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The Agency

The Agency - The Queen's Men

For me the best part of a gaming convention is to try new systems and ones you have maybe dabbled in. The former because buying new game systems when already a fair proportion of home and office shelves bulge with them is no longer an option (especially with a reluctance to part with systems gathering dust on said shelves) the latter because it is always good to see how others run a system you may not be too familiar with and well, it saves reading the rules, dun it.

The nature of convention games is that they are generally run fairly tightly and aimed at a group that are possibly somewhat unknowing of the system, genre or even roleplaying in general. This makes them absolutely perfect after sloshing your way down to Birmingham on a Friday armed with little more than a train ticket, bundle of clothes, toothbrush and your bodyweight in cans of Carling and Fosters (and a recently cleared credit card begging to be loaded up).


So with this in mind we booked The Queen's Men, set in the 'universe' of The Agency.

The Agency is a roleplaying game where players take on the roles of sixties style secret agents fighting the supernatural, so long hair, velvet suites, frilly cuffs and walking canes all round.

With our usual level of pre-game recon we were both hung-over (this being the Saturday) and blissfully oblivious to even the vaguer points of either genre or system. Suffice to say, somebody red 60's spies and that was good enough.

Armed with beer and staring at the GM who probably regretted ever agreeing to run an adventure, we listened somewhat half-heartedly while he explained.

The game is 'the show that never was'. The characters are the Queen's Men, this being a variant of the The Agency, set in an earlier period. Nope, this didn't register, nor did his comment that suiting my character up in a dapper wing collared coat, top hat and impressive drooping moustache was impressively anachronistic.

The explanation continued. The game is set on two levels. At one level there are a series of events that take place and the characters have to outwit, outfight and outthink the adversaries encountered, be they monsters, minions or natural events. Your run-of-the-mill RPG stuff we are all familiar with. The other level however puts a twist on this that I have never encountered the like of before. The whole of the stuff above is nothing more than poorly made stage props as the whole thing is nothing more than the set of a TV programme. In this case it was a TV programme suffering from budget cuts at a time when stuntmen are striking. The whole thing was being directed by a mad Frenchman (or was he German? accents were all over the show).

The game is very much rules light with a few stats and skills and motif about the character (as portrayed in the show). I went with facial close-ups in important scenes. These can be used to keep a character in a scene they would normally be booted from when, for a better expression, everything goes tits-up for them.
Each player also gets to chuck into the pot a complication that can later be taken by a player to give their character a bonus in that scene but will come back to haunt them. You make them up.

We added: foreign spy; drunk on set; wooden leg; betrayed by lover

The story was fairly straightforward. Earl of Dudley had abducted the daughter of a Lord Eltham (it was not dawning on me that maybe it was going to be set in mini-skirt heaven) and had taken her to an abandoned castle.

We opened with a quick one-on-one for each player to introduce the character and get a feel for how their actor plays him. A wizards lab with strange bubbling beakers and glass jars filled with pickled creatures for Dr John Dee, some roughhousing for Sir Francis Bacon and for Christopher Marlowe (my character), apologising to the lady as he leaves the bed to answer the Queens call (with cover strategically placed to cover the corset of the overweight middle-aged actor).

The opening scene in which the description of castle on the hill was met by a reiteration of the Camelot scene from Monty Pythons Holy Grail quickly got us into the swing of the game. Pretending to be an actor who is playing the part of the an Elizabethan agent, struggling under the weight of fallen masonry which is in fact polystyrene, polystyrene which due to budget cuts is only painted on one side. Lots of swaying around in our chairs with arms above heads trying to keep the imaginary painted side of the block pointing towards cameras ensued. More beer was ordered.

We battle our way through tumbling polystyrene blocks while hands in painted marigold gloves reach out at us from just off camera and things are going well, that is until one of the unpaid extras (as there are no stuntmen) manages to slap Sir Francis Bacon by accident. A proper punch-up occurs pretty much bringing everything down and the scene is wrapped as the Bacon, mosschops now dangling is last seen chasing the extra between the trailers.

Further scenes unfold in which Dr John Dee uses his mystical powers of levitation (things dangling from fishing rods) and a hurled monster strikes a fire alarm, which requires post-production sound effects and voice over. Most of them start with Bacon sporting a fresh set of moss-chops (in assorted colours, having quickly exhausted his own stock causing make-up to improvise) and end with him pummelling the same extra. More beer is consumed both by actors and players alike.

Oh, right, so we are in Elizabethan times. Gotcha. My character will ditch his top hat for the next scene.
Dealing with mermaids (shot in soft focus) looking to drag us into the ornamental pond required some cunning. The first was persuaded to slip out of the scene and make her way to the trailer of the character playing Christopher Marlowe. To the other it was explained that with one mermaid on the boil back at the caravan, the scene needed to be over pretty sharp, so irrespective of what it said in the script, if the little lady didnt bugger off right now, she would never work in television again. Scene wraps with Bacon dunking extra in the ornamental pond off camera.

The final scene in which (we decided with a much obliging GM to change the ending) it is revealed that the Earl of Dudley is in fact the Lord Elthams daughter the very same one my actors character started the episode in bed with (er, no it didnt make sense, if she was already abducted. We vaguely justified it as the same actress also likely to be one of the mermaids whatever, nobody watching the show would give a figs). The whole abduction thing was a ruse to lure us into a trap. It also ties up the betrayal of lover complication I picked up earlier.



