Creating Spy Encounters on the Fly

Posted by Christopher Korczak on

“The door busts in and ....?”

A one throw guide for some serious opposition in your Top Secret or other old school cold war espionage game.

By Jeff “Venture” Fournier

One of the cardinal rules of fiction whether story or game is to keep the action moving. If your players (or readers) get bored your story might lag enough to shake them out of the world your trying to show them. That is no bueno. A famous trope of fiction is said to be: if your protagonist is in a jam and you don't know what to do next have someone rush into the room and try and kill him, guns blazing. This does not always translate to some genres, but for Top Secret the RPG or other old spy or crime games it's a sweet transition tool for GM's. It keeps the action going and brings the tension up to a point quickly.

But then you as the GM have to know who they are and what the hell is going down at a moments notice!

Fear not, for with one throw of a handful of standard polyhedrons you not only have who, how many, armed with what, but their skill level and motivation. Simply grab one each of a standard RPG gaming set (d4,6,8,10,12,20 and d100%) and roll. Read the corresponding chart for the total on each dice and you're in business for a quick bit of mayhem. The results on the tables below are geared more for a cold war or classic spy era setting, but are easily update-able to whatever era your game operates in.

D4 Who busts in?

Your PCs and who they work for have probably caused some serious animosity in their missions. With myriad enemies and or allies to choose from, who are these guys?

  1. The Good. They are Law enforcement or a rival official agency, or an agency of the government of whatever country this little encounter happens to be occurring in. Not all are true blue G-Men with noble hearts, and even then mistakes happen. They might even be good guys unrelated to officialdom who are misunderstanding the PC's intentions.

  2. The Bad. The Opposition for tonight's game got a hot tip and its hit pay dirt allowing them to hit the PC's unexpectedly. Could be the Russians...or a 'cutout' they paid to make your night extra special. Might even be just normal people not connected to espionage. They could foreshadow a greater menace to be met later by the PC's in another adventure down the line.

  3. The Ugly. One of your old enemies or his organization has been following you and put together a little party in your honor, a funeral party! They might have been defeated or had only a minor setback from the PC's antics in a previous game but over time they have gathered strength and intelligence and it paid off and led them here. Its up to the GM to work them into the mythos of his campaign that the PC's have been through so far. Everyone has enemies known and unknown.

  4. Criminals. This is a catch all for any armed and dangerous group of illegal operators that have inadvertently noticed the PC's and decided to butt into their day. Could be gangs, terrorists, anarchists, a group of thieves, whatever. All that is important is they are not in the 'Great Game' as Kipling would say they just happened to intersect their operations with the Player Characters and don't realize they have brushed up against actual secret agents. 

D6 How Many?

1d6 = How many people are in the group making an appearance on the scene. If your PC's are more realistic spies, six (potentially) armed hard-men is a serious threat. If the Player Characters are all highly trained bad asses they might be light snack. These villains don't all have to appear at once and they could be in various places around the location waiting in ambush.

Do not massage the numbers on this roll GM. Sometimes you are dealt a bad deal in espionage and have to call or fold. Running from many people trying to kill you is an honorable tradition in any era game. If there is only one or two and the Players take them out treat them as the wandering monster of experience points they are and let the game players enjoy a new weapon or ammo that they might really need.

D8 Skill level/tactics.

Not all assailants are created equal. Some might have very little ability or only crude tactics. Others were about to assault Nakatomi Plaza and consider taking the group out a light exercise. This also represents the group average in skill with using their weapons or attacks.

  1. Unskilled. This might be someone who let their emotions about barging into the PC's business get the better of them. Or they could be very young or 'never done this before'.

  2. Trained. Whether from the hard knocks of life or basic training they know which end of the gun to point at you. Could also represent a rookie cop or a soldier just out of Basic.

  3. Fair. These guys have 'been there' a couple of times. They don't need to check their weapon ten times before rolling out the car. Over elaborate planning and unnecessary collateral damage are hall marks of these types.

  4. Good. They have a plan and follow it. This is not their first rodeo and they came to party. Mistakes will happen but they usually get through any problems with iron nerve.

  5. Talented. Just a little better than your average guy. Some training and real world experience has brought out the skills to pay the bills. They might make mistakes and usually have a back up plan.

  6. Expert. They know the score and have been around in a profession that does not reward mistakes. If they have a plan for going in they will have two for going out. 

  7. Elite. These guys would scare the average Joe to take on. These are steely eyed killers of men. They could be the guys the government sends who cannot fail. Surprise tactics are always done. If some of them are coming through the door there is probably one outside on over watch and another hitting the window.

