Here’s another excerpt from Assassin’s Amulet while you’re all waiting for the announcement of the winner of the cover contest. This is taken from the GM Advice chapter and first appeared in this week’s Roleplaying Tips.
Many GMs struggle with running killer NPCs. One big goal of the book is to arm you with enough actionable advice that you’ll scare the crap out of your players if they ever catch wind of an NPC assassin ever again.
Part of this GM training involves learning some general principles of engagement when running assassins.
We hope you find this advice useful.
Chief caveat for assassins in combat situations: avoid combat if possible.
The most favorable combat situations involve fighting with allies. However, assassins tend to work alone, which causes tactical problems.
In all the tactics below, hit-and-run is the only reliable method to combine with any combat tactic. Using an assassin’s amulet in combination as a means of escape makes this even more reliable.
1.Maximize Sneak Attack Opportunities
Sneak attack is the best option for assassins in combat. Do anything you can to give NPC assassins this opportunity so they can cause damage while trying to get away.
It is difficult, though not impossible, to flank an opponent without an ally – anything that removes an opponent’s Dexterity bonus or causes him to become flat-footed will grant such an opportunity.
Feint/Improved Feint: using the feint option of the Bluff skill, the assassin spends his first round trying to cause the opponent to be off-balance or otherwise unready.
This denies the opponent his Dexterity bonus to his Armor Class on the assassin’s next attack, giving the killer a sneak attack.
This tactic provokes an attack of opportunity, so use it carefully. Give the assassin the Improved Feint feat when it becomes available.
Foes defeat this tactic using Sense Motive, if they have that skill, or a raw check aided by their Wisdom modifier.
Therefore, an assassin should scout out foes to determine their ability to sense others’ motives or see through such tricks as feinting.
The killer must know in advance if a foe can defeat feint. This saves the assassin a full round of futility plus exposure to a potential attack of opportunity.
Invisibility: except for class dipping with caster levels, which is not recommended, becoming invisible means using a magic item and the Use Magic Device skill.
An invisible assassin initiating combat denies their opponent a Dexterity bonus to that attack, and so the foe must suffer a sneak attack.
Blindness: like invisibility, if the opponent is blind, the assassin is effectively invisible (see above).
Possessing the feat chain Critical Focus and Blinding Critical is helpful, though unreliable, as the NPC must engage in at least one round of combat with no advantages, and he must succeed on a critical hit, which can never be counted on.
Eggshell grenades-pepper (from Oriental Adventures) are a mundane device that require use as a thrown weapon. With a successful hit affecting a five-foot area, the opponent is blind, though he gets a save to avoid the circumstance. Any magic item that causes blindness will also do this.
2. Single Striking
A one-shot kill relies on high Strength combined with Power Attack and using a two-handed weapon, granting half-again Strength bonus on attacks. Unfortunately, Strength is generally a tertiary stat for assassins, following Dexterity and Intelligence.
Focus on causing as much damage as possible with a single attack using magic, magic items and equipment to eke out all the extra damage you can.
Enhance this tactic with Dodge, Mobility and Spring Attack, as well as the vital strike feat chain. While this is feat intensive and takes away valuable feat slots to make an effective assassin combatant, the three feats mentioned allow him to strike without attacks of opportunity, so offer better survivability.
Having the Quick Draw feat also gets the weapon in hand quickly. Combine this with sneak attack and this could be a one-shot kill.
3. Two Weapon Fighting
Using two weapons in combat means more opportunities for sneak attack. The assassin should possess the Weapon Finesse feat to rely on the character’s Dexterity instead of Strength. While effective, this combat tactic does not cause as much damage as the single strike tactic, though it uses far fewer feat slots for combat.
4. Sniping Using Ranged Weapons
If the assassin can prepare to choose a hidden spot to attack from this can be an effective combat tactic. However, it requires time unseen to prepare such an opportunity.
The assassin must hide, shoot at their target, and then move to another location to repeat the process. The assassin must be skilled with ranged weapons and will spend his combat feat slots doing so.
This tactic does not accommodate being caught unawares and forced into melee, so the two previous combat tactics are more reliable.
Take the Arcane Trickster prestige class instead of Assassin so ranged sneak attack is possible to make this a more viable combat tactic.
5. Using Traps
Indirect combat offers a usable strategy, but also requires some time in preparation prior to engaging in combat. Simple is sometimes most effective.
For example, tossing caltrops in areas of expected movement for oncoming combatants or use of tanglefoot bags.
Consider allowing assassins to use portable traps either mundane or arcane, where the assassin can arm, disarm, move and rearm such a device in a move-and-wait or move-and-run-away tactic.
Always consider poisoning any blade, ranged weapon or traps to improve damage and escape chances, as well.
Bonus! Extra tactic not included in the e-book!
Assassins are at their best and most dangerous when dealing with their opponants one-on-one, under circumstances of their choosing. 90% of their planning and tactics should be aimed at achieving this goal.
That means manipulating the target to get them to a specific time and place of the Assassin’s Choosing.
It means having misdirections and tactics in place to distract and remove others – especially bodyguards and other such companions – from the scene.
The obvious approaches are some manner of implied or third-party threat, and espionage directed at the target.
A cutpurse snatches the target’s coin pouch just clumsily enough to be noticed – obviously, the bodyguards/flunkies/companions will give chase. A couple of drunken thugs take exception to the target without good reason. A mysterious bang and flash of light erupts from around the corner. A disguised fellow assassin throws a dagger – rather obviously – at one of the bodyguards and runs off (it’s good to be in a Guild!).
Often, the bodyguards will be less protected than the target. It might not be possible to poison the target due to his paranoic use of food tasters – but poisoning the bodyguards might not be so difficult. Since assassins will kill someone they are not contracted to terminate only if forced to, this should be some non-lethal poison – but bodyguards who are busy throwing up or running to the nearest rest-room (or equivalent) are not protecting their assignment.
Divert the bodyguards and hangers-on, and the road to the target is open.
Espionage Directed At The Target
Knowing the personal habits of the target will frequently reveal times and places where the intended victim voluntarily seperates himself from his protection. Few will keep their bodyguards in the room when liasing with their mistress or lover. Fewer still will have these companions in the toilet with them when doing the necessary, or in the bathhouse when bathing.
Patience is a virtue, but it’s also an essential tactic for the successful assassin to master.
For anyone who came to this article directly, you should check out our other previews of Assassin’s Amulet:
50 Assassin Hooks Assassins make awesome NPCs. Thing is, they often have paper-thin character development and cliched plots. Fix this problem right now by giving your next assassin one of these tasty hooks.
How to Roleplay Assassins Assassins should be compelling in every encounter in which they appear. This excerpt describes how to run assassins as compelling characters to roleplay and deadly adversaries to fight.
And don’t forget to vote for the cover!