The name of the Assassin Trade comes from “Ashashin” from the Arabic hashishi and the plural hashishiyyin in particular, The hashishiyyin were a splinter group of the Ismailis, themselves an important faction of the Shi’a, one side of the major schism that divided Islam. Hashishi refers to Indian hemp, cannabis sativa. Hashish was secretly used by the leaders of the sect, especially to give their emissaries a taste of the pleasures of Paradise that awaited their faithful service. Some scholars theorize that the Assassins were actually addicted to hashish, that will be the GM’s decision to make for his own gameworld.
The name of the Assassins first came to light in connection with the Saracens, a strange sect of Muslims in Damascus and Antioch and elsewhere in the Levant. They called themselves “The Pure” and lived without law, reputed to mix socially with women and drink in their company, to use women without distinction – even their own mothers, sisters, and daughters – and for women to dress as men. They dwelt in great, impregnable citadels in the deep mountains, ten of them with their appendant villages in the province of Tyre, called Phoenicia, and their leader was a mysterious person referred to simply as the Old Man of the Mountain or the Elder. Their leader they chose by merit, with no taint of right by blood or feudal tenure.
The hashishiyyin sect was founded in Persia, and the Middle East was historically the only source of Assassins. The Old Man of the Mountain sent agents to act on his behalf in Damascus and Kurdistan. The GM should consider spreading the Assassins’ network similarly through other such rough and impassable lands, with a number of Elders holding sway over various citadels with their villages, the Elders electing a single man as their chief. The chief would be the source of the strategy involved in the assassinations commissioned, the daggers coming from the Elder who chooses the man for the job. It could as well be integrated with the guilds of Knaves and brotherhoods of Rogues, even controlling them.
The Elders would likely hold a conclave with their Chief every three or five years in a similar manner to the national guilds in England, with smaller gatherings of a regional nature between Elders alone every year or two.
The members of the order are sworn to follow the Old Man of the Mountain as a god. The fanatical loyalty of the members of the Order is what usually strikes outsiders most strongly. The Assassins obey their chief without fear, without question and without hesitation. On more than one occasion it is recorded how the Old Man commanded one or a number of his men to climb upon a high wall and hurl themselves to their death. The command was obeyed instantly.
The members of the Order are raised from youth in its ways, in a great sprawling garden, gilded and painted and furnished with every luxury available – streams of honey, wine, milk, and water, flowers of sweetest perfume, fruits of all sorts, and the tender ministrations of beautiful virgins.
When a man is in need of killing, the Old Man has one of the men kept in the garden given a potion putting him into a deep sleep. During this sleep the Assassin is carried into the court of the castle. Upon awakening, the Old Man questions him, whence he does come. Invariably he answers “Paradise”, making all those in the court also want to serve the Old Man so. There is never a shortage of candidates to keep the ranks of Assassins in the garden full when those agents should die in the course of their work. With promises that Paradise should be his again on his return, or that his angels will carry him to Paradise if he die, the Assassin is sent forth on his mission of death with the gift of a golden dagger as a symbol of his duty.
To return to the Paradise in which he had been kept, there is little or nothing such an Assassin dares to complete his mission.
“The most blessed … are those who shed the blood of men and in revenge for such deeds themselves suffer death.”
Historically, once the murder was done, the Assassin fell upon his sacred golden dagger, thus avenging the death of the one murdered, erasing any blood debt and preventing any potential reprisal. Unfortunately, this limits the usefulness of the Assassins, making of them mere weapon in the hand of the Old Man which, as a religious zealot, is really all he ever intended them to be. Historically this was softened so the Assassin would be returned to the garden of Paradise the Old Man maintained if he returned successful from his mission, there to enjoy his reward until he was needed again.
For the purposes of the game, I updated the concept to coincide more closely with the Western idea of a professional murderer-for-hire. Whether you maintain the religious affiliation with the trade is up to your discretion as GM, but it is recommended that you do in some fashion at least.
Perhaps there are some religious sects of Assassins and some secular organizations having splintered off from them, as well. It is quite possible to establish freelance Assassins, free of religious affiliation, in secular guilds or as a part of the Knaves’ guilds, in addition to those who are religiously bound. This variety makes the social landscape of the Trade more interesting, for these groups are most likely to be at odds with one another.
