The Revenge of Spec Ops Burn

Next up in our return to Burn Notice as an RPG campaign, I’ve got something modern for you. Given that SEP started publishing special operations-type supplements and adventures for d20 Modern, one would hope I might have a grip on this one.

You be the judge.

Originally presented on 17 Sep 2008.

So, I’ve written up mini-settings for Burn Notice campaigns in both a fantasy and Victorian horror genres. Let’s look at the modern genre now. Granted, Burn Notice is a modern action-adventure, so rather than a spy character, let’s cook up a Burn Notice special ops military campaign.

For Spec Ops Burn, I’m going to have the characters all as part of one team. I envision them as an extraction team, similar to Drift in the Mundus Novit setting. They get sent into Albenistan to extract an intelligence asset from Khorforjan, only to receive a note at the front desk that they have been disavowed. The note indicates that the team is under suspicion of rogue actions, though no specifics are given. The note also indicates a restriction to Khorforjan and its environs. Should the team leave Khorforjan, they will be considered rogue and a wanted notice would be circulated to all nations. The team knows that they have made lots of enemies, and should their identities be compromised, they and their families would be in extreme danger. It is hoped that the GM would get player buy-in before attempting to restrict the characters in this fashion, as without buy-in the players are likely to concoct some elaborate plan to get out of Khorforjan–likely just because that’s where the GM wants them to stay.

The team gets co-opted into small jobs by the local private military contractors and then later through the local law enforcement. It will likely become known pretty quickly that there is a “rogue” unit in town, but that they are “white hats.” This could actually increase the team’s pull with the local authorities.

The jobs the team would encounter could be very similar to what is seen on the series. Khorforjan is not completely lawless, and there is an attempt to lead normal productive lives by most of the population. People are running businesses, taking the bus to work, trying to get by. But there is a strong lawless element in Khorforjan, that could become a kind of regular nemesis, requiring the characters to keep a low profile, and also providing easily identifiable bad guys.

One of the PMCs is a CIA plant, and through him the team should begin to learn that their burn was based on a mission they completed in Pakistan–very black book. Turns out, the guy who tasked them to the mission was actually off the reserve. He had gone rogue. Rather than admit to this, the agency for whom he worked implicated the team. At some point, that rogue agent must travel to Khorforjan for a drug deal. This gives the characters a chance to capture him and clear their names. He is, though, aware the team are present in the city, and will be taking exceptional precautions.

For the characters, I can see them as a more serious version of the A-Team. Michael is the leader and tactical planner. Fiona is the combat expert, possibly with stealth skills. Sam is the fixer, though I think his connections and the information fed to him should be narrative. More on that later. Sam can be combat-capable as well, but with lots of social skills and some stealth skills.  The last character, let’s call her Natasha, nick-named Nate, is the tech-head, with all sorts of engineering and technical skills, including break-and-enter skills.

I say that Sam’s connections should be narrative due to their importance to the plot. In the series, the information Sam gets is required to move the plot forward. If this is the same in the game, you do not want Sam to fail or the game is stalled. Therefore, I would give Sam information to move the plot forward when required, otherwise his contacts come up empty.

For these characters, I would make Michael would likely be a warrior with a Spy occupation. Fiona would be a warrior with a Special Operator occupation. Sam would be an expert with a Con Man occupation. Nate would be an expert with the Technician occupation.

This game would likely be relatively violent. Unlike the show, force and the regular use of firearms would likely be common. Whether it was done in an action cinema fashion or something grittier would really be up to the players.

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Return to Victorian Burn

And now, after a brief pause (I suck at this!), we’re back revisiting the use of Burn Notice as an RPG campaign.

Originally presented on 13 Sep 2008

Continuing Burn Notice as the basis for a campaign, I  want to look at horror. Now I’m not much of a horror GM. I don’t really read it, watch it, or write it. Rather than horror, I’m going to go occult, something like an X-Files or Supernatural in the past, but only dealing with occult threats.

The stage is set by the return of Michael Weston to London on May 31, 1859, welcomed by the chimes of Big Ben. Michael had served time with the Foreign Service in British India, but was quickly disillusioned by the high-handed and often brutal policies of the East India Company. He found a mission he believed in  when faced with evidence of a resurgent Thuggee cult. He helped to ferret out and confront the last of the evil cult, and this led him to some frightening places and inhuman foes.

