Mathey - first, welcome. I've greatly enjoyed reading your threads over on RPG.net.
Second - thank you for that post. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's this sort of honesty and clear-eyed commentary (good and bad) which will be key to us sorting what fans want. Without getting too far into it, I can tell you just about everything you mentioned here is something we've got under the microscope, and it's very helpful to hear your take on those issues here.
Thanks! It really does make a difference when you know the guys behind the books are lending an ear.
As far as my issues with gearing up and gadgets, I can only speak from personal experience obviously, but its never not
been something of a chore for me and my players. That's not universally applicable, I realize, but its significant enough for myself and many other people who have played or run SpyCraft's past iterations to be worth stating. Repeating, even.
To give some perspective, I have a tabletop group that is (mostly) the same people I ran a fairly long-lived Shadowforce Archer campaign for in SpyCraft 1.0. I also have run four or five play-by-post games on RPG.net that used SpyCraft 2.0. Of those games, I'd hazard a guess that maybe one or two of them were traditional superspies and the others were pseudo-realistic. One was a mercenary game in the vein of the movie Ronin and one was a very stripped down Word On Fire game that mainly focused on interaction and investigation. Later on, I tried running 2.0 for my tabletop group in two separate premises, neither of which went very far. All of my games are narrative-heavy - but they also tend to feature action and combat in varying doses and styles.
With the SpyCraft 1.0 tabletop game, it was the first experience for most of them with a modern action-adventure game but they took to it pretty well. Being quite pulpy and cinematic, there were numerous gadgets in the campaign: submersible cars, lots
of grapple belts (everybody loves 'em), sub-cochlear ear radio implants, and if memory serves somebody used a holographic gizmo of some sort. We also had one player who played a Triggerman and really became an expert at gaming the weapon modding rules presented in one of the class sourcebooks. So expert, in fact, that he consistently outperformed every other player in every combat scene. And I'm not talking a minor but noticeable difference; I'm talking a vast
distinction that made the others feel kind of left out.
With gear picks, the Triggerman always
knew what he wanted ("Whatever gives me the biggest bonus!"), but just about everybody else struggled to make decisions. They often seemed to be a bit like blind men trying to describe an elephant when it came to picking the "right" gear for a given mission. This didn't get better as we played; if anything, it got a bit worse as they realized that they had forgotten something or other critical in the previous mission and tried to cover all their bases.
To try to address this, I gave them copies of the equipment chapter - which did help, tried to email them briefings ahead of time - which often didn't, and I also gave them bundles to try and calm their minds about the vital gizmos they'd need - but it still would take a lot of time and agonizing nitpicking to get them out of the HQ and in the field. And when I say a "lot of time", that may be relative; for me and my players, spending 1/2 of a session, 1.5 hours or so, flipping through charts of equipment and conferring about who gets what is not our idea of a fun time (well, save for that one Triggerman). It just isn't what we're into.
I want to emphasize that we DID have fun with this SFA campaign, but as a group it was agreed that gearing up was the least
fun part of an otherwise action-packed gaming experience. The second least favorite part would have to be the way the Triggerman's system expertise co-opted numerous scenes, but that's another issue.
Moving on to the Play-By-Post games I ran with SpyCraft 2.0, initially I had thought it had addressed many of my concerns about gear. Gadgets could be custom made rather than selected from pre-fab lists, there were seemingly easier ways to acquire equipment and "mundane" items in the field, and weapon modification was no longer the sole domain of one player. More choices, I figured, would mean a happier time for all.
In practice, however, 2.0's gear system was as much of a pain as 1.0's for me and my players if not more so. To wit:
Categorical gear picks (as others have noted) could be a bit of a pain to wrangle with, especially since the team's plans were contingent on what their gear slots allowed. CHA picks should have theoretically alleviated this, but then there was a twist based on whether you were Faction or Freelance - AND the organization ratings could also provide more things to be aware of. Nobody
liked deciding on Common Items ("Is a flashlight a common item? What about a camera? Cell phone? Encrypted
cell phone? Is a pen a common item? Oops, I forgot paper. Oops, I forgot a bag. Anybody got some duct tape?"). There ARE people who like knowing precisely what is in every pocket on their PCs person, but in my experience they're not the majority of gamers out there - or at least the gamers I personally seem to attract.
Reserve picks were a rarefied mystery beyond most of my player's comprehension - or interest - or time. Net Worth and Reputation? We tracked it, but I can count on one hand the number of times people used 'em, even after I tried pushing them as an alternative to meticulously pre-plotting gear selections. Didn't work.
