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The Imperial Secret Service

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.

Based on an article by Rob McMahon from White Dwarf #27, with some additions from the Environment series by J. Andrew Keith.

Covert operations and agencies often hold some fascination for players. This article provides a way to bring them into your game as a prior career choice.


Although every service of the Imperium maintains its own intelligence section, such as the Covert Survey Bureau, Naval Intelligence, etc., the Imperial Secret Service (ISS) carries out most Imperial intelligence work. This is a massive organization employing millions of sophonts throughout known space.

The service is divided into three sections: Special Intelligence, which undertakes the more important and secretive missions; the General Duty Branch, which performs the “dirty work” and general operations; and the Detached Duty Branch to which all retired members of the Service belong.

Imperial Secret Service Ranks: Although the ISS uses the standard E– and O– grades for its personnel, the terms ‘Enlisted’ and ‘Officer’ are not used. Instead, personnel in grades E1 to E6 are termed Field Operatives, while personnel in grades O1 to O6 are referred to as Controllers. Grade titles are shown in the ISS Grade Table.

ISS Grade Table
Field Operatives Controllers
Grade Title Grade Title Basic Rank
E1 Operative O1 Analyst 1
E2 Special Operative O2 Senior Analyst 2
E3 Mission Specialist O3 Case Officer 3
E4 Mission Commander O4 Area Controller 4
E5 Special Agent O5 Desk Officer 5
E6 Operations Commander O6 Intelligence Advisor 6

The general term for Imperial Secret Service personnel, regardless of rank, branch, or any other factor is ‘agents’.

Initial Activities

Initial activities include pre-career options, enlistment, and initial training

Pre-Career Options: The ISS is different in that there are no Pre-Career Options. The only way to enter the ISS is to transfer into the ISS.

Enlistment/Transfer: Characters may not enlist directly into the ISS. After a character has completed one term in another career, they may attempt to transfer into the ISS. Successfully transferring commits the individual to a term of service of four years.

Transfer in 9+
DM +1 if INT 8+
DM +2 if Intelligence School Graduate
Special DM +1 if Intel skill 1+ and no other DM applies

If a player fails the transfer-in roll, continue in the current career, and apply a DM of –1 for promotion for this term only. Further attempts to transfer in to the ISS may be made, but no more than once per term, and a DM of –2 per failed attempt to transfer must be applied.

Draft: The ISS does not participate in the draft.

Automatic Enlistment: Not applicable.

Initial Training: There is no initial training for ISS characters.

Career Resolution


Each term, a character carries out four assignments. Each one-year assignment is resolved separately using a two-step procedure; the specific assignment is selected, and the assignment is resolved in terms of survival, promotion, and skills.

In the first term, roll 1D for branch assignment:

1-3 General Duty
4-6 Special Intelligence

DM +1 if college graduate or Intelligence School Graduate; College graduates with Honors may choose their branch.

Specific Assignments: The ISS Assignment Table determines the character’s specific assignment.

Assignment Table
2D6 General Duty Special Intelligence
2 Military Military
3 Military Infiltration
4 Infiltration Infiltration
5 Communications Infiltration
6 Communications Communications
7 Base Base
8 Training Training
9 Surveillance Surveillance
10 Special Assignment Surveillance
11 Special Assignment Special Assignment
12 Special Assignment Special Assignment

These assignments may be as follows:

Military: The character is posted to an active military unit as an intelligence officer/operative.

Infiltration: The character is planted in hostile territory to infiltrate the enemy’s command structure, survey planetary defenses or some other dangerous mission.

Communications: The character serves in a communications unit linking intelligence units in the field with subsector command. This frequently involves starship travel.

Base: The character is held in reserve for future operations and is often used for administrative work for the service.

Training: General training to improve the character’s specialist skills.

Surveillance: Observation of enemy agents; military units and fleets, both within the Imperium and beyond.

Command Determination: Any Controller may consult the Command Duty table to be placed in a command position for their assignment. For each branch, success placed the Controller in a command position; failure (or not consulting the table) places him or her in a staff position.

