Feng Shui Action-Espionage Archetypes – Final

Last week I posted the archetypes for my Feng Shui RPG action-espionage campaign. However, there were a number of references in the Awesoming Up! section for each archetype that includes Schticks that don’t appear in the Feng Shui core rulebook.

This week, I’ve updated the PDF download to include these additional Schticks, as well as updating the archetypes with additional options for Awesoming Up!

And lastly, I’ve added the basic rules for using Reputation (which also appears on the archetypes).

I hope you enjoy.

Feng Shui Character Archetypes Completed

Over the last two weeks, I’ve previewed the new archetypes that I’ve created for Feng Shui for the action-espionage game that I’m going to be running.

I’ve now completed the write-ups, added some pictures, and put all the archetypes into a downloadable PDF that you can download from here (or from the Free RPG Materials page).

I’ve made both male and female versions of each archetype, except for the Hacker and Wheel Artist, as I used an image for each of those that could work for either a male or female character.

Awesoming Up

There is still one last thing that I need to do, and I ran out of time this week. In the Awesoming Up section for each archetype, I list some new core schticks. I’m going to write those up this week and add them to the PDF download for next Sunday.

So these archetypes are ready for play right now, but you’ll have to wait until next week to add any new core schticks to them.

What Do You Think?

So take a look and let me know what you think of these. Any suggestions on how to improve them? Anything that is unclear or might be too overpowered or underpowered in a game? Let me know in the comments.

Note: All pictures are royalty-free images downloaded from pixabay.com.

Feng Shui © 1996, 1999, 2011, 2015 Robin D. Laws, published under license by
Trident Inc., d/b/a Atlas Games. Feng Shui is a trademark of Robin D. Laws, used under license. Use of these copyrights and trademarks is done here without permission, and does not constitute a challenge to their ownership.

Feng Shui Character Archetypes

Last week, I talked about using the Feng Shui Second Edition RPG from Atlas Games for my action-espionage campaign. I’m continuing to move ahead with this plan, but I’m developing some new archetypes that are appropriate for this kind of game.

I previewed the Face, Hacker, and Intruder archetypes last week, so this week I’m going to preview the Snoop, Soldier, Squad Leader and Wheel Artist.


The snoop is an electronic surveillance specialist.




The soldier is purely about combat. I had considered just renaming the Ex-Special Forces archetype from the Feng Shui rulebook, but I wanted to customize it a bit and make him a bit better at taking down mooks as well. So he’s basically a strange mixture of the Ex-Special Forces and Killer archetypes.


Squad Leader

The squad leader is actually based on the Pointman class from the Spycraft RPG, in case there is any confusion. I decided to rename it because I’ve never really thought Pointman was a good name—it gives the idea of a lone stealthy scout ahead of the main group. The Pointman class, however, was a team leader, designed to help the other members succeed better at their own actions, and to fill in any skill gaps in the team.

So here is the Squad Leader.


Wheel Artist

The wheel artist is, obviously, about vehicles. However, this character is not just about cars—the A Ride is a Ride schtick means this character doesn’t suffer from unfamiliar vehicle penalties. So if someone takes this archetype for his or her character, then there will be all kinds of cool vehicles to operate, including cars and other wheeled or tracked vehicles, helicopters and jets, various watercraft, etc.



As mentioned last week, I’m working on developing these as full archetypes, so I’m doing up the archetype write-ups and so forth, and will then make these available as a PDF download.

I hope others find these useful in their own games as well.

Feng Shui Action-Espionage

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been thinking about what system to use for my high-action espionage campaign that I’m planning to run. Last week, I talked about the core elements that I wanted to focus on in the game, and was looking at different systems so that I could choose one that would work best for what how I want this game to feel.

One game I mentioned was Feng Shui Second Edition (which I’ll refer to as FS2 in the rest of this post), published by Atlas Games. I’m a big fan of FS2, and I’ve run some very fun sessions with it in the past. This time, I want to use the FS2 engine, but I’m not planning to incorporate any elements of the Chi War from the core FS2 setting.

Rather, my plan is still to use the excellent Shadowforce Archer setting for the first edition of the Spycraft RPG, originally published by AEG. These days, Crafty Games has the license for Spycraft, but the second edition was an overly-complicated beast, and the third edition has been vaporware for many years now.

While I enjoyed the first edition of Spycraft, I never felt a level-based game was appropriate for the espionage—and especially the action-espionage—genre. However, the basic classes were fairly well designed in identifying some key archetypes that appear in these kinds of movies.

