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Role Playing Guide: The Assassin

Tags: #Role Play Guide 
  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    First, I’d like to thank everyone who liked/commented on my thief role playing guide, as well as Paul, who featured it on the front page. It was very well-received, and I even got a request to make one for the assassin. I thought that was a pretty good idea. Like the thief guide, this will just be a few simple rules to follow, most of which will already be familiar to most role playing veterans, but I’ll try to go into detail about different ways to follow them, and why they make role playing an assassin more fun, challenging and immersive.


    1. Eyes on the Prize

    The first rule of my thief guide was to remember that your goal is to rob people, not kill them. As an assassin, it may seem like your character should have the opposite mentality, but the principle is still the same; when on a mission, your only thoughts should be on carrying it out, and killing people other than your target is not part of the mission. However, it can be a means to that end. The quicker and cleaner you can reach your target, the better, and in some cases, that can mean eliminating a human obstacle. Sometimes there is only one path to your target, and if there is an enemy blocking that path that you cannot sneak past, it makes sense to take him out, as long as you do it silently and keep the body out of sight of other enemies. Either way, needless killing while on the job is never appropriate.

    This not only makes sense from a logical standpoint, because being a ghost is essential for an assassin, but it really makes you feel, during the moment, like your character is an assassin. The experience of carrying out a contract is so much more immersive when every step is a step toward your mark. Circumventing all obstacles in your way through cunning and agility, watching everyone you sneak past go about their business as if you hadn’t just slit their friend’s throat and pulled him out of sight... you just feel so above all the pathetic simpletons who think they’re safe because there are some other people around. That incredibly badass feeling of basically walking past your enemies like they’re not even worth your time is what playing an assassin is all about for me. Knowing that you can singlehandedly unravel the best laid plans of all your enemies makes you feel like a force of nature--like when you set your sights on a target, their death is inexorable. Killing everyone in the joint makes an assassination feel like any other dungeon crawl you’d do for nothing more than shits and giggles, because it takes away that feeling of purpose and precision that makes assassinations so cool. You’re blazing a trail through the place instead of moving through it like a ghost. Which is more badass: leaving behind a pile of bodies, or the thought of your target’s guards finding their master (and maybe a couple of their cronies) dead with no idea how that’s even possible? For me, it’s definitely the latter.

    How far you want to take the “eyes on the prize” mentality is up to you. I once played a pacifistic assassin who never killed any unmarked people at all, even when he wasn’t on the job, and had a blast. But it’s also a blast to clear out a fort full of bandits in a matter of minutes without any of them even noticing anything out of the ordinary. (when you’re not on the job, of course) It really depends on your character--not all assassins are the same. Whichever way you choose to play it, just remember that you are an assassin, not a serial killer.


    2. Establish a Ritual

    The kill--the moment the assassin lives for. You’ve made it to your target, and the contract is only moments from completion. So, you kill them however you can, leave their body where it falls, take their belongings, and walk away. Correction: no, you fucking don’t! This is the thing your character devotes their life to. All of their time is spent preparing for one of these moments. This is the biggest role playing opportunity you will have as an assassin. Don’t waste it.

    What separates an assassin from a mercenary is that they kill for political or religious reasons. This means you want your kill to make a statement. This is another reason to follow Rule #1--the more people you kill other than the intended target, the less clear of a statement that kill is going to make. If the whole place is a morgue, you’re not making any statement at all, except maybe that there’s an indiscriminate serial killer on the loose. A brilliant way to make this statement is with a calling card. A specific item you leave at the scene of every one of your assassinations. It lets you take credit for your kills, gives your assassin a unique identity, and really makes it feel like your character is a practiced killer with a specific ritual. Your calling card can be a red apple, any jewel or piece of jewelry, any flower, (though a nightshade is particularly befitting of a Dark Brotherhood assassin, as it is associated with the black sacrament) a skull, void salt, or anything else you think is cool. My personal favorite is the Mysterious Note. I used the duplication glitch to make about 20 of them, so that every target I eliminated was found holding a note with the black hand of the brotherhood. Choose whatever you want, just make sure it is the exact same item every time. If your assassin favors the bow, then pick a distinctive arrow, and kill every target with it, though I like to leave something more substantial if I can get close enough to the body. An ego signature that I highly recommend to the more arcane brand of assassin is to reanimate your target and kill them again so that the turn to ash, as if you put their body to the torch.

