USR Wednesdays: Espionage

Last week, I introduced the concept of Free-Form Specialisms, where instead of pre-determined skills and abilities, a character can use his “+1s” to do anything he needs to do on an adventure. You lose two “+1s” if you settle on a Specialism. Let’s put this concept to work in a popular RPG setting: the world of secret agents, master thieves and assassins.

In fantasy and space opera-type science fiction, the character archetypes are instantly familiar (and have already been created for USR on this very blog): wizard, rogue, pilot, bounty hunter. Espionage games have their archetypes too — hacker, mastermind, femme fatale — but secret agent characters have more than one ability.

Pick your suave super spy.
Bond. James Bond(s). (image: eurochannel.com)

To represent this, give your hero a single Specialism as his archetype, and then also put for “+1s” on the character sheet. This is something like Pierce Brosnan-era Bond or the efficient, nick-of-time thieves of the “Ocean’s” movie series. If you’re playing a high-level espionage game, like a Roger Moore-era James Bond or Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. story, you might want to tack on another “+1” or two, and that’s not counting any bonuses awarded for super-spy gear. Characters in a more down-to-earth game (say, Jason Bourne, or even something like “Taken”) could have fewer “+1s.”

If a character is only in the story for a moment, they’re probably best represented as NPCs. Q, the gadget-maker for James Bond, shows up just long enough to deliver a few spy tools to 007, then disappears. If he traveled with Bond, creating weapons and devices while James was seducing women and negotiating with super-villains, then he’d be a player character.

What’s a good spy archetype? I mentioned a few before, but there are more:

  • Brawler — hand-to-hand fighting, martial arts
  • Detective — seeing clues others miss, following rumors and suspicions to the end of the line
  • Driver — every spy can drive (or fly) fast; only drivers can pull off stunts that strain vehicles to their maximum
  • Femme Fatale — seduction, keeping attention on herself (or himself) so others can do their jobs
  • Gadgeteer — inventing tools, detecting and defusing traps
  • Hacker — breaking into computer systems, writing viruses
  • Infiltrator — breaking into buildings, slipping through locks, defusing security systems
  • Mastermind — conceiving a plan, changing the plan on the spur of the moment when it goes wrong
  • Politician — con artist who’s good at making allies and using his words to cool everything down
  • Sniper — master of all firearms, expert at extremely long-distance shots
  • Soldier — punching, shooting, staying in the fight longer than anyone else

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