Weighing in at thirteen pages with a cover, credit/TOC page, OGL and 1 ad, we are presented with eight pages of new NPC's and a one page introduction and explanation of how to use this supplement. Designed for the River nations setting from Jon Brazer Enterprises, each of these characters can easily be utilized in any setting a GM chooses to use them within.
The interesting thing regarding the introduction, is Dale writes it from the standpoint of a conversation, explaining when this book was originally planned to be released, how it got waylaid, and what inspired the collection in the first place. It is an interesting look behind the curtain into the design thoughts that went into this collection of eight not so typical assassins, and what he hoped to accomplish in their creation. So without further ado, let us examine them, shall we?
Muffin Brownbottle, Death's Chef is a halfling baker after my heart. Her statblock section on tactics is hands down one of the funniest and most excellent things I have ever read in an NPC statblock. Her During Combat states, and I quote “ Muffin will sit with her mark and talk while they enjoy their final meal.” Yeah, that's right, combat? Not from this sadistic killer. Nope, she will however make you an excellent meal, and join you for conversation and company while you enjoy her culinary labors. Being a lover of the culinary arts, this appealed to me on so many levels I can't even begin to explain them all. I will say though, she has earned a home in my campaign world, and a bakery, lol.
Jolanta Adanski, Grave Cackler, along with her house centipede familiar, Scurry, adds the idea of a witch assassin to the mix. Her write up is barely a paragraph, and we are left with no real story for her unfortunately, which is a shame. There is also an oddity in her statblock, in the listing of her prepared spells, mage armor is literally crossed out. I am not sure if this was done during design with the intention of replacing the spell, or perhaps removing it, or some other reason that escapes me at this point.
Qog Kirgon, The Mountain Stalker is a half orc ranger/assassin with a serious dislike for humans. Together with his dog, Scraps – a mangy golden retriever that is fiercely loyal, Qog has a fairly basic and straight forward approach to killing. History is slightly formulaic, but not bad in the least. It is almost a shame he was done as a standard ranger, as I can't help but think he would have been all the more interesting having been built as a Spell Less Ranger utilizing the class released recently by Open Design. I say this solely based upon the fact that for me I have a hard time seeing a half orc brute demonstrating the finesse for magic.
Cyali Starwatcher, Dying Moon Hierophant offers us a clerical assassin...yeah, let that sink in for a minute. Interesting character, interesting concept, and a fleshed out story that gives us not only a backstory for her, but an assassin's guild, a religious cult, and a mortuary business operating as a front for said cult. Now this is the type of character that delivers on value. Not only is she interesting, but she comes with so many hooks its ridiculous.
Korn, Warmaster of Death would be that handsome guy on the front cover near the bottom. A hobgoblin fighter/assassin is another example of an NPC who brings more to the table then just themselves. A leader of a tribe of hobgoblins living peacefully within human lands, operating as assassins for hire to those willing to pay the price.
Mariana, Master of Disguise is a rogue(chameleon)/assassin. Now for those unfamiliar with the chameleon, it was introduced in Ultimate Combat, and is an archetype that covers those individuals who blend and assume identity well. Disguise and misdirection are their most potent weapon, for they can be anyone, and disappear instantly. With an amusing backstory filled with misdirection in regards to who she really is, this murdering thief has made a living out of making sure no one knows who she is, but everyone has a tale to tell. Oddly, she reminded me of the Bruce Willis movie The Jackyl, in that she is a highly sought after assassin who assumes identities to serve her purposes and to ensure that all details regarding her are false.
Akanor, Funeral Singer, is a gnome bard/assassin utilizing the archetype of court bard. Akanor is the classic showman, the clothes, the attitude, the prestige, he lives for the attention, and has built quite a reputation traveling the lands as a court performer of some worth, and he has done so as a means to an end. In hiding in plain sight, by being right in front of folks as the great story teller and comedian none suspect he is in fact also a high priced assassin with a signature calling card, a telling wound left on every victim's body. In the end he kills for the same reason he entertains, the adrenaline rush, the excitement. A well thought out and designed NPC, with an excellent piece of art to support the design.
Ceriddaia Shimmerstar, Sword Breaker is our one and only non assassin by class in the collection, she is a Magus. Using a traveling dance troupe as cover to travel freely, this NPC comes off as a spoiled brat reading through her backstory. She kills simply as a means to have the funding to do as she wishes, when she wishes, wherever she wishes, and has gotten the dancing troupe (a cover for more than just her) discovered more than once by flashing far to much money to explain away with their cover story. Not that the spoiled brat concept doesn't work, her tactics in combat are interesting, in that she casts undead anatomy upon herself before combat and goes for total shock factor presenting herself as a skeleton whilst electrocuting her opponents, seeking to sunder them as fast as possible before finishing them off.
So, final thoughts on the eight. Several of these NPC's are very cool character concepts, one could use so much more to her story to make you want to invest in her. With each character receiving one page per, it almost felt as if Jolanta's design was truncated to accommodate layout and spacing, which is a real shame as we're given next to nothing story wise for her. The book overall needs another read through by an editor, as there were numerous editing oversights, sentence structures, missing words, odd grammatical choices. It was all understandable, but it truly would benefit greatly from another editorial sweep. Art-wise, only one piece felt out of place, Mariana's, it had an anime quality to it, which is a shame as it is a good piece of art, but when held up to the others, it really looks out of place.
It is hard to overlook the massive editing issues and the multiple issues with Jolanta (the crossed out spell, the fact that she has barely any fluff). On the positive hand however, we have several very good, and I do mean very good NPC assassins here, the traveling bard, the unassuming baker, the legitimate business women running a mortuary while leading an assassins cult, the Hobgoblin who turned his tribe into a money making killing machine. The design chops far outweigh the editing issues, as those can be fixed, design is what it is, it's either there or it isn't, and in this case it very much is there, and worth the price of admission. This product also carries with it Hero Lab files for the assassins, so there is yet another perk, and an excellent one I might add. Be forewarned my fellow Hero lab users, Ultimate Magic and Combat, as well as the APG are required to open and utilize these portfolio files properly.
I am going to settle on 3.5 stars, stating that I will be happy to raise that by a full star after a full sweep to correct editing issues. For the purposes of this rating system, I will however, round up, not down, as the design chops are here, and they outweigh the negative. So, final rating is a 4 star.