As I discussed in my previous entry, the real problem with modern day espionage games began when we attempted to move over from a dungeon crawling mentality. The early spy games (Top Secret and James Bond, for instance) were certainly designed for a realistic feel, but this was actually what caused the massive body count that ultimately led many groups to stop playing them.
Fortunately, as the hobby grew and different styles of gaming emerged, it became easier to craft games around an evolving outlook. This is why I’m inspired to go back to Top Secret and see if I can’t design a game that is old school by design, but using a more modern gaming method.
For this particular project, I’m using The Bourne Identity as a model. As you probably already know, this is in reference to the book (Robert Ludlum) and film (Doug Liman) of the same name. In this case, I’m using it as a way of dissecting the elements within the espionage genre in order to see how I might be able to craft a fun, enjoyable, and dare I say even survivable adventure.
Let’s get the really big problem out of the way right up front. Playing with guns is dangerous. If I wanted to design all my adventures around elaborate gun fights, I’d probably shift my focus to something like Shadowrun or Deadlands where magic could be used to save the party.
Is it possible to tone down the lethality level of a modern game and still retain all the excitement? If you watch The Bourne Identity, you find the following elements (let me know if I’m missing something):
investigative work, and
all pinned on a frame of conspiracy and betrayal.
And yes, there are a few encounters with guns as well; however, they’re crafted in such a way as to put the protagonist’s skills front-and-center. This, in essence, is what I think good game mastering should do as well.
So, using The Bourne Identity, it seems the trick to survivability lies in toning down conflict to concentrate on hand-to-hand encounters. This has the added benefit of making “real world” sense as well. Since the group will be playing some form of covert operatives (governmental or otherwise), this means that even if they don’t get killed in a gun fight, getting caught by authorities during a hail of bullets will likely mean incarceration and the end of a career (i.e. character retirement).
With that in mind, I’m starting to create a setting where these elements can be used in a seamless manner. As I work through this, I’ll be talking a bit more about this model and how I’m using it to lay out each of the elements I listed above. By the time I get to the end, I’ll hopefully have a decent adventure/campaign. And who knows, I might even learn a little something about how to run a modern game.