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Incredibly weird (I think) question.

In an upcoming campaign, one of my players will be playing an evil inquisitor who fanatically follows a god that orders him to secretly kill specific targets. To give this character a reason for joining the party, his primary target will be an NPC barbarian who is with the party and vital to the main quest.

Now, I will be (as the god) instructing the character up front that he should follow the barbarian for a while and kill him only when instructed. To be fair to the player though, I will, at some stage, give me the go ahead to try and kill him.

In a proper battle, the barbarian would slaughter him. The player's character is a talker, not a fighter. However, he is planning to do most of his killing at night when people are asleep and using a coup de grace with a x4 crit weapon.

Is there a barbarian power or archetype I can use to make this much more challenging (but not impossible) for the player? I'm happy for him to kill the NPC if he is truly able.

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Personally, I'd start by ruling that Uncanny Dodge works even while sleeping. And why wouldn't it? – GMJoe Jun 6 '13 at 5:17
Seems to me that the whole "he cannot be defeated in battle" is already good enough challenge, no? – Cristol.GdM Jun 6 '13 at 14:25
@GMJoe Uncanny Dodge seems like it should function while asleep, yes, but Uncanny Dodge doesn't help against Coup de Grace anyway. It does prevent Sneak Attack, and of course the AC loss associated with being flat-footed, but Coup de Grace requires a Helpless target, which a sleeping target absolutely is, Uncanny Dodge or not. And it doesn't require an attack roll. – KRyan Jun 6 '13 at 15:39
@KRyan After starting by ruling that uncanny dodge works even while sleeping, I'd suggest that someone capable of dodging attacks in their sleep is by definition not helpless to avoid them. I like the idea of a barbarian waking up moments before the dagger strikes, rolling out of the way, kicking their assailant's legs out from under them and grabbing the nearest sword... But that's just my tentative houserule. – GMJoe Jun 7 '13 at 6:45
up vote 14 down vote accepted

How about approaching this from a different angle, not through the RAW but from cultural, religious constraints and requirements derived from your setting?

What I mean is: This--apparently evil--god may (and, imo, most probably would, as gods just seem to love that) call for a ritualistic assassination. Simply killing the target is not enough: there could and can be any number of criteria the assassination must fulfill to be acceptable for the god. In fact, not meeting these requirements may even draw the ire of the god.

For example, the assassin might be required to commit the act...

  • in a fully lit room.
  • in a cave.
  • with the target just awakened (surprised.)
  • during the full moon.
  • totally naked.
  • with a pineapple.
  • chanting a sacred verse loudly.
  • with exactly four strikes. No more, no less.
  • intoxicated (drunk, high on a sacred drug, etc.)
  • throwing a cat into the face of the target first (and the cat isn't allowed to get hurt.)
  • in the company of a dwarf woman. Possibly a naked one.

...and so on. Make up your (the god's) rules and killing requirements in advance, and let the PC prepare and act as best as he can. Make sure that the ritual--practically designed to give a fighting chance to the barbarian--is neither too hard, nor too easy. Complicate matters on the run, if necessary.

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Some of these seem much too absurd or arbitrary. Actually, for that matter, most of them do. While I agree with the concept, I'd have a serious problem with most of these demands unless my god was not evil but insane. – KRyan Jun 7 '13 at 0:17
@KRyan Sure, some of my examples are obviously over the top and rather mad. :) Fortunately, they're simply examples, not actual recommendations - which doesn't mean they couldn't work in certain settings, btw. (A Pratchettian one, for example? Of course, I don't claim to be as funny as TP, not at all.) Had we known more about OP's world, I could've given more serious ones, but I guess they're acceptable as pointers and illustrations for the serious part of my A. :) – OpaCitiZen Jun 7 '13 at 6:25

Just make it hard to get to the barbarian while he’s asleep. Coup de Grace is a really binary maneuver: it either works or doesn’t. If it doesn’t, the player is dead. So you don’t want the outcome of the Coup de Grace to be questionable: if the player succeeds in making it, the Barbarian should die. Otherwise his success is determined by a single die roll, the Barbarian’s save, since a failed Coup de Grace will result in the Barbarian waking up, alerting everyone else, and quite possibly still straight-up killing the PC. That’s bad.

For a more in-depth analysis of why success should not come down to a single die roll, I point you to @Magician’s excellent Goblin Dice article.

So you pretty much want the Barbarian to die if the player can successfully Coup de Grace. The trick is getting the opportunity to do so. Since the god is waiting for the opportune moment, make that moment when the Barbarian is heavily guarded: when the PCs are staying with his people, he is a hero with honor guards and a private room, etc. Make the PC work for the opportunity to make the Coup de Grace. And when/if he does that, let him have his kill.

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I like the idea of the complicated conditions during the assasination phase. I'd combine this with OpaCityZen's answer to produce a time limit: you must kill the Barbarian during the sacred week, but he is staying at his house/clan meeting with guards the whole week to enjoy the sacred week celebretion with his family/clansmen. – kravaros Jun 6 '13 at 18:23
...or just make that barbarian liberal about allowing his dog(s) into his tent. – Eugene Ryabtsev Jun 7 '13 at 2:49

I would say by offering a different avenue to the PC.

So on the one side the PC going with his plan (coup-de-grace) seems to be too easy of a win in your eyes but you recognize "honest" combat means that it is too difficult for the PC, in fact impossible.

I'm assuming the barbarian is religiously affiliated in some way for the player's god to want him taken out of the picture, have them engage in straight up ritual combat.

That means that the barbarian isn't using his full power, reduce his stats his attack etc to give PC a fighting chance in combat you mentioned the PC is good at talking make the beginning of the fight a skill challenge if you will, the more he can convince the barbarian not to go full out (using a ritual weapon, not using rage, not using cheapshots) the easier a opponent the barbarian will be once combat starts.

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Why not give him a blue rhomboid ioun stone in a wayfinder. That'd make assassinating the barbarian a challenge!
When combined with a wayfinder...
Dark blue rhomboid: The wearer no longer suffer penalties on Perception checks for being distracted or asleep; during sleep the wearer may remain open-eyed and fully aware of his environment, though he is still helpless against undetected threats until he actually wakes up.

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While not specific to the asker's requirements (barbarian ability), this does in fact potentially solve their problem. Good find and welcome to the site! – LitheOhm Jul 28 '13 at 23:26

This can be prevented in a number of ways;

The foremost would be giving the Barbarian enough health to resist the hit. He is, after all, a barbarian, and with a d12 hit die, he's likely pretty tough. In addition, poisons will work poorly on him, especially if he has high Constitution, given his high Fortitude saves (most poisons don't do direct damage, but would be an easy way to soften up the enemy). If you advance him to the players' level, he'll quickly be outside of easy one-shot range, which means he'd be risky to attack at all.

In addition, consider the necessity to make stealth tests; inquisitors typically aren't highly stealthy, though they're not heavy armor users, so unless the character has stealth, they risk waking up the barbarian, who is likely to have a high Perception skill and be a light sleeper (remember that the barbarian as written is meant to be more of a wilderness survivor for whom this would be a useful survival trait). At the very least, they are literally described as having a sixth sense in the pfsrd, which gives good justification for making them hard to sneak up on.

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How any of this is going to prevent that coup de grace? With x4 crit weapon the DC to stay alive will be ways above that Barbarian's capability. – Eugene Ryabtsev Jun 6 '13 at 13:12
Well, the barbarian waking up? Also, consider that while the weapon will hit and do x4 damage, it can still roll really low damage. – Kyle Willey Jun 6 '13 at 16:06

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