  8. The Best of the Best. Probably the best you have never heard of. Some people 'in the know' who hear that these people are after them just dig their own graves. These are the guys who train the guys who cannot fail. They could kill you with a pencil, the gun is just for efficiency.

d10 Morale

When the fight gets going there is always a chance the opposition will turn tail and run. Low level attackers (1 on a d10) will make the initial attack or threaten but if they are actively resisted there is a high chance they leave. This is not always cowardice. In such cases as a 'drive by' type scenario the attackers are usually fast to leave as a matter of course. Higher levels of morale are more likely to stay the course and finish the job. Call it a base chance of 10% per level of morale. For example, an attacker with a die roll of “6” would make the initial contact but only have a 60% chance of staying around to continue combat if things get dicey and one of their number gets zapped by the PC's. Making this roll is only a one time thing in the encounter. If the bad guys pass it they will fight to the end.

D12 What are they armed with?

What you bring to these sorts of things matter. All of the hit squad will be armed similarly. Depending on the level of armaments this also might suggest who these guys are or who supplies them.

  1. Bare knuckles
  2. Rocks and furniture OR a board with a nail in it
  3. Bottles and switchblades OR a Molotov cocktail
  4. Zip guns or 'Saturday night specials' (cheap small handguns of .22 caliber) 
  5. Revolvers (.38, .357, .44 magnum)
  6. Automatic pistols (.45, 9mm)
  7. Double barrel sawed off shotguns with a few reloads
  8. Pump shotguns
  9. Sub machine guns (Uzi, Thompson, MAC-10) with 1d4 loaded magazines
  10. AK-47or M-16 with 1d6 magazines for reloads
  11. Sniper rifle with a good scope and 20 rounds
  12. 'The Full Monty'. Each man has a battle rifle OR sub machine gun, an auto pistol and a grenade (a 'smoke' grenade if your in a merciful mood).

d20 Special Gear or Vehicles

Sometimes there is the odd bit of local color the bad guys might have access to, sometimes not. If it can't factor directly in the initial attack it might be loot-able by the PC's if they manage to win. In the case of vehicles or really specialized equipment it might give the party a clue to whats going down and who is gunning for them. This can also be a good way to get the Characters some gear that they might have overlooked for the mission ahead if they can defeat the current owners.

  1. A quantity of illegal narcotics
  2. Motorcycles for each bad guy
  3. $15,000 cash
  4. A sweet Van
  5. 4-wheel drive truck OR Jeep
  6. Walkie Talkie radios/Cell phones (depending on the era)
  7. Swords!
  8. Silent poison dart gun
  9. Battering ram
  10. Bullet proof vests (undercover style)
  11. A car or sedan
  12. Smoke OR Tear Gas grenades+ gas masks
  13. Head bags, rope and cuffs (say it with me; “Extraordinary rendition”)
  14. Surveillance gear (night vision or binoculars, parabolic mic for listening).
  15. A pretty complete tool box with a crowbar and lock pics.
  16. A Helicopter! Really? A freakin' Helicopter?
  17. A large panel truck
  18. A rocket launcher or RPG
  19. A few sticks of dynamite or C4 explosive+ detonators
  20. A backup team! Roll a set of dice again and generate another group waiting nearby to help.

d100 Motivation

Why the bad guys are here can give you a bit of inspiration that might factor in the plans of the assassins or affect what they do and how they do it. Sometimes it is really all about just random murder, but targeted and goal oriented reasons can be generated below.

