Monday, 27 January 2014

Bandit Country: Test Cover

I got a Wacom Intuos Manga drawing tablet this weekend and so instead of writing I created a mock cover instead. I have to say that I am pleased with the result. 

This shader style photo manipulation captures the art style that I want for Bandit Country.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bandit Country: First Playtest

Last night I ran the first Playtest of Bandit Country with testers Joe and Ciaran.
We ran through a brief introduction scenario - `The Interview' last night. It incorporated an interview for Risk :: Reward (character creation) and a single objective (recruit a banker). I have included a link to the right. Check it out, it wont make much sense right now because I haven't blogged the key resolution rules of the game but don't let that stop you. It is a living document and I will be updating it with more material as I refine it. `The Interview' will be the introductory scenario for Bandit Country.
As my first playtest I was really pleased with the result. I had been pushed for time in the lead up and my prep was not the best. My PTs didn't get much preamble and the character sheet docs were fairly poor but they jumped in with gusto.
We played over Google Hangouts and that was a positive experience, especially considering that online / remote play is one of my design goals.
Some comments from the PTs about Character creation and the character system as a whole were:


  • Once the `Specialty chain' mini game was figured out it was quick and intuitive.
  • It quickly conveyed a sense of just how highly capable the characters are.
  • Nine Specialties still allow for variety.
  • Assets are neat.

  • Assets don't make sense until you are using them in-game. They need more definition. I have some ideas about this.

Following the Interview I raised their first Objective: recruit a banker. We then launched into the Risk Management System.
I haven't outlined RMS yet on the blog because I was waiting to see how it worked in actual play. I will be writing more about it soon.
The short version is that whenever players want to do something that has inherent risk they plan it through a basic flowchart that results in them executing their plan and dealing with the consequences. 
It is designed to emulate a fiction where contractors are meticulous and deliberate. They plan, have contingencies and consider the risks leading into acting and then review the results. This is the same whether they are in an immediate situation like an ambush or it is an extended situation such as recruiting a target. The only difference is time and scope of action.


  • Within minutes of setting the Objective the PTs were plotting and planning. They looked up Bahraini laws for foreign property investment, checked out his apartment building and sorted out locations for intercepts. They got into the Bandit Country Groove. I was very happy about this. They described this sense of brainstorming as a highlight although it also posed challenges (see below).
  • They liked the RMS and Recruitment mechanics.
  • The entire play session came down to resolving one Key Objective that nested a couple of sub Objectives and one Recruitment encounter. It is a mechanically light game whilst being structurally heavy. 
  • The session played out pretty much how I imagined the game should play. This was really satisfying because you never know until you throw it to the wolves.
  • Explaining the RMS to players is hard. I should have prepared better for that. 
  • The PTs advised that a better way of presenting a first Objective within the Risk Management System would be to structure it like a `choose your own adventure' rather than the open structure that I used. I agree with this.
  • I focused more on the structure of play than the story of the session. This is partly due to minimal preparation and also because I was keeping tabs on the RMS structures and teaching them to the players more than I suspect I will need to in future sessions. 
I am very pleased with where BC is right now. I know what I need to do next (Blog about the RMS and Recruitment) and also some GM support tools. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Bandit Country: What is a consultant?

I have revealed how to make a character in Bandit Country and a sample Consultant. So what happens next? What does your Consultant do?
For the Player
Consultants work in the field of Risk Mitigation. Companies such as Risk/Reward, the firm that reached out to Ammar (our sample character), send them to the parts of the world where large capital investment projects (Large Projects) have been made, usually in support of extracting mineral, energy or agricultural resources. And that's where things get complicated.
Millions are invested to extract Billions and specialists are required because these projects are always raised on the promise of building educational and continuous improvement opportunities for the locals. So your Consultant is in-Country assisting local projects according to their Specialties. Ammar for example usually works as a Transportation Systems Consultant. You are on loan to the locals from the benevolent Large Project investors to help make good on the promise that the project will improve the community as a whole.
But that isn't the whole story is it?
You are also a spy. You are watching the human terrain looking for the tipper, the agent of change. You are trying to figure out what will happen next and who will do it. For this you need networks. With your team you will build a priorities list and start recruiting. You will spread a net for rumours and hearsay and will begin to bracket. You will find out who is probing and who is planning. You will identify them and their plans. You will define their structure and fill it with names, locations and capabilities. Then you will determine a response and craft the groundwork. This is called a Package. The Package includes the Threat, it's structure and links to major players, its capabilities. locations and habits. The Package also includes a basic action plan with built in logistics. The Consultants pass the Package to their Firm and they shop it to the stakeholders, foreign intelligence and security services who will pay millions for a concise threat disclosure with organic action plan/ logistics.
Everyone meets for Margaritas and slaps on the back and then redeploy to do it again.
Unless it goes horribly wrong in which case they are either dead, incarcerated or abducted.

