Friday, June 12, 2015

The Top Secret Spycraft of Covert Ops - Review

Though I may be a game designer, Dungeons and Dragons was not my first RPG. Shadowrun was the first RPG I fell in love with, in case you couldn't guess from the multiple hacks. But the first RPG I ever bought was Top Secret S.I. It was in a Waldenbooks in Orlando and it was the only thing that I talked about besides The Haunted Mansion. I still have that ragged boxed set today and I even pulled it down to play it a few years ago.

I love spy games (even if I don't get to play them much) and heard good things about Covert Ops. That it was inspired by TSSI was one of the main reasons I picked it up. There are a few ways to pick up the game; PDF, a single book, three split books that correspond with the chapters of the main book, and even an add-on boxed set with a GM screen and tokens for the complete old school package. My further thoughts are after the jump.

The game does, indeed take a lot of inspiration from Top Secret S.I., using similar characteristics and even including the psychological profile rules instead of alignment. It also cleans up skills to be more like Leverage (also an excellent spy game choice) by giving players a few broad categories for competency. Much of the first book reads like an excellent update of Top Secret S.I. taking out some of the outdated mechanics and adding in more modern ideas. Though it includes S.E.C.T.O.R. as a quick and easy uber-good-guy agency, it had me wondering about what Orion and the WEB are doing these days.

The second book, the Operations Manual, takes its cue from another great espionage game. Spycraft was one of the first games that really pushed the boundaries of the d20 boom and its books were chock full of options letting you tweak the game toward silly super spies, down and dirty espionage or even cartoon patriotic low-level supers. The rules here let you tweak your game to whatever style of spies you want and also includes a short, TVtropes-style section that includes some excellent plot hooks.

The final book provides a mix of templates and sample characters perfect for use as allied NPCs back at HQ, one shot characters for that buddy in town on game night, or rogue agents the players need to deal with. Character creation doesn't seem super heavy, especially with the abstracted gear rules, but it's still nice to have sample characters to see how to roll your own and how to handle common types in the genre.

Between this and the slate of good spy movies coming out this summer, there's a pretty good chance this will see some time on my table soon.