(4/18/2014: A few comrades on the forums noted several glaring errors to my comparison here during a discussion on XP related to stealthing. I’ll update my comparison in the near future but, to keep my mea culpa here as a reference, I’ll revisit it in a new post.)
I have written and published several posts related to Kiricletica the solo ninja and originally had more posts on the way. But life events and Kiri’s fast leveling have antiquated those posts rather swiftly, making updates impractical.
So, I wanted to take a break from that to look at the Ninja Spy class in general, from the perspective of a similar class.
Most of you know (probably ad nauseam) what the Ninja Spy can do. They have many abilities to quickly harm and kill an enemy, both as enhancements or as part of the Monk class.
But how similar are the Ninja Spies to the Rogue Assassin?
Both classes are good scouts. Each handles traps in their own way. The Rogue would disarm them. The Monk would ignore them, thanks to Evasion, Abundant Step and high saves.
The ninja has many ways to kill. Everyone knows about the Assassin’s ultimate move, logically named Assassinate. But what else does this class do? Is there synergy between it and a ninja?
Note what I’m asking. I’m not pitting an Assassin and ninja in a player-versus-player fight. I’m trying to quantify what the Assassin’s innate skills can do in comparison to the Ninja Spy.
Conditions for Comparison
Since I can’t quite define a simulation of either class in a fight, it’s a matter of looking at each class’s raw abilities.
Both classes will have cooldowns on certain attacks. The Monk’s ki will also determine how often certain attacks can be done. Both situations increase the length of time.
There’s also the damage per second and types of attacks that may or may not cause noise or otherwise attract others.
So, as best I can do, I’ll compare and contrast weapon options, attack options, defense options, and how each class fares if they enter a quest completely alone as a hard soloist.
I will have a natural bias in this comparison since I haven’t a high level Assassin as yet. But I treat the DDO Wiki’s information as the gospel and will give favor to that class if my interpretation sees fit.
On Weapon Types
The Assassin is proficient with kukris (1d4 slashing) and daggers (1d4 piercing) and gain competence bonuses for these in their tree. Ninja Spies can use shortswords (1d6 piercing), kamas (1d6 slashing), shuriken (1d2 slashing, thrown) as well as fight unarmed (1d6 bludgeoning) as part of their monastic training. The Ninja Spy gains competence bonuses for shortswords and shuriken from their class tree but also unarmed bonuses as the central class.
An Assassin may gain other weapon proficiencies from racial qualities, but a Monk, no matter their race, is limited to weapons that allow them to stay centered. That said, in a class-to-class comparison, the Monk has the advantage since what few weapons they can use will deal a bit more damage. Further, a fully-trained Level 20 Monk has potent unarmed damage. A Ninja Spy’s weaponry, as a result, covers all the DR conditions, leaving only metallic DR to be bypassed with the right training or weapon. Complete Monk training allows Magic, Lawful and Adamantine bypass when fighting unarmed.
The Assassin may be capable of using thrown weapons but won’t gain greater proficiencies or training for them without racial enhancements or feats (such as being a Drow or Halfling). Ninja Spies can use shuriken extremely well, gain some modest competencies for them over time but cannot use any ki attacks with thrown weapons.
On efficiency, the Ninja Spy looks like it has the upper hand here with greater weapon type options as well as stronger weapon damage. On damage per second, neither holds an advantage unless the Ninja Spy goes unarmed, which is always a faster attack speed than any class using armed combat.
Monks as a whole can greatly augment armed or unarmed damage using ki to add elemental damage with every attack, starting at 1d6 elemental damage to 2d20 damage by level 20. These elemental ki attacks have quick cooldowns of 3 seconds and from 5 to 8 ki to use, which isn’t very expensive given that a Monk generates some ki as they fight (excepting thrown weapons). Handwraps also augment damage and provide some weapon effects, despite not being weapons in themselves.
