I've been thinking about the stock Dungeons and Dragons Assassin prestige class. And it seems to me that the prestige class could use a few improvements. I'm not saying that it is broken, mind you ... but it could be better.
The biggest problem is that the Assassin is front-loaded. You get all the good stuff in the early levels, and not nearly enough in the end. There's not enough to make you want to stick around. At first level you get the death attack and poison use. At second level, uncanny dodge. And sweet new spells at levels 1, 3, 5, and 7. Honestly, why would you take seven or eight levels of Assassin when you could take five levels of assassin, a level of Shadowdancer (for easier faster access to Hide in Plain Sight), and three levels of Arcane Trickster (if you can meet the Mage Hand prerequisite somehow)? There's no reason at all to take nine or ten levels in the PrC.
If you are interested in a second prestige class, you only want three levels of Assassin (for Mystic Theurge or Divine Trickster), or five levels (for Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster). A Dragon Disciple Assassin is also a sweet option: certainly you get more from Assassin8/DD2 than Assassin10!
So I suggest giving the Assassin more compelling abilities at higher levels.
Another problem area is spell progression. The Assassin gets 1st level spells at level 1, 2nd level spells at level 3, 3rd at level 5, and 4th at level 7. Notice what is missing? 5th level spells at level 9! I would add some there.
A Suggested Solution
The Improved Assassin -- Note that everything not changed below remains the same as the stock Assassin.
.1....+0......+0.....+2.....+0.....Paralyzing Stab, Sneak Attack +1d6
.2....+1......+0.....+3.....+0.....Poison Use, +1 Save vs Poison
.3....+2......+1.....+3.....+1.....Uncanny Dodge, Sneak Attack +2d6
.4....+3......+1.....+4.....+1.....Death Stab, +2 Save vs Poison
.5....+3......+1.....+4.....+1.....Sneak Attack +3d6
.6....+4......+2.....+5.....+2.....Improved Uncanny Dodge, +3 Save vs Poison
.7....+5......+2.....+5.....+2.....Ranged Stab, Sneak Attack +4d6
.8....+6......+2.....+6.....+2.....Hide in Plain Sight, +4 Save vs Poison
.9....+6......+3.....+6.....+3.....Sneak Attack +5d6
10....+7......+3.....+7.....+3.....Quick Stab, +5 Save vs Poison
Class Skills -- The Improved Assassin gains only 2+Int skill ranks per level. This is somewhat mitigated by the tendency of Improved Assassin characters to put a higher stat into Intelligence.
Class Features -- A few stock features are delayed, and a couple new ones come into play at upper levels.
Sneak Attack, Poison Use, Save vs Poison, Uncanny Dodge, Uncanny Dodge, and Hide in Plain Sight: All per standard Assassin class features.
Paralyzing Stab: If an assassin studies his victim for 3 rounds and then makes a sneak attack with a melee weapon that successfully deals damage, the sneak attack has the additional effect of possibly paralyzing the target. While studying the victim, the assassin can undertake other actions so long as his attention stays focused on the target and the target does not detect the assassin or recognize the assassin as an enemy. If the victim of such an attack fails a Fortitude save (DC 10 + the assassinís class level + the assassinís Int modifier) against the paralyzing effect, she is rendered helpless and unable to act for 1d6 rounds plus 1 round per level of the assassin. If the victimís saving throw succeeds, the attack is just a normal sneak attack. Once the assassin has completed the 3 rounds of study, he must make the paralyzing stab within the next 3 rounds. If a stab is attempted and fails (the victim makes her save) or if the assassin does not launch the attack within 3 rounds of completing the study, 3 new rounds of study are required before he can attempt another paralyzing stab.
Death Stab: As paralyzing stab, but the assassin can choose to kill his target.
Ranged Stab: As paralyzing stab and death stab, but the assassin can use a ranged weapon. The attack must still be a sneak attack, however.
Quick Stab: As paralyzing stab and death stab, but the time of study required is 2 rounds, not 3 rounds.
Spell Casting -- Featuring 5th level spells and a few changes to the class spell list. Currently the Assassin list has 8 first level spells, 9 second, 6 third, and 8 4th. That seems inelegant. I prefer 9 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6.
The standard Assassin spell casting rules apply, but the Assassin gains 0 5th level spells at level 9 and 1 5th level spell at level 10. At level 9, 2 spells are known if the Assassin has a high enough Int to be able to cast such spells, and at level 10, 3 spells are known.
Also, the Assassin's spell list changes in the following ways:
- Add Mage Hand at level 1.
- Add Blink at level 3.
- Move Clairaudience/Clairvoyance from level 4 to level 3.
- Add Polymorph, Prying Eyes, Scrying, Secret Chest, Shadow Walk, and Veil at level 5.
Design Note -- "Improved" does not mean more powerful! This suggestion for an improvd assassin does add several new power -- notably improved death attack and 5th level spells -- but the delay in gaining formerly low-level several stock abilities and the decrease in skill ranks gained per level balance those out.