    If you do decide to leave the body in one piece, though, remember to move it into a position that suggests a very deliberate and premeditated killing. When someone discovers a body face down in a corner, they aren’t likely to assume they fell victim to a master assassin. Put them face up, and on a surface other than the floor if you can find one. When I killed the Emperor, I laid him perfectly flat on his table, put a mysterious note on his chest, and rested both his hands over it, as if they were clasped. However, bodies in Skyrim can be pretty glitchy and hard to manipulate, and if you’re super obsessive-compulsive like me, this can turn from creepily immersive to frustrating and immersion-breaking real quick, so don’t sweat the minutia. It’s the thought that counts.

    But your assassination ritual shouldn’t just be about sending a message--it should be of personal value for your assassin. An element you can add to your ritual to enhance this feeling is making every kill in a specific way. Consistency is the key to any ritual. Maybe you create a unique weapon that you use only to deliver the killing blow to your targets. Another way to create a distinct way of killing is how you interact with your target beforehand. One of my previous assassins always confronted his target before killing them, and it was awesome. It’s chillingly cool and very immersive to come out of stealth mode once you’ve reached the room of your target, startling them as if you’d appeared from thin air, and deliver the news that their life has come to an end. The game actually caters to this nicely by providing dialogue options that do just that, and not not making them aggro unless you select one. You don’t have to limit yourself to those options, though--you could role play as if your character has some unique words they say to all their targets, and simply select the dialogue option that says something to the same effect, so the target reacts appropriately. Your ritual could also be the exact opposite; you could make sure your targets never have even an inkling of danger before you remove them from the mortal plane. Between these extremes, there is the option to have a ritual of striking fear into your target’s heart without revealing yourself. The most obvious way to do this would be to cast fear on them, but you could also cast frenzy on their allies, or better yet, kill their allies from the shadows and reanimate them them to do the deed. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating an assassination ritual for your character. You can choose their calling card, their killing style, their killing instrument, what they do to the target beforehand, what they do to the body after the fact… whatever you envision your character doing.

    Some things to note about rituals are that, if your chosen ritual is on the elaborate side, you won’t always have the time or means to complete all of it. That’s okay--in situations where you will be caught if you stick around at all, such as killing Grelod the Kind or Vittoria Vicci, the ritual won’t be as necessary, because the publicity of the killing will make the message immediately clear. Vittoria sprouting an arrow between her eyes and falling dead in the middle of her wedding speech makes more than enough of a statement. You may be skipping the more, well, ritualistic part of your ritual, but if that’s the only way to get the job done, then so be it. Any assassin knows that completing the contract and escaping undetected comes before all else. In situations like killing Alain Dufont, when the target is heavily guarded, you may have to kill more people than usual in order to set the stage for your ritual, especially if it involves confronting your target. That’s okay, too--between your calling card, position of the target’s body, and haphazard position of the other bodies, your message will get across, and it’s worth it if it means completing your ritual.

    One last thing, and this applies no matter your ritual: What’s the first thing the cops on every crime drama always say when they get to the scene of the crime-- “They didn’t take anything, so this wasn’t about money.” Alternate Ending: “Their stuff’s gone, must have been a simple robbery. Case closed.” (Roll credits) No. Don’t rob your targets. If you want, you could make part of your ritual taking one little item from each of your targets as a prize, but never sell it--store it somewhere exclusively for your souvenirs. This is the only exception. Robbing your target muddles the message of the assassination for no reason. It also breaks the immersion of the assassination when it’s constantly being interrupted by menus. Keep the looting on your own time.



    3. Keep Out of the Public Eye

    In my thief role playing guide, I suggested wearing a disguise in cities to keep your criminal identity of the DL. This applies to assassins as well, but an assassin needs to put forth a little more effort than putting on a mustache and glasses to stay under the radar. Where a thief keeps his identity a secret by creating a fake one, an assassin should have none at all. This means instead of simply becoming your alter ego before strolling into a huge city and going about your business, you should do your best to spend as little time there as possible. The less people see of you, the better, and the longer you remain in any inhabited area, the more widely your presence will be known. Not optimal for someone of your lifestyle, especially when you're there to perform an assassination.

