pser>


(and other preferences)

There are many ways to play besides the "cookie-cutter" approach many people use. Even though it has suggested gear, it is meeting the build goals which make it work. There are multiple ways to do this. There is the w/s or c/c discussion, hard/softcore, and solo or playing in large games. There is even the shadow Warrior/Master discussion, but this has much less effect on the final outcome.

High Player Counts

One of the biggest changes in high player counts is how quickly you deal damage. Neither Crushing Blow nor Death Sentry scale damage up with the increased life from extra players. That means another source of damage will be needed to keep up with the builds that do hundreds of thousands of damage.

The number one source of this extra damage is Static Field. It does scale the damage up, and will work to 50% health on monsters in Hell. Note that it is affected by lightning immunity and resists. Crescent Moon and Stormlash are the two best sources of this. Schaefer's Hammer has Static also, but is too slow of a weapon to take seriously.

The other source of damage is trap skills. This is particularly true of fully synergized lightning traps with decent amounts of +skills. Your goal here should be 5k damage or more at the upper end. (Facets and Griffons do not work with traps. Plus skills and Conviction/Lower Resist are the only ways to increase this damage despite what the LCS might say.)

Remember, this does not change anything with regard to other build requirements. Obviously this will help killing speed in solo games as well.


The toughest PvM players play hardcore. Hardcore is a world of its own, and requires far more defensive strategy than normal suicide softcore. All of the same principles are there, but accidental death suddenly means more than having to fetch your body. Can kicker's play in hardcore? Yes. At players 1 I think it is very possible to play through all of hardcore. At higher levels, I would at least suggest adding traps as a way to deal damage from a safe distance. Blade Fury, Cloak of Shadows, and Mind Blast all have increased roles in Hardcore. In addition, a shadow becomes a near necessity where it was a priveledge before.

Playing Untwinked

The hardest route, playing without preset equipment makes Hell a real challenge - especially if this with high player counts or in hardcore mode. In general, by the end of Nightmare, you want to have most of your equipment for the rest of Hell. The exact equipment to look for is discussed later on in the Equipment section. Keep the build goals in mind whenever comparing options. It is the total set of equipment working together that makes the difference rather than any one single piece.

Claw/Claw or Weapon/Shield setups?

There are pros and cons of each, and which is better is a matter of build. Usually it is best to decide which to use ahead of time and build around it. If untwinked, Weapon/Shield is the best way to go because of its flexibility.

Pros of Weapon/Shield

  • MANY more weapon options
  • 75% blocking against melee
  • 75% blocking while walking (1/3 while running)
  • Higher CB potential

Cons of Weapon/Shield

  • Vulnerable to elemental attacks
  • High stat requirements

Pros of Claw/Claw

  • Skill-based blocking (no stat points required)
  • High Life potential
  • 50%+ blocking against all attacks

Cons of Claw/Claw

  • Easier to get swarmed against melee
  • No blocking while moving
  • Difficult to achieve resists without Fade and/or Jade Talon

Shadow Warrior or Master or none-at-all?

This is completely a matter of preference and playstyle. As a brief overview: Having no shadow saves skill points and can be done best with good equipment. Shadow Warrior is for those who prefer strong influence over specific minion actions. Shadow Masters are fire-and forget minions who are subject to subtle hints, but have a will of their own.

Do I use Burst of Speed or Fade

This is an old debate, and thanks to 1.10 and all the new runewords, either one is a viable alternative. I consider Burst of Speed (BoS) to be the default skill, and will even use it the majority of the time while playing a kicker built for Fade. In short, the trade-off is speed for safety. Fade provides resist-all, curse length reduction, and a hidden 1% physical damage reduction per point (including +skills). Burst of Speed provides the largest source of both skill Increased Attack Speed and permanent Faster Run/Walk into one skill. Only Frenzy comes into competition with this claim, and its effects wear off after 6 seconds. (There are other details, but they are boring and thus included in the techncial details discussion.)

"The sign of a good build is not the skills that are maxed, but the skills that are only given one point, and used as if they were maxed." --HellBoundMidget

More Strategy Tips

Rather than go through every possible skill available, this will go through the things to know about the most important skills and dirty tricks available to a kicker. For more, read <EDIT by Naliworld: Link deleted> on the Amazon Basin.

