Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tommy's Take on Agency Resource Guide (Terror Network)

The Agency Resource Guide is an all-purpose supplement for Terror Network, designed to provide more options and advice for players and GMs. The book is $5.99 in PDF format, and is also part of the Terror Network Bundle. Bedrock Games also has their games available in print through Studio 2.

The PDF, like Terror Network, has all of the bells and whistles present, from bookmarks to clickable Table of Contents and searchability.

AGENCIES AND CAMPAIGNS

First off, each of the common agencies are covered, with a focus on the types of operations they are likely to perform, as well as the hierarchy of the organization. For instance, the agents in the FBI are generally going to report to the Supervisory Special Agent, who answers to the Assistant Special Agent in Charge who reports to the Special Agent in Charge of the field office. That guy has to answer to the Division Chief, who reports to the Section Chief, who reports to the Director. The FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, Local Law Enforcement and US Special Operations Command are all discussed in this manner.

A good overview is given of the latitude afforded to agents, as well as the resources that they can call on.

We also get five sample campaigns designed to show the flexibility of a Terror Network game while staying within the Counter Terrorism "genre". For instance, an FBI campaign starting off as what appears to be a hunt for an elaborate serial killer turns out to have completely different motivations. A Secret Service campaign in which the PCs are having to deal with someone within their organization out to assassinate the President. One campaign is off duty cops versus a states rights militia that takes over a small town. Another involves a tricky prisoner transfer from overseas...in part because the country that has him is reluctant to admit that they do. Finally, a CIA campaign that kicks off with some very targeted plane bombings that, for some reason, no one has taken credit for.

INVESTIGATIONS AND INTELLIGENCE

As it says...a look into counter terrorism investigations and intelligence gathering. While there is a lot of information here, most of it is in pretty broad strokes. For instance, this isn't an in depth guide on "How to take fingerprints from a crime scene". I don't think that's a bad thing...honestly, it's the kinda thing I'm perfectly fine with my players going "I wanna take fingerprints from the crime scene." "Okey dokey" and then adding a roll of it is relevant.

The section on interrogation techniques is pretty great, identifying skills that might come into play, but also encouraging the GM to provide bonuses for good techniques...and offering a discussion of many of those techniques.

Resolving hostage situations is broken down into four basic methods (Rescue/Dynamic Entry, Sharp Shooters, Chemical Agents and Negotiation).

In the Intelligence Gathering section, the various sources for information gathering is laid out, alongside the types of Covert Operations that the CIA and Special Ops are likely to perform. In fact, the entire Intelligence Gathering section is pretty extensive, laying out the CIA's approach to information gathering, from an agent forming his alias to picking his targets and so on.

NEW RESOURCES AND RULES

First off, we get more coverage of mandates, expanding and clarifying them. We get mandates for local law enforcement agencies (APBs and Police Back-up).

We get rules for Specialists, who are essentially "one skill" NPCs that can be assigned to teams from the major organizations (CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and Special Ops) with the skill level that a specialist from that organization would provide...(for instance, an FBI Negotiator is more skilled than a CIA Negotiator...but when it comes to lawyers, Homeland Security has it down cold).

There are also Combat Specialist teams, such as FBI Swat Raids and Special Ops Strike Teams that basically get abstracted down to a Combat Rating.

The Resources section covers getting warrants as well as the various levels of security clearance, including transferring security clearance in multi-agency operations. There is a reference to a sidebar with a more realistic approach to clearance, but I couldn't find it in the immediate vicinity of this section, so I'm not sure what happened.

Finally, rules are provided for aiming shots, Targeted Shots (Called shots, including more lethal called shots) and attacking multiple opponents.

EQUIPMENT

Here we expand the weapons and equipment from the core rules, starting with melee weapons. In addition to nightsticks, telescoping batons, tear gas grenades and some new firearms, we also get rules for improvised weapons as well.

Vehicles get expanded, not only with new vehicles but add-ons such as armor and even snow tires.

This chapter really earns its keep with pages of new, general equipment (like "under the door" cameras", makeup kits, swiss army knives, grapppling equipment and much, much more). Computers are covered in notable detail, with bonuses for access to certain databases, as well as rules for firewalls and various types of software that a counter terrorism agent might like to have.

The chapter ends with dogs...bomb dogs, rescue dogs, drug dogs and attack dogs.

GLOBAL AGENCIES AND HOTSPOTS

Agencies for France, Israel, Pakistan and the United Kingdom are covered, with mandates appropriate for each. This section isn't INCREDIBLY useful if you want to run a game based outside of a US organization, as their is no hierarchy (or even a suggested "Use the CIA Hierarchy for Mossad", etc), but there is plenty enough information for international operations in which your PCs' agency has to work with another country.

The Hotspots section includes a brief overview of each country, followed by a breakdown of the major terrorist groups in each, with name, leadership, their size and ideology, followed by a paragraph or two of detail. This covers Afghanistan, Chechnya, Colombia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Kashmire, Pakistan, The Phillipines, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Yemen. If you wanna clash with FARC instead of the Taliban, here you go.

DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

No, this is not a rehash of the CIA, FBI and so on...this chapter is about important departments and agencies inside the US and how they interact with, or otherwise affect, the agencies likely to be used by the PCs.

There is even a paragraph given for every single department in the President's Cabinet, talking about the Departments of Agriculture and Education alongside the more "obvious" choices for a Terror Network game like the Department of Justice.

The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice get dramatically expanded as well, as they have far more relevance to the counter terrorism issue, given that Special Ops, Homeland Security and the FBI fall under their purview respectively.

The final section in this chapter delves into independent agencies, which has a particular bearing on the CIA.

RUNNING TERROR NETWORK

I like the touch up front, where the authors helpfully point out that they are not telling you how to run the game the "right way"...pointing out that once you buy it, feel free to do as you like (even if it means turning it into GI Joe vs Cobra)...but they do offer up some advice to help you out here.

They stress that the intent is to make Terror Network flexible within the framework of "Counter Terrorism RPG"...providing tools for door-busting action missions or intense investigations. In fact, building investigations from the ground up is covered here, starting with bad guys and their plots then evidence and locations and even laying out a timeline (which can go a long ways towards making the game feel "alive" in any situation).

They also recommend mixing it up...that is, not having every game be Jihadist of the Week. As I noted in the Terror Network review, they certainly provide ample material to allow you to do just that.

This chapter also talks about politics and how the authors have (impressively) managed to keep their personal politics non existent in their writing, as well as how to have a successful Terror Network game with a group of people who may have wildly differing views about the War on Terror.

The chapter ends with an expanded selection of optional rules for High Octane play, in case your PCs just aren't feeling bad ass enough.

The book ends with an extensive glosssary of important names and terms related to counter terrorism, a list of web resources you can use for your own research, and a character sheet (which seems to be identical to the one in the main rulebook).

THOUGHTS

Just buy the bundle and you don't have to worry about it. Seriously, while the Terror Network book hardly felt incomplete, the Agency Resource Guide just has enough information to make it feel indispensable for someone looking to run Terror Network. The dramatically expanded equipment section stands out, as does the Global Hotspots section.

I also really like the NPC Specialist rules, and the Investigations and Intelligence chapter ranges from "pretty good" to "great" on the information.

Just a lot of great information packed into a well written, well researched book. A must for Terror Network players and GMs.