Shadowy Cloaks and Silent Daggers, continued
Tools of the Trade
The three figures crouched on the steep-angled rooftop, sheltering in the shadow of a tall chimney; no one wandering the streets below, or the docks jutting into Vanya's Girdle, had any idea what was going on above them.
"Okay then," said one, I've got all the kit I think we'll need for this job. Grappling hooks, lockpicks, garottes, contact poison, and of course the plans for the building. What about you lot?"
"I've got spidergloves and spiderboots for all of us - just in case," said another.
"I have some choice spells memorised for the occasion - Quayf's Wondrous Wax, False Trail, and Blinding Flash. I hope we won't need anymore than that. The boys at the Black Tower said this was just to be a smash and grab job - get the info and get out, no rough stuff, no nonsense," said the third figure.
"Well, we'll see what happens once we' re on-site, right?," asked the first, "No point in worrying about what might or might not happen. Now then, just think of our deep cover op in Aasla last year, and you'll be glad you' re on this job, instead!"
With that, the three figures took advantage of a passing thundercloud, using the emergent gloom to climb down the wall, and enter a window on the building's third storey - all unnoticed by the milling populace below.
The life of a spy, as already shown, can be a very dangerous and short one. This makes it all the more apparent that most spies will need all the help they can get to reduce the inherent risks in their profession. Espionage organisations, the main source of this assistance, have already been covered to a considerable extent; it is now time to consider the various skills, tools, and other aids that might be employed by spies in their missions.
Certain tools exist to make a spy's life easier, and longer-lasting! Listed below are certain pieces of equipment - mundane and magical - that spies might reasonably be expected to use over the course of their careers. Those items that are magical are italicised. It should be noted that most of these items would be considered "shady" at best; it is not a good idea to walk about town with such tools in open view. Below the table is a brief description of each item.
*The price given here is how much the item would cost if the spy wished to purchase it from his or her organisation; issued equipment, which is often only borrowed for the duration of a mission, usually costs the average spy nothing. For equipment sold on the black market, DMs may wish to double, or even triple, the listed prices.
Belt, utility: A standard piece of equipment used by many spies, the utility belt allows its wearer to carry a variety of small items close at hand. In appearance it resembles a normal leather belt, except that there are a number of pouches and clasps scattered along its length. Each pouch, closed by drawstrings, buckles, or buttons, can hold up to 12 cn., and each belt has eight pouches (up to four more can be attached if desired). In addition to the pouches, the utility belt has other fasteners along its length, allowing the wearer to attach small knives, daggers, miniature quivers, and the like.
Flash powder: This is a powder created by alchemists, which ignites upon contact with the atmosphere. Most often, the vials used to contain flash powder are made of quick-fired ceramic - strong enough to ensure an airtight seal, but fragile enough to shatter when thrown to the ground. This item is most often used by spies to temporarily blind their foes, and allow for a quick escape. Everyone looking at the thrower, within a radius of ten feet, must make a save vs. Death Ray at a -3 penalty or be blinded for 2d4 rounds. This penalty may be increased to -5 if the powder is used in a darkened room.
Glass cutter: A complicated-looking device invented by a band of gnomes based in Serraine, the glass cutter is a useful item for entering buildings unseen, and for pilfering items thought protected under glass cases and the like. It is composed of a rubber plunger, from which a jointed metal arm projects outwards - ending in a diamond-edged blade. To operate it, the user affixes the plunger to the glass surface, and cuts the glass with the blade, drawing it in a circular motion around the plunger. As the arm is adjustable, the size of the hole may be up to two feet in diameter. Once the glass is cut, the separated portion adheres to the glass cutter due to the suction of the plunger.
Gloves, fine: Tight-fitting but well-made, these gloves are designed to protect the wearer from contact poisons, rope burns, and the like, but will not offer any protection from needle traps and similar perils. Wearing these gloves does not confer any penalties when picking locks, or performing any other actions requiring dexterity.
