A few weeks ago, I GM a 3 hours sessions (we play in real time) of
urban high-tech espionage inspired by shows like Watch Dogs, Person of
Interest, Gotham and Batman, 24… We posted a few months ago a debrief
for a Cyberpunk game that we played (using also covert ops system
Here is the debrief and sorry if my English is not correct.
I decided to use Covert Ops system (d00Lite) that I like very much. It is easy to pick up for new players, character creation is fast and it is of course really appropriate for urban espionage.
However, I wanted something even more fluid for a real-time adventure. I decided to use some Apocalypse World concepts with that purpose in mind.
First, I do not throw any dice anymore. Everything is done by the players.
Then, I redefined the degrees of success/failure based on AW ideas : Rates of partial success is around 40% no matter the characteristic bonus. So, I decided that no matter what, characters have always 40% to partially succeed (meaning, you succeed at a cost like when Kaylee forgets her cell phone while stealing the mask). Thus, if somebody has 50% in his skill, I consider that between 30 and 70%, he partially succeed. Below 30% it is a total success. Above 70% it is a failure. Critical success and critical failure apply (based on 50% score).
There is no difficulty level, the failure depends on the situation. Difficult situations bring hard failure.
With this also, I got rid of throwing the dice for damages. Partial success inflicts half damage, total success inflicts half damage + something else (another half damage, or opponent looses weapons, or don’t get hurt by opponent…). In fact, I kept the basic mechanism in AW that says Partial success to hold 1, total success you hold 2 (and critical hold 4).
It means also, that when characters fight, if they just have a partial success they might get hurt.
I applied it also for other actions, like Thief (hold 1 : I enter the place without being noticed, hold 2 : I enter the place without being noticed and I manage to prepare my escape route).
I have to make short lists of commonly used skills like in AW to let the players decide the outcome of their actions.
Regarding the Hacking skill I went for something really simple (allowed also by the system I used) :
If I want to hack a car, I use the Pilot skill.
If I want to hack the video surveillance to infiltrate a place, I use the Thief skill.
If I want to hack the video surveillance to look for clues, I use the Detective skill.
So, there is no dedicated Hacker, all Player Characters are Hackers. However, a character like Kaylee who has Programming can go further and put virus, and do more complex things, but other characters, like in Watchdogs, are considered to have the right tools to hack the things that are related to their field of expertise.
And since, in this game, the character are in constant contact with Spider 0, the Hacker, I replaced the Bones by Hack Point. In short, it works quite the same way, but every time they use it, it means that Spider 0 did something remotely to help them (provoke a blackout, fry the phone…).
We just started to play, so I did not take time to go deep into the custom rules. But it worked very well.
Now, here is the pitch :
Chicago, the near future.
You are high-tech thieves. The best in your field. However, for a
reason known only to you, you ended up asking a favour from Chicago
Crime Boss : Leroi. Maybe you need money to pay for the medical care of
your husband. Or, you need somebody out of a bad situation. Whatever the
reason, your only way out is this one last bank heist.
Leroy’s team gave you all the information you need to rob the main bank of Chicago. You planned your heist for weeks. You hacked in the bank security system, learned all their routine. You know everything about the employees. Now, your getaway car is parked in a back alley. The driver waiting for you. You are ready to enter the bank before it is about to close.
Your objective, get the daily code from the bank manager, open the vault, get the money and get out. You have 30 minutes before anybody suspect anything. No killing (employees or customers) of course.
Two characters :
Kaylee : Thief / Technician
Will : Detective / Medic
Chicago Bank, 6pm :
The scenario starts when Will get in the Bank with their two associates : Salem and Rios (Muscles). The Bank is located in Chicago’s business district.
Kaylee is already in.
They all wear masks. They received them in the morning (by mail),
except maybe for Salem and Rios who seem to have their own masks. Dive,
their driver and point of contact with Leroi (both PC never met Leroi)
is waiting for them in a back alley.
Not many customers, the bank is about to close. Salem fires a few gun shots in the roof and everyone is on the ground.
Will put all the guards to sleep (using chloroform) making sure that no one wants to play hero.
The bank is secure (from their point of view), the mission can really starts.
