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52 Pick Up


Gareth-Michael Skarka
February 8, 2001



Welcome back.

Our game this week is an RPG, and one of my favorite genres, at that.   From the time that I was old enough to have fantasies of being suave, cool and debonair, I have been a huge James Bond fan.   I have seen every film, own all of them on tape (and have just begun getting them AGAIN on DVD...Yay!), and can quote dialogue from memory.  I own all of the novels (from Fleming through Amis and Gardener, to the recent Benson pieces), and dozens of related publications.  My favorite game design of all time still remains the JAMES BOND 007 RPG published in the early 80s by Victory Games.  Hell, I even named my son Ian.

So, this week, I give you CLOAK & DAGGER, my take on the super-spy genre.

This game simulates the high-action, flexible realism genre of the spy movie.  Unlike realistic espionage, which is largely dominated by research and mundane information sorting, this game lets players enter the world of the classic cinematic spy.  Larger-than-life villains, world-threatening plots, exotic locales, flashy cars, beautiful love interests, and ingenious gadgetry:  all of the necessary trappings of the genre.

The game uses a diceless, plot-intensive system to encourage the formation of cinema-style stories, rather than slavish adherence to random results.  I know that there are some of you out there who don't like diceless systems.....to those, all I can say is: See ya next week.  Move aside and let the other folks take the seats up front.

Characters in Cloak & Dagger are not defined by a series of abstract numbers and ratings.  Each character record will be in the form of a written, descriptive dossier file, clearly stating the character's abilities.  Think of it as a drier, less florid version of the character diary from Castle Falkenstein (by R. Talsorian Games).

Characters may be one of four ranks, depending upon the dictates of the campaign.  The four ranks are:  Rookie, Veteran, Specialist, and Special Agent.  The lower the rank of the characters, the more players can be accommodated.  Rookies are best in larger groups; Veterans in parties of 4 or 5 players; Specialists best operate in groups of 2 or 3 (each player literally specializing in a particular facet of the mission); and Special Agents are intended for 1-on-1 play, or, at most, in a pair (in rare situations).

Characters are defined in their dossiers by the abilities they possess.  Abilities are rated on the following scale:  untrained, competent, trained, expert and master.  All player characters are assumed to have ALL abilities at competent level, except in cases where determined by the gamemaster (for example, driving may start at competent, while surgery starts at untrained). The final list of available abilities will be determined by individual gamemasters, specific to their campaigns.

Additionally, characters have a number of abilities at higher ranks, depending upon their rank:

Rookies:  5 at Trained.
Veterans:  7 at Trained, 3 at Expert.
Specialists:  7 at Trained, 5 at Expert, and 1 at Master.
Special Agent:  9 at Trained, 7 at Expert and 5 at Master.

Especially at higher ranks, this is obviously quite a lot of skill.  This is in keeping with the dictates of the genre--think about it:  James Bond (a Special Agent) can do damn near anything, while Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise's character in the Mission: Impossible films, a Specialist) is less widely skilled, but still impressive.

Characters additionally have the option of buying down abilities, from competent to untrained, in order to given another ability a +1 rank adjustment.  This is a risky practice, however, as your agent may come up short in the field!

The character dossier would be written as follows:  "Agent Triple-6 is a master marksman, as well as an expert in demolitions, driving, hand-to-hand combat, and gambling.  He is an expert pilot, and has received training in surveillance, seduction, computers, and electronics, as well as mountain climbing, boating, and heavy weapons."  Anything not specifically listed would be assumed to be at competent level (unless otherwise dictated by the GM, or bought down to untrained, which would have to be noted).

There are two basic parts to the game system for Cloak & Dagger:  simple resolution and the action sequence.  Both parts operate using the same principle: Plot Points.  All characters start the game with a set number of plot points:  Rookies start with 20, Veterans with 30, Specialists have 40 and Special Agents start with 50 points.

In simple resolution, you compare the rank of the ability in question with the difficulty of the action, determined by the GM.  Difficulties correspond to the ranks of the abilities (indicating that it would take that rank or better to succeed,)  In addition, there are two further difficulty levels: Extreme (Master +1) and Impossible (Master +2).

In the event that a characters skill is of an insufficient rank, the player may opt to spend plot points in order to succeed in the action.  The expenditure required is 5 points for every level of difference.  For example, a competent ability versus an expert difficulty would require 10 points expenditure--5 points to raise to Trained, another 5 to raise to Expert.

Action sequences are handled differently.  Action sequences are scenes such as gun battles, chases, and the like.  In an action sequence, the player describes his intended action to the GM.  The GM then awards a number of bonus plot points (points which MUST be spent by the end of the scene or be lost) based on how cinematically spectacular he or she judges the action to be--the more budget-busting, special effects-laden, and breathtakingly dangerous the action is, the more points are awarded.   This system encourages players to get out of the "I try to hit it" school of roleplaying, rewarding ingenious action and forethought.  If the player manages to work in the use of a gadget (which they were briefed on, in genre tradition, at the beginning of the mission) that alone would be worth bonus points right there---let's face it: James Bond tends to use the gadgets in one scene only, after which they are not often seen again.

The player and the GM then write down secret point bids (the GM taking his from the NPC's plot points), with the player using as much or his or her bonus in combination with their existing pool as they wish  (remember that bonus points are lost at the end of the scene).  The bids are then revealed.  For every 10 points difference between the winner and loser's bids, the winner may alter the situation to his or her favor (the opponents' gun jams, pedestrians block chase route, etc.).  If the difference is 20 points, the winner has the option of ending the contest (opponent shot and out of the fight, car crashes, etc.).

The play does not have to end there, however.  If the bid loser wishes, he or she may raise their bid, in effect creating a back-and-forth bidding war until one side relents.  This practice should be reserved for only the most crucial actions, as it tends to eat up point pools quickly..

Plot Point pools are replenished, however.  They are awarded much like standard gaming experience points, but instead of being handed out at the end of every adventure, plot points are awarded at the end of every major segment of the adventure, based upon how well the character performed the goals of that segment, how well the player roleplayed, etc.   In this way, a character's point pool will recharge as they progress through the story.   At the end of a mission, a large award may be given , that can be used to carry over to the next story.  Additionally, larger amounts of points might be able to be spent to permanently raise ability scores, although this will have to be determined by the individual GM...personally, I don't think that the genre supports evidence for any kind of character advancement.

Those are the basics of the rules system.  For setting, any nation's intelligence service can be used as a model...although this tends to stretch my suspension of disbelief.  In this modern age, too much is actually known about the real-world intelligence agencies.  For my campaign, I will use AEGIS:  The Agency for Emergency Global Intelligence and Security--a super-secret agency of the US government, funded by the over-runs in the Pentagon budget.  All of the agents working for AEGIS have been "killed" in the line of duty from other agencies: FBI, CIA, NSA, Army Intelligence...  They are given plastic surgery, new identities, and offered the chance to work for AEGIS, or return to their previous status.....dead.    All I need now are a few Evil Masterminds, and we're good to go.

Well, there ya have it.  The bare bones.   Take it and run with it.   As for me, I've got more work to do.  1 down, 51 to go.

See ya in 7.

Gareth-Michael Skarka

Gareth-Michael Skarka is the Operations Manager for Synister Creative Systems.  He has written and edited for games including Star Trek, Deadlands Hell on Earth, and GURPS.  He is the designer of several RPG systems, including UnderWorld and Hong Kong Action Theatre!. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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Reshuffled: 52 Pick Up, edited by Chris Czerniak

52 Pick Up original run, by Gareth-Michael Skarka

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