Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spycraft - A Memoir

This was a wonderful and heartfelt review by Jaime 'Hida Mann' Lawrence on RPG Geeks.
Spycraft – A Memoir.
When one is born into times of controversy, one has only two options; to become flexible, or to break. Being the child of such times, I was faced very early on with this choice, but thanks to my innately wide interests and the support of loving but troubled parents, I became extremely flexible. It was this defining quality which, over the years, was to win me legions of fans, to give me a second chance at life and if I may be so self-appreciative, made me so attractive to so many. For what am I if not flexible?
Gentle reader, my name is Spycraft. I am the child of the Open Game License and Alderac Entertainment Group, a roleplaying game recognized internationally and highly regarded, having been nominated for the industry’s highest awards. Above all of this, however, I am without boast the most flexible incarnation of the d20 system ever to have appeared.
My youth was tumultuous; even before my release, rivals of my parents had announced that they were going to produce a superior game, a broad and intuitive system that would allow players to build characters in any genre for a modern game. That game, d20 Modern, has since passed into obscurity. I know not if that is my doing, but if so, I can only say that it got its just desserts, for it ended up being a pale imitation of many of my core mechanics, but according to critics, lacked my “elegance and flair”. Flattering though this is, I’m not sure how much elegance I truly have. I am sure, however, that d20 Modern deserved obscurity; it was very rude to me and worked hard to try and muscle me out of the market. Even if we hadn’t been born into competition, I doubt we ever would have been friends.
My parents were supportive and caring; though I was the product of teamwork, the two faces I saw the most in my infancy were those of Patrick Kapera and Kevin Wilson, both of whom have themselves moved on to impressive careers, Patrick now being the driving force behind Crafty Games, Kevin doing wonderful work over at Fantasy Flight Games. They were both working at AEG, a fine company to this day, where they had collaborated on Legend of the Five Rings (1st Edition) and 7th Sea, both RPGs with strongly thematic mechanics and essentially my paternal cousins. Patrick, Kevin and I remain in contact and I know I am never far from my parents’ thoughts, but the heady days of my childhood are behind us now. Still, one cannot weep for the past too long, or one misses the present.
People remark now that I am old and outdated, yet I am still very active for my age; In the UK, a living campaign exists to promote me. It is called ‘For Queen and Country’ and I am proud to be in attendance whenever I am in the country. Though many have moved on and consider my ‘rebirth’ to be a superior incarnation, I am proud of my origins. Let us look together at what I achieved in those early years.
Based on the d20 model, I changed the core mechanics of the game in many significant ways. It was outmoded as soon as it was born, a clunky failure of a few good ideas. I won’t claim to have invented them, but the first thing I did was expand greatly the concept of action dice, making them not only a little bonus when needed, but the means by which critical success could be activated and building them into a narrative exchange system between the players and the Game Control.
I also introduced new mechanics for selecting Gear and conducting chases. Rather than simply relying on dice checks, this new and innovative system offered players exciting games of bluff as they would attempt to select manoeuvres to outdo and penalize their opponents. The tension and atmosphere of the game expanded greatly under my ruleset as players could imagine themselves swerving up side streets, playing chicken or just plain gunning it to get away from an opponent. A part of the game that had formerly been a dice roll and a few sweet words was now an epic in which players could achieve triumphs that previously resided only in the imagination. The system worked so well the White Wolf would later borrow it for their d20 adaptations of their games Trinity (d20 Version) and Aberrant (d20 Edition).
I added a level-based bonus to initiative and defence, so that more experienced agents would have a boon over those with less field hours. This was a small but meaningful change that also allowed me to further distinguish the classes from one another. While my ancestor had rangers that were suspiciously similar to fighters and assassins that were nigh-identical to rogues, my classes were distinct and flavoursome. Characters for my game would select not a race, but a department, which defined their background and training, then a class.

The Faceman, deathlessly cool in the toughest of spots.
The Fixer, able to obtain anything from anyone, anywhere.
The Pointman, bolstering his comrades and directing traffic during an op.
The Snoop, a born investigator with two eyes for detail.
The Soldier, a paragon of violence.
The Wheelman, who could pilot anything home in one piece.
It was not an exhaustive list, to be sure and later supplements and revisions would perhaps improve on my model, but they were my creation and I’m damn proud of them.
Finally, I adopted the wounds/vitality system that my cousin, Star Wars (WEG Original Edition) had invented. Why improve on something that already works, right?
Of course, looking back, it isn’t the mechanics I remember. No, they were good, a significant improvement on what had gone before, but what really makes me proud was how incredibly slick and cool I looked in those days. My stark silver covers with flashes of colour and chiascuro-lit figures in espionage gear made me the envy of every other RPG on the shelf. It was Veronica Jones who gave me my dynamic looks and it must certainly be said that without her, I never would have flown off the shelves as I did.

The team behind me went a step further though, adding quotes from the most sensational of espionage films to my chapter title pages and taking the time to build theme into my mechanics. Look at my feats, for example – not just the sensibly titled “Punching Basics” or “Defensive Driving”, but the creative and expressively titled ones such as “One Hand on the Wheel” and “And a Gun in the Other”, or “Five Star Service”, or “Trail of Blood” – my feat trees are artistic and give players something to aim for besides a cool set of mechanics.
My parents included so many nice little details in me too; an table of international travel times, a gadget construction system, a villain construction system, an extensive Game control Advice chapter and sections for players on how to use evidence and clues. I was the complete package in my day.
Dark times were ahead though. Economic downturn hit AEG and they had to drop my line, only a short time after my Spycraft 2.0 was released. Patrick and Kevin parted ways and thankfully Crafty Games gave me a shot after that and soon, version 3.0 will be doing the rounds.
If you are to take anything from my life, other than my existence as a truly original sandbox RPG that offered players the opportunity to adopt the roles of their favourite characters from multiple genres, it would be this: Be flexible. Encourage those around you to be flexible and to play with the rules and roles they are so used to. There’s a lot out there, but if you break when you encounter difficulty, you’ll never know what it’s like to be Spycraft.


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