Who needs Consultants in the era of the NSA?
The NSA, GCHQ, the Chinese Ministry of State Security, Iranian MISIRI and other Intelligence stakeholders have the realm of signals intelligence all sewn up. They know who is calling who and what they are saying. They have access to the phones and computers. They have access to the infrastructure that carries and switches the data and the vast clouds that hold the data that inform the transactions of the internet. 
The kinds of threats that the Consultants hunt don't use the internet. They don't carry phones. They don't have ipads. They build networks of their own where disposable human links tie them to a fringe of one time electronic communicators. 

For the GM
Running Bandit Country allows you to layer two discordant narratives and have fun with the result. 
Consultants work with local project management on what is typically a specific community improvement project. It could be to do with improving water quality in a city, roads and transport infrastructure linking a port , access to crop harvesting technology, etc. Or they might be involved in a broader national or regional project like a hydroelectric dam or training police forces. This project will threaten to use far more time than they have available and each member of the team will be involved in different aspects of the project or completely different projects. There will be dramas, accidents, bad weather, labor tension and all the other things that happen when money is the sole accelerator for a large project.
At the same time the Consultants are building a Package. The real money in the game they are playing is in the shadowy hand of a major intelligence agency. They need to start recruiting and get some ears to the ground. They need to find a threat that is saleable. They need to develop some contingencies and start shopping it on the market. The more Threats they find the more assured their parent company is in its role as a Risk Mitigator to the Large Project. This game can be warmly heroic in the sense of the Consultants uncovering and shopping the solution to a serious terrorist plot. It can be bleakly cynical in the sense of the Consultants building a network and converting it into a straw-man threat, ensuring the triumph of fear when it is shopped to an Agency of the key investor nation.

Consultant, welcome to Bandit Country.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bandit Country Character Creation Example

If this is not making sense, check out the prior Bandit Country posts on Character Creation.
Ammar al-Bagdhadi

Ammar was 16 at the time of the US invasion of Iraq in 2002. A streetkid in Baghdad, his parents had vanished during a purge five years earlier and his wider family had done little more than give him a place to hide when he caused more than the usual amount of trouble. 
Ammar was successfully running a band of street thugs watching over local businesses, essentially a protection racket (Surveillance). Following the invasion and as things got worse in Baghdad he built them into a network getting people out of the country (Infil:Exfil). This proved to be very successful and he even set up a small company doing roadworks in Baghdad. He `redeployed' some of the road-working machinery to improve Highway 10, the trunk road linking Baghdad to Amman in Jordan (Operate).
In early 2004 the CIA caught up with him. They had been watching him for a while and when they confirmed that he was not affiliated with any of the insurgency groups (a rarity) they recruited him. For the next 6 months he underwent rigorous training and preparation. Ammar had never been academically minded and he found the schooling quite arduous but emerged with very high competency (Tradecraft).
By late 2004 the second Battle of Fallujah was in full swing and Ammar was deployed to the Sunni triangle. He continued with his people smuggling, passing the refugees through a CIA filter. A number of mid level insurgent leaders were captured and the operation was considered a success. It was a difficult time and Ammar spent nearly as much time fixing damaged vehicles as he did finding and transporting customers (Repair).
This and other similar operations continued over the next 7 years. His network had a reputation on the black market and he was able to shift from moving people to goods as the state of affairs improved in Iraq with the surge in 2008.
By 2010 the drawdown was in full effect and most of the foreign troops were gone from Iraq. Ammar's handlers were by this time far more interested in Iranian influence than in domestic driven insurgency.
Ammar spent a few years in Basrah. Using road works contracts as cover, he ran several small operations scoping out Iranian agents of influence. These operations grew in scope from basic surveillance and time/ motion studies to breaking into safehouses to photograph documents (Intrusion). Ammar was not comfortable with the way the operational tempo was escalating and felt that his CIA handlers were pushing too hard.
In early 2013 Ammar was shot while exiting a safe house in Baghdad. His team got him out and he survived but it was the end of his time with the Agency. They told him that he was burned, paid him some money and that was the end of his career as an Agent.


Ammar's first asset is Documents 3. His connection to the Iraqi government bureaucracy from the early days has paid off. 
His second Asset is Techs 3. This asset represents his team that he ran in Baghdad and Basrah. He can use them for Intrusion, Surveillance or Operate. These guys work in the construction business but will do some work on the side for Ammar.

