NPC assassination defences


What sort of defenses would a mid to high level NPC have against assassination?

To provide context, they live in a large city and are among the leaders of the city. The city is has a definite Lawful Evil bend, and the laws are written so that, if you are powerful enough, you can get away with almost anything. It is less that, if you killed your most powerful enemy, that you would be acquitted in court, but the trial would be delayed, and then key evidence would be declared inadmissible. The trial might never happen, or the prosecution might be hindered enough that a conviction would be unlikely. Or you might offer a scapegoat and have him convicted instead. (Even better if you make another of your enemies the scapegoat.)

The city runs on an ever shifting set of alliances, both between equals and patronage style. As a result, having several lower level NPCs to help with the defenses is perfectly reasonable.

I've already though of Alarm spells and Contingency+Defensive/Escape spell. However, Dim Door still lets them bring in the caster and three others. The others should get an attack in the surprise round, which can be rather debilitating.

I know that there is some ring out there designed for this kind of high stakes political intrigue. Basically, it lets you detect poison, and it thin enough to hide under other, possibly more mundane rings. I always thought it was flavorful, and it would help in the less direct assaults that could be expected in this setting. Can't remember its name for the life of me though.

Maybe he should look into binding some otherworldly creature with constant see invisible? That seems like a major threat. If it could also turn invisible, that would just be gravy.

Liberty's Edge

nightingale floors were developed for this kind of political atmosphere and creaking floorboards tend to counteract invisibility. food tasters eliminate fast acting poisons. spellcasters on overwatch with scying magic items and roving bands of guards should make assassination runs much harder. the elites could afford permanently bound guardian creatures and untiring golems for protection. contingency based teleport and protection spells would be very common in this environment.

With the spell casters, the target could hire a large troupe of bards to run around with double duty of spell casting and entertainment so that they appear inconspicuous. They have access to enough of the right kind of spells to counter many of the espionage problems, their spontaneous casting allows them to decide which is appropriate for the situation, and they can have enough combat prowess to at least delay until the burlier lots show up (and they can act as back up after that).

For the rank and file level of spellcasting, bards work well enough. Of course more highly trained wizards would be hired due to their longer term versatility, but they are the next pay-grade up.

A good spymaster should be an obvious cohort for a high-level high-influence figure. Inquisitor, or certain bards, or maybe an alchemist all feels like fitting classes that could do the job.

Permanent Teleport Trap should be in place for the High-level NPC's bedroom and other important locations. As Dimension Door is a conjuration (teleport) spell, I'd rule that it's affected by Teleport Trap as well.

The Teleport Trap should lead directly to the dungeons, where another Teleport Trap keeps them in place.

Thought about this a bit more now.

Well, first of, there are ways to limit dimension dooring. First off you must be able to know where to dimension door to; if you don't know exactly where the NPC is you can't teleport to her. If she has money and the contacts for it, she'd probably get either of these options:
1. A permanent Create Lesser Demiplane for her personal chambers, since you cannot do interplanar travel with teleport. Cost: 19360 for 39*10ft cubes of extradimensional space (needs 13th level wizard) plus 2030 for a permanent portal (needs 17th level wizard or more cash for scroll).
2. Teleportation Trap, leading into some dangerous thing (a good big captured monster might be a good idea). Cost: 9610 for a permanent one covering 13*40ft cubes.

And of course, lead lining everywhere to prevent scrying is an obvious measure, as well as good, heavy doors with both mundane and magical locks. Important doors should have at least one alarm trap and at least one of the locks should be made out of adamentine.

Remember also that as the DM, you can make up new stuff a bit - a new spell or customized magic item not only makes the encounter more challenging for the players, it can be a great reward for them afterwards!

But, as a powerful figure, the NPC probably doesn't take care of everything personally - they probably have a chief of security. In this case, how about a long-dead but reliving relative, a former artifact hunter and assassin for a cult of Dispater. She still holds the First King's favor, but since the cult is all but dead she serves as the NPC's right hand, both bodyguard and spymaster.

This is Dame Michail the Basilisk.:

Exhuman Skeletal Champion Bard(Archaeologist) 7, Ranger 1 CR ~9
LE Medium undead
Init +6; Senses Perception +22
AC 21, touch 12, flat-footed 21 (+7 armor, +2 natural, +2 dex)
hp 80 (d10+9d8+30)
Fort +7, Ref +9, Will +8; +4 vs language-dependant and bardic
Defensive Abilities: Undead traits, damage reduction 5/bludgeoning, immune to cold, channel resistance 4, uncanny dodge, evasion

Speed 30 ft.
Melee Mwk Guisarme +13/+8 (2d4+7, x3) or trip +15 or 2 claws +12/+12 (1d4+5)
Ranged Mwk Net +10T or tanglefoot bag +10T
Special Attacks: Favored Enemy (Human), Archaeologist's Luck 7/day (+2 for 3 rounds), Arcane Strike (+2 dmg)

Spells Known (DC13+lvl) (9/8/5/2):
0 - Detect magic, ghost sound, haunted fey aspect, light, mage hand, prestidigitation, message, read magic, sift.
1 (5/day) - alarm, anticipate peril, charm person, grease, see alignment, silent image, undetectable alignment, unseen servant
2 (4/day) - alter self, blood biography, invisibility, pyrotechnics, glitterdust
3 (2/day) - gaseous form, scrying

Str 20, Dex 14, Con 8, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 16
Base Atk +7; CMB +12; CMD 24
Feats Improved Initiative, Combat Expertise, Improved Trip, Lingering Performance, Greater Trip, Arcane Strike, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills: Acrobatics +9, bluff +10, climb +12, disguise +7 diplomacy +10, disable device +12, intimidate +11, knowledge (local, nobility, arcana) +12, knowledge (all others) +9, linguistics +10, perception +22, ride +6, sense motive +13, sleight of hand +6, spellcraft +9, stealth +14, survival +4, swim +8, use magic device +10
Languages Common, Elven, Infernal, Draconic, Gnomish, Dwarven, Halfling, Celestial
Combat Gear: +1 Mithral Agile Breastplate, Belt of Giant Strength +2, cap of human guise, Mwk Guisarme, Mwk Net, 3 tanglefoot bags, 3 thunderstones, 3 smokesticks, scroll of invisibility, potion of bull's strength, wand of inflict light wounds, scroll of see invisibility

Other abilities: Take 10 on disable device and knowledge checks, take 20 on knowledge 1/day, tracking, wild empathy +4.

Note that this isn't primarily a combat opponent for the PC's - it's a master of intelligence, using her spells and skills to observe and keep up to date on anyone she has reason to believe will attack her master. However, she is also her master's bodyguard, and stands guard over her master while they're uncapable of defending themself (such as in sleep etc). In combat, she tries to disable and slow down attackers while calling for reinforcements from her masters standard guards.

If the NPC has access to both a decent-leveled cleric and a decent-leveled wizard, they could set up a Teleport Trap forcing intruders into an Unhallowed Dungeon with a constant Dimensional Anchor. But that might be overkill for the party.

But really, it depends on a lot of things - what you mean with mid to high levels (really, from what I know that PC could be 8th level or 14th level, and those are completely different in terms of wealth and power), what station they have, what wealth they have, what their personality is like... So, more info needed!

Set off some kind of contingency trap. When a teleport effect is triggered, it should trigger blinding flashes, Dispel Magic, and other effects.

You should assume that any prominent figure with access to divination spells on a regular basis is using them daily/weekly/etc to determine if there are any active assassination plots against them. Thus if you're not warded against commune/contact other plane/etc, you can assume that your cover is blown more or less automatically. This is just the magical intel side of the house (analogous to signal intelligence and cryptanalysis in our own world). In terms of human intelligence, of course they're going to have a spymaster effectively using gather intelligence and running a spy network. This is, of course, if the NPC is competent, wants to live, and has lived up until now. If it is someone brand new to prominence, they might be more sloppy.

EWHM wrote:
You should assume that any prominent figure with access to divination spells on a regular basis is using them daily/weekly/etc to determine if there are any active assassination plots against them. Thus if you're not warded against commune/contact other plane/etc, you can assume that your cover is blown more or less automatically.

To be fair, Contact Other Plane can be hard to get access from if you're not a caster yourself, due to it's inherent huge risks. Commune is easier to get access to, but unless you find a cleric of the right god it's highly likely that the asked deity simply doesn't know the answer (good chance norgorber knows about an assassination plot, not so much abadar).

On contact other plane, if your GM allows you to take 10, you do. If he doesn't, you use the priest of law ability to 'take 11'. It's easier to assume 'best practices'. Most deities have an intel network that will put yours to shame.

Contact other plane wrote:
Avoid Int/Cha Decrease: You must succeed on an Intelligence check against this DC to avoid a decrease in Intelligence and Charisma. You cannot take 10 on this check.

I would say using the take 11 is clearly against the spirit of the rules even if it could be possible by RAW. And I don't think the DM should do that kind of thing against the players.

EWHM wrote:


On contact other plane, if your GM allows you to take 10, you do. If he doesn't, you use the priest of law ability to 'take 11'. It's easier to assume 'best practices'. Most deities have an intel network that will put yours to shame.

The spell specifically says that you cannot take 10.

The NPC's in question are around level 12-14.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Ilja, use the law domain power and you're taking 11. Not really taking 10, just forcing the die to come up 11.

EWHM, that was the point - yes, it may be legal by RAW, but it's clearly against the spirit of the rules.

Regardless, an NPC having constant access to a mid-level wizard AND a cleric working in tandem to cast contact other plane and/or having access to a high-level cleric that casts Commune and their god just happens to know what some random mortals on a plane is doing, will to the players feel very arbitrary and a lot like "rocks fall you die" (though no dying in this case); it's a very arbitrary means to just "auto-win" in the specific context (in this case against a surprise attack).

It may be different from group to group, but in my group the players like to know how I did stuff. They often afterwards ask how a plot worked or what an enemy actually did - they are curious about how the NPCs work in the world.

Having an enemy just "autowin" in that way will make for a pretty boring scenario for them. Having specific defensive methods though, which the players can possibly (even if it's unlikely unless they're on the lookout for them) ruin or at least be aware of - in the case of Michail above, if they regularly set Alarm traps they might be able to detect when she enters their room in gaseous form, or by using their own intelligence gathering they might be able to get to know that she has asked about them, or by using different kinds of magical sensors they can get to know about the teleport trap etc - those sort of things make the players feel as if they and the NPC play by the same rules - because if there's, say, a murder mystery and the party cleric casts Commune, it's very unlikely that I'd give the proper "it was the butler with the pistol in the library" answer (since it ruins the adventure).

If the players DO manage to find out one or a few of the defensive mechanisms and bypass them, they'll feel cool and smart. Even if they don't, they'll feel as if they could have, and will probably learn from it and act appropriately in the future. If the intelligence mechanism is spying and concrete gathering info, they'll learn to put up alarms and be more careful about what info they spread. If the intelligence mechanism is "god" (basically, "whatever the GM wants", then they'll feel it doesn't matter what they do because the GM can decide whatever she wants anyway. And ultimately, the game is about the players being challenged and being empowered by meeting that challenge, rather than just storytelling where the GM decides what happens.

Magical divination is useful, and should be kept useful, but how useful it is is largely up to the DM and making it an auto-win detection system, especially if used by NPC's against the party, is a really bad idea IMO.

So for me, I always make sure the NPC's follow the same rules the PC's do, and don't abuse vague rules where I can be both the prosecutor, defendant and judge.

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