Know Your Breakpoints

Also, know which ones are important. I've listed most of them near the beginning of the technical section, but the most difficult ones are attack speeds.

<get a good calculator - the german one doesn't count>

Think "Ninja"

Assassins are both powerful and fragile. Never forget this. Even the most decked out Assassin will only have a fraction of the life and defense available to Barbarians, Paladins, or Druids. The trick here is to use big meat shields and crowd altering skills to swing the battle your way. Even though some players will consider it cowardly, hit and run tactics are a very effective way to deal with dangerous foes. Making a "killing field" of corpses then luring larger foes into them while having active Death Sentries works wonders on agressive monsters that can outclass you in champion groups.

Also keep up on the "common sense" logistics of keeping resists, damage reduction, and blocking maxed. Those three (really two) things are far more important than saving a few more points for life. You will take approximately half of the damage from 50% blocking to 75% blocking. The same rule follows for resistances. Remember that if you ever question whether to put points in Dexterity or Vitality first.


Mind Blast and Cloak of Shadows are the two most powerful crowd control skills available to the Assassin. Use them whenever possible. Don't be afraid to stand up and say "Cloak blinds everything on the screen." Many players will appreciate this when you run up and blind that pack of Spectral Hit Black Souls on the way to Baal. When nobody else can do a thing, these two skills can often let you take control of an impossible situation. However, with both of these skills, please be considerate of other players in your party. A good Necromancer has a curse available for every situation, and will use the right ones at the right times. Cloak of Shadows is considered a curse and will override/be overriden by other curse-effects.

Cloak of Shadows is generally best left at level one since it cannot be cast again until the previous duration runs out. However, during those precious seconds, every non-boss monster is blinded. Fighting ranged monsters is where this skill shines best. You can pick your battles, and only fight the monsters you choose to. Casting speed is based on FCR, but the timer is based on the duration of CoS itself.

Mind Blast is a level 1+ skill because increased levels add damage, increase conversion chances, and increase the swirly durration. The swirly graphic indicates that any damage dealt to the monster will trigger a hit-recovery animation. There's not much to using this one, just point and click. Casting speed is affected by FCR.

Blow @&#% Up!

Death Sentry is the most versatile and important trap in the Assassin arsenal. The explosion deals the base damage of the corpse back as half fire and half physical damage. Increased life from increased player counts does not add to this damage.

Even if Death Sentry only gets one point (or is granted by a claw automod), it serves as a very good source of offensive damage. Each enemy with in the blast radius receives a percentage damage of the base life of the original monster. In other words, it takes 2-3 explosions to kill most enemies in one player games, while it can take up to 10 bodies to kill the same kind of monster in 8-player games. The best place to lay down these traps depends on your skill levels. At high levels, they can be effective almost anywhere. At lower levels, the best locations are either 1) directly where the bodies are falling, 2) outside the line of sight around a corner, or 3) far enough away that lightning is not shot, but corpses are still blown up. 1) and 2) are the most reliable methods, though it is harder to place a trap in the heat of battle.

Even if you cannot explode any corpses, this skill still shoots several hundred (or more) lightning damage at targets. With a fully synergized Lightning Sentry, the damage can even be significant to kill with that alone in Nightmare. Any way you look at it, it's free damage.

There are some very important mods to avoid when using this skill in any degree. Slain Monsters Rest in Peace (aka RIP), and any form of Freezes Target completely negate the usefulness of this skill. Chill has something like a 1 in 4 chance to shatter each corpse, so effectiveness is slightly reduced. The difference will only be noticed in higher player count games.

Work that Shadow

If you have chosen to use a Shadow, use it in the best way possible. Shadows have their own equipment and skill choices. I won't go into all the details here, but there is a lot of information in my techncial section and in the Strategy Compendium. Each of them works differently strategy-wise, but both have some similarities. As I see it, their number one purpose is to provide an additional target for monsters to deal with. Just like your Mercenary, they will travel with you by reappearing slightly ahead of you when getting far enough away, and immediately on top of you when you teleport or change areas by stairs or waypoints.

Shadow Warriors have the potential to become the most reliable tanks. They can choose between the normal attack, or whatever Assassin skill you have chosen on the left- and right-mouse buttons. However, their abilities are primarily predictability. This includes staying Faded 100% of the time, casting an additional Cloak of Shadows (independent of your timer), and using whatever skill you feel is most appropriate (best suited to pure elemental builds such as Phoenix or dual element trappers).

