HardCASE: a Sword’s Edge Adventure

The newest release from SEP is now available.

On a mission to hunt down an arms dealer connected to several high profile assassinations, operatives in the Contact Team, the kinetic, direct action arm of the secretive CASE – the Clandestine Activities Special Executive – uncover a link between a secretive Russian cutting edge science program, in existence since Soviet Union, and North Korean arms smugglers. The Contact Team is sent to hunt down a Russian scientist linked to this project who is seeking to meet with the North Koreans. What are they planning and how can CASE stop them?

“HardCASE” is a near-future action-thriller adventure for Sword’s Edge. It’s available now at Drive Thru RPG. It includes a new addition to the rules for Challenges in Sword’s Edge and presents six pre-generated operatives from CASE.

This adventure was developed as part of a Patreon campaign. If you would like to see more adventures like this, please support the author at Patreon.

 

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.

HardCASE

I have kind of penchant for super-powered black ops and spies. Now, I think the absolute best was the short-run by Warren Ellis (big surprise) on Secret Avengers, but I was also a huge fan of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad comics and The Boys by Garth Ennis. I’ve written some short fiction, but nothing that has seen the light of day other than a very perfunctory homage to The Boys.

From Secret Avengers 18, Written by Warren Ellis, Pencils and Inks by David Aja, Colours by Raul Allen, and Letters by Dave Lanphear

It looks like a system that I created to mimic Borderlands – which I had titled F#ck You Up – will be the basis for a new campaign/playtest in the super-black ops genre. I’m calling it HardCASE.

The PCs each have one particular superpower in that they are the absolute human pinnacle of that skill or ability. So, for example, a character like Deadshot would have Firearms or Aim, whereas Hawkeye would have Archery. Shang-chi could have Martial Arts, as could Iron Fist.

There will be much more to the characters, including Drivers and Training – so while Hawkeye’s power would be Archery, a Driver would likely be “Prove Myself” and Training in “Hand-to-Hand Combat.”

I already have a few ideas for adventures, using the basic backbone I had planned for Mission Creep, Mission Crawl and jazzing it as befits a comic adventure. I’m not going to lighten it or turn it into NextWAVE: Agents of Hate, but this has changed from the Activity to DC’s Checkmate, which means that the badguys will also have powers.

I might recycle some of the stuff from Mundus Novit – which has pretty much disappeared into the dustbin of RPG history – but this is going to be a very different take. In Mundus Novit, part of the direction was that the general public basically knew about superpowers. In HardCASE, it still isn’t general knowledge.

So now I need to adapt F#ck You Up to meet my intentions for HardCASE and to get my ideas on paper – virtual paper that is.

I have chosen to accept my mission.

You can find out more about Secret Avengers, Suicide Squad, and The Boys.

You can find out more about Mundus Novit here and read the fiction tie-in Dark Horizons starting here.

The Warlords Bow to the HardCASE

The times, they are a-changing.

My post-apocalyptic game using the Riggers system is no more. I have some ideas on why this has happened. In essence, I don’t believe I managed expectations properly, the style was too great a variation on what my players were used to, and I spent too much time working on mechanics rather than being concerned about my players.

The game – which was under the title Warlords of the Wastes – was meant to be gritty and threatening. The PCs were members of an expeditionary party caught in a foreign land and trying to find their way home, or at least to someplace safe . . . or safer. I had set up an encounter early in the game – a checkpoint with a still-function tank – to try to telegraph the threat the setting presented. Even as they were getting their asses handed to them, the players continued to try to beat the opposing force. Only when I openly stated that they really should run for it, did they do so.

This is tied into the second problem with the campaign – the variance of styles. Centurion, playtested back in 2012, was the last time my players felt really threatened. They did really well in Centurion because they were still in the “we are mortal” mindset. Given that since the playtesting for Nefertiti Overdrive started in 2012, the games we’ve gone through have had the PCs as master-class bad-asses, I needed to do more than telegraph the switch back to mortals. I needed to put it in big, huge, neon letters. I needed to manage expectations. I should have been the slave in the chariot during a triumph in Rome whispering “never forget: thou art mortal.”

So, that change in styles: not only was it not made obvious front and centre, I don’t think it clicked with what my players enjoy. We have had a lot of fun since Nefertiti Overdrive. The system for League of Extraordinary Misfits was by no means as kinetic and cinematic as Nefertiti Overdrive, but the PCs were still pulp adventurers, and it had a very light-hearted tone (we had the monkey Schultz, who was a version of the Human Torch who was also the co-pilot).

Now Dream Riggers was a little tougher than League of Extraordinary Misfits, but the PCs basically had superpowers and were up against personifications of concepts like dreams, nightmares, and illusion – using the Greek gods/demigods for that purpose – in a future Johannesburg. The tone was still closer to pulp than gritty.

It can be fun to be the underdog. It can be okay to fail. But it’s tough moving from uber to under. The problem was also that while there were moments of victory, the taste of defeat came too often and at least one player really didn’t like that style of play.

And this leads into my third point. While I explained the story concept to the group (I have no concerns about “metagame” knowledge, from knowing where the plot is leading to knowing the number of successes needed to beat a particular challenge), I was very focused on getting the mechanics right. I discussed my work on the mechanics and my concern about certain system impacts here previously, and that was where I focused most of my efforts.

Sure, that needed to happen in order to get the mechanics to do what I wanted, but I also needed to put more work into responding to my players’ concerns. We had a discussion about story direction and style, but it came too late. Once investment in a game is lost, it can become a feedback loop. The setting had negative connotations, and I wasn’t sure I could get everyone back on board.

From Secret Avengers 19, Written by Warren Ellis, Pencils by Michael Lark, Inks by Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies, Colour by Jose Villarrubia, and Letters by Dave Lanphear

So we buried the campaign. That doesn’t bother me too much. It’s part of the learning curve. Our last failure was about the size of my gaming group. That’s been addressed and so far, that seems to have worked well. To replace Warlords of the Waste, we are looking at playing an espionage/black ops campaign in which the PCs are super-powered – kind of like Warren Ellis’ run on Secret Avengers, or John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad. I’m hacking rules I originally designed for a “Borderlands” style game, so we are going to return to the PCs being asskickers.

This is going to be HardCASE – the PCs are members of the Clandestine Activities Special Executive.

I’m looking forward to this. I hope they are too.