This guide describes a build for an effective PvM Assassin, using inexpensive equipment.
Why this Guide?
This guide describes an Assassin build that is designed to be at least minimally playable in 8-player (or /players 8 solo games) Hell games, using only equipment that you can be sure of finding along the way, or can easily beg from your friends. There are stronger builds out there, but so many guides talk about characters that wear nothing but godly items. This is not one of those guides.
This Assassin slivers monsters using rapid attacks with at least 60% chance of Crushing Blow and delivers the final punch using poison damage from Venom and select-an-element attacks from Phoenix Strike.
Death is kept at bay with 50% chance of weapon block and good resistances courtesy of a high level of Fade. Modifying the build to include extensive use of Shadow Master is a good idea, but is totally dependent upon playstyle-I just can’t stand AI minions, so I don’t use it much.
The biggest limitation of this build is it’s almost negligible life leech. As a result, this Assassin has a really bad red potion habit, and there’s nothing to be done about it-you don’t leech life from Crushing Blow. This also makes the seemingly-omnipresent poison damage in Hell quite a problem-but one that Blizzard conveniently fixed for us with some equipment.
While this build is geared more toward the poor players of the Realms, it can also be a blast for rich, seasoned vetrans. I feel this is the most “assassin-like” Assassin build available, since it relies on skill and trickery for it’s killing instead of massive physical damage. Top|You’re using WHAT?
Everything that we absolutely need can be easily gotten ourselves (without endless MF runs) or begged from others on Battle.net. The rarest piece of recommended gear is a “Lum” rune. That one will probably require some negotiation or luck. We’ll be using our Horadric Cube extensively and leaning heavily on the RuneWords. Let’s break the equipment requisites down in order of importance.
Equipment Choices: You’re using WHAT?
The first order of business is plenty of Crushing Blow damage, and our most potent source of this is to dual-wield Greater Talons or Runic Talons socketed with the RuneWord “Strength”. “Strength” is easily spelled, Amn-Tir, and gives us 25% chance of Crushing Blow (along with some other mostly-useless modifiers). Running the normal difficulty Countess for a while should net you a few Amn runes. Once both hands have a Greater Talons or Runic Talons with this RuneWord, we have 50% Chance of Crushing Blow.
Through experimentation I have found that using either Greater Talons or Runic Talons is absolutely essential-no other claw-class weapons will be good enough. The reason is the Weapon Speed Modifier of -30. Using any other claw-class weapon, it will be necessary to use Burst of Speed to get a respectable attack framebreak. Without a fast attack, Hell monsters will interrupt your attack animation so often that you’ll hardly ever hit them, and without Fade you’ll get slaughtered by elemental damage. You need Greater or Runic Talons. You can get them easily by putting an Eld rune and any chipped gem into your horadric cube to upgrade your Cracked and Low Quality Talons into normal ones. Once you’ve done that, Larzuk will give them sockets, and ready them for your Amn and Tir runes.
You really need to beg until you get Goblin Toe, the unique Light Plated Boots. Their worthless modifiers are all outweighed by their 25% Crushing Blow, which brings you to 75% when used with your claws. If you cannot get Goblin Toe, just use any boots you can get. Faster run/walk and resistance are nice modifiers in the absence of Crushing Blow.
Gloves and Belt:
The ideal compliment to Goblin Toe is Death’s Hand and Death’s Guard, the set Leather Gloves and Sash, respectively. Used together, these gloves and belt give you +50% Poison Resist, -75% Poison Length, 30% Increased Attack Speed, +15% Resist All, Cannot Be Frozen, and a few other useless modifers. These two items give us all the important mods we need. Our low life leech makes us especially vunerable to Poison damage-these gloves rival the unique armor Venom Ward for posion resistance. Fast attack speed means everything to us-30 IAS gets us to within 7% of a breakpoint(see above table). Cannot be Frozen is just necessary in Hell difficulty, and +15 resist all is always welcome.
Death’s gloves and belt might be hard to find simply because they’re so low-level. If you’re playing Open, the normal diff Cow King has an order of magnitude higher chance to drop these than any other monster in the game. On the Realms, asking lots of people to keep their eyes open for them for you should get you them eventually, since they can be theoretically dropped by any monster past Normal/Act 1. You really want these.