Hire Only the Best

When used properly, mercenaries add a significant amount of beef to the table. Any mercenary will add potency, though I find the auras from Act 2 mercenaries add more than "just another body." Increasing your damage, defense, or effective speed (via Holy Freeze) does a lot to level the battle field. If you rely heavily on Blade Fury, then use a Blessed Aim merc to optimize your hit%.

Don't run with shields

Well, at least not in dangerous situations. Shield blocking stays at normal value when walking, standing, or attacking. However, it drops to 1/3 the value when running. To put it another way, it's like playing with only a third of your life. Exploding dolls and damage-bugged Tomb Vipers are two enemies that cause me to walk. Just a note - you have zero blocking when walking or running with a C/C setup, so you may as well run and get out of range before the monsters finish their attacks.


Your exact needs and equipment choices depend on what you have chosen. Sometimes a build is done around a single piece of equipment, but usually it is not. This list is not to be followed exactly, though I have tried to list the best options first. Instead, it is a list of commonly available and effective gear choices. Weapons are last since they have the most diverse and largest selection. This list is all for end-game equipment. If you aren't sure what these are, try looking on the Arreat Summit. Pay attention to the links along the very top of the page to navigate to set, crafted, or runeword items.


Guillaume's Face is the typical pick for the 35% Crushing Blow. The Strength and FHR boosts are also valued.

Other good options include Shako (k/t), Kira's (Uber Meph), and Crown of Ages (just an awesome helmet). Circlets provide the best +3 Shadow buffing helmets, if you can find one. In untwinked play, look mainly for resists and any other mods that help you towards the build goals.


Upgraded Goreriders are the best choice both for the Crushing Blow and for having the lowest requirements of any Myrmidon Greaves.

Shadow Dancers get honorable mention. In untinked play, either crafted Blood or crafted Safety boots are the best route. Crafted Blood are the way to go if trying to keep strength requirements down. Resistances and FRW are the most desireable mods.


Dracul's Gloves are the choice if there is no other source of Lifetap.

Other options include Blood gloves and Steelrends. Crushing Blow%, IAS, and resists are the most important stats, though life/mana leech and stats help too.


Verdungo's Hearty Cord, String of Ears, and Thundergod's Vigor (TGods) are all great options here. Usually TGods is the belt of choice once the latter parts of Hell are reached.

Arachnids Mesh is useful at high level playing, while Blood Crafts are available when others aren't. Resists, strength, FHR, and life are all desirable stats on top of the Open Wounds automod.


Stormshield or "Spirit" Monarch if this build is Weapon/Shield. Stormshield for melee, while Spirit is ideal for trap laying or prebuffing.

"Rhyme" Grim Shield/Trolls Nest/Monarch works incredibly well. Sanctuary is good if you need resists and happen across a "Mal" rune.


Duress! It has all the good mods, and some extras.

Treachery is a decent armor, especially suited for K/T builds. Even though it has both Fade and Venom procs, I recommend dropping at least one base point into each to be able to cast between fights. Beyond this are a lot of good options. Look for mobility, resists, FHR, Life and sockets.


Fair Warning: This section contains Algebra. If you don't know how to use math, visit your local forum and ask away. Equations are not exact, but are accurate to a percent or so. The game uses rounding that I have chosen to ignore for the purposes of explanation.

Speed Tables

Casting Speed
FCR Frames
O 16
8 15
16 14
27 13
42 12
65 11
102 10
174 9
Hit Recovery
FHR Frames
O 7
9 6
20 5
48 4
86 3
200 2
FBR Frames
O 5
13 4
32 3
86 2

Kick Damage

Kick damage is calculated as the physical kick damage, plus any elemental/magic/poison damage from any source (besides the off-hand claw). Dragon Tail also has a fire splash damage that is based on the physical damage done to the opponent. The physical damage equation goes like this (from jrichard's kicking basics document):

  • MinDamage= (str + dex - 20) / 4 * (100 + skill_bonus) / 100 + BootMinDam * (100 + (str * StrBonus / 100) + skill_bonus + non_weapon ED + Aura_bonus) / 100
  • MaxDamage=(str + dex - 20) / 3 * (100 + skill_bonus) / 100 + BootMaxDam * (100 + (str * StrBonus / 100) + skill_bonus + non_weapon ED + Aura_bonus) / 100

The skill_bonus slot in the first half of each equation does not, repeat does not, include ED from aura skills such as might or fanatacism. It works just like non-weapon ED and is only added into the second half or boot damage portion of the equation.

