Guided Assassin

Build Summary

This is an outdated guide, kept for historical purposes and to allow people who started using it to continue to do so if they so choose. If you're new, do not use this guide!

Guide Last Updated December 2018 (Patch 3.5, Betrayal League).

This build uses Viper Strike, a single-target attack that applies a long-duration Poison. It's focused mostly on single-target damage, but later on it'll gain the ability to cause enemies you kill to explode, dealing heavy damage to nearby enemies and Poisoning them as well. It rewards clever play by scaling strongly with the number of Poisons applied in the last few seconds. Weak against trash but with the potential for very extreme damage in the right situations against bosses.

This is a melee Attack build focused on dealing Damage over Time through its Poisons.

Assassin is one of the Shadow Ascendancy classes. When you create your character, you'll select a Shadow; you'll choose to be an Assassin later in the game.

If you want to explore this build's stats, links, and Passive Tree interactively, head over to the Links page and download Path of Building. Then, in Path of Building, select Import/Export Build -> Import from Pastebin, and enter this link:

Main Skill Basics

Viper Strike

Viper Strike is a single-target Melee Attack hits a target, converting some of your Physical Damage into Chaos Damage, and applies a Poison that lasts 4 seconds instead of the normal 2. In addition, Poisons applied by Viper Strike are affected by Increased Skill Effect Duration modifiers, unlike Poisons applied by other skills. For more on Poison, see the next sub-section.

Viper Strike is an Attack, and like other Attacks its base damage depends on that of your weapon. Increases to particular damage types (e.g. cold, fire, physical) will affect whatever damage appears on your weapon. Aside from this normal behavior, Viper Strike converts a portion of your Physical Damage into Chaos Damage. As usual for converted damage, this damage would be affected by modifiers both to Physical and to Chaos damage. Aside from damage-type modifiers, Viper Strike is a Melee Attack and therefore benefits from bonuses to Melee and Attack damage. In this build, we'll be using Claws to attack, so bonuses related to Claws will also apply.


While not strictly speaking a skill, Poison is a major mechanic of this build, so we'll go into its mechanics here.

Poison is applied by Hits of Physical or Chaos damage that have a Chance to Poison. (This build will eventually have a 100% Chance to Poison with its main skills, so all of its normal Hits will apply Poison.) It deals Chaos damage based on the base Physical and Chaos damage dealt by the inflicting hit (plus any added - not Increased - Physical or Chaos damage), and in general is not directly affected by modifiers that affect the hit's damage directly.

Instead, Poison is affected by its own modifiers, which may or may not overlap with modifiers affecting the main hit. Poison is scaled by increases to Poison Damage, Chaos Damage, Damage Over Time, and Ailment Damage. In addition, any portion of the Poison applied by Physical Damage is additionally affected by [Global] increases to Physical Damage as well as Chaos Damage. (Yes, this is a bit counter-intuitive: see the Mechanics Reference page on Ailments for more detail.)

Even if they would affect the original hit, Poison is not affected by increases to Projectile Damage (because the Projectile did not deal the Poison damage, it just applied the Poison effect), Area Damage (because the Poison itself does not deal damage in an Area), or Attack or Spell damage (because Poison deals Damage Over Time, which is mutually exclusive with dealing Attack or Spell damage).

Any modifiers that affect both the base hit and the poison are applied to each of them separately, and therefore do not apply twice (they do not "double dip").

Poison applied by a Critical Strike innately deals 50% More damage. It is not otherwise affected by your Critical Strike Multiplier.

Act 1

This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 1" section of the guide.

Early Act 1

You'll find your Viper Strike gem waiting for you about two seconds into the game, dropped by the first enemy you kill. You can start using it now if you so choose. Partway along the Twilight Strand you'll find a chest with a Lesser Poison Support, also worth using for the moment.

When you complete Enemy at the Gate, you'll be rewarded with various skills. We won't use any of them long-term, but if you want to play around with some of them to start, you won't hurt yourself by doing so.

You can spend your first few Passive Skill Points on the path pictured below.

