Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thieves and Assassins

It is really difficult to sit down and blissfully write about fantasy assassins with the tragic happenings in France this weekend that left hundreds dead and injured.

My own weekend had plenty of disappointments, any one of which would be reason to call the whole thing "a downer." My birthday party got cancelled at the last minute due to the place having no electricity. I got in another car accident, minor, but damaging nonetheless. The national team lost in Peru in a game where some might question the officiating. My wife has had to work the entire weekend, and the baby's been squirrelly, meaning my sleep has been deprived (again). But all of these  "weekend wrecking" complaints are nothing, nothing to what Parisians are experiencing this weekend...fear, sorrow, outrage, depression, helplessness. If watching the Seahawks lose the rest of their games could somehow do something to rectify the situation, I'd give up the season (which would mean a lot of bad weekends pour moi)...but that's ridiculous. As ridiculous as the horrifying events of Friday night.

Because it IS ridiculous...just imbecilic. About the most selfish act one can do is taking others with you on your own mission to commit suicide (those selfish pricks that shoot up classrooms and movie theaters and college campuses all so that they can achieve a few minutes of publicity and "death by cop"). But these stupid fucks claim some sort of political motivation for their actions...just what do they think they're going to accomplish? All they're doing is inciting the flames of war, as the reactionaries will simply call for their politicians to bomb them, Bomb Them, BOMB THEM MORE.  I think western societies have already demonstrated they need little provocation to make use of all their stockpiled weapons and munitions that would otherwise be sitting around gathering dust. How the fuck is perpetrating murder helping their cause? It's nonsensical, in addition to being a ruthless, despicable crime.

It would seem to me...and gosh, maybe I'm being totally moronic would seem to me that if you have the wherewithal, time, energy, and ingenuity to smuggle weapons, manufacture explosives, recruit operatives, and organize a coordinated terrorist attack on one of Europe's greatest cities (and one purportedly to have been "on watch" against such attacks)...if you can do THAT, don't you have the stones to manufacture an intelligent, sane means of protest against the actions your country is taking? You couldn't use the same resources to organize some sort of movement in the country, gosh maybe exercise political power of some sort? This is a democratic country we're talking about right? Surely the politicians there are influenced by voter unrest in the same way they are in the U.S.? And if not, isn't there still some sort of positive, constructive way to use your effort? These kinds of attacks are about the stupidest thing you can do. Even if you're seeking to bring awareness to the apathetic masses, the main thing you're accomplishing is the generation of fear. And scared people will turn to anger (in order to control their fear) and then action (to assuage their fear and anger). It's the fucking way the human collective works...they're not going to run like scared rabbits, and most of them aren't going to have the enlightened perspective of a Gandhi or Christ to turn the other cheek.

So now there will be more death and destruction. You fucking morons.

That's about all I want to say on the subject...I've said my prayers for everyone involved (i.e. the world) and hope things get better. Hope that people get smarter. Hope that those suffering from this devastating tragedy can find the strength and peace they need.

Now, back to D&D.

[sorry, if it seems callous, but if my writing can entertain some folks...and I know I that I have several readers (and customers) in France...then that, at least, is something I can do. I have little power to do anything other than blog and entertain at the moment]

Over the years, I've blogged many times about the assassin subclass. I've written that its unnecessary. I've written that it doesn't really work for the basic, dungeon-crawling premise of the game. I've written that I like the concept, that I don't like the concept, that the concept could benefit from real strictures that filter out individuals who just want to play a "more powerful thief." If you're interested, just check this link and you can read all my various assassin posts.

Okay. Now just forget everything I've written.

As I did with the druid and the monk, the first thing I want to do is ignore the actual subclass (for the moment) and take a good hard look at the class from which it derives: the thief, in this case. One might be tempted (I know I was initially) to disregard the thief as "not basic enough;" that perhaps the thief, itself, should be a subclass of something called the rogue, a lightly armored, adventurer type that can specialize in a number of different ways (thief, assassin, bard, acrobat, etc.). Tempting as that is, though, I think it's a mistake.

And it's cheating, anyway. This series is about working with Holmes, not circumventing it. Holmes has a thief; obviously the learned doctor found it a good enough archetype to include in his Basic book, despite it being supplementary to OD&D.

And it is an interesting character class. Unlike the fighting-man (who's advantages apply entirely to combat situations), or the magic-user and cleric (with their auto-working spells), the thief has a number of different skills that can serve a variety of functions, though all with improbable success chances (at least at low levels). A beginning wizard might be limited in spells, but the spells always such guarantee is given to the thief.

The thief, then, is a bit of a gambler by nature. Dare I try this maneuver? Nearly every skill has some consequence for failure. Fail to pick a pocket and get nabbed. Fail to disarm a trap and get poisoned. Fail to climb a wall and fall to your death. Fail to hide and be discovered. Even failing a listen check can lead to an ambush (if the other party members insist their thief "scout" has to walk point).

The thief is a gambler, a loose cannon because he (or she) is a criminal by trade. Their skills are all focused on a single objective: stealing valuables. That is the definition of a thief; my google of the word returns the following:
noun: a person who steals another person's property, especially by stealth and without using force or violence.
This is what a thief is, not a lightly armored, sneaky fighter. NOW, considering that as our baseline for the class, what then is the assassin, as a subclass?