Attack Speed(s)

For the full explanation, read JRichard's Assassin Attack Speeds. This is the short version.

Dragon Flight has a fixed speed of 23 frames. This cannot be increased or decreased in any way. The kick itself is somewhere in the middle of the animation.

Dragon Talon and Dragon Tail are calculated the same way, but have very different speed breaks. The part that is calculated the same is the EIAS, or equivalent increased attack speed. This same EIAS is also used for most of the Assassin attack speeds, including trap laying speed.

EIAS = Skill_IAS + (120*IAS)/(120+IAS) - WSM,
Skill_IAS is any IAS from Burst of Speed or Fanatacism,
IAS is the sum of equipment IAS (not including the secondary claw), and
WSM is the Weapon Speed Modifier. Unless dual weilding, this is the base weapon speed (BWS) found on the Arreat Summit.
(Yes, the above section was a paragraph with correct syntax. Math is a language.)

These are the breakpoints for the two skills. Talon has follow-up speed and "initial" speed. Trap Laying refers to the casting animation of the traps. The firing rate is fixed and depends on the skill. Code:

Dragon Talon
Initial Follow-up
O 12 -19 5
9 11 O 4
19 10 34 3
31 9
45 8
63 7
Trap Laying
8 14
15 13
24 12
34 11
47 10
61 9

To use these efficiently, a spreadsheet (or web calculator) is the best way to impliment the information. Because not everyone can do this easily, several tables have been made to make this easier. To read the tables on jrichard's site, look up the WSM along the top row. Then read down that column until the right level of BoS is on that row. The intersection is the IAS required to reach that frame break (tables are for the fastest speeds only). Since these tables take large amounts of space, I have not included them.

Dual Wielding

Left / Right Inventory.

This picture below has the standard terminology used by JRichard for when someone says "right" or "left" claw. Because it is confusing (inventory-left is usually character-right), I have opted to use boot claw and glove claw. I find it much easier to explain, and less confusing.

Finding the Primary

Your primary weapon is whichever one was equipped first. When the game re-equips weapons for you, then it defaults to the glove-side as primary. Switching weapons or picking up a corpse are examples of the game equipping them for you. If in doubt, simply pick up the weapon you want as secondary, then re-equip it.

Certain mods are weapon-specific (like damage), and others are global. These play an important roll when dual wielding. This list is not specific to kicks. Global mods will apply always, but not all weapon-specific mods apply to kicks.

Global Mods

  • Resists
  • +Skills
  • Skill Mastery, -% enemy resist


  • Base Damage, ED, +min/max, +X damage
  • +AR/+AR%
  • Leech/CB/OW/DS
  • Elemental/Magic/Poison Damage

WSM and Base Speeds

When dual wielding, the speeds are averaged for the normal setup (glove-side is primary). Your Primary claw is the one equipped first. If you swap weapons, then it defaults to glove side. JRichard's dual claw explanation covers the explanation for speed when boot-side is primary.

Calculating Elemental Damage Attacks

Several items contain the mod +X% [element] skill damage. Most famous among these items are Facets which contain this mod and a -% enemy resists mod. The exact calculation of output damage depends on which case is used. Some general rules - most skills recieve a single application; synergies are multiplicative with this bonus; this bonus does not apply to ranged attacks. Now for some specific examples (globalized to account for classes of skills).