When using shortswords, kama or shuriken, Ninja Spies can inject Ninja Poison as an attack. Shuriken can only dose an enemy on a critical hit, but shortsword or kama use can also dose an enemy using the Ninjutsu ability, Poisoned Soul. The ability of Poisoned Darts is a special short-range attack that can be done while in any attack posture. The incredible damage-over-time effect of Ninja Poison has been discussed at length in previous posts.
Monks have a level 15 ki attack, Quivering Palm, that assassinates an enemy on a failed Fortitude save. The significant disadvantage over the Assassinate skill of the Rogue is that the Palm pulls you out of Sneak. Quivering Palm training also requires a higher character level prerequisite (15) than Assassinate (12). Quivering Palm has a 6 second cooldown but is rather ki expensive at 30 points.
The Ninja Spy’s penultimate attack, Touch of Death, requires the training of Ninjutsu: four toggled states that activate on a Touch of Despair finisher. Of these, Poisoned Soul and Poison Exploit weaponize Ninja Poison going in and going out. I’ve seen a Poison Exploit pull over 900 points of damage from an enemy–and that wasn’t from the ability fully trained (2 of 3 tiers). Touch of Death itself, even magnified by the Touch of Despair curse, can generate maybe 625 damage (twice if somehow it registers as a doublestrike).
While Assassinate is the Assassin’s penultimate attack, one that can be performed while sneaking and without pulling the Rogue out of Sneak, the class must train three other melee attacks as a tree prerequisite, called Poison Strikes. I had to go to my own Level 4 Assassin to determine if the training name was a misnomer or if Assassins actually deliver Poison damage with these attacks. A forum thread I opened had been trying to gain an answer.
As it turns out from some tests with my own Assassin, the Poison Strikes are treated as debuffing and stat-damage attacks that do not register in the combat log or overhead damage display as Poison damage, typed or untyped.
Each attack delivers a -1 stacking penalty (up to 5 times) against Fortitude, Will or Reflex saves. On critical hits, the attack also delivers 1d6 WIS, CON or DEX damage. On what would be a vorpal attack, each Poison Strike delivers a special effect. Heartseeker removes 5% of enemy HP, Ice Chill will paralyze, and Soulshatter will give a -100 spell resistance penalty. Any Poison Strike has a 6 second cooldown.
Also available to the Assassin are many other special attacks from their class tree. The core ability Assassin’s Trick will drop 25% enemy fortification and sneak attack immunity on a failed save, comparable to the Touch of Despair finisher for a Ninja Spy (-25% enemy fortification and +25% negative energy vulnerability).
Also in the Assassin’s arsenal are Shiv (higher weapon damage with less Threat, 12 second cooldown), Venomed Blades (weapon stance to add true Poison damage to all weapons), Bleed Them Out (increased weapon damage and on successful damage causes your opponent to bleed, stacking 5 times, 1d6 damage every 2 seconds for 14 seconds per stack) and Execute (3[W], 500 damage if enemy health below 20%).
Lastly, Damage Boosts are available to greatly increase weapon damage for up to 30 seconds, and there’s the core ability Lethality, which will kill enemies on a sneak attack if the hit would’ve been calculated as a vorpal strike.
Both classes gain special attack modifiers for their damage. For Ninja Spies, the first two core abilities give them Dexterity to Damage, where both attack rolls and damage are directly from this ability for any piercing and slashing weapon they can use while centered. Assassins gain a similar option with their two core abilities for daggers and kukris only but require Weapon Finesse to use other melee weapons in this way. At least the Assassin can consider other options; Ninja Spies will become uncentered weapons such as a rapier or dart.
By level 20, both Ninja Spies and Assassins gain Competence bonuses to their weapon critical multipliers and damage. Ninja Spies also gain vorpal properties on any shortsword, kama and shuriken attack.
