Spycraft: Modern Arms Guide
Spycraft: Modern Arms Guide Capsule Review by KM Curow on 01/07/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
An excellent supplement for Spycraft, the MAG would be useful to anyone who wants to differentiate firearms in their d20 campaign. Optional combat rules can also provide extra realism to your game.
Product: Spycraft: Modern Arms Guide
Author: Chad Brunner, et al.
Page count: 144
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by KM Curow on 01/07/02
Genre tags: Modern day Espionage
Arms guides for RPGs have been around for a long time. I remember seeing one for Twilight 2000, I own two for Alternity, and just about any RPG with firearms has usually been accompanied either by a vast selection of weapons in the core rulebook (both Traveler and 2300AD had nice sections) or by the later publication of an arms guide. Many RPGers love them. I do, though I cannot explain why I do. Many RPGers hate them, for a variety of different reasons. Some question whether such a guide is really useful for an RPG. They tend to see roleplaying as more important than whether a particular .45 caliber automatic pistol differs from another. Some question the stats given in such a book, arguing some weapons got shafted while others are worse in reality than portrayed. Yet otehrs question whether there really are quantifiable statistical differences between similar firearms that would make any difference on the scale of an RPG simulating those effects. I do not entirely disagree with any of these people. But I still find it fun to have a vast arsenal of weapons differentiated (to some extent) from each other that can add some flavor to a campaign, to a character, or simply to the action. And I can live with a few minor issues in accuracy, dependability, and damage in return for having that arsenal at my finger tips.
The question before us is: is the Spycraft Modern Arms Guide worth shelling out US$24.95 for?
First, a word about the physical style. The Spycraft Modern Arms Guide (hereafter referred to as the MAG) continues the style of the core rulebook. It is a paperback, with the same style of art and the same interior fonts and layout as the original. Thankfully, the glossy interior paper is gone so it is easier to read under lamplight. I like the style but such things are always a matter of taste. The writing style is appropriate, clear, and consistent with that of the core book.
Disclaimer: Number of pages for each chapter is approximate.
Chapter One: New Rules(25 pages)
There are a number of rules additions in the first chapter, all of which are, of course, optional.
One of the more interesting rules additions is the Triggerman prestige class. The Triggerman is a a two-weapon and close-quarters fighting class. His special abilities are a mixture of those primarily helpful to the Agent and those helpful to the whole team. One ability allows the Agent to expend an Action Die each round to get an extra free attack with one of his weapons. Another ability halves the BP cost of firearm acquisition for the whole team. While I have not play-tested the class, it seems to be balanced and useful for those who use PrCs in their campaigns.
Three new skills are also included, the most important of which provide rules for crafting or modifying both firearms and melee weapons—including masterwork modifications. These are called Craft (Gunsmithing) and Craft (Weaponsmithing). The Knowledge (Firearms) skill is a nice addition which allows Agents with that skill to be experts in different types of firearms, but the synergy bonus to Spot or Search checks for concealed weapons seems a bit odd simply because someone knows how the difference between the various Glock models.
Many of the other rules complicate things quite a bit. While they definitely add realism to the system, some may find that they slow down play too much to be worthwhile. But, that's why they are optional. For example, under Fluid Initiative are several rules that will cause an Agent's initiative to change over the course of a combat. A good example is Pressing, which allows an agent with a very high initiative score to trade in some of his advantage for an extra half-action. The Condition of Carry rules probably take the system too far towards reality and add too much complication. Essentially these are rules for determining weapon safety and state of readiness. It provides more realism, but I know I will prefer to stick with: "Is your weapon holstered or in your hand?"
The Morale rules look excellent. While some GCs will prefer to simply roleplay NPC morale, the rules provided here provide an excellent way to quickly determine how groups of NPCs (either minions or those on the side of the Agents) will respond to changes in the fortune of battle. Included are rules for determining when to make a morale check, at what DC, with what modifiers, and the effects of a failure (ranging from withdrawal to rout).
