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I am running Hoard of the Dragon Queen for my players. I am currently preparing the next session and am reading "Episode 4: On the Road". The event No Room at the Inn (page 36) mentions an encounter with four Assassins. The description of the encounter leaves no doubt that if faced, there is little possibility of avoiding fighting the Assassins.

However, characters are levels 4 to 5 at this point. Assassins are a CR 8 encounter alone. (MM, p. 343). I doubt the designers had an encounter with four Assassins, an absolutely deadly encounter in mind when they designed the events. At least not without including a warning as they do throughout the book.

This leads me to my questions: have Assassins ever been anything else than a level 8 encounter?

Note I am well aware that I as a DM am in control of these things and can change the encounter, I am not looking for advice on the encounter itself. Thank you!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Our party could (and would) have easily avoided this encounter. However, our DM really wanted to play it, and eventually sent an NPC in to stir the $%!* and we went in to back the guy up... we only survived because our Dwarf fighter took the brunt of the poison. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Aug 24 '15 at 21:00
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Indeed, that encounter is way above the characters' expected level. One of the writers, Steve Winter has also spoken a little about the encounter's balance and design history.

In a post (posting as Huscarl) on WotC forums, Steve Winter wrote of the "No Room at the Inn" encounter:

[in] The original version ... the villains were not assassins but young green slaads polymorphed into human form.

... then young green slaads disappeared from the MM and we were instructed not to use them in this encounter. We cast around for alternatives and found no really good ones, but assassins were at least close to the slaads in power -- as they were then written.

... By the time the monster stat blocks were finalized, assassins wound up significantly more powerful than the original slaads or even than assassins had been when they were chosen as the slaads' replacement.

Emphasis mine.

He then lists possible changes to the encounter that would bring it more in line for the expected party level at that point in the story.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, this is exactly what I was hoping for. Although it would be interesting to get our hands on those early stat blocks respectively monsters... ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Aug 25 '15 at 10:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does anyone know if that forum post was archived anywhere before WotC pulled the plug? \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Apr 28 '16 at 1:35
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No, the assassins are intended to be that level.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen was explicitly published with a Web appendix with all the monster stats needed, since the MM wasn't out yet. In it, the assassins are still CR8, see Where is the "Tyranny of Dragons online appendix"?

But you are proceeding from a faulty premise. There is only "little possibility of not fighting the assassins" if the PCs are the type who would attack a bunch of nobles in an inn just because they're being snooty to them. If the PCs behave in a law-abiding manner at all there will be no combat. This encounter is a great opportunity to a) reinforce that attacking some random nobles for acting like, well, nobles, would be a criminal/evil action and b) oh look when you attack people you don't know sometimes they are powerful and beat the snot out of you. Problem=solved.

As it's a public place and the assassins probably don't want a murder beef over some lippy adventurers, just have them beat the PCs unconscious and run off. You don't have to TPk them even if they're outmatched. (Observe how both NPCs and PCs behaving like real people in a fantasy world can have all kinds of benefits. See also How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer but maybe you could comment more about the following line of text from the module: 'If the characters don't start a fight, someone else from the caravan might.' \$\endgroup\$ – Colin D Aug 24 '15 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The text also mentions that the Assassins are itching for a fight. Furthermore, please consider that I do know this and am not looking for advice on the actual way to handle the situation. I was just wondering if there was an issue with that specific encounter. Your first paragraph seems to fit the question! \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Aug 24 '15 at 19:51

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