Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes

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Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes.jpg
Designer(s)Michael A. Stackpole
Publisher(s)1st edition, Blade (division of Flying Buffalo); 2nd edition, Sleuth Publications
Publication date1st edition, April 1983; 2nd edition, 1986
Genre(s)Detective, Espionage
System(s)Custom Tunnels and Trolls derivative

Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes (MSPE) is a tabletop role-playing game designed and written by Michael A. Stackpole and first published in April 1983 by Blade, a division of Flying Buffalo, Inc. A second edition was later published by Sleuth Publications,[1] but Flying Buffalo continues to distribute the game. MSPE's mechanics are based on those of Tunnels and Trolls, with the addition of a skill system for characters. A few adventure modules were also released for MSPE.[2] The ruleset of 1987 video game Wasteland, on which Michael A. Stackpole worked, is based on MSPE; as the upcoming 2013 sequel Wasteland 2 will use similar mechanics, so it too can be seen as based on MSPE.



MSPE determines character attributes by random roll. Skills are purchased for the character by the player using Skill Points. Skills are available in multiple levels, but skill cost goes up exponentially as the level of the skill increases.

Game mechanics[edit]

The core game mechanic of MSPE is the Saving Throw. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons' saving throws, those in MSPE are not used solely to escape danger. Instead, the MSPE saving throw is an attribute roll. The Gamemaster determines the difficulty of the saving throw, and the player then rolls two six-sided dice and adds the value of the relevant attribute of his/her character. MSPE saving throws can also be modified by skills, in which case the level of the skill being used is also added.

MSPE uses a "loose" skill coupling, where any skill can potentially be used in combination with any attribute. In contrast, many other role-playing games use a "tight" coupling, where each skill has an associated attribute and is used only with that attribute.[3]

For combat, MSPE uses the same system as Tunnels and Trolls, with expanded rules for missile weapons (due to the importance of guns in the modern era) and additional rules for martial arts.

Character advancement[edit]

Characters in MSPE earn Adventure Points (APs) on the basis of the "risk and daring" taken (decided by the gamemaster), success in combat, how well the characters handled their mission, and saving throws made. Gamemasters also have discretion to give out bonus APs. Earning enough APs causes the character to increase in level, and each level gives the character points to add to attributes (which can indirectly give more skill points).

In addition to overall APs, MSPE characters also earn Skill APs by using their skills. When enough skill APs are earned, the skill in question advances a level, regardless of the character's overall APs and level.


W.G. Armintrout comparatively reviewed Top Secret, Espionage!, and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes in Space Gamer No. 67.[4] Armintrout commented that "Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes is one of the best-presented role-playing games I've ever seen, and if it isn't seriously in contention for a Charlie at Origins I'll be surprised. It should be understood that the game is supposed to be 'fun'. This means it often plays like: 'Make a saving roll to avoid the giant anaconda' or 'Make a saving roll to dodge the charging tiger'; on the other hand, getting involved in even a minor gunfight is a good way to get killed. MSPE is the simplest game of this bunch, yet I find it intriguing. It seems more open-ended than the other games: Utilizing MSPE rules, you could play out such varied adventurers as Murder on the Orient Express, The Dogs of War, or the exploits of James Bond. The rules are excellent, promise to be well-supported, and can be a great deal of fun if you don't take your gunfights too seriously."[4]

In 1999 Pyramid magazine named Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games. Editor Scott Haring described the game as "one of those 'I can't figure out why it wasn't more popular' kind of games, though publisher Flying Buffalo has had enough of those ... to make me think there may be a connection."[5]


  1. ^ Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 66. ISBN 0-87975-652-7.
  2. ^ Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 66–69. ISBN 0-87975-652-7.
  3. ^ Casey, Travis. "Capsule Reivew of Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes". Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b Armintrout, W.G. (Jan–Feb 1984). "Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy: a comparative review". Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (67): 11–16.
  5. ^ Haring, Scott D. (1999-11-25). "Second Sight: The Millennium's Most Influential Company and The Millennium's Most Underrated Game". Pyramid (online). Retrieved 2008-02-16.

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