I'm guessing it's the weather--the gloom and rain have chased the sun far, far away leaving the denizens of this fair burg wondering if we'll ever see it again--but I find my mind wandering back to assassins once again. Last year around this time I ran a series of posts on level titles of the assassin class in AD&D; this year I find myself watching loads of movies about assassins. The American, Red, Day of The Jackal to name a few, as well as a few spy type television series. If you like a gritty, "realistic"* look into the world of international intrigue, I highly recommend Sandbaggers, a British series that aired in the late 70s and very early 80s that follows the travails and intrigues of the administrators that run MI6--not just the field agents. On the lighthearted side there's Chuck and Archer.
*I have no clue if the events depicted in this show is any more realistic than, say, "Moonraker," but it sure feels more real.
Anyway, I've developed a few archetypes of assassinry that are helping me develop how I run the class in my game.
Zealot -- Zealots are driven to kill by their passionate belief in a cause and/or deep-seeded hatred of an enemy. They are usually considered terrorists by
those who don't share their beliefs, but are thought of as freedom fighters and, often, martyrs by their allies. As their targets are always political, fanatics usually prefer to do their work with plenty of witnesses and are often not concerned with getting caught or killed in action. The original assassins were of this fold as were the various underground movements of WWII, the old IRA, Al Qaeda, etc.
Goon -- They do their dirty work to take out rivals, settle debts, silence witnesses, or defend the honor of the "family." Goons usually rely on the audacity of their actions and the malign reputation of their organizations for protection from the law. Although quite effective at what they do, assassination is usually only a sideline to their actual work which might include racketeering, drug trafficking, smuggling, prostitution, usury, gambling, etc. Think The Sopranos, The Wire, every gangster movie ever made.
Civil Servant -- Funded and trained by the Government of whatever nation they serve,
they take out politically significant targets as a service to their country--knowing full well that they will be renounced by said country if they are caught. James Bond is the most obvious example but other worthy references include Sandbaggers, Red, and even Chuck.
Contract Killer -- Highly skilled and unaffiliated, they take professionalism very seriously; each job is a paycheck and nothing more. They usually have an equally professional network of suppliers and
associates that provide materiel and discretion, and some might have an agent who filters clients and collects payments. They are often "retired" Civil Servants, see above. Sources include Day of the Jackal, The American, Le Samourai, Matador, etc.
Ninja -- Ninjas are probably the closest in organization to the AD&D assassins guilds. They're a sort of hybrid of the contract killer--in that they work solely for financial gain--and the civil servant--inasmuch as they work for a company whose primary mission is political espionage and assassination. Historically, it was considered ignoble for the Shoguns who ruled Japan to engage in espionage and assassination so they farmed this work out to private organizations that worked in absolute secrecy; they were the ninjas. They eventually went out of business when the government of Japan decided it might be better off handling its intelligence in house. Blackwater, ISIS, KAOS, and other organizations follow a similar mercenary model. [Editor's Note: When this post was written in 2011, ISIS stood for International Secret Intelligence Service, the name of the independent espionage agency Archer works for in his eponymous series. The similarly named radical Islamic State militarists didn't abscond with the acronym until they branched into Syria in 2013.]