Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Spycraft 2.0 Full Character

I'm going to start with the game I know the most about. I spent two years being Game Control (GC) for a Spycraft 2.0 game.

The setting: A high school for spies in mountainous Romania. My friends played five new students at the school. (small aside: I've written a full-length Young Adult techno-thriller novel based loosely on this setting and these characters - thanks to my friends for letting me run away with them. And, you know, if anyone knows of any agents or publishers interested in picking me up, I'm looking to publish ...)

Spycraft 2.0 is an amazing d20 game system, and I could spend all day singing its praises. If you game and don't own a copy, go now and buy a copy. Seriously, stop reading and do it.

Don't worry that 3rd edition is coming out sometime soon, it won't be the same. Better, in some ways, but 2.0 is a force of its own. More on 3rd edition later. Go buy 2.0.

Okay, so now we're assuming that you own a copy of the game. For a GC, it's great because it provides you with three tiers of non-player character (NPC) creation:

  1. Standard NPCs (animals, minions, other "obstacles" - groups of characters)
  2. Special NPCs (the real movers and shakers, individuals)
  3. Special "full" NPCs (unique, one of a kind, not recommended for NPCs)

We're going to start at #3 today, and we'll move backwards through #s 2 and 1 in the future.

Special "full" NPCs
I'm starting with this classification because these NPCs don't actually use Spycraft's detailed, simple, and straightforward NPC creation rules. In this case, you get to use the full player character (PC) rules for creating your NPC. It's unnecessary, pointless, and a complete waste of time, which is why I made probably 30 of them for my game. Obviously, deep in my heart I wanted to be playing in my own game. Since I'm terrible at keeping secrets, that would ruin it for everyone, so I had to settle for second best.

PC creation in Spycraft 2.0 is a 10-step process. While some 10-step plans help you get sober, this one results in a fully actualized spy. The steps cover everything from basic attributes and backgrounds to classes and skills, to choosing equipment from 50 pages of gear tables. My personal favorite part is in Step 9, where you get to roll for height and weight, if the GC chooses to make you do so (damn right I do). This, of course, leads to some great comedy: the 7'1" 16-year old Japanese student who is a master at blending into crowds and the Israeli krav maga soldier who is barely 5 feet tall. It's the kind of thing that could only happen thanks to a lucky roll of the dice.

I'll reiterate: there is absolutely zero (0, nil, nul, zilch, nada) benefit in this system to making NPCs using the full PC creation system. In fact, it tends to screw you over quite a bit because it takes you away from the strong-armed, devil-may-care flexibility of the NPC creation system.

Here's, vaguely, without infringing on CraftyGames' prerogative to teach you how to make their characters, is how it works:

  1. Establish your characters basic attributes, using the traditional d20 set of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, etc. using a point-buy system;
  2.  Establish your character's origins by giving them a talent and a specialty. These affect your attributes and provide you bonuses to narrowly defined skills and saves that increase as you level up. They can also grant you feats or special circumstantial uses of skills;
  3. Pick your class from 12 (in the core rules) basic classes. While the class names are based off traditional spy tropes, the abilities defined within could potentially be applied to other settings;
  4. Spend your skills points, based off your Intelligence and the class you picked. We're not going to get into skills because, as crazy-detailed as the equipment tables are in this game, the skill system puts it to shame;
  5. Choose feats based on what you want your character to do and whether they meet the prerequisites;
  6. Choose interests. These have very little impact on the overall game, other than to encourage role playing. Character needs to destress a bit? Well, they have an interest in alpine skiing, so they'd better get a plane ticket to Switzerland ASAP! There's more to it than that, but not much;
  7. I never gave my NPCs subplots - side stories within the main plot line. *sigh* Okay, that was a lie. They totally had subplots, and they were all either "nemesis" or "romance";
  8. Do some math;
  9. Be a roleplayer and make your character more than just numbers on a sheet;
  10. Spend hours trying to figure out why staying in a hotel is a Security gear pick and not a Resource.
Yes, I went through this many, many times. Every professor at the school was made into level 10 characters, and quite a few students as well (not level 10, that would've just been mean). Not only did they have feats and skills, but they had hopes and dreams, too. Poor Professor Edson, that cold-hearted bastard, wanted nothing more than to make the world safe for his son. Carl, the hardened third-year student, was desperately looking for a girl he could trust with his heart. Neither Edson nor Carl needed to be full characters to have those hopes and dreams.

So why did I bother?

I liked the challenge of taking a character I've already made - backstory, nowstory, and futurestory - and trying to figure out how the rules can make them tick. Through character creation, the rules give me new ideas for things that they can do. Sure, the hacking professor has lots of levels of hacker, but he started off as a scientist, which opens new opportunities I hadn't thought of for game-play.

Ultimately, I just felt better knowing that the sheets were there. I think I enjoyed a perverse sense of delightful guilt when I ignored the sheets completely and just made things up, under the guise of "rolling a bluff check." If I had only followed the book's suggestions and made them proper NPCs, I wouldn't have had to fudge half the rolls I did.

But I probably would have anyway. Like I said, I'm not a terribly good role-player.

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