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Assassin’s Creed tabletop RPG puts the video game’s most divisive feature at its center

Step into the DNA-reading Animus machine

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The time-hopping Assassin’s Creed franchise, first launched by Ubisoft in 2007, has been adapted into a tabletop role-playing game by CMON and is now up for pre-order. But rather than placing one of its many, many existing and extremely popular historical timelines at the center of the action, the publisher has made the bold choice to center the game’s primary narrative throughline in the modern day. That’s right: Assassin’s Creed Roleplaying Game will focus on the Animus machine, a MacGuffin-shaped piece of futuristic technology that lets regular people experience what it was like to do murders in the distant past. A 130-page “quickstart” Animus Training Program is now available to download for free.

For the uninitiated, Animus technology is a form of virtual reality that reads latent fragments of a subject’s ancestral DNA and uses that biological information to reconstruct events from the past in an immersive simulation. Narratively, anyone who has ever enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed video game has been inhabiting a character from our own, modern era who is themselves placed inside the Animus machine. Then their genetic information tells the story from there, a fact that the player is occasionally reminded of via cutscenes and short, playable sequences.

But while many fans — including some here at Polygon — find the Animus aspect of Assassin’s Creed games to be either extremely confusing, needlessly complex, or both, CMON’s emphasis of it appears to be why Ubisoft ultimately greenlit the TTRPG.

“I think that’s exactly what got us the job,” CMON’s head of tabletop role-play, Francisco Nepitello (The One Ring), told Polygon in a recent interview. “There were several projects that were pitched to Ubisoft for a role-play game, but we were the only ones who actually presented the game with [an Animus-centric] angle.”

The weird part is — and stick with me here — the game actually sounds kind of cool. Nepitello said Assassin’s Creed Roleplaying Game will continuously throw characters into the middle of the action, using the Animus as a vehicle for playing only the most exciting parts of a TTRPG and skipping over all of the boring parts. If you’re playing in ancient Greece, for instance, you don’t have to worry about superfluous things like the currency system or even the specifics of the culture. Instead, you just roll some dice and do cool shit.

“All we have to do is to play out, for example, a scene where you have to break into a temple and get something and get out,” Nepitello said. “So you inject the right amount of information to set up that situation. You don’t need to create the whole world. And that’s exactly why, during the same session or along several sessions, you can hop from one time frame to another without any problems at all.”

In fact, CMON’s new TTRPG won’t limit you to existing, mainline franchises in the long-running series for your time-hopping shenanigans. It will, of course, mine the back catalog of smaller, some might say overlooked video games. That includes Assassin’s Creed: Memories, a defunct 2015 trading card game for iOS. But the final product will also include all-new assassin characters, such as Major Gallagher who fights against Nazis in World War II-era France. Players will even be able to create their own assassins.

Naturally, character advancement will be a big part of the equation — just remember, it’s your modern-day character who’s leveling up, not their various historical antecedents.

“You will grow as an assassin during the game in different ways, but especially through the ‘bleeding’ effect,” Nepitello said, “where by getting into the Animus and reliving your ancestral memories as an assassin from the past, you inherit the abilities of your ancestor. [...] As the game goes on, you’re growing in power because you start displaying those abilities — even in the modern day.”

Assassin’s Creed Roleplaying Game uses custom dice, which might be a deal-breaker for some. Luckily there’s a free mobile app, available now, that will do all the dice rolling for you. Pre-orders for the final game start at $35 and go all the way up to a $130 bundle that includes 13 assassin miniatures. There is also a nearly two-and-a-half-hour actual play video that gets into the nitty gritty of the game’s unique mechanics. Expect the final product to ship as a physical object by October 2024, with a digital version of the core books available on DriveThruRPG well before then.

The next mainline Assassin’s Creed video game, Assassin’s Creed Mirage, is currently slated to be released on October 5.

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