Character Builds


This is a guide for an Elemental Martial Arts Assassin based on my Set Worshipper Tourney character Connie. She uses dual-claws and specializes in Lightning Damage but is still able to deal tremendous amounts of other elemental damage. With heavy skill point investment into elemental charges, no monster is safe regardless of their immunities. This is a very aggressive build, Assassins do not have as much life as Barbarians or Shape-shifted Druids so enemies need to be taken down fast. Dependence on elemental damage instead of physical also means less life leech. With 2 very strong castable and semi-controllable minions though, you get a decent degree of extra safety. Until she died in Act 5 NM from a Tomb Viper Poison Missile, Connie played untwinked and was cutting through monsters with little trouble. Afterwards she swapped her tournament gear for a full range of twinked equipment which multiplied her effectiveness many times over.


Claws of Thunder

CoT is the primary killing skill. It has a 4 frame next-delay, so monsters hit by the released Nova will be immune to the following charged bolts. However, the Charged Bolts will pass through them and continue on to other targets. As a result, CoT has a rather large area of effect and is a perfect skill for clearing rooms and large dispersed mobs. CoT packs the largest damage of the chargeups.

Connie's lvl 71 Claws of Thunder
Charge 1: lightning damage 2-59684
Charge 2: nova 13-49818
Charge 3: charged bolt 13-77832

Phoenix Strike

PS is low on damage, but it synergizes all 3 elemental chargeups so it's a very good thing to max. This skill is versatile in that it deals 3 elements, but most of the time I just use the other 3 elemental chargeups because they deal far better damage. PS is also affected by next delay for 4 frames. In terms of usage, it is the least important of the 4 elemental chargeups by a rather wide margin so charge it last if you bother to charge it at all.

Connie's lvl 62 Phoenix Strike
Charge 1: meteor 4857-5341 and fire explosion 7057-7521 per second
Charge 2: chain lightning 4-18960
Charge 3: chaos ice bolt 1377-1445

Fists of Fire

Deals more damage than Blades of Ice, so this is the second choice element after lightning. It's a stronger choice to deal with Lightning Immunes than BoI also, since the residual fire can be continuously stacked while also spamming PS meteors. Level 1 Blades of Ice is still useful for freezing with 1 point though.

Connie's lvl 50 Fists of Fire
Charge 1: fire damage 20331-20409
Charge 2: fire over radius 3.3 yds
charge 3: fire damage 19232-20492 per second

and lvl 39 Blades of Ice
Charge 1: 17269-17582
Charge 2: cold damage radius 5.3 yds
Charge 3: freeze duration 19.2 sec

Dragon Claw

The finisher to release all your charges. Nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done and thats all you need.

Shadow Warrior

Used with this build, well controlled Shadow Warriors are in my opinion hands down the most devastating minions in the game eclipsing even Elementals in raw killing power. The shadow's own skill levels are equal to 1/3 of the Shadow's level plus 1/2 of the level you have for the skill in question. So if you have lvl 20 Claws of Thunder and a lvl 21 Shadow Warrior, she will use a lvl 17 Claws of Thunder.

Furthermore, Shadows benefit from synergies up past levels limited for players. This includes all skill boosts from equipment also! Once the shadow uses the elemental chargeups, the synergies are learned until she dies. Therefore, its best to use all 3 claw chargeups and Phoenix Strike on occasion even if only half of them are real damage dealers.

Shadow Warriors spawn with magical Blade Talons/Cestus/Helm/Armor no matter how many points you sink into the skill. Needless to say, her physical damage will be utterly nonexistant in Hell. She has no boots either, so kick damage is also going to be pathetic. Elemental charges get around both limitations.

Shade Armor

After +skills are factored in, Shade Armor is immensely powerful for physical defense. Until that happens though, Fade and Burst of Speed will be the prebuffs of choice. Unlike a Samurai, this build isn't built like a brick wall. Nevertheless, 1 Assassin and 2 Shadows all protected by high level Shade Armor will still be very sturdy in Hell.