Gloves, utility: These thick gloves are made of two layers of toughened leather, and are reinforced with metal straps between them. Due to their bulkiness, actions requiring dexterity, such as picking locks, firing a bow, or retrieving items from small containers, are not possible. Wearing these gloves does allow the wearer, however, to handle poisons, heated substances, low- to medium-strength acids, and other dangerous items without fear of receiving injury. It should be noted that they offer no protection against the acid breath of black dragons, nor do they allow the wearer to touch extremely hot substances (such as cooling lava or the interiors of blast furnaces) without injury.
Goggles, light-sensitive: Crafted and enchanted originally by the mages of Sclaras, these goggles, though rare, have proliferated among the various spy rings of the Known World. In appearance they greatly resemble protective goggles (see below), but their construction appears to be more delicate - a pair of these goggles is less bulky, and tighter fitting. The magical properties inherent in them are such that, whenever the ambient lighting changes, at whatever rate, the lenses will darken or lighten in order to provide the wearer with maximum visibility. At their darkest, the lenses are almost pitch black, and allow the wearer to look directly at the sun without any danger of eye damage. The adjustment to changes in lighting is almost instantaneous, such that saves versus blinding flashes of light are given a bonus of +2. Owing to their intricate and delicate crafting, light-sensitive goggles have a 10% chance of breaking whenever the wearer falls, or receives any injury to the head.
Goggles, protective: This item consists of a pair of eyeglasses, with metal plates affixed along the sides, top, and bottom, so as to create to tighter seal between the goggles themselves, and the wearer's skin. Attached to the "arms" are two thin straps of leather, which may be joined by means of fastening a buckle. In this manner, a pair of such goggles may be worn without fear of them falling off. The lenses themselves are made of glass, and are flat - they will not correct flawed vision, but peripheral vision is limited greatly (attacks from the wearer's flanks are given a +2 bonus when determining surprise). The primary use of this item is to protect the wearer's eyes from contact poisons and the like.
Lockpick set: Standard issue for many spies with an aptitude for entering places where they are not supposed to be, this piece of equipment is often carried in a little wooden box or leather carrying case (which may be rolled up). It contains an assortment of picks, saws, miniature hand drills, and needles - all of which may be used to tackle nonmagical locks of almost any sort.
Poison: One of the standard tools in any covert operation, poison comes in many forms. Whatever the desired effect - from incapacitation to death - there is almost certainly a poison designed to accomplish it. The method by which poisons may work also varies; they may take effect through contact with the victim's skin, be ingested or inhaled, or be injected with a needle. The DM should determine the strength of the poison, and its effects on the victim, and these criteria will play a large part in setting the poison's price (hence the price range given above).
Satchel: Made of the same material as knapsacks and backpacks, the satchel is composed of a medium-sized shaped bag, attached to a leather or canvas strap, which is often adjustable. The bag can be closed by means of drawstrings and/or a covering flap, which can be buckled or buttoned down. The main purpose of the satchel is to provide an additional means of carrying equipment, which can be discarded when necessary.
Spiderboots: Rumoured to have been invented by Shadow Elf infiltrators based in Glantri, these boots are imbued with the magical ability to adhere, at the wearer's desire, to any surface. The boots are made from cured giant spider hide, and the leather soles are coated with a special resin distilled from aranea silk. The boots are then enchanted with the spiderwalk spell. While the boots are worn, the wearer may literally run up walls and on the ceiling, so long as the structure upon which he or she is running will support them. Whenever the wearer no longer wishes to stick to a given surface, he or she merely wills it. One difficulty posed to wearers of these boots is that, unless they possess a Climb Walls skill, or a pair of spidergloves, they will not be able to scale vertical surfaces unaided; few people have the strength to maintain their balance on a vertical surface using their legs alone.
Spidergloves: Also believed to have been invented by the Shadow Elves, spidergloves are best used in conjunction with spiderboots. They are made in the same fashion, except that the resin coasting is present only on the palm of each glove - leaving the fingers mobile at all times. As with the boots, spidergloves are enchanted with the spiderwalk spell. As with the spiderboots, the wearer will adhere to any surface so long as they will it. Wearers who use their spidergloves to maintain a solid grip on their weapons cannot be disarmed, if the DM is using such rules.
