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Sean Punch [userpic]

The Company

April 24th, 2012 (02:04 am)
current mood: geeky

We're skipping gaming this week, so I'm putting off the recap of our April 17 session until next weekend. That doesn't mean I can't post something sooner. It's time to play Rate That Agent! This exercise should be useful to my players for determining who to send to do what – and also to any readers curious about which characters in these adventures are best at what tasks.

This time around, I've come up with six broad areas of activity, each containing five narrower skill sets. All six major categories and the 30 minor ones they encompass are a bit arbitrary – as is my assessment as to which skill sets go with what kinds of activity. Still, there's a method to this madness, because I've grouped activities on the basis of traits that influence them in game terms (e.g., a common controlling attribute or Talent).

Likewise, the scoring is arbitrary in the sense that the algorithm is designed to give numbers between 0 and 10. However, the ratings are figured from character-point investments in relevant areas; they aren't eyeballed, and everybody's report card uses the same rules. Each +1 corresponds to a factor-of-two increase in versatility. This doesn't mean that +1 is the same as "twice as good" or "as capable as two other people." For those who like numbers, it's closer to saying that if an Agent scores N and you want to compare her to someone who scores M, the odds of N prevailing are close to 1/[1 + 2^(M-N)] .

Not all the scores have the same metric, so comparing unlike scores is a bit dodgy (not that this stops me!). For a task that depends on two or three things, it would be smartest to go with the person who rates highly in most or all of the relevant categories. That said, a person who really likes numbers could compare composites. As I used a base-2 log scale, the composite of a score of M and a score of N would be ugly: log(2^M + 2^N)/log 2. I'd just go by feel!


The essence of hands-on covert ops: avoiding or misleading guards and security measures to commit theft or sabotage. It's about getting in and out without arousing suspicion, and then typically either leaving with something important or leaving behind something unpleasant.

Skill Sets:

Deception: Lies, disguise, and impersonation – posing as someone you aren't and convincing others that you belong, typically to avoid apprehension while operating in plain sight. Who to bring: Anabel, and maybe Hamid. Who to leave at home: Klas, unless infiltrating the Swedish army.

Explosives & Arson: Blowing things up and burning things down. Who to bring: Wen, and maybe Vinnie if there's lots of stuff to break. Who to leave at home: Everybody else.

Illicit Entry: Defeating security measures other than human guards – alarms, dogs, doors, fences, locks, etc. – in order to gain entry to a secure location. Who to bring: Vinnie, plus Hamid or Jili for the electronic stuff. Who to leave at home: Anabel, Qoqa, and Wen.

Stealth: Moving silently, stalking people, and keeping both oneself and any suspicious equipment out of sight of others, typically to avoid apprehension by remaining undetected. Who to bring: Vinnie overall, though Klas and Lev are fine if there's concealment, Qoqa is handy for cleanup, and Zhang is good at not being heard. Who to leave at home: Paul, unless stalking people is all that's needed.

Theft: Snatching small, unsecured items off of desks, out of pockets, from within filing cabinets, and so on so cleverly that nobody sees you do it. Also includes the reverse: dropping off items undetected. Who to bring: Anabel. Who to leave at home: Everybody else.

Top Dog: Vinnie, who is good at breaking in, sneaking around, and blowing stuff up.

Weak Link: Paul, who was an honest cop, not a professional thief, spy, or commando (which shows).

Group Strength: Stealth. Pretty much everybody is above-average at not being seen or heard.

Group Weakness: Theft. Nobody but Anabel is any good at grabbing stuff without being seen doing it.


Punching, kicking, clubbing, stabbing, shooting, etc. It isn't just about good aim, though. Tactics and battlefield smarts are common element in the constituent skill sets, and thus have a fairly major influence on this category overall.

Skill Sets:

Firearms: Handling (not just shooting) firearms from pistols up to light machine guns, tossing hand grenades, and generally being able to identify and maintain such hardware. Who to bring: Lev in general, though Wen is a close second and deadlier with rifles. Who to leave at home: Hamid is a lover, not a fighter.

Heavy Weapons: Handling and maintaining anything bigger than a light machine gun, including heavy machine guns, flamethrowers, mortars, and missiles. Who to bring: Wen. Who to leave at home: Everybody else.

Melee Weapons: Fighting with batons, bayonets, knives, pepper spray, machetes, tonfas, etc. Who to bring: Vinnie, and maybe Lev if there are knives; Zhang if there are tonfas. Who to leave at home: Hamid and Jili.

Military: Practical soldiering, battlefield survival, and small-unit leadership and tactics. Who to bring: Lev as CO, with Klas as XO. Who to leave at home: Hamid, Jili, and Paul.

Unarmed: Unarmed striking and grappling, both standing and ground, along with using improvised weapons. Who to bring: Wen, with Paul a close second. Who to leave at home: Jili.

Top Dog: Wen, who can shoot anything from a pistol to a howitzer, and who's just as deadly unarmed.

Weak Links: Hamid and Jili, whose only saving graces are "not a weakling" and "can shoot a pistol."

Group Strength: Unarmed. Because the wages of failure are so high, almost everyone has a small investment here . . . and a few people have a huge investment.

Group Weakness: Heavy Weapons. That's probably a good thing for secret agents, as these aren't subtle.


How good a "classic spy" the Agent is: how much he or she knows and notices, the ability to analyze such things to guess the big picture, and the knack of not giving information to the enemy. This isn't just "high IQ and all that goes with it"; good senses and problem-solving skills more important.

Skill Sets:

Academics: General "brains," knowledge of humanities and sciences, and handiness with paperwork, research materials, and teaching others. Who to bring: Hamid and Jili, and maybe Anabel. Who to leave at home: Lev, Paul, and Vinnie.

Investigation: Finding and understanding clues and evidence, and analyzing their meaning. Who to bring: Paul, with Zhang for backup. Who to leave at home: Lev and Wen, unless the clues are in some poor sucker's chest cavity.

Mental Resistance: Standing up to torture, staring down fear, and avoiding the wages of drugs and booze. Who to bring: Qoqa, though Hamid is tougher than he looks. Who to leave at home: Anabel, Jili, Vinnie, and Zhang, however tough they talk.

Observation: Scouting, surveillance, and general situational alertness – both in terms of natural senses and trained ability. Who to bring: Paul, though Klas is almost as good. Who to leave at home: Vinnie.

World-Awareness: Practical knowledge of organizations, people, places, political situations, symbols, uniforms, etc. Who to bring: Anabel, who has been around, and perhaps Jili or Qoqa. Who to leave at home: Zhang.

Top Dogs: Paul, who is simply uncannily aware and good at finding and interpreting clues, and Qoqa, who has the across-the-board smarts of a Hannibal Lecter.

Weak Link: Vinnie, who's more a doer than a thinker.

Group Strength: Observation. Just above everybody is scarily perceptive, which isn't surprising for a bunch of spies.

Group Weakness: World-Awareness. Definitely a "needs work" area . . . it's surprising just how weak the Agents are at identifying various rivals and surveillance targets, and their bosses.


A broad look at ability in areas where a screw-up means a lethal fall, stepping on a mine, freezing to death, etc. You can't talk or sneak your way around gravity or hypothermia. Gear is useful here – but in a way, this number shows who would do best without technological assistance.

Skill Sets:

Outdoorsman: Athletics of the hiking, skiing, and swimming variety, along with survival basics. Who to bring: Klas, though Wen isn't a wimp. Who to leave at home: Hamid and Paul should stay at the pub.

Parkour: High-energy athletics – climbing, jumping, running, tumbling, and vaulting, usually with the goal of gaining entry or evading pursuit. Who to bring: Zhang, mainly, although Lev can manage. Who to leave at home: Hamid, Jili, Paul, and Vinnie are best seated behind computers or in cars.

Physical Resistance: The ability to survive wounds and function usefully while injured. Who to bring: Zhang, and Lev is surprisingly gritty, too. Who to leave at home: Sorry, Anabel, but you're a wimp.

Precision: Hand-eye coordination and general steadiness. If two Agents have equal Explosives & Arson, the one with higher Precision is the person you want disarming the bomb. Who to bring: Paul, Vinnie, and Zhang; Anabel has a steady hand, too. Who to leave at home: Everybody else, though nobody is exactly terrible.

Reflexes: Response time, in the sense of shooting first and reacting usefully to ambushes. Who to bring: Zhang is fastest, but Lev and Wen aren't much slower. Who to leave at home: Anabel.

Top Dog: Zhang, who is both the fittest team member and ridiculously agile.

Weak Links: Anabel and Hamid, who are soft city-folk, best left to brainy activities like talking and operating equipment.

Group Strength: Reflexes. The whole gang is rather on edge and prone to getting inside enemy decision loops.

Group Weakness: Outdoorsman. Until this improves, the Agents should stick to the city whenever possible.


Using and abusing people to acquire assistance, equipment, or information. An Agent who's good at this broad area can hold down a speaking role on a mission. One who's bad at it should stick to shooting or driving or pointing the directional microphone.

Skill Sets:

Charm: Raw looks and appeal. For simplicity, most people have 0, and anything better means being cut a lot of slack without having to manipulate anyone actively. Who to bring: Anabel, with Hamid a distant second (but a better choice if a man is needed). Who to leave at home: Lev, Pal, Qoqa, Vinnie, and Wen just aren't that exciting.

Equipment Procurement: Finding, purchasing, and ensuring delivery of equipment – usually but not always that of the less-than-legal variety. Who to bring: Vinnie, though Anabel will do if it's a shopping trip. Who to leave at home: Lev.

Information Extraction: Not just interrogation and outright torture, but also reading people passively, even from afar. Who to bring: Qoqa, with Anabel as her beautiful assistant. Who to leave at home: Hamid, Jili, Lev, and Wen.

Languages: Mainly reading, writing, speaking, and understanding languages – but also identifying them, and tricks like faking accents. Who to bring: Anabel in general, or Hamid or Qoqa in certain cases. Who to leave at home: Vinnie and Zhang ("Speak white!").

Social Engineering: Actively manipulating others into assisting and making it seem like it was their idea. Who to bring: Anabel, and perhaps Hamid. Who to leave at home: Wen, unless she can use a gun for persuasion.

Top Dog: Anabel, who's by far the best-adjusted and most culturally adaptable Agent in the team and indeed in the whole Company.

Weak Link: Lev, whose social skills start and end with shouting orders and threats.

Group Strength: Languages. The team has a prodigious number of languages at its disposal, and is well-suited to going almost everywhere.

Group Weakness: Information Extraction. Without Qoqa, prisoners are hostages and nothing more.


Support roles, usually meaning "operating specialized equipment." This is the least-coherent overall rating, as equipment differs so much . . . but it's safe to say that the higher-tech the assignment, the more important this area becomes.

Skill Sets:

Computers: Dealing with the digital world, especially "hacking" and cracking encryption. Who to bring: Jili, with Hamid for backup. Who to leave at home: Klas, Lev, Paul, and Qoqa all lose at Tetris.

Electronics: Operating and maintaining electronic instrumentation, primarily for communications, surveillance, and counter-surveillance purposes. Who to bring: Hamid, with Jili for backup. Who to leave at home: Lev, Paul, and Qoqa can't save numbers on their phone.

Media: Producing and manipulating recordings of all sorts, from drawings, through photos, to videos, but also including audio and other records. Who to bring: Wen, this being her main non-violent area, with Hamid as minimal backup. Who to leave at home: Klas, Lev, Qoqa, and Zhang.

Medical: Patching up injuries in the field, resuscitation, and more serious work with a knife as time allows. Who to bring: Qoqa, mainly, perhaps with Klas as a nurse. Who to leave at home: Anabel, Hamid, Vinnie, and Zhang.

Vehicles: Operating and maintaining vehicles of all varieties. Higher scores here more often mean "lots of sorts" than "huge skill," although really high scores can mean both. Who to bring: Vinnie, with Hamid as navigator. Who to leave at home: Wen, unless it involves a skateboard.

Top Dogs: Hamid and Jili, who are legendary at almost anything high-tech.

Weak Link: Zhang, who doesn't have much use for gizmos more advanced than a climbing line.

Group Strength: Vehicles. It's safe to assume that getting from A to B will rarely be a problem.

Group Weakness: Media. Messing with records another area where the team needs a bit more work.


