Espionage Games in Fate – Part 4

Here is the fourth and final part of my series of posts on espionage gaming with Fate Core, using some of the ideas for “streamlined” systems from the original Spycraft rpg published by AEG back in 2002.

The other articles can be found at these links:

The elements that I’ve been discussing throughout this series are:

  • Physical Infiltration
  • Face-to-Face Infiltration
  • Electronic Infiltration (System Hacking)
  • Interrogation
  • Direct Assault
  • Seduction
  • Area Pursuits

This week, I’m going to cover the final three elements: Direct Assaults, Seductions, and Area Pursuits. I’m also going to discuss crossing over these elements with each other, and adding ways to get the whole party of agents involved when running a lone-agent part of the mission.

Direct Assaults

Some of the richer and more powerful villains James Bond has fought have been able to field veritable armies of minions. Take, for example, the battle inside the fake tanker in The Spy Who Loved Me—there are dozens of combatants on each side all firing weapons, taking cover, shouting orders, falling into the water, and dying by the literal boatload.

To be honest, I’m not going to come up with anything new here—there is already a solution in the Fate SRD that covers this kind of action: Squad-Based Action.

Since I’ve been discussing more of an action espionage game (rather than a game that’s more in a vein of something Le Carre might write), you may decide it’s likely that the team of agents will engage in a larger battle during the espionage campaign. That’s where these rules come into play.

Why the Assault?

In an espionage game, the general rule is that secrecy is paramount. However, in an action-espionage game, there are times when a quiet operation is not an option, and the team’s agency needs to lead a larger force to complete an objective.

Some examples from James Bond movies include:

  • Goldfinger – American military troops fight Goldfinger’s army outside Fort Knox while Bond battles Oddjob inside the vault.
  • Thunderball – The underwater battle between Largo’s henchmen and the U.S. Coast Guard personnel.
  • You Only Live Twice – The battle in the hollow volcano between Blofeld’s soldiers and Tanaka’s ninjas.
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – The raid on Blofeld’s institute in the Swiss Alps by Bond with the help of Marc-Ange Draco’s men.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me – The soldiers from the captured submarines fight against Stromberg’s forces inside his modified oil tanker.
  • Moonraker – The battle in space between the U.S. Marines and Drax’s personal army.

The key thing to keep in mind when running a Direct Assault is that the agents are generally trying to accomplish a particular objective, above and beyond the assault itself. Objectives could include any of the following:

  • Stopping the launch of a missile, aircraft, rocket, or other countdown-based event.
  • Taking out the soldiers of the villain’s army while the PCs pursue the villain.
  • Fighting their way out (after being captured and taken prisoner).
  • Preventing the villain’s forces from taking over a target location.
  • Rescuing an individual or a group of persons.
  • Destroying a device, such as a superweapon.

In these cases, it should be up to the PCs to accomplish the actual objective, while the remaining forces support them or focus on a secondary objective (e.g. wiping out the villain’s private army). Using Squad-Based Action rules, have the players roll Operations as an Overcome with a difficulty appropriate to the target to see how things turn out. If they are successful, the players should narrate one good outcome for every shift above the target. If they fail, the GM will narrate one negative outcome for every shift below the target.

Seduction

Seduction is used to gain intel by convincing the target to part with it by giving—or promising to give—him or her exactly what they want. Similar in some ways to interrogation, the seducer must rely on the ability to understand and play to the desires of the target.

The Goals

With Seduction, the goals can be more open than one might think at first.

  • Gather Intel: This is the most common, and most obvious, goal of a seduction. The seducer convinces the target to give them information that is otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain.
  • Compromise Target: Often as a prelude to blackmail, the goal of the seduction is to put the target in a compromising position and take evidence of the encounter to be used against them later.
  • Set-Up: The seducer uses the seduction to get the target to a particular location, or otherwise get them to drop their guard so that they can be more easily kidnapped or assassinated.
  • Flipping: The target (usually someone in the enemy organization) is believed to be open to switching sides, and just needs the right form of convincing.

The Challenge

Generally, this type of encounter should be run as a Challenge. Passive opposition could be represented by circumstances (e.g. getting the right opportunity to meet the target) and active opposition could be such elements as the target’s resistance to the seduction, enemy surveillance of the target, etc.

Note that the seduction attempt has a variable time frame. The entire seduction could take place over a single evening, or be spread out over weeks or even months of game time. Once the seduction attempt begins, the GM should keep track of the current state of affairs (no pun intended) for the target character.

Initial Meeting: This represents the initial meeting between the seducer and the target at the beginning of the seduction attempt. The two characters may have already met previously, and there could even be an Aspect on the NPC as a result of their previous meetings. The point of the initial meeting is to establish some connection with the target beyond just having met them—there should be at least an indication of interest.

Building the Attraction: The key elements here are a) spending time with the target, b) demonstrating interest and c) convincing the target that they should be interested in the seducer. Generally, this stage should take at least two rolls over the time of the seduction.

Beginning the Intimacies: Once the seducer has reached this stage, he or she needs to bring the target over the threshold of actually acting on their interest. This could be nothing more than kisses and promises, or it could go all the way to having sex with the target.

Completing the Objective: This is a single step that means the seducer has succeeded in getting what they want from the target. If it’s information, then the target reveals what the seducer wants to know. If it’s compromising pictures or video, then the seducer has what they need for blackmail. If it’s a set-up, then the target is in a position to be kidnapped, assassinated, or whatever the particular objective was. If it’s flipping, then the target has decided to switch sides.

Once the target has been successfully seduced, the seducer will often not need to make any further rolls (unlike Infiltrations, which require a successful escape from the target facility). However, the GM may ask the PC to make a final roll in the Challenge to reflect special circumstances, such as eliminating any forensic evidence from the crime scene if the target was assassinated, for example. This should depend on the final objective of the seduction.

