So you’ve had a heavy dose of Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Matt Fraction’s Casanova or even the Venture Brothers and you feel like running a little Super-Spy Action. Now you need to ask yourself: what’s worth stealing and how should you implement it.
For my money, here’s what I tend to take away from it:
1) It’s Always about the Awesome- Start your adventure in media res with your team moving in on an enemy agent who happens to be aboard a gondola in the Alps. Have them all roll their their ‘speak ____ skill’ as law enforcement officials kick in their hotel door and chase them out onto the rooftops of Marrakesh. Make them react and keep setting up opportunities for them to be awesome. Don’t let your group spend 30 minutes haggling over pistols or debating plans. Cut to the next scene and keep things moving.
2) Gadgets are a Girl’s Best Friend- As I read Steranko’s Nick Fury run, I was struck by his use of ‘oxygen-providing buttons,’ ‘invisibility pills’ and a ‘magnetic repulsor watch.’ While these gizmos were far more fantastic than anything Sean Connery wielded, there was a certain D&D logic to their use. Nick only had a handful of items and they were nearly all one-use items. I recommend passing them out to players like candy initially, but restricting refills to add a little drama. Basically, gadgets should be the Vancian magic of the Super-Spy genre.
3)E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. is better with Acronyms- Word play abounds in the genre. From double entendres to overly elaborate acronyms, GMs should shameless dive into this practice in order to set the mood. Give your organizations, characters and locations suggestive names (S.E.R.P.E.N.T., Lady Isatramp and the No Go Dojo, for instance) and don’t look back. Oh, and for the record: I have no idea what S.E.R.P.E.N.T. stands for.
4) Diabolical Deathtraps- Honestly, I have the hardest time with this. Luring players into deathtraps without the use of ‘knockout’ or ‘railroad’ gas is a challenge. That said, if you are straight with your players and they are into the genre, I think it is fair to ask if they want to wind up in a deathtrap or not. Most of the time the answer will surprise you. When it comes time to design your trap, I advocate shameless stealing from any source you can get your hands on. My current favorite is a no grip underwater chamber half-filled with a vicious man-eating giant octopus.
5) Never Underestimate the Power of a Jumpsuit- Hydra agents wear green jumpsuits with a hood, members of A.I.M. wear yellow beekeeper costumes and the Yellow Claw’s people wore a strange Roman-like armour. All distinctive costumes that give the armies of mooks an identity and lend themselves to PC disguises. And if you can make each antagonist organization unique in its costume, goals and M.O., you can even pit them against each other for more mayhem. Nothing like dropping the PCs into a battle royal of different jump suit wearing fanatics!
There are a million other bits of brilliant in the genre, but you can’t steal them all. Or at least not all at once. But if you can cram the above elements into your game, you will have a great start to regular game or a fantastic one-shot.
And when in doubt? Go back to the source-material and steal even more!
PS- S.E.R.P.E.N.T.? Strategic Extortion Robbery and Persecution Engineered for Nihilistic Terror