Single Application (most skills operate this way)

  • Damage = Base_Dmg * (100 + Synergy)/100 * (100 + Cast_Mastery)/100

Double Application (works for melee Enchant, Venom, and Holy Fire/Freeze/Shock)

  • Damage = Base_Dmg * (100 + Synergy)/100 * (100 + Cast_Mastery)/100 * (100 + Strike_Mastery)/100

Ranged Attack (ranged attacks are Blade Fury, or anything thrown/shot)

  • Single Application Damage = Base_Dmg * (100 + Synergy)/100 + 0
  • Double Application Damage = Base_Dmg * (100 + Synergy)/100 * (100 + Cast_Mastery)/100 + 0


  1. Mastery only applies to the correct form of damage. +% Fire Skill Damage will never boost your Cold damage.
  2. Base_Dmg refers to the base damage of the skill or type of attack
  3. Synergy is the sum of all synergy bonuses. If you have two synergies, add the total percent together.
  4. Cast_Mastery is the sum of all sources of +% [element] Skill Damage. It is calculated at the time a skill is initially cast. There can be a delay between time of casting and time of striking.
  5. Strike_Mastery indicates that elemental damage is transfered through a ranged or melee attack. This is calculated when the attack is made.
  6. In melee attacks, elemental damage from equipment recieves a single boost from Mastery.


There are a lot of places these can be read about. They include Phoenix-Hawk's FAQ, the Strategy Compendium, and the Arreat Summit. Many questions can be answered on other sites. I have tried to compile a brief explanation of how each useful skill works. Sometimes a useless skill is included to show why it is useless. Numbers are not used here. I suggest using a skill calculator such as <some skill calc> for finding out what various levels do.


Both strategy and technical details are included for these skills. Recommneded levels are for a kicker only. Other information is for any Assassin unless otherwise specified. Damage and attack speed are explained elsewhere.

Martial Arts

Talon is the main attack of a kicker. Every point adds attack rating and damage, and every sixth point adds an additional kick. (Level 6 is 2 kicks, Level 12 is 3 kicks, etc.) As a finisher, this skill will work one of two ways. If the first kick of the sequence connects, then it will be the only one to release the charge. However, if it misses, then every other kick in the sequence has a chance of triggering the finishing move. This is considered a bug and very difficult to control with any success.

As a finisher, this will release charges on either the first or second strike, but never both. Whichever hits first is the one that releases.

This is the one kick skill I have not used extensively. While I do not use it, this has the potential for additional crowd control (at one point) since everything in the blast radius receives a knockback. This attack is significantly slower than Talon in most cases.

Damage on this skill is two-fold. First is the kick damage, which is then followed by the fire explosion. The fire damage is based on the physical damage dealt to the target. The kick itself is a completely normal kick subject to all the normal rules. The fire damage explosion can be worked in excess of 50k damage (100k+ if on a dedicated, comprimised build) when combined with a maxed Tiger Strike.

This is the build-in teleport for kickers. Usually it is used to travel from one portion of the battle to another. It can be used for jumping into the middle of a mob, positioning monsters to better be affected by traps, or getting out of the mob once you realize it is a pack of Extra Strong, Fast, Spectral Hit Frenzytaurs enchanted by a nearby Fanatacism aura. Its speed is unaffected by FCR, IAS, or any slowing effects.

This skill does nothing long-term for this kind of kicker. However, I will use it when soloing at very low levels when there are no other good forms of damage. The only reason this skill is worth maxing is on a Tiger Strike/DTail build.

While optional, this skill allows a kicker to gain back some life and mana in the midst of battle without potions. In fact, WizAdept has played through the game using no potions and relying on this skill and leech from gear. When playing Hardcore, this skill is practically necessary.

Shadow Disciplines

This skill does nothing to kick damage. It is a prerequisite unless playing a hybrid build. This is where I place my first skill point since it adds to claw damage.

While active, this skill provides a significant boost to both attack speed and run/walk speed. It's the Assassin skill of choice for speed freaks, and my natural preferrence. Even though it is tempting to max this skill, the diminishing returns make that a poor choice of placement. On all of my builds, I will leave this at one point and let +skills bring me to my desired level. The only exception would be a build based around a very slow weapon such as Gimmershred.

This skill can work at the same time as Venom. This skill cannot work at the same time as Fade. Casting any level of BoS will override any active BoS or Fade.

  • Fade] (1 or 5+ points) *wonder*

While active (and only while active), Fade adds fire/lit/cold/psn resistance, damage reduction (1% per level), and curse length reduction. Due to diminishring returns, this skill is only worth maxing for the 1% DR per level. That DR is counted from the casting level including +skills gear, and is subject to the same 50 DR cap as other sources. Several items provide a chance to cast Fade when hit. Even when using one of those skills, it is best to have a level 1 Fade to cast before battle, or in case the timer runs out.