    When one of your targets lives in a community, I highly recommend setting up shop outside of it. Your chances of being caught are much higher if you are known to be staying in the vicinity at the time of the murder. Instead, enter the city normally under the guise of an innocent traveller and find out who your target is and where they live, maybe take care of some business while you’re there, then leave and camp out in a nearby bandit camp, fort, cave, etc. (or an actual camp if you have Frostfall) to plan your attack. Emerge in the dead of night in your most sinister assassin garb and sneak into the city undetected. (Unfortunately there’s no way to do this in Whiterun, as there is only one way in and it’s guarded, but Anoriath is the only Whiterun resident that you will be assigned to kill, and you can find him alone hunting in the plains outside the city during the day) From there, make your way to your target without being detected, make the kill, and get out the same way. Luckily for us role players, there is a way to role play getting in and out of the city undetected, and it’s called getting in and out of the city undetected. Though there is no consequence for being detected in a city, it’s pretty challenging and super immersive to try and infiltrate a city undetected. You’ll have to be patient, take note of guard routes, and move very swiftly when the time is right. This will also motivate you wait until night to perform an assassination, because in a city it will be impossible otherwise. For the sake of role playing, you should always do the job at night, unless it’s a rare situation where your target is more vulnerable during the day, like the assassination of Hern or Anoriath.

    Avoiding settlements of people isn’t as important when you aren’t on the job. You’re obviously going to have to go into cities sometimes to stock up on food, talk to someone for a quest, liquify your assets, buy some things necessary for the tools of your trade--this is perfectly fine, as long as you don’t spend any unnecessary time or make any unnecessary interactions there. Do your business, and move on. Since we’re going to need to make plenty of stops in populated places, how do we retain our anonymity? This is where the disguise comes in. An assassin will want to wear a very different disguise than a thief. As a thief, it’s a lot of fun to create a sort of alter ego to become when in public. As an assassin, your disguise should have the opposite purpose: disappearing. You’re not going to want to parade around cities dressed like a billionaire playboy--you want to be a complete and utter nobody. The disguise I find the most immersive is something that hides your face, but is still inconspicuous. It should have a hood, but still be completely normal to wear, like hooded robes, (except black or necromancer ones, they pretty much scream assassin) or any hood with a hoodless robe or some fur armor. Anything that resembles a simple hooded travel cloak will do, as it will obscure your face while still being perfectly socially acceptable.

    Playing like this may seem a little, well, lonely, but you’ve got to remember who your character is--a practiced killer. This does NOT automatically make them a sociopath, but they are probably more comfortable in solitude anyway, away from crowds and people. Of course, role playing choices should not be made at the expense of the enjoyment of the player, but playing a character who spends almost all their time out on the trail can be extremely immersive and fun with the employment of a simple role playing technique that will be explained in the next rule.



    4. Travel Stealthily

    Since you’re going to be keeping the time spent in populated areas to a minimum, you’re going to be spending a lot of time traveling. If you’re a nerdy enough role player to be reading this guide, chances are you abandoned fast traveling long ago. So, how do we make travel fun? Obviously Skyrim is chalked full of locations to explore, but you’re not exactly role playing a spelunker--you’re role playing a very no-nonsense type of character, so you want to feel like you’re on a mission. I am in no way trying to discourage exploration of the beautiful sandbox that is Skyrim, it’s just that as an assassin it’s fun to feel like everything you do has a purpose. There are still plenty of excuses you can make for your character entering locations. Nordic barrows are the homes of priceless treasures and powerful, ancient artifacts, and caves are prime locations to make camp for the night. It’s also perfectly reasonable for your character to execute a gaggle of bandits in order to clear the way for themselves, or just as a public service to the people of Skyrim and some target practice. There will still be much spoils and shenanigans to be had along the way to your destination, just not quite as much as if you were playing a thief or treasure hunter. This is completely okay--you’re role playing someone with a higher purpose than romping around in the woods aimlessly, looking for something to do. This is an integral part of the assassin role play experience; the sense of your character’s ambition and drive.

    Since we don’t spend as much time in cities, or exploring random locations as most characters, we’re going to need to spice up the time spent simply getting from point A to point B, because we’re left with a lot of it. The solution is actually pretty obvious: just keep going with the role playing of keeping your head down and staying anonymous. Do what an assassin does best--stay hidden, even when on the trail. This might seem a little unnecessary, but if you think about it, the roads of Skyrim are public places. You aren’t the only one who travels, and the roads are the safest way to do so, (or at least, that’s what they think) so strolling along them is pretty counterintuitive, not just because you’re broadcasting your presence to every passerby, but also because you’re making yourself easy as hell to track, and you’re probably one of Skyrim’s most wanted.

