The world is a pretty normal place. The stuff of comic books is pure fiction -- there are no aliens, mutants, or evil cultists. Time-travel is impossible, there's no such thing as magic, and people exposed to strange glowing radiation are much more likely to get cancer than become super-strong or turn invisible.
At least, that's what most people think. You know better, because you deal with this stuff every day. "Reality" is friggin' weird. When you're not battling genetically-engineered psychic vampires, you're trying to prevent extradimensional energy-beings from folding up the earth into a tiny, uninhabitable parallelogram about the size of a postage stamp. And you've got to do it in total secrecy.
The good news is, you've got some of that weirdness on your side, too. Maybe you were born with telekinetic powers, or you have studied ancient mystical texts, or you are a shapeshifting android. Maybe you've got no super-powers at all, but are just a badass (with the best high-tech gear modern super-science has to offer). Either way, it is up to you and your team to handle threats so dangerous and bizarre that if the public even learned about them it could be disastrous.
SAGA conducts espionage and covert operations around the world. Well-funded and well-connected, it is one of the most secret and most high-tech organizations on earth. The players are a Mission Team carrying out covert operations against super-powered foes.
The Office of Special Alternative Geopolitical Analysis (SAGA) is a highly secretive government-run think tank formed by executive order of President Kennedy in 1963 in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. They have operatives stationed around the world, gathering not secret intelligence but rather an understanding of foreign cultures, interests, and political climates. They release a report or two every year recommending certain courses of action both at home and abroad. Although they are usually correct in the long run, these reports are most often ignored, since SAGA refuses to divulge its methods and their recommendations usually run counter to prevailing political opinion. So Congress, and the public at large, overlook SAGA as little more than an entrenched nodule of the bureaucracy. This is exactly how they like it.
The truth is that SAGA does have operatives around the world: super-powered individuals known as "metas" who spend most of their time stomping on threats ordinary people just can't handle. Unbeknownst to all but a few government officials and some paranoid wacko conspiracy nuts, the world is constantly under siege by all manner of metahuman threats; SAGA has dealt with everything from ancient mystical cabals to the advanced scouts of an alien invasion to violent terrorists with mutant powers to mad capitalists with dangerous technology. The agents of SAGA are a similarly diverse crowd, including psychic investigators, energy-wielding mutants, alien refugees, artificial life-forms, witches, cyborgs, and monsters. Although there are those who fear and fight against such a motley crew and the incomprehensible universe they represent, SAGA will take whoever they can get in the fight against chaos and destruction.
At first glance, SAGA is a fairly small operation with simple procedures and little bureaucracy. However, they have agents all over the world, many in unlikely roles, and they have connections within all levels of the US government and many foreign nations.
Personnel: SAGA is led by a Director, Deputy Director, and a number of Senior Specialists who operate out of headquarters. Agents are generally divided into Field Agents, who operate in a specific region, and Specialists, who posses a special skill or expertise about a particular global threat. Rank among SAGA agents follows a simple hierarchy: Junior Specialist / Junior Agent, Specialist / Field Agent, Senior Specialist / Senior Agent. Metahumans aren't given any special privilege in this rank structure, although they are more likely to be categorized as Specialists rather than Field Agents. Members are expected to follow the orders of higher-ranking members. During SAGA operations, additional designations of Team Leaders and Mission Leader are assigned.
Mission Teams: Although SAGA agents spend most of their time gathering intelligence, the PCs are assumed to have a more active role as part of a Mission Team. Missions may consist of anything from infiltrating secure facilities to attending social events incognito to capturing dangerous foes. Occasionally SAGA needs to send in an attack force, but most missions are conducted very quietly, without drawing any attention to the existence of paranormal phenomenon. Each Mission Team is overseen by a more experienced agent (and typically a norm) who doesn't accompany them on missions but provides much-needed backup and support from a remote location.
