Once again DwD Studios manages to wow me with the simplicity and elegance of a game. Using the same system from Barebones Fantasy, Covert Ops takes on the espionage genre and delivers maximum fun for minimum complexity.
Covert Ops is an excellent beginner game in the sense that the mechanics are easy enough to understand and teach so that even a new player with no experience with rpgs, but a good handle on the espionage genre can get in on the fun with a minimum of fuss.
One other thing to note is that the Covert Ops product has a whole bunch of pdfs, including a Core Rulebook and a GM Operations Manual and The Usual Suspects, a book on NPCs.
Character creation is easy to follow, but surprisingly robust, with a large list of possible backgrounds to support all sorts of characters. Skills function similarly to Barebones Fantasy, where each “skill” functions as a skill group and are used in any situation where that concept is applicable. The Medic skill for example could be used for anything from applying emergency first aid, to studying the nature of a dangrous engineered virus that the bad guys plan to unleash onto the population.
As with all Espionage games, Covert Ops features a neat equipment section that covers everything from equipment packs to cover identities. A neat little trick is that players are also allowed to invent gadgets with GM permission. No complicated accounting here, gadgets are merely costed according to plausibility with modern technlology. Guns and vehicles are also listed here, with respective examples.
Martial Arts is also represented well by Covert Ops, with a large selection of special maneuvers that players can roll for or select from.
Base creation is also covered with a simple point-buy system that is made available to player characters who have reached rank 4. It’s a neat little subsystem that works well for the genre and gives the players an extra sense of ownership over the setting.
The GM guidelines section is very comprehensive, which is a godsend for any espionage GM. There’s plenty of tables to roll for making a mission, getting henchmen and other useful little details especially in a genre where GMs really have to think on their feet.
The last part of the book details SECTOR, a mysterious international paramilitary and counter-espionage organization as a default organization for players to operate in. It’s a neat little hook to have a group of well armed operatives from any nationality able to team up and deal with the evils of the modern world.
GM Operations Manual
This book is an addition 112 pages of alternative rules and guidelines expressly aimed at helping GMs with run Covert Ops. I won’t go into exhaustive detail, but I will say that this is one of the handiest GM handbooks I’ve read in a while.
Each of the options opens up the game to different variants and offers neat ways to customize and tailor fit the game to different gaming groups. The language is accessible and when used properly as options, can go a long way to enhancing the already fun and experience of a Covert Ops game with a cost of a minimal increase in complexity.
The Usual Suspects
The last book in the set is a collection of starting character archetypes and experienced agents for use in a game. The starting archetypes are all rather neat and cover a wide range of character concepts so I’m sure it will be easy for anyone to just grab one and go. The Experienced agents will be handy for a GM to use if they need to put in an experienced agent to work with the player characters as well
Along with the books, the set also contains a Character Sheet, Outfitting Reference Sheet, Enemy Organization Worksheet, Mission Generation Worksheet, an optional Hit Location damage tracking sheet and Development Point checklist for making DP awards easy.
DwD Studios knocks this one right out of the park. Covert Ops delivers an incredible amount of value for its cost and hits all the things I look for in a game: good rules, good art, good layout and options to make the game your own. GMs are supported beyond just a simple chapter at the end, and the game can do anything from Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell to G.I. Joe.
Few games can deliver this kind of value for money and yet DwD Studios does it effortlessly. Great job, guys, this one is a definite must buy for me.