ASSASSINATION! The killer we forgot

Assassin AD&D

Assassin AD&DAssassins are deadly!

This look at assassination isn’t exactly a look at the class of Assassin (Which is yet to come) but about the act of assassination.

Recently we took a closer look at Half-orcs, who are unlimited in levels of assassin. Things get ‘ugly’ fast.

Both the Half-orc and Assassin class often get overlooked at the AD&D 1E table. You may not realize how deadly things can get!





We will look at the assassin class properly later, but right now a little peek at the act and how it is used in the game… and how the Fail Squad Crew often glazed over and screwed this up.

How it works

An assassin operates as a sub-class of thief, so they can sneak, hide and do all that. they have fewer weapon restrictions and get the use of shields and POISON.

So a thief can sneak up on a victim and get backstab capability, but they ALSO have roughly a 50% chance of out-right KILLING their victim. That’s right – no save. d-e-a-d dead. If that misses, well, that poison bit comes into play, and backstab still counts!

On top of all this, the assassination XP bonuses are pretty generous for an XP table that moves quickly.

What’s more, is it doesn’t need to be officially ‘sneaking up’ in the dark. The victim may simply be unaware, drunk, overly trusting, drugged…. Sometimes danger is right in front of you!

What’s the drawback?

This comes with the heavy drawback of an evil requirement. Most DMs start right off the top of their games saying, “Just no evil characters”. It may be up to us to relax the ‘no evil’ ruling a little bit and accept that an evil character CAN operate within a party of PCs. Issues may arise if you have a Paladin on-board, so sometimes it doesn’t work.

Getting caught can be a messy business in town and require some side-role play that doesn’t involve the entire party. In a dungeon setting though, this becomes more workable.

Assassination and the DM

The part I often forgot as a DM is that assassination houses exist. If a hit is out on a player character or an NPC you have a pretty good chance of ending up with a DEAD victim. It can also be a plot device or focus point.

Trying to clear out an assassin guild sounds like a great quest for a paladin. Friends cheer, the tavern is a buzz with helpful citizens hoping to aid the holy knight rid their city of the scourge! Helpful folks, who seem like friends, working for the guild, who get a backstab and 50% chance of killing the victim – is suddenly a little unnerving.

Less scrupulous players or NPCs can hire assassins, the fees exist in the books.

This DM will stop over-looking this deadly act in AD&D, and start considering how it fits into the campaign world. For good or evil, the art of killing is there, and deserves a little respect from us.

I admit to forgetting how deadly the class was intended until I saw the table again.

assassin table

This table exists in the AD&D DMG Easley cover Page 75. This table becomes the assassins friend whenever they get the drop on a victim, BEFORE there is a roll for poison and backstab damage!

So bust out those assassins again on BOTH sides of the screen and make the night deadly!

Tell us about your favorite assassin in the comments below!

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One Comment on “ASSASSINATION! The killer we forgot

  1. They are indeed cool.

    But you have it slightly wrong. A backstab and an assassinate are two separate things. If you choose to assassinate and fail you do not get a backstab modifier. PHB p29, emphasis mine, “ASSASSINATION TABLE. This gives a roughly 50% chance of immediately killing the victim; and if this fails, *normal damage* according to weapon type and strength ability modifiers still accrues to the victim.” The lead in also says they *may* choose to use the Assassination table. If the two attacks were the same there would never be any reason not to.

    The assassin can backstab of course, but they must choose which method of attack they wish to pursue.

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