Gentlemen's Agreement Capsule Review by KM Curow on 13/01/03
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
This new Season (Campaign) recently released for Spycraft is a great asset for those running Spycraft campaigns. Not intended for Shadowforce Archer campaigns, though it could be used for that as well. Some issues keep it from a perfect grade.
Product: Gentlemen's Agreement
Author: B.D. Flory
Company/Publisher: AEG Inc.
Page count: 95
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by KM Curow on 13/01/03
Genre tags: Modern day Espionage
SPOILERS! I have endeavored to keep the spoilers to a minimum, especially avoiding specifics. However, if you are a Spycraft player and you even suspect you might end up playing this season at some point, it will be more fun if you do not read this review. SPOILERS!
Composed of four serials (adventures), this season (campaign consisting of a number of serials) for Spycraft is intended to support non-Archer Foundation games?meaning it is more grounded in the spy-movie genre than in pulp fiction themes. In other words, the serials in this book look more like James Bond or Mission Impossible movies than the computer game Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The authors claim Gentleman's Agreement (GA) was designed so that you can run them in any order, at different levels of agent experience, use them independently, sprinkle them in amidst an ongoing campaign, making the serials scalable and flexible for many different needs. They seem to have succeeded admirably.
Part of this scaling that looks like it will work very well is the presentation of DCs. When running a serial, the Control chooses the level of threat s/he is going to use, based on the level of the players' agents, and this determines the DC. In each case where a players must make a DC or opposed role, the difficult is presented with three options, e.g. 12/14/16. Let's say you have chosen to run a low-level group of agents in the first serial against a low-level threat and there is a lock to pick. The books says the DC is 12/14/16, so the player makes the check against a DC of 12. If it were a high-level group of characters, you would have used the DC16. The same is done with the skill modifiers for minions and henchmen, so a driving skill modifier would be presented as plus 4/10/16 and the Control would choose the appropriate level at which s/he is running the serial. Additionally, there are three stat-blocks given for both minions and the masterminds, depending on the level of the PCs. (So in one serial the bad guy is a 2nd, 9th, or 17th level Snoop, depending on which you choose, while his guards are 1st, 7th, or 15th level minions.)
One of the appendices includes additional rules for using volcanoes in your games, while another details a new threat. The volcano rules are well-presented, giving the GC an idea of how to handle volcanoes and volcanic disturbances. One feature I liked was using the chase system to simulate trying to escape a lava flow or ash cloud. The threat, called the Board (I can already see players making jokes about the ?Bored?) is not really an organization. Instead, it is a group of masterminds who compete to outdo each other in causing mayhem. In that sense, they do not compete and it would even be plausible that one mastermind might find it amusing to assist the agents in stopping the schemes of a rival. There is, however, a great deal of dedication to the ?game? and so they may on the other hand consider the agents as ?unfairly? disrupting the game. There are three masterminds detailed in the book and each is highlighted in a serial dedicated to a unique plan to cause mass mayhem around the world.
Ring of Fire
This is the first serial, though it would not be necessary to play it first. The main antagonist is a rich scientist who is working on a device which can either limit or enhance the effects of earthquakes. The agents are sent in to discover why he has not made his discovery public. The purpose of this serial, and the best reason to run it first, is to introduce the players to the threat. Initially, it should seem to be a single madman out to wreak havoc for personal gain but the players will eventually get the chance to learn more about the Board.
The serial is fairly straight-forward with three scenes. The first scene involves infiltration of a corporate facility which could lead to combat. The second scene, which promises opportunity for chases, is quite short and is mainly there to give players insight into the ultimate, nefarious plans of the mastermind. The third scene involves the infiltration of a secret island base, promises both combat and chases, and ends with a bang!
I think most agent classes would get a chance to participate, if not necessarily shine, in this one. It definitely provides a major role for agents adept at infiltration, especially bypassing security systems. There will almost certainly be chases and bloodshed, as well, though not necessarily a great deal of either. I think a bright Control could probably adjust some small details to better fit a specific team of agents, as well. Because it is so straightforward, I like this serial as an introduction not only to the season but I think it would also make a good intro to Spycraft, if you are just getting started. The themes are there and familiar and there is a nice buildup to the conclusion.
