Shadow Ninja (5e Optimized Build)

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Shadow Assassin[edit]

The shadow assassin relies on mobility and some spell like abilities to stay under the cover of darkness and maintain sneak attack bonuses nearly continuously. You'll be able to jump from a shadow into a globe of darkness, in which you can see just fine, creating havoc and dealing low amounts of sneak attack damage every round, which adds up quickly. The build also includes fairly good mobility in general, can gain good to high AC early without worrying about finding or purchasing magical armor, has multiple attacks per round and depending on the options you take for class levels, even has potential for some immunities. The build does require a minimum of 13 in Dexterity, Wisdom, and either Charisma(Warlock) or Intelligence(Mystic) for the multi-classing. The abilities included in the build are acquired at low to mid levels, thus there are multiple variations and options on customizing how many levels of each class to take, as long as the minimums are met. You may even opt to include another class entirely, as this would not affect the overall flavor and purpose of its combat abilities. The build is a bit low on feats and/or ability level ups but this is made up for by the power of the abilities you'll possess. It's also a versatile combatant, since you can either use ranged or melee attacks situationally to your advantage.

  • Note: This build may benefit from utilizing the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide[1] but is not necessary.


Background[edit]

Totally up in the air. Since your first level is likely rogue, it could be of benefit to select a background that gives access to non-rogue skill proficiencies. Then again, you could select a complimentary one like Urchin so that you free up your skill selections from your class.

Race[edit]

Everybody loves Variant Human for the extra feat and it is especially useful here since you won't be getting your first feat with this build until at least level 7. Half-elf gives some immunities and resistances which are useful too. Perhaps a more classic take would be to go with Drow since that eventually gives you an extra cast of darkness, which is pretty much the basis of the build. If your DM allows it, the half-Drow variant from The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide is possibly the best for Min/Max options, but might not be viable for story/world reasons.

Classes (1)[edit]

Rogue (at least 3)[edit]

Monk (at least 6)[edit]

Warlock (at least 2)[edit]

Fighter (you can opt out of this)[edit]

Level Breakdown[edit]

Levels 1, 10 & 11: Rogue[edit]

It is strongly recommended to start off as a rogue, as the class gains the most skills during creation and the saves are based off of Dexterity and Intelligence, meaning that you'll have both a physical and mental save proficiency. Being a finesse build, this also gives you proficiency with shortswords and shortbows, which will be your go-to's in general. It should go without saying that the sneak attack is the single most important part of the rogue. You can take the next two levels immediately but it's recommended to wait until levels 10 & 11, when you have the other class's abilities. Either way, with three levels of rogue, grab the Assassin archetype for auto-crits during a surprise round and sneak attacks on any creature that hasn't acted yet this turn. If you have the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide you could elect to go with the Swashbuckler archetype instead, so that you can move more freely without taking opportunity attacks from your target and may add your charisma modifier to your initiative.

Levels 2 & 3: Warlock[edit]

The whole point of the taking warlock here is to grab a couple of necessary invocations and one particular spell. You can choose to take more levels in this class later on but these two are all that are required.

  • Spells: One word: hex. Any other spells are entirely up to you but this one is part of the bread and butter. It's cast as a bonus action and adds 1d6 necrotic damage to every successful attack on this target. When the creature that is cursed in this way falls, you can use your next bonus action to transfer the hex to a different enemy, effectively casting the spell multiple times on different baddies using only a single spell slot. NOTE: Hex and Darkness (which you will acquire later on in this build) are both Concentration Spells and won't be able to be used in combination. Witch bolt is another good spell to select here. If you can land its ranged spell attack initially, that's 1d12 damage each subsequent round automatically dealt to that creature until it dies or you end it by taking a different action. NOTE: It is also a Concentration Spell and won't be able to be used with Hex and/or Darkness at the same time.
  • Eldritch Invocations: The build has two fairly essential points here and since you get two with only two levels of warlock anyway, it's perfect. You'll need Devil's Sight, which allows you to see in both regular and magical darkness up to 120 feet, basically ignoring the darkness as far as you're concerned but to the detriment of your foes. The second, which can be recommended, is Armor of Shadows. This allows you to cast mage armor at will, without expending a spell slot or material components. Starting from a base 13 Armor Class when you don't wear any armor is awesome. However; this is strongly dependent on your Wisdom bonus. If you've got a +3 or higher Wisdom bonus, mage armor does no good.

Level 4 - 9: Monk[edit]

This is when you really start to grow in power and utilize the main abilities. Right off the bat, when you take the first monk level at 4, your AC gets a boost equal to your wisdom modifier from the Unarmored Defense ability. Martial Arts also allows you to dish out a bit more damage using your bonus action for an unarmed attack, which is increased on your very next level through the Ki ability to two unarmed attacks.

