Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Agents of S.T.I.L.E.T.T.O.

I've been watching a lot of films and television from the action-spy genre lately: Atomic Blonde, Casino Royale, Jessica Jones, Salt, and even the noir-ish parts of The Expanse probably count. Between watching all those and talking about how to translate the genre into gaming terms on G+, I was inspired to write up the following 5e D&D hack to do something similar in my Scarabae setting:

S.T.I.L.E.T.T.O. is a secretive intelligence operation within the Court of Swords. S.T.I.L.E.T.T.O. recruits the best and the brightest to spy upon the other Courts and advance the causes of the Court of Swords; agents are trained in hand-to-hand combat, physical skill, investigative acuity, and general skulduggery. Agents of S.T.I.L.E.T.T.O. engage in acts such as the prevention of terrorism within Scarabae and abroad, the securing of counterintelligence assets, sabotage of subversive forces, and espionage against the other three Courts and the Lord Mayor's Office.

S.T.I.L.E.T.T.O. most often tangles with criminal organizations, overreaching thieves' guilds, and villainous masterminds. The agency both competes against and shares aims with the intelligence arms of the other Courts, such as the Court of Wand's C.A.U.L.D.R.O.N. Alliances are ever shifting and it is best to keep your enemies closer than your friends.

Officially, S.T.I.L.E.T.T.O. does not exist.

* * *

Character Creation
Ability Scores: Arrange 16, 16, 14, 12, 12, 10 to taste.

Level: 4. Instead of increasing an ability score at 4th level, please pick a feat from this list instead: Alert, Athlete, Actor, Crossbow Expert, Dungeon Delver, Firearms Expert (as Crossbow Expert, but applies to firearms), Grappler, Martial Adept, Mobile, Observant, Sharpshooter, Skilled, Skulker, Tough.

Race: Any.

Class: Monk or Rogue only. Available monastic traditions include Way of the Open Hand (PHB), Way of Shadow (PHB), Way of the Four Elements (PHB), Way of the Long Death (SCAG), Way of the Sun Soul (SCAG), Way of the Cobalt Soul (Tal'Dorei). Available rogue archetypes include Thief (PHB), Assassin (PHB), Arcane Trickster (PHB), Mastermind (SCAG), Swashbuckler (SCAG).

Background: Any, but you might want to keep an eye out for ones that will open-up access to useful skills for a spy such as: Charlatan, Courtier (SCAG), Criminal, Faction Agent (SCAG), Knight of the Order (SCAG), Mercenary Veteran (SCAG), Noble, Sailor, Soldier, Urban Bounty Hunter (SCAG), Urchin.

Equipment: Fine clothing, two daggers or a dagger and a collapsible baton (club), a pistol with twenty shots, a mark of credit accepted at most establishments. Most other adventuring goods should be available from your headquarters.

Characters may spend hit dice after resting for 5 minutes. 

Abilities that recharge during a short rest still require an hour of inactivity. 

Also, during a short rest a character regains up to half their hit dice if the rest involves the consumption of alcohol, particularly in the form of cocktails or fine wine. 

Long rests remain unchanged, but are best spent in expensive hotels.

Mooks, Chumps, and Lackeys
Combat uses an asymmetrical set of rules when characters face off against mooks, chumps, and lackeys:

Roll to hit as normal for your attacks, but when determining damage only roll the dice associated with your attacks--do not add a bonus to the damage based on ability score modifiers, etc. This goes for both characters and mooks.

Player characters take hit point damage from attacks as normal.
DM-controlled enemies do not have hit points; instead, they can take damage equal to their hit dice before being taken out of a fight.

Example: An Agent of Stiletto with 18 hit points is facing off against an enemy Thug with 5 hit dice (normally that would be 32 hit points, but we only care about the hit dice in the Thug's stat block). The Thug gets the drop on our Agent and deals 3 points of damage, bringing the Agent's hit points down to 13. On her turn, the Agent hits the Thug twice; the total damage from these attacks is 6, which is more than enough to take out the Thug's 5 Hit Dice--the Thug is knocked out.

Cleaving: When an Agent's melee attack reduces an undamaged creature to 0 hit dice, any excess damage from that attack carries over to another nearby mook. The attacker targets another creature within reach and applies any remaining damage to it. If that creature was undamaged and is likewise reduced to 0 hit dice, repeat this process, carrying over the remaining damage until there are no valid targets, or until the damage carried over fails to reduce an undamaged creature to 0 hit dice.

Example: Let's continue the previous example, but this time that Thug had a buddy. Since the Agent did 6 hit dice worth of damage and 5 of that took out Thug 1, Thug 2 is taking a hit die of damage from the leftover damage; Thug 2 ends this exchange with 4 hit dice left of its original 5.

Duel of Wits
To handle social maneuvering, interrogations, high-stakes poker games, etc. and with important NPCs, we'll use Skill Challenges; the PCs will need to roll their relevant skill versus the NPC's passive Insight score after each verbal exchange, in most cases.

Before beginning the Skill Challenge, make the stakes clear at the outset: use the player's intentions to set the number of successes needed depending on how resistant the NPC would be to that outcome. 

Similarly, state what will likely happen if the character does not succeed in the Skill Challenge. Let them know the potential fallout in advance.

A verbal exchange needs to be substantial and advance a meaningful point to merit a chance to roll an ability check toward completing the Skill Challenge.

Hardcore Parkour
Genre-wise, it's best to let the players have a little authority to make declarations about the environment to include objects their characters can exploit.

Example: The answer to "Is there a canister of kraken oil in this refinery that I can shoot to cause an explosion behind the thugs?" should probably be "Yes."

Characters making use of the environment in dramatic scenes such as chases, evasions, infiltrations, etc. get advantage on the relevant ability check.