Command Duty
Training 11+
DM +1 if Instruction 1+ and any other skill 3+
Base 10+
Communications 7+
Surveillance 6+
Military 8+
Infiltration 8+

Special Assignments: Characters who receive a special assignment are sent to service schools or given unusual duty. Roll on the Special Assignment Table for the specific assignment.

Special Assignment Table
  Special Assignment Specialist School
1D6 General Duty Special Intelligence General Duty Special Intelligence
1 Survival Survival Demolitions Academic
2 Cross–Svc Cross-Svc Communications Legal
3 Survival Specialist Forgery Space
4 Specialist Medical Admin Instruction
5 Cross-Svc Ground Ops Technical Economics
6 Ground Ops Space Ops Computer Linguistics
7 OCS Attaché/Aide Interrogation Liaison
DMs +1 if E5+ +1 if O1+ +1 if E5+ +1 if O2+

Special Assignments are as follows:

Survival: Roll 1D for 3+ for each of Mountaineering +1, Survival +1, Hunting +1.

Cross-Svc: Roll 1D to determine service, then roll for one skill on the Service Skills table for that service.

  1. Navy
  2. Marines
  3. Scouts
  4. Merchants
  5. Army
  6. Law Enforcement

Specialist: Roll 1D on the Specialist School table, and receive +1 in the listed skill.

Medical: Roll 1D for 3+ for Medical +1, and roll 1D for 5+ for each of Admin +1, Computer +1.

Ground Ops: Roll 1D for 4+ for each of Recon +1, Forward Observer +1, Admin +1.

Space Ops: Roll 1D for 5+ for each of Pilot +1, Navigation +1, Sensor Ops +1, Vacc Suit +1.

CCS (Controller Candidate School): Promote to rank O1. No additional skills are awarded. If character is in term 5 or later (of all careers in toto) (age 38+), s/he is ineligible to attend; reroll on Special Assignments table; if second roll is also CCS, a waiver is granted.

Attaché/Aide: Roll 1D for 5+ to be assigned as Aide to an Admiral; otherwise, assigned as Naval Attaché. Receive +1 SOC in either case. Attachés are promoted one grade; Aides may select next assignment command duty or special assignment other than Attaché/Aide.

Assignment Resolution

In each assignment, four aspects must be resolved: survival, decoration, promotion, and skills.

Assignment Resolution
  Training Base Communications Surveillance Military Infiltration
Survival auto auto 4+ 4+ 5+ 6+
DM +1 if Streetwise 3+
Decoration none none 10+ 9+ 7+ 6+
Promotion (7+) 8+ 10+ 9+ 6+ 6+
DM +1 if Command for assignment
Skill 6+ 9+ 7+ 9+ 5+ 4+

Survival: The throw for survival determines whether the character survives the current year of assignment. Failing the survival throw forces the character to end character generation and muster out (the optional survival rule may be implemented: a character who fails the survival throw is dead). If unsuccessful, the character must leave the service immediately. The current term of service does not count when determining the number of mustering out benefits, but the character does receive a yearly pension no matter how long they have been serving (they are “medically pensioned”). If the indicated number is thrown exactly, the character has received a wound or injury; if the injury occurs while serving on an assignment to the Military, it is officially classed as a combat wound, and the character is awarded a “Wound Ribbon”.

A character may take a negative DM on survival and then apply it as an equal positive DM for decorations during the next step.

Decoration: Characters may receive decorations for their heroism. If a character rolls the indicated number or higher, he is awarded the Meritorious Conduct under Fire (MCUF). If the character rolls a number at least three higher than the stated number, he receives the Medal for Conspicuous Gallantry (MCG) instead. If the player rolls at least six higher than the number indicated, he receives the Starburst for Extreme Heroism (SEH) instead.

If a negative DM was taken on survival, an equal positive DM may be used to attempt to win a decoration. For example, a character might take a DM -2 for survival, increasing the chance for failure. If he survives nonetheless, then DM +2 is allowed when rolling for decorations.