The final straw came with the Indian Rebellion. Michael wondered if his countrymen were that much better than the murderous Thuggee. While there would have been many opportunities for him once the government of India was transferred to Britain, Michael Weston returned to England, hoping to forget the things he had witnessed.

That was not to be.

Things had been released. Spirits and demons long held in check by ancient rites and ceremonies had been awakened. Some blamed these entities for the madness apparent on both sides of Rebellion. Whatever they were, and whatever their purpose, they appeared in London just as Michael Weston arrived. Someone in the Foreign Service believes Michael is somehow tied to these supernatural manifestations. The Foreign Service declares Michael cannot leave London until the danger has been dealt with–but not by Michael. His linkage to the supernatural makes them worry.
Accompanying Michael is Sam, a disgraced doctor who found service as a regimental surgeon with the British East India Company. Michael befriended Sam in India. Sam had become inured to the suffering around him, but Michael helped him to regain his lost humanity. Sam intends to get his medical licence back, and perhaps start a practice, but as events evolve, he decides to use his connections and his skills to help Michael.

Along with Sam, Michael returns with Fiona. That is the name under which she travels, but it is not her real name. She is an ex-Thuggee, an assassin trained in secretive unarmed combat techniques. Sent to murder Michael Weston, she realized he was not a cruel slaver as she had been told, and this led to her learning the Thuggee had become nothing more than assassins for hire. Still an adherent to Kali, the Thuggee assassin took the name Fiona and became Michael’s constant companion and bodyguard. In the movie, she’ll be played by Aishwarya Rai (are you listening, Matt Nix?).

In London, Michael returned to his family’s town home. Meeting his younger sister, Natalie, he learns that his father drank himself to death, and drank the family fortunes along with the way. Natalie herself is a recovering opium addict, and is haunted by visions of ghosts, wights, and other evil creatures. Natalie believes the Foreign Service is correct, that there is a tie between Michael and the entities. With their mother declared insane and sentenced to Bedlam, Natalie and Michael have only each other.

I see Michael as an Expert, with an Occupation of Spy. His work in the Foreign Service was just that, spying. For Sam, another Expert, but with the Soldier Occupation. He’s a doctor, but his time has been spent in the army of the East India Company. Fiona would be, of course, a Warrior, with an Occupation of Martial Artist. Natalie would be a Psychic, with an Occupation of Urchin (as in street urchin, the Victorian version of the homeless for children)–Natalie’s not a real street urchin, but her time as an opium addict puts her in that world.

In this campaign, the small jobs that Michael does are all linked to the central problem–the rise of the supernatural and its possible ties to Michael himself. The short adventures could be hauntings or other supernatural incidents of which Michael or one of his companions learn. Each adventure should add one piece to the puzzle.

The truth is that the supernatural manifestations are not tied to Michael. The aura that sensitives note regarding Michael comes from his confrontations with the evils of Kali in India. This aura should slowly fade, and become less and less noticeable. It might seem logical that this corresponds to the supernatural threats are being eliminated, though it is actually because of the time passing since Michael faced the evil manifestations in India.

The truth is that Fiona is not the only adherent of Kali in England. Sir Nigel Whitney Gull, a physician with ties to the royal family and a Freemason, returned from India just a few months before Michael. He has been ensnared by an avatar of Kali and is attempting to bring on the Kali Yuga–the time of Kali–through evil rituals. These rituals have raised the supernatural manifestations.

Sir Gull has many more connections than Michael, and is an important part of the Freemason leadership, as well as having strong supporters in Queen Victoria’s court. He should be introduced to the characters in the second or third adventure, probably through Sam–who, as the fixer, might also be a Freemason. He should always know just a little bit more than anybody else, yet prove only slightly unhelpful. The information he gives might help the characters, but it will be dated enough that it won’t really help them too much.

His plan to usher in the Kali Yuga requires specific sacrifices and a specific rituals. At least one adventure could be a kind of pre-Jack the Ripper as Sir Gull attempts to secure his sacrifices and commit the rituals. His identity is not known to those in his small cult, so even once the characters realize what is happening and avert it, they may not catch Sir Gull.

Sir Gull may continue to be an adversary even after the supernatural threats are averted. Once the cycle of rituals is broken, the threat is gone. The Foreign Service still doesn’t trust Michael, but they have work for him in London and elsewhere, as supernatural threats continue to exist, and there may be even more mundane adventures ahead. Michael might no longer be shackled to London, but he certainly won’t be able to leave England. Once the Foreign Service feels it can trust Michael, well then they might have work for him abroad.

