January 01, 2003

Office of Naval Intelligence

As colin roald gently murmured:

Has anyone written characters, yet? My understanding is that we are to be members of an OSS special forces unit in Germany sometime before the United States has actually declared war.
Yes, eventually. However, you will be civilians or regular army officers at the beginning of the game; the prelude will be your induction into the OSS. (Well, technically, the ONI, Office of Naval Intelligence. The OSS wasn't formed until shortly after Pearl Harbor. But that's neither here nor there.)

Yes, you will an OSS team sent into Germany before the declaration of war of December 11, 1941. However, it is very very very unlikely that you will be a combat unit. The OSS was a intelligence organization, and it's very hard to get good intelligence while in uniform and lugging big guns around. Much better to be able to slip into the culture, mingle with important people at swank parties, and talk them into trusting you. Or blackmailing them. Or going underground to make contact with the resistance movements, or whatever.

The point is, this kind of espionage is all about two things: the people skills, and the tradecraft. Figuring out what kind of intelligence would be most useful, figuring out who would have access to it, figuring out how to get access to those people, figuring out which ones of them could be undermined or swayed, figuring out how best to sway them, etc. All people skills. Then there's figuring out how they can get the intel to you, how to tell if counter-intelligence is on to you, figuring out how to compartmentalize your network so that one breach doesn't sink the whole thing, figuring out how to get the intel to the boys back home, figuring out a new cover when the old one is blown, figuring out how to get new forged papers or forging them yourself, etc. --- all tradecraft.

This is not to say that guns won't come into play, but you won't be a commando unit. Interesting note: when OSS units were dropped into Germany they always had pistols with them. However, they were just for difficulties encountered at landing; they were supposed to be buried with the parachutes at the landing site. (Of course, this directive wasn't always obeyed.)

So, when drawing up your characters, think about the kind of person the ONI/OSS would be looking for. Tradecraft, they can teach. People skills, they can't. Also, they can't teach specialized skills that would be known to forgers, cat bunglers, impostors, con men, and safe crackers. Lastly, they cannot teach dedication to a cause. They would only be interested in you if you have a good reason for wanting to do it --- a reason that will sustain you through long lonely months and years of daily life-threatening danger in enemy territory, cut off from home and without any hope of rescue.

Historically, the OSS was staffed roughly 50/50 with amazingly intelligent and capable officers of both genders, and useless deadwood of both genders. Because it was more than a bit of an old-boys club, it tended to recruit from Ivy League colleges (and from Wall Street law firms, interestingly enough). It also scoured the office corps of the armed forces looking for anyone that seemed to have an aptitude for espionage. And in my setting, unlike real life, they also searched the prison population for forgers, con men, etc. who seemed willing to serve their country.

So that should give you some ideas for character backgrounds. Again, draw up your characters as they would be --before-- being inducted by the ONI. Don't worry about espionage-specific skills; I will give those skills to you between the prelude and first arc to represent your training. Oh, and it will probably become very important to know some European language and be able to live inconspicuously in Europe. You may want to be a refugee or immigrant of some kind, or have spend your childhood in Europe.

Lastly, your character will be asked before their induction if they would be willing to die for their country. They must have a good reason for saying "yes."

Until then, pleasant dreams.

Posted by jon at January 1, 2003 12:13 PM
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