Wednesday, May 30, 2012

For Gavrilo Princip


Assassins, an often despised as either virtually useless or game ruining class.  Well now I have one in my party and frankly I don't like the old rules at all.  This here is my completely new rules hack of the Assassin.  They are specialist thieves who focus on poison, murder and fast one-on-one melee combat.  Yes, they are like ninjas.  So far the assassin being played in my campaign under these rules has not created imbalance, or more specifically, any imbalance she creates is caused by some amazing stat rolls (See previous post re: Nell) and the core AD&D/LLC rules on statistics bonuses. 

Gravrilo Princip, Assassin - Photographer unknown

I hear assassins have a random percentage chance to kill? I want something more visceral. Assassins are murderous thieves, pretty much the most antisocial character class one can play, it is very hard to think of a noble assassin, unless they're some kind of murdering fanatic for a 'good cause', but that's not really noble. I want the assassin rule to reflect this - hence these are deadly dirty fighters who lack survivability and must stack the encounter odds in their favor to survive. Assassins can wear studded leather, or something similar with up to an AC of 7 if the player can think of something good. They have general thief abilities to move silently, hide in shadows, find/disarm traps, climb things, and pick locks. Assassins can't pick pockets or learn to read magic though. These abilities are available to all really (as skill rolls, some virtually impossible to the untrained) only Assassins get to add their Dex bonus to them, just like thieves, and get another +1 every two levels (thieves get +1 per level). They're also just better at that kind of stuff and a good GM may give them fewer penalties on extra hard tasks.

An assassin's favorite means of killing are sudden strikes from behind or poison. Assassins can kill a "human-type" target in one blow if they attack a target that doesn't know they are there or isn't expecting it. They must roll to hit normally for this, though bonuses or penalties to hit may be in order depending on circumstance. For example if an Assassin stole up on a distracted guard moktar, the assassin could kill on a hit. Since the guard was dozing I'd give a +2 to hit, but since the player has said they want to kill silently I'd also add a -1 penalty. I might give general penalties against trying to assassinate moktars anyway, as I bet they have a great sense of smell.

Assassins can use poison on their weapons safely. They must make an Int roll to prepare and apply the stuff (with bonuses/penalties depending on materials/time/equipment). It's not usually as deadly as freshly injected monster poison so it only does an additional 1d6 per level of the assassin on a successful hit (save for no damage), Assassin's poison wears off a weapon after a successful use, and if the assassin failed to brew or apply it properly it has no effect, which the assassin won't know until they hit.  The amount of poison an Assassin can brew is also limited by level - to 2 per level (+1 per HD of the monster that the Assassin has harvested poison from perhaps? - give at least one player an excuse to tangle with poisonous creatures).

In combat assassins always fight dirty, backstabbing for 3 times normal damage at + 1 to hit. They also excel at dismantling single humanoid opponents and score critical hits (in melee) on not only a 20, but on any roll higher then 20 minus 1 per level (though never less than 15) assuming that the roll would otherwise hit. This only works when they are facing a single opponent. For each other enemy within striking distance of the Assassin (or missile armed) they lose one point of that bonus - these enemies don't even have to be attacking the Assassin, just cluttering the fighting space, just distracting the Assassin from finding weak spots. I haven't decided if these critical hits are only on a natural '20' or if strength and weapon modifiers help determine the critical. If modifiers work, than suddenly Strength becomes an important stat for Assassins, and a +1 short sword is a more useful weapon.

Example: Our assassin above above fails to kill the sleeping guard, and must battle a suddenly very alert moktar. The Assassin is third level, so fighting the lone guard he will score a critical hit on a 17 or higher. This, in addition to striking with his poisoned short sword for a hefty 4D6 on the first successful blow. Luck isn't with our assassin though and after the first round the moktar's roars have wakened it's pals, a pair of whom run into range throwing their hand axes at the assassin. This round he does manage to score a hit, rolling a 17, which would normally be an 8D6 critical, but since he's busy trying to dodge axes and worrying about his back it is not a critical, though a 19 or 20 still would have been.
Carlos the Jackal, Assassin - photographer, Interpol

These rules have not yet imbalanced play after several sessions.  Sure Nell tends to take down an enemy quick if she burns her poison resources, but that's akin to a spell - a few times per session way to eliminate an enemy. Assassin melee abilities are also impressive only in the abstract.  First, even if she get critical hits more often, an assassin will be much easier to hit and kill than anyone else in the front line, and will likely prefer missile weapons (without class bonuses).  Second, monsters travel in groups and hence added critical hit chances are limited by the number of opponents in a typical monster fight. Finally there are surely NPC assassins out there to bedevil the players - they're mostly working for criminal, revolutionary and cult organizations.


  1. This was a really useful post; it gives me more ways to warn PCs against poison use--not that I have a specific objection apart from not really wanting to dink with poison overmuch.

    Your blog in general is fulsome entertaining!

  2. Jayson, glad you like my maundering. Not sure what warning I have encouraged - but my Assassin rules are based around the idea that really the only folks dinking with poison should be Assassins, and since the rule in LLC (an abbreviation that just reminds me of work too much) and AD&D are silly complex I use my 1d6/level. I think it scales well and is nasty, but not over powerful. I do let the victims save vs. poison though.