Mercy Mission doesn't reward anything of interest to this build unless you're experimenting with other skills.

None of the skills from Breaking Some Eggs are relevant to this build unless you're experimenting with other skills.

Once you enter the Prison you'll be able to pick up a free Support Gem from Nessa. If you're using Viper Strike and not experimenting with other skills, pick up Void Manipulation. We won't be using this long-term and you can always buy these gems from Nessa, so feel free to experiment with some other skills for now if you choose.

Brutus (The Caged Brute) hits hard, but Poisons are a good way to bring down bosses. Make sure you've got some Life flasks ready to go before you head in (you can portal back to town to refill them), then just go toe-to-toe with him. Once you're done with The Caged Brute, you can pick up a Movement skill - we won't discuss these until later, but Whirling Blades is the movement skill of choice for this build.

Late Act 1

As you go, you'll want to look for a few specific sorts of item:

  • 3- and 4-linked items with primarily Green sockets.
  • A Claw with good Physical damage on it. Elemental damage is okay if it's very high but this build doesn't get any scaling to speak of for elemental damage, so physical is the way to go long-term.
  • Gear with Life and Resistances. Evasion gear is the most likely to have the socket colors you want.

As you continue to gain more Passive Skill Points, work your way towards the following tree. You'll have enough points for all the Passives shown here sometime around Act 3 or 4, at which point you can move on to the full Passive Tree (listed in the "Full Build" section of this guide below).

(If you've skipped ahead and looked at the full build, you may wonder why we're skipping a number of damage nodes to head to far-away portions of the tree. The answer is that this build's Life nodes are rather far away, and leveling without proper Life is very painful.)

You won't be using any of the skills from The Siren's Cadence in the endgame, but Blade Vortex is a very strong leveling skill that scales with the stats this build is picking up in the early game. If you decide you like it, it's not too late to switch - but it tends to be better with different Ascendancy classes, particularly the Elementalist.

At this point, your Viper Strike should be linked to Lesser Poison and Void Manipulation. We'll swap these out later, but they're the best we've got for now.

Bosses are straightforward with this build - just hit them as often as you can. Trash will be annoying until the mid-game because we lack a few core tools to handle packs, which is why skills like Blade Vortex can make good stop-gaps until then.

Act 2

This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 2" section of the guide.

Early Act 2

For the Deal with the Bandits quest, we will kill all three bandits. Helping Kraityn is a defensible choice as well, and is slightly better for the endgame. But since this build has some issues with early leveling, taking the extra couple points here smooths things out. You can change this in the endgame if you really want to.

From Intruders in Black, pick up Herald of Agony. This increases your Poison chance and damage, and spawns an Agony Crawler minion that is empowered by each Poison you apply. Since this build will scale heavily by applying large numbers of Poisons later on, we'll be able to scale our Crawler's damage to a pretty significant degree. You can link Herald of Agony to supports to benefit the Agony Crawler - for now, grab Minion Damage at the very least. You should also grab Herald of Purity, though you don't need to link this one - anytime you hit things, it'll spawn some free minions who will add significantly to your damage output.

From Sharp and Cruel, pick up Faster Attacks Support. This is a solid support for both you and your Crawler for now, so pick up a second copy from Yeena in town. Melee Physical Damage Support will be used in the endgame, but for now you likely don't have the Strength to use it - if you do, grab a pair of copies of it for you and your Crawler.

At this point the optimal links for you are Viper Strike - Lesser Poison - Faster Attacks/Melee Physical (depending on Strength) and, if you have a 4th link, Void Manipulation. Your Herald link should look like Herald of Agony - Minion Damage - Melee Physical/Faster Attacks (depending on Strength) - Added Fire/Added Cold (depending on Strength).

Late Act 2

This is going to be an annoying segment for you, since the trash packs are starting to hurt and you still don't have great tools for dealing with them. Blade Vortex is still a decent tool, especially if linked to Lesser Poison Support to help you get your Crawler buffed up. Your minions will be doing a lot of heavy lifting here, and you're not far enough in the game for them to be hurt too much by your lack of Minion-boosting passives. Things will get better in early Act 4, where you'll finally get some proper trash-clearing tools.

