We wrapped up Deguello this weekend; in the end, we agreed to wrap up the game in our third session instead of going to a fourth. This was chiefly because one of our players had made an agreement with his wife that he'd only play 3 sessions, and we didn't want to be the source of martial strife.
All in all, I'd say the game worked; I had fun, the players had fun, and it didn't explode in our face. The rules - and house rules - seemed to support the play style, and they never got in the way of our fun. I didn't end up using as much detail or crunch as I'd initially intended, but the players never noticed the difference. We also managed to mostly avoid the sort of technical hiccups that often are a part of playing over the internet.
It wasn't without faults or issues, though, and I'm taking a look back to see what I can learn from our experience. Characters
Getting together for a group character creation session was harder than anticipated. Of the five people who initially signed up, only three showed for that session; I ended up helping the remaining two players make characters separately. Nobody save one other player (one of the two that didn't show) had access to the book, but I had the PDF of the Thug preview which helped the guy who made one of those quite a bit. Explaining things to those without the book was a bit hard, and in the end I don't know if we got full mileage out of all the Spycraft 2.0 options anyways. More on that later.
We used the form-fillable PDF character sheet, but people still had some problems figuring out what went where. I'm glad I went with the Jack of All Trades Campaign Quality (not to be confused with the Specialty of the same name) since it eliminated the need to worry about cross-class skills and ranks. I did find it necessary to lay out which skills did what - knowing precisely what Manipulate means as opposed to Bluff is not something anybody picks up on first glance. We mostly went light on social skills given the focus of the game - these were hard edged hired guns, not counselors and negotiators.
The two biggest stumbling blocks for explanation online were Origin and Feats. There's just so many options and details for each, and if you don't already know what those crunchy bits mean in the scheme of things, you can quickly get lost in the wilderness. I emailed and posted some feat details online for everybody without the book - but I'm pretty sure only one of the players kept track of his. He used the Low Blow trick from Dirty Fighting 1 time (that's Once) and I reminded him about how to use Two Weapon Basics late in the game, and he also used that once. The Soldier, who had quite a few Feats, never referenced using any of them; I ended up granting him the benefit of Marksmanship Basics (which he had) whenever he described aiming. Another player got some mileage out of his Explosives Basics feat, but he entirely forgot one of his Chance feats until the last session was pretty much over.
Feats which added a bonus into skills or threat range got a bit more use, I suppose, but that's not because the players were aware of them - they just happened to already figure into the skill bonuses.
As far as Gear, I just gave players the option of one sidearm, one longarm, and one other bit of gear their PC would start with. They described what they wanted broadly, I picked something and gave the stats for it to them. I ended up doing the most work on the Wheelman's car, but most of that detail didn't come into play. Nobody chose armor; they picked up some after the first action scene, but it didn't factor in very much anyways. All in all, I'm quite glad we didn't look at or use the 2.0 gearing up rules at all.
In a general sense, I'd say the Thug, Soldier, and Pointman got the most mileage out of their characters in the game. Their class abilities and skills fit the theme and let them do what they set out to do. The Wheelman, though, fell right into the usual trap of being separate from the group by virtue of staying in her car, and thus did very little.
While that's at least partially due to the player's strange insistence that she wouldn't want to leave the vehicle - she would have been effective even outside of it - it ties into the old problem I have with Wheelmen and Hackers. The class name and abilities lead to people isolating themselves from the action, and that sucks big time. In the end, the Wheelman really only had one or two notable moments, and both times those were defined by them driving around on their own, away from the real crisis.
The Scout's player simply didn't show up for play, so that wasn't a factor. I did make and use abbreviated versions of an Intruder and Lawman for two NPCs who joined the rest of the party in the shootouts. Those worked pretty well, though I didn't use any of their special abilities or feats; I might have been better off letting one of the players run them as backup/companion characters.
From a roleplaying standpoint, I've got few complaints. The Thug, Soldier, and Pointman players all brought their A game and created interesting and compelling protagonists. The Drives ended up being very helpful for getting them quickly into the game and motivated throughout. Their contribution elevated what could have been a routine run-and-gun scenario.
The Wheelman though...well, the player is a bit of a contrarian with a habit of self-sabotage - he showed up late and mostly used his Debt Drive as an excuse to not get involved with anything too dangerous ("She wouldn't want to risk her life" is a pretty piss poor choice in a game based on the Seven Samurai). Kind of reached a nadir when his character spent most of the final confrontation doing donuts in the parking lot while the Sheriff got gunned down and the rest were struggling to deal with a shit ton of enemies - the other players weren't well pleased with him, and neither was I. It ended up working out okay since his lack of investment meant he just got to do less cool stuff, but it still makes me consider what we could have done differently. I REALLY don't like the Wheelman class now, either. Setting, NPCs, Story
The game was intended to be pretty simple and spare, but having a lot of time on my hands meant I created a whole lot more detail than I probably needed. We had numerous Non Player Characters, a relatively detailed fictional town and map, and a lot of optional subplots. Most of the NPCs and subplots didn't figure into the game, but I'm still glad I had them around. If we spent another session focused on the PCs interactions with the town - we really only had 1 session for that - I imagine there would have been more mileage out of those details.