The reverse of this procedure (positive DMs for survival; negative DMs on decoration) is also possible, but if the decoration throw fails by six or more (for example, rolling a 4 when 10+ is needed), he must consult the Court-Martial Table.

Note that because of the covert nature of the job, in most cases, decorations cannot be publicly acknowledged, and any reaction roll DMs derived from them only apply when interacting with other Agents.

Promotion: A character may receive a promotion by throwing the indicated number or greater (2D). Where a number is in parenthesis, special intelligence agents may not roll for promotion.

Normally, a special intelligence agent may not receive more than one promotion per term. However, the promotion received from Controller Candidate School, [CCS] does not prohibit another promotion during a four-year tour, and the automatic promotion given an attaché does not prohibit another promotion during the term.

Field Operatives may be promoted as often as once per assignment. They may not be promoted beyond the rank of E6 except through attendance at CCS.

Skills: A character may receive skills because of his assignment. If the character rolls the indicated number or higher, then he or she becomes eligible for one skill to be determined immediately. A character may roll for a skill on any skill column or table available to him.

Retention in Assignment: At the end of each assignment, roll one die – if the result is 6, then the next assignment will be the same as the previous one. However, no one can be retained in the same assignment involuntarily at the end of a four-year term, even if he reenlists; retention does not occur on a special assignment.

Skills Table
  Service Skills Branch Skills
1D ISS Life Space Skills Combat Skills Underground Skills ISS Skills General Duty Special Intelligence Command Staff
1 Brawling Zero-G Cbt Gun Cbt Gun Cbt Vehicle Handgun Handgun Leader Computer
2 Carousing Ship’s Boat Gun Cbt Streetwise Brawling Brawling Liaison Mental Electronic
3 +1 STR Vacc Suit Heavy Weap Disguise Streetwise Hand Cbt Computer Computer Instruction
4 Gambling Commo Tactics Intrusion Medical Forgery Forgery Leader Bribery
5 +1 END Turret Weap Medical Forgery Recon Electronics Bribery Liaison Admin
6 Mental Engineering Stealth Recon Linguistics Demolitions Leader Inborn Legal
7 +1 EDU Pilot Grav Belt Bribery Admin Interrogation Admin +1 SOC Academic
8 Vehicle Exploratory Interrogation Liaison Interpersonal Admin Legal Ship Tactics Economic
DMs +1 if rank E4+
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E6
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E4+
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E5+
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E4+
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E4+
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E6
+2 if rank O1+
+1 if rank E5+
+2 if rank O3+
+1 if rank E5+
+2 if rank O3+
All characters are eligible for all Service Skills columns. Characters of all ranks are eligible for the column matching their branch assignment (General Duty or Special Intelligence). Controllers with Staff assignments are eligible for the Staff column, Controllers with Command assignments are eligible for the Command column.

Re-enlistment and Mustering Out

At the end of a four-year term, the character must either reenlist or muster out. If the reenlistment roll fails, the character must muster out.

ISS Reenlistment: Reenlistment in the ISS is never compulsory and requires a throw of 6+.

Mustering Out Benefits: At the conclusion of a player’s last term, roll on the Mustering Out table on the following page. Characters with Gambling 1+ may use DM +1 on Cash rolls. Controllers (rank O1+) may use DM+1 on Material Benefits rolls.

Mustering Out Benefits
1D Material Benefits Cash
1 Mid Passage Cr1,000
2 Mid Passage Cr1,000
3 +1 EDU Cr5,000
4 Weapon Cr5,000
5 Covert Kit Cr10,000
6 Travellers’ Aid Society Cr20,000
7 High Passage Cr50,000
DMs +1 if rank O1+ +1 if Gambling 1+

Material Benefits

Covert Kit: This is a set of devices, the exact nature of which are to be decided by the player and referee together, that provide the player with various capabilities, including weapons and surveillance. The devices typically appear as innocuous items. Examples of items that might be in a Covert Kit appear in Jeffrey Schwartz’s story “The Old Scout: In the Pawn Shop”, which appeared in Freelance Traveller’s September 2012 issue.

