Skills and Background Packages

Investigative Skills (24 points)

Academic

  • Accounting
  • Archaeology
  • Architecture
  • Art History
  • Criminology
  • Diagnosis
  • Geology
  • History
  • Human Terrain
  • Languages
  • Law
  • Military Science
  • Occult Studies
  • Research
  • Vampirology

Interpersonal

  • Bullshit Detector
  • Bureaucracy
  • Cop Talk
  • Flattery
  • Flirting
  • High Society
  • Interrogation
  • Intimidation
  • Negotiation
  • Reassurance
  • Streetwise
  • Tradecraft

Technical

  • Astronomy
  • Chemistry
  • Cryptography
  • Data Recovery
  • Electronic Surveillance
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Forgery
  • Notice
  • Outdoor Survival
  • Pharmacy
  • Photography
  • Traffic Analysis
  • Urban Survival

General Abilities (70 points)

  • Athletics
  • Conceal
  • Cover
  • Digital Intrusion
  • Disguise
  • Driving
  • Explosive Devices
  • Filch
  • Gambling
  • Hand-to-hand
  • Hypnosis
  • Infiltration
  • Mechanics
  • Medic
  • Network
  • Piloting
  • Preparedness
  • Sense Trouble
  • Shooting
  • Shrink
  • Surveillance
  • Weapons

Background packages

Backgrounds are simply suggested packages of abilities; they come with no feats, exclusive class skills, bonuses, or discounts. They’re shorthand for what you used to do in your old life, and what you’ll likely be doing most of in an operation. Mix and match; pick one, two, none, whatever works for your character concept.

Each Background package costs (and contains) 6 points worth of Investigative abilities and 18 points worth of General abilities.

  • Analyst: You put it all together.
  • Asset Handler: You use people in the field.
  • Bagman: You handle the money.
  • Bang-and-burner: You blow it up.
  • Black Bagger: You break and enter.
  • Cleaner: You erase your traces.
  • Cobbler: You provide papers.
  • Cuckoo: You pretend you’re someone else.
  • Hacker: You crack it.
  • Investigator: You figure it out.
  • Medic: You heal yours; you work on theirs.
  • Mule: You get it across the border.
  • Muscle: You hit it.
  • Watcher: You keep eyes on target.
  • Wet Worker: You kill it.
  • Wheel Artist: You drive it.
  • Wire Rat: You build it.

No Backgrounds are exclusive to any given agency, patron, or employer: although the IRA (for example) is quite likely to have had bang-and-burners and leg-breaking muscle in its employ, such rude types can be found in the ranks of everyone from the FSB to Mossad. That said, each writeup gives some specific examples to spark player creativity. In many cases, the writeup contains some alternate abilities to swap out as a means of customizing your agent, or as recommendations for what to buy more points in further on in the character creation process. Keep in mind that buying more than 2 or 3 points in an Investigative ability is a fairly dramatic expenditure.

Analyst

Almost all modern spy work involves sifting through the immense amount of data available to come to some kind of useful conclusion. Much of this information isn’t classified or stolen, or even picked up by satellites: newspapers, periodicals, and the Internet provide oceans of raw open-source intelligence (OSINT) that a good analyst can turn into useful product for their government. An analyst might also work for a university, newspaper, or strategic-studies think tank, either under cover or simply providing government-quality intelligence to the private sector Analysts have good minds for pattern matching; this might manifest in mathematical ability, musical creativity, or just low-level paranoia.

Specific examples: MI5 threat analyst, Deutche Bank econometrician, European Parliament staffer, deputy CIA station chief, journalist for Dagens Nyheter, French Air Force operational analyst.

Investigative abilities: Data Recovery 1, Languages 2, Research 1, Traffic Analysis 2
Alternates: Accounting, Bureaucracy, Criminology, History, Human Terrain, Military Science

General abilities: Digital Intrusion 2, Network 5, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 5, Surveillance 3
Alternates: Gambling

Asset Handler

Intelligence agencies get human intelligence (HUMINT) from all manner of sources, willing and coerced, knowing and duped. These sources are called “assets”, and the agent who keeps them all supplying intel is their “runner” or “handler”. Asset handlers have to juggle carrots and sticks, avoid getting involved with their assets’ lives while solving their problems, and always keep an eye out for more potential recruits. Since they actually have to meet their assets on occasion, they have to be better than average at avoiding surveillance.

