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Offline Chaosmark

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Assassin's Amulet -- Review
« on: November 22, 2011, 10:47:17 PM »
This is my review of the Assassin's Amulet eBook that JohnnFour of roleplayingtips.com helped create. The eBook can be purchased here.

On the whole, this is a good piece of work, and well worth the money. Those who don't intend to use the d20 rules or the Cyrene mythos (like me) will need to hunt a little harder and ignore a bit more of the text than otherwise, but there's still some very solid material for using assassins in general.



Chapter 2: Locations (i.e. The Lair)
The trap summary was a good overview of the most important traps that players will likely face.

Portal Chamber -- The note about the ruby was a nice touch, since that's sure to catch the eyes of most adventuring players who've decided to loot an assassin hideout.

Chapel of Cyrene -- Simple, plausible, fits perfectly.

Training Chamber -- Decent, but the weapon level scaling seems arbitrary, and no real description of why one would do so is given. My assumption is that you'd scale the bonuses so that they're better loot for the PCs, but it could also be to scale the bonuses of the assassins who use the weapons to the level of the PCs. The total silence on the issue is disconcerting, considering so much advice is given on usage in other areas.

Assassins Office -- Plain, simplistic, yet perfectly believable.

Equipment Chamber -- The chance of poisons coating surfaces seems a little arbitrary, and not really what a group of individuals would do to their safe haven. While yes, they do expect and prepare for the Lair to be infiltrated by outsiders, the spells and other protective measures seem sufficient on their own. Anyone able to get past those is unlikely to fall for the poisoned surfaces, which would pose a serious risk to actual guild members.
On the other hand, the training tiles were a nice cosmetic touch; exactly what you'd expect to find in an actual lair of assassins.

Arcane Chantry -- This library area was extremely well done and thought out. I especially like the detailed descriptions of the various books contained within, most notably "Pithy Advice for the Well-Intentioned". "Divinity and Omnipotence" was also good for a laugh, since it reflects reality so well. One great selling point of this area was the fact that all of the books had descriptions, allowing a GM to just drop it right into play without needing to populate it with books from other sources.

Residence -- This area seems rather bland, but the provided variations spice up what otherwise is pretty much guaranteed to be a boring location.


Chapter 3: GM Advice
As a small forward, this section is almost entirely the reason I bought Assassin's Amulet. I didn't expect everything else that came with it, but I was anticipating this portion with high hopes.

126 Hooks -- Thoroughly comprehensive, some of these did perhaps seem a bit forced, but the sheer quantity of them provides more than enough balance to tip the scales in favor of this section.

16 Targets -- These bare-bones contract ideas provide exactly what is needed for a scenario hook without imposing anything more on the situation.

Combat Tactics -- These were very much focused on D&D; applying them elsewhere takes a bit of work to generalize the advice. They're solid tactics, they just could've used a bit more generic introduction instead of just focusing on the set of feats required to make something work.

Worthy Opponents -- A solid part of integrating assassins into the campaign world, this is actually all-around good advice for group integration in general.

Contacting and Hiring -- This continues the integration of the assassins into the campaign world, offering some solid advice that needs to be thought through by any GM wanting to integrate assassinations into a setting.

Equipment -- I wish that the portable traps section had been a bit larger; the provided traps seemed creative and plausible, so more would've been better. The equipment list is rather comprehensive too.

Scare Tactics -- Excellent coverage of how to build up terror in PCs of a threat (any threat, not just assassins) over time.

Poisons -- While the quick for-against argument about using poisons was interesting, it really only applies to the Hand of Cyrene. In general, assassins are almost certain to use poisons. They're just too effective a tool to be left by the wayside, unless a particular assassin has a good reason to avoid their use.

