Retro Reviews: GURPS Operation Endgame

Occasionally, I will be posting old reviews I did for The Gamer (print only) magazine back in the 1990s, and consolidating them here.  You can also find these reviews on rpg.net.

The USSR is dead. Long live the USSR!” That’s the principal theme of this tough, globe-spanning GURPS Espionage campaign, which starts in Copenhagen and proceeds to Moscow, the streets of Beijing, and on to the steppes of Kazakhstan. The 12-page supplement contains four fully developed scenarios that can be run separately or in conjunction with one another. The book winds up with an overview of conflicts around the world and gives ideas for incorporating the events into an ongoing campaign. Given the current situation in Russia, Operation Endgame is a timely look at the dangerous instability of a country suffering the fallout of the Cold War.

The title scenario begins shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Taking advantage of the confusion, “the Company” sends characters to Copenhagen to locate a top KGB agent, codename Midnight, and convince her to defect to the United States. Of course, other forces want to find her first, and PCs must duck the murderous traps of enemy agents as they search. Of the four scenarios, “Operation Endgame” is the most treacherous. Spy and counterspy, agent and double agent fight violently for the upper hand, and there are plenty of opportunities for characters to bite the dust. Agents must play their cards correctly if they expect to survive.

“Operation Loose Ends,” as the title suggests, picks up where “Operation Endgame” leaves off. Midnight informs the Company that six members of the Udarnaya Armiya, an elite terrorist unit, have refused to disband following Mikhail Gorbachev’s cancellation orders. To maintain regional stability, agents are sent to Moscow to find information on the group’s whereabouts and dispose of the assassins before they strike. Amongor characters to bite the dust. Agents must play their cards correctly if they expect to survive.

other objectives, the PCs must thwart an airplane bombing, penetrate the offices of the GRU, find out which of the administrators are helping the Armiya, and find the band’s training site, all the while watching their backs against Armiya’s agents. The web grows larger as the characters are led to rain-swept Madagascar, where they discover a link between the Armiya and the Chinese government.

After the agents terminate the remains of the Udarnaya Armiya, it’s discovered that the group was stockpiling more weapons than they could possibly use. Clues surrounding the weapon shipments point again to China. Infiltrating Communist China is not a job for the faint of heart, and in the third scenario, ‘watching the Dragon,” agents must not only penetrate the country’s political structure, but also its ancient culture. Parties should probably contain at least one Chinese character, or they will have a difficult time in a country where Caucasians stand out like a sore thumb. By the time players complete the first two deadly scenarios, there may be plenty of “empty spaces” for new characters to fill anyway. Agents must dodge the Central Control of Information (CCI), deal with eccentric contacts and the Chinese underworld, and find out why China is supplying rogue Soviets.

The final scenario, “Sons of the Bear,” brings all the subterfuge to a head and raises the stakes. What held true for the Armiya also held true for some of the Soviet border garrisons in Kazakhstan. For reasons of their own, two Soviet officers have refused to disband, and have begun raising private armies in the hills. While on the surface, “Sons of the Bear” would appear to be a seek-and-destroy style mission, though characters who participated in previous adventures will know that the situation is much more delicate. On top of simply wiping out the rebel bands, agents must also deal with other independent bands, a nosy reporter, an opportunistic Chinese general and chemical weapons.

Numerous subplots are interwoven throughout, and author Thomas Kane does of a fine job of balancing roleplaying with tension and straight action. His knowledge of espionage and world events is masterful, and although many scenes possess a flair for the cinematic, there is a brutal realism that adds dimension to the storyline. NPC descriptions are brief yet complete, and offer plenty of hooks for roleplaying.

The final section describing world events is well researched and, for the most part, up to date. Possibilities based on current situations provide excellent scenario hooks, and the suggestions range from corporate espionage in Japan to the more fantastic infiltration of a Buddhist sect bent on world domination.

The worst thing about this excellent supplement is the cover. Featuring two women wearing skin-tight rubber suits and packing pistols, it represents the worst kind of cheesy techno-thriller. Of course, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the inside campaign. The interior art is a better representation of the adventures themselves, but, as with many GURPS supplements, it ranges from decent to poor. With so many NPCs to coordinate, I also would have liked a “family tree” giving a synopsis of the characters and their affiliations. Overall though, these are minor quibbles. Operation Endgame is a challenging campaign that contains all the hallmarks of good espionage, and should inspire hours of intrigue.

GURPS:  Operation Endgame
Published 1993 by Steve Jackson Games
Written by Thomas Kane
$16.95
Reviewed by Gilbert Pili
The Gamer Magazine #20
February 18, 1994
Grade: A

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One thought on “Retro Reviews: GURPS Operation Endgame

  1. Dan Johnston says:

    Espionage has to be the most challenging/rewarding thing to try in Roleplaying. And you can “drop it into” any campaign or setting. GMs looking for real world historical inspiration could read “Her Majesty’s Spymaster” by Budiansky or “Washington’s Spies” by Rose. To misquote Kipling in “Kim”, “The ‘Great Game’ is over when everyone is dead, not before.”

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