This is a solid contribution to the Spycraft line, with plenty of 'core' rules material over and above the expected detail aimed particularly at Fixer and Pointman characters.
The Introduction spells out the rationale between the pairing of these two core classes in this book. The Fixer and the Pointman are the archetype 'spies' - the people who undertake infiltration missions, who conduct the essential tradecraft activities like dead-drops and brush passes, who play the Great Game through anything from threats through burglary to bribery. Suitably, then, the rules section concentrates on providing the necessary information to simulate the practice of tradecraft in your game. There's a lot of information to assimilate, and most should be read by both GCs and players - particularly those who have Fixer or Pointman levels.
The first chapter contains several new prestige classes, which are of use to any agent but particularly, of course, Fixers and Pointmen. The first is the Cleaner - a genius at clearing up, making things (and people) disappear. Then there is the Courier, a specialist in transporting information and small items across the most tightly-controlled borders. They are experts in international travel as well as in protecting the item he's carrying. The Forward is a scout, a 'forward observer' in military parlance, able to operate on his own deep in enemy territory to identify target locations for further investigation (or desctruction) by other members of the team. They are taelented in surveillance and in the use of electronic devices including unmanned drones.
The Goodfella knows his way around organised crime, having good contacts if not actual membership within Triad, Yakuza clan or Mafia family (organisation must be chosen when this Prestige Class is taken). They are good with smooth talk and more strong-arm tactics, using both with equal facility to achieve their objectives. The Grifter is also a criminal, but of a lesser order - his specialty is street crime and casual opportunist theft. They are good at quick searches of premises, finding whatever cash or information is there, however well hidden; and they are past masters at 'acquiring' useful items although it's wise not to enquire too closely as to where the Grifter obtained it! The Inventor is a cunning chap who can manufacture seemingly anything out of any old junk - the epitome of the old TV show "The A-Team" where you could lock them in a shed and they'd come out with an armoured car blazing away. These fellows will end up running your 'Q Branch' when they retire from active service. The Ninja specialises in stealthy infiltration and sheer physical violence. An Officer is a leader type, able to interact with the hierarchy of command and manipulate it to his advantage. They can inspire their team to great heights of achievement. The Provocateur is a more indirect sort of fellow. They are archetypal 'wasps' - small and irritating, able to sow chaos amongst the enemy often by indirect and sneaky means; and masters of psychological warfare ('Psy-Ops'). The Ranger is an expert in wilderness operations, able to survive and continue the mission in the most hostile of conditions. The Saboteur is the demolitions specialist, being able to create improvised explosive devices or disarm other people's bombs with equal ease. The Smuggler is another one good at moving stuff around, especially into and out of places he shouldn't. While you might think this sounds very much like the Courier, the Smuggler is better with large items, and he's also good at finding items and more unusual modes of transportation.
Chapter 2 is entitled 'New Rules' - and contains new departments and backgrounds, some new feats and ideas for new ways to use existing skills. It also looks at the existing departments from the standpoint of a Fixer or Pointman, explaining how such a character would fit in and explain his background.
The 2 backgrounds are a bit vague. One is 'Liaison' - taking this means that you have a reputation as a negotiator, the more points spent increases the importance and mutual hostility of the groups you are known to. It's not really clear how it can be used within a game, though, except possibly as a bit of flavour. The other is that GC's dream - the character is wanted for some crime, which they may or may not have actually committed. The more points spent, the more serious the crime, the more determined those hunting for the character are and the more severe the consequences if caught. That said, most groups I've run games for have developed their own list of crimes for which they are wanted very quickly without the need for expenditure of skill points!
The Departments section first runs through the existing (D0 to The Basement) ones from the core rulebook, explaining why each might be interested in recruiting potential Fixers and Pointmen to their ranks; and then moves on to a vast range of new Departments which a new character can choose from. Perhaps you are a Freelancer, an independent operator who has been recruited by whatever agency the game is built around, or at the other extreme some agencies adopt Orphans and raise them to be agents. Or you may be a Search & Rescue specialist, recruited for your expertise under hazardous conditions and talent for emergency medicine... or even a Thrill Seeker whose exploits have attracted attention. More detail is given on Organised Crime as a 'Department' (where you might have a background in the Mafia from one of a range of locations, a South American cartel, a street gang, a Chinese Triad or the Japanese Yakuza). More legitimate recruits may come from a Special Operations unit - examples given are the South African 1st Recce Regiment, French GIGN, Colombia's Lanceros, China's Special Operations Force, US Navy SEALs, the British SAS (who, despite the error in the core rulebook are an army regiment not part of the air force!) or the Russian Spetznaz. In the real world, it's unlikely that anyone from one of these units would join the intelligence services of any but their own nation; but you may decide that things are different in your game - or be forming an international unit in which such varying backgrounds only serve to add flavour.