Headquarters: A nondescript office building in a lush, wooded region of Virginia near Washington, DC, SAGA headquarters is surrounded by a variety of invisible force-fields and magical wards. Although agents have offices in the main building portion, most of the Headquarters facility is below ground. A combination command center, laboratory, training facility, and vault, SAGA headquarters has never been breached in the 40 years since it was built. Most high-profile missions begin and end at headquarters, and all the PCs are stationed here.
Here are some of the characters people may meet working for SAGA. Some of them have power levels in the 10-15 range, although the majority of SAGA's agents are in the 5-10 range.
Director Charles Zhan: Or, "the Director," is an aging man of Chinese ancestry who has guided the affairs of SAGA for the past 18 years. He is a norm, but was an exceptional field agent for many years and rose up through the ranks. He has made a lot of friends around Washington and has many connections to call upon, although most don't actually know what his office does. The Director is a driven and efficient man with no tolerance for excuses, although he does have a warmer side he shows to his friends and a wry sense of humor that can manifest at odd times.
Deputy Director Jeanette Ambriose: A young French woman with short, blond hair, Ms. Ambriose had a promising career in the private sector in Europe for several years and still has many contacts in the EU. She is an incredibly sharp, no-nonsense person who handles more of SAGA's day-to-day operations and oversees important missions. She is pushing to have SAGA totally detach itself from the U.S. government and become an independent, international organization.
Lolanda Scott: SAGA's chief administrator, office manager, and human-resources department, Ms. Scott and her small staff handle all SAGA affairs that aren't directly related to metahumans. She's in charge of all correspondence with the outside world, including answering the phones, ordering office supplies, maintaining the mundane facilities, and writing SAGA's recommendation reports (which she bases on simple common sense). Ms. Scott is a strong-willed African American woman with a photographic memory. She loves helping people and is most likely to throw office birthday parties and the like. She and Ms. Ambriose are very close.
Agent Salem: One of the most powerful agents, Salem spends most of her time at HQ examining magical artifacts and looking for signs of new magical threats. A powerful witch, she has long, silver hair and appears young although she is known to be at least 60 years old. She has a calm and quiet demeanor and a kind smile and often uses her healing powers to patch up overextended rookie agents.
Agent Romulus: A fat, lazy, rude, and socially inept middle-aged man with an unfortunate mustache, Romulus is SAGA's most powerful psychic agent, capable of reading minds, projecting false images, sending telepathic commands. He can even wipe or replace memories, on those occasions when SAGA's secrecy has been compromised. Although smart, he's a selfish good-for-nothing that would be nowhere without his mental powers, and he knows it, constantly milking the Office for all it's worth. For all his ability to touch the minds of others he still has trouble connecting with people on a personal level.
Agent Hazard: A short, brown-haired young woman raised in the American South, Hazard broke all the records for both men and women in the U.S. Army's elite special forces training program. SAGA medical examination revealed that she is a first-generation spliced -- a meta created through genetic engineering who was smuggled out of an Ubertech facility as an infant. Hazard exhibits meta levels of strength, coordination, and awareness, and is now in charge of combat training and weapons testing for the Office.
Agent Mensa: One of the creatures known in UFO circles as the "small greys," Mensa is a short, androgynous alien with smooth, white skin, a large cranium, and black, almond eyes. Like all of his artificially-created race, he is super-intelligent when it comes to math and science, and was raised from an early age to find computers repulsive and untrustworthy. Consequently, he is SAGA's chief science officer, in charge of analyzing captured technology and deciding which items may be used in the field. He is very lonely on Earth, surrounded by such computer-loving nitwits.
Agent Sparks: Sparks is a young man who used to run with an ambitious inner-city gang. One of the smartest members, Sparks was in charge of bypassing security systems during break-ins, until they broke into a top-secret laboratory and he was zapped with an experimental energy field. He developed minor electrical powers, including the ability to interface directly with computers and other electronics, and was quickly recruited by SAGA as their lead computer scientist. Sparks is eager and enthusiastic and enjoys a good time, but takes his responsibility to his teammates very seriously.
Here are just a few of the dangerous forces which threaten the people's freedom and, sometimes, their very existence.
The Cabal of Hermes: Also known as the Illuminati, the Order of Magi, the Secret Eye, and a number of other aliases, the Cabal of Hermes is one of the oldest and most secretive mystical orders in the world. They exist primarily to increase the magical and temporal power and wealth of their members, and a strict hierarchy of obedience ensures that members with conflicting goals can work them out peacefully. The Cabal does not specifically seek to take over the world although that is a personal goal of many high-ranking members; they are also involved in many arcane plots such as stealing ancient artifacts or trafficking with extraplanar creatures. One of their most spectacular failed experiments is the Masonic Temple (Freemasons), which was originally meant to involve regular people in occult rituals without their realizing it, and to recruit promising members into the Cabal. However those promising members often turned out to decent people who bought into the Freemason's values, and eventually turned that organization into a force for good.
The Final Jihad: This group desires nothing less than to cleans the face of the earth of infidels with Allah's holy flame, leaving only the truly pious. Their methods and rhetoric are so extreme and despicable that even other terrorists generally refuse to work with them; the Final Jihad has actively attempted to destroy the world on several occasions. Nothing is beneath them, and they frequently make use of dangerous and experimental technology. Although the group has been thought destroyed many times, they always seem to rebound, and SAGA is beginning to suspect something more sinister than misguided fundamentalism at work.
Antipodeans: The mysterious extraterrestrial energy-creatures known as "antipodeans" resemble glowing, pulsating fractal patterns. Their substance and metabolism is totally based on field principles rather than molecular chemistry, and although their homeworld is on the other side of the universe, they have some ability to travel between dimensions and have tried, unsuccessfully, to invade Earth on several occasions. They have superb energy-control abilities, and their technology (also made of energy) can allow them to possess people's minds and restructure matter. The antipodeans are clearly very intelligent, being able to predict outcomes with surprising accuracy and having an innate grasp of complex mathematics, but they are stupid in other ways, overlooking simple flaws in their plans, and having some difficulty tracking the passage of time. Limited communication with the antipodeans (through possessed hosts) has been unable to convince them that humans are, in fact, intelligent and capable of thought.
Ubertech: This international conglomerate, founded by genius inventor Max Shine (third richest man on Earth), has weathered many a scandal and indictment and shaken them all off, in part because most of them were fabricated by SAGA in an effort to bring the company down. Although Ubertech's legitimate businesses are in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, materials manufacturing, mining, and weapons systems, they engage in a great deal of high-tech research in secret, producing bioweapons, genetically modified organisms, cutting-edge cybernetics, nanotechnology, designer drugs, and psychic enhancers. They frequently experiment on human subjects, and their research projects tend to get out of hand, or worse, fall into the wrong hands, for the right price.
The Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign: At the end of the Cretaceous period, a little-known subgroup of the therapods developed sentience. After hundreds of thousands of years, they evolved to the point where humans exist today, building a great civilization, but ultimately became corrupt and degenerate, beginning to worship strange alien entities. For 65 million years, these "serpent folk" carved out a meager existence in underground caverns throughout the world, their odd ways warping over time to become even odder. Now, through cross-breeding with human captives, the serpent folk have once again began spreading the worship of the Unspeakable One into a great civilization. These cults, known as the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, seek ancient artifacts which can bring the Unspeakable One into this dimension -- something that would surely spell doom for everyone.
The Liquidators: When the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant's reactor 4 melted down in the spring of 1986, thousands of people were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, including residents of the nearby town of Pripyat and soldiers and firefighters sent to stop or contain the reaction. Many of those exposed died of cancer or diminished immune systems, and amongst the survivors, birth rates have declined and birth defects increased. But some of the children were born with wildly mutated genetic code, yet few or no visible birth defects. This group, now teenagers, has developed phenomenal mutant abilities, including energy control, telepathy, teleportation, shapechanging, force fields, and more. They have recently been brought together by a charismatic figure known only as Zamyatin and begun engaging in criminal activities in the Russian underworld and abroad. SAGA is concerned that the Liquidator's message of empowerment and acceptance will resonate with undiscovered metas and that the organization could grow beyond its Russian roots.