A few minutes later my character is hopping across the set using his wooden leg (yeah, got that one as well) to drive back minions of the nobles daughter while Sir Francis Bacon crosses foils with the lady herself. I say lady, though by this point she has been replaced by a certain extra in a very poor wig. An extra out for revenge it needs to be added. Soon fake swords have been discarded and the pair are fighting dirty, scrapping their way across the set, knocking over fake walls and calling each other wankers. The director is having a field day, saying it is brilliant, this is how they would fight and to keep rolling. Bacon grapples her/him to a hold and rips of the wig. Dr Dee declares its a man and the camera zooms in Christopher Marlowes face (recreated at the gaming table by use of fingers and thumbs to frame my face to a reveal a look of horror.

As it turned out, the chap running the game was none other than its creator. We bumped into him the following day, quite sober for a change. He confirmed that we had actually played it in the fashion it was meant (there was a debate over breakfast as to whether he was just humouring a bunch of drunks). I would recommend giving it a go for pure comedy value.





 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Return of the LiQuans

A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Who is behind the AFA?

Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Felini flounder in Winter against superior Dewiek forces

The FEL have managed to get their asses kicked by the DEN yet again after provoking the definitely “not cute or cuddly” Dewiek in the Crossley system. The furry punching bags had bought a civilian flagged outpost in the system, without permission or under certain conditions depending on who you ask, and then had the gall to reinforce this error by positioning warships in orbit. The famously patient warlord Halvor did not buy the story these heavy hull armed ships were merely transports and sent a pack to clear the orbit. The mouthy yet green Felini fleet commander Pr'prz fancied his chances against what looked like a light complement of DEN warships and ordered his own warships to engage in the neighbouring Winter system. The result was predictably a wipe out of the FEL forces consisting of forty-seven capital warships at no loss to the DEN. Once again, a series of calamitous decision making resulted in Felini lives being wasted by a leadership barely fit to clean a litter tray. The otherwise untested Halvor can now claim some victory ale although with his penchant for picking on creatures as weak as Gracians, it’s not exactly clear how much glory this new breed of Dewiek warrior can claim against the legends of old.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Dastardly Dewiek Disregard Yank Neutrality

The governor of a MRC outpost in the Yank system reports that a 400-hull DEN warship called Grey Hunter Axiom entered orbit of Spritzer and opened fire with weapons of mass destruction (WoMD) against a platform, outpost, ground party and ship. Reports indicate significant casualties to Kastorian personnel both in space and on the ground. The KAS Junta is gruffly warning, with a slightly indifferent air, that everybody better stay out of the sector of the outpost for their own health. It is unclear what measures the KAS have or will take against the DEN on this matter. Such a breach of Yank neutrality has in the past caused the Dewiek to froth at the bit against the Empire for their disregard of ‘civilised’ norms. Their current silence on this matter speaks volumes.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Yenni-bodies Pirates?

A PIR outpost was miraculously discovered by an IMP freighter, of all things, in the Yanni system with several Javelin class warships in orbit. After noticing the IMP freighter and seeing the public post by Jack Jones on subspace, the PIR decided to flee and leave a combined force of IMP and FET forces to capture the outpost. A brain damaged three-year old commentator who still believed in the goodness of people and Santa Claus was quick to commend the IMP on their good work, dismissing those who thought it no more than a convenient clearing up operation signifying* completion of operations in the nearby FET claimed systems of Graydown, Canth and Onissian by IMP puppet Edward Lowe. Meanwhile, the Wolf Lord Lyceum summed up the view of many when he screamed, “What is this amateur b*llshit?” into an uncaring universe.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Crowe Coups Self

The IMP Viceroy Tiberius Crowe has finally achieved something in his unremarkable tenure by relinquishing even the semblance of wearing big boy pants and instead, appointed Jack Jones as Patrol Commissioner, salty spokesperson and policy maker for the Empire. Crowe will now join CIA Director Laton in riding the special bus to work where the two of them will enjoy long pleasant afternoons sipping cups of tea. Actually, just tepid fruit-scented water as neither of them can be fully trusted with a hot kettle. Occasionally, they might be visited by equally dynamic war “veteran” Admiral Bridge to enjoy mimes presenting the latest comics from the Howl. Meanwhile, Jones is putting pressure on the FET and will soon no doubt find a pretext to deploy his vast mercenary forces against anyone else who is seen working too closely with his most hated of enemies, the HEX.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Highlord Aadolf Loses Control As Dewiek Break Peace Treaty

Around one hundred DEN warships have launched an attack on a small GTT destroyer squadron of forty ships in the Daggern system. Two GTT ships were destroyed and another fifteen suffered noticeable damage. CEO Xavier Fox issued a restrained but angry statement demanding the DEN explain themselves. Highlord Aadolf’s buffoon-like response amounted to “Dewiek be Dewiek, let’s drink and forget about it.” Cold comfort for the dead crew onboard the GTT ships and their families. Especially, as seems likely at this time, the Empire will settle for some bloody money instead of retribution.


 

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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic