Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let's Talk About ... Agents of S.W.I.N.G.

Alternate cover image taken from the author's DeviantArt page.
Let's talk about a fun little game called Agents of S.W.I.N.G. It came out from Postmortem Studios and was written by James Desborough (you may have heard of him). I'm writing this review because because this is a cool little game that deserves the attention, and because James is a creator who also deserves the attention. Now, I'm not a fan of everything that Postmortem does, but I am a fan of this game.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. uses a Fate 3.0 hack at its core, but unlike many other of the contemporary Fate hacks, this version is a bit more streamlined than what you are going to find in other third party builds. Don't let that 344 pages on the RPGNow fool you because Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a digest-sized book, unlike the letter-sized books that the other Fate hacks have been. If Agents had been done in a letter size it would have been a much slimmer book.

James shows an understanding of the underlying concepts and mechanics of the Fate rules when he digs in and streamlines the mechanics to get to what he wants to do with them. I'll get back to that in just a bit because I want to talk about the setting, and then get back to how the rules make this setting work. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a solid game that everyone who enjoys cinematic, fast-paced espionage gaming should own.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a game of Swinging 60s British Spy-Fi television and movies.Shows like The Avengers, The Man From UNCLE, Danger Man and The Prisoner are the basis of this game. For those who might not know about Spy-Fi, Wikipedia gives a nice definition:
It often uses a secret agent (solo or in a team) or superspy whose mission is a showcase of science fiction elements such as technology and ideas used for extortion, plots for world domination or world destruction, futuristic weapons, gadgets and fast vehicles that can travel on land, fly, or sail on or under the sea. Spy-fi does not necessarily present espionage as it is practiced in reality. It is escapist fantasy that emphasizes glamour, adventure and derring-do.
This isn't a game, or setting of gritty espionage, like the current James Bond movies or the spate of Bourne movies, but one that embraces the pulpiness of the genre. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a game where John Drake can rub elbows with the Doctor and go off and fight Communist tyranny. In fact, if you look closely at the extensive collection of NPCs in the book you might just find analogues for both of those characters. There is even plenty of support for the Sci-Fi gadgetry that is so important to this genre.

Then we get to Fate. As we all know, Fate 3.0 is the engine that was built for Evil Hat's Spirit of the Century game, a high-flying game of pulp adventure, that has been adapted to be used for everything from urban fantasy to space opera to traditional fantasy games. The inherent pulpiness of Fate makes it a great match for this genre. James then streamlines and customizes the rules in his build, to make the rules fit into the concepts of Spy-Fi even better. One of the fundamental (to me) changes is the change to the adjective ladder of Fate. Fate (and the Fudge rules from which it is derived) is built around the concept of the adjective ladder as both a tool for descriptions and as the core resolution mechanic. This is the adjective ladder used in Agents of S.W.I.N.G.:
+8: Out of sight
+7: Far out
+6: Fab
+5: Groovy
+4: Neat
+3: Solid
+2: Hip
+1: Cool
+0: Yawn
-1: Bent
-2: Crummy
-3: Bummer
James cooked the Swinging 1960s London right into the core of the system. This is a good thing, because the rules help to reinforce the mindset of the setting and pull the players both into the setting and their characters. Each time you roll the dice in Agents of S.W.I.N.G. you are sucked into thinking like someone in Swinging London.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. introduces a point-buy system to Fate that does away with pyramids and extensive stunts and perquisites. The point buy system for Skills in this game is particularly good (and time saving). Something that I plan to use should I run another Fate game myself. Basically, what James does is make each rank worth a point (so a skill purchased at Hip costs 2 points and a skill purchased at Groovy costs 5 points) and then gives starting characters 20 points with which to purchase skills. You can get a surprisingly adept character out of this method, which I am sure was the point. Stunts are similarly broken down and streamlined.

Does Agents of S.W.I.N.G. do the job of capturing the feel that it is going for? I think so. The choice of the Fate system was a good fit for this system, and the further customizations to it by James help to reinforce this. Fate embraces the swinging pulpiness of the setting and at the same time enforces the setting in the minds of the players.

I cannot recommend strongly enough that people buy this game. Am I doing this review for political reasons? Absolutely, but not for the reasons that some may think. When creators are censored or pressured into making games out of political pressure that is ultimately not good for gaming in the long run. People cannot design if they are constantly looking over their shoulder, which is what happens in an environment of anger and hate. Once one publisher or designer crumbles, it is only a matter of time before the mobs move on to something else that they don't like, using their anger and fear as a justification to stifle further creativity.

Keep in mind that, should you decide to comment, this is not a public venue. It is my blog and my rules. I will allow, disallow and delete whatever comments that I want. The Thumper rule is in effect: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.