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Saturday 19 November 2022

The Assassin’s Credo

The Assassin has always been a difficult Class in Dungeons & Dragons. Since its introduction in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition in 1978, the Assassin Class has always been the Class which crossed that moral no-man’s land from the grey to the black, because the Assassin did not just kill monsters, but men and women too, of all races—and worse, did it for profit. Consequently, its position in the game has been downplayed over time, until in the Player’s Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, it has been subsumed into the Rogue Class and treated as a Subclass. Consequently, it means that the ‘Assassin as Rogue’ Subclass is highly focused with little in the way of variety. Which means it is not necessarily going to be that interesting to play and it is not going to lend itself to the creation of interesting NPCs—at least mechanically—by the Dungeon Master. Fortunately, Dungeons & Dragons players are a resourceful lot and there are options. One of which is Den of Assassins.

Den of Assassins is a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, published by Bite-Sized Gaming following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It promises “Deadly new player options, villains, and game master tools for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.” It does this with a mix of new Subclasses, antagonists and minions, magic items, and more—the latter including a range of tools and support for the Dungeon Master. All of which is packed into a fairly slim book liberally illustrated in full colour that is accessible, easy to read, and easy to bring into a Dungeon Master’s game.

What Den of Assassins does first is present twelve new Assassin-themed Subclasses. These are not all for the Rogue Class, but instead there is one for each Class. Notably, they are not necessarily all ‘evil’ per se, but range in tone and ability and how they can be used, as they are not necessarily Assassins in the strictest sense. So, the ‘Oath of the Headhunter’ is a Subclass for the Paladin and more of a bounty hunter than an assassin, gaining on skills used to track and locate its quarry, gains spells such as See Invisibility and Hunter’s Mark, and becomes so charismatic or intimidating, that with the ‘Get Over Here!’ feature can command another creature to move immediately towards the Paladin. Similarly, the Lightbender Subclass for the Ranger seems to supernaturally bend light to hide with spells like Invisibility, deliver an ‘Unexpected Strike’ for extra damage, and so on, but it is all down to skill. The Monk, with the ‘Way of the Bonebreaker’ Subclass targets opponent’s weak spots to inflict devastating blows that can inhibit a target’s ability to wield weapons or move, strike the vocal cords and prevent speech temporarily, and more. Such a Monk could be a deadly killer, but equally could simply be a dangerous opponent from a rival school. Some Subclasses are unsubtle, such as the ‘Path of the Splatter’ for the Barbarian, which specialises in two-weapon fighting and delivering as many attacks as possible, whilst the Fighter’s ‘Gatecrasher’ Subclass specialises in shoving opponents, smashing doors and even breaking shields. The Rogue Subclass, the ‘Conspirator’ is conversely subtle, using words to distract opponents, ‘Raise Suspicion’ about them, spread rumours and sow confusion, and more, making it feel more like the typical Assassin. For the spellcasting Classes, there is ‘Decomposition’ Domain for the Cleric, which sees the Class use plagues and diseases to cleanse the world; the ‘Circle of Devouring’ for the Druid specialises in the darker side of transformation; and the Warlock becomes ‘The Urban Legend’, seemingly able to walk in and investigate from the shadows, guided by signs and omens.

In addition, there Assassin-themed Backgrounds such as ‘Former Crown Assassin’ (who never retired) or ‘Left for Dead’ (and accompanied by the ghosts who did not survive); Feats like ‘Ambush Planner’ and ‘Sleeper Agent’; and magic items such as ‘Assassin’s Garrotte’ and ‘Deck of Disguises’, all of which can round out and add to an assassin, whether Player Character or NPC. Having presented the dozen new Subclasses, Den of Assassins showcases them with an example of each. So Ketch the Headsmen follows the Barbarian Path of Splatter and is a Dragonborn who is a former executioner, now retired, but willing to become an agent of retribution should they require his services, whilst High Priest Dozart, the Cleansing Worm, is an adherent of the worm goddess Insitharra, who leads efforts to purify plague-ridden areas, but can be paid to completely remove someone from the world.

All of the examples are accompanied by minions, such as the Cleansing Worm Cultist—dressed in a classic plague doctor costume—for the worm goddess Insitharra. All twelve NPCs and twelve minions, the latter typically lesser versions of the ideas behind the NPCs are described in detail, most of the NPCs given a two-page spread which includes the various magical items they use as part of their tasks. 

In addition to the NPCs and monsters or minions, the Dungeon Master is also provided with a number of tools to help her run a campaign involving assassins. These include tables of reasons to have someone killed and locations where the assassination could be carried out, and an adventure seed for each of the NPCs. Given the wealth of detail accorded the NPCs, the hooks are underwritten and also the table entries are basic. More useful though are the Ambush Locations and Lairs. Ranging from a ‘Caravan Camp’ to ‘The Compound’, these consist of a decent, full colour map, description, and some hooks to use them. All are straightforward and easy to use, as are the lair locations, which include ‘Fort Frigid’, a mountaintop camp, and ‘The Omertá Airship’ out which assassin strikes as he travels the world.

Physically, Den of Assassins is well written and presented—for the most part. It is a little untidy in places, but is very nicely illustrated, with every NPC and minion presented ready for the Dungeon Master to show to her players. The maps at the rear of the book are also well done.

What Den of Assassins does lack is advice on running a scenario or a campaign involving assassins—whether as Player Characters or NPCs. What this means is that it is not the definitive guide to the Assassin in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and the Dungeon Master will need to look elsewhere for any such advice. Put that aside though, and Den of Assassins provides the tools and means for a gaming group to bring them into its play. That includes creating interesting Player Characters and NPCs, introducing NPCs and enemies to the campaign, and then places to involve assassins. In doing so, it presents options arrayed across the moral spectrum, so that certain Subclasses can be labelled evil, others good, but many lie in between, and even then, none of them necessarily have to be treated as assassins at all, but simply Subclasses. Whether assassins or not, Den of Assassins presents an interesting, often darker-edged, range of Subclasses and NPCs for both the player and the Dungeon Master and their Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition game.

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