March 26th, 2014
Qualified applicant sought for occult tactical position. Must possess bachelor’s degree, be self-starter. Starting salary $125k/yr, great benefits.
Slightly over nine years ago, I posted on RPGnet about a campaign idea. It was relatively simple: the universe was created by Good and Evil as an experiment to find out which is stronger. In order for the experiment to work, people need to have free will. Sorcerers, people who summon demons from Outside, unbalance the experiment. To take them out, Good and Evil employ a local contractor: the eponymous Good and Evil, Incorporated. You play a Specialist, a highly trained operative tracking and eliminating sorcerers.
It was an odd project in that most of the things that make good inspiration are shows I saw later, like Witch Hunter Robin and G vs. E.
Since then, I’ve run the setting a number of times with Wushu, including for a very successful PbP. I also did some work adapting it to Hunter: The Vigil‘s mechanics. When I got the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide, it occurred to me that Action Roleplaying would be a really good fit. After all, it’s aimed at action-adventure with highly competent specialists. Since then, I’ve been working on it off and on.
Here’s the first part of what I’ve come up with.
In the current draft, I’m using these Attributes:
Agility and Dexterity are separate so that sneaky thief acrobatics aren’t tapping the same source as precision shooting. I’d have to play with it some: while I like it from a logical perspective, it might not be a useful level of character differentiation.
Alternatively, I’ve been thinking of adapting Apocalypse World‘s Attributes, which are more indicative of personality and overall approach:
Those have a nice feel for TV action-adventure. Would you use Weird much in a game where the magicians are the badguys? You might — there’s still occult research and defusing talismans. And having Weird as a character trait puts a flag on the fact that Specialists can be tempted to switch sides. In the PbP, we had an occult expert with a sorcerer in the family who was a hair’s breadth from becoming a sorcerer herself. Further, a d4 in Weird has all sorts of interesting potential consequences.
My hesitation on using the Apocalypse World Attributes isn’t actually whether they’d be appropriate — it’s more that I’m concerned they’d conjure too many memories of AW, when this game has a very different tone and playstyle.
Regardless of Attribute set, you assign one d10, one d8, two d6s, and one d4.
While the Roles from Leverage or the Hacker’s Guide would work, I want character purviews that reflect the setting a bit more. I also want teams of Specialists to feel more like they focus on investigation-and-elimination, and less on cleverly planned operations. With that in mind, here are the new roles:
- Book: You know what no one was meant to. You also know enough not to use it. You bring that knowledge to the field, providing on-the-ground information on the occult, black projects, and anything else while interfacing with your Operator and experts back at the office. You solve the puzzles so that no one else needs to know the answers.
- Closer: You know what makes people tick. And you know what makes them go off. The Company relies on you to profile potential sorcerers, and to interrogate them and their associates. For you, the case is never closed until you know why.
- Chameleon: You know what people want to hear, who they expect to see. Your team relies on you when somebody needs to walk through the front door of a nice party or look like the perfect buyer for a shipment of hot guns and hotter talismans.
- Cleaner: You know where to put a bullet. Or a fist. Or a dagger soaked in the blood of priests. You’re what employees in less exciting parts of the Company think of when they hear “Specialist”; a diamond-hard killer. If it bleeds, you can kill it. If it doesn’t, you get a bulldozer.
- Sneak: You know how not to be seen. You get in, you get out, and no one’s ever the wiser… unless you decide to show off. With your talents, a cult can be deprived of their holy relics without the Company blowing the whole quarter’s budget on ammunition and cover-ups. You walk softly, and carry a bag for the loot.
- Suit: You know how the system works. You’re as good at shutting down the bank accounts of mystical conspiracies as you are at convincing the boss that your team really did need the luxury car and the rocket launcher. You cut through the red tape… or use it as a garrote.
You’ll notice that there’s no Hacker/Tech Role. There are a few reasons for that. First, I want to put the entire team into the field on most missions. Second, I run the setting with a character called the Operator, who lets me feed information to the player characters over their comms — basically the intercom girlfriend so common in video games.1 The other point of reference is Mother from Sneakers.
The Operator does basic hacking and exposition support, while the team does all of the actual information gathering and on-the-ground technical work. That said, you could put the Tech or any other Hacker’s Guide Role back in really easily, since I’m not changing the way Talents work. Even better, you could use a player character Operator, combining the Talent lists of the Hacker’s Guide‘s Brains and Tech.
The Sneak comes through basically unchanged. I’ve changed her Talents very slightly, as you’ll see when I get there, but the concept and execution is intact.
The rest of the Roles are skill sets that I’ve seen characters cluster around in other systems. The Closer is heavily inspired by shows like Cracker. The Suit and the Chameleon both have social deception within their niche, but the Suit’s more about bringing resources to bear, while the Chameleon does direct impersonation. The Suit will have a Requisition Talent that mimics the Tech’s Gadgeteer, while the Chameleon will take on elements of the Face with some twists.
One role that’s not covered is wheelman. I’ve seen two memorable characters based on that concept, but I’m hesitant to put it in the box because both of those characters spent a fair amount of time acting outside their specialties. When the team goes indoors, the driver can’t follow, except in big, climactic scenes. Still, it’s fertile space for Talents, so maybe a few driving tricks could be available to all Roles.
Thanks for reading. Next, I’ll discuss Dispensations (the setting’s not-quite-powers) and Talents.
- In the linked post, I’m critical of the intercom girlfriend, but I can’t deny the utility. ↩