Melee Mastery

The damage boost is okay and helps leech a little, but more important is the attack rating boost.

Cobra Strike

More leech is always good, especially since claws lack damage. I don't have enough hotkeys to go around though, so I didn't invest in it.

Mind Blast

Excellent crowd control, if you desire it. Once again I don't use it due to overly large competition for hotkeys.

Blade Shield

Blade Shield takes a fraction of your total damage, claws are worlds apart from katanas in damage though. Could be useful for a little extra leech and damage, but not a pressing need. I have yet to grab this skill and I probably won't.

Shadow Master

Sink 20 in here if you don't have any hope of getting a Discontent Helm, although it may be a good idea to just wait anyway and hope for a He rune drop. With no Discontent, having skill points distributed as 1 Warrior/20 Master gives you 2 really weak Shadow Warriors or 1 uncontrollable Master and 1 weak Warrior. Putting 20 in only Shadow Warrior gives you 1 strong Shadow Warrior. With Discontent, you could instead have 2 strong Shadow Warriors. BIG BIG difference, so if possible avoid having to add 20 points in Shadow Master.

If you manage to get the runes for Discontent, make SURE to have NO points in here to gain the charge synergy.

All prerequisites

Spending Stat Points

Minimum Required for Equipment
Minimum Required for Equipment

Connie's stats at level 85:
172 STR
172 DEX
472 VIT
37 ENR

6052 Defense
3222 Life (with Battle Orders)
642 Mana (with Battle Orders)

Resistances in Hell (with Fade):
68% Fire
82% Cold
82% Lightning
68% Poison

Skill and damage boosters (with Aura of Divinity):

  • +18 to All Skills
  • -29% enemy fire resists
  • -38% enemy cold resists
  • -43% enemy lightning resists
  • +164% fire/cold/lightning skill damage


On the most simplistic level, plus skills to boost Martial Arts are the core need. However, there are many pieces of equipment in ES which look almost tailored for this build. Wearing most of them at the same time will add tremendously to both defensive and offensive capabilities.

First a note about SETS. For Normal and Nightmare they are excellent. Once you hit Hell, they are "okay" but lack enough of a punch (especially +skills) to really be end-game gear. Sascha's is somewhat decent and probably the only really usable one later in the game, most important of all it has no Helm enabling you to wear a Discontent or Archdimeron Helm at the same time. It also has the gloves and belt free. Ihsan's looks like a better fit with a cursory glance, but I would place this well below Sascha's. No open helm and glove slots means no Lower Resist from either Discontent helm or Gemword Gloves, and also no Conviction from Archdimeron. That's a devastatingly HUGE minus that pretty much rules out this set entirely. The -17% monster resists is nice, but the overall set mods are VERY mediocre considering the drawbacks just mentioned. For optimal gear, Uniques and Runewords will be your friends even though many of the top choices are hideously expensive in runes.

Early-Late Game Gear
A short section covering Connie's tournament equipment progression, just one of many ways to equip an Assassin through the game.

Start off with whatever you like, dual Katars right out of the starting gate is a good choice. The Assassin starts with throwing knives too, so abuse them early on to safely get those first few levels. Eventually work some gemwords onto your equipment. "Poisonous" is excellent early on in both claws and armor. "Holy" glove runewords work well too, and after a while you will want to switch to "Ancient" runeword gloves. Autolycus Boots and Belt at a minimum will be a tremendous kick start to ontaining future equipment so it is a VERY good idea to have at least that as early as possible.

Upgrade to Vega's Set, which along with "Ancient" should carry you through Normal and partway into Nightmare with ease. The helm is very expensive so it may take a while to gamble. The skill tab reroll recipe for Magic Amulets and Rings can produce some helpful skill boosting jewelry.

Alora's Set is the next step up from Vega's. Using Normal Anya's unique stone to get a Goldark's Strap Muscle Belt is not a bad idea for the extra gold find. With Alora's, Goldark's Strap, and Ancient Gloves (2 Perfect Skulls by now hopefully), you should be pretty set for the end of Nightmare. Goldark's will help with gambling money for getting Sascha's Set.