So, I’m taking inspiration from Spycraft and using their core ideas in developing a handful of archetypes for FS2.

The plan is put together seven archetypes from which the players may choose:

  • Face
  • Hacker
  • Intruder
  • Squad Leader
  • Snoop
  • Soldier
  • Wheel Artist

The Archetypes

This week, I’m going to show off the stats for the first three of these archetypes. My plan is put together full archetypes like in the core FS2 rulebook, and then toss them in a downloadable PDF for others to use (under the Atlas Games fan policy on their website).

So here is the first draft of the Face:



Here is the Hacker:


And here is the Intruder:


One thing that FS2 players will note is that I’ve modified the schticks a bit. In my action-espionage game, all the characters are going to use Fortune, so I’m ignoring Chi, Genome, and Magic. This means that any Fu schticks the characters have will be modified to use Fortune instead of Chi.

I’ve picked schticks that match what I want the characters to do, so each has a mix of Core schticks, Gun schticks, Fu schticks, Driving schticks, and even a couple of Scroungetech schticks. But the idea is that none of these are supernatural powers in any way—they are all just the result of specialized training and cool spy gear (like the Interceptor Drone that the Hacker uses).


I hope you find these interesting, and I’m certainly open to any feedback on how to make these even better. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Feng Shui © 1996, 1999, 2011, 2015 Robin D. Laws, published under license by
Trident Inc., d/b/a Atlas Games. Feng Shui is a trademark of Robin D. Laws, used
under license. Use of these copyrights and trademarks is done here without permission, and does not constitute a challenge to their ownership.

Action-Espionage in RPGs

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve seen every James Bond movie ever made. Some I’ve watched over and over, and others (anything with Timothy Dalton) I’ve only seen once. I know they are not real espionage movies—they’re action movies with a thin veneer of espionage trappings sprinkled over them…sometimes.

But I’m okay with that. When I want real espionage, I read something from Le Carré, Forsyth and others. Sometimes, though, I don’t want real espionage. I want action-espionage.

More recently, I’ve watched the last few Mission Impossible movies. Now, I hated the first MI movie—I thought it took what was best about the original Mission Impossible television show and ripped it out, and then created a crappy James Bond copy. I heard enough about MI:2 that I knew I should avoid it because I was guaranteed to be annoyed and disappointed.

But then some people I trust told me that MI:3, MI: Ghost Protocol, and MI: Rogue Nation were all decent action movies and that I’d probably enjoy them. And they were right.

Which, of course, brings me to roleplaying games.

Espionage or action-espionage?

Real espionage is hard to do in an RPG. This is because real espionage doesn’t actually have much action in it. It involved meticulous research, long planning, endless surveillance, and other elements that don’t really translate to a fun and exciting time at the table.

Which is why most espionage RPGs add other elements to increase the fun factor. Night’s Black Agents, for example, is a fantastic game with a system (Gumshoe) that really emulates espionage in fiction in both book and film. But NBA is about operatives against vampires. The original setting for the first edition of the Spycraft RPG (Shadowforce Archer) included psychic powers and magic. Conspiracy X has aliens.

But that’s okay. A good RPG needs a hook, something special for players to grab onto so that the game doesn’t flounder. Vampires and aliens give the players something to focus on right from the beginning. There’s a conspiracy out there, and it’s run by creatures that aren’t human, and your job is to stop them. It’s pretty easy to get a campaign going quickly with such a solid premise.

But the James Bond movies and the Mission Impossible movies don’t include any of those elements. There are no vampires, or aliens, or psychic powers in either of those franchises, and yet they are fun and exciting to watch.

So how do we do that in an RPG?

What system?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit over the last few months, as I prepare to run an action-espionage game for some friends. I admit I’ve had a hell of a time deciding on what system to use for this campaign. My initial thought was to use Fate Core, but I don’t think it’s the right system for my players.

I also have the original James Bond 007 RPG published back in the 80’s by Victory Games. There are some things I really like about this game—it stands up very well despite its age—but there are some elements that don’t work for me.

I considered the first edition of Spycraft, but classes and levels are not something I want to use for this campaign. I don’t feel that such a system captures the feel of an actual action-espionage book or movie.

Night’s Black Agents, while an amazing game that I absolutely love, is a bit too complicated for some of my early-teen players. I expect that managing the ability pools will cause some issues.

I also looked at Mythras (including some of the elements from Luther Arkwright), and was very close to picking this as the system to use for the campaign, but the hit locations and the overall deadliness didn’t match what I wanted.