Ammar has recovered from his gunshot wound and is facing the next stage in his life. He was recently visited by a polite man who knew all kinds of things about Ammar's activities over the past decade. The man asked Ammar if he wanted to do more? He left a card. Risk/Reward. Ammar is reaching for his phone.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Bandit Country: Creating a Character

The Character creation mini game:
This is rough and unedited but gives you an idea of how it works. Refer to prior Bandit Country posts if this isn't making sense.
  1. Select 2 Specialties and Draw a line through them. These are Untrained.
  2. Select an Entry Specialty and draw a Circle around it. It is at Elite level training, the highest. This Specialty is what got you noticed and engaged in your previous career. It is also the Specialty that best suits your personal ability. It seems easy to you because it caters to your natural strengths.
  3. Select a Defining Specialty and draw a Circle around it. This one is also at Elite level Training. You had to work for this one. Gaining the highest capability in this Specialty is one of your career highlights. The results you can achieve with this Specialty represent your aspirations.
  4. Select a Transition Specialty and draw a Box around it. This one and all the remaining Specialties are rated at Professional level training. This one stands out because it is the reason you got out of your prior career and became a Consultant.
  5. Now it is time to draw your career path. Starting with your Entry Specialty, draw an arrow to a neighbouring Specialty either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. You cannot link an Untrained Specialty. An eligible Specialty can only have one arrow coming in and one going out. Arrows can only link to a neighbouring Specialty. Continue linking your Specialties until you get to your Defining Specialty. Now, following the same process link it to the Transition Specialty. When you are done you will have a single path of arrows extending from your Entry Specialty to your Defining Specialty and then to your Transition Specialty. The Untrained Specialties are unlinked.
  6. If you want you can create a professional history for your character.
Starting with the Entry Specialty, write a sentence or two that describes an Event that was important in the Character’s life in the context of that Specialty.  Take as much license as you need to chart your Character’s successes, failures and dramatic moments. Maybe the event impacts the Character, someone they care for or a professional or personal competitor, either way, it is meaningful in your Character’s life. Follow the arrows and repeat for each Specialty in order. The Untrained Specialties do not get events.
The three key Specialties that deserve special attention are the Entry, Defining and the Transition Specialties. The Entry Specialty should be a story of success; how a rookie with talent got noticed and gained entry into the elite circles of their profession. The Defining Specialty should be one of struggle and challenge; a professional achievement at personal cost. The Transition Specialty story should be one of change and coping; did the Character initiate the change? How thoroughly have they coped with it? How has it changed their relationships with ex-colleagues and personal acquaintances?

Assets are a contact and the resource that the contact can be tapped for.
  1. Technical Expertise (Techs) (Specialty)  Eg:
Intrusion:- Break In Team
Repair:- Aircraft Mechanic
Operate: Welder
Medic:- Mobile Trauma Team.
Tradecraft: Analysis / Red Team.
Infil:Exfil: Transport
Security: Bodyguards
Fireteam: Raid
Surveillance: Watchers
  1. Funds -money or the equivalent.
  2. Site - a location prepared for a specific application.
  3. Tools - For advanced application of a specialty.
  4. Documents:- Forged/ copied or even legitimate documents to create or support a cover or objective.
  5. Access - Intelligence products.
  6. Front - a false organization with background and relevant authority / .
  7. Logistics - movement/ freight of goods.
  8. Trainer
Each Character starts with 2 Assets. Using the chart below, from the Start point in the Centre, chart the path from the Entry to the Defining Speciality. The number in the final box indicates that Asset. The Asset score equals the number of steps.
Go to Start and chart from Defining to Transition Speciality. Again, the number of steps equals the Asset Score.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Bandit Country: Character Components

Character creation in Bandit Country is, of course, a mini-game. I want it to engage Players right from the start. I want to introduce the mindset of the game and for the Players to rub up against its limitations even as they define their avatar. 

Why Limitations? Bandit Country is not a heroic game, at least in the gaming sense of the word. Characters are limited and this is intended to create a friction. But I am getting ahead of myself here so let's start with the components of a Character: Specialties and Assets.


I chose these nine Specialties to define the risk taking activities that a Contractor can engage in while on an operation. Risk and Risk Management are at the core of the mechanics of the game and define the stories that will be told while playing Bandit Country. 
Specialties can be ranked Elite, Professional or Civilian according to the choices the Player makes during character creation. 
You will notice that the Specialties are all `doing things'. Specialties define what a Contractor does, not what they know. There are no academic specialties such as forensics or interpersonal specialties such as interrogation. This cuts to the core of what Players do in the game.
Bandit Country is a game of building human intelligence networks at great risk for customers who will not support them if things go pear shaped. Every Contractor is a superb recruiter. That's why they got the job. If the team needs an academic expert to complete their objective they will need to recruit one. Or use an Asset.

Assets are packages of pre-configured capabilities. They are rated from 1, low to 9, high. An Asset can represent a Specialty. For example a standby team of break and enter Techs could be Intrusion 3. It can be a line of credit, $300,000; Funds 5. It can be an accessible resource; Safehouse 4.
Assets by default are burned as they are used. Otherwise they have some sort of conditional refresh. For example, the Break Team refreshes following a Report to the Stakeholders.
Contractors start with some Assets and Players can negotiate more during operations. Players can also develop their own Assets during play.