You can also stick with Vega's and add an "Archdimeron" helm instead of upgrading to Alora's. 4 socket helms will start dropping relatively early in Nightmare, keep an eye out for grey Death Masks especially.

Early Hell
I actually twinked Connie and skipped this step, but it is what I would have done if she continued with the tournament. Sascha's Set, "Ancient" gloves, and "Archdimeron" are a good intermediate choice for taking you through much of Hell until you can assemble an end-game collection of gear. Wrist Swords, Demon Carapaces, and Rogue Boots are all low qlvl elites, so getting all of Sascha's Set early in Hell is a real possibility if you have ample funds.

Connie's End Game Gear
Connie's final gear will be listed, followed by comments and/or alternatives for those gear slots. Connie has a very large amount of oskills, so +1 all skill forging is the top choice for most of her gear.

Viz-Jaq'taar's Invention Unique Runic Talons (+3 Assassin skills and 3 sockets)

Viz-Jaq'taar's Invention is very tough to beat for this build. With Forging and adding sockets, this single claw can add a whopping +10 to every single chargeup you use! It may be hard to get a nice 3/3 Viz-Jaq'taar's, but it would be worthwhile to spend Perfect Gems to try and reroll one. Since the level requirement of a Viz-Jaq'taar's Invention is lvl 65, it's a good deal to add forged magic +1 all skills jewels into the sockets instead of +1 Assassin skill jewels since it only raises the level by +2. The end result is a possible +3 Martial Arts, +3 Assassin skills, +4 all skills, simply superb...

Rare Scissor's Suwayyah with 12% chance to cast Frozen Orb and a lot of damage.

This is Connie's "leeching" claw, with significantly more damage than Viz-Jaq'taar's Invention, although it also has a very painful req +45% mod (requiring a huge diversion of stat points from VIT unfortunately). The free frozen orbs cast often enough that I am rather attached to this claw despite the drawbacks. With oskill cold mastery, the Frozen Orbs can actually deal some damage in addition to the nice slow effect. After forging and socketing, this claw could get up to a respectable +5 to my martial arts if I decide to stay with it.

Other good options for a second claw include another Viz-Jaq'taar's Invention for a huge +20 MA total boost from your claws, cubed Starter claws, or "Burn" runeword claws for lvl 3 Conviction.

Weapon Switch
Conquest Runeword shield, Secret of the Ooze Unique Sepulcher Wand

Used just for Fire Armor pre-buff.

Discontent Runeword Dwarven Faceguard (Fu He I )

Although short on general utility mods like life leech or resists, finding so many specialty mods in one place is far too good to pass up. lvl 20 Shadow Master charges will synergize Shadow Warrior (provided you have 0 solid points in shadow master) and give you a second Shadow Warrior! Saving 20 skill points is HUGE! You get up to +6 Battle Orders and +10 Lower Resist oskill, two of the best oskills for this build on one item! Up to a lvl 8 Defiance aura for free, sure why not? Slap Cannot be Frozen on top and this is THE end-game helm to gun for. Along with Unknown Armor, this helm is probably the "centerpiece" of a Martial Arts Assassin's equipment.

Runner up is "Archdimeron" gemword. +11 Conviction is simply amazing, there is no other place to get such a high level Conviction besides the mercenary. Next up are Uniques such as Heart of Jewels and Arthur's Crown. Although good, in reality by the time you find either you will have long been able to put an Archdimeron together which is better than either of them.

Unknown Runeword Spiked Armor (Mi Chi Su U )

The perfect armor for this build. Chance to cast teleport may get annoying since you will be hit constantly. It also lacks sorely in defensive mods such as resists, defense rating, and life. That aside, getting all 3 elemental masteries and +2 all skills is simply unbeatable. Huge damage boost all around, but remember to patch up those weak points elsewhere.