Specific Examples: CIA or MI6 case officer, SVR “journalist” under cover, Italian ROS major running Mafia snitches, French DRM intelligence officer monitoring warlord activity in Bosnia.

Investigative abilities: Bullshit Detector 2, Intimidation 2, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1
Alternates: Flattery, Flirting, Human Terrain, Tradecraft

General abilities: Cover 3, Sense Trouble 5, Shrink 4, Surveillance 6
Alternates: Conceal, Disguise

Bagman

In the immortal words of Deep Throat, “Follow the money.” Clandestine operations and criminal organizations both depend on flows of untraceable cash, either electronically or in the good old-fashioned metal briefcase. Either way, the bagman’s watchwords are “keep it secret, keep it safe.”

Specific examples: Iranian VEVAK terrorist paymaster, American OTFI agent monitoring SWIFT transactions in Switzerland, FSB obshchak (“book-keeper”) collecting tribute from Russian mafiya rings, Camorra money launderer in Monaco.

Investigative abilities: Accounting 2, Bullshit Detector 2, Intimidation 1, Negotiation 1
Alternates: Data Recovery

General abilities: Conceal 4, Digital Intrusion 3, Sense Trouble 6, Surveillance 5
Alternates: Disguise

Bang-and-Burner

“Bang and burn” jobs involve sabotage, usually through demolitions or arson. This skill set translates with unnerving ease to EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) and arson investigation. Bang-and-burners set and disable everything from booby traps to car bombs to ship-scuttling charges.

Specific examples: IRA or ETA bomb-builder, Albanian mafia arsonist, Polish Army combat engineer, Special Branch bomb disposal expert.

Investigative abilities: Architecture 2, Chemistry 2, Criminology 1, Intimidation 1
General abilities: Conceal 4, Explosive Devices 8, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 4

Black Bagger

A “black bag job” is FBI slang for a breaking-and-entry intrusion, usually intended to copy (or steal) documents or plant bugs or wiretaps. British spies often call break-in artists “box men,” a term originating in Victorian criminal slang. By any name, it’s burglary.

Specific examples: Cat burglar on the Riviera, Bundespolizei museum security specialist,
DGSE or Mossad covert entry specialist, NSA contractor

Investigative abilities: Data Recovery 1, Electronic Surveillance 2, Photography 2, Streetwise 1
Alternates: Architecture, Notice

General abilities: Conceal 2, Digital Intrusion 2, Filch 6, Infiltration 8
Alternates: Preparedness

Cleaner

The cleaner removes evidence of covert activity from the scene. Sometimes that evidence is just fingerprints or surveillance tapes; sometimes, it’s bloodstains or corpses. This Background, especially, combines well with others; it’s a good, useful skill set for any covert operative. A cleaner’s abilities also come in handy when removing a living person from the scene, either willingly or involuntarily in “hostile extractions.”

Specific examples: FSB mole in the Interior Ministry, Special Branch security operative, Camorra-connected trucking supervisor in Naples, Bulgarian NIS officer handling “renditions” for the CIA

Investigative abilities: Bureaucracy 2, Cop Talk 1, Criminology 2, Urban Survival 1
Alternates: Chemistry, Data Recovery, Electronic Surveillance, Notice, Streetwise

General abilities: Conceal 6, Disguise 2, Driving 4, Explosive Devices 2, Infiltration 2, Stability 2
Alternates: Digital Intrusion

Cobbler

In British spy lingo, the cobbler makes “shoes” — false passports, visas, identity documents, and so forth. In an increasingly digital age, it’s good to see solid hand-craftsmanship rewarded. These abilities also point toward counterfeiting, or any sort of image or document manipulation, as well as toward stopping such behaviors.

Specific examples: MI6 or SVR documentation expert, Nigerian facilitator for human traffickers, Interpol document-security officer, Italian Guardia di Finanza customs inspector.

Investigative abilities: Bureaucracy 1, Forgery 4, Photography 1
Alternates: Cryptography

General abilities: Cover 6, Digital Intrusion 4, Disguise 2, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 2

Cuckoo

The cuckoo lays its eggs in another bird’s nest, convincing the stranger to raise its chicks. Agents with this Background specialize in social infiltration; they may be “face men,” long-con grifters, or former moles or sleepers planted in an enemy agency or society by their patron. This Background blends very well with Asset Handler.