At level 6 (3 monk) take the Way of Shadow archetype and it's only up from here. You can now use your action on Shadow Arts and expend ki to cast darkness, imposing disadvantage on those who attack you (as long as they have no means to dispel or otherwise circumvent it). Darkvision isn't enough to ignore this penalty but fortunately for you, you've already taken Devil's Sight, allowing you to ignore the darkness, meaning you have advantage against them all the time! This combination is what allows you to deal your sneak attack damage to any foe on the battlefield, regardless of whether your ally is close to them or not and whether or not they have had their turn. It's best to cast it on your cloak or other item you're wearing or carrying. You also gain the perk of Deflect Missiles, which is especially nifty if you prefer ranged combat.

Upon reaching level 7 (4 monk) you finally see your first ability bump. There are some choices at this point. You could use it to bump your Dexterity to add 1 point to you AC, attack and damage modifiers, or add it to your Wisdom score for 1 point of AC and the DC's of your ki abilities or split it between the two if you're on already on odd numbers for both. Alternately you can take a feat, for which Alert or Sentinel are recommended. Alert is nice so that you'll more often act first in the round, meaning you can more often utilize your sneak attack without having to cast darkness first. Sentinel has obvious benefits for a melee character, more so since you'll often be attacking from the cover of darkness. If an enemy tries to disengage from you to leave the darkness, this allows you to keep them stuck inside your globe. There are a few more you might want to take a look at depending on how you play, such as: Sharpshooter if you're sticking to ranged combat, Defensive Duelist for melee play outside of darkness, Magic Initiate for an extra spell like cure wounds, or a range of other feats that can definitely come in handy.

Level 8 (5 monk) grants your first true extra attack and the ability Stunning Strike. This is when having a high Wisdom score comes in handy. It also opens up your options for what actions to take during your round. Since you'll have a limited pool of each individual resource, being able to stun opponents for 1 ki point is great when you don't have 2 to spend on casting darkness. Your unarmed damage goes up a die step to a d6, so you can put away the shortsword unless it has some sort of special property.

The last required monk level brings you to level 9 total, with 6 levels in monk. Here, your unarmed strikes count as magical. More importantly, this gives you your second archetype ability, Shadow Step allowing you to "bampf" into any unoccupied spot of dim or no light within 60 feet of you that you can see as a bonus action. Cast darkness on your enemies, step into the shadows next to you and pop up in their midst to back-stab to your heart's content, or cast it on yourself and pop out in the shadows next to them. Since darkness is a 15 foot radius, this trick effectively allows you a minimum of 15 (30 if you cast it on a spot instead of yourself) extra feet of movement if you use your bonus action, as you can pop around within your own sphere.

Levels 12 - 20: Fighter or Various[edit]

From here on out the build can go a lot of ways as the core abilities and functionality are done.

If you want more HP for survivability and more feats, lean heavily on Fighter. This gives you some d10 hit dice, Action Surge for more actions in a round, Second Wind for some self healing, a Fighting Style for a modest bonus to damage and if you go with at least eight levels, you'll get three ability bonuses or feats (at levels 4, 6 & 8). You'll also get to pick from the Martial Archetypes which can expand your critical range, add utility or give you a few more spells. Honestly though, it's probably best to stick with no more than four levels, since the level 5 fighter ability is wasted on Extra Attack that you already have.

Perhaps the most obvious choice would be to stack on the Rogue levels for higher sneak attack damage. With 12 total levels you'll have 6d6 SA damage on the first attack in every round in most combats. These levels will also give you four more feats ( at levels 4, 8, 10 & 12) and several other very useful abilities, including Evasion.

Taking more Monk levels can give all sorts of perks, also including Evasion, several immunities, the knowledge of any and all spoken languages, the ability to walk on walls and water, insane movement speed, and bumps your base damage up to a d8. This is probably the most "ninja-like" for flavor, even if it doesn't dish out the most raw damage. Putting all of the rest in this class also limits the number of feats you'll be granted to a maximum of only three total at levels 7, 11 and 16.


As for me, I'm gonna go weird. The next time I try a variation of this build I'm thinking of 7Monk/5Rogue/4Fighter/4Warlock. This is a little light on feats with just 4 from levels and only does 3d6 SA but has level 2 spell slots to cast darkness more often, all the good fighter abilities, Evasion, Stillness of Mind so that you can end charms or fears on yourself as an action and Uncanny Dodge to negate some of the danger of being critically hit.

