Deniable Asset Review
Deniable Asset is an espionage roleplaying game with a heavy narrative bent written by Eric D. Sack and Brent Spivey and published by Random Encounters. It is currently available as a 47 page PDF from DriveThruRPG.
Aside from semi-coloured back and front cover (which cleverly wraps around if you print it yourself), the PDF is a black and white, two-column affair. The text is spaced out with large margins and it doesn’t take long to read through all the rules. Spaced throughout are various “quotes” (some of which I’m sure I should recognise) but there is not internal artwork.
Character creation is described in a single page and could easily be completed by complete beginners with just that information in the first 10 or 15 minutes of a game at a convention.
This is followed by 8 pages that contain the actual rules. These are relatively straightforward although a little indexing (or bookmarking) of the PDF would have been useful.
Mission creation is covered over 3 pages and then there are single page sections for Refresh scenes (a roleplaying scene where the agents get a chance to recover damage), chase scenes, obstacles, and Espionage Points (which allow extra dice to be rolled at important moments).
Character advancement is next along with advancing both gear and support team members (3 pages) before a single page on “Special FX Budget” which basically states that the game uses a “gritty” budget but doesn’t explain any additional levels that may be used.
Finally we have 5 pages aimed purely at running the game with advice for those in the GM hot seat.
Mechanically, Deniable Asset uses a d12 dice pool system which it calls the “Power of 12”. A number of d12 are rolled based on the attribute (here called Modus Operandi) and each roll of 7 or more is counted as a success. There are four attributes (Blunt Instrument, Infiltrator, Investigator, and Technician) and you assign a number of points to each as you see fit (6 to your best area, 5 next, then 4 and finally 3). In order to attempt a task, you pick the attribute you’d like use and narrate how you’d use it. This is where I find the rules breaking down a little. One of the examples is “[u]sing a gun” and, in it, it explains how you could use any of the attributes to fire the weapon (rather than just the obvious choice of Blunt Instrument) as long as the narrative backs it up. This means that, in essence, and with a bit of clever thinking, you could always use your best attribute to complete tasks. Indeed, this is highlighted but then hand waved with a “this is a role playing game” response (twice in fact) before stating that, actually, you might want to use a weaker attribute in order to protect your stronger ones against damage. In regards to damage, similar to the PDQ System, the attribute used in a losing conflict is reduced by one. This is regardless of the total number of successes which seems a little strange as the rules state that the greater the number of successes the more, well, successful the attempt – this obviously doesn’t translate directly into damage. Once a character’s attributes are all reduced to zero then they are dead – except they aren’t. Instead the player or the GM can choose to take/give a Flaw (which is a small phrase relating to the “death”). Anytime it is deemed appropriate, the Flaw can be enacted and a single d12 is taken away from the attribute roll. Similar to Flaws are Perks which add a single d12 to an attribute roll.
As previously mentioned, Deniable Asset is heavily based on the narrative with the group, as a whole, working towards creating an interesting and dynamic story. As such, the rules are on the light side. This isn’t my normal sort of game though so I found it a bit jarring. However, amongst the burgeoning “Indie” community, I can see this game working well.