Kaylee goes upstairs to look for the bank manager, Brenner. She tries to bluff him out of his office, but it does not work. She gets in. He does not seem to be there. But she is sure she heard some noise (Brenner tried to call the police but the phones are dead). She suspects he is hiding under his desk but she is taking some time, pour some whiskey in a glass and starts drinking. He takes this opportunity to try to flee, but she makes a warning shot that stops him halfway to the door.
Will, who was wondering what was happening upstairs, shows up. A few minutes ago, he had to scowl Rios who was beginning to be a little bit to excited (and violent with the hostages).
Will and Kaylee are about to bring Brenner back downstairs when Rios (who went down to the vault in the meantime) calls them. ‘Somebody is in the vault ! Dying !’.
Everybody rushes to discover, thanks to the video camera, that
indeed, an old guy, who was using the private safe in the vault,
collapsed on the floor, his hand pressed on his heart (heart attack).
Will want to intervene but the door to the vault is closed !
At that moment, Will phone rings : his wife. Will take the call. His wife explains that a FBI agent named Walker is there. His wife does not know that Walker is the person who forced Will to get back into the criminal world. Walker wants Will inside Leroi organization.
Walker ask his wife to pass Walker to him. The conversation is brief and tensed. Will learned from Walker that no operation is planned from Leroi tonight. So why are they here ?
Will end the conversation (after all there is a guy dying in the vault). Kaylee and Will ask Brenner to open the vault door but he refuses (bank policy). So they threaten him, and finally he agrees. But it is too late, Will cannot manage to save the guy.
So they focus on stealing the money now that they are inside the vault. Kaylee, Will and Rios start putting money in the sport bags they brought with them.
A few minutes later, Kaylee is interrupted by a call from Salem.
Something is happening on the ground floor. The phones of all the
hostages are ringing at the same time !
Kaylee comes up and, after trying to understand how somebody managed to get a signal thought the barrier she set up, she decides to pick up.
“Are you in charge ?’Says a distorted voice on the phone.
Kaylee says yes. The voice, a Hacker, explains that their operation is interfering with his/her operation. Indeed, the Hacker planned to use Brenner for a mission tonight. Brenner is supposed to participate in an auction, a slave auction. With the Heist, he won’t go since the police will ask him questions and all. But the Hacker really needs someone to go to this auction and extract somebody. The PC seem good at their job. The Hacker offers to help them (money, information…) if they do that for him/her.
Will and Kaylee hesitate. Kaylee gives the Hacker a test to see whether he is that good (hack into a military centre). Kayla will discover later that the Hacker planted a phone on the first floor and set up a bluetooth network that allowed him/her to call the other phones.
The Hacker accepts the challenge.
Time is running out, Will, Kaylee, Rios and Salem decide to leave with the money. Kayla stays a little bit longer. Indeed, she needs the invitation for the auction. It is in Brenner’s pocket (they chloroformed him). It’s a punchcard made from gold !
Not seeing Kaylee following him makes Will impatient. He goes back inside the bank to get her.
Then, both of them get out to discover that Salem and Rios are not there anymore. The car is still there, the money too, in the boot, but Dive is dead, a bullet in his head.
Kaylee and Will decide to leave anyway, avoiding the cops. The night is falling (6:45pm), it is heavy raining.
Will decides to dump Dive’s body in the river, under a bridge. Kaylee tries to trace the Hacker location but fries her computer in the process.
The Hacker calls them back. He completed his challenge. Kayla and
Will accepts after agreeing on him helping them with their own problems :
Will wants the FBI agent off his back. Kayla wants her brother back. He
is detained by Leroi who used him to force Kaylee to participate in the
For Will, the situation is strange because according to Walker, the FBI agent, there is no operation from Leroi tonight.
Once all agree on the terms of the arrangement (the Hacker can help them but not solve their problem in their place), they need to stop by a safe house to get rid of the weapons they used, and get a new computer.
That’s what they will do for the next 30 minutes. First at Will safe
house then at an abandoned safe house located in a container.
This will be time for them to assess the situation : The person they need to extract is named Sun. She seems to be a friend of the Hacker. The person who run the slave ring is Elena. Not much is known about her except a short story of a guy who tried to cross her in the past found himself imprisonned and put on a slave boat to a middle east country.
Her right hand is named Lado.
The auction takes place in the Wards, an old district of Chicago full of abandoned factories. One of them hides Elena’s business. This is a low tech environment, based on trust. If you have the card, you can enter.