Classes (2 - With UA The Mystic)[edit]

Rogue (at least 3)[edit]

Monk (at least 6)[edit]

Mystic (at least 1)[edit]

Level Breakdown[edit]

Levels 1, 9 & 10: Rogue[edit]

It is strongly recommended to start off as a rogue, as the class gains the most skills during creation and the saves are based off of Dexterity and Intelligence, meaning that you'll have both a physical and mental save proficiency. Being a finesse build, this also gives you proficiency with shortswords and shortbows, which will be your go-to's in general. It should go without saying that the sneak attack is the single most important part of the rogue. You can take the next two levels immediately but it's recommended to wait until levels 9 & 10, when you have the other class's abilities. Either way, with three levels of rogue, grab the Assassin archetype for auto-crits during a surprise round and sneak attacks on any creature that hasn't acted yet this turn. If you have the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide you could elect to go with the Swashbuckler archetype instead, so that you can move more freely without taking opportunity attacks from your target and may add your charisma modifier to your initiative.

Level 2: Mystic[edit]

The whole point of the taking mystic here is to grab a a necessary discipline. You can choose to take more levels in this class later on but these one is all that is required.

  • Discipline: You'll need Mastery of Light and Darkness, which allows you to see in both regular and magical darkness up to 30 feet, basically ignoring the darkness as far as you're concerned but to the detriment of your foes as long as u keep focus on this discipline. You still have more casts of Darkness.

You still have more two disciplines, depending on your Mystic Order, an a Psionic Talent.


Level 3 - 8: Monk[edit]

This is when you really start to grow in power and utilize the main abilities. Right off the bat, when you take the first monk level at 4, your AC gets a boost equal to your wisdom modifier from the Unarmored Defense ability. Martial Arts also allows you to dish out a bit more damage using your bonus action for an unarmed attack, which is increased on your very next level through the Ki ability to two unarmed attacks.

At level 5 (3 monk) take the Way of Shadow archetype and it's only up from here. You can now use your action on Shadow Arts and expend ki to cast darkness, imposing disadvantage on those who attack you (as long as they have no means to dispel or otherwise circumvent it). Darkvision isn't enough to ignore this penalty but fortunately for you, you've already taken Mastery of Light and Darkness, allowing you to ignore the darkness, meaning you have advantage against them all the time! This combination is what allows you to deal your sneak attack damage to any foe on the battlefield, regardless of whether your ally is close to them or not and whether or not they have had their turn. It's best to cast it on your cloak or other item you're wearing or carrying. You also gain the perk of Deflect Missiles, which is especially nifty if you prefer ranged combat.

Upon reaching level 6 (4 monk) you finally see your first ability bump. There are some choices at this point. You could use it to bump your Dexterity to add 1 point to you AC, attack and damage modifiers, or add it to your Wisdom score for 1 point of AC and the DC's of your ki abilities or split it between the two if you're on already on odd numbers for both. Alternately you can take a feat, for which Alert or Sentinel are recommended. Alert is nice so that you'll more often act first in the round, meaning you can more often utilize your sneak attack without having to cast darkness first. Sentinel has obvious benefits for a melee character, more so since you'll often be attacking from the cover of darkness. If an enemy tries to disengage from you to leave the darkness, this allows you to keep them stuck inside your globe. There are a few more you might want to take a look at depending on how you play, such as: Sharpshooter if you're sticking to ranged combat, Defensive Duelist for melee play outside of darkness, Magic Initiate for an extra spell like cure wounds, or a range of other feats that can definitely come in handy.

Level 7 (5 monk) grants your first true extra attack and the ability Stunning Strike. This is when having a high Wisdom score comes in handy. It also opens up your options for what actions to take during your round. Since you'll have a limited pool of each individual resource, being able to stun opponents for 1 ki point is great when you don't have 2 to spend on casting darkness. Your unarmed damage goes up a die step to a d6, so you can put away the shortsword unless it has some sort of special property.

The last required monk level brings you to level 8 total, with 6 levels in monk. Here, your unarmed strikes count as magical. More importantly, this gives you your second archetype ability, Shadow Step allowing you to "bampf" into any unoccupied spot of dim or no light within 60 feet of you that you can see as a bonus action. Cast darkness on your enemies, step into the shadows next to you and pop up in their midst to back-stab to your heart's content, or cast it on yourself and pop out in the shadows next to them. Since darkness is a 15 foot radius, this trick effectively allows you a minimum of 15 (30 if you cast it on a spot instead of yourself) extra feet of movement if you use your bonus action, as you can pop around within your own sphere.

Levels 11 - 20: Mystic or Various[edit]

Here you can go full Mystic, here you can get more uses of darkness and a lot of others disciplines that Mystic have.

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