The Ninja Spy, being a Monk, has far greater diversity in adding the right elemental damage to customize any attack, including negative energy and poison. The Ninja Spy’s Touch of Death and Poison attacks add great diversity–and this is on top of any weapon damage effects.
The Assassin may have fewer overall attacks but they aren’t poor. It’s a matter of how they are applied in a circumstance. But if a player uses the wrong attack, they may have to wait longer for its cooldown and a chance to attack again–and losing any attack advantages in the process. The Assassin, true to its name, is clearly the better assassinating class since their death strike won’t reveal them to others nearby. However, if they are found, it’s a question of whether the Assassin can get away or fight to live another day.
As I haven’t an Assassin at level 20 yet, I’m dependent on the DDO Wiki information and experience with my level 18 Acrobat Rogue to note their approximate defense capabilities. Again, my assessment is going to add some bias to the Monk’s known defenses but I will strive to be fair.
Both classes have excellent Sneak abilities with proper Hide/Move Silently training but the Monk comes up (very) slightly ahead since they were no armor that could cause a sound. Since most Rogues wear light armor, they avoid any Maximum Dexterity Bonus penalties.
The Ninja Spy has two clear enhancement advantages to stealth. One is having Faster Sneaking available for direct training in their class tree. Assassins would need to train the first core ability in the Acrobat tree to gain this tier 1 ability. The second advantage is Shadow Veil, the third core ability. For 10 ki, the ninja may go invisible and gain 25% incorporeality for 1 minute. In Sneak, invisibility reduces the Spot bonuses, allows closer approach to enemies. If the ninja attacks, the incorporeality persists until it expires. Only Pale Masters, the Shadar-Kai race and a handful of other abilities or items can yield more than Ghostly (10% incorporeality), making Ninja Spies strong in this hard-to-attain miss-chance effect.
Assassins that train their Use Magic Device skills can use invisibility and Blur wands to help with improved stealth and miss-chance. Their use of any invisible effects persist with Assassinate, making this ability clearly superior to the ninja’s Quivering Palm. Ninja Spies must add Concealment effects with items, a risky use of UMD, clickys or (if a Half Elf with a Cleric or other spellcasting dilettante) wands or scrolls.
Monks wear clothing and gain special AC bonuses from WIS as well as from DEX. The Ninja Spy may need to augment their AC with more DEX and WIS (which is also essential for attacks and finishing moves). Assassins may have better AC options using light armor and have several abilities to add more Dodge to their defenses, although not as naturally as a Ninja Spy (who has Dodge 6% from the granted class training and additional Dodge bonuses when using Ocean Stance). Assassins may gain the advantage in AC since they can wear light armor with no penalties and boost their DEX for improved defenses, while Ninja Spies must search to find a lesser amount of robes or outfits with stacking AC bonuses.
Assassins gain the core ability Nimbleness, a cumulative Dodge bonus on a Sneak Attack every 6 seconds, stacking 10 times. However, since Assassins receive lesser and Improved Uncanny Dodge for a Dodge 6% inherent bonus, and the ability to use the same ability for a temporary overcharge of Dodge (50%), Nimbleness has a questionable advantage. Ninja Spies gain a natural 6% inherent Dodge as well but gain no other advantages to the class except the use of Ocean Stance for up to 4% Dodge. Any level 18 Monk will have no less than 10% Dodge while in Ocean Stance, and gear and enhancements can improve this.
Both classes also enjoy Evasion and Improved Evasion as granted feats, although the Monk gains the latter ability at level 9 versus the Rogue’s level 10. Saving throws favor the Monk thanks to granted updates to saves through their monastic training with +12 to all saves, the best base bonus of any class. Rogues in general aren’t bad in Reflex saves, the roll that counts should a trap be sprung.
Overall, the Ninja Spy has superior innate miss-chance, saves and stealth defenses, but the Assassin’s diverse skill set can offset this advantage a little with the right gear and training. Assassins are also better armored.
Movement, Special Abilities and Soloing
From my observation, scouts and spies work differently.