    Playing an assassin is all about moving unseen, like a ghost--not just through dungeons, but across the countryside. You could just keep your disguise on, but not only would that be a total boner kill, (you’d almost never get to look like a badass, which, let’s be honest, is the reason you’re playing this character) but you’d also be caught with your pants down by every danger on the road, which is the exact opposite of how an assassin operates. Your first method of discretion should be to sneak around people, not blend in with them. The best part is, you don’t even have to lose the benefit of knowing where you're going if you keep the road in sight. You can travel along it, just not on it. You also don’t have to be in sneak all the time, because no one’s going to walk across a country in a crouch position, but make sure you find a good vantage point from which to take surveillance of everything ahead before you make yourself visible, and repeat when you come around another bend. By sneaking around, always taking the high ground, and being observant, not only will you be able to get the jump on anything nasty trying to ambush you on the road, which can actually save your life when playing on a high difficulty, but you'll also be able to catch some amazing scenery. One of my favorite parts of playing a stealth character is that it allows you to slow down and really enjoy how beautiful Skyrim is, and by stepping off the beaten path and moving invisibly through the foliage, you really immerse yourself in it. You feel like youŕe part of the environment rather than just looking at it. It also adds this whole Mission Impossible vibe to traveling that just feels awesome.

    Not only does stealth travel immerse you by making you feel like a badass assassin, but it’s also very practical. During one assassin playthrough of mine, I was on the road to Falkreath when I looked out from atop a tall rock and spied a dark figure in the distance. Creeping a little closer, I saw that it was a Dark Brotherhood assassin. I was only level 12 and playing on master. Needless to say, a fair fight with this assassin would be like getting thrown into a blender. I pulled back and found a perfect spot from which to shoot, the base of a large rock formation, applied some frostbite venom to my bow, and took the shot. Naturally, my assassin’s aim was not yet good enough for a fatal shot, so as soon as the arrow was released I started moving around the side rocks, and by the time the assassin had made it to the location I had shot from, I was coming around behind them to open up a can of 6x damage forward power attack. This, combined with the 3x damage shot from the bow, was enough to bring her to her knees, so after standing there for a couple seconds looking awesome, I finished the job. Not only was it really goddamn cool, but immersive as hell. Even when his opponent was much more powerful than him, through cunning strategizing, my character came out on top, and all because he was keeping his head down on the road. I probably would have gone down to one dual power attack from that assassin, but because of the advantage afforded to me by traveling in stealth mode, I didn’t take a single point of damage. Moral of the story: always travel stealthily.



    5. Don’t Abuse Game Mechanics

    No matter your class, the game is only unbalanced if you make it so. The assassin is a very powerful class, but, just like any other one, you can choose whether or not to make it over-powered. However, there are some things that I personally did when playing my early assassins that I had no idea would have this effect, and they damaged the experience a bit. A very important element of the assassin playstyle is an incentive to stick to it. If your character is a complete hit sponge, there won’t be a lot of reason to stay undetected--you won’t feel like stealth is your character’s strong suit. Now I am in no way discouraging assassin-warrior hybrids--those are actually my favorite kind of assassins, and my favorite build on the site happens to be one. There’s no reason an assassin shouldn’t be a badass fighter, and after mission after mission of pure stealth, (if you’re a good assassin, anyway) there’s nothing more epicly immersive than a heart-pounding boss battle. They key is to always focus on stamina and magicka much more than health. This will allow you to survive battles by keeping your opponent staggered with power attacks and bashes instead of just trading blows with them like any common brute. It will also force you to keep moving and dodge attacks like an an agile, precise assassin would, and you’ll need to be much more tactical in fights against multiple enemies, because if you get surrounded, it’s curtains. Your armor rating shouldn’t be too high, either, but this isn’t really a problem if you use a maximum of two crafting skills, because all of the assassin-looking armors in the game are of the light weight, light protection style. If you’re playing an assassin in glass armor, then you probably don't care about immersion anyway.

    But we don’t just want motivation to stay undetected, we want motivation to stay out of sight. There’s nothing cool about staying hidden from your enemies if they can look right at you and not notice you. For this reason, I suggest taking only the first rank in stealth, which is needed to reach all the other perks, or, if you play on PC, no ranks in stealth. Of course we want to feel like our assassin is growing in their ability to sneak, but these perks don’t actually do that, they just decrease your enemies’ ability to detect you, which breaks immersion instead of enhancing it. Having to actually stay out of sight in order to remain undetected is more challenging and immersive, but not as hard as you think. Enemies will still be pretty dumb when it comes to detecting you in the dark.

