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November 10, 2006

Agents of Freedom Design Journal #2: What is an Agent?

For our purposes, an �agent� is anyone belonging to an agency or organization who puts on a uniform and straps on a standard complement of weapons to do the job their organization needs done. Agents can work for the good guys and fight alongside superheroes, or they can be bad guys trying to get rich or take over the world. Most agents are not superhumans, but superhuman agents do exist: Battle Brutes, the Power Corps, and Omegadrones in Freedom City are all clearly superhuman, but all qualify as agents. Some operatives, such as the Star Knights, have elements of both agents and superheroes.

Agents come in many shapes and sizes. Agents can be suave super-spies, hard-boiled policemen, rumpled private detectives, professional ghost hunters/occult investigators, army officers on the run (for a Crime They Didn�t Commit), and even a wild gaggle of freelance mercenaries. They don�t even need to be proficient in combat: a team of journalists or doctors is a legitimate concept for an agent game, although most players are going to want guns, and lots of them.

Agents work for agencies of all shapes and sizes, from small groups like �Ghosthunters, Inc.� to worldwide agencies like UNISON. The agencies may be well known to the general public, or they might be �black-ops� where the agents have to protect their secret at all costs!

So, an agent campaign can include many different settings and roles. In Agents of Freedom, we focus on four different types and power levels of agent games:

Police Drama (power level 3) is a series where the player characters are cops. This is meant to simulate good crime drama television shows like Hill Street Blues or Homicide. The sample campaign for this genre is Precinct 23, a gritty game where the heroes are ordinary street cops in the Fens neighborhood of Freedom City, widely regarded as the worst example of urban blight in the city.

Top Cops (power level 4) is a series where the heroes are larger than life �super cops� of a sort that doesn�t exist in the real world, but which are a staple of over-the-top movies. The STAR Squad chapter describes a Top Cops game in a city where the police have to deal with supervillains on a regular basis.

Action Agents (power level 5) the primary focus of this book, is a series where the player characters are special agents or commandos of an organization like AEGIS or UNISON, out to thwart sinister organizations like SHADOW or Overthrow and their plans for world domination. The AEGIS and UNISON chapters of this book describe the heroes for this type of game.

A Super-Spies (power level 6) series borders on super-heroic level adventures, with the heroes as suave and skilled secret agents able to thwart the schemes of criminal masterminds on their own. Put a group of them together, and you have a force capable of handling threats even rookie superheroes might find challenging. This is the elite level for a series involving a super-agency like AEGIS or UNISON in the style of espionage action-adventure films (and some comics).

Power Level in an Agent Series
Obviously, an agent, even an elite commando like an AEGIS squad member, is not on par with the average superhero. Even so, a squad of agents, particularly when well coordinated and armed, can be a match for all but the most powerful superhumans (and even then, they�ll give it their best try).

Characters in an Agents of Freedom game start at a lower power level than a superhero in a typical Mutants & Masterminds game. Well-trained agents have more experience and natural capability than a typical superhero. Therefore, they may offset the reduced power level by receiving 20 power points per level rather than 15.

Option: Niche Protection
Characters in an Agents of Freedom series are often extremely good at a defining ability or skill, their �niche� in the game. Gamemasters wanting to emphasize this can allow an agent character to increase the power level limit for one ability or skill (and only one) by +1 for an ability bonus or +2 for a skill. No other player character in the game can take that ability or skill as their niche, however.

For instance, �Moose� Moscovitz, Agent of AEGIS, fits the Strong Guy niche. Normally his Strength would be limited to 20 (for a PL 5 game), but because his niche is that he is really strong, he can purchase his Strength up to 22 (as if for a PL 6 game) without violating the campaign�s power level. None of the other player characters can take Strength as their niche, since that belongs to Moose, the strongest guy in the game.

Note that the modification due to niche is applied before any trade-offs in attack/save DC or defense/Toughness. So �Moose� might be able to further increase his Strength limit with an attack trade-off (and the GM�s permission).