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Encryptopedia
by Brian B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/09/2016 11:50:06

If you run a fantasy campaign, you need this book. Even if you don't run a spy campaign, the book makes a strong case as to why any human society has need of spies and intelligence operations - and why your campaign needs them too (even if they're in the background). On top of that, it has great examples of roles that PCs might fill, tons of system-agnostic magic items, and sample organizations.

My favorite part was the different "levels" of spy operations. Usually when I think of spy operations I think of lies within lies within enigmas, all leading to a central conspiracy... and that seems like a daunting task for a GM to make a fun game out of. Players can only take so much "that was a lie" before they just stop having fun. However, the book showed me that there are ways to ease players into a spy campaign (or just give them a single spy mission or two in a larger campaign). For example, infiltrating a rival merchant guild to disrupt their shipping operations. This is a simple one-shot adventure, with no agendas hidden from the players, yet fits into the spy genre. And, it can have larger implications for the campaign.

I cannot recommend this book enough. My only regret was not buying the two adventures from this author as the bundle.



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Encryptopedia
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The Forever Diamonds (Encryptopedia Campaign)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2015 07:19:29

The introduction explains the nature of this book clearly: a collection of ideas, plots and ancillary material to empower the creation of a fantasy espionage campaign using whatever ruleset you prefer and based in your own campaign world. You'll need a copy of Encryptopedia from the same author, which contains some system ideas that provide underlying structure to such a campaign which are referenced here.

To start with, the entire campaign revolves around three factions. Two are explained in Encryptopedia and referenced here, the third is a new one and explained in more detail. This third bunch, the Shadowhood, practises a discipline that is part martial art, part philosophy and part magic... and in essence become almost ninja-like, gaining a range of abilities through their studies. They also have as a mission the collection of mystical stones called 'Forever Diamonds' or 'aeon stones'. The other two are governmental agents and organised crime, by the way.

Next is a look at the campaign itself, described as a 'sandbox with open play', i.e. the party has free rein to do as it wills within the campaign world... but so does everyone else, and especially the three factions which each get on with their own plots and actions irrespective of what the characters are doing and whether or not the party is paying them any attention. This creates a nice 'real-world' feel in which the party remains the centre of attention, the stars of the show if you will, but life goes on around them regardless. Some characters are provided: they could be used as pre-generated PCs but the real intent is to provide a basis for filling out the factions that the party doesn't choose to join (all of them, if the party chooses an independent path). Within the constraints of a generic systemless concept, there is quite a lot of detail for each: it should be fairly easy to add appropriate mechanics for whatever system you are using. In essence, they are three teams that operate in a similar manner to a party of PCs, whether they become enemies, allies or a bit of both depends on how you decide to run the campaign.

The next section presents The Voyage of the Lucky Manticore, an adventure outline which provides a starting point for the campaign. There are three set-ups, based on which faction the PCs have decided to be a part of - if they haven't decided yet or want to be independent, you'll have to find your own way to embroil them in the action as it's presented as a mission from faction leadership in each case. Based on a pleasure boat - think floating casino or perhaps something like a Mississippi paddle-boat - there's ample mischief to be had... including a card game called Pakka. An abstraction is provided for groups who don't want to actually get the cards out, else just use standard poker rules.

There is very much a feeling of allowing the party to do what they want aboard, with a timeline of events to use as a backdrop to whatever they choose to get up to. This includes highlighted notes on the actions of key NPCs. It is suggested that you read the player notes for all three factions so as to devise additional events around what the others want to accomplish... or of course if your players haven't chosen a faction yet, these events might embroil them in the action regardless and lead to them becoming involved.

The next section introduces the Campaign Engine. This includes both mission generation and an escalation matrix. Sometimes the party will work out what they want to do on their own, at other times their faction will give them missions to undertake... and all the time, the other factions will be circling around, watching, doing their own thing and interfering with what the party is trying to accomplish. There are different types of mission: acquisition, research, incursion/interdiction (the party interferes with another faction's operations), and mandatory override missions when something crops up that must be attended to RIGHT NOW irrespective of what else is going on. You'll need to refer to Encryptopedia at places, it's got loads more on the sorts of things that can be brought in to your plots. The escalation matrix enables you to manipulate and track the interactions between the factions as the plot proceeds. These relationships can vary from an alliance to outright open warfare on the streets!

