The First Rule of Assassination

Assassination. Even the word has power, conjuring images of dark plots and darker deeds. Above the everyday murder, assassination implies skill, stealth and ruthless realpolitik.

Sadly, it is my experience that “assassinations” in RPGs tends to be of this nature:

The Evil Overlord must die to save the kingdom! If he dies, good wins!

The Good King must die so that evil may prosper! If he dies evil wins!

There is no depth, no story, no consequences to these plots. One plus one equals two and everyone lives happily ever after.

Happily ever after is not in my gaming vocabulary. My version is periods of reduced misery, just like the real world.

Trask now offers the following as ways to make for more interesting assassinations in your game, starting with “The First Rule of Assassination.” In fact, I would argue this rule is so important it should be the only rule. Everything else suggested is just good practice for the would-be assassin.

The First Rule of Assassination is: Determine if the likely replacement is better or worse for your goals than the status quo.

As viscerally satisfying as killing a hated enemy is, make certain the replacement is not more detrimental to your aims. A historical thought experiment comes to mind. You want to take over Macedonia and promptly kill the king, Philip. Hurray, you have an advantage. Too bad the next king is Alexander the Great, now with a grudge against you. Not good.

Let us assume you decided the replacement is a worthless lay-about and easily crushed by your mighty hand. Before unleashing your pet ninjas, think again. There are other factors to consider, less important than the critical first rule, but still worth considering.

For instance, murders tend to anger the friends and family of the victims. Seems obvious, but it can really destroy your long-term plans.

A modern example is the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. Fearing for his political power, Ferdinand Marcos killed him in a brutal, public shooting. Ninoy’s  wife and followers organized and became a powerful politcal force. Three years later Mr. Marcos was on a plane to exile and Ninoy’s wife was president. I call that a bad result.

Which leads me to my next suggestion. Try not to get blamed for the assassination. Again, seems like common sense, but killing someone in a way that practically signs your name is narcissitic.

Alexander Litvinenko , a large thorn in the Russian government’s side, falls ill from polonium-210 . The poison is incredibly difficult to get and very, very rare. Having someone post a sign in front of victim with “Russian Government Involved in this Poisoning” might be less obvious….might. The Russian government spent weeks dealing with the bad public relations. Sure, their enemy is dead, but they have to live with the political cost for years to come. They should have read rule #1 more closely. In this case, the replacement was the western media. A better solution involved negotiation or other less lethal methods.

Also a very helpful guideline; dead people cannot negotiate. So, big hero, you just killed Sauroman. Bully for you! So who is going to call off the rampaging and fully functional horde of Orcs? Didn’t think of that, did you? Chaos is often worse than a single foe. A single person or leadership group can be contacted, bribed, negotiated with or simply decide it is in their best interests to surrender. A horde of ravenous demons are not so amenable.

A plot hook comes to mind. The PCs have to save the villian from another group of “heroes.” Should the villian fall, the war can never end and chaos reigns. Hero versus hero is a lot of fun.

I hope this look into the dark art of assassination aids you in giving some realism to your campaign.

Reality makes for better gaming!

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.