Eternal Reign runeword for the big skill boost is another excellent choice that climbs above the rest. After that comes a crowd of Uniques and runewords to choose from.

Rumor of Pain Unique Sharkskin Gloves (converted from belt with Ancient Scroll)

Comes with +1 all skills and -5-15% Fire/Cold/Lightning/Poison enemy resists. Similar to Unknown runeword armor, this item boosts your elemental charges all around. If you have the gems to toss around, consider rerolling until you get a favorably high -% resist for lightning and/or fire. With a low level 32 requirement, there is a good amount of D-stoning room left to compensate for the defensive weaknesses of Unknown. For other gear slots +1 all skills forging is good, but it would not be a bad idea to use the glove forging for ITD from Se runes.

Alternatives include Shiva's Touch, Death's Grip, Hands of the Assassin, and even 2 skull gemword gloves. There aren't many glove oskills from rares that would be terribly useful, but you can get +3 martial arts skills from such gloves. I'm a big fan of rare gloves in general, but for this build I would look at uniques.

Rumor of Pain Unique Sharkskin Belt

Alternatives inculde Harness of the Gods and the Belt of Zeus, or rares.

Rumor of Pain Unique Sharkskin Boots (converted from belt with Ancient Scroll)

Alternatives include Chillcobble, Flickerheel, or rare boots. You can find some useful oskill summons from rare boots such as Clay Golem. You shouldn't really need more tanking help, but if you want it this is a place to get it from.

Dweia's Revenge Unique Assassin's Choker

Good collection of mods that are all immensely useful. Tough to beat, but other choices include strong rare amulets and a few of the better Unique Amulets. Magic +Martial Arts skill tab rerolled Amulets can potentially be very useful, and are the clear winner for the early game as well.

Killjoy's Attitude Unique Assassin's Spiral
Killjoy's Attitude Unique Assassin's Spiral

oskill enchant gives a very nice +AR% boost. The fire damage is very low even with your other gear so it's not the main draw. A big fat skill and resistance boost among other things makes this a strong pair. Each ring gets 2 +3 individual skill bonuses also, so they could add a big bonus to a chargeup or two.

For other choices, Lilith's Heart or rares with life leech, resists, good oskills, attack rating, and skills. Once again, magic +Martial Arts skill tab rerolled rings get special mention, they are cheap to make and give a high boost.


Get as many of the Unique Charms as possible since they can forged with Assassin skills. That alone makes them more than worth the space. Connie is missing only a Something Wicked charm, the 6 others are forged with +1 Assassin skills to give her a nice plump boost. The 2 small charms will be especially invaluable for their Life Leech.

For rare and magic charms, many mods are useful including resists, attack rating, +martial arts skills, and life.


2 Shadow companions give you a lot of leeway into choosing a Merc, so almost anything will do.

The Ice variant is the most promising of the Act 1 rogues and Connie picked one up as her companion. With pierce from equipment, both Freezing and Lightning Arrows become very handy helpers on the battlefield. Piercing Legendary Arrows also perform well against single targets. She stays of trouble rather well since she has 3 tanks protecting her.

Act 2 Conviction mercs are the second obvious choice to help break immunities and severely weaken everything else.

Besides those 2, any other merc will work well also since they are essentially supported by 3 "Assassins". With that kind of backup, your Merc won't be shouldering too much of a burden.

Act 1 Rogue Hannah (Cold)
Rare Arcane Bow with big damage
Rare with +3 Cold Mastery
Eternal Reign Runeword Armor
Death's Grip Unique Sepulcher Gloves
Laerte's Treasure Unique Merchant Belt
Rare converted gloves with +8 pierce
Rare with +1 Lightning Mastery
Rare with +1 all skills, Life Leech, and minimum damage
Rare with +1 all skills, Life Leech, and strength

Connie's equipment is much further along than Hannah's. Eternal Reign is a good choice to give her since it gives a skills boost to my entire party. Getting +6 to her own bow skills is nice too. The extra experience is just gravy.