Finally there is a section on campaign milestones, giving ideas on how to structure the plot over and above a series of missions by providing for a beginning, middle and end. Some extensive background is also provided, as well as an appendix giving details of the aeon gems or 'Forever Diamonds' whose acquisition forms the central feature of the campaign.

Whether you want to build an entire campaign around espionage or want to introduce elements of the conflicts it generates to an existing campaign, there are plenty of ideas to get you going. Perhaps relatively low-level characters arrive in the area where all this is going on, and are of sufficient potential for one (or more!) of the factions to approach them and make an offer for their services. Now I have been known to introduce elements of 'conventional' espionage (that between nation states) into my fantasy games, but this puts a whole new exciting spin on things. The concepts will fit in with any game mechanics, and if you want to use a published setting, most have appropriate places in which to locate your adventures. This isn't a campaign ready-to-run, it's a wealth of ideas and resources to aid you in building your own epic.



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The Forever Diamonds (Encryptopedia Campaign)
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Live and Let Dye (Encryptopedia Adventure)
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/01/2015 07:54:22

This is an intriguing outline for a scenario in a fantasy world, based around of all things the fashion industry, and designed to empower espionage-based adventures using the Encryptopedia sourcebook from the same author (if you don't have that, some of the terminology may be a bit baffling). Both Encryptopedia and this work are systemless, but it ought not to be too difficult to adapt it to your chosen ruleset.

It begins by setting the scene: a brief outline of a default city (it's easy to substitute one in your own campaign world, of course) and details of a major event in the social calendar, the Dyers' Ball. The Ball is preceeded by the presentation by the dyers of the new season's colours, which are released to select designers and then go on sale to the general public - with the Ball being the first opportunity for the great and the good to show off in their colourful new clothes. Furthermore, the Ball is an opportunity for young unmarried nobles to make their debut into society and begin looking for a good match. Traders, organised crime, government representatives from surrounding nations, religious leaders, and the arcane community also attend the Ball, networking and setting up deals... so as you can see there is ample opportunity for spies as well.

Four separate stories are there to be told, people with particular motivations and a reason to be there, but the primary story is that of the Ball itself. To start with, getting a ticket is an art in itself. Or maybe the characters will try to get hired on as staff, or attend as part of someone's entourage. Dinner is served, a very formal event where even a noble's etiquette is put to the test, and is followed by the Promenade, a formal procession of the young people, and dancing. The next day is a whirl of visits between those who feel that romance might be on the cards... and of course there are many social events in the season that follows.

Plenty of detail is given so that the Ball can be used as a backdrop for the stories provided or indeed some of your own. The four stories are then gone into in considerable depth - pick one or even have them all going on, irrespective of whether the characters are involved. Or, if you have a long-running campaign based in a city, run a different one each time the 'season' comes around... have the party wondering what's going to happen at the Dyers' Ball this year!

For each story, there is an extensive background giving names and the situation, and then there are several stages through which the plot will move - getting into the Ball, perhaps, meeting the right people, doing whatever needs to be done - all depending on that particular story. Notes on results, foils, and potential further adventures are also provided... some could develop into a campaign on their own! Finally, there are notes on important groups in town who may have some part to play in events.

Whilst this is all 'story' with minimal mechanics (as, of course, you'll be running your game system of choice), it flows extremely well - it's likely your biggest problem will be deciding which plot to run! If your group likes city-based intrigue adventures, this is well worth looking into, then spending the time to embed it into your campaign world and add relevant mechanics from your chosen ruleset. It's different from your regular fantasy scenario, yet has the potential to make memorable adventures for your group.



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Live and Let Dye (Encryptopedia Adventure)
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Encryptopedia
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/25/2015 08:06:51

The Introduction starts off with philosophical musings about why any society, as soon as it begins to develop resources and become wealthy, is going to have a need for spies... and yet it's something often neglected in fantasy role-playing. Perhaps that is because we tend to think of spies in contemporary terms, despite anyone who knows a little history being well aware of the long tradition of espionage... heck, there are even spies in the Old Testament!

