Monday, February 19, 2018

The Unexpected Ninja

The ambassador waddled up the lane. He was a fat man, with his belt stretched garishly over his girth. He had a smile on his face, though, and smelled of lilac perfume. He wished the guards a good evening, then leaned in conspiratorially.

"Be careful now... I have heard there are ninja about!"

The ambassador let the word hang on the air for a moment, before letting out a rolling belly laugh. He clapped the guards on the shoulder with his pudgy, beringed hands, and they let him inside. He was shown down the hall, and in time found himself sitting across from the governor. The man poured tea for the two of them, and the ambassador thanked him. They talked, and the ambassador refilled their cups several times. The governor's eyes began drooping, and that was when the ambassador slipped the blade from behind his belt, and cut the man's throat. As the governor bled out, the ambassador smashed out the window, then screamed like a castrated goat, and pissed himself as he crawled into the corner beneath a table. When the guards found him, he babbled incoherently about an assassin in black. He made an ugly, cowardly sight of himself as he was led away. The last thing he heard was that a detachment of men was to escort him back to his own embassy, and to be on the lookout for the murderer.

Yes... yes, indeed, inform me when the blackguard has been found!

You Never See Them Coming


Ninjas, and their parent class the rogue, are well known for their stealth and their guile. But it takes a career operative to truly appear to be something they're not. To completely embody their social camouflage, and to build an entire life around that misconception... even if it's only for a little while.

That's far from an easy thing to do... but there are a lot of ways you can pull it off.

The easiest way is to take the path outlined in the opening story. Set your ninja up as the party face, and do so in such a way that they are seen as completely harmless. Even cowardly, to need so many bodyguards to hide behind. You may be a noble, come to discuss things on behalf of your family. You might be a diplomat holding a similar role for a government. You might tell people you're a merchant, or even the master of a performing troupe. Whatever your cover identity is, though, it needs to be something no one will see as a threat. A bumbler, a stooge, or even an airhead with a single, viable skill.

So how do you play the other 98% of the time?
The inherent challenge of the unexpected ninja is that if you allow your competence to be seen, you've blown your cover. Much like how it was said children would be told to spin tops or toys in front of people as a ninja test to see if they nimbly dodged aside out of reflex, or if they would stumble and trip. So who is your ninja purporting to be that they can still do things necessary for their mission, without undermining their cover?

Well, one way to keep your hand concealed is to become a performer. A singer, a dancer, a storyteller, etc. All would be charismatic travelers, and they have a perfectly good excuse to be somewhere. And many of them will be asked to perform for important people. Alternatively, a level dip in fighter for proficiencies and feats would allow you to claim you were a simple man-at-arms. Of course, no one would expect you to be traceless, to have ki powers. And, if you were going to utilize your other abilities (and pull out your hole card when the time is right), you could easily do so while disguised if you still needed to preserve your cover as a simple soldier.

While this sort of concept can be adequately reproduced with a vigilante, the key for that class is that you need to be in a relatively stable location to build your reputation. The unexpected ninja, though, does not want a reputation. They do not want to be known at all. They simply want to run a con, if a con is needed, as a temporary identity (or just a convenient lie) can often stop people from looking at them too closely when there are suspicions going around.

Whether they claim to be someone about as smart as the battle ax on their belt (so they can listen in on conversations the speakers don't think they can understand), or they protest they would never hurt a fly (while secreting a half dozen poisoned blades on their person), a good ninja makes sure no one knows who they are or what they can do until it's truly too late.

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts installment. Hopefully some folks out there enjoyed it, and find a way to make it work at their tables. If you'd like to see more stuff from yours truly, you can check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I put episodes together with other, talented gamers. To keep up-to-date on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative then go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page... or click here to Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, you'll have both my thanks as well as some free gaming swag!

1 comment:

  1. I love this concept, especially since that's how the ninja of legend was supposed to act.

    The cut-out ninja, with the black pajamas comes from the dress of stage performers who handled the special effects. They were supposed to be 'unseen' by the viewers, so when a ninja would leap out of the literal background, it was a legitimate shock.

    Like if one of Michael Bay's explosions suddenly drew a knife and stabbed someone.

    The Ninja's supposed to be hidden in plain sight, not necessarily an obvious tattooed, sword wielding killer. We need to get back to that.

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