Characters begin the game at PL6 with 90 power points. There will be plenty of opportunity for advancement throughout the campaign so if you can't afford to make a character that is exactly what you want, you might be able to grow into that role.
If you want, I will create your character for you, based on a concept that you provide. Or, you can create a character yourself, although I might ask for certain revisions if I feel it will be too powerful or too complicated during gameplay. In either case you may want to run your concept by me first to make sure we are on the same page. In fact, you may want to share your concept with the group so that you can put together a balanced party.
The players are special agents working for SAGA, although how they gained their powers (if any) and how they attained that position is almost completely up to them. However, there are a few guidelines.
Power Replication: SAGA tries to understand and replicate the powers of its agents as much as possible. Although they're not going to dissect anyone (at least, that's what they claim), they expect copies of all device blueprints, genetic mutation formulas, magical rituals, and the like. This could make characters feel less unique, particularly the "genius inventor" archetype, who uses super-science to make device only to have them used in the field by someone else. (Conversely, it could be fun to play such a field agent, testing a new shrink-ray or power-suit or whatever.) Generally, a character's powers should be something that can't be easily replicated or mass-produced.
Appearance: SAGA agents work undercover much of the time and so should not usually wear outlandish outfits or look really bizarre without a good reason. For example, a character that is a lumbering brightly-colored monstrosity will need to be kept under wraps and might miss out on much of the adventure. Similarly, brightly-colored spandex is usually unnecessary. An exception might be an outfit worn under the clothing, which is invulnerable to the wearer's powers. For example, someone with energy field might fry their normal outfit and wind up in their super-underoos during a fight sequence; such things are unavoidable. SAGA does not have convenient memory-wiping neurolizers so secrecy is important.
Code Name: All SAGA agents use code names when on missions. Although most of them have real names and use them when not on missions, any official communications or documentation uses the code name. These are personalized to each agent and are in many ways treated like callsigns or nicknames; an agent can usually select their own code name. Code names are almost always one word preceded by "Agent." For example, if the Freedom League worked for SAGA as the Freedom Squad, their members would be Agent Thunder, Agent Daedelus, Agent Liberty, Agent Raven, Agent Rocket, Agent Siren, and Agent Metropolis.
Setting Information: Don't feel constrained by the sample NPCs and organizations listed above! Feel free to make up your own secret cabal of necromancers, alien species, or failed government super-soldier program as part of your background. This is even encouraged, since you are adding to the campaign world and increasing the opportunity for sub-plots. If your background story contradicts the setting information or doesn't fit the tone of the setting, the GM will suggest revisions to try to make it work.
These are things that will make playing the game easier.
Rookies: Players are encouraged to create characters that are new SAGA agents. Although they may have a lot of experience from other agencies or may have known about the hidden world of metahumans for quite some time, they are new to SAGA. This way, they won't know much about SAGA's inner workings, so I can just make things up as I go along.
Equipment: At PL6, it's often possible to buy equipment that is as good (or better than) similar powers. For example, a 12-gauge shotgun is just as effective as Blast 6, but at a fraction of the price. Even better, you can redistribute your equipment points freely as long as you have a reasonable opportunity to do so. For example, if your next mission involves covert operations, you might trade in your shotgun for a silenced light pistol and a taser.
Feats: Although it's tempting for a highly-trained special-agent to have a ton of feats, don't go overboard. In my experience, feats add a lot of complexity to a character and people frequently forget to use their feats. Feats are deceptive because they are so cheap and their rules are so short and sweet. Remember that you can use a Hero Point to get a feat if you really need it.
Problem Powers: Certain types of powers will make things a bit tricky. If you want powers in this category, please work things out with the GM ahead of time.
