|Pizza topping language||2017/3/2|
|Webcomic Review: Center Lane||2017/11/6|
A while ago, I got the GMing itch, and I decided that I wanted to run a one-shot RP game for my friends.
The game? A James-Bond-inspired superspy mission!
That's right - the sort of story where the intel is top-secret, the wristwatches have nanocable grappling hooks, the players all have license to kill, and seduction is basically a charm spell.
And it went so well the first time, I ran the same scenario a second time for a different group!
They key was the system. This being a strictly one-evening affair, I wanted to make things as simple as possible... and the key to that was Post-It Notes! This is what the character sheet looked like:
As you can see, the personal details were on the light side - you have your name, the Commonwealth country your agent is from, and your agent number.
Under "Classified", every player had their character's true motivation...
In the middle, you have your character's skills - one thing they're fantastic at, two things they're good at, and two things they're comically bad at. At the start of the game, I had all the possible skills on a single sheet of paper that made its way clockwise around the table until everyone's slots were full. That way, I was guaranteed a diverse party, with each player specializing in a different ability!
On the right, you have HP - all players have 10, unless they take "toughness" as one of their skills. I never explicitly told them the damage mechanics, but I did the math in my head - if your attack roll exactly meets someone's Auto value for dodge, you do 1 damage, regardless of weapon used. If your attack roll beats their dodge, the damage you do is how much you beat it by, multiplied by 2 for blunt weapons, by 3 for blades, and by 5 for firearms. If someone's dodge is 7 and you roll a 9 to shoot them, it does 10 damage, enough to take them out.
You also start with three luck tokens, with numbers underneath them ranging from -2 to +10 (I balanced it so each player had luck bonuses totalling to +13). Superspies, after all, are known for their ability to pull off some truly improbable stunts, so this gave each player three chances to put a little extra oomph onto a particularly tough roll.
And finally, of course, was the inventory. What's a superspy without their gadgets? Each player started with the same three default items - the earbud that allowed them to communicate with each other, the false molar that allowed them to take themselves out if captured, and their smartphone.
Because, yes, of course they'd have phones. This game was set in the present day.
In fact, it was set in actual time, the day the game was being run - meaning that the first version of the mission occurred on January 11th, 2018, and the second iteration occurred on February 7th, 2018.
The players were all agents of CHROME, the Commonwealth Human Rights Oversight of Military and Espionage. At the start of the game, they get called to the hidden airfield just outside of London, England, for an Ultraviolet mission (top secret, show up in formal wear, you will be briefed en route). They were met by their commander, Zed (a former field agent, an older British woman with one artificial leg) and Ampersand (the tech guy, an Indian dude in a bowtie).
It was at this point that I, the GM, started a ninety-minute timer.
The mission was as follows:
This is Alexei Markov (known as the King of Princes, because he made his fortune in the nineties organizing networks of email scammers). These days, he traffics in classified information, runs disinformation campaigns for the highest bidder, and influences elections around the globe. In his spare time, he writes AI chatbots that produce erotic fiction he can sell on Amazon - not that he needs the money, as his current net worth is believed to be north of a billion dollars. He has a predilection for receiving blood transfusions from younger, healthier people, believing that this grants him their vitality.
Tonight, he's throwing a party at his alpine chateau to announce his engagement. CHROME does not know whom he plans to marry, but they suspect it's his trusted second-in-command, Octavia Sesso:
The issue is, "Octavia" is actually one of ours, Agent #90108, Bonina Fils-Goode. She's been undercover in Markov's operation for six months now, rising through the ranks and gaining his confidence.
She went radio-silent two weeks ago. Last known sighting was two days ago at 22h10, in Malbun, Liechtenstein. She was out with a group of Markov's associates, looked directly into the security camera of a nearby ATM, and winked Morse code for "E-X-T-R-A-C-T".
That is the mission: to get Fils-Goode out in one piece, and - equally important - to convince Markov that she is dead.
The chateau is here:
Naafkopf, right on the border between Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Markov pays property taxes in all three countries... and each nation assumes that law enforcement and emergency response will be handled by the other two. Markov, of course, feels no need to call for police or ambulances, as he has plenty of his own armed guards and medics on site.
As CHROME does not have adequate aerial or satellite photography of the chateau, the only maps we have are Fils-Goode's, which she drew from memory after leaving the site:
There are two additional hiccups. The first is this woman:
Angel Kim is a human trafficker who smuggles families out of North Korea... then, once they're on the open water, demands exorbitant "transport fees". When the families inevitably cannot pay, she takes them to her factories in Bangladesh to work off the debt. To date, working conditions in these facilities are so bad that over two dozen of her "employees" have committed suicide. At this time, she has over three hundred workers in five sweatshop locations, kept in line by a team of well-equipped soldiers.
Kim has five different vitality sensors in and on her person. If her heart or brain activity stop, an automated command will be sent to her soldiers to massacre the workers. Under no circumstances are the agents to kill this woman. Ideally, don't engage with her at all.