In addition to possessing a collection of unique items, many spies also have access to a variety of spells - many of which are difficult to find outside of the espionage world - to aid them in their missions. It is the DM's discretion as to whether or not regular spellcasters should have access to these spells. As a general rule, spellcasting spies are even more protective of their spells than their non-spy counterparts, owing to the inherent dangers of their profession.
Range: 0' (caster only)
Effect: Creates flash of light
This spell produces a blinding, momentary flash of white light, centered on the spellcaster. Anyone standing within 15' of the caster, and who has a clear line of sight, must make a saving throw vs. Death Ray at a -3 penalty or be blinded for 2d6+3 rounds. Opponents who are turned away from the caster, or who closed their eyes beforehand, are not affected. At the DM's discretion, the saving throw penalty can be increased to -5 if the spell is cast in a darkened room.
Aldon's Acoustic Redirector
Duration: 4 rounds/level of caster
Effect: Redirects all sounds produced by caster to another source
When cast, this spell redirects all sounds produced by the caster, including speech, to another location - up to 30' away. This location does not have to be a physical object - it can be the far corner in a room - though the caster must choose it, even just to the extent of deciding the general direction from which he or she wishes his or her sounds to emanate. While the spell is in effect, the caster may change the source of the sounds at will.
Quayf's Wondrous Wax
Range: 20' + 2'/level of caster
Duration: 6 turns
Effect: Covers a surface measuring up to 20'x20' with magical wax
Initially developed during a late-night bash in Glantri City by the mage known as Quayf, as a party trick, this spell soon proved its usefulness on subsequent missions carried out by the Black Tower. Paying the mage a princely sum, the organisation kept this spell literally under lock and key, though it soon spread among the spy rings throughout the Known World by surreptitious means, anyway. This spell, when cast, creates a sheet of silvery wax, which will coat any flat or vertical surface measuring up to 400 square feet. For the duration of the spell, anyone stepping on the wax (or climbing across it in the case of vertical surfaces) must make a halved Dexterity check, each round, in order to stand upright. Those people scaling waxed walls may retain their grip only by making a quartered Climb Walls roll. A failed check means the person in question falls. This spell is useful for throwing off organised pursuit.
Range: 0' (caster only)
Duration: 1 turn/level of caster
Effect: Allows caster to cling to any surface
This spell allows the caster to climb, or otherwise adhere to, any surface - whether it is horizontal or vertical. In order for the spell to work, the caster's bare skin must be in contact with the surface in question; thus, no gloves or footwear may be worn. The caster's ability to "stick" to surfaces is made possible through willpower. Whenever desired, the caster may "unstick" himself or herself from any surface. For game purposes, the caster should be considered as having a Climb Walls skill of 100%.
Duration: 2 turns/level of caster
Effect: Creates an illusion of a trail
When cast, this spell allows the caster to create an illusory trail that diverges from his or her own. The illusion itself is very specific; it only affects the ground, and even then only the region within a range of 60'. The caster's real trail must be visible (i.e.: footprints or other physical evidence must be visible), as well. Once the spell is cast, all subsequent tracks produced by the caster, for the duration of the spell, will be hidden by the illusion, while, within a range of up to 60', a separate set of illusory tracks will appear. This alternate set of tracks will never exist more than 60' away from the caster, and will tend to assume a logical path (it will not meander in circles). Even when the caster leaves an area, the illusion will remain in place until the spell's duration expires.
Duration: 6 rounds
Effect: Allows caster to move objects weighing up to 200 cn.
This spell allows the caster to lift and otherwise move objects weighing up to 200 cn. (20 lbs.) for up to six turns. Unlike its more powerful counterpart, which is able to lift heavier objects, minor telekinesis provides an additional benefit, in that affected objected may be manipulated - that is, they may be opened, turned, twisted, closed, or pivoted as desired, with each movement of this sort taking a round of action. Objects in motion may do so at rates of up to 20' per round. While the spell is in effect, the caster may also switch his or her focus to another object, though the first object will fall to the ground, or remain inert, if this happens. Thus, the caster would be able to use this spell to lift a key, float it towards a door and insert it into the lock, turn the key, and then turn the doorknob - all in four rounds. The caster must concentrate in order to use this spell effectively; if their concentration is broken, the spell's effects are dispelled.