I have some minor quibbles, such as a map that does not always reflect the room descriptions (e.g. one contact is supposedly in a dorm room adjacent to the rec room ? but there is no dorm room adjacent to the rec room; several mentions of security exits which are not on the map) or other minor deficiencies in the descriptions (e.g. guards on patrol are described as carrying assault weapons and wearing armor but their stat blocks only mention revolvers and the armor depends on the threat level). These are minor because in all cases they are easily corrected by the Game Control.
The Bull and the Bear
This serial requires the players to put things together a bit more than in the first one. The initial scene requires them to go in almost blind and find someone?they don't know who?in Frankfurt, Germany. This requires both careful interrogation of innocent bystanders and some electronic trickery to track down the target. Once the target is discovered, there is likely to be some gunplay and a car chase to keep the players busy. One of the best features of this first scene is the car chase, which is programmed out, giving varied driving conditions (on the German Autobahn of course!) over a number of rounds, making the chase much more interesting and realistic without requiring the Control to improvise. Clever and well-done. The scene ends, most likely, with a bomb-disarming job.
The target is, in fact, the season's foil. She is a sexy siren associated with the mastermind of the serial. She is either working for him, or for Interpol trying to stop him (GC's choice). While the concept is good and could be good fun, the obvious sexuality of the character might make some players/GCs uncomfortable, as some scenes call for her to use her charms to influence one or more of the player agents.
Scene two leads the players to another infiltration job. Following up on what they learned in Frankfurt, the players travel to Zurich to learn more about the mastermind's scheme. Unfortunately, the security at this second site is so tight, it is hard to imagine a group of agents successfully sneaking in, getting the info they need, and escaping again, without ending up in a major fire-fight with a large number of heavily-armed guards. There are numerous security measures which have to be bypassed and failure at any of them leads to alarms being set off. On top of that, the only source of information to lead to the next scene only allows for one chance to succeed. Unlike in the first serial, there is no suggestion on what to do if the agents miss their chance here. Of course, a GC could conceivably come up with a number of ways in which the agents could discover where the bad guy has gone, so this is probably okay.
Scene three is the showdown with the mastermind, who turns out to be planning to disrupt the world's financial markets. Again, the infiltration job is nearly impossible due to tight security, and this scene will probably lead to one or more fire-fights. Here, the agents learn about the plan, but it has already been set in motion. As a result, the players will have to call their Agency for assistance, but even then the serial calls for players to split up and travel to two locations simultaneously. In case, they need to disarm a bomb, and in the other they need to stop a computer virus from activating. In both cases, they not only have to fight off attacks by enemy minions, they also have a very limited number of rolls in which to successfully complete their missions. Hopefully, they will have saved some action dice for this scene!
At the end of this scene, after hints throughout it, it becomes clear that these two seemingly isolated incidents are indeed related in a sinister way. The Board is for the first time truly revealed. At this point, the GC has the option of either continuing to the third serial, Cold Days, or skipping it and heading straight to End Game. I, for one, would skip Cold Days.
This serial is, as far as I can tell, an experiment. Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s, the Control is expected to run it as if the agents are predecessors of the current agents, but with the same skill sets. That way there is no time travel and the players are less likely to grumble about their agents not garnering experience for the adventure (making it a waste of time). Otherwise, it is suggested if a GC does not feel comfortable running this ?historical? serial, s/he should just ignore it. My own feeling is that this serial has no place here, even though it does provide interesting background about the past activities of the threat. If anything, it might have been a freebie download on the Spycraft website for those who were interested (and had purchased GA?). I would have much preferred to see an additional ?present day? serial to be included in Gentleman's Agreement, considering many of us will not want to upset the flow of the season by traveling back in time.
Having said my peace, however, I will now comment on the quality of Cold Days as an independent serial.
In some ways, this serial is a curious change from the other two in terms of difficulty. There are really four scenes, though the introductory scene?in which the agents sneak onto a Cuban missile base to take pictures?is short and really quite easy. The second scene is perhaps the most difficult. The agents are expected to get from West Berlin to East Berlin at the height of the Cold War and examine several Soviet military installations. Given that the only two obvious ways across pose serious problems (sneaking across the Berlin Wall is probably suicidal and bluffing their way through a checkpoint will get the agents into East Berlin with no equipment), this could be a real challenge to the players. Adding to this difficulty, the mission calls for the players to infiltrate, observe Soviet military forces, and exfiltrate. To advance the serial, however, there is a very good chance the agents will have to defeat several heavily-armed minions, interrogate a Soviet officer and then escape back into West Berlin. I am already thinking of ways to make this scene a bit simpler for the agents, such as providing a contact and/or weapons cache in East Berlin, which would not be all that unreasonable. The third scene is the most far-fetched but possibly the most entertaining. The agents are expected to sneak into the Kremlin to interrogate a Soviet general. Once they get there, they will have to achieve a lot more than that... but I won't spoil that here! The final scene is a classic ?confront the mastermind? scene. As a Soviet cargo ship prepares to challenge the US blockade of Cuba, the agents must get aboard and avert World War Three!
