Starting the Agent

I have a bit of a cheat for the playbook I’m planning, because I am basically designing it with a specific player in mind. This means I have an audience of one, which is handy, but more importantly, I’m know the player in question desires a certain style and tone, so I can build to that.

The goal can be best summarized as “Guys who go ‘swoosh’”. The stealthy, sneaky guy who steps out of the shadows with secret knowledge and something unpleasantly pointy. Closest archetype is probably the spy, albeit through a kind of Walsingham-meets-Rochefort sort of lens. And from my perspective, that gives me a lot to work with.

So, I’m going to start from a name: I’m going to call this the Agent. And per my own model, the Agent should be able to:

  • Swoosh in and out Stealthily
  • Serve a mysterious patron
  • Draw on that patron’s resources
  • Know interesting things
  • Show up in unexpected places

The first and the last could probably be better summarized as “Come and go mysteriously”, but I’m keeping “swoosh” separate for purely stylistic reasons.

Now, before I continue, I want to give a nod to a wonderful paper on designing playbooks by Alex Norris that Tim Franzke was kind enough to point me at. It’s very practical, nuts and bolts stuff, and absolutely serves as a valuable checklist in this process. In fact, I’m going to take my first cue from this and think about stats. Practically, you want two primary stats, and it’s a fair question which to use for this.

Dexterity seems a gimme. This is definitely in the thief-y space, and swooshing certainly seems like its dex based. Trickier is the second stat: Intelligence or Wisdom? Knowledge and secrets both figure heavily in this, but those could equally easily be perception or lore. [1] It more or less comes down to a coin flip, and I think I’m going to go with INT, partly because DEX/WIS seems super common, but I’ll bear this decision in mind, especially when I get to designing advanced moves.

Damage and Hit Points are pretty straightforward, modeled after the thief. D8 damage and Con + 6 HP. No problem.

Which leaves the five big buckets: Alignment, Race, Starting moves, advanced moves and Bonds. We’ll hold of on advanced moves for a bit, so let’s start with Alignment, since that’s the easiest.

Right off the bat, I want a neutral option, for the no-ethos, it’s just business type. And, in fact, as I think about the idea of the Agent working for someone else, I find myself liking the idea of including Lawful and Chaotic options, but no good or evil. That suggests:

  • Lawful – See to it that a matter is brought to the proper authorities
  • Neutral – Sacrifice another value for expedience
  • Chaotic – Disrupt the workings of a team, group or organization

Now, it’s important that each of those would not be hard to come up in play. Lawful is straightforward – call the cops, deliver a report to the Viceroy, drop a bound and gagged criminal at the watch precinct (I’m batman!). Easy peasy. Chaotic might be a bit tricker, but so long as the players are working against a group (which is often) there should be opportunities for this – take out a sentry, disrupt communications, take out a leader. No biggee. Neutral basically demands that the character make the occasional hard choice, and the dice should provide for that. I do wonder if it could be stated a bit more clearly, since on some level it’s really “Be an asshole for the sake of the mission”, but I think the intent comes through.

Thinking about it, I realize I want to hold off on Race until after I’ve done basic moves, since I feel like there may be some resonance to play with there – I’m not 100% sure yet what differentiates a elf agent from a human one. Which means tomorrow, we start with those moves.


  1. Technically, I could make Int and Wis the top two, but even if that didn’t interfere with the swooshing, that is a hard thing to do with a character who doesn’t have spells or something similar to take up the slack. I admit, this is a reason that I keep looking long and hard at the way the d20 version of Game of Thrones handled attack bonuses (that is – they gave none, but you could pick a stat with a feat). That (and my concerns with Discern Realities) are, however, subjects for their own post.  ↩

7 thoughts on “Starting the Agent

  1. fredhicks

    I love this! I’m gonna offer a few critiques but I think it’s important to say first that I’m already engaged.

    I’d almost certainly call this the Spy because I think that gives it a little more momentum than Agent (which sounds more passive and subservient to me), but that’s of course up to you. With “Spy” I get more of a sense of the character prying into things where they’re not supposed to be, and that might give you an additional axis of theme that you’re not necessarily exploring given the theme elements as stated.

    Neutral is … hm. I think your “asshole” statement would be a lot clearer to me as a player than what’s given. What exactly is expedience? Do I have a list of “other values” so I know what I might be sacrificing? What if it’s “sacrifice a person or resource in order to better pursue your mission” instead?

    Reply
    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      The moves may end up tipping the scale on the name. I’m thinking a bit about mechanizing the idea of having a patron and some resources that go with that. If it works well, then I think Agent stands, but if it’s not compelling, I think you’re right. And as I think, Spy might be the DEX/WIS version – more information gathering focus. Hmmm.

      Yeah, I think I might be better off just putting the asshole statement in the Neutral description.

      Reply
      1. fredhicks

        Yeah, I hear you there. The INT version can “Spout Lore” or whatever about all sorts of things because he has superior, heh, intelligence resources to draw on. That doesn’t mean he’s gone out and gathered that info, but his patron sure as hell has people who have.

        But if you wanted to keep the INT, you could establish a drift by way of a Move that lets you Discern Realities with INT in certain circumstances.

        Reply
  2. Brandes Stoddard

    Okay, seriously, if you’re not getting a little cash on the side from DW’s Marketing department, you should be, because your techniques are successful in at least one niche demographic. =)

    Which is to say, I’m really enjoying your DW posts.

    Reply

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