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I recall reading somewhere that saving citizens would somehow make your major assassinations easier, but saving all the citizens in Damascus didn't seem to do anything for me when I was running from the guards after performing the big kill. Does saving people do anything besides creating monks/vigilantes?

Edit: this refers to Assassin's Creed 1.

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No, saving citizens doesn't do anything aside from creating monks and/or vigilante groups. However, you can then use these groups to your advantage. When you are trying to escape, you can run through a group of vigilantes to slow down the guards chasing you, giving you enough time to get to a rooftop and out of the city.

Monks can also give you a place to hide so that making an escape is simpler.

Then again, getting in huge sword fights is one of the best aspects of the game, so I always stuck around and tried to take out all the guards anyway.

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This is Assassin's Creed 1, I assume? (You mention Damascus)

Saving citizens from the guards does two things: creates Vigilantes or Monks (as you yourself mentioned) and increases your health.

I'm not sure how vigilantes react with the guards after a major assassination, but the extra hiding spots provided by the monks (or travel past checkpoints, as case may be) might come in handy when trying to escape to the Assassin's guild.

There doesn't appear to be any effect for saving all the citizens, other than for 100% completion.

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I found the monks to be more useless than the vigilantes. The vigilantes have no problem interfering with the forces of law and order after a major assassination, but the monks panic and run if you approach them with soldiers behind you. (cowards!) –  Steve V. Jan 26 '12 at 1:22
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