A person who steals another person's life.

Note: this is stealing of life; the word carries some connotations that separate it from ending a person in battle or what might other be considered a "fair fight." There is an underhandedness to it; a this-is-not-right element. When two opponents enter mortal combat, there is an understanding between them that the probable result will be death for one of them. Theft of life, though, is the taking of life with no such agreement...and with no possibility that quarter might be asked or mercy granted.

This is what an assassin is: a thief of life. If I were to do a bard subclass, I'd probably, similarly, make it a thief of hearts and minds (like any modern day "gangster of love"). But right now, we're only concerned with the assassin. Given our "thief-y" perspective on the class, we can make a few calls about how the subclass should work:

  • First, and most important, the assassin need NOT share the same skills as the thief. The objective theft of the subclass is different; therefore, a different set of skills is needed. Locks, for instance, have existed since ancient times, and generally existed to guard valuables (money boxes and chests)...this is not the thing an assassin seeks to steal. The skills of an assassin should be focused on their task: getting close to their victim to land the killing strike (or administer a deadly poison).
  • Second, to maintain the feeling of the assassin, its skills should function like the thief...start low (the gambler) and increase with proficiency. This is Holmes, so we don't need a bunch of complex formulae. A straight table of percentages should be adequate.
  • Remember that this is D&D...there can be a magical quality about how skills occur, even if they are "non-magical" in nature. Consider the master disguise artist Horace Hamilton Smythe (from PJ Farmer's Dungeon series), or the "faceless man" assassins from Martin's Game of Thrones books. There is nothing in Holmes that requires a thief to purchase "thieves tools;" there is no such item listed on the equipment list in Holmes (neither was there such an item prior the 1E PHB). Thieves, and their subclasses, simply have skills they can perform (at the drop of a hat) that other individuals cannot.
  • Along a similar line of thought, to make the subclass pertinent to the fantasy setting, its skills should be applicable even with regard to non-humans (despite this making little sense). Disguising oneself as a gnoll or goblin, for instance, or applying assassination techniques to humanoids of any anatomy...either they all carry their vital organs in the same place, or the assassin has simply made an extensive study of all such creatures' anatomies (and hence the percentage chance of success associated with the skill). Should there be a hit dice restriction to this? Maybe. I certainly don't see an assassin being able to manufacture a hill giant disguise, but a talented enough assassin could perhaps deliver a deathblow to such a monster (and maybe even one of up to fire giant size).

All right, that's enough to work with. Let me see what I can come up with for the subclass.

I really wish this post was about nothing but D&D.


  1. 'All they're doing is inciting the flames of war...' that's kind of the point. France is a multicultural state. It is therefore necessary to destroy it so that Muslims fleeing the oppression of Islamic states are forced to leave this multicultural state and it's freedoms.

    As to D&D if we return to a class is race D&D then Halflings with thieves abilities must mean Halflings with abilities of assassins. The idea of a three feet tall ninja ;). Ni-ng-atto is indo-iranian. It's also the basis for ninja.

    1. Um...France has been around for more than a thousand years, and suffered through a lot more death and destruction than Friday's attacks. Like I said: fucking morons.

      RE D&D:

      I love halfling assassin clans almost as much as halfling monks (in my old D20 campaign, I had two ancestral enemy factions of this type). It was never clear to me why AD&D didn't allow halfling assassins.

      Holmes suggests demihumans being allowed in other classes, and I'd go with that...however, I'm NOT sure I'd allow them to operate in the subclasses (so no dwarf paladins or elven illusionists for example). Got to throw a couple bones to human players in an old school system.
      ; )

    2. Halfling assassin clans...Ni-ng-atto literally means 'under orders of the father'...referring to a cult leader rather than parent.

      As to the stupid that men do, I see they went and bombed a town in Syria filled with ignorant peasants held hostage by Isis rather than the suburb in a town in Belgium where the villains who did this live.

      As papasmurf would say: smurf.

    3. @ Sean:

      Yep, more bombing resulting in more innocent deaths. Stupid violence on both sides.

      How quickly we forget "Freedom Fries."

  2. So now there will be more death and destruction. You fucking morons.

    This was also my first reaction.

  3. What are your thoughts on a return to race as class? Humans cut of from unnatural power like magic and clerical power will change settings radically.

    1. @ Sean:

      That's really a subject for another post. Thanks for the idea, though!
      : )

  4. Daesh's agenda is to draw the West into a bloody war, to further their propaganda that there -is- a war between the West and Islam. A violent response is -exactly- what Daesh is aiming for.

    I dig this approach to the thief and subclasses. I do think there's a lot of overlap between "stealing things" and "stealing lives," vis-a-vis skill set. Stealth, climbing, infiltration -- the only "thief skills" that don't seem appropriate for an assassin would be picking pockets and maybe -- maybe -- hearing noise.

    1. @ Jack:

      As you'll (hopefully) see, this assassin is not the "ninja type" that comes in through the window. He's not a backdoor guy, but one that comes in through the front, arm-in-arm with his intended victim, hopefully accomplishing his objective before anyone (especially the victim) senses the danger.

    2. Hilariously, what you're describing is much closer to the traditional way the ninja operated than modern depictions of wall-walking shadow warriors. :D

    3. @ Jack:

      I suppose I should have said "Hollywood ninja type."