Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Assassination Solution?

I have posted before about my concerns over the Advanced Edition Companion Assassin class, and I have even made a "Decree" in an attempt to severely limit the in-game application of the class's "Assassination" ability.  Yet in explaining the Assassination Decree to Vivuli's player at a recent session, I could tell that he wasn't real happy to be losing what is probably the most potent ability the class is given in the AEC.  I empathize with him and I don't want to hamstring Vivuli, but I also do not like it when an Assassin can instantly kill a balrog or a demi-god with a single percentile roll.

Carl to the rescue!  My good friend Carl has proposed an extremely elegant solution to this problem to me via email, and I want to simply reproduce his idea here:

Here is a quick suggestion to mull over regarding "assassinations". How would you feel about replacing the percent chance to kill mechanic with an attack that does normal weapon damage +1d6 per level of the assassin? All the normal restrictions would apply as specified (the assassin would have to completely sneak up on and surprise the victim, and then actually hit with an attack). The "sneak attack" style of assassination that you dislike is pretty much the whole reason Vivuli's player selected that class, based (I am pretty sure) on a lot of experience playing sneak attack thiefs in the Final Fantasy video game series :) This removes the "magic" element of killing a creature outright and makes it explicitly about just being really skilled at doing damage to an unsuspecting target.

Replacing the chance to just kill outright with a modest damage increase would insure that powerful creatures like the demon/dragon/elemental/lava bird/thing
* couldn't be killed in a single shot. As an example, Vivuli's dagger attack does 1d4 damage, +5d6 for a successful assassination at 5th level would do a max of 34 damage.

This does also keep the ability useful when used against less powerful creatures, guards and the like that would be easily dispatched by someone skilled in the art of stealth who snuck up on them and slit their throat. Against creatures of same HD, it is close to the same percentage chance of killing the creature, but at least your roll as DM when generating the creature's HP gets to go against the damage roll of an attack, instead of an instant death scenario.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Assassin class as converted for Labyrinth Lord is really weak. It is really weak in the original 1e as well. It has the same HD as a wizard, but a wizard has so many more cool powers. The assassin does thief skills like a thief two levels lower. And has worse HD. Really, the whole schtick of the assassin class is the ability to jump out and do a lot of damage in a single surprise attack. It is a limited ability - if it fails, the assassin is standing there with all the d4 HPs dangling in the breeze in front of your big bad monster. My feeling was that converting the ability to a damage increase and abandoning the percentile chance of death might make the entire class easier to stomach for you. It is a sort of specialized combat class that excels in sneaking around and being ninja-y and jumping out and surprising shit with a big attack. I don't think it has to stretch any kind of understanding of what is a magic ability and what isn't.

It doesn't change the relative power that much of the class one way or the other, but it does avoid the percent chance of instant death. It also gives you a very easy way to make sure that a creature does not get instantly killed - just give it a few extra HP!

One other nice thing is it eliminates the d30 wonkiness when interacting with a percentile chart.

Agreed, and so thanks Carl for coming up with this lovely solution.

Any thoughts anybody?

* The "thing" Carl refers to here is a being the Arandish Campaign group encountered in a recent session (#51).


  1. Looks good, and in my mind it seems workable. I have a player that loves the class and this would seem a great "fix" for the issue I have with his "Abuse" of the Insta-kill.


  2. Nice solution! I was going to ask you Carter if you had any better ideas for assassin mechanics, after our talking about them recently.

    My initial reaction to this idea was: 1d6 damage per level!?! But on reading Carl's explanation it makes sense. It's certainly no more powerful than a wizard being able to cast fireballs doing 1d6 per level damage (as an area effect!).

    I'm happy to have found something that sounds like it'll work, give the player's character a very cool ability, and not be a % chance to kill gods.

    1. Id leave the class as written and either allow or disallow the entire class.

      If you mislike the assassins chance to insta-kill the "boss monster" with a surprise attack then give the demigod, devil, or boss a special caveats such as "immune to surprise" or "hit only by +"X" weapons; or the creature in the encounter is already alert and ready for combat and there are penalties to the surprise roll; etc.

      I personally - yes, even as a GM- actually LIKE the "all or nothing" ability of the assassin.... and that ability cuts both ways (pun intended) since NPC assassins have the same chance to "one-shot" the PC's as well!

      too many spells already have the "percent chance to insta-kill"; such as : polymorph other into a goldfish; finger of death, petrification, hold person followed by slit throat; etc.

  3. Thanks for the sharp comments folks -- sounds like some of us really like Carl's solution, but I also really appreciate bdfiscus' more "purist" approach, which I will seriously consider before allowing ANOTHER PC Assassin (besides Vivuli) into my campaign!

  4. d6 damage per level is eloquent but... isn't the assassin really just a thief who excels in backstabbing.

    Not sure if you read my take on Raggi's specialist last month

    I'm thinking there are fighters, clerics, magic users, demihumans and SPECIALISTS (monks, bards, thieves, assassins etc). Specialists are builds for players that want that bit of extra creative control.

  5. This how Rogues work in 3.x (+1d6 per two levels), and it works out well. They become sort of a "glass cannon," much like wizards. They are fragile but they can do huge damage in certain situations.

    Anything I could say on this is said better here:

  6. It seems like a good solution - try it in play and see how it goes, that's my advice.

    It isn't a very AD&D solution though - the AD&D solution is to create a whole set of tables and a sub-system unrelated to any other way of killing people currently used in the game! You should do that . . . oh wait . . . ;)