The Assassin Death Attack is really hard to balance, but it does add a level of game mechanics that doesn’t otherwise come available: to kill an opponent without pounding on them for round after round, but simply slip a dagger straight into his heart. I’ve never been a fan of its mechanics, however, I did try to sort it out and make it available to anyone. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. This version of Death Attack house rules simply buffs it a little and softens up the instagib.
Death Attack Rules
A Death Attack can be made with a melee weapon or bow/crossbow* after quickly finding a weak spot in an opponet’s defense. The next sneak attack can be made as a Death Attack and has the additional effect of possibly mortally wounding the target.
It takes one Standard Action to find a weak spot in an opponent’s defense. The Standard Action can be used for something such as activating items or participating in combat but the attacker must be focused on the target (any action, except actively trying to look inconspicous, other than observing the target gets -4 penalty). If the target detects the assassin or recognize her as an enemy, the subsequent attack will instead fail**.
An unsuspecting target that doesn’t already percieve the would-be attacker as a threat may notice what she is doing if she is in line of sight. To appear unthreatening, make an opposed Bluff check against a Sense Motive check by the target (the roll is made by the DM out of sight of the player). If the result is lower than the Sense Motive check, the subsequent attack will instead fail**.
If a Death Attack hits a target, she must make a Fortitude save (DC = 10 + assassin’s Int + assassin’s class level). If she fails this save she recieves Death Attack damage*** and is dying even in the unlikely scenario where the target is not below 0 hit points. A target of a Death Attack can not spontaneously become stable, but if made stable with a first aid Heal check (DC25), remains unconscious until healed at least one point of damage. If the target’s saving throw succeeds, the attack fails**.
The Death Attack must be executed almost immediately after finding the weak spot. If the attacker uses two Standard Actions after finding a weak spot, the opportunity is lost and she must spend a Standard Action to find another.
In the unlikely scenario that the target should survive, she will now have a Mortal Wound. A Mortal Wound is a Wound at base x4 with a -4 penalty (no Heal Check, since the character already would have recieved magical healing or a heal check to survive).
‘* The attacker must be no more than 5 feet away from the target when making a Death Attack using a crossbow. This includes similar weapons such as guns or rifles.
’** The attack becomes a sneak attack rather than a Death Attack.
’*** Death Attack damage = target’s current hit points +9; normally putting her at -9.
An assassin may choose to paralyze her target rather than killing her. If the saving throw fails against the paralysis effect, the target is rendered helpless and unable to act for 2D4 rounds plus 1 round per level of the assassin.
Damage Reduction and Regeneration
A target’s damage reduction works normally, so Nialee with 25 hit points who recieves a Death Attack and a total of 34 hit points only recieves 32 points of damage if she has a damage reduction of 2 (and the weapon used does not penetrate that damage reduction).
The Damage Conversion house rules we use is applied against a Death Attack.
Regeneration works as described. An attempt to kill a regenerating creature deals nonlethal damage rather than lethal, unless the attacker has a weapon that can deal lethal damage to the target.
A character dying from a Death Attack does not spontaneously become stable, but can be made stable with a successful first aid Heal check (DC25). However, the wound is very hard to heal if the target wears armour, and the DC is increased by 2 for Light armour, 4 for Medium and 6 for Heavy.