I recently purchased an RPG called The Operators that lets you play as Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne in a techno-spythriller. It was on Kickstarter in November 2017 by Samjoko Publishing, which I did not participate in however I came across it recently when I was checking out new RPGs out in the wild. The author, Kyle Simons is best known for his previous game, Worlds in Peril for bringing the comic book world to life that was based on the Apocalypse World system. Samjoko Publishing also has a cyberpunk game called The Veil, also using the Apocalypse World system.

There is a FREE Quickstart that can be downloaded here for those interested in seeing what the game is about.

What caught my attention was how it combines the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) with FATE systems with a custom deck of cards to add narrative elements creating something new and fresh. It uses the FATE dice to dictate success (using the + symbol) and to identify and complications that arise (using the - symbol) in a single roll mechanic. As I don’t play PbtA games, I can’t speak which parts of the system is in this game.

As for the game itself, it is highly focused in capturing the essence of action movies orgames like Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible, Rainbow Six where players take on the role of competent spies or agents of an organization of their choosing. They are bad-asses and overcome obstacles using their wits and gizmos. What really intrigued me was the use of custom cards to help narrate fight and chase scenes. As both a GM and player, I have encountered situations where it was difficult to narrate and capture the feel of players dishing out punishment to the bad guys like in the movies. With these cards, it gives me ideas and inspirations to help flesh out the fight scene just like in the movies. There are 81 fight cards and 18 chase cards available. The best part is these cards can be used for other games like Night’s Black Agents, Chronicles of Darkness, Tianxia: Blood & Smoke or practically any other high-octane game (which in my case, it will be my FATE based games).

Session 0, or the pre-game “talk” is where the GM and players get together to determine the kind of game they want to be in, including bringing images of locations, people to be both allies and antagonists, etc. This helps to frame the game in the minds of the GM and players alike.

Base Mechanic

The base mechanic for the game can be summed as follows

  1. Roll 4 FATE dice.
  2. Look for any plus (+) for player to succeed. The number of pluses needed is determined by the skill rating i.e. a skill rating of 1 needs 1 + to succeed, a skill rating of 2 needs 2 + and so forth. Hence, a lower numbered skill rating means a player is much better in it than a higher numbered one.
  3. Additional pluses beyond the target gives additional successes allowing them to be better at their task OR if using the advanced rules, allows them to create aspects that another player can take advantage of.
  4. Any minuses (-) that comes up means a complication has occured. There are 2 possibilities here

    • The player succeeds AND a complication arises
      • something unexpected happens and the player now has to deal with it. This does not negate the success, it just means the plan didn’t go out without a hitch.
    • They player fails AND a complication arises

It is important to remember that when a character fails at their task, it is not because they are incompetent but it’s because of one of the following

  • imperfect knowledge.
  • bad luck.
  • a competent opponent capable of challenging the players are about.

Character Creation

Character creation is a straight forward affair where a player chooses the following

  • Create a character concept with a background.
  • Assign
    • 5 skills at rating 1.
    • 4 skills at raint 2.
    • The rest of the skills are at rating 3.
  • Choose their specials. A special is what makes them especially awesome at what they do and unique amongst other agents.
    • Training - reroll ONE dice that shows a minus (-).
    • Discipline - reroll ANY dice that shows a blank ignoring any further minuses.
    • Trademark - MUST be from a skill that has a rating of 1 and provides an automatic success. This can only be done ONCE per session.
  • Describe the character’s inner turnmoil, which is a regret the character carries around.
  • Fill in the rest of the details like name, gender, etc.

Fight & Chase Cards

The fight cards only come out when players are encountering antagonists who are of their or greater level. The die roll mechanic is done by the player ONLY and immedicately indicates how much damage the player inflicts and takes. A quick summary of the fight mechanic is as follows

  1. Player draws 4 fight cards from the deck.
  2. Player rolls 4 FATE dice.
  3. Player assigns one die to each card.
  4. Place an additional fight card below any minuses, this reflects the counter-attack of the opponent.
  5. Arrange the cards as the player sees fit and narrate the fight from start to end, including the counter-attacks.
  6. Any plus (+) means the player has inflicted 1 stress on the opponent and a minus (-) indicates the player has suffered 1 stress.
  7. Repeat until someone flees or is taken out.

The damage track is similar to the FATE mechanic which includes stress boxes and consequences. Stress boxes are cleared when the character engages in their inner turnmoil. There is no clear explanation on how to clear consequences in the book but I can use the mechanism from FATE to do so. This I feel is a weakness as those not familar with FATE will be stuck here.

Chase scenes are done in a similar manner as above with a quick summary as follows

  1. Identify how many rounds a chase will last, as determined by the skill rating used for the chase that fits the fiction.
  2. Identify the number of successes needed to catch the lead, as determined by getting a number of pluses equal to or greater than the skill rating multiplied by 2 (skill rating * 2) within the number of rounds.
  3. Player draws 4 chase cards from the deck.
  4. Player rolls 4 FATE dice.
  5. Player assigns one die to each card.
  6. Player sums the number of successes and indicate how close they are to the lead or if they are being chased, how they manage to elude the pursuers.
  7. Repeat until the chase ends within the number of rounds, either in a success or failure.

Jobs & CLocks

Jobs are heists and plans characters may have during the course of the “movie”. Each job has its own clock and comes into play under the following conditions

  • is there a clear objective?
  • would the job require planning?

If both of these conditions are met, then the GM decides how many segments are needed on the clock, which starts at 1. The segments indicate how many things can go wrong on the Job before things go sideways for the characters. Each clock has a stake attached to it, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a threat.

Players can provide input on what obstacles may be encountered and each obstacle adds an additional segment. They should also explain how they came about this information to fit the fiction. For those familiar with the show Leverage, flashbacks help explain how the players are ready for any challenges that comes up during play.

Thoughts

Overall I really liked this book. While it does have alot of typos and errors, it did not detract me from the system itself. It gave me plenty of great ideas to better beef up my other games and the mechanics of the game itself definitely lends itself for high-octane games.

The author clearly mentioned that he will be using terms that are not defined and will be further elaborated later on. It wasn’t a show stopper but it will take a second reading to help flesh out parts I may have missed. The term touchstones, was not clearly explained and I had to fill it from my understanding based on Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition. I believe the term might have originated from PbtA, but I am unsure about it for now. I’ll have to ask those familiar with PbtA or get my hands on the rule book at a later date.

Despite these, I didn’t have much trouble with the game and I could easily see myself filling or changing parts of it using the standard FATE Accelerated or Core mechanics to help me out. However, I would have preferred the book to cover the necessary without assuming the GM or players will be familiar with FATE or PbtA.

The book also comes with TONS of references for idea backgrounds, military outfits, guns, spy tradecraft and hacking. The author obviously did his research into these as the tools and techniques he describes in the hacking section is based on real world, albeit outdated techniques. This gives the GM and players ideas on how to plan their heist or attack. Kudos to the author for this.

I’m most certainly using the Fight & Chase cards in my Chronicles of Darkness and Asian themed fantasy game using FATE to better help narrate the fights. As for this game itself, I will consider running a one-off when time permits, and after I’ve completed my other planned games.

The PDF for Operators can be purchased here while the cards themselves can be purchased here.

Note: I do not own the rights nor do I take credit for the images used in this post. They just help illustrate some of the points of this post.