Thursday, April 28, 2011

[Espionage] "Now pay attention, Bond..."

Initially, as I've said, an idea for how to do super-spy gadgets was the thing that got me thinking of a FATE espionage hack in the first place, but as it stands now I could leave this part out entirely and still have a version of FATE that looks rather different from most others out there. That's good -- it means that the gadget rules won't feel like an espionage-heartbreaker gimmick, but just another alteration.

So the original idea was this: Before play begins, each player writes down a number of mundane items in their character's possession. Stuff like Belt, Shoes, Tie, Watch, Briefcase, Sportscar -- that kind of thing. They'd then have a pool of points, which we'll call Gadget Points for lack of anything better right now, that they'd spend to "reveal" those items as the super-spy gadgets they really are. First declare a flashback scene wherein some Q equivalent gives your character the gadget and explains how it works, then spend the points to put numbers to that idea. Once the item has been gadgetized, it's that gadget for good -- it can be altered again later.

How each character's number of items, or the Gadget Points required to make use of them, would be determined was a grey area at best. Enter Agents of F.A.T.E.'s skill list, which has two skills that seem ideal for these purposes: Access and Systems. Access is a Resources analogue. It measures rank or status within the organization (in this case, F.A.T.E.), and thus "access" to things it can provide. Systems, on the other hand, is your tech ability, measuring your knowledge of and facility with technological devices. It therefore seems a no-brainer to me that Access controls how many gadgets you have (the higher your standing, the more options are probably available to you) while the complexity of those gadgets is governed by Systems (complicated gadgets are more likely to be reserved for those with the know-how to make the best use of them).

At first, it was going to be as simple as Number of Gadgets = Access Rating, with a Systems roll vs. Mediocre (+0) to determine the number of Gadget Points (and certain other benefits accruing from a Mediocre or worse effort). But now I'm thinking there are other ways to go about it -- like everyone writing down, say, three items on index cards, shuffling those cards, and handing out two cards to each player. Then make a Systems roll to determine the number of Gadget Points you have. What about the excess cards? If you visit a well-equipped safehouse or a foreign office of F.A.T.E., make an Access roll vs. a target of some kind (probably dependent on how remote the safehouse or office is), with success meaning you get to draw an additional card. If you don't have any Gadget Points, also roll Systems, with your margin of success from your Access roll adding to your effort, which would hopefully up your odds of getting at least one Gadget Point. (And if Access happens to be your apex skill and your roll obtains spin, you can declare a free aspect on the scene, like "Well-Equipped Safehouse," then immediately tag it to improve your Systems roll even further. Handy!)

Anyway -- that seems neat to me, because it more closely resembles James Bond's complete lack of agency in determining what gadgets he's given for a particular mission. Heck, MI6 wouldn't even let him keep his Beretta. Plus I think it'd be fun to get handed two items -- "Socks and a Lipstick?" -- and have to figure out how to gadgetize them into something useful. Of course, when even a ballpoint pen can go from writing implement to grenade in three clicks (Goldeneye is never far from my thoughts), that shouldn't be too hard.

The only thing left to determine, then, is what those Gadget Points buy. This is obviously important not just in terms of bang for your buck (often literally), but also hitting that sweet spot between "Enough Options" and "Too Many Options!" for a player to consider. Remember, you're making up what these items do in the moment. We can't stop the action for 10 minutes while you tinker with your laser watch, especially in a convention one-shot.

These gadgets are also essentially taking the place of stunts as they're traditionally used in FATE, so the options have to be robust enough to be useful without overshadowing the agents themselves. Right now I'm thinking something like this:

For 1 Gadget Point, the gadget gets...

  • +1 to a non-combat application of a skill.
  • Use one skill in place of another under narrow circumstances.
  • +2 to non-combat maneuvers with one skill.
  • Use a skill in an alternate, non-standard way, such as a mini jetpack that lets you use Conditioning to fly short distances.
  • +1 Health stress with one application of the Combat skill (maximum of +3 Health stress).
For 2 Gadget points, the gadget gets...
  • +1 to a combat application of a skill.
  • +2 to combat-related maneuvers with a skill. 
  • Affect all targets in a zone.
  • Armor 1 vs. Health stress (maximum of Armor 3).
All of the above are for disposable gadgets. After one use, the gadget can't be used again... unless it makes sense that it could somehow be used again, in which case you can spend a Fate Point to do that later. For example, a pen grenade is disposable because once you use it, it's gone. It done blowed up. But a laser watch could conceivably come back into play. It can still only do what it can do, but maybe it can do it again. Who's the judge of that? The GM, I guess, although I can also see a guideline that says, "If you could've had the same effect by making the gadget blow up and cause an explosion but decided not to do so, then you can't use it again." That may be a little... what's the word... dickish.

To have a reliable gadget -- one that's designed to be used again and again -- double the Gadget Point costs above. So if you want to make your Belt Buckle into a throwing star that gives you +1 Combat and does +2 Health stress, that'll cost 4 Gadget Points. But if you want, say, a hidden extendable rapier in your Belt Buckle that gives you the same benefits ad infinitum, that'll be 8 Gadget Points.

The idea here isn't to screw people over out of some sense of balance or something. I just want to see a variety of gadgets instead of having people use the same one or two the whole time. I also like the idea that the agents' gadgets are useful but ephemeral. That happens with Bond a lot. 
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