The next section runs through some new uses for existing skills... such as using Bluff to pretend to be a law enforcement officer and so commandeer someone's vehicle for your own use! Or maybe your Craft specialisation is in the manufacture and safe use of poison. Maybe your Hobby is hypnosis (someone used this on my character very effectively in a Shatterzone game...) or a Professional Smuggler can use his skill and contacts to turn a few (dis)honest pennies on the side, or arrange to piggy-back his mission on an existing shipment of goods.
Two new Combat Actions are then presented: Threaten and Trick. Both are half actions. Threaten, if used successfully, has an adverse effect on your opponent's morale; while Trick enables you - the actual mechanism whereby this is accomplished as opposed to the rule is not clear - to deal subdual damage without striking your target.
Next comes the expected plethora of new Feats. There's a good range of covert feats like Aquatic Training (SCUBA, anyone?) or Firefighter Training (you don't suffer adverse effects from smoky environments, for example), or enhanced abilities at evading or setting security systems. There are gear feats relating to drones, electronic surveillance, explosives and poisons and new things you can add to the existing Safe House feat to make the place even more useful.
Scattered throughout this chapter there are sidebars on various things, like a few new equipment Bundles, rules for fencing stolen items, new ability options for Pointmen and Fixers and so on. However, after the Feats section, the main text turns to rules, the rules for running reconnaisance drones. This leads on to a whole array of new vehicle options, rules and gadgets; and then a collection of infiltration gear. I am not sure how all the devices are supposed to work in the real world, but their use as game abstractions of infiltration techniques could be useful!
The next chapter is possibly the most useful - Tradecraft! Herein are presented game rules for conducting ambushes, brainwashing people, harassment and even interrogation. While ambushes and harassment are presented as tasks that the agents can undertake, for some reason these rules assume that the PC agents are the targets of any interrogation attempt - they obviously haven't met my agents who are extremely fond of interrogating any of my NPCs that they can get their hands on! It's not too difficult to reverse the rules to cater for this, and the squeamish amongst us can be relieved that these are very abstract rules!
There's a very useful section on police operations, including likely agent actions that might trigger law enforcement interest as well as the resources and procedures available to local police officers. This provides some useful rules for conducting, for example, manhunts in search of the agents.... and like most of the rules, provide a quick means for abstraction if you do not wish to role-play events. There are also mechanics for making and using street contacts, cutting deals, etc.; but I feel that these are better role-played than abstracted.
The chapter ends with a useful collection of ready-made NPCs under the heading of Specialists and Street Contacts. Activists, athletes, con men, various experts, EMTs, journalists, lawyers and even a mistress can be supplied at the flip of a page!
The final chapter, Mission Guide, is aimed purely at GCs designing serials or whole campaigns. If you use the very mechanical Mastermind System to structure the opposition that the players will face, it gives you a whole range more options. If you don't, it's still worth a scan through to give you ideas for more 'artistic' plotting of your villains and their organisations. One useful bit is a selection of security systems complete with the relevant DCs for attempting to bypass, penetrate or defeat them... although I am not sure why it is easier to bypass a retinal scanner than it is to get past a swipe card reader! An oddity is a set of rules for 'streamlining' - read abstracting - an assault on an enemy facility. Surely that's the sort of thing that you'll want to play out in some detail, it's the core of any action game even if you want to skim through intelligence gathering and preparatory stages? Well, the option's there anyway.
Overall, the book is a useful addition to any Spycraft player's shelf, particularly for the additional classes, departments and feats. The latter parts run the risk of taking the ROLE-playing out of the game if followed too slavishly, but are good for ideas, particularly if you are the GC.
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