Feng Shui 2nd Edition is almost perfect for what I want. It’s a game designed to emulate Hong Kong action movies, and most of the elements that work well in Feng Shui translate over perfectly to the action-espionage movies that inspire this campaign. My main problem with this choice is that I’d need to make some additional archetypes to ensure that the key character types are covered, since there is only a single “Spy” archetype in the game. I can rename a couple of archetypes and switch out a schtick or two, but I’ll probably have to create a couple of scratch. Still, right now it’s probably the best choice for what I want to do.

The only other option is to go full narrative and use HeroQuest 2E. If you’ve read this blog, you know I’m a big fan of HeroQuest. My only problem, as I mentioned in last week’s post, is that I’d have to create the entire genre pack for this campaign because HeroQuest has no support for settings other than Glorantha, besides a few pages in the back of the HQ2 rule book. And I’m not sure if I can commit the time to develop this for the players without seriously delaying the campaign (which I’m getting very eager to get off the ground).

The key elements

So what are the key elements from the James Bond and Mission Impossible movies that I want to highlight in my action-espionage campaign?

  • Plots are usually fairly simple: Hugo Drax plans to wipe out all human life on the planet with a specially-developed nerve toxin, which he will drop onto the planet from his secret space station. Or a mole within the IMF has arranged for an arms dealer to acquire a secret weapon to sell to a terrorist group, so that the IMF has a reason to launch a pre-emptive strike. The overall plot of the mission should be easy to summarize in a sentence or two.
  • The protagonists (i.e. the player characters) aren’t worried about dying from a stray gunshot. They can face overwhelming opposition and be forced to retreat, or even get surrounded and captured, but they rarely get actually shot. Injuries tend to be in the form of beatings, but that’s about it.
  • The planning of operations is left in the background. Almost no time is spent in the planning phase because a) it slows down the pace of the game to a crawl, and b) it becomes repetitive once the operation begins. The players should have a quick way of outlining an objective, grabbing some equipment, and then heading out into the field.
  • The player characters are highly skilled from the start of the campaign. This is not like those old zero-to-hero fantasy campaigns. In Casino Royale, you get to see James Bond as a pre-007 agent in the opening sequence, in order to show how he skillfully earned his double-o rank. But that’s about it.
  • Characters have an overall focus area in which they are the “best” on the team, but all the agents are skilled in multiple areas. Ethan Hunt, Luther Stickell, and Zhen Lei can all drive vehicles under stressful conditions and they all know how guns work. But when you need someone to hack into a computer system, Stickell is the best one for the job.
  • Each mission should have opportunities for sneaking into a location, for chases, for gunfights, for close combat, and the possibility use special tricks, like hacking, disguises, etc.
  • Each scene should result in the player characters receiving obvious clues that lead them to one or more other scenes that advance the mission. Red herrings should be kept to an absolute minimum (with the very occasional exception for those that are a key part of the villain’s plans).
  • The “good guys” and the “bad guys” should generally be fairly obvious (with the very occasional double-agent). The players should feel they are working on the side of the heroes and that they are making the world safer/better. Shades of grey don’t really fit this campaign.
  • Action (including combat) should be fast and easy to adjudicate. Complicated systems that slow down the resolution are not appropriate.

I think that if I can hit these major points, then the campaign will really feel like something out of a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie. A few of these are the result of the system I choose to use, and the rest influence how I will design the missions. It will be important not to become too repetitive—by that I mean that a car chase on a highway in one mission might be replaced by a chase on skis in the Alps, or a motorcycle chase through crowded streets, or something else. It’s still a chase, but it feels different because of the unique elements involved.

The James Bond movies are a great example of this. James Bond has been involved in a great number of car chases throughout his 24 (Eon) films, but they often have elements that give them a unique flavor. The car chase in Goldfinger is a different sequence than the one in The Spy Who Loved Me. And that’s not counting all the chases on skis, or in boats, or on foot, or while falling out of a plane, etc.


Emulating a particular media property requires some effort to get right. The system plays a big part in this, but it’s important to remember that the GM has a major role to play in giving the players some direction and in setting boundaries. An action-espionage campaign, for example, won’t feel like the Mission Impossible movies if the GM keeps coming up with complicated and convoluted plots that contain multiple double- and triple-crosses and where everyone walks the fine line between hero and villain.

Have you ever played a campaign that was based on a single movie or movie series? How did the system and the GM help (or hinder) that emulation? Tell us about it in the comments.