The other hiccup is this gentleman:
John "The Jackhammer" Kovacevic is a former UFC heavyweight, famous for grounding his opponents and then punching them in the head very quickly, over and over again. He was confronted by his brother and coach before a match and accused of taking steroids. The Jackhammer killed both men and quickly attempted to cover up their deaths, not knowing that TV cameras were in the lockerroom and his double murder had been broadcast live worldwide.
The Jackhammer was in a Houston prison awaiting execution, but managed to break out during the flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Fils-Goode has reported that he is now functioning as Markov's personal bodyguard.
So the mission is this:
After I briefed them, the players had the remainder of the ninety minutes to come up with their action plan... and, of course, to distribute Ampersand's toys amongst themselves.
The time they spent planning was more than enough for me to whip up a set of minis for the agents!
Sadly, neither group going through this scenario had an agent who specialized in "perform", so neither group had an agent join The Four Capricorns, the Austrian jazz quartet Markov had hired to play the event (and which, tonight, was a trio, as their lead singer had a throat infection).
Their playthroughs did diverge immediately, though, as the first group opted to split up, and have two agents use their "plunge rings" to airdrop into the artificial lake that Markov's chateau sits astride, which means they immediately discovered his first secret:
That this lake, situated high in the alps, in winter... is bathtub hot.
The other agents - two in the first runthrough and all four in the second - landed just outside the parking lot and entered with the caterers, where they immediately learned the second thing their briefing hadn't told them:
That this party is a masquerade.
The ultimate spy's nightmare: everyone has a mask but you.
Fortunately, both groups were able to acquire or make masks before being spotted, but entering with the catering staff has one downside: you're expected to cater.
The players were immediately pressganged into serving hors d'oeuvres and drinks to the horde of party guests - an assembly of a few fictional people, along with some real-world politicians and celebrities.
Pretty quickly, both groups spotted a beautiful - and entirely sloshed - brunette in a piratey sort of mask that covered one eye, but both also managed to make the observation check that it was the wrong eye, and therefore not Agent #90108.
Eventually, they managed to extricate themselves from the shindig and explore Markov's chateau (where, of course, every second room had party guests engaging in Eyes-Wide-Shut-style shenanigans).
Gradually, they uncovered crumb after crumb, clue after clue, of Markov's plan:
-There was a van in the parking lot labelled "Hanson Robotics", and it looks like whatever equipment was in there was removed prior to the party.
-There were two Saudi gentlemen in the party (enjoying champagne and pigs-in-a-blanket) who were discussing between themselves in Arabic how they weren't sure why Markov was doing what he was doing (or if it was, strictly speaking, actually legal) but that he was certainly paying them enough to not worry about it.
-The door to the pool supply room downstairs (awfully large on the blueprint for a pool supply room...) had a secret fingerprint scanner on the underside of the door handle, and the little window that showed a mostly empty supply room was actually a diorama mounted to the door (that certainly would have fooled anyone without the benefit of stereoscopic depth perception).
There was also a fair share of red herrings:
-The sloshed brunette in the pirate mask was a Hollywood starlet (Uma Thurman in the first iteration, changed to Sandra Bullock in the second, after the real-world Thurman's unfortunate news came out). In both games, the players managed to extract the starlet from the party and void her stomach safely. As I revealed to them after the fact, she had been roofied by Woody Allen, who was desperate not to sleep with her, but to manipulate her into signing on to star in his next film.
-An American agent in a bloodhound mask approached the agents in the second iteration, offering to provide intel on Markov if they would suss out Angel Kim's upcoming schedule.
And of course, in both cases, I got to revel in the wonderfully creepy details of Markov and his henchmen:
-The Jackhammer's lumpy, misshapen hands; the result of having depleted-uranium brass knuckles implanted under his skin.
-Markov beckoning over the agent who had specialized in seduction and saying (in my best worst Russian accent) "Ah, you have such lovely skin. Tell me... what's your blood type?"
-Hidden in Markov's personal files, the details of something called Project Locust.
It should be noted that the highest rolls of both games were seduction rolls, 5d6 with +5 bonus from pheromone perfume and a sizeable luck bonus, high enough to convince henchmen to immediately abandon their duty to get frisky with an attractive stranger.
In the end, both groups got to rescue Agent 90108 (whose cover had already been blown, and who was handcuffed to the machinery of Markov's secret in-house nuclear reactor), and both groups got to thwart Markov's diabolical matrimonial plan - to marry Sophia, the AI that had been granted Saudi citizenship (Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the civilized world that has no age limit on marriage, so his wedding would be perfectly legal), and then allow her to reproduce millions of times on servers around the world (after all, if he's her husband, then her children are also his children, yes? Why bother manipulating elections when you can simply manufacture a voting bloc?)
Both games ended with dramatic snowmobile escapes, exciting gun fights, and with The Jackhammer being blown to kingdom come.
In the end, I'm pleased with this little roleplaying experiment. It ran smoothly, it replicated the feeling of a good Bond movie, and everyone involved got at least one significant Roleplay Moment.
I may choose to run a CHROME game again in the future.