Archive for April, 2005

Spy Game Forge Post

April 18, 2005

This is the draft(plus) for the Forge posting:

Spy Game

This is going to be a longish post. The primary question at this point is how to set limits on what the GM-players can or should throw at the spy-player. Should there be a system that limits what the GMs can introduce into the scenario?

The Spy Game doesn’t yet have an official name. For the moment, we’re just calling it Spy Game. Some of the inspiration for working on it has come from Thor (Thor from Toledo, as he is known around here) and the game Tiny Spies he worked up several years ago.

The new iteration has several conventions of RPG gaming turned on their heads. For example, everyone has a spy character, but rather than running as a team (like Mission Impossible, or its like), each spy is working in a different area. So in play, at any time, there is just one player, and the others are acting as GMs.

Another characteristic is that the mission profile (the adventure) is not crafted by the GM, but rather by the player. Each spy develops a plan for his mission, indicating the steps to be performed in carrying out the mission. (The long term development of these missions will tie in with campaign elements that deal with the importance and timeliness of information, etc.)

So it’s an ensemble, but in reverse. The GM-players throw in complications or play the NPCs the spy character deals with on his mission.

This game deals not with heroic, larger-than-life superspies (James Bond, et al), but instead with spy runners (agents who develop networks of spies in opposition territory who are working for them).

We tried out a preliminary verion of the game last weekend, to see how it might work. Starting from scratch, we used some improvised mechanics to deal with things in dice-rolling situations. The primary question was whether the inverted player and GMs system would work.

So the question for discussion is how to set limits or constraints on what the GMs can throw at the player?


Our characters are spies for the Teal side in the Teal/Fuschia conflict (think 1960s Cold War). Each of us creates a character, assigns some stats and skills, and creates two contacts in their area of work.

Fred Frowney is an agent for the Teal side who runs spies in Zwieback, a country on the Fuschia side. Fred has a cover identity as Dr. Keebler, a baking equipment industrialist.

Fred’s mission was that one of his current contacts has met someone (an NCO in the Army) who may be interested in providing information to the Teal side.

Example of Play

Fred flew into Zwieback and passed through customs. Here was our first discussion about how difficult this needed to be. Fred had some special high-definition film hidden in a suitcase handle and $5000 to be paid to the recruit. The suitcase was supplied and prepared by Fred’s Agency, so it should be very difficult to detect. And if it was detected, the whole mission would be a bust. Certainly, things would be exciting if there was a very suspicious, very alert and observant customs guard. But is it reasonable to have such a guard at an ordinary customs station?

Fred carefully left a message for his local contact to find out about the meeting. When the time came, he went to the assigned location. Time passed but no one was showing up. One GM was running things at this point, but then the other GM took on a local cop who came walking up to encourage Fred to move along. Fred argued a bit and then wandered off, arranging to come back by the same spot in 20 minutes or so. And the cop turned up again, and escorted Fred back to his hotel. Other than a bit of conversation between the two GMs, it was a situation where, as Fred, I had to deal with one GM for the situation and another GM for the NPC.

Eventually Fred met his contact and arranged for the contact to photograph some documents and get the film to Fred. Fred would arrange to pay the contact.

The complication arose when someone else got the film. Poor tradecraft for Fred to let the contact make the drop arrangements, but it provided the complication to make the story interesting.

It went on from there. There was some good stuff, and for such a rough playtest, I’d say it was overall a success. But the essential question about balancing or limiting the GMs’ influence remains, and that’s what we’d like your input on.

We’ll have more as we go forward.

More Costikyan: Distribution

April 18, 2005

A Greg Costikyan piece titled Doing Something About It which is about “the need for an alternative distribution channel for independent games.”

Some of it pertains more to computer/video games than to RPG pencil-and-paper, but it’s probably somewhat relevant for both.