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Revisiting the Hadrapole Burn

This continues a revisit to a series of game ideas based off the game show Burn Notice. I hope it’s of interest.

Originally posted 7 Sep 2008

Earlier, I wrote about Burn Notice and creating campaigns using it as a template. One night after watching a couple of episodes, I had ideas for all sorts of campaigns. I noticed that the campaigns I had imagined fit the genre templates offered in True20 Revised Core. That’s how I’m going to present my ideas, using the lingo of True 20.

2016 Note: I’m no longer playing True20, but I believe its system provides a fairly good basis on which to understand the characters mechanically, so I’ve left that structure in place.

First off, Burn Notice as a fantasy adventure campaign.

The basic premise of Burn Notice is the Michael Weston is trapped in Miami. In the fantasy version, the setting will be Hadrapole, a fantasy city in which I’ve set some of my fantasy fiction. Think of it as Constantinople just after becoming Istanbul, and with a tentative truce among all the different cultures and religions. The conflicts are there, simmering, but no one is looking for a war–not when everyone else in the world is eyeing them up as prey.

The Michael Weston character will just be Weston. He was one of the Urban Cohorts, a paramilitary force that is also used to police the city. Just before the campaign begins, Weston has returned to the Old Bazaar, an area outside the city walls and his old neighbourhood. His father has died and he has gone to bury him.

When he’s done the funerary rites, one of the Whites–a group of incorruptible, elite soldiers of the Urban Cohorts, known for their white tunics and white truncheons–let’s him know he’s barred from the city proper, from the city inside the walls. Weston questions this, and it is strongly implied the Whites know whose pocket he’s in. Thing is, he’s not in anyone’s pocket.

Weston isn’t stupid enough to go against the Whites. Doing so would just give them ample reason to not only toss him from the Cohorts, but make him a penal slave on one of Hadrapole’s merchant galleys. No, Weston has to find out who framed him and why. For that, he’s going to need help.

I see Weston as a Warrior. I like the heroic archetypes in True20, and I’m going to use those. Weston is a Champion (a kind of mythic hero) for certain, though maybe he’s going to move into Fated (the hero with a destiny).

Fiona left the Cohorts the hard way. She didn’t police so much as execute. She’s made a name for herself in the Old Bazaar as a sword-for-hire, and now she’s come looking for Weston. She always looked up to him, respected him, maybe even loved him. She flattered herself into believing he had feelings for her, but was that true? What now? That relationship is for the players to explore.

Fiona is certainly a Warrior, and she fits the Shadow archetype perfectly (not quite an apprentice, but a companion who might someday supplant the Champion), with Weston as her Champion.

Sam (Samwise? Samnal? Whatever) is a confidence man and sometimes informant. He’s been friends with Weston since childhood, and Weston always did his best to protect Sam, even when Weston stood as a Cohort. Knowing that Weston is being framed, Sam wants to help. He has a deep and abiding fraternal love for Weston, and this is one time when Sam is willing to lay down his life to find the truth.

I can’t see Sam as anything but a Trickster archetype, but I am torn between Expert and Warrior. Certainly, Sam is supposed to be a fixer, meaning he needs the social skills, but the contacts and information might also be a narrative element. Mechanics might not be the way to address it. For Sam, I think it would be up to the player. Does the player want to go Warrior or Expert?

Finally, there is the fourth character, the one that actually isn’t in Burn Notice. Except in this case, the character sort of is. Michael Weston has a brother named Nate who shows up a couple of times and becomes important in the season finale. Weston also has a sibling. A sister named Natalia (or Nate!)

Natalia is one way to keep Weston tied to the Old Bazaar, to keep him from doing anything stupid. Their father is dead, their mother–a gypsy fortune teller–has found solace in the bottle, and young Nate only has her big brother to take care of her. Weston, no matter how much the hardcase he like to play, is basically a man of duty and honour. He’d feel responsible for Nate (and for his mother, for that matter).

But Nate isn’t exactly a damsel in distress. I think the Maiden archetype works well (the young child of promise), given that she is supposed to be a relatively young lady. However, I think it would be cool to have Nate as an Adept (spell casting class in True20). She learned some tricks in her time in the Old Bazaar, and it turns out she might be able to help Weston out when things go south. She may also act as the voice of conscience, a counterpoint to Fi, Sam, and expediency.

