In my Shattered Star campaign, one of the players has started taking an interest in the assassin prestige class. This led to a rather interesting conversation about morality—and specifically about the assassin’s alignment requirement.
The basic question seems to boil down to this: is it always evil to kill someone for hire?
For example, imagine this scenario. A powerful and charismatic orc chieftain has risen to prominence among the tribes lurking in the nearby hills. He has gained much influence among the other tribes and is preparing a great army to sweep across the border.
- Scenario 1: A band of adventurers track the orcs to the lair, fight their way inside, slaughter much of the tribe and finally slay the orc chieftain. These are the acts of noble and good adventurers fighting for the common good. They are lauded by the nobles of the land, beloved by the populace and rewarded for their heroism.
- Scenario 2: A lone assassin sneaks into the orcs’ lair, evades the sentries and finally finds the orc chieftain enjoying the company of his concubines. Without warning, the assassin strikes and kills the chieftain. He escapes the orcs’ lair and returns to collect his reward. He is clearly—irredeemingly—evil.
What’s In A Name?
A lot of the problems we have with an assassin’s alignment is directly linked to the prestige class’s name. “Assassin” has a lot of negative connotations and baggage in real life and this (inevitably) bleeds over into the game.
Clearly those who kill for pay must be evil. But hang on a minute. Often, adventurers are paid by their employer to perform a certain task. This invariably leads to violence and killing. Sometimes that’s the point of the mission. For example, when the PCs are tasked to root out an evil cult terrorising the locality or slay a necromancer raising an army of the undead they are essentially hired killers. How many adventuring groups would even consider trying to resolve either situation with diplomacy?
Instead of calling the prestige class “assassin” how about using one of these names instead:
Does it still feel like an evil class?
Obviously, some of the assassin’s prerequisites are somewhat problematic. Putting aside the alignment restriction, in particular:
- Special: The character must kill someone for no other reason than to become an assassin.
However, it’s not exactly a herculean design task to redesign this prerequisite to something more suitable for a good-aligned (or neutral-aligned) character. For example:
- Special: Slay an enemy of the realm for no other reason than the protection of innocent life (or law and order).
This—in turn—gives the GM the opportunity to design an entire organisation (secretive or otherwise) for his campaign world. It could be devoted to the defence of a certain realm, religion or set of ideals. That’s pretty cool as in one stroke, the GM adds flavour and detail to his world and opens up a little-used option for his players to explore.
What Do You Think?
For me these simple changes transform the feel and flavour of the prestige class and make it much more viable as a player option. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.