Weapons were not only more detailed and varied, they had upgrades AND qualities, and ammo and some upgrades cost more than one upgrade and certain upgrades had to go in certain virtual places on particular weapons. Worst of all, the upgrades and qualities existed in different parts of the rulebooks; you'd get a weapon, sort out its stats, add an upgrade, look up the upgrade, then get told it added a quality, look up the quality, then adapt the stats you looked up in the first place to figure out what you actually had. More realistic? I guess. More engaging? Not for myself or most of my players. More headaches? Absolutely.
Armor was quite powerful relative to the damage of weapons, meaning that my covert operatives would often end up strapping on helmets, vests, kneepads, and who knows what else when doing covert spy stuff
. When your otherwise non-combative hacker kits himself out like one of the characters from Army of Two, I'd say there's a serious disconnect going on. Oh, and armor and vehicles also
had upgrades and qualities to flip through. Whee.
Spending Cash we did use. A lot. Mainly because my guys loved bribing people and buying stuff in the field.
Gadgets - well, I grew to hate them, to be honest.
Consider a relatively low-key Caliber II mission, say "steal this dingus from this enemy base". If I have a Level 1 PC, his skill rank in his main class skill is 4, perhaps a bit more if he got the right talent, specialization, or skill feats. He may have a +2 or +3 to that skill via attribute; that's something like +8/+9 if he's really emphasized this in his construction. This is his main skill, the thing he's known for.
Consider a Level 1 Intruder. He gets 1 Gadget pick for his class. He grabs Skill Check, Caliber III (he gets to increase the caliber of a gear pick thanks to Gear Prep). He gets +12
on 3 checks - and it doesn't matter what skill, so he could take the very same skill the previous PC has specialized
in. That means three times out of the number of times that skill comes up, the Intruder is going to be the guy who does the check for the team while the other guy (who built his character around this skill
) sits and twiddles his thumbs. Now consider what happens if the Intruder and his less system-savvy pal level and gain more gear picks AND skill ranks. Assuming the same caliber for a later mission, the Intruder can now get a few
skill checks at +12, or the same skill check multiple times at 3 uses a pop. He can now outperform multiple fellow team members and/or do it many more times in the mission.
That's really just the tip of the iceberg; Healing, Damage Resistance (lethal), Invisibility...these are things in the reach of PCs in Caliber II+ missions if the GM hasn't specified that they cannot
get 'em and yet grant a massive advantage to those who can. They also presume a super-tech focus for the game, one where equipment IS more important than character ability. Even if I restricted Gadgets with organization ratings to Caliber I in my "realistic" tradecraft game, I'd end up with guys boosting their Impress with "pheremone sprays". Not because it fits the game, mind you, but because "Hey! Free bonus!".
In theory, they provide a jumping off point for the imagination of the GM and his players. In practice? Min/Maxer Heaven. I really would almost prefer the fixed list of gizmos from 1.0, even; at least those tried to rationalize things better and didn't simply offer super-powers - AND it was somehow easier to know which ones would imbalance things in play.
As far as the time it took my players to pick stuff - well, play-by-post is unique in that its a kind of game where everybody accepts that it's going to take a long time to do even trivial tasks. People get to it when they can get to it, and if they have a job, family, and social life, that can mean long waits and more time to browse and read and be selective. In tabletop, well - it was fairly awful in my experience. Its possible that my tabletop group (no longer including the aforementioned Triggerman) is made up of wishy washy wafflers who get confused by charts in general - but we've played other crunchy games (4E, 3.5, Shadowrun, and Champions, among others) with equipment lists that were less painful. Heck, 1.0 was less painful, I'd argue.
I know that there were extensive revisions to 2.0 (I own the first run, the revised, and even the pocket edition), but even with the reorganized, explicated, and adjusted gear rules, they made my players want to cry. And that's not a great feeling when you're trying to help them get to the cool stuff that I think makes the game so great; for many people who aren't into tracking all those facts and figures, they won't go any further with you, and even if they do (as many repeat PBP players have told me), they will always let you know that gear still bugs 'em.
For those of you who LOVE the gear system of 2.0, I don't want you to think I'm in total opposition to all that detail and crunch. It can
be neat to get precisely what you need and know precisely what it does. I honestly understand that even if I don't prefer to play that way. But, for those of us who don't want to spend as much time on the props as they want to spend on the characters and getting their Spy on, it can be a big obstructing speed bump.
Does this mean we need to have "generic" firearms, armor, vehicles, and totally nerfed gadgets? No! Hell no. I'm just saying there's more choices along the scale between that kind of bland extreme and the other - which would be, I don't know, grain weight charts and factored velocity simulations. I think you can keep the range of options and detail in SpyCraft 3.0, but
I personally feel it needs to be more carefully considered in light of other play styles, interests, and how much fun
it actually adds to the game. I'd hazard a guess I'm not alone in this feeling, even if its not a popular sentiment on these particular forums.