In addition to specialised items and spells to aid them in their missions, many spies also receive benefits from their training - in the form of career-specific skills. As with the spells given above, it is up to the DM to decide whether or not these skills should be made available to regular characters.
Codemastery (INT): This skill provides the character with a knowledge of codes, as well as encryption and decryption techniques. Generally, a successful skill check indicates that a given code has been deciphered, though the DM should determine the length of time required to actually carry out the task (a good guide is one turn per page of encrypted text). Also, the DM may assign bonuses or penalties to the skill check, depending on the complexity of the code; this may affect the length of time required to decipher it. The same guidelines apply for characters wishing to encrypt a body of text.
Forgery (DEX): Characters possessing this skill are able to reproduce the handwriting of other people with a successful skill check. In order to be successful, the forger must have access to an actual sample of the other person's handwriting. A successful, unmodified skill check is sufficient to copy a person's signature, but penalties may be applied if the forger wishes to perform more difficult tasks, such as writing notes or official documents in the other person's handwriting.
Interrogation (STR or INT): This skill may performed with a Strength or an Intelligence check; the former is used in the case of interrogation involving physical means, the latter when using psychological means to obtain information. In the physical case, bonuses may be applied to the skill check if suitable "tools" are present, and they may be applied in the psychological case if the character has incriminating information or otherwise is able to put the victim into a vulnerable position. To use this skill, the character asks the victim for a piece of information, and if refused, a check may be made. If successful, the degree to which the check was made is then subtracted from the victim's Constitution. In order to resist, the victim must roll under this modified score. Failure to do so indicates that the victim supplies the information. Victims who possess the Endurance skill may make an unmodified check each time a successful interrogation skill is rolled against them in order to ignore the effects of the lowered Constitution score; if they succeed, they only need to make a successful, unmodified Constitution check to avoid divulging information. Depending on the tactics being used during physical interrogation, the DM may have the victim receive physical damage in the process. In this case, every interrogation roll - successful or not - is treated as an attack against the victim, and damage is inflicted accordingly. It is up to the DM to decide how much damage the victim suffers.
Lip Reading (INT): With this skill a character may, if he or she is able to see the face of another individual, determine what that person is saying - without needing to hear their voice. A successful skill check indicates that the character is able to figure out one sentence, regardless of complexity. The character, of course, must be familiar with the other person's language. Penalties may be applied in cases where the observer's view of the other person's face is momentarily or partially obstructed, or if he or she is not totally familiar with the other's language.
Silent Kill (DEX): If a successful check is made, the character will be able to strike his or her foe silently, and swiftly. The character's opponent is considered "surprised" for game purposes, thus allowing a free round of attacks against them. If the character is a thief, they may, at the DM's discretion, use their backstabbing ability in conjunction with this skill. A successful skill check and attack against a foe, whose hit dice or level is equal to or less than three-quarters of the character's own, will result in a 50% chance of that opponent being killed instantly. DMs should note that magical wards and enchantments may interfere with the successful use of this skill. Likewise, characters may be penalised for wearing heavier armour or being encumbered. Finally, the successful use of this skill is dependent upon the character being unobserved. Once this skill is used, it is unlikely that the character will be able to use it again soon afterwards - especially in a well-populated region.
The intention of this article was to provide you, the reader, with some ideas concerning how an espionage-based campaign might be run in a medieval setting, particularly Mystara. We have reviewed the fundamental attributes of an espionage setting - including the characters, the environment, and the finer details - and have explored them in such a way that we have established a solid foundation before moving on to the details more relevant to the players themselves. We have also explored some unique skills, spells, and pieces of equipment useful to spies in carrying out their missions, and it is hoped that they will add extra flavour to your campaign. With this information, the DM should have all of the essentials at hand in order to develop and run his or her own espionage-based campaign.
This, however, is not the end. In a second article, to appear in a subsequent issue of the Tome of Mystara, some Mystara-specific espionage organisations will be presented in detail, ready for insertion into any campaign. Also, adventure hooks will be provided, to aid the DM in providing his or her PC spies with their first missions.
Copyright (c) 2000, Geoff Gander. All rights reserved. Used by permission.