by Joe G. Kushner
The Assassin's Handbook
Written by David "Zeb" Cook and Wolfgang Baur
Published by Green Ronin Publishing
64 b & w pages
The Assassin's Handbook brings the Assassin back as a core character class
with lots of ways to customize and utilize them in a game. This book is not just
for the players, but for the GM as well. It not only provides a range of crunchy
bits in terms of feats, poisons, spells, and Prestige Classes, but also organizations that
The book starts off with the Assassin core class. This covers all the basics,
from which races prefer the career of assassin and which alignments most often
crop up, to class abilities, skill points, hit dice, and how they get along with
other classes. The Assassin, as presented here, is more Rogue than Fighter. They
get a D6 hit die and lots of stealth based skills, as one would expect. As they
progress, Assassins gain bonus feats every four levels from a select list. In
this manner, players have another avenue to customize the character beyond the
simple bounds of the class. This is one of the reasons why the Fighter is so
popular, and has the potential to do the same for the Assassin.
In addition to his bonus feats, an Assassin gains a killing blow ability
that increases in usage and power as the Assassin rises in level. The
bad news is that trying to make such an attack requires a lot of
concentration, much like casting a spell. This means that the Assassin
opens himself up for attacks of opportunity. As he
rises in level, the Assassin overcomes this vulnerability, and can use the killing blow more times per day. The Assassin
also gains sneak attack, but not at first level, and some arcane spell use.
Chapter Two provides more ways to customize an Assassin character with three
prestige classes: Fida'i (religious assassins), Houri
(seductresses), and Shadow Mage. Two of the Prestige Classes are generally better left to
GMs though, as fanatics generally don't live too long, and the role playing
opportunities for the Houri may not be appropriate for all groups. To help them
in their missions, the Fida'i and Houri both gain spell like abilities, as well
as special bonuses based on their prospective fields. For the Fida'i, it's
Convention. For the Houri, it's Pillow Talk. The former provides a bonus
against mind effecting spells; the latter, a bonus with several charisma based
skills. The Shadow Mage, the very playable Prestige Class, gains
spellcasting ability as well as mastery over shadows through the use of
darkvision, a very cool Shadow Familiar, and the bonuses to hide. This is a short chapter which could've
benefited from some class combos or more Prestige Classes.
Chapter Three introduces the new spells that Assassins and Shadow Mages have
access to. These spells are listed, first through fourth level, in level order
and then by alphabetical order with a brief description. The problem with these
spells is that some of them are too powerful. Martyr's Death kills the caster
but causes all creatures within 30 feet to make a Fortitude Save or die and those
that save still take 1d12 points of damage. I know it's a spell that kills the
caster, but it's only 4th level. This is a spell I can see players getting real
mad at the GM for using, as an NPC's life is cheap. I do see a time however when
a "heroic" Assassin might use it to kill a very tough target or buy his brothers
time to complete their mission. The spell Void Armor,
antoher 4th level spell, gives the caster a shadow suit of masterwork
full plate. Anyone who touches it suffers 1d10 subdual if they fail a
Fortitude save and weapons must save against Fortitude or shatter. Again, this is another chapter that's too short
and suffers from not having any spells above 4th level for Shadow Mages.
Chapter Four, Equipment, provides both mundane and magical means to augment your
characters. Here, Assassins can purchase drugs like Marching Powder and Opium to
augment their mental state or use wedges to hold open doors. The meat of this
section is the magic items, which include weapons like shadow dagger and shadow
sword which are invisible in darkness and held in the userŐs shadow like a
sheath. Another drug, a magical one this time, is the hashish of paradise and
the black lotus incense. Unfortunately, there are no artifacts or relics and it
is once again, a short chapter consisting of only two pages. Where are the
unique weapons or options to augment daggers and short swords?
The next chapter breaks into Skills and Feats. This is a bit misleading as there
is but one skill, Craft Poison, which provides different poison types and the DC
needed to craft them. The bulk of this chapter is new feats that Assassins can
chose with their bonus feats. This includes the highly cinematic Death From
Above, which provides the user a bonus to attack and damage when he leaps onto an
opponent. Other feats make poisons more dangerous like Extend Poison, Empower
Poison, Maximize Poison, Poison Focus, Poison Use and Quicken Poison. Another
one of my favorites, Weapon Panache, isn't necessarily limited to Assassins.
This feat utilizes the user's Charisma instead of Strength on attack rolls to
reflect his confidence with the weapon.
A Dose of Death
Chapter Six, Poisons, provides a wide range of real world and fantasy based
poisons. Want to know what Black Widow Venom does? How about Arsenic? Hemlock?
These real world poisons are listed in a massive table with poison name, type,
save, initial damage, secondary damage and price for quick reference. Some of
these poisons are capable of inflicting permanent ability damage. Some of the
fantasy poisons are truly nasty, like Angel Kiss, a poison that doesn't take
effect until the poisoned person falls asleep. Necropotent Elixir is another brutal concoction,
used mainly to target arcane spell casters as it not only inflicts blindness and
deafness, but has a damaging effect on Intelligence.
Chapter Seven, "Among Shadows & Blood," is a great section for GMs who are
unfamiliar with where assassins come from in history and what role they served.
It also serves to introduce the Vultur and Sirat, one a group of professionals, the
other fanatics. The text touches on the solitary assassin, but notes that such
deranged individuals are perfect for GMs to customize.