This skill can work at the same time as Venom. This skill cannot work at the same time as BoS. Casting any level of Fade will override any active BoS or Fade.

  • Venom (0 or 1 or 20 points) *wild card*

While this is most useful in PvP, it has uses in PvM as well. Facets work with this skill exactly as they do with Enchant. Skill mastery is counted once when casting, and once when striking. The equation for damage is this: Damage = Base * (100 + Casting%)/100 * (100 + Striking%)/100

Trap Skills

Lightning Traps=

Lightning Sentry can serve as either your main killing force, or a solution to physical immunes. Either use works well.

Your most useful trap, Death Sentry (DS) will inflict a Corpse Explosion to all surrounding enemies. The explosion is 50% fire and 50% physical. Lowering enemy resistances will increase the damage done, but there is no other way to do so. The damage is not scaled with additional players in the game, meaning it will take 4.5x the explosions to kill a monster than it takes while soloing.

Fire Traps

Less powerful than the lightning versions, these skills add elemental damage. Wake of Fire(WoF) fires in waves, but can only hit a maximum of once every four frames since it has a NextDelay effect. This means placing five WoF traps for one enemy will not do much good.

Wake of Inferno (WoI) is very useful against a single target. However, it has a couple quirks associated with it. The one bug it does not have is the 1/3 damage bug that the Sorceress Inferno and Druid Artic Blast skills have. This skill can only target one monster, yet the fire animation will cover more of the screen inflicting no damage. WoI tracks very slowly meaning a stationary target is about the only thing you can hit. The damage is much lower than you would think because it is displayed in damage per second, and not damage per attack like other skills. Because of this, it acts like a skill with half (or less) the displayed damage.

Blade Skills

These skills are typically supplementary skills, though a build can be made entirely around the skill Blade Fury. For a complete list of working mods, read Phoenix-Hawk's FAQ Notes. So far as I know, these are correct and up to date.

This is also a blade skill, and follows the rules for those. At very low levels, this can mow down fallen in warehouse quantities. With large amounts of poison damage (eg. maxing venom first), this can also have uses in Nightmare.


(Although these are not available to the Assassin directly, understanding how they work is at worst useful, and at best necessary. Chaos and Call to Arms are included for players who have them. Use or making of duped runes is not condoned.)


Whirlwind is available to the Assassin via the Chaos Runeword. The mechanics are identical to the Barbarian's skill, though the Assassin has its own breakpoints. First is speed. The speed of each weapon is counted independently. Unlike all other skills, the effective IAS (EIAS) is calculated by subtracting the base speed from the weapon IAS. Any speed increase outside your weapon is not counted. Each weapon should be considered completely independent for speed and damage.

This is the table for Assassins and claws. 4 FPA is the fastest speed available.

FCR Frames
-33 12
-25 10
-10 8
12 6
13 4

When dual wielding, the checks are done every 4 frames. The first check, only the primary attacks. The second check both primary and secondary always attack. Starting with the third check (and every following check) the weapons are counted independently and depend on speed. If an attack should fall between checks, it will be executed on the following check. The two frames between where the attack should be and where it happens are still subtracted on from the remaining number of frames to the next attack. Damage and other mods transfer the same as other dual wield attacks (i.e. not at all).

Adds one to all skill levels for the duration. Includes OSkills.

Providing an increase in life, mana, and stamina, this skill is incredibly useful for any character.

The Short & Sweet List of Links

Some are dead by now, but can be retrieved via

Special Thanks to:

  • Phoenix-Hawk and HellBoundMidget for their Assassin FAQ
  • JRichard and Brianc84 for extensive kick research
  • Wizadept for showing me the rest of ropes and numerous tips and hints along the way
  • Deichsela for hosting the 1.10 version of this guide
  • Naliworld and BIGeyedBUG for moderating some of the best forums around
  • Baron Karlriche and Cat Lady for hosting the Bazaar

Thanks for technical info to:

  • Tommi, Adeyke, Oramin, Mikeandroe, Crystalion

Thanks also to C-Beat, Speederlander, xu-godx, Aceboomcoom, Derisive, gta-Maloy, Sambo, and all the other posters on Baron's Bazaar,,, The Amazon Basin and anywhere else along the way for various comments and shared experiences.