Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tommy's Take on Operation Hydra

My goal is to spend the rest of the week reviewing modules for the Terror Network RPG, starting with Operation Hydra. In a nutshell, Terror Network is an RPG designed to emulate a relatively realistic approach to the War on Terror, in all its forms. You can read my review of the rulebook right here.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Operation Hydra is designed to be played either standalone, or as the first module in a campaign against terrorist group Al Mahara. You can get it in PDF format at RPGNow, or in print through Studio 2 Publishing. The former will run you $5.99, while the latter is $14.99...or, since it requires Terror Network to play, you can get the whole line in a bundle for $21.96. The book is 59 pages in black and white.

Essentially, the adventure is a timed sandbox adventure. The PCs are anti-terror agents (it is recommended that they be FBI, but the option is presented for them to be a joint task force), who catches wind of an Al Mahara plot targeting Dallas, Texas. The Agents are then turned loose to do everything in their means and jurisdiction to stop the terror plot.

Chapter One provides a detailed summary of the background of Al Mahara, as well as the events of the module and how they are likely to play out. Also included is a timeline of the events and how they will happen barring PC interference. I try to play light-handed with spoilers on modules, so I will say that the PCs are brought in when they catch wind of a kidnapping plot against a software engineer who works for the Dallas Federal Reserve, and that things go to crap pretty much when the PCs get involved, leading to a race against time.

Chapter Two lays out the various events and locations, starting with a keyed map of Dallas. Each entry gets descriptive text, what (if anything) initially happens on arrival, any relevant NPCs, what might turn up in the course of the investigation (and how the PCs can attain the information), and NPCs likely to be present (and how they are likely to react) and finally any events keyed to the location.

While the PCs can tackle many of the locations in any order, there are commonly clues that lead from one place to the next, so thorough agents shouldn't wind up left in the dark here.

Chapter Three (Suspects and Witnesses) lays out the NPCs the PCs are likely to interact with, including short descriptions of them and how they are likely to react (including relevant game information, such as how to get important information from given suspects and witnesses, from Reasoning with them to Interrogating them as needed).

Chapter Four is the endgame for the module, which can end a few different ways, including with brutal devastation unleashed on Dallas by Al Mahara. The way the adventure is written, the PCs are doing more than just getting to the end, what they do actually matters in the endgame, affecting not only WHAT happens, but how difficult the endgame is.

The module concludes with relevant NPC stats, as well as a couple of handouts.

What Works: I love the Bedrock Games approach to adventures, more often than not just setting up a scenario, usually with a timeline, and letting the PCs work it out for good or for ill. The way this module works, it ties into the sequel (Operation Hydra Den) in which Agents take the fight to Al Mahara on their home soil, regardless of success or failure on the PCs' part (although failure will likely make the players want to take the fight to Al Mahara even more). The module itself allows for the PCs to have plenty to do, from hacking to interrogating, to shoot-outs and chase scenes, and even a bone-chilling encounter with a pitbull (...maybe).

What Doesn't Work: For better or for worse, Bedrock Games is more Substance than Style (reminding me a lot of Precis Intermedia Games in that regard). None of their stuff looks bad, but I think it tends to get overlooked because they spend their time, energy and money on research and writing, and not on their art budget. Personally, I don't mind that, but it baffles me how every person out there who waxes nostalgic for games like Top Secret hasn't at least given Terror Network a once over.

Conclusion: Another stellar release by Bedrock Games. While it allows for the very real possibility of a downer ending, said ending (and the existence of its follow up module) is a textbook case in how the PCs can "lose", and the show can go on. Most importantly, the module is written with the flexibility in mind that success or failure - at any step - is up to the PCs, their choices, and their action. With any luck, Hydra Den will fulfill the promise of its predecessor.