The weakest parts of her setup are currently the bow and belt. The old "ICE" runeword bow looks perfect for her build, but it requires a JAH rune. The belt will probably be replaced eventually with a Rumor of Pain, Laerte's Treasure is just a placeholder for now.

Strategy & Tips

Rough Skill Progression

  • As a general rule, add 1 point into useful new skills as you get them such as Burst of Speed, Fade, Shade Armor and Phoenix Strike. Otherwise pump skills as follows:
  • Claws of Thunder is the first skill to start concentrating points, be sure to spare 1 point for Shadow Warrior, then reume with CoT.
  • Around Act 4 and 5 Normal, pump Shadow Warrior up to about 6-10 in preparation for Ancients and Baal.
  • Finish maxing CoT. Start pumping Phoenix Strike afterwards.
  • Finish maxing PS. Pick up where you left off with Shadow Warrior.
  • Finish maxing Shadow Warrior. All remaining skill points go into Fists of Fire from now on.

Starting off and Normal Difficulty
I usually buy a Fire Rogue ASAP with my other characters, but Connie was going to use a Cold Rogue so I bought one as soon as she hit level 8. Although weaker at the start than her Fire sisters, she was still more than sufficient help. Early on, CoT and Shadow Warrior will ravage everything you come across.

2 skull gloves will come in handy for the Chance to cast lower resist, you can upgrade the skulls as you progress. Connie was still using 2 Perfect Skull gloves when she was eliminated from the tournament in Act 5 NM. She has been using that gemword ever since Act 1 normal starting from 2 flawed skulls in leather gloves.

Consider pumping more points into Shadow Warrior by Act 4 or 5. A low level Shadow Warrior might not be enough to get by the Ancients and Baal's minions. Lister's Pack makes short work of Shadow Warriors regardless, so be ready for a lot of recasting.

Maxed CoT will handle the bulk of this difficulty level, especially once Phoenix Strike is added into the mix. Make good use of Cloak of Shadows, until you get Lower Resist it makes monster mobs dramatically less dangerous. Without Cloak of Shadows against ranged enemies, I like to charge up everything fully on melee targets and then run zig-zag right at the ranged attackers to release it in their midst. That way I can hopefully charge up behind the protection of the 2 Shadows, and then wipe out the ranged attackers ASAP without exposing myself too long to their fire. Safer than trying to charge up in the archer's faces while getting constantly shot at. Weapon Block is fantastic, but it has some difficulties dealing with large barrages and trying to build up charges while under such attack can be tough.

One way or another, try to get 2 Shadow Warriors by this time. Monsters hit hard, and with 2 Shadows you stand less chance of being immediately overwhelmed in bad situations. With all chargeups available, no immune should be troublesome. Non-cold immunes will likely be frozen in their tracks for easy pickings. Cold immunes may still move, but they will be decimated by FoF and CoT.

Assuming you have a Discontent helm, refresh Battle Orders after every battle. It lasts long but not long enough, I've let it expire by accident many times so it's better to be safe. Cast Lower Resist on everything, you can sit back and let the 2 Shadows thin out dangerously large mobs of monsters. They are more than capable of it against most threats, so you won't be waiting long. Just be sure your LMB is NOT on Dragon Claw. Ideally, you should run around with CoT on LMB, but thats a hard habit to get into since most battles end with Dragon Claw.

Diablo Clone/Uber Diablo
Connie fought him only once so far, and he is an annoying bugger. Her hit rate plunged and combined with his blocking she was whiffing many of her swings. Due to that fact, he took a while to kill even with Lower Resist. With weak claws and low hit rate, life leech was almost nonexistant so Connie had to resort to potions to offset his melee attacks. His Armageddon was slowly nipping away at her life and nearly killed the Rogue also. She got a magic large charm for her trouble...

Front Page   Edit Freeze Diff Backup Attach Copy Rename Reload   New All Pages Search Recent Changes   Help   RSS of recent changes
Last-modified: 11-20-2006 (Mon) 02:50:19 (4977d)