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.
[5 of 5 Stars!]