The main story arc would be learning who framed Weston and why. But there would be little adventures in the Old Bazaar, on Flotsam, and other locales outside the city. These would be presented through Sam and Fiona, as people come to them for the service and aid. Weston and his family need money, and that’s one certain way to get it. This would allow for consecutive, unconnected adventures while unravelling the mystery of Weston’s framing.

It turns out one of the senators framed Weston. Weston is about the toughest SOB in the Cohort outside of the Whites. The senator wanted Weston broken, so that the senator could then swoop in and save him from destitution. Weston would then become a tool within the Cohorts to use against the Whites when the coup d’etat commenced.

Oh, did I mention the coup d’etat? One religious faction recently lost power after the city was recently conquered by another culture with another religion, and the faction want that power–and the city–back. Weston is just one of their tools.

When Weston does find out the who, he likely won’t find out the why. Even if he does learn the why, he won’t have the proof necessary to prove anything for for the Dey to act without it seeming to be simple religious prejudice. So Weston and his crew will likely end up involved in the attempt to uncover the plot and oppose it.

So there we have it: Burn Notice as a fantasy adventure.

Next, Victorian horror!

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Burn Notice as Campaign

With a lot things – like my MA program, my job, my family, my gaming – pulling me in a lot of different directions, SEP has suffered. To try to keep some semblance of a pulse on this thing, I’m reaching back to one of my favourite series of posts in which I posit using the structure of the TV series Burn Notice in a variety of genres. I always have fun mashing up genres, and I think the versions of Burn Notice I came up with were kind of fun.

I hope you think so too.

Originally posted 6 Sep 2008

I’ve been able to watch episodes of the USA Network‘s  Burn Notice. It’s the story of a spy–Michael Weston–who has been declared “unreliable,” and loses everything his life as a spy had afforded him. He is barred from leaving Miami or “dire consequences” will ensue. He spends his time in Miami trying to figure out who burned him and why, and also helping people (a la the Equalizer) for various reasons. He’s aided by his ex-IRA ex-girlfriend–Fiona–and his best buddy, who is both ex-Navy SEAL and informing on him (with his knowledge) to the FBI–Sam. Miami being Michael’s hometown, he is also in regular contact with his Mom (Sharon Gless).

The episodes are injected with humour and with faux spy-knowledge. I don’t know, maybe Matt Nix, the show’s creator has insider knowledge of espionage tricks and techniques, but it seems very much like fictionalized espionage to me.

This matters not at all. Burn Notice has great characters, great dialogue, and the first season doesn’t have a bad episode.

And it got me thinking of adapting Burn Notice as a campaign. Last night, I actually dreamed up fantasy, Victorian, modern, and SF campaigns based on it. The funny thing was that when I broke it down into characters, I realized it was very similar to the A-Team. Now at first, I compared it to the Equalizer, but Robert McCall tended to work alone. Michael has Fiona and Sam to back him up. When I gave them roles, I considered Michael the leader (and planner), Sam the fixer, and Fiona the muscle. So other than Howling Mad Murdoch, you have the A-Team (Hannibal = leader, Face = fixer, and BA =muscle). It also led me to add a fourth wheel.

In the TV show, Michael is uber-competent, and he builds a lot of the cobbled together devices the team uses. In a game, no character should outshine the other, so the techie/builder role of Michael becomes a separate role, kind of an “expert” or techie.

These basic four roles are consistent through all the campaigns I dreamed up. They vary slightly (the techie role in fantasy and Victorian because more of a craftsman/jack-of-all-trades), but they are present in all.

Next, Burn Notice as a fantasy campaign.

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Avoiding Angst

I just wrote a very long, very confessional blog post about why the site has been so quiet. Bottom line – I still enjoy developing games but I do not enjoy Kickstarting them. Unfortunately, after having released games that have been Kickstarted and look very professional, I am hesitant to release anything without that level of investment.

The horns of a dilemma.

In the end, I have to figure out what I want to do – what I want SEP to become. Right now, I’m not sure. I am kind of hooked on developing systems. At the same time, I am starting to wonder if maybe I just need to settle back into running games, running already established systems or even my own RPGs, just not creating a game for every game I want to play.

More to follow.

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Sales for First Quarter, 2016

Here are the sales figures for the first quarter of 2016. What is very interesting – to me – is how much Nefertiti Overdrive sold this quarter. It was stronger this quarter than last, which included its release – and the release period is usually the strongest. Most of those sales (14) were through Indie Press Revolution, and 13 of them went to retailers. This makes me happy.