- Certain powers are "spoilers," allowing the players to circumvent challenges that would otherwise be very interesting to overcome. Notable examples are Mind Reading, Super-Senses (Precognition, Detect Lies), or anything else that gives the players too much information. If your character concept involves such a power, please check with the GM to discuss ways of working the power into adventures without making it too too useful.
- Because they can slow down game play, power effects that involve redistributing points or recalculating trait costs in the middle of combat are discouraged. This includes powers like Shapeshift, Transform, Drain, Boost, Mimic, Nemesis, and others. If your character concept involves such a power, please check with the GM to work out a system for using the power in a way that does not slow down combat.
To avoid confusion, I'm generally going to avoid using many house rules. We'll start with these, and add more if they seem needed.
Automatic Success/Failure: Rolling a 20 on a saving throw is an automatic success, and a 1 is an automatic failure. This introduces a little randomness so that saving throws are never a "sure thing" either way. This is NOT true for skill checks or ability checks: if you roll a 20 and you still miss the DC, it's a failure. This specifically reduces randomness so that character skills matter more.
Critical Failure: I am not a fan of critical failures, as it can seem like punishing players just for trying something. However, they are also an opportunity to earn Hero Points. If you roll a 1 on an attack roll or a skill check, and it is a miss or failure, something bad might happen -- but if it does, you will earn a Hero Point for it.
Skill Challenges: (from the Mastermind's Manual) You can overcome a limitation of a skill by accepting a penalty on your skill check. The classic example of a skill challenge is moving at normal speed while remaining stealthy, by taking a -5 penalty on your Stealth check, or performing a feint as a move action, by taking a -5 penalty on the Bluff check. In addition, there is a feat called Challenge which allows you to select a single skill challenge and perform it at no penalty. For example, Challenge (Quick Feint) would allow you to feint as a move action without penalty. This rule encourages skill use.
Powers As Feats: (from the Mastermind's Manual) If a power costs 1 point or less (or 1 point per rank), and it makes sense for a normal person to have it, you can purchase it as a feat (or ranked feat) instead of a power. The classic example of a power as feat is Tough, a ranked feat that gives you +1 to Toughness saves per rank (essentially the Protection power). This rule simply provides more options for non-powered agents.
Heroic Feats: If you use a Hero Point to get a feat or power stunt, it lasts for the entire encounter, not just one round. This encourages people to rely on Hero Points instead of buying a ton of seldom-used feats.
Ultimate Power: In order to keep everyone on the same page, we won't use the rules changes presented in Ultimate Power. For example, re-trying a Mind Control attempt will not require extra effort. However, if you would like a particular feat or modifier from Ultimate Power, check with the GM and it might be allowed.
Breaking PL Limits: Certain conditional traits, such as Sneak Attack and Favored Terrain, and even powers with particular flaws, may exceed the Power Level limits by a small amount. Such limitations are treated as the equivalent of taking a penalty to your Attack bonus via trade-offs; check with the GM for details. This allows characters to have a "special attack" that hurts a lot, but is difficult to use.
Re-Balanced Powers: Certain powers are just really, really strong, and are going to cost more than what the core rules suggest.
- The first level of Slow Fade and Homing are +1 Extras. Additional levels remain Power Feats (essentially, a form of the Progression feat).
- Any drain or trait effect that lowers Constitution or Toughness costs an additional +1 power point per rank.
- In accordance with the latest errata, the Aura extra requires you to first raise the power's duration to Sustained. For Instantaneous powers (most attack powers), this is a +2 Extra, making the total cost of Aura a net +3 power points per rank.
Operation Crackerjacks: Mission Briefing - Debriefing
Operation Security Blanket: Mission Briefing - Debriefing
Operation Cold Call: Mission Briefing - Communiques - Debriefing
Operation Cheat Sheet: Mission Briefing - Debriefing
Operation Black-Footed Ferret: False Mission Briefing - Mission Briefing - Debriefing
Operation Milk Carton: Mission Briefing - Debriefing
Operation Oriental Expressions: Mission Briefing - Debriefing
Operation Backhand: Mission Briefing - Debriefing