The suicidal nature of the Trade can be softened further, not necessarily requiring the Assassin to return to the Order directly after completing a commission, but an Assassin is likely to always have the means to ensure his own death before he allows himself to be caught by the Order’s enemies, or before he can be made to talk by them in the event he is apprehended, but before he can be made to talk and endanger the remaining brothers of the Order. Perhaps one of the more extreme organizations might require all those being inducted to have their tongues cut out to eliminate the possibility of revealing any secrets, communicating among themselves by some form of sign-language.
The Assassin may be equipped with a wide variety of Allied Trades to aid him not only in murder, but in remaining hidden prior to and following the commission, and getting away afterwards.
With the hashish and religious zeal and asceticism, Assassins could even be framed as an order of Sacred Knights with Blessed Hero-tier holy patronage, sworn to an order that believe they follow the Light – or to the very Lords of Darkness Themselves – with the same opportunity to grow in holy patronage as they rise to the apex of their Sacred Knight Trade.
The Assassin trade is so abhorred by all those faithful to the Light that the Assassins conceal their given names, families and origins as much as they can and conceal the truth of their trade on peril of their life. Should any be exposed, they know well that death is their only reward. They are the natural companions of Knaves and Rogues, if ever they should choose to allow themselves to be known – though any guild or brotherhood to which they might belong is more than likely to discourage any such thing, with extreme prejudice. Following such a trade is in no way endearing to the street folk, either. Not all are so morally bankrupt as that. That knowledge is more than likely to scare more than a few. Their trade being common knowledge also makes them vulnerable, even among their natural allies. The great majority of them are, by and large, inclined to be lone-wolves living under cover of a lie when they travel the wider world beyond their citadels for any length of time. Most of them have very well established cover identities entrenched in the minds of those with whom they consort, cultivated over long years of association.
There are a number of ways an Assassin can be constructed by means of Allied trades, to give them different approaches and flavors.
As a Courtier/Courtesan, he may transform himself from a conscienceless creature of Darkness into an angel of Light by means of clever costuming, and also providing the means of learning to imitate gestures, customs, body language, gestures, idioms and speech of the many nations and peoples among which they may be called upon to serve, in the same fashion. This allows him to blend with the upper reaches of society. As a Rogue he may blend with the salt of the earth, but as a Player or especially a Player-Trickster he is best equipped to put on the best and most convincing performance. They move as the wolf in the habiliments of sheep to bring death unlooked-for.
Enhancing his Assassin skills by means of the Knave trades of Cut Purse and/or Draughlatch facilitates two different approaches to their work and help insure that the order not lose a highly trained and valued member after a commission is completed.
Chameleons blending into any social setting or silent skulkers in the shadows, Assassins are trained in the arts of bringing sudden death, often for what they consider “a good cause”, especially the cause of “right religion”, BUT commonly also in the service of the highest bidder.
Worse by far than the Champions who also sell their swords, these folk have a reputation for being callous, hearts hard as stone, even thirsty to shed blood, and they limit themselves to no single means of fulfilling their obligations (poisons, mechanical traps, ambush or sniper fire with missile weapons, etc.), where the sell-sword or Champion sells only his sword. The Assassins’ easy and perhaps even flagrant use of poisons alone or envenomed weapons truly sets them apart from other killers, who often have compunctions about striking a target down without facing him in a fight, fair or otherwise.
They are murderers in secret. Stealth and treachery are their primary means, with which they are particularly skillful and dangerous.
While they may use their skills to drive straight for the kill with bow or blade, they are more likely to practice patience and use whatever cover their other trades allow to wait for the most propitious moment to act, delivering death as neatly as they may, perhaps so as to make it appear accidental. Beyond the mere taint of blood of the Champion’s trade, the Assassin sheds the blood of even the most innocent for sufficient price and cares nothing for either life or the sword of justice hanging over his soul after death – indeed, when the mission is a holy one, they believe those they kill are in need of being snuffed out.
