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I have tried several times to "get the jump" on the guards that are harassing a citizen. I thought that I could take one out the same way you take ot single guards. However, as soon as I lock on, the guards become alerted and I automatically draw my sword and start a regular swordfight.

Is the game scripted to prevent assassinations of guards in groups?

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Not if you walk up to them. Have you tried roofing them? – Jeff Mercado Jun 15 '13 at 21:33
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yeah, I do that all the time. Do not lock on the guard, just walk up to him in low profile and assassinate with your hidden dagger. It will, however, alert the other guards instantly, so you better switch to your sword and lock on to the next guard approaching you, immediately.

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If you play well, you won't need to switch to your sword. You can counter attacks using the hidden blades ;) – Nolonar Jun 16 '13 at 18:41

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