An RPG Resource Review:
This is the revised version of the original Spycraft 2.0 originally published by Alderac Entertainment Group before the Spycraft line was bought out by its authors when they set up Crafty Games.
It is not, as the authors state, something you want to sit down and read. It is a reference work, to empower you to run contemporary adventures by providing the necessary game mechanics. The work can only be described as epic - it is one of the most solid and comprehensive rulesets I have ever read, packed with detail as to how to resolve just about any situation that might arise... or at least, the tools to work out how to resolve it if it is an unforeseen situation. That's quite a benefit, many rulesets give you the mechanics for the things they have thought of, but leave you quite at sea if you need to extend the rules to a new occurrence.
Everything is very well organised, and although the options are often complex they are explained clearly and are easy to find. Both the table of contents and the index are well laid out and comprehensive, while the text itself is organised in a logical manner. However, despite the good organisation, visually it is a bit of a nightmare - text almost illegible through over-heavy 'ghost' images on the page, and tables where white and yellow text are printed on bright green.
The Introduction looks at the whole concept of espionage-based games, and explains the way in which the book has been constructed. It also talks about how this ruleset draws on standard D20, and where it differs (being an OGL rather than a D20 work), and how various 'qualities' are applied to the campaign itself, as well as to characters and items therein. There are also notes on how 2.0 differs from the original Spycraft game.
One of the biggest changes is the introduction of a Dramatic Conflict system. If you know the original game, one of its strong points was the system provided for administering a cinematic chase scene. Drawing on this mechanic, a system for playing out all manner of epic multi-part skill checks has been devised. I am not sure how well this works: you have comprehensive rules for die-rolling your way through the situation, but many such epic scenes are better role-played than settled purely by the dice... and if that particular event does not interest your group enough to role-play it (e.g. a prolonged investigation and examination of evidence) you will probably want to abstract it far more than working your way through the complete Dramatic Conflict process would involve.
Chapter 1 looks at character generation. As the whole system is devised around the concept that you can play virtually any kind of game - contemporary, maybe recent historical and on into fantastical futures - it needs to be pretty broad and flexible to accommodate the sort of game you intend to play. The whole system is straightforward and replete with choice, whatever you have in mind it is difficult not to find a way of doing it. Indeed, you will do better approaching character creation with a clear idea of what you want to play, else you may flounder a bit to come out with something that is interesting.
Chapters 2 and 3 follow on with Skills and Feats respectively, and consist of lists of what is available along with ideas on how best to make use of them. Again there are plenty of options and careful choice is necessary to match the sort of character that you want to have. It's worth keeping an eye on future development as well, as choices made early on may limit or at least delay which directions your character can go in as he rises in level.
Chapter 4 is the main change from the original 2.0 print version of this work. Looking at equipment (or Gear) it has been reworked into something which, if still complex, is actually more or less useable. Still, while James Bond always had his gadgets, one is reminded of the line from the original (spoof) Casino Royale where Sir James Bond in his retirement comments on "Joke-shop spies" as younger agents show off their gear. In the real espionage world, equipment comes in one of two ways: either you get what you're given or the powers-that-be are so eager to get the job down that they are throwing kit at you, get you anything you might possibly want. Spycraft, if you choose to go by the rules, doesn't work that way. The idea is that you have a kind of allowance which you spend on gear picks - if you are lucky you know what the mission will involve in advance, but of course, that is the initial briefing and since when did briefing officers know what field agents are going to have to face? I generally find it easier to look at real-world equipment and then figure out how it will work in game terms only if its use is going to require an element of chance. Most of the time it doesn't, it is the individual's ideas on what to do and their skill at carrying it out that will make the difference.
Chapter 5 goes through the rules for combat and is pretty straightforward stuff, especially for those who like a mechanistic blow-by-blow approach to their brawls. It is worth all participants taking their time to understand the process or a simple gunfight could occupy an entire evening while people check their options.
The whole of Chapter 6 is given over to Dramatic Conflicts. Again, it's a matter of the way in which you like to play your game. Role-players will find most of it tedious and irrelevant, they'd prefer to play out interactions rather than roll dice. Some folks will be content with a mechanistic way of resolving conflicts and they will find this an exceptionally fair and consistent way of doing so. Others will find that some of the topics it covers interest them enough to go through the process while the rest require more abstraction.
The topics for which the use of the Dramatic Conflict mechanism is suggested are chases (for which it is excellent), brainwashing, hacking, infiltration, interrogation, manhunts and seduction. The one where it really falls down is infiltration - sneaking into an enemy compound is the very essence of espionage adventure and needs to be played out, not reduced to a series of die rolls. My group prefers to play out their interrogations as well, but they are a bloodthirsty evil bunch at the best of times!
Chapter 7 is entitled Game Control and is excellent. It contains all manner of ideas such as how to set up a campaign (with plenty of ideas that set your mind going), details on creating effective and memorable NPCs from the main villain to hordes of minions and much, much more. It is something you will come back to again and again as your campaign develops.
Overall, it is an extremely comprehensive and well thought out set of rules, mechanically sound and expandable to accommodate whatever you want to do in a consistent manner. At times it is too mechanistic and complete missions could be undertaken solely by rolling dice = insufficient account is taken of the fact that this is a role-playing game, not a computer simulation of events. It is a very useful guide to gaming in a contemporary setting, but needs to be used with caution lest you become bogged down in rules.
[5 of 5 Stars!]