The introduction to the Vultur is built on in Chapter Eight. The
organization is broken into different kingdoms. Families are ruled by
the Black Council, the highest authority among the Vultur. This Council
determines if the Vultur will accept assassination of the Emperor or his
heirs. These families have to be careful though as they are a tool and
one that gets hunted down by the people who once used them to handle
their own problems. The authors provide the reader with information on
each kingdom, including the different individuals at different power
levels, what their specialty is, background information, allies, and
enemies. With all these Kingdoms and their
sub-families, the GM should have no problem customizing them to his own
campaign. However, all this information can overwhelm a campaign if the GM isn't
careful and adds all of this material at once.
For those who need more ideas on how to incorporate the Vultur, Chapter Nine
provides details not only on finding the Vultur, but also on how much
assassinations cost. Of course, when playing an Assassin character,
there are rules for joining the Vultur. There are also rules that the Vultur
must follow, The Code, which is pretty simple stuff that probably applies to most
guilds of Assassins.
Chapter Ten provides the deeper details of the Sirat, a fanatical cult
of Assassins that seeks to return the followers of the God of
Retribution to the Straight Path, a path free of corruption from kings
who buy justice. These Assassins were exiled from the mainland, but were
able to take over a mountain fortress. Those who know a few things about
Middle East history or Al-Qadim might find this idea familiar. The
Straight Path is further defined as the essence of Law that must be
followed to the littlest detail. This belief system is even provided a
Domain with granted powers and Domain spells. Just as the Vultur have
their Kingdoms, the Sirat have their leaders. The Lord of the Mountain
has his Eyes. There are seven Eyes of the Prophet, one for each of the
smaller citadels; Faith, Truth, Justice, Purity, Law, Sacrifice,
Courage. Each eye has a separate task and background information on
their role and rise to power within the organization.
The first map in the book also makes its appearance here with an overview of the
Valleys of the Sirat with the Eagle's Eye fortress and numerous smaller castles
and villages within that valley. A larger map shows the Eagle's Eye fortress in
The term Fida'i comes into use again in Chapter Eleven. Here, the term refers to
the organization of killers who are held in high regard by the Sirat. These
individuals are tested physically and mentally prior to entrance to the
organization and once they've become Fida'i, have to make many sacrifices to
insure that they follow their proper path. For example, they can have no close
friends, no lovers. No marriage, and no boasting of their association. When not
on duty, they barrack with others of their organization. In exchange though,
they're honored with the task of carrying out assassination in the name of the
Sirat, and living better lives than others in the valley.
In addition to providing details about the organization as a whole, the section also
includes notes on how players can join. At the same time, the book warns that joining may not be appropriate for all campaigns,
since it's not joining an order of mercenaries, but an organization devoted to
the Straight Path. In addition, there are bounties on different individuals
within the organization. Bring in the Lord of the Mountain and claim 100k. Not
bad for a day's work.
Another mention is made of the war between Assassins as the Sirat and the Vultur
do not get along. See, the Vultur originally only killed some within the Sirat because they
were paid to. The Sirat found this a little insulting and returned the favor
with religious vengeance. Now the Vultur are a little annoyed that the Sirat
took it personally, and so on, to point at which one must wipe the other out.
Chapter Twelve gives the GM one last set of tools: pregenerated Assassin NPCs.
These characters include Assassins of different ranks and classes and provide full
stats and background information for GMs to flesh out their own campaigns.
Assassins range from the Lord of the Mountain himself to a lone Assassin Sirat.
So what could be done to make this book better? I thought that there were too
few Assassin Prestige Classes for one thing. Three is good, but the standard that the
Shaman's Handbook set was much higher and left me expecting more from Assassin's. In
addition, the Shaman's Handbook set other standards that Assassin's fails
to follow. The first is information on using Assassins in Freeport. The next is
no Character Folio Addendum. The last is the lack of an index.
The spell list suffers the same problem. While it's adequate for the Assassin
class, it's short on spells for the Shadow Mage, which would have access to
higher level spells than those listed. More information on making your own
assassin's guilds would've been more appropriate than listing the two guilds
here. I also dislike the black tables with white background, as their rounded
edges and gross contrast are just ugly. Lastly, there should have been some
information on using monsters as assassins. I'm not talking about huge rampaging
monsters that attack of their own right, but rather, small creatures trained by a
master to kill their prey. You know: scorpions, snakes, spiders -- the poisonous
little guys that no one thinks about.
The layout is simple: two columns of text broken up by illustrations with a border of
skulls on the outer edge. For an example of internal art, the back cover piece
is in black and white internally. I personally don't like most of Anthony Waters
work, but find that the work of Michael Phillippi more than makes up for it.
That you can check out over at his part of the Green Ronin gallery. Some of
the best artwork I've seen in a role playing product is in Assassin's. The maps are clear and highly
I like the concept of Assassins as a core class more than I do the Shaman.
However, the Shaman class provided more tools for making the class part of your
own setting and utilizing it with existing Green Ronin products, whereas The Assassin's Handbook
presents lots of background information that could've went elsewhere (the website) and made room for
more rules. Still, the book does make the Assassin a core class; it does include
some spells, some prestige classes, some magic items, and lots of poisons. I'm
hoping that some web supplements will fill in the gaps in this book. If that happens, consider my rating a bit higher.
Until then, consider your options for assassination carefully and
watch out for those Houri. Their pillow talk is murder.