From the Archives: Assassination Games

We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.

Here’s a game idea from the DC archives:

I’ve stumbled upon a rather odd true story, full of secret agents, (cyber)sex, and murder. According to the judge in the case, “Skilled writers of fiction would struggle to conjure up a plot such as this.” Since I don’t have the time or ambition to write a spy novel, I’ll just tell you the story here, and come up with some ways it might be used in an RPG.

The story begins with a young man named Mark. While surfing the internet one day, Mark meets a young woman, who we’ll call Suzie, in a chat room. The two hit if off, and soon they begin typing naughty things at one another. Mark even engages in non-FCC-approved activity on his webcam for Suzie’s erotic amusement. This goes on for a while, but one day when Mark logs into the chat room for an imaginary makeout session, Suzie is nowhere to be found. A few days later, Mark is contacted by John, Suzie’s step-brother. John has bad news: Suzie has been killed by a stalker.

Mark is understandably devastated and he and John arrange a real-life meeting to share their grief. As time passes, John and Mark become friends, spending time together both online and in the real world. The boys are joined in the chat room by an MI5 agent, who I’ll call Jack Sterling, mainly because it sounds like a cool name for a British secret agent. Though the exact details are hazy, our boy Jack dies valiantly in the line of duty in order to protect the boys from some unknown menace. Jack is replaced by a second agent, Janet Dobinson.

Despite their many losses, Mark and John soldier on. Mark even manages to move on with his life, and finds a new virtual girlfriend named Jenny. Then John gets more bad news: he’s been diagnosed with a brain tumor. This is the point of the story where, in Shakespeare, the characters would soliloquize about the cruelty of fate.

Meanwhile, Dobinson attempts to bring Mark into the service of The Crown. She reveals to Mark that John is already an agent, and that treatment for the tumor will not only render him useless, but will cost the govenment a lot of money in medical expenses. It’s cheaper just to kill him. By performing the assassination, Mark will prove his loyalty to the company AND rid them of the soon-to-be pointlessly expensive John. If Mark does the job, he’ll be brought on board, paid a large sum of money, and even introduced to Tony Blair. Mark agrees to perform the hit, and stabs John in a dark alleyway, but the wound is not fatal.

Just like all those M. Night Shamalamadingdong movies, this story has a twist. You see, of all the characters who appear in the story, only Mark and John are actual people. Suzie, Jenny, Janet, and even the tragic Jack Sterling are internet chat room identities invented by John. Fifteen year-old John is the first person in Britain to be convicted of attempting to arrange his own murder. The story is recapped in Fortean Times 186, page 4, based on stories in several British newspapers. John apparently created at least two additional false identities, but they are not described in the article.

Now that you know the rest of the story, it’s time to figure out how to use it in a game. The first use is obvious: assume Mark succeeds in killing John and give it to your players as a murder mystery. To pass muster with most gamers, you’ll probably have to do some work to make the story fit together a little better. For example, how do the MI5 agents explain their involvement (and for that matter, their preference for chat rooms over face-to-face meetings) to Mark?

Assuming you can work out the details, this would make a nice scenario for a “CSI” type game. At first, it looks like an open and shut case: Mark is clearly insane, with many of the characters in the story existing only in his mind. Then a piece of evidence–maybe something to do with Marks’ Buddy List–turns up corroborating Mark’s story, and things get interesting.

If you move away from the idea of somebody orchestrating his own murder, you’ve got a cool way for shadowy government agencies (or just vengeful ex-girlfriends) to recruit assassins. The story begins in much the same way–boy meets fake girl, boy and fake girl fall in love, fake girl is killed by a stalker. With a little extra work, the recruiters can even introduce news of a real-life murder case as evidence of Suzie’s death. Even if the police have made an arrest, new chat room entities can show up to cast doubt on the official theories.

Sooner or later, one of two things will happen: (1) our witless dupe, with plenty of help from the folks in chat room, discovers “the real murderer” and plots revenge; (2) the stalker shows up online, taunting and threatening the poor kid who lost his imaginary girlfriend, all the while leaving clues to his identity. In either case, the “real killer” is the person who the people arranging all this want out of the picture.

Of course, you don’t have to use the internet for this kind of scheme. Just leave out Suzie and have the murder arranged by other more-or-less unprovable means: shadowy “agents of the King”; “the voice of god” (assuming you’ve got access to appropriate magic, technology, or mind control); secret “letters from Jodie Foster.” Whatever floats your boat, as long as the dupe can be convinced that the murder is necessary, and that he shouldn’t reveal who he’s working for.

My last idea may be too devious for some groups, but could be lots of fun with the right kind of players. It’s for a spy game, but probably won’t work terribly well for the typical Bond-type set-up. The PCs need to be working for an organization with a cell structure, under deep cover, or otherwise cut off from the overall command structure of the organization. If they’ve already got an established “handler,” you’ll need to kill him off and introduce the group’s new boss, but if this is a new campaign the murder of the real handler can happen off-screen. In any case, the PCs will eventually discover that their contact is an imposter, and that they’ve been unknowingly acting as double agents, or even that they aren’t really spies at all–just killers and investigators from some super rich criminal overlord or evil megacorp. Regardless of the details, this could be a lot of fun as long as the players are cool with being “set up” like this.