This was a review of Spycraft 2.0 that I did years ago when we first formed our gaming group. It was a multi-part review and thought others might like reading it.
As many of you know, we here at TheAgencyStar have come to know and love the Spycraft 2.0 RPG game system, enough to branch out and start our own gaming organization and website. So, I thought it was about time to dedicate a little time and space (in multiple part stories) to this passion of ours at TheAgencyStar, outlining some of the features of the Spycraft 2.0 system and reasons why we were drawn into the shadowy world of espionage, which is Spycraft.
First off, a lot of us came from many different role-playing backgrounds. Some of us were straight D&D, barbarian bashing, wizard casting, raising the dead hard-core gamers. Some of us were of the Vampire blood sucking Methuselah clans. And yet some of us had never played an RPG before or even knew what that acronym stood for. Yes we were a very diverse group of gamers. What system would or could be interesting to all? We decided on a more modern genre of RPG and since everyone seemed to like the movies, we looked for a more real-life type of game setting.
I personally have always loved Mission Impossible and James Bond movies, along with high-octane action packed thrillers, as did others in the group, so it seemed to be a natural fit for us to jump into a modern espionage setting. This was at the time when the Spycraft 2.0 first printing book just came out. There were numerous volumes of Spycraft 1.0 products available on the shelf during this transition from 1.0 to the 2.0 Spycraft system, which made it a little confusing when we first looked at which system to purchase and use. We chose the Spycraft 2.0 system over the 1.0 system since it was all encompassed into one 500 page book rather than having to buy and use other materials to play the game. Price was not to horribly outrageous for a book that could slay Goliath if used as an exotic hurled weapon due to its sheer mass and weight.
These were probably the first couple of reasons that brought the Spycraft 2.0 system to TheAgencyStar: modern espionage setting that everyone could relate to, small amount of materials or books needed to play, and price of materials or books were reasonable.
So after we all purchased our bibles of espionage, it was time to crack them open and begin the long and somewhat arduous task of reading all 500 pages, while trying to comprehend the massive amount of rules and tables. This was a monumental task in itself, as some of TheAgencyStar’s players have never played a D20 RPG system before this, in which we converted them over from the dark side. The book is laid out into two main sections with player and character creation encompassing the first ľ of the book and the GC (Game Control) rules and NPC sections filling in the rest.
The first challenge was to actually create a Spycraft 2.0 character. The easiest place to start was to think of a type of Agent that everyone wanted to play. This brought up many different arc types and/or themed characters ranging from personal favorites to heroes from the movies like Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, The Transporter and Mission Impossible. Each player started by choosing his or her starting character’s class out of the 12 base classes provided. Once this was established, we proceeded to generate basic character stats like Strength, Dexterity and so on. Per back in the good ole days, we actually rolled these stats with dice instead of the point system used in the book. This generated some higher than normal stats for our Agents, but at least we were on our way. After we picked out each Agent’s Origin and what they did, we moved onto entering each character’s class level table stats, core and class abilities. This process up until now was not too terribly bad. The Spycraft 2.0 book does a really good job at describing and laying out each character’s class information, specific abilities and advancement table statistics. It was now time for us to move on to the meat and potatoes of character creation and start defining each Agents specialty or things he or she would be good at.
The second challenge was the Skills section. Skills are what Agents use to determine if they succeed or fail at physical and nonphysical tasks and challenges throughout a mission. Each character starts with a set amount of skill points that each player can allocate to a wide variety of different skills. Just knowing what each skill is used for or how it affects a character was somewhat overwhelming. It wasn’t that the skills themselves were hard to understand, but just the vast amount of them available to drop Skill points into. It took a little while to understand what all the skills were tied to, but once we assigned them all, we jumped into what synergy bonuses, result caps and error ranges were. Focus and Forte skills were later figured into the mix, which just added another layer of complexity to the whole Skills section. Once we grasped the total skill bonus calculation, including class vs. non-class skill ranks, attribute skill bonus, result caps and error ranges, this first part of designing each of our Agent’s style and personality was complete.
