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The assassin is a character class in Dungeons & Dragons. The assassin's specialty is the use of stealth to ambush and kill targets. Assassins often fill roles as killers-for-hire, spies, bounty hunters, and zealots. They typically work together in secretive specialist guilds.

The assassin class has variously appeared as a base character class, a prestige class, a character kit, and a rogue archetype (subclass).

Abilities[edit | edit source]

Power source[edit | edit source]

The assassin, like the thief or rogue, draws their power from training and knowledge. The core skills of an assassin are non-magical in nature, although they may supplement their skills with magic items and spells.

Some assassin sects draw upon the supernatural power of shadow. Such assassins abandon part of their humanity to bind their soul to the plane of Shadowfell.[1]

Basic skills[edit | edit source]

The exact talents of an assassin vary considerably between guilds and individuals. However, all assassins study the basic skills of stealth, infiltration, and the use of weapons.

The assassin's core competency is in getting close to their chosen target in order to make the kill. Methods to do this include sneaking without being seen or heard, and the use of disguise. An assassin will often spend several days of preparation to kill a single target.[2]

An assassin can make sneak attacks against an unaware opponent, dealing additional injury with precise strikes. Sneaking unseen and unheard is thus a vital skill, and the most skilled can disappear from sight even when being watched.

The assassin particularly trains with weapons which are useful for stealth, such as the dagger, short sword, rapier, and crossbow, and shortbow. The use of light armor is also important. Assassins have a finely-honed sense of danger, which helps them to avoid being caught unawares by anyone except a much more talented assassin.

Death strike[edit | edit source]

The assassin's most feared ability is the death strike, also called the death attack. A skilled assassin can make an attack on an unaware opponent, carefully choosing the perfect moment to strike. Such an attack is capable of instantly killing the opponent. Skilled assassins are capable of leaving an opponent alive, but completely helpless.[2][3]

A truly masterful assassin can even succeed at a death attack while being observed by their target, provided that they have managed to completely managed to allay the target's suspicion.[3]

Poison use[edit | edit source]

The assassin is uniquely trained in the use of poison.[2] They can apply poison to a blade without risk of poisoning themselves. Experienced assassins build a gradual resistance to the effect of poison.[3]

Spells[edit | edit source]

Many assassin sects study arcane spells to enhance their ability to make kills and escape unharmed. Examples of spells used by assassins include disguise self, feather fall, ghost sound, true strike, alter self, pass without trace, undetectable alignment, misdirection, dimension door, modify memory, and locate creature.[3]

Shadow mysteries[edit | edit source]

Some assassins blend their physical abilities with a mastery over shadow magic, trading part of their soul for a connection to the dark Shadowfell. Unique abilities of these assassins include conjuring shrouds to pinpoint an enemy's weakpoints, assuming a shadowy incorporeal form to pass through solid objects, and to travel from one creature to another via a faint connection to the Shadowfell inherent to all living creatures. An assassin's unique shadow-based combat powers are known as hexes.[1]

Appearance and personality[edit | edit source]

Assassins are typically evil.[3][4]

Society and culture[edit | edit source]

Assassins' guilds[edit | edit source]

Assassins commonly learn the craft as a member of an assassins' guild. Such groups usually operate in hidden locations, although their existence may be widely known. For example, the existence of the Assassin's Guild of Greyhawk is well-known, but the location of its headquarters and identity of most of its members are closely guarded secrets.[5]

Most assassins operate as members of a guild or similar group, such as a secret society. Such organizations provide vital support and backup, making it safer to ply their dangerous and often illegal trade. Some assassins work for powerful individuals or specific organizations rather than a guild of assassins. Only a few highly competent assassins work alone.[3]

Assassins' guilds operate in most major towns and cities, and claim a monopoly on assassination within their area of influence. Performing an assassination without being a member of the area's guild marks one for death.[6] Control of some areas is contested between multiple guilds.[1]

Assassination is a highly lucrative business. Hiring the most talented assassin in a city to kill a powerful individual can cost as much as 250,000 gold pieces.[6]

Ascending through the ranks of an assassin's guild can be dangerous. Traditionally, one acquires the rank of Guildmaster only by assassinating the current Guildmaster, or defeating them in a duel. Guild members are primarily loyal to the Guildmaster rather than the group, and most will leave following a change in leadership. A guild typically has anything from 7 to 28 members.[7]

Guilds often develop unique sets of skills. These skillsets often survive the official dissolution of a guild, and may continue to be practiced by multiple groups in secret for centuries.[1]

Notable assassins' guilds[edit | edit source]

For a full list, see Category:Assassins' guilds.

Equipment[edit | edit source]

Assassins use various specialized equipment, magical or otherwise, to assist in their craft. Some notable items used by assassins include:

  • The garotte, a cord designed to strangle an opponent[12]
  • The possom pouch, a magically hidden bag used to smuggle poison and daggers[13]
  • The vial of the last gasp, the necromantically preserved last breath of a person, used as a potion to impart temporary strength and knowledge[14]
  • Weighted sleeves, specially designed clothing with heavy weights which can be used as hidden weapons[15]

Adventurers[edit | edit source]

A lone assassin may join a party of adventurers on a temporary or long-term basis.