Act 3

This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 3" section of the guide.

Early Act 3

Once you've completed Lost in Love, you'll be rewarded with a choice of a few Curses. Take Despair from the quest, then buy a Temporal Chains from Clarissa. Start levelling both now, although you don't yet need to worry about actively applying them except perhaps on bosses.

Late Act 3

Sever the Right Hand offers Seismic Trap, a decent backup skill against bosses that give you time to set up before becoming active. Although it's a Spell, its pulsing Physical Damage can apply Poisons, which will eventually scale reasonably well. If you do use it, link it to Lesser Poison Support.

A Fixture of Fate finally offers Poison Support. Use this with your secondary skills like Seismic Trap or (if you're still using it) Blade Vortex for now, since we don't have much innate Chance to Poison outside of our Viper Strike at this point in the build.

Both of the major bosses of late Act 3 give you ample setup time for Seismic Traps.

Act 4

This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 4" section of the guide.

Early Act 4

Our movement skill of choice is Whirling Blades. Link it to Faster Attacks for now.

Breaking the Seal finally rewards you with your trash-clearing tool, and it is a doozy. Grab Abyssal Cry, which will apply a debuff to nearby enemies that causes them to explode when killed. Against many packs, this explosion will cause a chain reaction, where the death of one monster causes an explosion that kills another that then also explodes. Link Abyssal Cry to Void Manipulation, Lesser Poison, and Poison for now.

The Eternal Nightmare rewards not one, but two of your main endgame support gems. Pick up Multistrike and Vile Toxins. If you have enough Strength at this point, your Viper Strike should look like Viper Strike - Multistrike - Vile Toxins - Melee Physical Damage. If not, you can swap out the Melee Physical and Multistrike for Lesser Poison and Faster Attacks for the moment.

By this point you've probably completed the Passive Tree shown above. Here's the full tree, which you should work towards from here on out, adjusting how much damage or life you pursue as you feel your damage or survivability is in need of more help. You will likely want to pursue some of the Life nodes early, despite being pretty far from you on the tree.

The Labyrinth is a good chance to practice your skills. You've got the damage to melt Izaro quickly, but you're likely fairly fragile at this point in the build. If you find yourself getting one-shotted by his attacks, play hit and run, using his minions to help you. Hitting them will spawn minions from your Herald of Purity, and you might be able to explode them onto Izaro himself using Abyssal Cry.

Once you've completed the Labyrinth, pick up Noxious Strike as your first Ascendancy Passive. At this point, because you have an innate 40% Chance to Poison, you can drop the Lesser Poison Support on your Abyssal Cry and replace it with Vile Toxins or Deadly Ailments Support (we haven't talked about Deadly Ailments, but you should have access to it from vendors by this point).

Late Act 4

At this point, it's worth considering some of the utility setups mentioned towards the end of the guide. Immortal Call, in particular, can buy you time to set off an Abyssal Cry.

Now that we have Noxious Strike, the number of Poisons we apply is a major factor in our damage against bosses. We don't care how big every Poison is, only how many we apply. As a result, recurring hits like Seismic Trap, Cast-When-Damage-Taken spells like Bladefall or Blade Vortex, and maximal splashing of Abyssal Cry explosions can add huge amounts of damage. "Recently" means the last 4 seconds, so your goal is to maximize the number of Poisons in that window while attacking - if you've applied 100 Poisons in the last 4 seconds, your damage against a boss will be roughly double what it would have been if you'd only applied 30 (which is about what you'll apply as a baseline against a single target).

Act 5

This section is meant to accompany the main "Act 5" section of the guide.

The only major build-specific note for Act 5 is the choice of Unique Jewel from Death to Purity. Unfortunately, the Jewel that boosts Viper Strike isn't offered by this quest. If you like, you can try to buy yourself a Growing Agony jewel at this point - it shouldn't cost you more than an Orb of Alchemy.

