Tome Banner

Shadowy Cloaks and Silent Daggers, continued

Espionage Organisations

Dark shadows danced along the walls of the dimly-lit room, unnoticed by the man sitting on a roughly-carved stool, in the middle of the chamber. He could see nothing, and he heard nothing, save for the muffled shuffling noises that emanated from the corners of what he perceived to be a medium-sized room. It was hard to tell, as a black cloak had been draped over his head.

"Good day, Mr. Carl Winfield. Welcome to Selenica," said a rough voice not far to Carl's left, I trust your passage here was...uneventful?"

"It was," answered Carl, a little nervously.

"Excellent. We shall get down to business immediately, then. As you know, one of my associates has contacted you concerning a, shall we say, 'job opportunity' to be had in my employ. We know an awful lot about you, Mr. Winfield, and we have paid close attention to your exploits in the service of Oran Meditor, Brannart McGregor, and Corwyn Mauntea. Your exemplary service as a mercenary speaks for itself, and your succession of satisfied clients indicates to us a certain calibre of skill unseen among many people these days. Needless to say, you accepted, and now you find yourself here. I cordially welcome you to the Shadow Axis. You will refer to me as '4'; the other operative in the room is '17,' and you shall be known to your fellow agents as '23.' If you have no further questions, '17' will provide you with your first briefing."

Before Carl could react, he heard the sound of retreating footsteps. From the shadows, he felt the approach of the other figure - presumably '17' - who had been present the whole time.

"Well then, '23,'" said a pleasant feminine voice, I suppose we should get to it." In a flash the cloak was removed, revealing a dusty storeroom, and a tall, lithe elven woman standing before him. This promised to be the beginning of a very interesting career...


Just as the environment within which the spy operates is important; it is vital to consider the organisation for which he or she works. What follows is a brief description of one type of organisation, in terms of its structure and how it operates. DMs may take this information and apply it to their own campaigns, or modify it as they see fit. Where possible, alternatives will be reviewed in brief, to aid the DM is designing other forms of organisations.

The primary purpose of an espionage organisation, whether it acts independently or serves a higher power (such as a king or a church), is to co-ordinate the activities of the various spies under its control. This activity ranges from mundane administrative work to ensure that contracts are paid and resources are not overtaxed, to the more covert - including the procurement of new contracts and dealing with those individuals who have not paid for services rendered. Needless to say, overseeing a ring of spies, plus handling their pay and the business end of the espionage trade, requires professionals, and more than a handful of them. As such, a typical organisation, regardless of its structure, will need accountants, representatives (who meet with potential clients), collectors/enforcers (for those people who have not paid their debts), trainers, and of course a leader. Some of these functions could be performed by the spies themselves (such as collecting money from those who have not paid for the organisation's services, or training younger spies), but the fact remains that some administrative and support staff are needed. There are no hard-and-fast rules governing the proportion of administrative staff to spies.

As implied by the presence of administrative staff, most espionage organisations tend to be at least loosely hierarchical in structure; there is usually a leader (or leaders) who oversee all organisational activities. Directly beneath this person are senior spies, who sometimes double as instructors for the younger agents, and generally provide the agents with their missions and any other information that is deemed necessary. At the bottom, of course, are the field agents themselves, as well as an informal network of contacts and other allies, who may more properly be placed outside the organisational structure itself. This latter group of people serves as a useful conduit of information, who often provide to aid to spy rings in exchange for money and/or protection. Those spy rings that function as an arm of government might have more layers of bureaucracy, as reporting relationships are essential between the head(s) of state and their spies.

Regardless of the degree to which an espionage organisation is hierarchical, a primary concern is that of security. Perhaps the greatest threat to any spy ring is the capture of one of their agents, who, under interrogation, might reveal state secrets - or disclose the extent of espionage-related activities existing within a given region. Should something like this happen, the ring could be ultimately destroyed, or its interests set back considerably. In order to prevent such a disaster from happening, many spy rings operate in cells; that is, agents are divided into small groups - perhaps numbering 4-8 people - which operate as cohesive teams. One agent will serve as the leader, while the others will have defined tasks for which they are responsible (such as information gathering, procurement of supplies, and so on). The essential point behind such an arrangement is that each cell operates as a self-contained unit, with little or no contact with other cells; although the leader may be in occasional contact with a member from one or two other cells. This allows the spy ring to avoid duplication in its activities, and to pass information down to its agents through their cell leaders. Thus, if one agent is captured, the interrogators will only gain information about one, and possibly two or three, cell's activities; in no way will they be able to determine the scope of the entire spy ring's activities, or the identities of its more prominent figures. Also, if an entire cell is destroyed for whatever reason, the organisation can simply insert fresh agents into the region, to resume the old cell's activities.