In general, I liked this serial. As mentioned, I think I would modify the East Berlin scene to make things a little easier on the players. I have a couple of problems with the Kremlin scene, as well. Namely, even though time is a factor, it seems unlikely that agents sent to Moscow to interrogate a Soviet general are necessarily going to consider sneaking into the Kremlin as the best course of action. As a player, I would probably look for ways to ambush him outside of the Kremlin. Of course, the GC has many excuses to push players into the Kremlin (crisis situation so the general never leaves his post, etc.). Scene four, aboard the cargo ship, however, is an absolute classic, however. Likewise, I liked the fact that the initial scene in Cuba is relatively easy and can be totally bloodless since I feel the players should not find themselves in mortal danger in every single scene.
The final serial is again fairly straight-forward, as most should be. The agents are sent to find out what they can about the mastermind who heads the Board. All they know is that he is hosting a party in Italy at his estate near Rome. The agents can take a couple of routes into this scene but the most obvious is to work their way into the party either by bluffing or in disguise. Either way, this scene offers a great deal of opportunity for roleplaying as the party is full of colorful characters (some of which are detailed for the GC, some of which s/he will have to make up). This scene WILL end in bloodshed, so there is a lot of combat involved. The agents have to pick up a trail here to track down the mastermind before his sinister threats to destroy the world are realized.
Scenes two and three are information-gathering scenes. The agents need to track down a radio transmission to try to determine where the mastermind may be hiding. Two locations present themselves?the TV news agency owned by the mastermind and his tropical island getaway. At the news agency, there is a again opportunity for roleplaying, interaction with civilians, and more gunplay. The third scene is a rather brief one, barring extensive combat with the hacienda guards. The agents need to infiltrate the mastermind's island home, ascertain he is not there, and look for clues as to where he might be.
Scene four is a classic of the spy-genre. Again, I will not spoil it here, but he mastermind has put himself far out of reach of his enemies and must be confronted in his last stronghold. The situation is such that the GC is likely to have ample opportunity to roleplay the mastermind in one final conversation with the agents. It's another classic and probably somewhat easier than many of the other scenes, due to there being relatively few guards to deal with. However, failure here has drastic consequences.
My biggest disappointment with Gentleman's Agreement was the inclusion of the historical serial, Cold Days. It would have been much better to include an additional present-day serial for the agents to take part in. As it is, Cold Days is a well-constructed, interesting serial, and would certainly fit into the plans of any Controls running Cold War-era Spycraft games (I, for one, am looking forward to the official supplement later this year which will expand on running a game in the 1960s). A minor quibble is that seven pages at the end are wasted on pre-generated agents. Does anyone use these? Possibly. But player handouts for the various serials would have been far more useful, in my opinion. Another issue, though again very minor, is that in a couple of places GA assumes that the GC has access to the Soldier/Wheelman Class Guide. Every fan boy will tell you this is a must have, but it suggests that every rules guide released by AEG will, in the future, become a ?must-have? in order to use other products in the line. Disappointing but not unexpected.
GA is fairly combat-intensive. I suspect this will not bother most GCs but others may prefer to tone down the combat in favor of investigation and sneaking around. There is a lot of opportunity for both, though it seems to me that a lot of the sneaking around is doomed to failure. Likewise, snoops, fixers, wheelmen, and even facemen will find ample opportunity to use their special skills. As far as I was concerned, that was one of the more important tests: that each class have the opportunity to shine.
Despite some grievances, I consider Gentleman's Agreement an excellent and useful supplement for anyone running a Spycraft game. Even if you are running an Archer Foundation game, you could probably rather easily mine this for additional serials to use in your campaign, modified or not. Likewise, the serials could easily be slipped into home-brew Spycraft campaigns since they represent the typical activities undertaken by evil organizations, independent of the threat detailed here in the book. The serials themselves admirably showcase the different classes and mechanisms of the game, are logically organized and presented, providing a valuable aid for any Control.
I found it to be worth my $25 and I do not even see an immediate use for one of the serials.