    Then there’s the other method of  hiding--invisibility. Invisibility is extremely powerful. Combined with 100% muffled movement, you are completely unable to detect and can literally get anywhere without your enemies being any the wiser. Though it is a little OP, it is also super cool, and role playing as a master illusionist who can literally turn invisible is an immersive and incredibly badass experience. There’s no better way to role play a ghost who sows fear in their enemies' hearts than by appearing from thin air with a blade on their throat. However, an effect this powerful should take a lot of time to master, have a considerable cost, and not be instant. Fortunately, the invisibility spell is all of these things! Unfortunately, invisibility potions are not. That’s why I recommend eliminating invisibility potions from your arsenal entirely. Yes, they do have a much shorter duration than the spell, but it only take five seconds to come out of hiding and slit someone’s throat. Plus, you can make them at level one. Level one. They’re just too good, plain and simple--one invisibility potion is basically a free kill, and that’s just flat-out boring.

    Let’s just get the elephant out of the room right now. I know what you were thinking when you read the sentence about assassins only being overpowered if you make them--sneak archery. Yes, we all know it can be boring, easy, and immersion-breaking, but it can also be cool as shit. The first step to making sneak archery cool as shit is to abstain from practices commonly associated with making sneak archery not cool as shit, such as hiding in the same place and shooting enemies from sneak as they run at you. This is mostly a problem with the game, because, while it makes sense that they won’t see you if you’re in the dark, if an arrow comes flying out of a dark corner and penetrates their skull, they should probably put two and two together to deduce that there is something hiding in said dark corner that is trying to kill them and is capable of shooting arrows. Once you’ve shot an enemy from stealth without killing them, or you’ve successfully killed them and one of their allies has seen it happen and examined the body, you have two options--stand up and start shooting like hell, to be used when you’re only a few more shots away from cleaning up the mess and regaining your status as hidden, or immediately hide and change position, to be used when there is still much work to be done. Notice that “move back behind corner until enemy forgets about arrow protruding from their chest cavity” is not one of the options.

    Another thing that can cripple the sneak archery experience is the use of arrows as a misdirection tactic. I’m not saying you should stop doing this entirely, as it is a very cool game mechanic that is actually pretty immersive, but once the enemy has found the arrow, the jig is up. No more luring him back to the same spot. Repeatedly shooting an enemy from sneak until they get too close for comfort and then shooting the wall behind them so that they go back to where they were, and then doing the same thing again until they die is probably the worst thing it is possible to do in this life. It is sacrilege of the highest degree. It is worse than the holocaust, 9/11, and stepping on a lego combined. Don’t do it. However, knowing there is an obstacle between you and your enemy and luring him out to investigate the sound of your arrow, only to be swiftly neutralized by another one right as he discovers what made the sound… that’s awesome. Do that.

    Thank you so much for reading! I hope you find your next assassin playthrough more fun, challenging, and immersive, and be sure to comment if you have any constructive criticism. Click here if you want some tips on role playing the assassin’s sister class, the thief, and be sure to check out the great role playing guides from other folks here on the blog. Keep role playing, keep playing TES, and have a great day!

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    Excellent guide, Gabe! Very thorough, very good work!

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    "holocaust, 9/11, and stepping on a lego combined" I can't believe that you could even begin to compare the holocaust and 9/11 to stepping on a lego. What is wrong with you? Stepping on a lego hurts like hell.

    Oh and if an arrow has penetrated their skull I don't think they'd still be standing let alone putting two and two together. 

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    Thanks a ton, Borom 

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    That's another thing--they remain alive after getting an arrow to the brain 

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    Or you can kill them by shooting them in a limb. I once killed a guy with an arrow that didn't even touch him, when I had a look at where it hit it was hovering a couple of centimeters above his head

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    Yeah, I've had that happen. It's happened to my character as well  XD

  • Member
    March 9, 2015

    Very nice guide!  I enjoy a good read in the roleplay section from time to time, and this one hit the spot. :)

    Any suggestions for assassin getups?

  • Member
    March 10, 2015

    Thanks! My personal favorites are the nightingale boots, gloves, and hood with either the guild master's armor or the ebony mail, guild master's armor with the shrouded hood, thalmor gloves, and the nightingale boots, black hooded robes with black boots and the shrouded hand wraps, and Morag Tong armor, boots, and gloves with Linwe's hood. 

  • Member
    March 10, 2015
    Another very well put together guide! Im actually inspired to play an assassin now! Lol... such characters are few and far inbetween for me, even though I love the DB questline. Now I have an excuse to enjoy it again!