This section was a major hurdle to overcome for our group, but definitely a refreshing change. One of the reasons why we liked the Spycraft 2.0 system over some of the others was the fact that a character did not rely solely on 6 character attributes for everything they did or tried to achieve during a mission. Spycraft 2.0 gave way to the “Attribute Dump” that so many other RPG’s fall into, and sets the bar for a very balanced system due to the diverse range of skills and ranks that your character uses during game play. A second reason we appreciated this change was that it provided more control to the player during character development to really drill down to exactly what they envisioned their character to become...and ultimately have a relative chance of success doing it.
At this point, each of our Agent’s Character Sheets were pretty much filled out on the front side. Flipping the page over revealed our next two steps of completing our totally tricked out and skill pimped Agents.
The third challenge was choosing Feats from the horde of Feat trees available. Feats are life long abilities that your Agent has done, accomplished or is just adept with from the start. This was pretty easy for all of us to grasp and to choose which starting Feat and possible bonus Feats each of our Agents should have. At this point, it was becoming perfectly clear to the development and style that each of our Agents would possess. Certain players took their character in a whole new direction than first thought from day one. There was a lot of thought, preparation and back-stories developed by our group that made the Feats selection process very easy to do.
The fourth challenge is where things grinded to a halt. Since our Agents were pretty much complete as far as their look, style, and abilities, we didn’t want them running around unclothed and with only a Swiss army knife. Our Agents needed Gear. This is where things got a little confusing for a lot of us. The Spycraft 2.0 book’s Gear section is broken up into many different types of Gear ranging from Weapons to the ever-impressive Gadgets that we all wanted...being spies and all. We barreled into selecting our predetermined types of Gear that each Agent could request from The Agency and really had no problems, until it came to what everyone really wanted...Gadgets. This part took a little more understanding and Q&A with Crafty Games to thoroughly understand how to create a Laser Watch, EMP Cell Phone and Concussive Grenade Lucky Rabbit’s Foot Keychain. The 1st printing of the Spycraft 2.0 book’s Gear section was understandable (if read and re-read multiple times with additional clarifications from others), but was somewhat daunting to the new kid on the block trying it out for the first time. This section was later redone in the 2nd printing Spycraft 2.0 book, which made selecting, understanding and the overall Gear section process more streamlined and manageable to the end user. Crafty Games accepted a whole slue of attacks and responses from gamers and stepped up to the plate to reorganize and clarify this part of the system, which could arguably be the most confusing part due to personal player creativity in trying to design something using the rules and system.
After a couple minor additions like Contacts, Wealth and Common Items, we actually had in our hands, live ready to conquer the world, Agents who belonged to The Agency. The entire character creation process was a lot to take in for some of us at TheAgencyStar as information overload became apparent. Although, after a couple of Agent creations under each of our belts, the process is actually enjoyed and even looked forward to now by many of us.
Now, what does a GC do with a bunch of XP hungry Agents that are ready to take on the evils of the world? What else. Create their first evil Mastermind or nemesis and send them on a mission of course.
I was designated starting GC for our group for our first mission. After running through the GC section of the Spycraft 2.0 book over and over, I felt pretty confident in what I was doing. The NPC section to start off with was a little confusing with the stat blocks and the difference between “Standard” and “Special” designations. Every mission is going to need some NPC’s to thwart and I needed to clearly understand how to calculate their XP, Damage Save, Vitality/Wounds and other in-game abilities before I could throw them into the ring against our heroes. Once I looked at the NPC examples and how they were constructed, this very important section just fell into place and became rather easy to master. One of the greatest tools a GC can use during the NPC creation process is the use of “Qualities”. There is a vast list of NPC qualities that you can assign to NPC’s that grant them Abilities, Skills, and Powers. A GC can really fine-tune their evil entourage with this system to exactly what they want instead of set-in-stone NPCs like other systems use. This GC power of creativity is another reason we gravitated towards the Spycraft 2.0 system.