Poisoning is considered the Assassin’s Art. Poison serves perfectly well in place of a well-placed blade. Because some poisons cause a death that appears to stem from natural causes, it is viewed as the perfect weapon to conceal the true nature or cause of the death. Appearing as the result of natural causes, no murderer is suspected or looked for, enabling the Assassin to get away with no trouble at all. For the Assassin, a poison on a weapon is simply a means of insuring that the contracted death will occur whether the Assassin Strike is true or not, whether the Assassin himself survives the attempted murder or not. The Assassin may prefer to work by hidden poison over wielding a blade, as less likely to expose his presence or expose himself to the risk attached to using a conventional weapon to attack, no matter how dangerously skilled they may be in wielding it.
The medical knowledge of this trade also includes a Lore specialty in both Poisons & Drugs, as well as the opportunity to cultivate the knowledge of the Herbal trade in regards to those two areas. In the Assassins’ hands the poisons have gained such pretty names as “Secreta Secretissima”, “La Cantrella” (a compound of arsenic and phosphorous) and “La Poudre de Succession”.
The death of Hamlet’s father was supposed to have been caused by the dribbling of a vile poison into his ear as he napped in the palace orchard. In Venice a group called “The Council of Ten” committed murder by poison for a fee (1419). In Venice and Rome alike there were schools for would-be poisoners (1400’s to 1800’s). Madame Giulia Toffana, sold a mixture called “Aqua Toffana” ((arsenic trioxide) and facilitated more than 600 successful poisonings, and admitted herself to being a party to the poisoning of Pope Pius III and Pope Clement IV. Hieronyma Spara formed a society to teach women how to poison their husbands so as to gain their fortunes and win their personal freedom(1659).
The Assassin’s training in regards to the arts martial includes honing their Weapon skills and battle sense for use in aiming and striking true any and all of the 12 critical weak points of the body, such as are described in their special trade skill called the Assassin Strike. Their combat knowledge of anatomy goes far beyond the basics as understood by most trades of Warriors to rival that of the professional Surgeon, at least in regards to the 12 weak points of the body. Indeed, the trade of Surgeon is an artful cover easily adopted for use by the Assassin, certainly a viable explanation for his anatomical knowledge, and recommended for those characters created under the Intermediate or Advanced rules as a Secondary trade. The only other convincing cover for that knowledge would be that of a serious studio artist, having learned anatomy from dissecting cadavers. He might otherwise have to be on his guard to conceal that knowledge.
Between their battle and medical knowledge, the Assassin will have the ability to Assess the scores of those around him. This will only apply to AGL, CND, STA and STR from among the physical scores.
The AV for this will be equal to the Assassin’s TR, plus an att. mod. based on the character’s AWA score.
The DV for this will be equal to the total number of points by which the opponent Assessed is different from the Assassin himself in each score.
The balance of the information most necessary to the members of this trade involves the actual exercise of their trade ability – the Assassin Strike – follow the link.
Trade Lore Specialities
Beast & Herb Lore (as relates to Drugs, Poisons & Venoms)
Drugs & Esoteric Substances
Poisons & Venoms
† indicates that up to (AWA ÷ 4) skills in number of this type or category are allowed (not required).
Players have NO obligation to equip their characters with the full (AWA ÷ 4) compliment of these skills – with the understanding that they are NOT allowed to fill them in retroactively, after they have already brought their characters into active game play, just because they WERE allowed them during the Character Creation process (long since finished).
Those entries appearing in italics under an underscored skill entry define the specifics of the skill, what aspect(s) of the general root skill is/are known and practiced .
1) When training in the Assassin’s deadly art, the weapons with which the master Assassins teach their craft are limited to best able to get past the defenses of armor and reach vital organs inside the body. They must be capable of piercing the armor type the target is wearing.
Players are free to equip their Assassin characters with any Weapon skills. Assassin characters may not perform their special Assassin Strikes with any weapons other than those capable of making Piercing attacks, however.
With the Brawler Life Skill, an Assassin may improvise an appropriate thrusting/piercing weapon from materials at hand when no acceptable formal one is available (GM’s discretion).