The Libertarian Gamer: Spycraft, Part 1

Spycraft (Amazon) is Alderac’s d20-based game of modern espionage. It draws upon the classics of the genre — James Bond, Mission: Impossible, The A Team, Sneakers, Alias — to create a game that’s reminiscent of classic RPGs like James Bond: 007 and Top Secret.

By default, the Spycraft source book assumes that the players are part of a larger intelligence organization — one with multiple departments and enough of a bureaucracy to provide them with the gear and gadgets they need to fight their battles against nefarious masterminds. But there’s nothing that says that this agency needs to be a government one — indeed, in the first campaign setting for the game, the protagonist organization is the private Archer Foundation. Granted, the Archer Foundation is itself part of a larger, Illuminati-like alliance bent on stopping the forces of evil from conquering the world, but hey, at least it’s a private organization.

Spycraft’s take on the d20 rules is good for over-the-top, larger-than-life espionage serials, ones in which agents can infiltrate a fortress crawling with Nazis, kill or incapacitate all opposition and escape with the doomsday machine plans with nary a scratch. Characters are capable of all manner of exceptional feats, be it engaging in a diving gunfight, outrunning enemy snow mobiles by jumping ravines, or hacking their way into an enemy mainframe using little more than a converted calculator and some duct tape.

This places some restrictions on the sort of games you can run with Spycraft — while you could theoretically run a covert, low-profile kind of game, the rules really cry out for something more action packed. With that in mind, I can think of a few approaches to a libertarian campaign.

The Good Guys

The A-Team Approach

A freelance band of mercenaries working by and for themselves, hunted by a government that views them as criminals, working to help the oppressed and downtrodden (by governments, the occasional evil corporation and — in a nice twist — “non-government organizations”) while at the same time taking on corporate and private security jobs were possible.

This doesn’t fit perfectly with the Spycraft rules, which assumes the PCs have the backing of some sort of a logistical organization, but you could argue that the gadget and gear points represent their pull with their former intelligence associates, as well as resources they stockpiled before going rogue. I could also easily tie them into a larger, de-centralized organization, perhaps a group of similarly rogue agents who decided to take a more aggressive roll in combating the anti-liberty excesses of everyone from terrorists to over-zealous environmental groups.

The Alias Approach

In the television series Alias, super-agent Syndey discovers that the black-op CIA division she’s been working for is in fact one of the bad guys. She signs up with the real CIA to take down this group, known as SD-6. Placing the PCs as part of a corrupt government agency has intriguing possibilities — they would have to struggle with how to carry out their missions while at the same time undermining their agency.

It could in turn lead to the aforementioned “A-Team” approach, where they end up striking out on their own in an effort to take down their original employers.

The Private Corporation

Another option is the straight-forward private corporation — perhaps one bankrolled by a billionaire software developer who got tired of government’s trying to break up his “monopoly” and decided to “shrug” and retire from public view, taking his company — and his billions — with him. But instead of simply retiring to some mountain valley, he decides to take the war to his would-be oppressors, taking on terrorists and rogue governments everywhere (but always with the utmost concern for innocent private citizens).

This would certainly require the least amount of work on my part, since it would complement Spycraft’s departments very well.

Then again, this could dovetail with the other scenarios: Season 1 has the players working for a corrupt agency, Season 2 sees them strike out on their own, Season 3 has them link up with the like-minded private corporation. Of course, that scenario could take years to complete, so perhaps it would be better to skip to Season 3, and use the events of Season 1 and Season 2 as back story for the PCs.

The Swordfish Alternative

While I don’t agree with its “ends justify the means” approach for securing its financing, the movie Swordfish presents another way to go — a rogue, black-op organization determined to bring the war to the bad guys. I like the idea of an ultra-secret, independent agency fighting myriad covert wars against third-world dictators, terrorists and death cults.

Read Part 2.

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