Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Agents of S.W.I.N.G

Game Premise

It's the 1960s, a turbulent decade in our history to say the least. The winds of change are blowing, from the sexual revolution to the rise of Second Wave feminism to the Civil Rights Movement to Beatlemania and the rise of Rock and Roll. On a far darker note, it's the height of the Cold War. The U.S.A and the Soviet Union stand poised to wipe out the world with their massive nuclear arsenals at the slightest provocation. But now let's talk about the real problems.

Scheming criminal masterminds. Legions of anarchists. Mad scientists with death rays and robot armies. These are the threats that need to be fought by the best of the best. Where the Americans and the Russians are carrying on and mucking about, it's up to the British to save the world by teatime. That's where you come in. You're the vanguards of the 60s revolution, the champions of humanity and simply the folks who make things safe. You're an agent of the Supreme World Intelligence Network Group. It has been around for centuries but in today's fast-paced climate of change the stakes are higher than ever before. Knowing no boundaries and accepting no limits, S.W.I.N.G keeps the wolves from the door.

Game Overview

Agents of S.W.I.N.G is a love letter to British spy media, everything from James Bond to the Avengers, packed to the brim with the eccentricity and psychedelic joy of the 60s. It's also the first FATE game I'm covering and I'm pretty excited about that. It's a game that taps into ideas and themes everyone is at least peripherally aware of (spies vs acronymic organisations of evil, crazy gadgets, British pop culture, the 60s) and slaps it all onto a well-suited system.

With the exception of ORE, FATE is my favourite RPG system. Each iteration has its own quirks and ways of handling things, though so I can't really cover everything here. In Agents of S.W.I.N.G, you roll a positive die and a negative die, subtract the later from the former, add modifiers and you have your result! This is just the core conflict resolution mechanic, however. Aspects, not so much that meat and potatoes of the system as the delicious home-made sauce, are where the game really shines. They're quotes or descriptors for your character along the lines of Large and In Charge, “I'm on to you” and Rock Out with Your Cock Out. These can do all sorts of things from give you bonuses to appropriate rolls, alter the facts of a scene to letting the GM compel certain kinds of behaviour from you. I'll explain more about them in the character creation section.

The timeline section is an absolute boon and gives readers everything they need to know about key events and social/technological innovations, everything from the moon landing and Woodstock to Led Zeppelin's first performance and the French Winter Olympics of '68. I must admit I haven't watched much of the inspiration material (note: the book also cites modern stuff like Fringe and Alias but notes they lack the same carefree spirit), but I have played a bunch of Evil Genius and Impossible Creatures, which seems to very much be in the same vein. You could probably also get away with reading something like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. By the way, one of the NPCs statted up is totally the Doctor. He has a magnetic wrench rather than a sonic screwdriver, but they're not even trying to hide it and I'm OK with that.

The Character

Step 1) Come Up With a Concept For Your Character

I've been making a lot of combat focused characters recently, so I think I'm going to go for something a bit different. I want my character to be a scientific genius. But I also want my character to be a true 60s icon. So, my scientist is going to spend less time in laboratories and more time at music festivals. He's the kind of guy who truly believes that the increase of scientific knowledge will bring humanity to a peaceful and glorious future where we all live in harmony. So, I guess my concept will be Hippy Scientist.

Step 2) Name

While my character is going to be a total hippy, he's not a complete flower child and I reckon his parents were fairly normal British folks. I'm going to go with Dr Cornelius Jaybridge, Dr Jay to his friends.

Step 3) Select Your Aspects

Yay, Aspects! As I described above, aspects is the big feature of FATE and it tends to be one of those love them, hate them mechanics. The idea is that you have short descriptions, personality traits or quotes that depict your character. These can then be used for a variety of purposes in play, in conjunction with a resource called FATE Points. You can gain a +2 bonus to one of your actions or a -2 penalty to someone else's, such as someone who is Large and in Charge getting a +2 to a check to break down a door. They can be used to make a Declaration to alter a scene, an example in the book being a guy spending a FATE point to ensure his car has a minibar because I Always Travel First Class.