If you cannot get Goblin Toe and the Death’s Items, you’ll need to use your gloves for Crushing Blow. Cubing any Magical (“Blue”) Heavy Gloves, any Jewel, a Nef rune, and a Perfect Ruby will craft “Blood Gloves”, which have a 5-10% Chance of Crushing Blow. Roll them enough times and find some with 10% CB and at least 20% Increased Attack Speed, and they can take the place of Goblin Toe in your Crushing Blow arsenal.
You’ll just have to use whatever belt you can find in that case, preferably with some resistances on it. Building this character without Death’s Items and Goblin Toe is possible, but much more difficult due to the lack of Cannot be Frozen and poison reduction. A belt “of Amelioration” will help that tremendously, if you can find one.
Surviving in Hell without high elemental resistance and physical defense is impossible. The easiest way to get both of these in a (somewhat) affordable package is to socket the RuneWord “Smoke” into any Elite armor. Spelled Nef-Lum, this is by far the most expensive item you’ll need, due to the coveted Lum rune. Lum isn’t very high-level, though, just sought-after, so you should eventually be able to find, beg, or trade one. Let Larzuk socket your armor, if you don’t find any that’s naturally socketed. Other armor can be used, of course, as long as the defense and resistances are high enough for your playstyle and skill. Jewelry, Charms, and Hat:
These slots are wide-open. Somewhere in here you’ll need to pick up at least a few % Mana Steal to keep your Phoenix Strike going. One easily beggable way is with the unique ring Manald Heal. All the modifiers you get from these slots, other than mana steal, are just icing on the cake. I would really recommend all players use their three Imbues on Coronet or higher circlets. (Little hint that Open players have an unlimited number of imbues, if they want them.) Hope to get one with 10% (or 20% if you’re not using Death’s Items) IAS and some mana steal. +skills is a great modifier in these slots, too, along with resistance.
A single small charm of +posion damage is a good thing to have, and easy to find. While it won’t make a huge difference in your killing speed or damage deal capacity, it will help to make Venom damage enemies the entire time it takes you to hit again, even if you miss in between hits. That’s a big help, especially against fast-healing Hell baddies.
Given the unusual equipment you’re going to be using, your skill distribution had better pack a punch to get you through Hell, and it will. Let’s dissect your skill distribution at Level 80 and the beginning of Act 5, Hell(a pretty good endgame measurement in 1.10, I think) and how you’ll get there along the way. Character Stats:
Strength: 115. If you know what kind of Elite armor you’re going to use in advance, you might be able to get away with less, however much that requires. 115 will get you into Archon Plate or Wire Fleece, which can give you very high Defense indeed.
Dexterity: 115. You’ll need both 115 Str. and 115 Dex to use your Runic Talons. Once you’ve met your strength and dex goals, splitting your points 3-2 or 4-1 into Constitution and Dex is a good idea to improve your Attack Rating.
Vitality: Meet your strength and dexterity minimums, and then invest in here for hit points.
Energy: None. You’ll get enough extra mana from leveling.
Skills: I know Kung-Fu!
No skill points. Put some here if you have A.D.D. or just can’t live without Blade Sentinel.
Martial Arts tree:
Pre-Requisites: 5. One point into everything necessary to get Phoenix Strike.
Phoenix Strike: 20. Freezing your enemies Ro><0r. Meteoring the cold-immune ones is nice, too. Level this after Claw Mastery and at the same time as Venom. Maxing it out right away isn’t necessary, but must be done eventually. Higher levels through +skill items are even better.
Investing the four points into Dragon Flight and it’s prereqs is probably a good idea. If you want to get up to endgame killing speed as fast as possible, skip this step, but a Teleport, even a limited one, is a great thing to have.
Shadow Disciplines tree:
This is where all the fun happens.
Claw Mastery: 20. Without this, you’ll never get a usefully high Attack Rating against Hell difficulty monsters. While you’re still a young character waiting to get your level 30 skills opened up to you, max this out. The +damage will help get you into your adulthood, and then the +AR will really matter a lot. This is your skill.
Burst of Speed: 1. As tempting as this skill is, you can completely eliminate your need for it by using Greater or Runic talons instead of another type of Claw. The game forces you to choose between this and Fade, and resistance is more important.