Weapon: This is any personal weapon (blade or gun, but not laser weapons, PGMP, or FGMP) that the character has at least skill 1 in. Subsequent rolls of this benefit are taken as an additional level of skill in that weapon.

Special Rules

The following special rules apply to the ISS:

Detached Duty: Characters who retire (not fail the re-enlistment throw) are retained on Detached Duty. At the beginning of each game year thereafter the referee rolls 2d6 to determine if the service requires the character to perform any mission: On 8-, no task assigned; 9, mercenary service; 10, surveillance; 11, kidnapping or rescue; 12, assassination. The service pays well for work done in this way; additionally, personnel on Detached Duty draw a pension of Cr5000 per term of service beyond the fourth. Should a character fail in a task, they are removed from the Detached Duty Branch.

New Skills

(From J. Andrew Keith’s Environment Series)

Mountaineering: The character is familiar with one of several forms of climbing techniques, and understands the problems and procedures of activity in mountainous terrain.

Mountaineering skill, when received, is taken as one of three specific skills: Mixed Climbing, Rock Climbing, or Ice Climbing, discussed further below.

Skill levels in these areas are used as DMs to avoid specific dangers related to climbing and mountain survival.

Mixed Climbing is also known as ‘route finding’. It indicates the general knowledge of charting a route up a mountain that will involve the least difficulty and/or danger and the maximum speed. Mixed Climbing skill is a sort of ‘catchall’ for the vague collection of knowledge, expertise, and intuitive understanding that makes for a good climber.

Rock Climbing is much more specific. It relates to the process of scaling a steep or sheer slope, either with or without artificial assistance. Rock Climbing differs from the ‘route finding’ of Mixed Climbing in that route finding generally attempts to avoid such steep approaches, in favor of picking out easier approaches; the rock climber simply goes over the obstacle in question.

Ice Climbing is similar to Rock Climbing, but deals with techniques of climbing in snow or ice. A rock climber might face a steep cliff; the ice climber would be more accustomed to scaling a glacier.

For most mountaineers, a mixture of two or more of these cascade skills is more advisable than heavy expertise in only one. The character with Mixed Climbing skill will eventually be confronted with a steep slope that must be scaled; the rock climber working at high altitudes will eventually be faced with snow and ice, and so forth. If individual characters don’t have such a balanced knowledge, and then mountaineering parties should be mixed to include each type of expertise - unless the object of a particular climb is highly specific - say to scale a particular cliff to accomplish a commando raid in a temperate climate. In this case, rock climbing alone would be necessary listing: Mountaineering skill must frequently be taken as a total, rather than as individual cascade skills. Because of this, it is recommended that the total mountaineering skill be listed first, followed by the various cascade skills in parentheses - i.e., Mountaineering-4 (Mixed Climbing-2, Rock Climbing-1, Ice Climbing-1). It should be noted that a level-1 skill will be held in all cascade skills once the characters holds any Mountaineering skill at all.

Survival: Survival becomes a cascade skill, with the following cascades:

Arctic Survival: The individual is familiar with both the theory and practice of slaying alive in subzero conditions.

Characters with Arctic Survival expertise have a better chance of coping with arctic conditions. This is shown as a modifier on endurance loss due to cold and other survival-oriented processes. The skill also should use it as an indicator and/or modifier to the chances of locating food and water, constructing or finding natural weapons and shelter, and finding their way across country under arctic conditions.

Finally, it should serve as a DM in averting or noticing specific hazards before they threaten the character.

Where groups are cooperating, all characters can be assumed to have a survival skill one less than that of the most experienced character (where their skill is lower to begin with), representing the guidance and assistance of the expert of the group.

Desert Survival: The character is familiar with the special problems of surviving in arid and semi-arid environments.

Desert Survival skill is used as a DM in many situations where that skill could reasonably be applied – such as in attempts to locate water or avoid the effects of extremes of temperature, or in travel.

The referee can also pass special information to any character with desert skill to direct the course of an adventure or to warn the party of danger. Thus, a character with this skill will be the first to see and recognize signs of an approaching sandstorm or of heat exhaustion in a companion character, and may be given special tips and insights by the referee.