Blasting up bad guys is fun, and for espionage or military-based games, it’s bound to turn up, but here’s a good way to really challenge the players: make them avoid conflict.

The latest espionage campaign I’m running has the team as part of an experimental team that is shared by DHS and CIA — the goal being to allow them to operate anywhere in the world, including CONUS. (This was prior to the disastrous NDAA this year that allows military to operate in law enforcement actions on US soil — I’m going to make it a part of the campaign that their success helped “excuse” the NDAA.) Most of the team are an Army spec ops team, but they’re operating with Secret Service in a joint counterterrorism task force; while in the US, they’re on loan to the DHS to get around the legal blocks.

The down side: they have to act like cops in the US. The USSS characters have to run the ops domestically and have had to push the other characters to obey the laws governing evidence, searches, violent encounters (one character is in trouble because while searching a suspect’s trailer, he was aggressed and used the bad guy’s .44 magnum…then didn’t check it into evidence.)

Most of the time, their goal is not to waste the bad guys, but to capture and interrogate (and not in the “enhanced” way.) That means a lot less gunplay, a lot more planning, a lot more thinking things through, and more use of charisma and intimidation skills. They have to be carful in car chases not to get too crazy in urban settings (although we had a Bentley on Ferrari chase in South Beach that was pretty damned cool.)

The most recent involved stealing information from a mark’s laptop without him knowing. They couldn’t hurt the target, they were protected by diplomatic immunity. They didn’t want the information they were out to get be compromised, so they had to get to the machine while the man was away, either subvert the password, or find a way to image the drive without getting through the password. (There’s a couple of good exploits for the latter for the MacBook the bad guy was using that one of the players found online.)

Most of the characters were busy playing distraction for the French DCRI, which was providing security for the target and his cohort that were in Paris for a “cultural conference.” The goal was to keep the security types following them by being suspicious enough to warrant surveillance, while doing nothing illegal or detention-worthy, while a two man team slipped into the target’s hotel room while the bad guy was out partying.

The natural inclination from years of fantasy hack & slash, and other violence-tending adventures in RPGS, is to bust heads or open up with high order violence where possible. Pushing them to be subtle usually runs against the grain. It can be more challenging to do things quietly, and more fulfilling when they get away with a mission without the opposition even knowing they were there.