Specific examples: CIA deep cover agent of influence, SVR “swallow” trained to lure Western men into “honey traps,” BND-sponsored journalist, Iranian VEVAK agent monitoring
dissident expats, scoundrel preying on lonely hearts in the Greek islands, MI6 “talent spotter” looking for foreign targets vulnerable to blackmail or recruitment.

Investigative abilities: Flattery or Flirting 2, High Society 2, Reassurance 2
Alternates: Human Terrain, Streetwise

General abilities: Cover 3, Disguise 8, Filch 2, Gambling 3, Sense Trouble 2

Hacker

The 21st-century box man does his breaking and entering over fiberoptic cable and wireless networks. A clandestine-ops hacker alters data as well as steals it, suborning systems rather than crashing them. Real-world hacking depends at least as much on social engineering — working on human weaknesses — as it does on cybernetic savvy and l337 coding skillz. This Background combines particularly well with the Analyst, the Black Bagger, or the Wire Rat.

Specific examples: Ukrainian industrial espionage contractor, GCHQ codes-and-signals “wrangler,” Swiss bank financial security specialist, IDF Unit 8200 cyberwarfare programmer, freelance American computer security specialist

Investigative abilities: Cryptography 1 (free from 8+ in Digital Intrusion), Data Recovery 2, Electronic Surveillance 2, Traffic
Analysis 1, Urban Survival 1
Alternates: Accounting, Bureaucracy, Forgery, Human Terrain, Reassurance

General abilities: Digital Intrusion 10, Disguise 2, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 4
Alternates: Network

Investigator

This is the straightforward, meat-and-potatoes sort of agent: given a problem, he tries to solve it. Sometimes that involves calling in the law or backup; sometimes it involves calling in a wet worker to “resolve” it; sometimes it involves calling in a Predator drone to really, really “resolve” it. Many investigators are reactive rather than proactive: counter-terror, counterintelligence, counter-organized crime.

Specific examples: MI5 or FSB field agent, French National Police inspector, Italian special anti-Mafia magistrate’s officer, Triad fixer

Investigative abilities: Bureaucracy 1, Cop Talk 1, Interrogation 1, Law 1, Notice 2
Alternates: Criminology, Intimidation, Streetwise

General abilities: Disguise 2, Hand-to-Hand 6, Infiltration 2, Sense Trouble 2, Surveillance 6
Alternates: Athletics, Driving, Shooting

Medic

It’s not just about the healing, although it’s mostly about that. It’s also about the truth serum administering, or the talking agents out of (or into) collapsing, or the spotting viral-biological threats before they hit the headlines, or the figuring out just what killed all those Triad thugs.

Specific examples: Scotland Yard forensic pathologist, CIA “shrinker” or MI6 “inquisitor”, GSG 9 trauma medic, Paris or Naples EMT, US Navy corpsman, WHO or Médecins Sans
Frontières hematologist, Russian Army biological warfare specialist

Investigative abilities: Bullshit Detector 2 (includes free 1 point from 8+ in Shrink), Chemistry 1, Diagnosis 2 (includes free 1 point from 8+ in Medic), Forensic Pathology 1,
Interrogation 1, Pharmacy 1
Alternates: Human Terrain, Languages, Reassurance

General abilities: Medic 10, Shrink 8
Alternates: Driving, Health, Stability

Mule

A mule specializes in taking things from one side of a border to another: drugs, girls, fellow agents, antiquities, defectors, stolen cars, a mysterious silver briefcase, you name it. Many mules are part of a long family line of smugglers, especially in the clan-riven Balkans and Middle East; others are part of a wide network of criminals organized along vaguely ethnic lines. Still others work for specific agencies at specific border crossings; a few have good enough cover to get them across multiple borders multiple times. This Background combines well with Watcher to create a “tourist” or “lamplighter,” a long-term surveillance artist assigned to a highly mobile, high-value target.

Specific examples: Serbian human trafficker for the Naša Stvar, bent Spanish SVA customs officer, Israeli mafia Ecstasy smuggler, SVR “oil engineer” under commercial cover, bent Louvre art restorer, MI6 “bride” courier taking documents to an agent in a denied area.

Investigative abilities: Bureaucracy 1, Forgery 1, Negotiation 2, Outdoor Survival or Urban Survival 1, Streetwise 1
Alternates: Archaeology, Art History

General abilities: Conceal 8, Driving 4, Piloting 2, Surveillance 4
Alternates: Cover

Muscle

Security and intelligence agencies usually use ex-military types for bodyguarding, general guarding, and the occasional “put the fear of Sarkozy into them” type mission, or to run interference on ops where the other side will be heavily armed and ready to throw down. Military intelligence agencies don’t even have to go as far as ex-military types.