But they also have downsides, and can be used to Compel certain behaviours or give you penalties. A GM might decide that the witness refuses to talk to the Most Dangerous Man Alive and the Ladies Man might get a -2 to resist a seduction attempt. However, even these downsides come with a silver lining. PCs that accept a setback receive FATE points which can later be used to turn scenes to your favour.

Dr Jay, like all starting S.W.I.N.G characters, gets eight aspects to start with. His first aspect has to be related to his Section. S.W.I.N.G is divided into 12 sections (there is quite pointedly no Section 13), each of which handles a different part of running the organisation, from Section 1: Command to Section 7: Deadly Force to Section 12: Espionage. At first I think the good Dr belongs in Section 3: Quartermaster, combination supply depot and R&D, where someone like Q might find a good home. However, on further consideration, I'm going to put him in Section 8: Uncanny Affairs. These are the guys who deal with the weird stuff like psychic powers, extraterrestrials and time travel. The Professor, the Doctor Who tribute, belongs to this section. Dr Jaybridge was assigned to these guys because of his extensive expertise in alternate theories and highly experimental physics. My aspect here is going to be I Have a Theory for That.

Next up is an aspect for his Past, his time before working in S.W.I.N.G, the place where everyone comes from and in some way shapes who they are. I'm going to go with A Lifetime of Experimentation, meaning Dr Jay has experience with a whole bunch of different ideas, people and substances.

The last specific aspect is one that is for my Cover Identity. As a top-secret agency, all S.W.I.N.G agents are required to maintain some kind of cover identity, even if it's something they're already renowned for. Dr Jay is going to stick with his reputation as a Scientific Maverick. This means he's well known for his work, but might bring up complications among more established scientists who are proponents of traditional theories. It also means he's lucky if a politician will do anything other than sneer at him.

Now I get to define five aspects for whatever I want. The first one is going to be “Wicked Album, Man”, reflecting both his love of contemporary music and his ability to bond with people over it. Scientist, Not a Weaponsmith means he's good at coming up with solutions to problems that don't involve killing people. Because he's a Casual Dresser he's more appealing to those who appreciate that sort of thing and not taken seriously by those who don't. He's a Human Calculator, capable of holding big numbers in his head and analysing statistics quickly. Finally, he's Too Curious for Fear, meaning he'll often head into dangerous situations just to find out what happens (sometimes to his detriment).

Step 4) Select Skills

Skills in S.W.I.N.G describe what you can do rather than who you are, adding a modifier to your checks. Because there are no ability scores or some kind of analogue, having the relevant skill is incredibly important, not only massively increasing chances of success, but also increasing the margin, which at times can be important. Because of the 60s theme, each skill ranking has a description, from -3 Bummer to +8 Out of Sight. I have twenty points to spend on skills. I'm going to start off by grabbing a Fab (+6) rating in Science and Mysteries (mysteries covers paranormal stuff and folklore, because that makes sense considering my focus. For similar reasons I'm going to take a Solid (+3) rating in Academics and Engineering. My final two points are going to go into a Hip (+2) rating for Rapport, because Dr Jay loves dealing with people. Mt rating in academics gives me three additional languages, which I'm going to list as Russian (the Russians love paranormal lore), German (same reason) and Ancient Egyptian (a veritable hotbed of crazy stuff).

Step 5) Select Stunts

Stunts are cool little abilities, maneuvers or tricks available to your character, from special equipment to combat moves to social tricks to paranormal abilities. Starting characters get four of these. The problem with this section is that you end up very much like a kid in a candy store, spoilt for choice. I'm really sad I can't take Master of Disguise, the most awesome stunt, which lets you disappear from the game session and then at an appropriately dramatic moment reveal that some random henchmen was in fact you in disguise all along! Straight off the bat I'm picking SCIENCE!, which allows me to whip out gadgets beyond the boundaries of scientific norms and substitute that skill for any other at the cost of a FATE point. In a similar vein I'm picking up Scientific Invention which lets me build or upgrade existing scientific equipment. Next up is Alien Mysteries, which means I know about aliens and can make Mystery rolls to deduce stuff about them (Dr Jay's ability to do this by his lonesome was what made S.W.I.N.G notice him in the first place). My final stunt will be Doctor, which gives me a +2 to use the science skill to heal.