This atmosphere of secrecy can be enhanced even more if, as discussed in an earlier section of this article, the spies belonging to a given cell do not even know each other's real identities. Thus, not only will the average spy be uncertain of the specific activities of his or her organisation as a whole; they may not even be certain of their own teammates' goals. On the other hand, it might be desirable for spies operating as part of a cell to have at least some basic information about their fellow agents - if only to provide at least a veneer of certainty in an otherwise nebulous world.

Regardless of the degree to which espionage organisations are hierarchical, or how much secrecy exists within and between their cells, if there is one thing that can be held in common among all of them, it is the range of tasks they perform. As discussed near the beginning of this article, the trade of the spy is one that involves a wide variety of tasks - including kidnapping, infiltration, theft, interrogation, assassination, surveillance, and counterespionage. Generally, most spy rings expect their operatives to have a basic level of familiarity with all of these tasks; due to the nature of the work, a spy could be sent anywhere, at any time, to perform a mission as needed. Thus, all spies must be able to "hit the ground running," as it were. Occasionally, larger organisations are able to train and employ "specialists" - spies who have spent most of their time developing a narrower range of skills, often to the extent that they are more proficient in those areas than the average operative. Thus, large and wealthy spy rings might have squads of assassins or spycatchers in addition to their regular agents, who will see action only for specific missions. Often, the services of specialists cost more than those of regular spies - in part due to the added cost to the organisation of training them - and they may receive higher pay, as well. How missions and their related tasks are handled in a campaign is, of course, up to the DM.

A final element of espionage organisations which ought to be discussed in some detail is that of their locations - where they operate, in short. Most larger spy rings tend to locate their headquarters in medium- to large-sized cities, such as Thyatis City, Kerendas, Glantri City, Sundsvall, Selenica, Corunglain, Darokin City, and Oceansend. Depending on the number of agents they have in their employ, organisations may also have subsidiary bases, from which various cells might operate. These can be located in other parts of the city, or they may be situated in other cities and/or countries. Subsidiary bases also serve as emergency shelters for spies on the run; most agents will be informed, before a mission, if there are any hideouts in the area in which the mission will take place, and how to reach them. In most cases, an organisation's base(s) will be unobtrusive - perhaps having a front operation to better conceal what goes on. Sometimes, a spy ring might operate in a building without the knowledge of its regular inhabitants, through hidden cellars, secret tunnels within a building's interior walls, or "forgotten" rooms or attics. The advantage for a spy ring in basing its operations in a city is that it will be "closer to the action," and obtaining new contracts will be easier as a result. The downside, of course, is that opponents will be fairly close by, and conflict could arise far more frequently than might otherwise be the case, unless certain precautions (such as cleverly disguising one's headquarters) are undertaken. This is especially true for self-employed spies; in many cases, they will have no choice but to set up shop in a large city in order to make ends meet, but at the same time their enemies are more likely to be able to find them. Alternatively, a spy ring could base its operations in a rural or wilderness region, such as in an abandoned castle or fortress, or in a cavern. The advantage in doing so is that enemies will find it very difficult to locate and destroy the organisation in question, but some sort of presence in nearby major cities is still needed.

Bearing these thoughts concerning espionage organisations in mind, it might be helpful to devise a simple set of guidelines to aid the DM in determining the size and location of those spy rings that might exist in his or her campaign. Please note that the table below is only a suggested guideline; DMs are free to modify the information contained within it to suit their own campaigns (such as increasing the numbers for campaigns involving a great deal of intrigue).

Local Population* No. of Espionage Organisations No. of Spies per Organisation**
20,000 or less 1d2 2d4
20,001 - 50,000 1d4 2d4+2
50,001 - 100,000 1d6 2d6
100,001 - 250,000 2d4 3d4+4
250,001 - 500,000 1d10 2d6+8
500,001 - 1 million 2d6 2d8+10
More than 1 million 3d6 3d6+8

*For the purposes of this table, the region considered in this figure is a circular area measuring 50 miles in diameter.

**This figure does not include administrative staff or contacts/allies (if any).

Using the table above, a DM's work in developing and placing espionage organisations within their own campaigns is reduced greatly. For example, according to the table, Thyatis City (with a population of roughly 600,000 people) could contain up to 12 such organisations, each of which could have as many as 26 spies in its service. As an alternate example, the Darokinian city of Selenica (population 40,000) could have up to four organisations operating in and around it, each of which employing up to ten spies. In this way, a DM can readily account for the increased level of intrigue that larger urbanised areas are bound to provide.


Back Home Next

Copyright 2000, Geoff Gander. All rights reserved. Used by permission.