Monday, May 24, 2010

Game Review for Spycraft 2.0

My game review from

Spycraft 2.0. I was asked by one of the players in my gamimg group if I would purchase and check this game out due to his desire to possibly run a game with it in a few weeks and felt that there were a few aspects of its rules that I would like. So I did what any good friend would do, I purchased it on that recommendation alone. When the .pdf download was finally finished, and I opened it up, I was shocked to see the amount of pages that this game had: 497. I was not excepting this game to be so large, I was expecting something with a hundred or so pages to get through the rules and setting stuff. Mind you, I had never even heard of Spycraft before this point and still did not know what type of system it would use. I’m a good friend, what can I say?


The cover image looked cool, made me instantly think of cloak and dagger sort of stuff. Whether the game deliver that is yet to be seen. I do appreciate the top bar on every page; it gives a rather technological look to the book, cementing the idea that this is a modern to slightly futuristic game. I just now quickly skipped through the page, just checking out the artwork and I am extremely disappointed to see the veritable lack of imagery used. Also, the artwork that was used, only part of it seemed to fir the premise of the book, i.e. spies. People with face tattoos do not make good spies. All in all, if I was basing this book of the merit of the art alone, I would be hard pressed to say if this game was more in line with spies or trying to be more of a G.I. Joe-type of game.

I have to give Spycraft 2.0 only a 2 for Style due to how poorly its layout is.


Spycraft 2.0 has seven long chapters and one Introduction chapter that is extremely short, only 3 pages. I think it would have been better for the layout of the book if they had broken up the chapters in a better fashion.


Instead of the normal “This is what Roleplaying is” shtick, the books into explaining how Spycraft 2.0 is not only different from its predecessor, but also why it contains everything that anyone would need to play any type of game. While it is meant for modern to near-future games, it makes a point to state that it is generic enough, with some slight modifications, to be able to handle any type of setting easily. Only after that does the book state what dice you will need, common rpg terms, what roleplaying is, ect.

Chapter 1

This chapter is where the character creation process is at. Again, I think it would have been better to fist bring up the setting and whatnot to get the players interested in playing as well as to help them obtain a character concept before jumping them right into making a character. Also, this chapter starts off with a full page image of a woman looking similar the Baroness from G.I. Joe what with the leather full-body catsuit, making me confused as to what game I am playing.

Nitpick: They call the GM the “Game Control (GC)”, which really is an oddity for me. Why not “Game Controller”? Did they not want the idea placed in reader’s heads that the GC controls the game? This term just isn’t for me, so I will use the “GC” abbreviation whenever I need to bring it up.

There are 10 steps in creating a character: Determine Attributes, Choose Origin, Choose a Base Class, Spend Skill Points, Choose Feats, Choose Interests, Choose a Subplot, Calculate Derived Values, Describe Your Character, and Choose Gear. Oh, nevermind, there are 11 steps, they just numbered the first one, Concept, Step 0.

Step 0: For such a large book, it devotes only 1.5 pages on helping you to develop your concept. Again, starting off with the setting might have made this choice make sense, as it stands, it doesn’t at all. Beyond suggesting you to ask yourself some questions about your character, which makes no sense since you first need a concept before asking questions about your character, the book tells you to go online and do a personality test while in the mindframe of your character. I am sorry, but this is one of the strangest ways to come up with a concept that I have ever seen.

Step 1: Attributes here, and they are the basic d20 set, with the normal bonuses and penalties depending on how high or low they are. One odd thing is that there are no longer any sort of Attribute checks in the game. Why have Attributes then?

Step 2: This is where you pick your Origin and no, not what part of the world you came from. You pick a Talent and Specialty, which give you bonuses to stats, skills, and feats, based on what you want for your character’s background like being Rowdy or a Celebrity.

Step 3: 12 Classes, or team positions as Spycraft 2.0 calls them: Advocate, Explorer, Faceman, Hacker, Intruder, Pointman, Scientist, Scout, Sleuth, Snoop, Soldier, Wheelman. Half of these are what I would call “Spies”, only one of which I would call a typical spy: The Snoop. The other half seem to be oddities that the game has over whether it is a Spy or G.I. Joe-type of game. Perhaps they are there to increase its viability in the generic system category. The artwork for each of the classes keeps in line with this theme of Spy vs G.I. Joe.

Step 4: Is not here. Not even a note saying where you can find this step.

Step 5: Is not here either.

Step 6: The Interests step is only half a page, because it relies on the character to come up with their own interests and gives a few examples to help you along. Personally, I like this type of thing, but in a game that is already showing how rigid it is in character creation, I am confused why there is not a list of setting-specific interests and their effects in-game.

Step 7: Subplots are optional and can be created anytime between missions for additional XP rewards and storylines. This step follows one where you pick your own interests and I expected that you would pick your own subplots. Not a chance. Spycraft 2.0 lists out the possible Subplots that you can choose from.

Step 8: Derived Vales, for things like stress and vitality points. I will make a mention here of Vitality Points and Wound Points since this was one part of the system my friend thought I would really like.

