Sunday, February 9, 2014

Terror Network: Where it all began

A little over four years ago, we released our first game: Terror Network. To this day it remains the most popular RPG in our Network line. That isn't too surprising when I think about it, because the game occupies a niche and we put a lot of work into it. I spent months and months researching the background to Terror Network, and in play test the game worked very well for what we were trying to achieve. But among our games, it generates some confusion, and I received a number of emails over the years from people with questions about planning adventures. The source of the confusion is mainly what kind of movies or books Terror Network is intended to emulate.  

When Bill and I first started Bedrock Games, in fact before we started Bedrock Games, I had been talking about doing a counter-terrorism RPG for some time. But I never did so with a notion of making a game that played like 24 or Air Force One. I imagined something where you ripped adventure ideas from the headlines and played FBI or CIA agents. I did realize 24 would be a source of inspiration for GMs, I just never saw it as something like 24: The RPG. 

For me Terror Network was not a cinematic game. It was not based on action movies or even serial dramas like 24. This is clear if you look at the lethality of the system and the relative parity of health between all characters in the game (two characters firing guns at each other have about an equal chance of being killed during the encounter). A lot of PCs in Terror Network who bust down doors to take out the bad guys end up in the hospital or worse. We wanted a game where you had to really think about consequences. As we play tested, we added in a "High Octane" option for people who desired more of a Jack Bauer experience, though that wasn't how I ran the game. If they did follow any kind of television series or movie I guess it would have been procedurals, but I wasn't particularly focused on those either. For me running Terror Network usually meant an investigation or mission with very little concern on my end for drama or pacing. I saw it more as a puzzle or challenge set in the real world, where the focus was on character interaction and finding clues. Some sessions were focused entirely on situations in need of resolution. 

As an example we spent a whole evening of Terror Network with a single stand-off between the FBI and members of militia-group. The session started with the players at their FBI office, and they got called in to the scene, working SWAT teams and others to bring the situation to a resolution. A single stand-off against 3-4 terrorists in a small little compound took about four hours of play. It involved information gathering, negotiation, research, and careful planning of tactics. In the end the characters breached the compound but many were shot, and I believe one or two were killed in the process.  

Clearly not Jack Bauer. This was all very street-level and naturalistic. A bit everyday with players basically playing characters who have a job. It just happens to be an interesting job that intersects with terrorism. 

This was our first book, so I probably could have conveyed that better to readers. In our follow-up supplement The Agency Resource Guide, we tried to clarify our GM advice and offer new advice for different approaches to the game. When we get around to doing Terror Network Revised Edition, I hope to address some of that in the GM section. 

In the mean time, I am glad to hear that players are still enjoying Terror Network, and am proud of the modules and supplement we put it out for it. 

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful response Brendan to what some gamer's may not have divined on their own. Luckily I have had some of the insight based on playing the game with you. The strength of the game as both a resource and a realistic RPG in a more real world of counterterroism, as oppossed to over the top acton, keeps it a strong vehicle in my repertoire of RPGs.

    Now I just need the real world to stop intruding so I can game again. Hey anyone want to join me for this or Crime Network on