Thursday Review: Covert Ops Role Playing Game

Covert Ops is a rules-light game of espionage and intrigue that is a great choice for quality and value. In a day and age when  basically everything has been released as a supplement, it packs a surprising amount of content, it includes not only a hundred-and-change page core rulebook but a similarly long GM’s guide, as well as a bulky portfolio of pre-made characters and a ton of additional goodies, such as printable initiative cards, to round out the deal.Of course, having a lot of content doesn’t necessarily make something good. Fortunately, that is of little concern here; while there are some small issues in the game’s presentation (for instance, how skills work is a little unclear until well after you’ve first seen them, which had me scratching my head until all was made clear), it is by and large incredibly solid. While it doesn’t necessarily have anything spectacular and unique to earn it the title of being a highly original work, it’s still a collection of many features that come together to feel like a good espionage game.

My main caution to people looking at this is that it is rules-light, with all that entails. If you’re looking to handle things down to a minute detail, you won’t necessarily enjoy this, though its d00 system uses percentile dice and can be easily expanded upon to add more granularity if that’s a necessity for you and your group. There’s a couple things that are notably lacking; social skills are intended to be resolved by roleplaying (the GM’s guide contains an extended ruleset that codifies this), though since skills are so intrinsically linked to the players’ attributes this isn’t a huge issue, as it’s generally going to be sufficient to just use attributes in their place (Will and Logic, as well as the Detective skill, being the obvious stand-ins).

Typesetting wise, there’s not a whole lot of innovation, but the book is solid and legible. There’s enough art to keep one’s eyes from beginning to doze off, but not so much that it becomes distracting, and it’s of generally high quality. There’s a couple typos (most egregiously “Weinmar Republic”), but these don’t detract too much from the quality of the game as a whole and are rare enough to make them pretty negligible in the context of the whole game.

As far as the GM advice goes, Covert Ops includes a lot of contingencies and guides for being a rules-lite game, and includes random generation for basically everything you could need to use; while it’s not going to compete with hand-made content, a GM short on time or pressed by a plot twist can pretty readily find whatever they need even if they’re suffering from writer’s block. The advice to GM’s both is great from a general roleplaying perspective (for instance, covering how to keep the table organized and moving forward) and assisting with the espionage/spycraft genre, literary conventions, and other things that will prove invaluable for those who really want to craft a good game with an eye to detail and meaning.

I’d have no problem recommending Covert Ops to anyone. With a lot of content for $10; a great focus on the genre; and a quick, fast, and fulfilling system, Covert Ops is a solid entry in the market, though I’d caution prospective modders and remixers that the CC BY-NC-SA only covers the text (the URL in the book, as of my writing, is wrong, but you can find the full text of the license here) and not other parts of the book.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find it over on DriveThruRPG here.

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