This column aims to provide players with tips on creating effective and interesting characters of various types. So, whether you're a beginning player creating your very first character or an experienced gamer looking to put some punch into an old standby, this column is for you.
As befitting the spirit of April Fool's Day, we offer the following variant of an existing prestige class... in this case, a look at when assassins go good.
"What is the death of single man when weighed against the survival of our nation? Is his destruction, no matter how effected, an act of evil if it averts untold suffering and death?"
Rafarann Shadowstrike, Avenger.
Avengers are the mysterious sentinels of a nation-state, sworn to protect it no matter the cost. While chivalrous knights and doughty fighters take to the field of battle in defense of their homeland, avengers fight from the shadows striking down their targets swiftly and precisely. Avengers are a variant of the assassin prestige class from the DMG that does not require its members to be of evil alignment.
Becoming an Avenger
While any character can qualify to become an avenger, most that do so have levels of ranger, rogue, or monk. Avengers use guile and stealth to reach their targets, so while a bard can qualify for this class, their flamboyance and the verbal components of many of their abilities can make the successful completion of a mission difficult. Because of the reliance on physical attacks to achieve their goals, wizards and sorcerers likewise rarely become avengers. Some avengers take levels of fighter to boost their combat skills, while a few, and very rare, paladins also follow this path.
To qualify to become an avenger, a character must fulfill the following criteria:
Alignment: Any non-chaotic.
Skills: Disguise 4 ranks, Hide 8 ranks, Move Silently 8 ranks.
Special: The character must have killed an enemy leader or champion in defense of his homeland or nation.
Class Skills (4 + Int modifier per level): Balance (Dex), Bluff (Cha), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Decipher Script (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Disable Device (Int), Disguise (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Forgery (Int), Gather Information (Cha), Hide (Dex), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Listen (Wis), Move Silently (Dex), Open Lock (Dex), Search (Int), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Spot (Wis), Swim (Str), Tumble (Dex), Use Magic Device (Cha), and Use Rope (Dex).
As an avenger, you excel at striking from the shadows, often cutting down your foe before he realizes you are a threat. Your skills improve your chances of reaching your target undetected while your class abilities increase the chance of a quick kill.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Avengers are proficient with the crossbow (hand, light, or heavy), dagger (any type), dart, rapier, sap, shortbow (normal and composite), and short sword. Avengers are proficient with light armor but not with shields.
Sneak Attack: This is exactly like the rogue ability of the same name. The extra damage dealt increases by +1d6 every other level (2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 10th). If an avenger gets a sneak attack bonus from another source the bonuses on damage stack.
Death Attack: If an avenger studies his victim for 3 rounds and then makes a sneak attack with a melee weapon that successfully deals damage, the sneak attack has the additional effect of possibly either paralyzing or killing the target (avenger's choice). While studying the victim, the avenger can undertake other actions so long as his attention stays focused on the target and the target does not detect the avenger or recognize the avenger as an enemy. If the victim of such an attack fails a Fortitude save (DC 10 + the avenger's class level + the avenger's Int modifier) against the kill effect, she dies. If the saving throw fails against the paralysis effect, the victim is rendered helpless and unable to act for 1d6 rounds plus 1 round per level of the avenger. If the victim's saving throw succeeds, the attack is just a normal sneak attack. Once the avenger has completed the 3 rounds of study, he must make the death attack within the next 3 rounds.
If a death attack is attempted and fails (the victim makes her save) or if the avenger does not launch the attack within 3 rounds of completing the study, 3 new rounds of study are required before he can attempt another death attack.
Poison Use: Avengers are trained in the use of poison and never risk accidentally poisoning themselves when applying poison to a blade.
Spells: Beginning at 1st level, an avenger gains the ability to cast a number of arcane spells. To cast a spell, an avenger must have an Intelligence score of at least 10 + the spell's level, so an avenger with an Intelligence of 10 or lower cannot cast these spells. Avenger bonus spells are based on Intelligence, and saving throws against these spells have a DC of 10 + spell level + the avenger's Intelligence bonus. When the avenger gets 0 spells per day of a given spell level he gains only the bonus spells he would be entitled to based on his Intelligence score for that spell level.
The avenger's spell list appears below. An avenger casts spells just as a bard does.
Upon reaching 6th level, at every even-numbered level after that (8th and 10th), an avenger can choose to learn a new spell in place of one he already knows. The new spell's level must be the same as that of the spell being exchanged, and it must be at least two levels lower than the highest-level avenger spell the avenger can cast. An avenger may swap only a single spell at any given level, and must choose whether or not to swap the spell at the same time that he gains new spells known for that level.
