RPG Review: The Palladium Book of Weapons and Assassins

The 1980s were a time for ninjas. We had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In the GI Joe comics and tv show the most popular characters were the ninjas Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. I worked in an amusement park's arcade and one of the more popular games was Ninja Gaiden. Even movies not about ninjas managed to sneak them in. And a good way to get in trouble at my middle school was to smuggle in a throwing star...

In our RPGs we loved our ninjas as well. I recall photocopies of the ninja and samurai classes from Best of Dragon II getting passed around my middle school. (Wow, throwing stars and photocopies magazine articles - we were little criminals.) TSR finally gave into the craze with the Oriental Adventures hardcover book.

Palladium Books had a series of reference books that were system-les, designed to go with any RPG. Oddly enough, one of my favorites was Weapons and Assassins which covered various kinds of historic assassins: Middle Eastern Assassins, the Thugs of India, and, most importantly to us back in the day, the Ninjas of Japan.

There's some controversies out there about Palladium Books and its founder Kevin Sembedia. On some message forums, one of the quickest ways to start a flame war seems to be to merely mention the existence of Palladium Books or Keven Sembedia. I'm not a huge fan of Palladium's house system - I played a few games of their Robotech and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPGs but the system never really "clicked" for me (nor do I despise it for that matter. If a friend enthusiastically asked me to play a game of TMNT I think I'd be able to find it in my heart to do so.) However I loved the reference materials they produced.

Weapons and Assassins was written by the late Eric Wukcik. Wujick was best known for his many Palladium products though he also received considerable acclaim for his revolutionary Amber role playing game, the first major RPG I can think of that is dice-less (and lacks any random resolution system).

Weapons and Assassins was printed in a book with a strong resemblance in size and paper quality to a comic book of its era, though in black and white. More modern reprints (Palladium has kept this book in-print and is available at their website) make use of stronger material but keep the dimensions (it is also available as a legal purchase from RPGNow.com.) Though a short book, it consists of dense text and lots of illustrations of the various kinds of assassins, weapons, tools, etc. that one would expect in this kind of book.

Example of a Thug Assassination
from p. 13
True to its promise, the book is stat-less. However it is extremely useful in incorporating such characters in an RPG, either as PCs or as adversaries. Each of the types of assassins covered is given an overview, including some basic information of their culture. Items discussed include their methods, equipment, frequent victims, and adversaries. In the days before an internet this type of book was of absolutely amazing value. Even now, nearly thirty years later, it is still a very useful reference. It eschews fantasy trapping, keeping to the historical. This is an asset in my mind as it allows a GM to add magic as necessary - in my experience it is much easier to add the fantastic to a setting than it is to take it away.

Rereading this book this Sunday evening, I'm reminded how much I liked it at the time. With my DCC game taking place in a setting that is a fantasy pastiche of our own Earth I'm giving some thought to sneaking in some of the assassins of this work.

(Note - all illustrations are copyright of Palladium Books. Their use here is for illustrative purposes in the context of this review per copyright fair use.)

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