Religion[edit | edit source]

Some assassins work directly for militant wings of religious organizations. Such zealots are dedicating to slaying enemies of their god.

Some deities are dedicated to assassination, and serve as the patron of assassins. Among them are Pyremius of Oerth;[16] the Drow goddess Lolth; the evil deity Zehir; and the Raven Queen.[1]

In the world of Oerth, some people donate to the luck god Norebo to ward off assassins.[17]

Race[edit | edit source]

While humans are perhaps the most commonly associated with assassins, members of the class exist of many ancestries. These individuals often take advantage of synergies between their natural racial abilities.[1]

Some guilds have restrictions on race of members. For example, the Assassins' Guild of Greyhawk forbid half-orcs among their number, owing to its Guildmaster's bias, while the guild Obsidian Cave traditionally consisted of dwarves.

Assassins are common among races with strong social appreciation of murder. They are common among the drow, the vasharans, and the jerren.[18]

Certain monsters are innate assassins. These include the babau demon and the kython impaler.[19]

Notable assassins[edit | edit source]

For a complete list, see Category:Assassins.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

Original D&D[edit | edit source]

The assassin class originally appeared in the OD&D Blackmoor (Supplement 2) (1975), where they were a sub-class of thief. Their abilities include disguise, poison, additional language use. They were restricted to humans of neutral alignment.

Basic D&D[edit | edit source]

The assassin did not appear as a playable character class in the Basic D&D product line.

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

The assassin appeared in the Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.28-30, again as a thief subclass. They are now evil in alignment, can wield any weapon, and can be a dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, or half-orc. They must have at least 12 Strength and Dexterity, and 11 Intelligence. A character with 5 Charisma or lower cannot play any character class except assassin.

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

The assassin appeared in PHBR2 The Complete Thief's Handbook (1989), p.26-27 as a class kit for thieves. This assassin is described as often having a penchant for signature exotic weaponry, such as the garotte or a serrated dagger. They are often evil, but not always.

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

The assassin appeared as a prestige class in the Dungeon Master's Guide (3.0) (2000), p.29-30, and Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.180-181. Any character of evil alignment can take this prestige class, but the prerequisites of 8 ranks in Hide and Move Silently limit it primarily to characters with five ranks in the bard, monk, ranger and rogue classes.

This version of the assassin now has spells, and a unique Death Attack mechanic which requires the assassin to observe the opponent in three consecutive rounds. The 3.5 version added the ability to hide in plain sight.

The inclusion of the assassin in the Dungeon Master's Guide instead of the Player's Handbook reflects the original intent of prestige classes as an optional game mechanic allowed only at DM's discretion.

The concept of an assassin's guild is detailed in Song and Silence (2001), p.64-66.

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

The assassin class appeared in Dragon #379 (Sep 2009). This radically different version of the class has assassins connected to the substance of shadow, from which many of their supernatural abilities are drawn. The Executioner Assassin appeared in playtest form in Dragon #391 (Sep 2010), again in Dragon #394 (Dec 2010), and in Heroes of Shadow (2011).

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

The assassin appeared in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014) as a rogue archetype (subclass). This version has no spells or supernatural powers, and focuses mainly on the assassin's use of stealth attacks and disguise. The inclusion of the assassin in the Player's Handbook identifies it as suitable for player characters in general, and characters no longer need to be evil.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

The use of assassination—the murder of prominent individuals for political or financial gain—has been recorded since ancient times. Roman leader Julius Caesar was famously stabbed to death in 44 BC by a group of senators.[20]

The name "assassin" comes from a secret society known as the Order of Assassins, or Hashashin, a Muslim religious sect and military order founded between 1090 AD and 1275 AD. The Assassins were particularly known for the use of political assassinations during the Crusades. A detailed fictionalized depiction of this group forms the basis of the 2007 video game Assassin's Creed.

Reception and influence[edit | edit source]

In 2018, former TSR employee Tim Kask was critical of the assassin as a player class:[21]

"The assassin, in my opinion, is the stupidest thing that you could possibly introduce into a campaign as a player character."

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Assassin, Dragon #379 (Sep 2009), p.16-38.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.97.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.180-181.
  4. Complete Adventurer (2005), p.185.
  5. The City of Greyhawk, Folk, Feuds, and Factions (1989), p.42.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.29.
  7. Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.30.
  8. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000), p.25.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Assassin, Dragon #394 (Dec 2010), p.5-24.
  10. Book of Vile Darkness (3e), Web enhancement (2002), p.7.
  11. Book of Vile Darkness (4e)[Unknown book], p.70.
  12. Song and Silence (2001), p.52.
  13. Complete Adventurer (2005), p.134-135.
  14. Song and Silence (2001), p.56.
  15. Song and Silence (2001), p.53.
  16. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000), p.181.
  17. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000), p.177.
  18. Book of Vile Darkness (3e) (2002), p.15.
  19. Book of Vile Darkness (3e) (2002), p.173,180.
  20. The Assassination of Julius Caesar (The Ides of March, 44 B.C.E.). Historia Civilis, YouTube.
  21. Curmudgeon in the Cellar #54, 1m56s. Tim Kask, YouTube.
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