If you haven't transitioned to using good Claws at this point, you definitely want to do so soon. The free life-on-hit effect from Claws is this build's main source of survivability against bosses, and you'll find yourself having trouble staying up without it.

Part II (Acts 6-10)

Once you complete your second Labyrinth, around the end of Act 7 or the beginning of Act 8, pick up Toxic Delivery on your Ascendancy tree. You should notice a substantial improvement in your Life sustain against packs of monsters at this point.

Epilogue & Maps

Once you complete your third Labyrinth, sometime early into Maps, pick up Ambush and Assassinate. This will greatly increase your damage on Full Life or Low Life (<35%) targets. Importantly, the bonus crit chance against full-life enemies means you'll get a strong front-loaded hit as you engage a pack, which sets off your Abyssal Cry faster.

This build is fairly flexible about possible mods on Maps, but "Monsters have an X% chance to avoid Poison" will slow you down enormously since it's almost all of your damage.

Once you complete your final Labyrinth, late in the endgame, pick up Opportunistic. Extra movement speed helps with clear, and extra damage against single targets is always nice.

The Full Build

Main Skill Links

Viper Strike - Multistrike - Vile Toxins - Melee Physical Damage. In a 5- or 6-link, add Deadly Ailments and Unbound Ailments. The drop-only gem Added Chaos Damage is superior to all of these, so if you find it yourself (or get it from another player), prioritize it over all the other supports listed here.

Abyssal Cry - Poison - Increased Area of Effect - Void Manipulation sets you up for trash clearing. Added Chaos Damage is generally better than Void Manipulation and should be used if you have it available.

Herald of Agony - Added Fire Damage - Minion Damage - Maim adds some extra damage against bosses.

Utility Links

(Beyond the standard ones listed as part of the Act 4 Guide)

Cast When Damage Taken (Level 1) - Blade Vortex (Level 8) - Ethereal Knives (Level 11) - Poison. We don't use this link setup for damage. Instead, we use it to apply a bunch of extra Poisons to gain further bonuses from our Assassin ascendancy. The odd levels on the spells are the maximum level they can be to still be triggered by a level 1 Cast When Damage Taken.

Seismic Trap - Poison - Faster Casting - Increased Duration is a powerful boost against bosses. Lay it at their feet before they become active or set up a pile before you engage them so that it'll apply numerous Poisons for you.

Spell Totem - Wither - Faster Casting - Multiple Totems is a useful damage boost against bosses.


Despair is the offensive choice, and Temporal Chains the defensive choice, although Temporal Chains also adds a lot of damage in its own right. Curses should be applied through a Cast When Damage Taken (Level 1) - Bladefall (Level 1) - Curse on Hit - (Curse) setup, which will apply further Poisons in addition to the appropriate Curse.


For offense, look for strong Physical or Chaos Damage Claws. Unlike most builds, it's rather unlikely that you'll find any Rare claws that beat a not-too-rare unique called The Wasp Nest, which is a highly recommended purchase if you're trading with other players.

For defense, this build seeks the standard Life/Resists combination typical of a generic Life-based build. Resist cap is the first priority, then as much Life as you can get. Base defenses matter little, and you can mostly use whatever gear you find, but the high value this build places on Cast-When-Damage-Taken support setups means you'll probably want a few red sockets knocking around.

Optional Unique items include:

  • The Wasp Nest (claws with huge Chaos Damage bonuses against Poisoned enemies)
  • The Embalmer (gloves with large Poison bonuses that allow a psuedo 5-link)
  • Dendrobate (a chestpiece with large Poison bonuses that allows a pseudo 7-link)
  • Atziri's Promise (a Flask that adds a large percentage of non-Chaos Damage as extra Chaos damage)

Full Passive Tree

Click here for an interactive version. (Note that the page says this is a 3.4 tree, but this build is updated for 3.5; it just doesn't use any of the nodes introduced in 3.5 and was modified from a 3.4 build.)