Assassins as PCs.

Image result for d&d assassin players handbook 1ed artwork

Based on the recent discussions about Mystics here on the Rolemasterblog and the RM Forums, I think one interpretation is that the Mystic could serve as a proto-type “Assassin” profession in lieu of companion classes like the Nightblade.

That got me to thinking about Assassins as a rpg profession in general–and perhaps the first iteration in the 1975 Blackmoor supplement by Dave Arneson. Most of the Assassin material was wholly transplanted to the 1st Ed. Players Handbook (p.27). The Assassin is a subclass of the Thief, and generally gains the same abilities with a few Assassin specific skills:

  1. Assassination. With a successful backstab attack the Assassin can use the Assassination table to determine if their is a kill strike.
  2. Language. Assassins can learn other alignment tongues. (recently discussed HERE.)
  3. Disguise.

Of course, all three are cool abilities, but how does an Assassin fit into an adventure group? It’s implied that Assassins can pose as a Thief or perhaps another class or person (using another alignment tongue and disguise) but would that last long in a cohesive group?

I’ve read a bit about Gygax and the early development of D&D and an Assassin class just seems incongruous to the core idea of a “balanced group” and spirit of play. Rolemaster has Professions similar to an Assassin; the Nightblade could be seen more as a Ninja style character, but nothing like the D&D version which is described thusly: “The primary function of assassins is killing.”. That’s pretty straight forward, but how does “assassinations” fit into a traditional fantasy game? What about poisons? I’ve seen quite a bit of comments/feedback from people who dislike the idea of poisons in gameplay.

Has anyone played an Assassin in D&D or similar in Rolemaster? If you GM, would you allow an assassin in your group?

2 thoughts on “Assassins as PCs.”

  1. Assassins have always struck me as a very urban-focused Profession, and they don’t tend to work very well in campaigns that don’t spend a great deal of time in cities. I’ve played assassins in D&D, and have allowed them in Rolemaster as well. One player who had one in RM created the character based on an origin roll…the culture she rolled used assassins as essentially clan/tribal tools to deal with situations (in that campaign I restricted Profession availability based on cultural origin, so not everyone had assassins and the cultures that did had specific reasons for them). Her character essentially “hid out” with the party, posing as a rogue and carrying out clan “contracts” when instructed to do so. Poison was also part of it, but again the use was restricted based on cultural traditions and standards.

    It worked in my game world because I wanted it to and made provisions for the Profession.

  2. Your take on assassins is insightful and I like the distinction you make between the concept and that of the Nightblade — I agree that the latter is more like a ninja in my mind, which is really a Thief/Rogue/semi mashup. But the question remains then… what place does an assassin have both in Rolemaster and the average RPG party?

    I think for most parties/players, assassination doesn’t fit well into storytelling, which means that a dedicated class called Assassin is problematic. Often it is a solo roleplaying experience, unless you have a 47 Ronin situation (note to self for later…) and unless the target is evil, the party may run into moral quandaries. Perhaps we need to look at whether assassination is actually the term we should try to use…

    Let’s look at the classes that most lend themselves to the concept: The Thief, the Nightblade, and the Mystic (per the discussions on this blog).
    🔸 With a concentration in subterfuge, the Thief is certainly capable of being an assassin, but in my experience, that was never its primary role. That doesn’t mean the Thief didn’t sneak up and ambush for the quick kill, but it wasn’t the guiding concept.
    🔸Nightblades, and their RMU equivalents the Magents, with their spells dedicated to poison and other “low” arts, seem highly suited to the task, but in my experiences were more played as ninjas, which you referenced. Infiltration and related activities fit just as well into the class concept.
    🔸Infiltration you say? Hello Mystic! Part of my own redesign of the class is inspired by discussion here about the Mystic needing a niche to fill, but reading your thoughts above I even wonder is Mystic Assassin is a bridge too far. I see the Mystic as being efficient at the act, but the Mystic’s changing spells are likewise good for spying and infiltration, while hopefully the revamped lists provide some room in the role as a battlefield chaos provider.

    In all my years gaming, I can only think of a single mission where assassination was prevalent, and it actually was reduced simply to kidnapping (and the the party switched allegiances since they even found that unpalatable). That’s not to say that creating an Assassin class wouldn’t be fun, but I feel as though that role is already covered. I am already running into overlap conceptually between the Nightblade and the Mystic, and the Assassin may muddy the waters even further in my profession update/conversion project. Just some thoughts… I’m curious how many people how effectively gamed an assassination.

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