Vitality Points are basically how well the character can dodge and give a number to how long the character can keep it up. The lower the VP is, the more worn out your character is and is that much closer to taking real damage, which is represented by Wound Points. Wound Points are your basic HP, with a character dying or becoming unconscious when they reach zero. I do like the idea of Vitality Points, but it seems like Spycraft 2.0 wanted an active defense system that d20 wasn’t equipped with, so they threw in a separate pre-HP system to represent it. Kinda like HP and SDC from Palladium’s systems without the active defenses. I like it well enough for a d20 game, but it is not something I would use in my other games.

Step 9: Name, age, code name… these are all the things that you choose from in the Description step. Also, this is where they introduce a new mechanic called Action Dice. Why it is in the Character Creation chapter, under the Description step no less, I can’t fathom. If you are familiar with the Buffy or Angel RPG’s, Action Dice works in much the same way as Drama Points do: Heal your character, Boost a dice roll, Boost your Defense, and so on.

Step 10: Is not here.

Then instead of even a small blurb reminding you where to go to find your gear, it goes into multi-class rules which are rather useful, especially if your group does not have enough people to cover all 12 of the team positions. Then there are the Expert classes, which you need to be level 5 or more to even think about entering into. I know Spycraft 2.0 wanted everything contained into one book, but the Expert classes could have been placed at the end of the book, since you will not need to even know about them at this point in the game.

Chapter 2

This is where the Skills from Step 4 wound up. If there was not room for the skills within the character creation chapter, they could have at least made mention of them within the chapter where Step 4 should have been. Again, poor layout design.

The Skills seem to be rather d20 in design and system, with a few names changed to keep with the theme of the setting, which works rather well. However, the system itself for the skills is needlessly complex and attempts to give rules for any way that the skills might be used in play. Nice, but I am more of the type who prefers to wing it instead of checking the book to see if a certain skill can be used against 5 or 6 people. Seriously, do you really need around a 100 pages for skill descriptions?

Chapter 3

Feats here! And not back in Chapter 1 like they should have been. I am getting rather tired of making mention of the poor layout design, but the facts are the facts. Again, normal d20 fare with the Spy/G.I. Joe theme going on.

Chapter 4

This is the Gear chapter, where the bastion of the spy stuff should be located. And if it is, I can’t find it. Of course, there is everything else that you can think of from tracers and bugs to camels and motorhomes. But honestly, this chapter is boring and dull. I expected that this chapter would be what causes this book to be so large, but the gear is just listed in an unfeeling table with no illustrations for the gear or even descriptions. The gear for spies should make anyone explain “Cool!” but this only produces a yawn accompanied with “When is it over with?” Spycraft 2.0 failed here, and failed big time. If I had not already purchased this book and had just flipped through it at a game store, this chapter alone would have made me set it back down. Of course, someone else might love this sort of layout of the gear.

Ah, weapons and vehicles are described after the tables, meaning you will have to do quite a bit of flipping, but with only a sentence or two for each weapon, there really is not much use to this part of the chapter. It is nice to see though.

Chapter 5

This has all of your combat rules within it. Very specific in these rules, with differing damages for every type of damage you might come across like acid and fire to collusion damage. Mini’s and battlemaps or grids are necessary if you are playing this game by the rules, as this chapter clearly illustrates with its multiple graphics of grids and highlighted squares to signify areas and everything else for attacks. One thing I always look for, Grapple, is in this chapter.

Chapter 6

Dramatic Conflict is the name of this chapter and it deals with how to run the setting. Basically, this is the GC’s section. The game gives ideas for how to run chases and hacking, infiltration, interrogations, how to play out a man hunt or brainwashing, as well as how to deal with the art of seduction. It also gives out a few organizations to use and rules on how to create your own. Very useful information in this chapter.

Chapter 7

My bad, this chapter is the Game Control section of the book, which makes me confused about the previous chapter. I suppose that this book contains no set settings and is just a generic book for any type of spy or espionage book. This chapter goes into the basics of running a game, designing missions, creating NPCs, how to use said NPCs in gameplay, as well as numerous pre-created NPCs, animals, and special NPCs. It also goes into how to run contacts that the players might have and how to use snitches in the game to dole out useful information.

Then there is the OGL stuff and it finishes off with a very extensive Index, which I expected no less from the game. After the Index, there is a good number of cards that I suppose are meant to be used to help facilitate mission creation for GCs since each of them contain a quick mission idea. Lastly, there are the character sheets with separate sheets for missions and NPCs.
I have to give Spycraft 2.0 a 4 for Substance.


All in all, the game seems to be a rather extensive system for running any type of game, but most notably those that are meant for spy or espionage missions. I can see the use of the combat rules for any d20 game due to how detailed they are for every eventuality. I do not foresee any need to create your own rule for how something works since this books is sure to have it is full detail.

With that said, there are some serious problems with the layouts, especially within the chapter for the gear. I mean, this should be the one section of the book that speaks to everyone and gets people interested in playing. But it is just a huge letdown.

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