The group's strongest area is Physical, which isn't really a surprise – these are people who scale cliffs and high-rise buildings on a regular basis, and who have survived dozens of deadly fights. Even the wimps! The group's weakest area is Clandestine, because while everybody can sneak around well enough, the team counts on its experts to do all the other tasks on the list, rather than aiming to ensure that everybody is adequate at the subtle stuff. The all-round most capable Agents are Vinnie and Wen, with Anabel, Qoqa, and Zhang only marginally less able. Everybody else is just a little below that, and Paul is the team newbie.

Reading the Chart

Under each character's name is his or her numerical score in each of the 30 skill sets, plus a composite score for each of the six broad areas these fit into. At the very bottom is an overall composite rating. A green cell means that somebody is the top expert in that area, a yellow one indicates the runner-up, and red denotes the least-adept person in that area.

The "TOTAL" column shows the group's composite ratings in each skill set and broad area. For the six broad areas, green, yellow, and red indicate the group's strongest, second-strongest, and weakest showing as a team. With each broad area, green, yellow, and red indicate the group's strongest, second-strongest, and weakest skill sets within that specific area.


Posted by: Sean Punch (dr_kromm)
Posted at: April 25th, 2012 06:35 am (UTC)

I'm not sure I'd have gone that far . . . I pretty much limited myself to the top two or three skill sets so that I could get the job done in a couple of hours. Nobody has Charisma (oddly) – but, say, Smooth Operator got split up among Charm, Deception, and Social Engineering, because most of its uses would be in those areas.

Oh, and note that I'm not using "skill sets" here to mean actual skills at all. Advantages, perks, and other non-skill bits got tossed into raw categories in many cases. At least a couple of these "skill sets" are mostly advantages; e.g., Physical Resistance soaked up Fit, Hard to Kill, High Pain Threshold, etc.

Posted by: whswhs (whswhs)
Posted at: April 25th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)

Well, I've tried a very quick and dirty version on the five PCs for Worminghall, who only have a few skills each, as they're built on 75 base points.

Adda (a big, strong Welsh boy): 6.21 (academics 2.32, athletics 1.00, combat 3.17, magic 4.70, practical 0.00, social 3.46, wealth 4.39)
Alex (a boy raised by dragons in the remote mountains): 6.04 (academics 2.32, athletics 3.17, combat 2.58, magic 4.25, practical 1.00, social 2.58, wealth 4.39)
Matthew (a servant's bastard, attending as a charity boy): 5.78 (academics 2.32, athletics 1.00, combat 1.00, magic 4.75, practical 2.32, social 3.91, wealth 0.00)
Nicholas (the bookish fourth son of an English knight): 6.07 (academics 2.81, athletics 1.00, combat 1.00, magic 4.95, practical 0.00, social 2.58, wealth 4.39)
Rhys (a small, hyperactive Welsh boy, and Adda's cousin): 6.07 (academics 2.81, athletics 1.00, combat 1.58, magic 4.75, practical 0.00, social 3.00, wealth 4.39)

Adda stands out as the most useful overall, but he only really excels at combat, though he's second best at social. Matthew is the least useful, but he has more social and practical than anyone else; what he's bad at is the aristocratic métiers. The other three are all essentially equal. Alex is particularly good at athletic activities, and is second best at combat; Nicholas is best at magic; Rhys isn't uniquely good at anything.

Overall, the characters are best at magic and wealth, both in the 6s, followed by social, in the 5s; they're worst at practical tasks, down in the 3s, and would be totally pathetic if they didn't have Matthew.

This is kind of a neat approach, if you have a couple of hours to fiddle.

Posted by: Sean Punch (dr_kromm)
Posted at: April 25th, 2012 08:15 pm (UTC)

As I noted, it's nicely numerical, even if it isn't terribly scientific! The arbitrariness of divisions that matter is where the hand-waving and faith come in. On the other hand, the fact that you can choose whatever categories you like, and fit them to activities that truly matter to the campaign, makes it flexible (even Fudge-like). I happen to like the log-of-points approach, too, because it flattens things out into a small range which is easily converted to "dots" or "levels" in other games. Tinkering with the number of skill sets and the log base could let you match just about anything to anything else . . . although as we've both identified, one does need to have a few hours for it.

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