Monday, August 26, 2013

This Is A Sneaking Mission!

"I FEEL ASLEEP!!" your way into the enemy headquarters. Sneak past the security camera, hack the door, and steal the intel. Or bash down the door, crawl through strangely spacious sewers and find your way into the enemy's treasure vault. Either way, it's the 3rd part of my BIG 4 of gaming, TAKE or covert action gaming.

Welcome to one of the the biggest, if not THE biggest of the types of actions PC take in games. Not only is taking things critical to the core of D&D gaming, but so many 80's era games live and breath around the concept of the team being sneaky and making it out of a terrible situation with all sorts of loot. It doesn't have to be a dungeon, it could be an arcology, a lab, a super villains HQ, the point being that stealth is key and players are rewarded more for thinking their way past a challenge than fighting or talking.

The list of games that benefit from this style of play is staggering. Shadowrun, Cyperpunk 2020, Traveller, Gamma World, SLA Industries, Rogue Trader, TMNT And Other Strangeness, Ninjas and Superspies, Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Earthdawn, Transhuman Space, Eclipse Phase, GURPS (mostly), KULT, Tribe 8, Witch Craft, Buffy/Angel, Hunter: The Vigil, among others. AH HA! I hear some of you say. Some of those games aren't about stealing things. And you'd be correct, they are however more focused on the top 3 things that make a TAKE themed game well, what they are.

Covert Action, Skill over Power, and finally rewarding for tactical thinking.

The core of TAKE gaming is Covert Action. Where an ounce of stealth goes a long way. Sure, combat happens and the various games that focus on TAKE gaming have mixed success with Combat in general, but a true TAKE game focues on bypassing defences, working around guardians, and allows for victory with little to no blood shed. The best stealth PC games always seem to have a 'take down' option. But the big difference for true stealth games is that 99% of the time you don't want to be interacting with hostile PCs at all.

The other critical them is Skill over Power. This is debated because in a lot of games like Shadowrun Skill IS power. Skill equals dice and dice generate success. But sometimes in games like KULT, CoC, and such what you know is WAY more important that how you can fire a gun or pick a lock. (Well the application of Breaking and Enter is almost always useful...but I digress.) Knowledge skills make you able to make careful judgement. The whole GUMSHOE line of games mixes knowledge and investigation skills to play up the mystery of the setting. Most TAKE games also benefit from mad recon of a situation. If you are not poking around using your skills, odds are everything will go south fast.

Finally TAKE games reward tactical thinking. Tactical thinking is a mix of situational awareness (spotting foes, traps, useful things to steal or 'aquire'.) mixed with strong squad based movement. Moving as a unit in combat or mission events is critical. You are a group have to think of it almost as a team sport. Each player takes a role in the game. This is where the D&D version of TAKE is strongest. Front line, ranged support, fast movement, area denial, recon. You name it, but it's not just how you handle the actual mission. Planning is part of it. Coming up with Standard Operating Procedures, fall backs, all sorts of contingency planning. It's the kind of player that in video game RPGs enjoy Strategy RPGs more than standard ones. More Final Fantasy Tactics than just Final Fantasy so to speak.

Another element of take games is scamming and general playing in and around or outside of the laws of the setting. Take the RPG based on the TV series Leverage. It's Cortex + variant and focuses on setting up scams and gotcha against badguys. It's a perfect TAKE style game, the A-TEAM mentality. Or maybe Equalizer if you remember that show. However you play it, Robin Hooding is a BIG part of the full TAKE equation. It's not about your profit.

A good TAKE game focuses on allowing everyone at the table to feel clever or badass. There is an old Gaming term from Champion days called the Pro From Dover. It's a specialist character who has critical abilities that helps the group out of a tight spot. Everyone needs their PRO moments in a good TAKE game. So it's as much the GM's job to think of how players can contribute as it is the players job to think around the challenges in the game.

If you have the formula working right you begin to trust and support each other. Cross player rivalry is fine, but at the end of the day only you can stop Metal Gear...I mean win the adventure.