Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A look at S&W Classes - the Assassin

Today I will start a series looking at the different classes of the Swords & Wizardry Complete world.  Walk with me down this dark alleyway.  No, no, ignore the rats.  They’re everywhere in the city.  Some of the classes are fantastically well written, others I feel leaves a little to be desired.  Now, watch that pile of… trash, I guess.  It’s hard to tell. We’ll go through the classes alphabetically, starting naturally with the assassiurghk!*

A look at classes – The Assassin
A rare subclass of thieves, according to the Swords and Wizardry Complete handbook, the assassin is a member of a secret guild of killers.  In game terms this means that the ‘contracts’ that an assassin may receive are strictly regulated – however, as Chaotic assassins are mentioned, one would assume that there are ‘rogue’ assassins as well, using their abilities strictly for the advancement of Chaos or Evil. 
One of the things I like about the Swords and Wizardry version of the assassin is how ‘playable’ it feels as a character class.  Terms like ‘Assassin-adventurer’ and the mention of the Original Game assassins being Neutral, “similar to the Druidic allegiance to the powers of nature, and they are not indiscriminate of their actions” really make this more viable for a group oriented party.  Certainly any Referee in AD&D could have made this change, but having it in writing makes the ‘feel’ of the class more accessible. 
Mechanically, the class is difficult to achieve if using the 3d6 down the line approach, even harder to qualify for the prime attribute experience point bonus.  The mechanics of the class are naturally similar to that of the thief, gaining a small percentage chance to mimic thief skills at third level (in AD&D we extrapolated the skills downward to be available in even smaller percentages at level  1).  Similar to a gripe I had with AD&D, the Climb Walls skill starts way too high, and the others feel too low.  I never quite understood this convention, and think an interesting house rule would be to take the noted percentages, and allow the player to choose which ability to assign them to – for instance, instead of starting out with 85% in Climb Walls, a player could choose to swap the Open Locks progression (starting at 10%) with Climb Walls.  The only one this wouldn’t work with is Hear Sounds, which is expressed as an X in 6 chance as per the Original Game.
The ability to Disguise themselves is actually an incredibly powerful tool for the assassin that (at least in the games where I’ve seen assassins run) has been underused.  In an urban or even dungeon setting, this could be utilized for many, many situations – don’t forget to use this if you are playing an assassin!
Poison is always a touchy subject, as issues of Good / Evil / Law / Chaos are concerned.  S&W however, steers away from this in the assassin description, leaving the matter in the hands of the Referee (justly, I believe).  Assassins have the ability to use poison without the threat of accidentally poisoning themselves, another Referee decision.  In fact, very little is mentioned about poison with the exception that it is an alchemist that brews them, not the assassin himself – thought that would be a cool 7th + level ability, brewing poisons. 
I was surprised to see that there was no ‘insta-kill’ that I had grown used to in AD&D.  Instead, assassins are given the thief’s Backstab with an option to add their level to the damage.  I find this to be suitably ‘assassiny’ and think I would only add the caveat that this could also be performed with a ranged weapon when the target is not aware of the assassin.  In all, a powerful trait to have.
Establishing a Guild.  The apex of the assassin.  Much like the ‘name’ levels of the other classes this trait is a great way to integrate the assassin not only into the story of the campaign, but into the campaign setting itself. 
Overall thoughts:
The assassin in S&W feels more playable than in AD&D and other ‘clones’.  Their fast progression and d6 hit die make them a force to be reckoned with early in the game, though at higher levels they suffer from the same pain as the thief in that 150,000 experience points yields little gain after 11th – 14th level.
I give it a 7 / 10 overall.

*Stabbed in the dark.  Hopefully it wasn’t Matt Finch taking me out for criticizing his classes.

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