Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Assassins of Ur-Hadad

With so many people participating in the "A to Z Blogging Challenge" this year, I thought I should try my hand at it. If you're not familiar, you try to write a post for every letter of the alphabet within the month of April. Sure, it can be done. To keep me on track, I decided that I'd set a few ground rules for myself. #1 - Every post will be about Ur-Hadad. #2 - Every post will include something gamable. #3 - I'm not worrying so much about that whole "April deadline" thing. And so, here's the first installment of Ur-Hadad: A to Z. Plus, I'm getting a late start on the whole thing, so forget doing it all in one month. 


It would be entirely inaccurate to suggest that flocks of assassins haunt the streets of Ur-Hadad, that guilds of shadowy killers flit across moonlit terraces and down darkened alleys stalking their prey. The Grand Vizier himself has decreed that all such institutions of organized murder are illegal within the city's walls and, as such, they must not exist there. To suggest otherwise, to suggest that the Grand Vizier's word was any less than inerrant perfection, would be treason as well as a base and treacherous lie.

There are no assassins nor assassins' guilds in Ur-Hadad; it has been decreed and it must be so.

And yet, deaths still happens. Murder still occurs. People are still poisoned.

Surely, all these things are the acts of independent killers, unprofessional louts who murder out of passion or necessity, not out of devotion to the practice of the art of death nor out of direct financial motivation. Surely, those thousands of dead by mysterious or violent causes every year are not the act of assassins (for there may be no assassins in the First City), but the acts of random violence so common when so many thousands upon thousands of human beings gather in one place.

This is the myth we tell ourselves at night so we can sleep, unafraid of the knives and vipers lurking out of eye's wary reach.

The Lies Behind The Truth

There may be no assassins guilds in Ur-Hadad, but there are plenty of organizations who will take a person's money in return for an expertly-slain corpse. Mute monks who brew poisons deep within claustrophobic temples on the Avenue of One Thousand Gods murder as freely as slum-bound cultists of forgotten forces of Chaos. Cash-strapped would-be revolutionaries might consider alternate sources of funding, while leagues of gentleman sportsmen might accept a nobleman's challenge and wager for a particularly difficult trophy. Secret societies lie to the world and to themselves daily about who they are and what they do.

Should your player characters face their would-be murderers among the streets and wharves of Ur-Hadad, you'll need to know what they're facing. Each chart below uses the d11 mechanic that I discussed last Friday.

Number

How many assassins? Roll d11. If Things Get Better, they're 1d3 levels lower than the PCs. If Things Get Worse, they're 1d3 levels higher.

Attire

How are they dressed? Roll d11. 1 - Animal-like regalia that mingles feather, fur and fabric with ornate masks. 2 - Ninja-style peejays. 3 - Bandages and rags like lepers. 4 - Cultist robes in a distinct color. 5 - Full but flexible-looking armor that covers the body completely. May or may not have a demon face-type mask. 6 - Wearing body suits made from the tanned hides of (1d5; 1) ghouls, (2) bears, (3) elephants, (4) beastmen or (5) people!. 7 - Loose, flexible clothing that allows for lots of free movement. Also, they have no sense of humor. 8 - Like respectable, normal members of society. If the city guard sees you fighting them, they're likely to side with the assassins. 9 - Like hunters in the woods despite the urban environment. 10 - Mostly if not entirely naked. Watch where you put your hands, buddy. Also, critical hit tables can be brutal. 11 - Everybody's dressed differently, but everyone is dressed like (1d5; 1) some minor god so incredibly obscure that you probably won't get the reference, (2) characters from a popular play or heroic story, (3) a monster from local mythology or fairy tales, (4) popular musicians and bards or (5) well-known works of art. Things Get Better: the assassins' costumes are bright and easy to spot; chasing them through the crowd would be easier than normal. Things Get Worse: the assassin's costumes are designed for stealth and make it easy for them to hide in shadows and hard to spot by the PCs.

But They're Really...

Who are the assassins, really? Roll d11. 1 - A cult devoted to the resurrection of a long-forgotten Chaos Lord. 2 - A secret society of revolutionaries devoted to the violent overthrow of the ruling classes. 3 - Bored nobles who have already hunted all of the prey they deem "worthy" and now have moved on to targeting more dangerous game. 4 - Beastmen who manage to survive and thrive in the First City by being the toughest and meanest things on (or under) the street. 5 - Monks so devoted to the cause of Order that they've all cut out their own tongues so they may not accidentally breach their vow of silence. 6 - Possessed by aliens from beyond that drink the fear of those about to die. 7 - Robots fulfilling some secret agenda related to their eventual overthrow of humanity's dominance over the world and the First City. 8 - The larval stages of extraplanar demons incubating inside of human hosts while they develop their capacity for cruelty and depravity. 9 - Secretly serpent men who have disguised themselves as humans to resume their rightful place as man's masters. 10 - Quasi-religious lotus-eaters, these madmen view murder as a sacrament and the consumption of narcotics a duty. Yeah, real stable guys. 11 - Psionic projections by dreaming cultists who believe that they are not culpable for the evil they do in their dreams, and so use their dream-selves to explore darker urges like murder. During they, they're really nice folks that are slowly being twisted to Chaos. Things Get Better: The assassins' particular schtick provides them with a weakness that the PCs can exploit. Things Get Worse: The assassins' have extraordinary powers related to their schtick that will make them even more challenging (perhaps summoning nightmare beasts for result 11, for instance).