Area Pursuits

Also known as a manhunt, the team conducts an operation to find a target that they know is in a specific area. They may use local police, a network of informants, or a small team on the street to find their prey depending on their location and the resources at their disposal. Regardless of the method, time is usually of the essence as once the target escapes the area he or she could potentially disappear.

Alternately, the team of agents may be the quarry in an area pursuit. The enemy organization may be conducting the pursuit directly, or using local law enforcement or military personnel, depending on its influence in the region where the pursuit is taking place.

The Goals

The goals in an area pursuit are pretty simple. If the agents are conducting the pursuit, the goal is to find the target before he or she escapes. If the agents are the quarry, the goal is to escape the area without being caught.

The Contest

Area Pursuits are run as a contest between the team of agents and the other side (regardless whether are quarry or hunters). In the Fate Core rules, the first side to achieve three victories wins the contest. This should generally be the case in Area Pursuits, though the GM may choose to require four or even five victories, depending on the nature of the pursuit and how important to the action he or she feels it is.

Exposure

Generally, the organization that the agents work for prefers to remain in the shadows, and operations should usually be conducted with some discretion. Area Pursuits, especially those that utilize local law enforcement, have the potential to be noticed by the public and the press. This is something that should be avoided.

In an Area Pursuit, the GM should track the Exposure of the operation, which is a rating that indicates how noticeable the pursuit is, and which starts at zero. Whenever an exchange results in a tie, in addition to the unexpected twist that results, the Exposure goes up by 1. This represents bystanders and/or media noticing something going on in the area.

If the Exposure ever hits 3 or more, the operation is no longer covert. This means that someone got pictures or video on their phone of the chase, or a reporter picked up on the local law enforcement efforts, or something similar.

If the agents are the hunters in an area pursuit, then the GM may determine that the agency wants the hunt to be conducted covertly. In this case, if the Exposure reaches 3, the agency may choose to shut down the operation. If the operation is shut down immediately, the exposure blows over and does not turn into a real story. However, if the operation is not shut down, then it means that it will soon become public knowledge as the footage is posted on YouTube, or a media outlet runs a story on it. This may have further repercussions for the agents.

If the agents are the quarry in the area pursuit, then they won’t have the option to shut down the operation, except if they choose to let themselves be captured by the forces hunting them. However, even if they escape the Area Pursuit, if the Exposure reaches 3, then their faces are recorded in pictures and video and likely gets into the local media. This will likely cause problems down the road and they may face consequences from the agency.

Teamwork

Some of the elements that I’ve covered over the last few weeks pit a lone agent against the opposition. These include Physical Infiltration, Face-to-Face Infiltration, Electronic Infiltration, and even Seduction.

One of the best bits of Fate, however, is how PCs may support each other and give fellow agents bonuses in the form of Creating Advantages (Aspects) that the lone PC may use as a benefit during their mission.

The agents are encouraged to support one another with their specialties when an agent is preparing for a mission. A techie agent could Create an Advantage to give the infiltrating agent a “Stealth Gear” Aspect that could be used during a Physical Infiltration, for example.

Electronic Infiltrations could also be used to prepare the enemy location for another agent to conduct a Physical or Face-to-Face Infiltration. In fact, an Electronic Infiltration could be run simultaneously with a Physical or Face-to-Face Infiltration, with the hacker providing support and helping out the agent that is actually in the enemy facility.

And there’s nothing that says you have to do all the preparation before the mission begins, either. A GM could permit the other players to provide support—usually through the Create an Advantage action—at the time it’s needed, and simply describe it through a quick flashback. This has the added bonus of keeping the action moving—the players don’t need to plan out every element of the mission at the beginning because they can dynamically respond to obstacles as they come up, and just describe them as things they identified during the planning session that they would have had.

Crossing Mission Elements

The various elements that I’ve described here also don’t need to be used in isolation. They could be combined in all kinds of ways.

I’ve already mentioned conducting an Electronic Infiltration at the same time as a Physical or Face-to-Face Infiltration. But how about any of the following:

  • One agent could conduct a Face-to-Face Infiltration in conjunction with another agent conducting an Electronic Infiltration. In the meantime, a third agent conducts a Physical Infiltration. The Face-to-Face agent attempts to make contact with someone inside the organization that is ready to be turned. The Physical Infiltrator plants a tracking device on a piece of equipment in the manufacturing plant part of the building. The Electronic Infiltrator supports both other agents while also searching for some files on the enemy organization’s servers. When the Face-to-Face Infiltrator meets the target, he or she initiates the first step in a Seduction, laying the groundwork for further meetings later on.
  • One agent conducts a Physical Infiltration in order to prepare an entry route for a Direct Assault.
  • As above, but the Direct Assault’s objective is to rescue some prisoners, and also provide a diversion while the Electronic Infiltrator plants a virus in the organization’s mainframe.

As you can see, when you combine these pieces in various ways, you can have exciting action-oriented missions that give every agent something to do. No one is left out, and the game keeps moving.

What’s Next?

These posts were my attempt to share some ideas I had about combining some great concepts from the Spycraft RPG with the amazing Fate engine. I love running action-espionage gaming, and Fate is a fantastic set of rules that truly enable exciting, fast-paced games like this.

To that end, I’ve also been working on a supplement for espionage gaming in Fate, including a full organization for PC agents, a whole bunch of fully fleshed-out threats to go up against, and a complete opening adventure for the GM to use to kick off a campaign.

I’m not going to give a projected release date for this supplement—I’ve got some other things that I need to get finished first—but I can say it won’t be more than 2-3 months.

Thanks for reading this series of articles, and I hope it benefits your game in some way. If you use anything I’ve written about in these articles, please comment below and let me know how it went.

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