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Join Forces Underground

We are rushing towards our first major milestone, and the office crud has been a constant danger, knocking off members of our party when least expected. We'll all be very glad when this year's flu season is behind us!

We know you're all very anxious for word on the Fulfillment System. We are reviewing the work the tech team has done this week and we expect to have a revised ETA for you shortly. As soon as we have a date that we're confident we can hit, we'll share it immediately with the community.

It has been quite a period of excitement on Kickstarter for projects we're watching carefully. Torment: Tides of Numenera closed at more than $4 million, making it the most-funded Kickstarter game in history. Richard Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar closed at $1.9 million and Camelot Unchained is going strong at nearly a million dollars raised and three weeks to go. These games are continuing to show the interest in the community for fantasy-focused RPG adventure and they're good harbingers for Pathfinder Online.

This week, Lee and the design team are taking their first stab (hahahahaha) at defining the Assassination game system. Lisa and I were talking about this blog earlier this week, and I mentioned that the people who are most likely to react badly to it are those who had visions of assassins being an uber-gank character type. As we've said repeatedly, we're going to work really hard to avoid some of the PvP pitfalls other games have fallen into, and assassins are one of those obvious traps. Any time you have a game feature that is based on killing other player characters, you're playing with fire. With your help and feedback, we'll all avoid getting burned.

The Assassin's Path

In the blog "I Shot A Man In Reno Just To Watch Him Die", we outlined a number of PvP flags, one of which was Assassin. This flag can be flown by evil characters, and gives you an increasing stealth and critical bonus, the ability to gain Reputation from completing bounties and assassination contracts, and a chance to sever your target's threads to respawn locations so he has to resurrect further away. This flag gets better the longer you run it, but resets if you kill anyone that you didn't have a contract or bounty for, encouraging assassins to be precise.

These are very cool benefits for the assassin, but didn't totally explain why you might want to hire one. Sure, there are situations where getting your enemy killed and forcing him to respawn far away could be helpful (for example, he's a weak combatant but an excellent formation leader, and you want him gone right before a battle). But, in general, that kind of thing wouldn't probably come up often enough to keep many assassins in business.

So we began to think about the Assassin flag just being the first threshold of entry into a deeper but more powerful world of abilities for hired killers. Alliances like the Red Mantis, Church of Norgorber, and Daggermark will happily train you if you throw in your lot with them. And what they train you to do is, ultimately, destabilize society and strike fear into the hearts of its leaders...

Choosing Your Victim

Each settlement has a series of Development Indexes that are central to its strength: They're required to build structures, declare wars, and reap several other benefits. If they're reduced—either by permanently removing a structure or artifact that gave a bonus, or by inflicting temporary damage on them—buildings might stop working, wars may be cancelled, and those miscellaneous benefits become lessened. A settlement has several leadership positions that in part serve as representatives of one or more indexes, potentially improving them if they have the right traits.

Each building (either in a settlement or as a freestanding point-of-interest structure) can have a manager assigned by the settlement's leadership or by the chartered company that owns a freestanding structure. Based on what that building does, the manager's skills make it better: A farm run by an excellent farmer produces more food, a smithy managed by a master smith has shorter crafting times for everyone, and a fighter college led by a powerful fighter recovers its training faster (and so can train more players at once). Each of these can also reduce its upkeep cost if the manager is trained as a seneschal.

We'll talk more about these systems later, but, essentially, settlements (and freestanding points of interest) will work better if skilled PCs are associated with various aspects of building control and overall settlement management. You'll want to fill those positions. But that also means that a blade applied by a skilled assassin can throw your settlement into chaos. When a building manager is assassinated (the requirements of which are described below), it replaces the benefits granted by the manager with a penalty for a time. When a settlement leader is assassinated, the Development Indexes associated with that position take temporary damage, potentially causing buildings to shut down, lowering benefits, and even forcing the settlement out of an expensive war.

Why do you put out an assassination contract on someone? Because you want to cripple the institutions he represents, either for temporary competitive advantage or to make it easier to win a war.

Disguise

Several players on our forums have asked for anonymity by default (whereby you wouldn't automatically know another player's name or see it over his head). This isn't something we're going to be able to do for several reasons: You're going to have a harder time recognizing a guy you've seen before as an inch-tall face on your screen using a limited pool of art assets than you would a person in real life, it would be very confusing to display text chat without known handles, and it would make our attacker/killer list system much more complicated, among other things. But we would like to offer a limited kind of triggered anonymity with the Disguise skill.

Buying this skill allows you to create a Disguise out of any set of armor or outfit of clothing. Doing this erases all of the keywords on the piece of gear and replaces them with "Disguise," but does allow you to wear armor you couldn't otherwise equip. The Quality rating of the outfit effectively becomes the hit points of your disguise, so you won't just want to make a disguise out of any old rag; the opportunity cost for Disguise is that you're ruining a good piece of gear for a better chance at infiltration.

When you wear an outfit with the Disguise keyword, a few things happen:

  • Your displayed name (over your head and in chat) gets changed to a procedurally generated generic name for your race and sex. Your facial features won't change, but, as noted earlier, it's a lot harder to identify someone purely by features in a video game anyway.
  • Your flags, war status, and alliances are hidden to both other PCs and NPC guards. To everyone, you'll look pretty unthreatening.
  • Your displayed Reputation will be set to approximately the minimum required to enter the nearest settlement (so guards won't attack you for poor Reputation).
  • To any other kind of inspection mechanics, you'll have generic responses designed to not be very interesting but hopefully not make it very obvious that you're in Disguise.
  • You can use certain town services you might otherwise be barred from (like the markets), but others (like training) continue to be unavailable. This distinction is mostly based on the in-world time requirement: It's theoretically easier to pop into shops in disguise than to make it all the way through a training montage.
  • When you go into stealth mode, you'll have a generic walking animation rather than an obvious stealth crouch so you can minimize your exposure to the sight of distant characters, but nearby characters who can penetrate your Stealth might not see anything weird about you being in stealth mode.

Minimizing your visibility is important: While in Disguise, you'll be constantly contesting your Disguise skill with the Perception skills of other players and NPC guards. Each time you lose, you'll gain a few stacks of the "Failing Disguise" debuff; this isn't visible to other players, but if it exceeds the quality rating of your Disguise outfit, your Disguise is blown and you'll suddenly lose all your anonymity (which may mean an immediate fight if you have certain flags or low enough Reputation). Additionally, getting into combat increases this debuff quickly, and you won't be anonymous on players' attackers/killers lists even if you manage to hurt them without blowing your Disguise (unless you also have an assassin's mask—see below).

The debuff fades over time if you don't gain more of it, so in a large enough settlement you may be able to use Stealth and buildings to break line of sight, hide out until the debuff wears off, then continue with your plans. But if the Disguise gets blown, not only are you in a tight spot, it's permanently useless and you'll have to make a new one for the next time.

The Disguise skill will be useful to any player that wants to sneak into settlements for reconnaissance or a bit of shopping, but it's especially useful for assassins trying to catch a target when he's least expecting it.

Assassination

The various NPC alliances of assassins (Red Mantis, Church of Norgorber, Daggermark, and others) can teach many useful things, including:

  • A utility feat called Observation
  • How to craft and improve an assassin's mask
  • Various weapon attack feats appropriate to the alliance

Observation is a utility feat that you can use from Stealth up to a certain range, and which takes a few seconds to activate. You must be flying the Assassin flag (even if it is hidden by your Disguise) to use this feat. Using it puts a stack of the "Being Observed" debuff on your target. This is the target's warning that he is being targeted by an assassin (possibly his first and only warning). Further successful uses of the feat add more stacks of the debuff and reset the decay of the existing stacks. This debuff slowly decays over a minute or so if not refreshed. If the target hides somewhere an assassin couldn't get to start a fight (like inside the settlement keep), the debuff does not decay and may actually get worse (to keep targets from easily waiting out an assassination attempt).

An assassin's mask is immediately obvious: the visage of a Red Mantis, a skinsaw mask of Norgorber, or a similar mask. You can only wear one that you've created, while you maintain the right alliance rating with the group that sponsors it, and while you're flying the Assassin PvP flag. While you are wearing an assassin's mask, your displayed name is changed to "Assassin" for all chat purposes and for the target's attackers/killers list (overriding a Disguise's generic name, of course), and your facial features are obviously concealed. Your victims cannot issue a bounty on you or a Death Curse, and probably won't even know who you are. However, wearing the mask is a ritual act that works much like a Death Curse: If you die while wearing an assassin's mask, you don't get the benefit of any of your gear threads, so all your gear remains with your anonymous-looking husk. Upgraded masks give you the option to have your husk automatically destroy itself on death, removing all evidence of your existence and keeping your killers from getting your stuff.

If an assassin is wearing the mask, alliance-taught assassin attacks key off of the Being Observed debuff to do extra damage. More stacks of the debuff means even more damage—if you can get a bunch of stacks of it on a target, you might be able to kill him before nearby allies can react. The stacks of this debuff don't need to come from you; teams of assassins can cooperate to quickly add stacks of the debuff and attempt to outflank the target for a clean kill.

If a target dies while suffering the Being Observed debuff and the system would have added a masked assassin to his Killers list (if he wasn't an assassin), the target counts as being assassinated. This triggers the penalties to Development Indexes or structures discussed earlier.

In Practice

These systems together should create the following scenarios:

  • Players will create assassination contracts for the leaders of rival settlements (or rival chartered companies) as a precursor to war or just a competitive attack.
  • Assassins may stalk a target in the wilderness, but can use Disguise to stalk him even in a settlement. Doing so, however, leaves the assassin in weaker armor than he might otherwise wear and may make it hard to survive the attempt without careful planning and positioning.
  • Targets will get a Being Observed debuff as a warning that an assassin is nearby and after them. This gives them a chance to respond rather than just being blindsided with no agency, but also might make them paranoid. Clever assassins may observe a target repeatedly without striking, to get him to lower his guard or observe non-targets to make it harder to tell who the assassin is coming for. In fact, simply creating paranoia by judicious use of the observe ability may be a successful result, because it likely keeps the target and friends on guard rather than doing something else.
  • Assassins will be encouraged to be precise in their attacks since the benefits of the Assassin flag reset if the character kills someone he didn't have a contract for (unless they're at war or have their own PvP flags). If you want to kill the target's friends to get at him, you may need to bring friends of your own. Additionally, attacks that are deadly against an observed target may be underwhelming against unexpected arrivals.

Ultimately, an assassination contract for a powerful rival will be an expensive proposition. You'll either need to include the potential value of lost gear to an assassin that can make a kill but not get away, or put up enough money to attract the kind of assassin that can kill your target and manage to get away clean. A great assassin is a careful observer and master manipulator of human behavior to isolate his target, a brutal engine of death when he chooses to make his strike, and a genius planner of getaways after the knife has fallen and the target's allies are rushing in.

It's not going to be an easy job, so you can charge a lot for it if you're good. And if you find yourself the victim of an assassin's blade, you can take comfort in the knowledge that only the most skillful and audacious of foes would have dared to strike you down!

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.