Scouts gather enemy information with little chance of detection but avoid fights unless a clear advantage is present (think Ullevian). Spies can do what scouts do but can also infiltrate into an enemy lair, removing almost any resistance as needed to get to an objective, often to retrieve or eliminate it.
To be a good scout, you need strong stealth skills. But for infiltration and espionage, you must be able to outgun what you cannot outrun (think James Bond). Most importantly, both types require a solo approach (unless tagging along with another stealth player) or their party members will reveal their presence. Thus, you can rely only on what you carry with you and, perhaps, the rest shrines in the area.
Empowering most Monk abilities is ki. While ki can be generated by fighting, it’s not a good idea if the ninja plans to survive. The Ninja Spy can train to regenerate ki passively (without fighting) using several skills, although one (Contemplation) must be trained from the Henshin Mystic tree. Ki can be used not only for attack, but also to fully heal every 2 minutes. Ki, as noted, also powers the invisibility/incorporeality power of Shadow Veil.
An Assassin, by comparison, has a theoretically finite supply of shrines, scrolls, wands and potions. While the Ninja Spy can regenerate ki for attack and defense indefinitely, the Assassin’s resources are limited.
On attack, ki empowers Quivering Palm and Touch of Death for quick-kill opportunities, as well as all other ki attacks. By level 18, the Ninja Spy has a special escape trick: Diversion, where the ninja uses 1 turn of Meditation to create a hate-magnet dummy (like an airship Training Dummy, only dressed like a pirate) while turning themselves invisible briefly to allow quick escape from an overwhelming mob.
The Monk’s Abundant Step ability, allowing very quick horizontal traverses, can avoid tight-knit patrols and leap over chasms that even a high-jumping Halfling cannot do without special gear such as the Cannith Boots of Propulsion.
The Ninja Spy also has Flash Bang, a non-damaging grenade that blinds and dazes enemies. After using a Flash Bang, a ninja that goes into Sneak, Shadow Veil and uses Abundant Step almost assures a complete escape from anything other than perhaps a red-named monster. The Assassin has no comparable crowd controlling escape options I could note from their enhancement training or base class training. However, there is a blinding attack against a single enemy, Shadow Dagger, which also causes damage.
While the Ninja Spy gains some Sneak Attack training, the Assassin gains dramatically more SA training (in addition to the class’s central SA training) for devastating attacks. Even alone, with a Diversion item such as a Golden Guile, a solo Assassin can deliver punishing damage as long as the enemy is bluffed–and the enemy’s friends don’t show up.
So does the Ninja Spy make for a better infiltrator class? In general, yes, due to the many diverse attacks and defense options. However, Ninja Spies aren’t able to self-heal or buff in battle (without using racial options) as any Assassin that trains UMD to compensate. Due to the high action point requirements for a cross-class skill, a Ninja Spy that attempts to add in UMD will seriously compromise the overall stealth of the character. In this, an Assassin can be more resourceful, at least in the short-term.
Assassins have a superior one-hit-kill ability, but as with any other ability, this requires proper training to ensure the DC is high enough to overcome almost any target. Likewise, high stealth skills must ensure that they are not detected in using assassination abilities. Assassins aren’t DPS-rich, however, as Monks tend to be, nor have they emergency escape options, so a mob fight isn’t in the cards except for a Rogue with more fortified gear and several tricks up their sleeves. (And what Rogue doesn’t have a few extra tricks?)
In short, a lone Assassin that knows how to use Bluff skills to draw and pick off enemies can be very impressive character.
I see a Half-Elven team of Assassin and Ninja Spy as a powerful party of two. With the right dilettantes, the duo would be very self-sufficient on buffs and healing. Either class can set up kills for the other. Should one enemy manage to survive a hit from one of the pair, they will not likely survive attacks from the second.
Tell me of your experiences with the Assassin class and if I missed anything critical.