Save Bonus against Poison: The avenger gains a natural saving throw bonus to all poisons gained at 2nd level that increases by +1 for every two additional levels the avenger gains.
Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Starting at 2nd level, an avenger retains his Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) regardless of being caught flat-footed or struck by an invisible attacker. (He still loses any Dexterity bonus to AC if immobilized.) If a character gains uncanny dodge from a second class the character automatically gains improved uncanny dodge (see below).
Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): At 5th level, an avenger can no longer be flanked, since he can react to opponents on opposite sides of him as easily as he can react to a single attacker. This defense denies rogues the ability to use flank attacks to sneak attack the avenger. The exception to this defense is that a rogue at least four levels higher than the avenger can flank him (and thus sneak attack him).
If a character gains uncanny dodge (see above) from a second class the character automatically gains improved uncanny dodge, and the levels from those classes stack to determine the minimum rogue level required to flank the character.
Hide in Plain Sight (Su): At 8th level, an avenger can use the Hide skill even while being observed. As long as he is within 10 feet of some sort of shadow, an avenger can hide himself from view in the open without having anything to actually hide behind. He cannot, however, hide in his own shadow.
Avenger Spell List
Avengers choose their spells from the following list:
1st Level: disguise self, detect poison, feather fall, ghost sound, jump, obscuring mist, sleep, true strike.
2nd Level: alter self, cat's grace, darkness, fox's cunning, illusory script, invisibility, pass without trace, spider climb, undetectable alignment.
3rd Level: deep slumber, deeper darkness, false life, magic circle against good, misdirection, nondetection.
4th Level: clairaudience/clairvoyance, dimension door, freedom of movement, glibness, greater invisibility, locate creature, modify memory, poison.
Playing an Avenger
As an avenger, you are dedicated to the defense of your nation or homeland; virtually every mission you undertake has this as its ultimate objective. Your ability to blend into the background is paramount to your success (and survival). While other defenders of the realm proudly carry their standards and heraldic devices into battle, you crave anonymity.
Avengers often work on their own, but when the elimination of a particularly powerful or well-defended foe is called for, you may work with likeminded individuals or insinuate yourself among a group of adventurers (who you then manipulate into killing the designated target).
Avengers normally belong to a specific secret guild or organization. Sometimes the government or ruler of a nation sponsors this group, while other guilds may act independently. Membership of these groups is normally by invitation only (and invitations are extended only be careful questioning and by trials successfully undertaken). If you are a member of an independent avenger guild, you may masquerade as an adventurer or hold a job in the nation's government or armed forces. In this way, you gain the experience, intelligence and information necessary to plan your next mission. Members of a government-controlled guild probably have no other job (except that required to maintain their cover and income).
In combat, you eschew the concept of a fair fight; to you, honor comes from the completion of your goals, not with the tactics used. The only thing that truly matters is eliminating your target. Thus, you rarely engage in a straightforward, stand-up fight. You prefer to strike from the shadows using your death attack and sneak attack abilities to drop your foe as quickly as possible. Because you rarely engage in the wholesale slaughter of your enemies-crude tactics better suited to warriors and other less imaginative types-and almost never control the battlefield afterwards, you need to kill your opponent quickly and quietly. Once he is down, you often perform a quick coup de grace to ensure death and-if the foe is sufficiently powerful-take additional steps to render his body unsuitable for raise dead or other restorative magics.
Becoming an avenger is often difficult because the secrecy surrounding such organizations is hard to penetrate. Most often, membership is by invitation only. As a young, patriotic adventurer, you made a name for yourself by, perhaps, defeating marauding bandits or turning back the depredations of raiding humanoids. The avengers then contacted you clandestinely, and engaged you to carry out a number of low-priority missions designed to test your suitability for membership.
It is very unlikely that your membership will ever become common knowledge-you may only ever tell a few, trusted individuals. Once you become an avenger, you undergo intense training designed to develop the special skills you need to carry out your missions. Often, between adventurers or missions, you return to your guild for more training. As a high-level avenger, you may even become responsible for the recruitment and training of prospective members.
As an avenger, you realize that the use of stealth and guile allow you to better complete your mission while minimizing loss of life (and enhancing your own chance of survival). Thus, investing your skill points in ranks of Bluff, Disguise, Hide, Move Silently, and other skills that enable you to access protected or hidden areas is a good idea.
As a member of a clandestine organization, you are expected to use your own resources to carry out missions. They do provide you with any non-attributable aid you require, such as spellcasting and the like, but rarely provide equipment that can be traced back to them. Rarely, in matters of vital importance, you may be lent equipment or magical items deemed vital to the successful completion of your mission. Sometimes on such missions, avengers use melee weapons crafted from thinaun (Complete Warrior 136). Such weapons trap the soul of those they slay, making raise dead, resurrection, or the like impossible (after all, if your missions involve eliminating your homeland's foes, you want to make sure that they stay eliminated). Once used, a thinaun weapons is rarely re-used, instead being cloaked in protective magics and hidden so that the trapped soul never escapes.
Although an avenger's guild rarely provides him with significant amounts of equipment or other aid, they do share the results of their considerable intelligence gathering. (Avenger guilds often include one or more allied diviners). Such aid could include the location and main defenses of a target or details on his particular vulnerabilities.
Avengers in the World
"Before we knew it, Gheranker was dead, and her killer was gone. We never knew what hit us."
Drakon Zelk, survivor of the Bloody Eye Clan
Adventuring avengers are either carrying out a mission for their guild or engaged in intelligence-gathering activities. The life of an adventurer provides the perfect cover: her ability with weapons, propensity for violence, and ability to find trouble provides the perfect disguise for an avenger.
Most avengers are members of a specific guild or organization dedicated to defending their homeland. Such groups are highly organized. The guildmaster dictates overall planning but appoints a number of trusted lieutenants to oversee the guild's day-to-day operations.
Often, the guild is subdivided into a number of cells, each dedicated to nullifying a particular kind of threat. For example, one cell could watch over the orcs inhabiting the nearby wilderness, assassinating any chieftain rising to prominence, while another group performs a similar function in a neighboring hostile kingdom. Avengers also target internal threats to a nation's stability. Rogue noblemen plotting against the crown and even high priests of dissident religions have all felt the ire of the avengers.
Most normal people never knowingly encounter an avenger . In many cases, their existence is little known outside select circles. Those protected by such an organization, however, are normally glad of their efforts; after all, often their precise strikes avert a war or stop the depredations of marauding bands of humanoids and the like. Enemies of the state, obviously, are hostile towards avengers because they are very difficult to defend against (and are implacable foes).
Characters with ranks in Knowledge (local) can research avengers to learn more about them. When a character makes a skill check, read or paraphrase the following, including the information from lower DCs.
DC 10: Avengers are members of a secret society dedicated to defending their homeland.
DC 15: Avengers use stealth, guile, and misdirection to destroy their foes.
DC 20: At higher levels, avengers can hide in plain sight, making them truly formidable enemies. All avengers have the ability to kill with a single, precise blow.
DC 30: Characters who achieve this level of success can learn important details about a specific avenger in your campaign, including where she operates, and the kind of activities she undertakes.
Due to their obsession with secrecy, finding an avenger is difficult. One might exist within a party, without other party members even knowing his or her true nature. Undertaking tasks designed to further their agenda is a good way of coming to their attention. Alternatively, many avengers congregate in the same places that thieves patronize. Spending time and gold in such establishments could lead to a meeting with a (probably low-level) avenger sent to determine the threat, if any, posed by the character.
Avengers in the Game
The avenger is an easy prestige class to include in your home campaign; every nation-state seeks to protects its interests both at home and abroad and thus (but possibly only occasionally) requires the services of the avengers.
Player's who enjoy intrigue and running stealthy characters will enjoy the challenges posed by this prestige class. In particular, if a nation has a particular threat against it-a bordering evil-aligned kingdom for example-the inclusion of an avenger in the adventuring party makes perfect sense. Such a character could be tasked periodically with killing a particular general or powerful enemy spellcaster-jobs for which an adventuring party is eminently suited.
Creating a new name for a given organization is a great way to personalize this prestige class. Many kingdoms and organizations have avengers, but not all such groups operate in the same way. For example, a fanatically lawful state religion may be protected by "The Brotherhood of the One True Way," while another such group may be called simply "The Shadow Lions." Some particularly dramatic groups may always kill their targets in a certain way or leave a particular kind of calling card behind to claim their kills. Such touches can add flavor and depth to your campaign world without tinkering with the mechanics of the prestige class.
Sample Avenger: Guildmistress Immonara
Tall and thin, this human woman has a horribly scarred face. Her light gray eyes stare intensely at you before sliding away to examine your companions. She carries two rapiers and wears normal traveler's clothes.
Guildmistress Immonara CR 15
Guildmistress Immonara had the following statistics before HD ability score increases and equipment bonuses: Str 14, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 8.
Any additional advice you would include for this prestige class? Let us know, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Creighton Broadhurst is a member of Living Greyhawk's Circle of Six and a mad-keen World of Greyhawk fan. He has two young sons (nicknamed "Ghengis" and "Khan"). His house is an oasis of tranquility, tidiness, and order. In his spare time, he tries to survive the Savage Tide.
©1995-2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved.