Monday, 27 August 2018

A Very Specific Set of Skills: Choosing an Assassin's Method


You. Yes, you.

The "assassin".

Theoretical assassin.

You have your target. You have your wardrobe.

You look fantastic.

Now it's time for the fun bit.

Let's. Get. STABBITY.

...or not stabbity. Many assassins fight without stabbity weapons, and every assassin should be at least proficient at all methods of dealing death, and many also have a specialty that they like to fall back on as their preferred technique.

But, anyway, it's time to get to my favourite part with assassins: the thing that makes them badass.

Let's talk about some assassin methods.

So we'll start with the favoured method:

#1: Swords, Knives, and other Stabbity Weapons

This is, of course, the kind of method that most assassins in fantasy seem to favour. And, let's be completely honest, there is a very good reason for this.

Stabbity weapons are cinematic, action-packed, elegant, classy, and just plainly cool.

There's something about a skilled swordsman wielding a blade, or two masters having a duel. But, even taking that away, a knife in the dark is a terrifying and excellent threat.

(If you haven't guessed, I really like swords.)

I'm obviously not the only one, as here are just a few assassins who favour blades above all other forms of weaponry:

-Durzo Blint and Kylar Stern, from The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.

-Haern and Thren Felhorn, from Shadowdance by David Dalglish

-Royce Melborn, from the Riyria books by Michael J. Sullivan

-Altair and Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, from the Assassin's Creed franchise

-Hitokiri Battousai/Kenshin Himura, from Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

-Scythe Goddard, from Scythe by Neal Shusterman

And many, many more. In fact, most assassins you'll come across in fantasy tend toward favouring the stabbity weapons.

So what kind of weapons do we have at our disposal for this?

Well, there are the classics that people like to fall back on: sabers, daggers, and katana (or other blades that were commonly used by the samurai. I'm NOT calling them samurai swords. Forget it.)

There is one that I've seen who uses an axe (hello, FitzChivalry, we'll talk about you later), but for the most part people like using the three.

The reasoning behind this is pretty simple: all three of these weapons are lightweight and quick. It's easier to hide a katana or a dagger than a broadsword.

For the sake of originality, though, here are some other easy to hide, lightweight stabbing weapons. Remember to do your own research, but here are a few options that could get you started if you want to find a different kind of weapon:

- Bolo Swords/knives: These are knives that originated in the Philippines, and their design was the inspiration for the general shape and design of the elven blades in the Lord of the Rings films. They were used for cutting through thick jungle, and were also used in trench warfare during WWI and WWII.

-Butterfly Swords: These are dual blades that were used in several martial arts styles, particularly in China. They were made famous by martial artists like Bruce Lee and Ip Man.

-Rapiers: This is one of the most famous kinds of blades, originating in Europe and known as the definitive duelling weapon. However, I don't see these often in fantasy. They are known for being lightweight and flexible, and are very good at stabbing into small targets. (No, I don't mean that they are good at stabbing short people, I mean that they are good at making small puncture wounds. They can slip between cracks in armour. That kind of thing.)

There are, of course, many, many, MANY more easily concealable weapons that are at your disposal, but I don't have the time to write many more here. Check them out yourself, and see what will suit your characters.

#2: Ranged Weapons

These are exactly what they sound like: the weapons that let you get your target from a distance. These are the weapons that allow the easiest method of escape, and they are the choice of sniper assassins.

Honestly, it's one of the safest ways to go about dealing death for sweet, sweet coin. Less chance of encountering conflict, less chance of being seen and, overall, less chance of being caught in general.

Also, it can look really cool. Case in point: any assassin who uses guns.

AKA, John Wick.

That's right, since he uses a gun, he technically is a ranged assassin. Ranged assassins favour guns if possible, but in older style books, it's usually a bow.

The farther the range, the bigger the weapon they tend to need, so that is something to keep in mind. If using guns, a gunman will need to upgrade to rifles for farther targets. For bowmen, upgrade to a longbow or some form of large crossbow.

When it comes to bows, though, remember that the farther the range, the larger the bow. And the larger the bow, the higher the tension. The higher the tension, the stronger the archer must be in order to draw the string.

Basically, do your research before throwing a bowman or shooter into an assassin role to make sure that they aren't making shots that are completely impossible for the tools at hand.

Bending reality is all well and good, but try not to break it to the point of becoming entirely unbelievable.

#3: Poison

This is an assassination technique that is woefully underutilized, particularly since in fantasy you can make a wonderful mix of herbs to create completely random and unique ways for a character to die. Poison can also be used for different things that one with an assassin's skills can bring about: ailments, addictions, impotency, etc.

One series that explores the whole poison bit is The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb.

I told you I'd bring up FitzChivalry later, and that's because he isn't simply a very good axe fighter, he is also the King's Assassin/Poisoner.

The nice thing with poisons is that, with enough expertise, they can be completely untraceable to the source, the assassin doesn't need to look like a typical assassin, they can become slow killers, and all it really takes is one lethal dose to do the job.

The downside is that it's less exciting than a stabbity or shooty weapon. However, it makes up for the lack of cinematic flair by opening doors of unique opportunity, showing off a character's brains rather than their brawn, and can also show off unique aspects of your world, if you are writing fantasy. It can also set up plot twists (who's the poisoner?), create intrigue, and really add a touch of ingenuity to a story that could be leaning more to the cliché.

#4: Magic

Naturally, this one is just for fantasy stories, though you could consider this technique to be one that applies to any unique terrain or ability found in whatever world you are writing in.

Here's the thing: Magic is sorely underutilized by assassins.

So often, they are stuck in fantasy with just a sword, and that is shown as being just the standard style of assassination.

However, consider this:

The thing that makes fantasy unique, set apart, and cool is the fact that there are completely alien elements from our own world found in it.

What makes Szeth in The Stormlight Archive or Vin in Mistborn cool in their fighting techniques? It's the fact that they don't just use a standard weapon - they also take full advantage of the magic at their disposal.

Consider the magic of your world, and play with it. Have fun with it. Can a character control fire? Have them kill using their magic. Can they control the mind? What would stop them from assassinating by making other characters suicidal? Is there healing magic? Remember that if somebody can heal a person, they can destroy a person just as easily. It's all a matter of conscience.

Magic is more than set dressing, it is also often a weapon. Use that weapon for your assassins. Who's to say that an assassin can't also be a mage?

Use the unique aspects of your world to make your assassin unique. Not every assassin needs to be a killer in the usual or expected way. Have fun with it, and see what that magic system can do, gruesome as it may be.


What it actually comes down to is this: though there are many avenues for a character to go with for technique, what really matters in choosing what to do isn't in how cinematic or exciting it is, it comes down to what makes sense for the character.

Is your character sneaky? Are they subtle? Do they favour brawling or avoiding conflict at all costs? Are they showy, or are they more interested in doing their job and leaving? Do they have magic, or are they a standard human/other being? What gender are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What kind of person, deep down, are they?

That is what will determine your character's method. Their method is a reflection of their character, and that's what will make your assassin unique. Don't force a method on them that isn't suitable to the character themselves. Figure out who they are, and figuring out their method will come with that.

Anyway, those are some of the more common methods of assassination that you will come across, and some options to consider when crafting an assassin. If you want to see some of my thoughts on writing assassins in general, you can see those right here , and if you want to see some thoughts on clothing assassins, you can see those over here.

If you liked this blog, please feel free to give it a share and leave a comment - would love to hear some of your thoughts!

I'll be back next week with a final blog for #assassinaugust, so stay tuned for that, and I'll talk to you again soon!



  1. ooh... imagine an assassin that uses magic to burn out someone's lungs.....or rather to use up the oxygen in someone's lungs.... who would know?