As part of our ongoing war involving sending one another distracting, productivity-crushing links during the day, Tarquin pointed me at this excellent post by limyaael, “On Assassin Characters.” Go over there and give it a read.
While limyaael’s rants seem geared mostly towards people writing stories that contain these common fantasy archetypes, many of the points made in that post translate very neatly into playing those types of characters in WoW. Let’s take a peek!
1) Your character is not special or important just because she’s an assassin.
I’d say that’s pretty much a given, but there are plenty of RPers out there who think their stealthy ninja killer is the first of its type. There’s a whole organization for them, and remember that Matthias Shaw’s grandmother headed its predecessor, the not-so-subtly named Stormwind Assassins. Hordeside, they’re called Deathstalkers. Garona is a major lore character who also happens to be — you guessed it — an assassin.
Granted, these organizations only cover two races and one half-orc, half-draenei, but it doesn’t lessen the point: assassins aren’t any big surprise in the WoWverse.
Now, this doesn’t say that your character can’t have something that sets him or her apart from the others. I’m never going to declare myself completely averse to interesting character twists. A Tauren assassin? Sweet! Sure, there aren’t any Tauren rogues, but I’m not convinced that being able to hit the stealth button is the only legitimate way you can play an assassin. The important things are these:
a) Make it plausible. How does a big ol’ Tauren get away with it? Hell, how did he come into the profession in the first place?
b) Remember that you’re character shouldn’t be defined by the twist and the twist alone. If the only thing that makes him cool is that he’s got hooves instead of feet, well, it stops being interesting once people get used to it. And if the character’s RP is simply stressing, repeatedly, how he’s the only Tauren assassin, well… where’s the personality?
2) The “thrill of the hunt” assassins are nothing new at this point.
It’s true… mostly. You’ll probably notice a theme as I go through this list. The exception always being “but if you can do it well, go for it!”
And I have seen it done well. Noxilite’s Mallek is a perfect example. What is he doing that makes it work that other people don’t always pick up on? Look at limyaael’s point d: “The author is romanticizing murder.” Mallek sure as hell isn’t. He’s ruthless, he’s a monster, he’s unapologetic about it. His player never tries to add any kind of “But! But! He’s really funny and endearing! You should like him despite himself!”
Another way I think it could be done well stems from limyaael’s Evil Overlord quote: “I will only employ bounty hunters who work for money. Those who work for the pleasure of the hunt tend to do dumb things like even the odds to give the other guy a sporting chance.” For this to work, I propose, you need to have another character to play off of, someone played by another human being, that is, not an NPC. That kind of ongoing rivalry would have the potential to make excellent story fodder. It also doesn’t have to mean that the two are gunning for one another. It could just as easily be a Grosse Pointe Blank type scenario, where they find themselves vying for the same bounty more often than not.
3) Just because the character is an assassin does not mean that he or she is an awesome fighter.
No, really. Skilled with a few different weapons? Sure. But a master of every kind of fighting in every situation is ridiculous. If your PC can fight her way out of every possible trap, what’s the fun of playing her? Bear with me here, because I’m going to talk about a character who’s a con-man and not an assassin for a minute.
Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora is brilliant at disguise, adept at talking his way out of ugly situations, and a very quick thinker. But once the fists and swords stop flying, Locke is screwed. (Unless Jean Tannen’s there. But that’s another digression.) Lynch’s willingness to let his main character get his ass handed to him is one of the things I really appreciated about the books. He could just as easily have made Locke great with a dagger. He didn’t. It made for a far more interesting story.
The same goes for assassin characters. If they can wriggle their way out of everything, we stop caring. Limitations are good things.
4) Work out the framework for acceptance of assassins.
Blizzard did this for us, mostly. See #1. However, that’s society as a whole. What about within the circles you want your character to be part of? How is a guild filled with law-abiding citizens going to react if they find out one of their own moonlights for Matthias Shaw? Do you really think it’s realistic to brag in front of the Guard about the job you did last night?
Probably not. They’re known to exist within the society, yes. But do they flaunt it? Probably not so wise to do so.
5) Reconsider the “assassin’s mark.”
This ties in to the previous answer. Is it wise to bear a tattoo marking you as an assassin? If some noble’s looking for their uncle’s murderer, why wouldn’t he or she start by having everyone with a dagger proudly displayed on the back of their left hand rounded up? Perhaps one that’s a bit more hidden could work, but if your FlagRSP description proudly points out the mark, or your character has a habit of running his fingers over the smudge of ink on the inside of his wrist in the hopes someone will ask about it, well. Now you’re just being blatant. Cut that out.
6) Know what is fatal.
This isn’t as essential to RP, but it still comes back around to believability. No, you shouldn’t have to go out and google methods or have a heap of anatomy books on your desk, but if you’re going to suggest you can kill someone with your pinky finger, be ready to answer when someone else asks you how it’s done.
7) Think through the implications of murder.
This. A million times, this. What does it do to your character’s psyche? We’ve talked about in-character consequences before, haven’t we? (I could swear we could, but I’m a failure at finding the post right now.) If not, here’s the thing: whatever your character does, whatever choices he or she makes, there need to be consequences to those actions. Maybe it’s something external: your assassin gets arrested or at least becomes a suspect. Maybe it’s internal: killing a lot of people probably fucks you up.
The consequences can be any range of things, but if you’re expecting people to believe that getting paid to take lives produces the same kind of character as the guy who gets paid to bake bread, I’m calling shenanigans.
Have at it, cats n kittens! What other cliches do you see in assassin characters? What examples do you have of turning them around into interesting for RP?