Before the characters reaches the factory, Kaylee receives a phone call from Leroi. He wants her to participate in a mission tonight. She tries to explain that she already finished the heist, which seems to make Leroi angry (‘Do I look like a guy who robs bank ?’). Kaylee and Will explain that they have information that can help him. Eventually, Leroy wants to meet them in one hour to clarify the situation, which gives them half an hour to extract Sun and half an hour to reach the rendez-vous point.
The characters reach the factory around 7:30pm. The parking is full
of luxury cars. They present their cards and Will is addressed as M
Brenner. Kayla will play his assistant.
The factory has been transformed into a VIP lounge / Night Club. Yachts are on display here and there, and on the far end of the place, a stage displays the slaves. A huge screen shows what are the bids on each of them.
Kaylee hacks into the cell phones of the guests. She creates confusion by stopping the bids.
The confusion brings Elena forward, and Lado to… and Leroi who seem to be a VIP here.
It also interrupts the ‘Carlisle Brothers’ from bidding on Sun (among others).
Kaylee and Will decide to act quickly, go backstage and get Sun. They
have to knock a guard down quietly, but when they find themselves
backstage, they realise that a few guards are there too !
Fortunately for them, a men enters from a service door and start shooting the guards !
Kaylee and Will don’t take long to act and get out of there. Will uses an adrenaline shot on Sun to make sure she can follow them.
Once they are out, Sun, still groggy tell them ‘to get the Mask’.The
evidence are there !’. Kaylee and Will do not understand, but it seems
to be really important to Sun.
Unfortunately, the mask is in Elena’s office upstairs, next to the VIP room !
They decide to go back anyway and at that moment, they also decide to double cross Leroi and Elena.
Their plan : To pretend that the Hacker used them to rob the bank and infiltrate them into the auction (against their will).
But since they are talented, they managed to find out where the Hacker is located and they can give this information to Leroi and Elena.
Once inside the ‘factory’, Kaylee keeps putting viruses into the
auction system to make sure that Elena is still under pressure. Indeed,
when they reach Leroi in the VIP room, they can see her in her office
scowling a guy who looks like his IT security expert.
Next to them, the Mask is placed on the desk !
Kaylee and Will explain the situation to Leroi. It seems that Leroi believe their lie, at least part of it, and enough to talk to Elena about it.
Kaylee decides to provoke a black out (use her Hack Point) in the
district. Once everything is dark she gets into the office, and steal
the mask. However she forgets her own cell phone on the desk !
Light comes back, Kaylee is back with Leroi and Will. She sees her cell phone ! But Will uses his own Hack point to ask the Hacker to fry the phone.
Then, Leroi takes them to Elena. She is willing to listen to their story and she too seems to believe them. Lado, on the contrary do not trust them. Anyway, Will and Kaylee propose to show the safe house where they believe the Hacker is.
In exchange, Kaylee asks Leroi to release her brother. He accepts, but it does not mean she won’t do the assignment he planned (that is supposed to take place later this night).
Will, Kaylee, Lado and 2 of Lado’s men drive to the hacker’s safe
house. They can see the computers, the getaway car, but except from a
few footprints (Will’s and Kaylee’s from earlier), nobody seems to have
stayed there for quite some time (a lot of dust on everything).
Lado does not trust the characters, but he is called back by Elena who want to move forward and conclude the auction ASAP.
The characters are left to themselves. Kayla gets her brother back, and the 3 of them leave the factory and the auction. They gave Sun a cell phone and let her get back to wherever she is supposed to go.
The Hacker thanks them. She (because it is a she) will help them
anyway she can. There a lot of wrongs to right is this city, and this is
her mission. Her code name is ‘Spider 0’.
Will and Kaylee already imagine how they can contribute to her network of vigilantes, the Frequency.
It is 9pm. The night has just started, the characters managed to buy some time but they are not out of the woods yet.
Already, the Carlisle brother are preparing to drive a group of slaves to the airport, where they will be sent to NY.
Leroi will summon Kaylee in a few hours for an assignment.
Walker will want some explanation from Will on the heist job.
And who was this guy who shot the guards earlier ? He is dead now, killed by Lado’s men, but Kaylee and Will believe he is related to some kids in the auction.
Finally, what was so important in Sun mask (that look terribly alike the character’s masks from the beginning of the scenario) ?
And where the hell are Salem and Rios ?