Probably the best addition to the combat rules is the section on on Advanced Gear Rules. In this section, the MAG details thirty-two Gear Qualities. Almost every firearm in the book has one or more of these qualities attributed to it. A couple of examples will clarify what I mean. Weapons with the Fast-Load quality provide agents with an initiative bonus. The Dependable quality means that weapons with this quality require an extra action die to activate a critical failure. Using the Masterwork rules provided under the skill Craft (Weaponsmithing), additional modifications can be made to firearms. A good example is the Rebuilt Action masterwork modification which grants that weapon the Dependable quality described above. A number of other modifications are also possible, including Action, Barrel and Stock/Grip masterwork modifications as well as some masterwork mods for other types of gear.
The chapter concludes with some rules for handling gear taking damage and the somewhat controversial Black Market rules. Spycraft was alternately praised and criticized for the decision to assign all gear a BP amount for determining availability to agents instead of using a dollar value. The idea was to look at gear in terms of an agency dispensing equipment to operatives. Quite a few players and GCs argued that having a dollar value would have made it easier to handle acquiring items outside of the agency. Strangely, the MAG introduces the Black Market concept and a significant portion of the gear and weapons in the book have been assigned a dollar value in addition to a BP value. Many of the firearms are, however, listed as "restricted" and do not have a dollar value assigned. This seems to be a slight problem since theoretically even restricted firearms would sometimes be available from black market arms dealers. Still, I think the addition is welcome since Agents do, in fact, have access to cold, hard cash. (In the authors' defense, they probably are a law-abiding group and none of them could simply call up their black market dealer and ask: "So, how much for an Accuracy International L96AWP?")
Chapter Two: Melee Weapons(6 pages)
This short chapter expands somewhat on the melee weapons mentioned in the core rules with a nice list of additional standard weapons and more improvised weapons. My favorite additions are the hatchet, hypodermic needle, and roll of coins.
Chapter Three: Hurled Weapons(5 pages)
Another very short chapter, expanding quite a bit on the core rules. While several of the weapons could be easily pulled from the PHB (e.g., compound bow, javelin), there are some new modern weapons here as well, including white phosphorous grenades and arrows with exploding tips (called "grenade arrows"). While not technically "hurled" I liked the addition of the nailgun (with safety removed, of course).
Chapter Four: Exotic Weapons(10 pages)
This chapter is dedicated to archaic and martial arts weapons. Strangely enough, some of the archaic weapons which are included are slightly modified from the PHB entries. For example, the warhammer does 1d8 1 damage and the flail does 1d6 1. Much more useful to most GCs will be the addition of numerous martial arts weapons—nearly ten times as many as appear in the core book. While I am not someone who is intimately familiar with the various martial arts, let alone the individual weapons, players who are and who want to individualize their characters will find everything from a "nine teeth hook" to a "flying fork" with which to punish their enemies.
Chapter Five: Firearms(50 pages)
This is the meat of the book and it is extremely meaty. As mentioned before, I am not an expert on firearms, so I will be commenting on the usefulness of the section not its accuracy. In my concluding remarks below I have included a link to a forum on where others who are more knowledgeable are already discussing the merits of the various numbers.
The chapter is divided into Handguns, Rifles, Shotguns and Submachineguns, but each category is further subdivided. For example, handguns are divided into Pistols (Backup, Pocket, Service, and Target) and Revolvers (Hunting and Service). The chapter begins with an optional combat rule: Recoil. This rule affects aiming when characters make autofire, strafe, and burst attacks, modified by the character's strength. The lower the strength, the more recoil affects the aim and each weapon is given a recoil rating. For those whose campaigns are more cinematic, they may want to leave this out, since weak characters would be significantly disadvantaged. On the other hand, weak characters would be more likely to choose their weapons carefully if you use this rule, so it might add to roleplaying and characterization.