Specific examples: GRU or Carabineri NCO, ex-Bundeswehr mercenary in Bosnia, ex-Spetsnaz bodyguard for the Tverskaya Bratva, DGSE “Active,” MI6 “scalphunter,” CIA
paramilitary asset, FSB “nursemaid” for potential defectors

Investigative abilities: Interrogation 1, Intimidation 1, Military Science 2, Outdoor
Survival or Urban Survival 2

General abilities: Athletics 6, Hand-to-Hand 8, either Shooting or Weapons 4
Alternates: Explosive Devices, Sense Trouble

Watcher

Also called an “eyeball,” a watcher usually comes out of counter-intelligence, and specializes in surveillance. Although electronic options are ever improving, the integrated system of shoe leather and retina still works more reliably and flexibly than any other. Watchers hang out in the generic-looking van down the street, maintain foot or rolling coverage, set up “picket coverage” to monitor choke points, and ideally keep the target in a “floating box” with watchers on all sides. This background cross-trains well with Muscle, amplifies Wire Rat or Investigator, and (added to Wet Worker) makes a good cinematic assassin.

Specific examples: MI5 or FSB “pavement artists,” Camorra “nightingale” lookout, Cannes or Berlin paparazzo, private detective

Investigative abilities: Electronic
Surveillance 2 (includes the free 1 point from 8+ in Surveillance), Notice 1, Photography 2, Tradecraft 1, Urban Survival 1
Alternates: Architecture, Human Terrain, Streetwise, Traffic Analysis

General abilities: Disguise 2, Infiltration 2, Driving 4, Surveillance 10
Alternates: Athletics, Conceal, Digital Intrusion

Wet Worker

The charmers in the KGB’s old Special Bureau 13 coined the term mokroye delo (“wet work”) to refer to assassinations. Neither the term nor the task is exclusive to the Russians: even agencies legally restricted from carrying out assassinations and executive murders hire plausibly deniable cut-outs to do it for them.

Specific examples: GSG 9 sniper, FSB or Mossad assassin, Camorra hit man, IRA “hard boy.”

Investigative abilities: Intimidation 2, Streetwise 2, Urban Survival 2
Alternates: Criminology, Electronic Surveillance, Photography

General abilities: Either Shooting or Weapons 10, Hand-to-Hand 4, Surveillance 4
Alternates: Disguise, Explosive Devices, Infiltration, Special Weapons Training (special skill)

Wheel Artist

Defensive, security, and stunt driving courses are not entirely uncommon, in Europe or America. Europe also has thriving motor sports, film, and kidnapping industries, all of which produce excellent drivers. While the dedicated “wheel man” is more usual in criminal conspiracies than intelligence ops, clandestine missions likewise depend on speedy exits when they don’t go entirely as planned. This Background is a double threat with Watcher or Mule.

Specific examples: Union Corse car thief, DGSE “Action Division” driver, U.S. Diplomatic Security driver, Deutsche Bank-provided chauffeur

Investigative abilities: Cop Talk 2, Streetwise 2, Urban Survival 2
Alternates: Electronic Surveillance

General abilities: Driving 10, Mechanics 4, Piloting 4
Alternates: Sense Trouble, Surveillance

Wire Rat

In the clandestine world technical experts, as distinct from hackers, are almost always “nuts and bolts” electronics specialists, with a side of metal shop. Building bugs or guns into innocuous objects is another wire rat specialty in spy thrillers, as is general gadgeteering. This Background works well not only combined with the Hacker but with the Black Bagger: cutting alarms and cameras is the first half of breaking and entering. It supercharges Bang-and-Burners and Watchers.

Specific examples: GRU or DGSE comms expert, Interpol security systems consultant, Metropolitan Police CCTV installer, MI6 bugsweeping “ferret,” Mossad technical services officer, USIA radio engineer.

Investigative abilities: Chemistry 1, Data Recovery 2, Electronic Surveillance 2, Notice 1
Alternates: Architecture, Photography

General abilities: Conceal 3, Digital Intrusion 2, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 6, Preparedness 5
Alternates: Explosive Devices, Surveillance

Skills and Background Packages

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