Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A quick summary of Spycraft 2.0

I wrote up a summary for Spycraft for posting on another board and then realized I never captured it on my blog... Here's a repost.

On the far, far other end of the simplicity vs complexity scale is Spycraft 2.0. SC2 is *advanced* d20. While initially perplexing, once you finally grok it, SC2 is stunning in its integrated mastery. The fundamental goals of SC2 were deep character development, fully integrated rules (mechanics that are consistent and lend value in many rule areas), and to quantify what the GM can do.

Key Features:
SC2 is still fundamentally d20 based, but the Skill tree is radically altered, there are all new feats, all new vehicle chase rules, there are in depth player organization rules, a very unique take on Player vs GM game play, and an intensely different equipment/gear system. Basicaly, SC tried to plug every clunky hole WotC made in d20 3.5 and they did a pretty good job. It will be quite hard to adequately convey the complexity of Spycraft in a brief. I'll be as clear and simple as a I can, but you're going to have to seriously examine the rules for yourself to fully appreciate the system.

There are a bunch. Spycraft is designed to be a modern spy adventure game and as such the classes fill specific action-movie themes. Indeed, the entire frame work is often described in terms of an action movie. These classes cover the range of action heroes like Guide (Indiana Jones type) to Spook (CIA spy type) to Field Scientist (MacGuyver type). There are 10 basic classes and something like 8 Expert classes (advanced classes). The power level of these characters is much higher than equivalent level d20 Modern classes (or True20 classes). But that just means everyone is pretty good from the first session (and everyone is therefore roughly equal).

HP / Damage:
Spycraft uses the Vitality/Wound Point system very similar to the one used in Star Wars RPG. A character Vitality represents incidental damage or fatigue while Wound damage is more serious and deadly. For those unfamiliar with V/W Points, your Wound Points are typically fixed as equal to your CON score. Thus even high level character can be laid low quickly with 15 points of Wound damage.

Hmmm... where to start? Combat is vastly expanded. There are many new actions and details about when to use actions. Initiative is overhauled and can actually be variable between combat rounds. There are no less than *40* individual combat actions from Aim to Withdraw. Combats between matched foes is always going to be an Epic battle. SC recognizes the difference between Villians and Mooks. Villians will have real combat stats including Vitality and Wounds. Mooks don't. Often mooks can be mowed down in droves. The combat mechanic for mooks is based on a damage save concept where the thug must save vs the damage dealt or just be dispatched. This is designed to simulate the way guards are just knocked out in the movies.

While there are no true spell-like powers in SC, many of the effects are still fantastic in ability. These are often explained away as super spy gear or simple class abilities. But these rarely have any limitation on use. SC does use a concept called "Action Dice" which are awarded at the beginning of every session which are usually required to activate anything really special. But more on Action Dice later as this is a key mechanic of the game.

Skills are vastly expanded and go a fair ways to filling the void left by Spells. Every skill has a family of sub-skills, where buying some points in the skill gets you some points in all the sub-skills too. But the sub-skills may use different key attributes. For example, Falsify is a skill with 3 sub-skills called Forgery, Disguise and Cover-up. Disguise and Cover-up are Wisdom based while Forgery is Int based. Overall the skill system appears to replace what would normally be combat in a Fantasy game.

Here is one area that Spycraft is really different. It still uses a Wealth Check concept for minor game interaction, but also contains a vastly complex Gear Check system. The basic premise of most Modern games is that the PC's work for someone--the CIA, Omega Force, The Dark and Shady Corporation, etc. So it follows that the PC's are equipped by their employer. What you can request is a factor of your level and various feats that increase your request potential. Since much of the gear fills the niche of ultra powerful firepower ala magic items / spell casting, this mechanic is essential to control the raw destructive power of the characters. While at first look the Gear system seems overwhelming, it actually becomes masterfully elegant as a game design mechanic.

Fudge Factors:
Okay... here's the nitty gritty. The over-arching concept to Spycraft is that all "missions" have a Threat Level associated with them that is actually a mathematical calculation of the number players and their levels. This sets a numeric value that becomes the seed for virtually all other mechanics in the game. Once the Threat Level is set, this number becomes a modifier to virtually every "default" DC in the mission. So for example if the threat level is 5, then the DC to unlock basic doors become 15 + 5 throughout the game. You just add 5 to all the variable DC's. This works surprisingly well and allows you to instantly scale any adventure to any sized or leveled group. Brilliant! This Threat Level also ties in to the Gear Request system to define what (and how many) items the players can request.

Another brilliant concept is seen in Action Dice. On the surface, Action Dice look like Action Points/Conviction Points... basically tokens the players can uses to boost die rolls or generally save their butts. Players also use AD to instantly confirm critical hits and critical failures. So if during an attack the player rolls a 20, they can spend an Action Die to instantly make it a critical hit or if the GM rolls a 1 while attacking the PC, then the player can again spend an AD to confirm that the 1 is a fumble of some sort. What is really interesting about this mechanic is that the GM is awarded Action Dice based on the number of AD possessed by the players. The GM has to use his dice to confirm threats as well. This makes being a GM slightly more strategic as it quantifies when the GM "exerted force" in opposition to the players. If a GM wishes to use more AD than was originally awarded, then he must give the players bonus AD to compensate. In fact, the game assumes the GM hands out more Action Dice as a way to keep the game action packed.

Lastly a quick summary of what I think is the most broken aspect of all RPG's... bad chase mechanics. Spycraft again delivers a brilliant system to handle chases without time consuming distance/speed calculations. Actions in a chase are broken down in to basic strategies that are selected in secret by the players and the GM and then compared. Character abilities affect how well the strategies work and then GM / Player make opposed Skill checks (usually Drive Skills) to determine the result. The results modify a 1 to 10 point pursuit scale where 1 means you've caught the prey and 10 means the prey escaped. SC re-uses this strategy selection mechanic for Seductions, Infiltrations, Interrogations, Hacking, Brainwashing and Manhunts.

I was really impressed with Spycraft, although I am still somewhat intimidated by its complexity. I fear even a very good GM would spend a lot of time reviewing rules at each session. But once you got it... It would be like d20-zilla... uber-gaming at its most hardcore. I hope the guys at Crafty Games hold out. They got some Good Stuff.

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