  1. It's a mugging!
  2. It's a home invasion!
  3. Remember that Bar tab you skipped out of paying last week? They do.
  4. You thought that deal you made with 'Big Willie' was fair. He didn't.
  5. You messed with the wrong family of country boys. They want your car and your money.
  6. Turns out that casino in Monaco has its own collection agency. Gambling is a problem, get help! 
  7. What do you know, that WAS that guy who's car you stole! Ain't life funny?
  8. You have been tracked for weeks by another spy for rendition back to his country. Today is the day.
  9. Your new Agency training officer has planned a Field Exercise against an unaware target and your it.
  10. Your credentials did not check out.
  11. These guys are drunk and don't like your attitude/race/hairstyle.
  12. There is a kill order out on you from an old boss from way back
  13. One of you is a dead ringer for the bail jumper these bounty hunters are chasing. 
  14. A group of ex military guys think you are the next target for their little vigilante squad.
  15. They are cannibals looking for a snack.
  16. Nobody operates in town without the leave of the Tongs.
  17. The Case! Where is it?! 
  18. What's in the Case?
  19. Who has the Case?
  20. How did they get the Case?
  21. When does the Case arrive?
  22. Why were YOU asking about a Case?
  23. We want the Case.
  24. We had the Case and lost it. Do you have it?
  25. You are too near a drug dealer's turf and they are coming to deliver a warning.
  26. Those guys you cheated at cards are surprisingly not 'chumps'.
  27. You are being served with a court summons and these people have heard your dangerous.
  28. Irate neighbor has had it with your late night shenanigans.
  29. A gal in witness protection thinks you are after her and has taken steps. You don't even know her.
  30. A person you helped send to jail has gotten out and recognized you from his trial. Payback!
  31. Someone paid 80 Large to have these guys come over and rearrange your body parts.
  32. A ruthless Lawyer from down the street is testing out some new men who work for him.
  33. A group of rich psychos have picked you to hunt for the night. It is a most dangerous game.
  34. A victim of blackmail got the address wrong of the party threatening him. Its your current address.
  35. You're interfering in a major international criminal scheme, Something about project LOST SHIP.
  36. The Satanic Cult in these parts needs a blood sacrifice, Their members are coming to take you.
  37. A group of guys think you are 'union busting G-men out to crack workers skulls'.
  38. Crazy Doctor needs healthy subjects for his experiments. How healthy you will be is up to you.
  39. These Crazy Nazi's think you know the location of a hidden weapon for their New Reich.
  40. They have come to rescue their friend you took several days/weeks ago. Where did you put him?
  41. A disaster has caused panic and anarchy in the streets, The hordes are coming to destroy and loot.
  42. A local prison has a mass breakout and these criminals are rampaging near you. 
  43. One of the groups old flames rushes in. She is being chased by some rough dudes. They are coming. 
  44. Agents of some group called T.I.G.E.R. are making their move on you tonight. Who are they? 
  45. It's a death squad from the followers of some dictator you helped depose. Bloody revenge will come.
  46. A man stumbles in with a case, giving it to you before he dies. Then there is a knock on the door.
  47. Human traffickers think your on to their operation because of all the questions your asking.
  48. A car theft ring uses this place to crash and switch out their vehicles between jobs.
  49. Kidnap attempt! 'These guys look rich lets take them for ransom.'
  50. It's straight up murder! Some people just want to watch the world burn.
  51. You got too close to some other foreign agencies op and they want to swat you just to be sure.
  52. One of the PC's owes someone money from a 'loan' and its time to collect...with interest.
  53. You slept with somebodies sister. Now shes 'in a family way'. Hope you like shotgun weddings!
  54. Guess Major Vogel really meant what he said about killing you if he saw you again.
  55. They were in the middle of a heist and went to the wrong place. Their motto; ' No witnesses'.
  56. You're obviously Commie Spies and they are taking you down for god and country.
  57. It's a shakedown for money from some local guys.
  58. We need drugs! Lets hit these guys and see if they have any.
  59. Totally a psychopathic serial killer that picked you at random.
  60. Private security for someone is just investigating for their clients safety.
  61. Cops responding to a noise complaint.
  62. You have been disavowed/burned by your agency. Its a mistake and will quickly be covered up.
  63. They are Survivalists and you have gotten to close to their bug out location
  64. Your current location used to be a hideout for some bad dudes. They are gone but now you are here.
  65. An Anarchist group used to use this as a place for hiding out between bombings.
  66. There is a fortune in hidden loot here never recovered by the cops or the thieves who stole it.
  67. Drugs make people do crazy things.
  68. Your pretty sure you never met this guys kid brother, and there is a good chance you didn't kill him. 
  69. The Yakuza do not forget what you did to their organization. Sayonara! 
  70. You never thought it would be this big a deal to have a girl with dragon green eyes on the team.
  71. You never thought they would trace the car you stole so fast.
  72. Road Rage has come a knocking. Drive more politely next time
  73. Smugglers have just crossed the border nearby and are breaking in here to hide out for a while.
  74. The local Sheriff is coming by to explain to you that he wants your kind out of town. Right now.
  75. Arsonists are going to torch your building tonight, and they hate being interfered with.
  76. A bunch of drifters want to squat where you are. They want your stuff too. 
  77. “This is from Matilda. No women no kids.”
  78. “Do you have the shipment?” Whatever way they answer is wrong.
  79. Is Diane there? I know that tramp is hiding here!
  80. Angry amnesiac has a picture of this place in his pocket and he wants answers.
  81. “I reserved this room six months ago. Leave, or things will get ...ugly.”
  82. There is a secret entrance to the location nearby and they want access. They also want it kept secret.
  83. “There is a bomb in the building! Let us in we have to defuse it.”
  84. “You alien bastards have kidnapped me for the last time!” he cries as the door busts in.
    87-100. No warning comes as bullets riddle the room. Roll to see who gets hit using normal rules for combat with cover. After the initial attack nothing else happens and the PC's are none the wiser who shot at them or why. Any captured survivors wont talk. Sometimes that's life in the spy game. 
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  • That’s a great idea – thanks! Arcade could be replaced with….internet cafe? Cell phone store? Ha.

    Chris Korczak on
  • It looks good but you should add a locations list too. I know that the Original Top Secret game has a random list, but many others do not and in some instances, the old list is sort of out of date. Like who has an arcade in their town?

    Shawn Willis on

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