That said, the largest argument against assassins using poison is that it's almost certain to kill your players without giving them a fighting chance. The poisons used by assassins are going to be brutally effective at what they do; by definition that means they're going to be overwhelmingly lethal. The compromise is to give your players an out somehow; some way to avoid the instant death-sentence that comes from being poisoned by a professional assassin, while still allowing your assassins to use one of the most infamous tools in their armory. My suggestion? Toxins that weaken a target, while not killing them. This strikes a solid balance between plausibility and playability.

Setting Up An Assassination -- I really like the methodical mindset laid out here. This is exactly the mindset that an assassin would have; getting into the mind of the assassin when planning the assassination is pretty much the point. The list here is quite good, but even more detail can be pulled from other sources, such as military snipers, who often have to do exactly this sort of planning. This is the sort of advice that I was looking for when I picked up Assassin's Amulet; getting down into the nitty-gritty of how to play an assassin and how to play out an assassination.

Defending the Lair -- Yes! Paranoia to the max! Crank it up to eleven! These are ruthless killers, who have many many enemies (at minimum the families and loved ones of their victims, if not the entire government). They're going to cover themselves so hard instinctively. A clumsy assassin is a dead assassin.

Setting Impact -- A good overview of questions to answer before including assassins in a campaign setting. The final anecdote really brings it home: assassins are all about the feel they give the setting. Their greatest weapon isn't the arrow, bullet, spell or poison, it's the fear they produce by their known presence. It can and will change your players entire playstyle.

Quick Tips -- Solid ending advice to wrap up the chapter.


Chapter 4: NPCs and Classes
Since I don't intend to use the mythos of Cyrene nor her Hand, and I don't intend to use the classes, those aren't getting reviewed. The personality traits might be something handy to keep around for ideas on fleshing out assassin NPCs in a rush.

"Using the Gumshoe" provides some nice scenario ideas for encountering assassins in ways other than as part of an assassination.

I laughed at the final line of the chapter.


Chapter 5: Equipment
The stats aren't useful for those playing non-d20 systems, but the core ideas of the items still apply. I'm always on the lookout for sneaky little tricks that stealthy types would use, and the gloves of blinding fit perfectly.

Legacy Items -- As was mentioned at the end of the rules details, this concept is divorced from the main Assassin's Amulet concept. It's a decent idea, and entirely worth putting out for others to use; however, because it definitely doesn't relate to assassins in general and has lost it's original relationship to the Assassin's Amulets, I don't think it should've been included. It dilutes the continuity of the text.


Chapter 6: Assassin's Amulet Integration
No real commentary here, since I don't intend to be using the Cyrene mythos.
P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B)

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Offline Strolen

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Re: Assassin's Amulet -- Review
« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2011, 01:41:09 PM »
Great review!! Based on this I would probably buy it if I needed an assassin supplement. As it is I am pretty good at making Dark Elf Assassins so this might just polish them a bit. :P

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Offline JohnnFour

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Re: Assassin's Amulet -- Review
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2011, 07:43:06 PM »
Thanks for the very thorough review, Chaosmark!

Offline Scrasamax

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Re: Assassin's Amulet -- Review
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2011, 10:11:44 AM »
Scrasamax's Review of Assassin's Amulet

The Pros - AA is an amazingly in depth guide for running anything to do with assassins and assassination. Rather than rolling out kewl characters and collections of special powers with a name slapped on them, there is in depth thought given to modes of operation, motivation, all the way from finding a mark, making the deal, making the kill, and then cleaning up afterwards. I usually have a point or six to add to most anything I read, but this work literally covers all the bases. If you need plot hooks, or idea seeds there are more than 100 listed in just one section.

The Cons - The artwork is rough and at times can distract from the material. The amount of material covered is exhaustive, and that also can have a downside. Some of the elements could have been indexed at the back of the book. But this is nitpicking.

The Final Verdict: 4/5 and if you are going to have assassins in a campaign this is worth a buy.

and apologies for taking so long, I read PDFs rather slowly


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Offline JohnnFour

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Re: Assassin's Amulet -- Review
« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2011, 11:21:40 AM »
Thanks Scrasamax for the review!