Step 6) Finish Off any Details

This is where I add the finishing touches, things like appearance, equipment and personality traits as well as anything else to round off my character. I can't really think of much equipment I want for Dr Jay beyond misc science tools, but perhaps also a Dart Gun and knock-out poison for self defense. Oh, and some Beatles albums

When coming up with Dr Jay in terms of appearance I had in mind The Tick-Tock Doc from the Mutants and Masterminds sourcebook Freedom's Most Wanted. To elaborate, imagine a thin man with long, auburn hair, bespectacled eyes and decked out in your standard casual hippy-wear including tie-die shirts, baggy trousers and a peace medallion. When he's in a formal mood, he sometimes throws a lab-coat over this.

Dr Jay is incredibly, sometimes annoyingly friendly, excitable and curious. He peppers his speech with proverbs from famous thinkers and thinks nothing of applying, something said by Confucius to a situation involving death lasers on the moon. He's accepting of pretty much anyone regardless of colour, gender, sexuality or creed because “We're all just atoms, man”, the one exception being folks out to harsh the world's mellow. He tries not to get involved in the violent aspects of S.W.I.N.G operations and often tries to find a peaceful solution.

Because there's no other space for them, I might as well describe a couple of other stats here. I have three Stress Tracks, which track my three kinds of health. The Physical Track represents how much bodily damage I've taken, the Mental Track how much emotional damage and Social Track my standing in society. Having these tracks fill up is detrimental in different ways, the physical track meaning I'm knocked out at the mercy of my opponents, mental meaning I'm insane or too stressed to function and social meaning I lack any form of respectability or social capital. The default for these is 5 each and I have no skills that modify them, so 5 they stay. I also start with a number of FATE points and a Refresh score (the number of FATE points I refresh after a period of rest) equal to 10-the number of stunts I have, so 6.

The Finished Product

Dr Cornelius Jaybridge

Concept: Hippy Scientist

Section: Section 8 (Uncanny Affairs)

Section: I Have a Theory for That

Past: A Lifetime of Experimentation

Cover: Scientific Maverick

Wicked Album, Man”

Scientist, Not a Weaponsmith

Casual Dresser

Human Calculator

Too Curious for Fear

+6 Fab: Mysteries, Science

+3 Solid: Academics, Engineering

+2 Hip: Rapport

Alien Mysteries: Familiar with alien technology/existence.

Doctor: +2 to use the science skill to heal others.

SCIENCE!:Spend a FATE point to substitute Science for any other skill.

Scientific Invention: Build or upgrade scientific devices.

Toolkit, Dart Gun, Rock albums

Physical Stress: OOOOO

Mental Stress: OOOOO

Social Stress: OOOOO

FATE Points: 6

Refresh: 6

How I'd Run It

Considering my background in this sort of thing I'd want to shoot the weird straight up. Moon lasers, alien artefacts and armies of robots would be the call of the day and unless you've got a conspiracy that completely destabilises an entire political region you get no mention. Some kind of team up of various criminal conspiracies would also make a feature.

S.W.I.N.G could also be the perfect 'suicide squad' style game. Take a bunch of expert henchmen with extraordinary capabilities who are sick of serving evil masterminds and like the various vices of the world too much to see it destroyed or taken over by one of their idiot bosses. Imagine if Oddjob, Gobina, Jaws and Miranda Frost teamed up against S.P.E.C.T.R.E and you have the idea.


  1. That game sounds totally rad. I've always wanted, just once, to make a completely ridiculous character to troll the GM, but it seems like this system would not only tolerate, but actively encourage that.

    I once considered getting my friends, for a DnD game, to create a group of hipster druids completely disinterested in any form of dungeon crawling or saving the world, just wanting to lay around, hugging the trees, and getting high on whatever narcotics they could find.

    We had a good laugh about it.

  2. Great post. I've ordered a paperback copy of Agents of S.W.I.N.G. and this post has helped wrap my brain around FATE as I await the book. Thank you for that.