Fade: 7 or 8. More might be better, but 7 is the last skill level that gets you +3% resist all, and the spot on the diminishing returns curve that I think is best. With every monster having an elemental attack in Hell difficulty, make sure you get your resistance up before entering. Using only the equipment and skills specifically mentioned here, you’ll enter Act 5, Hell with 33,33,33,75 resistances. A few easily-found charms and jewels will make those numbers respectable.
Weapon Block: 10. A few points as early as possible here will make your life easier, then work up to 10 before you enter Hell. Same argument here as with Fade-I think it’s best to accept a few % less blocking than to waste lots and lots of skill points.
Venom: 20. Once the enemies are slivered with Crushing Blow, you still have to kill them. Big posion damage is a nice way to do that, when it has only a 0.4 second duration. The small charm you’ve got makes this even more effective. Level this after Claw Mastery and along with Phoenix Strike.
Cloak of Shadows: 1. In a pinch, this actually works to raise your effective AR by lowering your enemies defense. It doesn’t work very well, however, and isn’t worth putting skills into. Since it’s required as a pre-requisite for Shadow Master, keep it in mind if you have some +skill items to boost it.
Shadow Master: 0. Put any extra skills you have left over in here. Shadow Master is a great companion for some people, but doesn’t fit with my personal playstyle at all. Level 5 is a good place to start if you intend to use her, especially if you have some +skill items.
Prereqs: 2. These are the skills Shadow Warrior and Psychic Hammer.
Strategy: How can I drive this crazy thing?
While you still have a young character, you goal is simply to make it to level 30. Until then, you can use the prerequisite skills, but normal attack will probably be enough, since you’re working on maxing Claw Mastery first. You’ll probably be able to get by with whatever claws randomly drop, saving your Amn runes for Greater or Runic talons later on.
Once you’ve reached level 30, you’ve entered adolescence and adulthood. You can use your endgame play tactics, at lower skill levels, to kill the softer Normal and Nightmare monsters. Out come the Strength Talons, and start Crushing some enemies. You’ll cast Venom and Fade (and Shadow Master if you use her), and charge up Phoenix Strike to 3 (which is cold elemental) and then discharge with normal attack. Previous testing tried to use Dragon finishing moves, but they’re all inferior to simple Normal Attack due to mana usage and slower attack speeds leading to more interrupted attacks. Using the terrain to your advantage is very important with this build, as it lacks any form of crowd control.
Hell difficulty monsters will present more challenge with Poison Immunity, Cold Immunity, and very high Defense figures. Keep your wits about you, and make sure Phoenix Strike works by always hitting them with an element they ARE NOT immune to. Cloak of Shadows can be helpful against seemingly impossible-to-hit monsters. Physical Immune monsters are very difficult to deal with, and Physical Immune Poison Immune nearly impossible-that’s the breaks.
The unique experience that this character offers in Hell difficulty is that the killing speed is nearly constant even as monster hit points change. When you transition into Nightmare into Hell, you won’t experience that feeling of “I can’t kill anything anymore” that affects nearly every other adolescent character. Enjoy NOT feeling that-that’s the advantage of this character build.
Wrap up: What else can be done?
This same strategy can be executed by a very rich player by substituting Bartuc’s Cut Throats socketed with Crushing Blow runes for the Strength Claws. Gore Riders transcend Goblin Toe, and Laying of Hands, String of Ears, and Raven Frost together outclass Death’s Items. Such a character would play just like this one, only much faster. The cost of such “upgraded” equipment is astronomical, however.
Since this character has four (or possibly five, when resistance isn’t a large concern, such as against Mephisto) easy Magic Find slots totally empty, it’s a great budget Hell unique-run character. Great killing speed against your unique of choice couples with Rings and Amulet of Chance and 7 sockets worth of perfect Topazes. All for an affordable price!
Credits: Because I couldn’t have done it alone.
This guide is simply the result of a small amount of thought, a moderate amount of testing, and a large amount of reading research that had already been done. My greatest thanks go out to everyone who has contributed technical data to DiabloII.net. Without you I’d never have been able to optimize this assassin’s wardrobe.
Thanks are also due to Souricette, the author of DiabloII MPQ Tool. Thanks for compiling a Classic MacOS version-WE DO USE IT. Without that editor, I would have never been able to actually test all the skill tweaks this build went through within a single lifetime.
Thanks also to Josephine, for wanting to play this character–all this work was just for you!