Having recently talked about mysteries in games and fiction, I will now expand on the related genre of spy missions, heists, capers, and con jobs. In Part 1, I’ll briefly look at some staples of the genre in books, television and movies, then examine a handful of game systems that attempt to bring the heist structure to role-playing.
In Part 2 and Part 3, I will draw elements from these sources to discuss more generally what game masters can do to run this kind of adventure in any system. I’ll round this up by providing links to some nifty online resources for the genre.
What I’m talking about here is the kind of fiction — book, movie, television show, or game — where a team of highly skilled pros take on a seemingly impossible job using criminal means (electronic surveillance, breaking-and-entry, theft, swindles, etc.) in full view of the audience or reader.
The genre is characterized by suspense, action, misdirection, the boldness of the plan, the high level of competence of the crew, the relationships and interplay of trust and betrayal between characters, and often a mix of humour and drama. The crew usually cover distinctive roles, each with their area of expertise such as mastermind, technical whiz, explosives expert, master of disguise, etc. In addition, the team is often working with limited resources, at least once the plan is under way.
The genre covers an array of gamer favourites. Surprisingly, it can be found in just about any era or fictional setting from fantasy to science fiction. There are several sub-genres (some even classify them as different but related genres):