It then addesses the basic requirement of anyone wanting to introduce espionage elements into a game. This is a web of factions that might have reason to spy on each other. Nations, guilds, noble houses... it doesn't matter what the factions might be, if they want to conduct secret operations against each other, then you'll get spies. Even with magic in your game, it's quite possible (look at Mongoose Publishing's Wraith Recon which introduces a mix of spy and special forces into first Dungeons & Dragons 4e and then RuneQuest as an example). The Introduction ends by presenting some reasons why you might want to add espionage to your game, or even build one around spying, all valid, but you wouldn't be looking at this book unless you already saw the potential. What follows is a series of ideas, suggestions and inspirations, generalised and systemless but enough to enable you to work with the game mechanics of your choice.

Next, Chapter 1: Espionage in the Campaign looks at setting the groundwork for a spy-based game, building the frameworks within your campaign world like spy organisations serving various factions. Or at least that's how it opens but the main gist, however, is a discussion of the various roles that the player-characters - or indeed any spies - might occupy. They aren't 'character classes' - even in a system that has character classes, most will require individuals to be multi-classed - but they give interesting ideas as to how appropriate characters might be developed. A neat trick is that suggestions for appropriate fantasy job descriptions are added to more contemporary terms, so a courier becomes a herald and a code expert a crypter, for example. Each one has a description of the role along with notes on the likely gear and skillsets they'd need and the perks and drawbacks of operating in that role. An example character, replete with descriptive material, is also given.

Chapter 2: An Armoury of Whispers looks at all the gear that a fantasy spy might want or need. The concentration here is on magical gadgets - but even when you operate in a magically-enabled world, don't neglect the mechnical gadgets! There are some really neat ideas here, though, starting off with the Actor's Emblem, a device that 'stores' the appearance of several outfits thus enabling the user to magically 'change' his clothes in an instant. It is recommended that you fill all available slots, as if you select an empty one by mistake you end up stark naked! There are several other items to do with appearance as well as weapons and a set of weapon qualities that could come in handy, from the bonded weapon that will only work for its owner to a sullen one that passes unnoticed or a quiet one that makes no sound even if you drop it. Then there are things to help in information gathering like a quill which takes dictation, and of course the eponymous Encryptopedia, a tome that assists in the writing of ciphers and codes, operating a bit like a magical one-time pad, updating automatically as the master book is amended. Information gained is little use until it is sent to one's spymaster, so there are also communication tools. And of course there are various gadgets to aid those who need to undertake intrusions... and those which affect the mind: terrorising, seducing and so on. Plenty to play with here!

Finally, Chapter 3: Tales Never Told gets down to some of the structure, the framework within which espionage is practiced. Naturally, you have to devise the overt public systems first, and then look to the shadow world underneath. It then addresses different levels of development of 'tradecraft' - a term which covers the way in which spies go about their business, the things that they do and the ways in which they do them. Then there's a look at the creation, organisation and operation of spy rings. Who do they work for? How were they formed? How do they recruit, and how do they operate? These are the questions you'll need to answer as you create the organisations that will exist within your campaign world. It's an interesting exercise even if you don't intend for espionage to loom large in your world - after all, we know about the CIA and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Mossad and the KGB even though they rarely impact directly on our lives nor do we often know what they are up to. So you can use this to add depth and flavour to your world even if the plots you wish to run will rarely cross paths with them. It can be fun when they do, though!

The chapter continues with several example organisations and then comes a section on cryptography, linking it to the various levels of tradecraft discussed earlier. Lastly there are notes on how magic impacts on the world of espionage, and how to avoid a crafty spell-caster derailing your carefully-wrought spy plot.

Especially if you do not know much about the world of espionage or are at a loss as to how to translate what you do know about contemporary spies into a fantasy game, this work is jam-packed with thought-provoking ideas. It's all just outline, you'll need to do a fair amount of preparatory work before you will be ready to run a fantasy spy adventure, but this gives a wealth of tools and suggestions to get you started.



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Encryptopedia
by Chad S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/07/2015 15:56:12

Generic sourcebooks can be very hit-or-miss, but this is very well done. It covers a variety of useful topics on character archetypes, missions, organizational structure and goals, and even considerations on magic. This advice would be applicable to any fantasy espionage game. If you substitute technology for the magical conceits, it would even helpful for modern settings.



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Live and Let Dye (Encryptopedia Adventure)
by Jim C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/22/2015 19:48:32

A very nice piece of world-building while not at all difficult to fit into a variety of mediaeval-style campaigns (I saw a possibility for Midgard almost at once). A number of espionage-style plots should offer significant tension with a very appropriate fit both for the period and the spy genre.



Rating:
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Live and Let Dye (Encryptopedia Adventure)
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