The selection of weapons seems to me to be quite excellent. I am sure any serious gun lover will find that some models s/he would like to see are missing. For the modest enthusiast and the average gamer, however, I think the list far exceeds adequate. For example, while the list of Glock pistols is not complete, it is adequate for the needs of most campaigns (there are stats for the Glock 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 31). Another good example of the thoroughness is that no less than seven models of the popular Heckler & Koch MP5 submachinegun are statted. All the major and several minor assault rifles made it into the mix and the shotgun list is particularly impressive. Each weapon has been assigned the following stats: BP, Recoil, Accuracy, Damage, Error, Threat, Range Increment, Qualities (see above) and Mods, and the Actual Cost (unless the weapon is restricted). There are also a significant number of additional ammo types and their effects discussed at the end of the chapter.
Regarding more historical firearms, I have to say that I was satisfied, though I would have liked to see have seen more WW2-era firearms. While many popular weapons of that era make an appearance here (the Thompson SMG, the Mauser, the Springfield), there seem to be some missing (Luger?). I realize that this is a Modern Arms Guide, but I wish they had had a separate section on common weapons of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, for those of us who run Interwar or Cold War campaigns.
A couple of comments regarding the layout. The weapon descriptions come first in all these chapters and the stats list is at the end of the chapter. Up to this point in the book this was no serious problem. However, due to the size of this chapter, you will find yourself having to flip back and forth between the descriptions and the stats. While it is somewhat annoying, for gameplay purposes all the important information is in the list at the end of the chapter.
Chapter Six: Accessories(12 pages)
A number of weapon accessories are described, along with their game effects. These include Bracing Accessories (bipods, tripods), Chokes and Suppressors, Cosmetic Options, Holsters and Cases, Optical Accessories (Laser Sights, Scopes), Reloading Aids (speedloaders), and Tactical Accessories (pintel mount, ballistic computer).
Chapter Seven: Tactical Weapons(20 pages)
This chapter adds to the available tactical weapons, including explosives, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, machine guns, rocket launchers, and mortars. Additional ammo types for grenades, rockets and mortars are also provided. I was glad to see the inclusion of various mines (Claymores, toe poppers, as well as larger landmines), new types of explosives (satchel charges, thermite), and rifle-launched grenades. Unfortunately, none of the mortars detailed are larger than 81mm, although 120mm mortars are fairly common in military arsenals.
Chapter Eight: Protective Gear(5 pages)
While short, this chapter includes some useful protective gear not covered in the core rules. Some examples include stab vest (meant to stop knives, not bullets), flak vest, and armored blanket. I also liked the inclusion of a handful of "improvised protective gear" such as a football helmet.
Chapter Nine: Other Gear(18 pages)
This chapter did not make the final cut for the book, but I recommend it to everyone. It is available as a free PDF download here.
A couple of nitpicks before I go. There is no index in this book, which is a crying shame. Since it is well organized, it probably does not fully need it, however, so I consider this a nitpick and not a serious problem. The other nitpick: I am simply not a big fan of the four-sided die and nearly all of the assault rifles, shotguns, and many of the sniper rifles in this book require 3d4 or 4d4 to determine damage. I do not even own four four-sided dice... Annoying, but hardly a good reason not to purchase it.
Despite a couple of nitpicks here and there, I can only wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone running a Spycraft campaign. Naturally, if you get by with the generic stats from the core rulebook, then there is no need. I like the added detail and flavor that such a book adds, especially when the extra complications and bookkeeping are kept to a minimum. If you are running any other kind of d20 campaign in which modern firearms play a prominent role, I think the additional statistics and rules will be a nice addition. Even if you run a sci-fi campaign, the weapon qualities and additional combat rules might be useful to you.
For those who really want to take a closer look at some of the technical errors in the MAG, there is a good thread going at the Spycraft forums. The author of the MAG has already posted in this thread that he is preparing an errata to be posted at the Spycraft website soon. I think it will only make a great product that much better.
On the whole, I think this is a great supplement and one of the better arms guides produced for a RPG.