Also, I’d like to assure you that there are still copies available at Indie Press Revolution, 10 at last count.

So . . . on with the show!

Sales for First Quarter 2016 (Jan – Mar)
All sales venues

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 1
For Simple Coin, 1
Gifts of the Elder Gods, 1

Covert Forces
Covert Forces Redux, 1
In Her Majesty’s Service, 2

Other
Centurion, 5
Nefertiti Overdrive, 25
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 29

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 4
Kheufer Scrolls, 4
Kiss My Axe, 4
Suffer the Witch, 1
Sword Noir, 6

Total Sales to Date
Albenistan
Albenistan: Election Day (Modern Dispatch 113), 42
Khorforjan Gambit, 12
Qalashar Device, 135
Raid On Ashkashem, 177

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 64
For Simple Coin, 6
Gifts of the Elder Gods, 40

Charity Products
Relief Effort, 55

Covert Forces
Canada’s Combined Security Reconnaissance Section, 111
Covert Forces, 100
Covert Forces Redux, 183
In Her Majesty’s Service, 158

Other
Centurion, 182
Cyber-state Avatar Toolkit, 43
Line Zero, 40
Nefertiti Overdrive, 58
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 599
Operation Nearscape, Free Product, 430

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 154
Kheufer Scrolls, 199
Kiss My Axe, 211
Suffer the Witch, 95
Sword’s Edge System, Free Rules 1669
Sword Noir, 643

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The Clandestine Activities Special Executive

From the Image Comics series The Activity.

In the HardCASE game that I’ll be running, the PCs will be “enhanced” humans (parahumans?) working for a deep dark organization called the Clandestine Activities Special Executive, or CASE. Now, the description below has CASE as a Canadian organization, but following that is a second version that provides a US model. It could easily be updated for any country, fitting it into that country’s intelligence community.

CASE

The Clandestine Activities Special Executive (CASE) is a totally dark intelligence organization reporting to the National Security Advisor (NSA). Although it is run out of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), it is considered a first responder and both a tactical and strategic asset – meaning it can engage in direct action or hostage rescue missions as well as intelligence collection or activities targeting foreign national leadership.

The Director General – Special Activities (DGSA) directs CASE on delegated authority from NSA. The NSA tasks CASE on direct order of the Prime Minister. Once NSA has tasked CASE to an operation, the only further input or direction is an abort order. The highest level of control for planning and operations is the DGSA.

CASE is broken into three sections. The office of the DGSA is known as the Chamber. This is the headshed that provides all the planning, direction, logistics, and legal support. The Office houses the Collections Team, which collects and analyzes Imagery, Signals, and Geospatial Intelligence (IMINT, SIGINT, GEOINT). The Barracks houses the Contact Team, which is the field team which undertakes operations.

The Contact Team undertakes both kinetic and collection operations – meaning the team can be tasked to shoot at people and blow things up or meets sources, surveil individuals, reconnoitre locations, or otherwise collect intelligence on a target.

Codename VENICE is the connection between the Barracks and the Chamber. While VENICE is technically part of the Office, she undertakes briefings and debriefings. She is also DAG Green – meaning that she has completed all necessary training and preparation to deploy – and will provide in-theatre liaison between the Contact Team and the Chamber.

Codename SPARROW is the connection between the Barracks and the Office. SPARROW works closely with VENICE, both delivering intelligence in advance of operations and providing priority intelligence requirements, directing collection when the Contact Team is in the field.

USCASE

The Clandestine Activities Special Executive (CASE) is a totally dark intelligence organization reporting to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It is considered a first responder and both a tactical and strategic asset – meaning it can engage in direct action or hostage rescue missions as well as intelligence collection or activities targeting foreign national leadership.

The Assistant Director – Special Activities (AD/SA) directs CASE on delegated authority from DNI. Once DNI has tasked CASE to an operation, the only further input or direction is an abort order. The highest level of control for planning and operations is the AD/SA.

CASE is broken into three sections. The office of the AD/SA is known as the Chamber. This is the headshed that provides all the planning, direction, logistics, and legal support. The Office houses the Collections Team, which collects and analyzes Imagery, Signals, and Geospatial Intelligence (IMINT, SIGINT, GEOINT). The Barracks houses the Contact Team, which is the field team which undertakes operations.

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