As it turned out, though, we still got enough connections with the setting and supporting cast to raise the stakes in the final action-oriented session. That session had to shoe horn in a lot of development and forced decision making, however; we all agreed it would have been better to go four sessions to build up to a less ridiculous finale, but circumstances OOC just weren't going to allow for it.
My biggest regret is that the finale felt (to me) kinda stupid. Not bad
stupid, necessarily, but in comparison to the more tactical and tension filled ambush before it, it was loud and messy and full of the sorts of lazy cliches that modern games tend to fall into. I even had the cartel boss making evil mastermind speeches and a car running into the front of a bar! Not really what I was going for, but whatever; the players mostly seemed to enjoy it and those that died went out in a blaze of glory. System/Combat
The system worked good, even better than expected. I did NOT use every bit of crunch in the book, but I used enough of it to make the tactical choices matter and have real impact on the outcome. Action Dice were a big hit (no surprise there), but Fluid Initiative, errors/threat, cover, etc. seemed to click as well. I house ruled Damage Saves and Damage rolls to speed things up, too, and without tooting my own horn too much, it saved us a lot
of time and annoyance.
In brief, for Damage I had all PCs and NPCs assume they rolled the highest possible result on dice and tell me the final result. For Damage Saves, I had the relevant standard NPCs "take 10" and figured out what the threshold was for them to fail their given save. In other words, if a guy had Damage Save +7, he'd ALWAYS get 17, which meant he could take up to 14 damage of any kind before he'd fail and drop. The maximized damage meant every gunshot counted and would reliably drop most NPCs in one or two hits. It also made activated critical hits to Special characters good and nasty. It may have skewed some of the curve built into the system, but the shootouts went fast and had a nice feel to them - in fact, I may use those house rules with Spy/Fantasy Craft in the future to cut down on the amount of rolling.
Things I didn't use? I didn't pay very close attention to rules for explosions, special damage types, stress damage, or morale saves. I definitely abbreviated the rules for vehicle damage/hit locations, too, since it didn't feel like something we wanted to focus on. I might have benefited from using the rules for targeting passengers and tires etc., but in truth I'm not sorry I didn't stop to look them up. I also probably glossed over some of the weapon qualities, but we did use Dependable, Takedown, and one or two others.
Skills were a bit eyeballed, as well, but that didn't negate their utility. They definitely benefited from getting a Critical Success on their Tactics check before the ambush in the last session - and people got some opportunities to use non-combat abilities like Search, Sense Motive, and Knowledge checks.
Oh, and maps; I had to throw together one for the last fight at the brothel; I hadn't intended for their to be action there. While I had a bunch prepared from various sources, its surprisingly hard to find the "right" one on the fly. Once I got one that worked, though, it helped lots.Lessons Learned
* Characters should probably be pregens unless all participants have access to the book or its an ongoing game. Even then, though, any and all PDFs and sheets and summaries you can offer will help. Maybe pick Origins and Feats for people based on concept?
* Drives are a good idea, especially if you want a quick and easy way to tie a character to a one shot scenario.
* Gear detail you gloss over is not missed - it just isn't. Gearing Up is pretty much not wanted at my table.
* Feats and other abilities are quickly and easily forgotten, so maybe make sure people get the deets down somewhere.
* Wheelman class is not my friend. If we'd had car chases and road warrior mayhem - maybe? But otherwise, I'm avoiding it like the plague unless the player truly appreciates that they are not going to stay in their damn car.
* Having bitched about the Wheelman -> Concept trumps rules, every time. A good roleplayer can make anything sing.
* Internet players be flaky and unreliable.
* Give PCs time and room to get to know the people they're supposed to care about. That groundwork may not be thrilling, but it makes the action matter so much more.
* Don't overload players with information and NPCs etc. They will only remember the bits that interest them and their objectives. Having fallbacks is good, but they can be sketchy.
* Dumb action cliche can be fun, but if you aim higher and are prepared, you can do better.
* Spycraft 2.0 isn't that hard to play and can even be fairly fast, provided you have one or more players who are already well-versed in it and the GM is okay with only using pieces of the toolkit that matter to you.
* Action Dice are always (always) a good idea.
* Fluid initiative and combat actions aren't that much of a burden, provided you have references people can use (see GM handout).
* "Taking 10" with Damage Saves, Passive checks, etc. can speed things up and simplifies GM workload a lot.
* Always have more maps than you think you'll need.
Hope you all find this useful and interesting! I'm going to check with the players to see if they want to add anything.