What would any mission worth it’s weight be without a little combat action. The combat section of the Spycraft 2.0 book was laid out really well. It clearly defined what Agents could and could not do during their 6 second turn of 2 Half actions or 1 Full action. Applying some of the Free action Tricks to the fold made things even more dangerous for the Agents. The biggest area that was affected at this point was combat Initiative. We were not using the Fluid Initiative as described in the book and still used the old rolling Initiative every round method. The benefits in using the Fluid Initiative system became very apparent down the line as REAL strategies along with Agent abilities and certain situations later came into play that affected game play significantly. This part of the Spycraft 2.0 system was a real eye opener to a lot of us as it turned the game from running in and attacking blindly…to crouching for cover, taking an Aim with a free Brace action and attacking with a Called Shot to get around armor. This part of the system is a very robust and complete rule set on how to handle more advanced combat scenarios and is highly praised by our group.
Now it was time to get things started, bring everything together and bridge the gap between GC and players so we were all on the same page. We started using about 75% of all the rules encompassing the Spycraft 2.0 book, and later ended up playing with about 99% of them consistently. We decided to use the generic “The Agency” as our starting facility with no Gear restrictions. Washington D.C. seemed to be an obvious choice for “The Agency” since we wanted to play in a more “Real” world setting. So with a newly founded Agency, eager Agents chomping at the bit to save the world, and the majority of game mechanics ironed out, we started our first mission…“Power Supply”.
One thing to point out about TheAgencyStar is that we never seem to just leave things as they are. Some of us have a tendency to take things in a new direction or to enhance our experience with various games. Spycraft 2.0 was no exception to this rule as the Spycraft Agency Database 2.0 was created and released in late 2005. This brought a whole new level of game play to the Spycraft 2.0 system and a starting foundation for TheAgencyStar itself.
It was talked about for some time of playing a more modern RPG system (obviously we chose Spycraft 2.0) and how cool it would be to actually use some of today’s technology in this setting as a collective LIVE database to query and look up relevant information, and as a campaign designer. Once Spycraft 2.0 was our RPG platform, “The Agency” database just seemed to fall into place for our Agents to look up reports on locations and various dossiers of contacts and NPC’s. One of the critical additions was that of multiple security levels of Agent Identification Reports. This allowed the database an actual level of security when looking up information on fellow Agents, which created some very interesting “behind the scenes” stories and Agent relations. People, places and missions were a staple of information for any mission that TheAgencyStar ran using the database. The ability for a GC to create all files for a mission in the database, and then sit back while the assigned Agents actually use the database to obtain this information, was a godsend for some of us at TheAgencyStar. This cut down time on having to hand out “Player Handouts” and for the GC to describe every person, place and objective of the mission. It is also really freakin' cool to turn off the lights and show all the database reports during Intel on a 8 foot projector screen with a projector hooked up to a laptop computer. There’s nothing like experiencing a real LIVE Intel night like you see in the movies to get everyone’s blood pumping.
So almost five years later, the Spycraft Agency Database 2.0 has grown exponentially with numerous Database Patches, Vehicle/Weapon Packs, a Mission Transfer Module to import/export database files between databases, and of course Missions. TheAgencyStar has categorized it’s missions into three distinct concepts; Main Mission, Mini Mission and PBP Missions. Main missions consist of multiple gaming sessions, where a Mini Mission is usually played in one session. PBP or Play-by-Post Missions are played over the Internet in TheAgencyStar Forums, which is fast becoming another standard of playing Spycraft 2.0 for TheAgencyStar. With over 30 missions written, play-tested, and packaged for download, TheAgencyStar is now in its 4th Season of playing the Spycraft 2.0 system. We would recommend it to anyone interested in playing a great espionage and/or modern RPG system. Spycraft 2.0 is designed with the gamer in mind and brings balance, strategy and pure enjoyment to any role-playing experience.
We at TheAgencyStar will continue to overcome the perils of evil and fight for what’s right for all mankind…and we owe it all to the world of Spycraft.