Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Secret Police forces in Traveller Governments

  • The KGB & FSB.
  • The Gestapo, the SS, the Stasi.
  • SMERSH (James Bond and Real Life)
  • The “Office of State Security” in the People's Republic of Haven (Honor Harrington novels).
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel comics universe).
  • U.N.C.L.E. (as in The Man From).
  • Torchwood from Doctor Who.
  • The Galactic Empire's Imperial Security Bureau.
  • Babylon 5's Nightwatch and Psi Corps.
  • Firefly's Blue Hands Men and the Operatives of the Alliance.
  • 1984's Thought Police. 'Nuff said.
What do all these groups have in common? They're Secret Police forces.

What are Secret Police?
The Columbia Encyclopedia defines secret police as a “Policing organization operating in secrecy for the political purposes of its government, often with terroristic procedures.”

They exist to protect the security of the state from conspiracies or revolutions. They are distinct from conventional police in that they operate out of uniform and often with little or no over government oversight. Secret Police forces often have power to act extra-legally, and authority to over-rule conventional police.
In some states the Secret Police (SP) reports only to the chief executive or someone near him. In these cases, the normal legislator or jurist may be unaware of their activities or even their existence.

They're the ones who do the bidding of the Real Powers in Government. They're the scary dudes in dark outfits that show up late at night to arrest you. They operate the secret prisons. They are definitely Armed Groups.
Get used to those bars, kid.

In the OTU, the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service wanders into this territory in some of its activities. The Imperials see the Zhodani Tavrchedl'  as a secret police force. Read The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison for a humorous sci-fi take on these types.

The kinds of things Travellers get up to will likely bring them to the attention of Secret Police (SP) forces from time to time.

If a PC fails a Streetwise-type throw for anything of questionable legality, the referee should make a secret throw for 6+. Success means that the SP has discovered the PC's inquiries or activities and are conducting surveillance on them.

Secret police may not even be that secret. In authoritarian societies, the locals will be able to tell who's an SP agent. Adventurers from off-world may have trouble picking them out.
To detect secret police presence in a social setting: throw 9+, DMs: +1 for EDU of 10+, + Streetwise, + ½ Liaison, +1 per Law Level over 9

Secret Police make the people reluctant to trust anyone. If the referee determines that a world has a significant SP presence, amend the reaction table as follows:
No results of 2 or 12 (nobody's going to be your friend, but nobody's going to get themselves arrested for street brawling)
If throw is >7, DM -2
If throw is <7, DM +2
Reactions will tend towards neutral/unfriendly reactions. Why risk trouble by getting involved with strangers?

Question: What sorts of governments would have Secret Police?

Answer: Any of them. Secret Police are more common in governments that are remote from the governed. That is, Captive Governments, Dictatorships, Oligarchies, etc. 

As you can see from the examples above, the organization can have an impressive name, but not always. The White Witch of Narnia had a secret police headed by wolves, but not a scary name. The turn-creatures-into-stone thing was scary, though.

If the Law Level is 8+, SP are almost a certainty. You might say that the Law Level scale is a measure of authoritarian tendency. Even democratic states can use SPs for their own defense, if the state feels threatened.

Kinds of Encounters with SP's:

The Random Encounter table has several entries for police or security forces, but these are conventional forces. Referees, if you want to make your players nervous, casually mention that anybody on the list could be secret police in disguise. A patron could also be an SP agent, setting up the PCs for arrest or using them as catspaws against the 'enemies of the state'.
The TAS and the Wardens service are NOT secret police. They make a point of announcing who they are; it's part of what makes them effective.

Stock NPCs
Secret Police Agent 878876
Streetwise-1, Pistol-1, Brawling-1
Badge, restraints, Mesh armor, pistol

Secret Police Leader 778986
Streetwise-2, Leader-1, Tactics-1, Pistol-1
Badge, Radio, restraints, Cloth armor, pistol

Secret Police Trooper 989776
Rifle-1, Pistol-1, Brawling-2
Badge, Cloth armor, Night Vision, Restraints, radio, Rile or Shotgun or Laser

Amber Zone: Fugitive Nobility

Required: a starship and a vehicle. Espionage experience a plus.

The local government of Cathoria has been trending towards authoritarianism for some time now. A local noble, the Marquis of Harkan Ridge has been the most vocal opponent of this power shift. He's heard rumors that the new secret police force is planning to move against him. He sees this as an attempt to silence him and threaten the still unorganized popular resistance. The Marquis has his agents contact the PCs, and bring them to his estate to meet with him, to assure himself that they are not working for the government. 

He asks the PCs to escort his wife and children to the starport and them to the next system over, where he has reliable social & political allies. With his family safe, he will organize a loyal opposition to resist the encroachment on the traditional rights & freedoms of the people. 
Referee's Information:

The local government has not instituted a general crackdown on dissent yet, but it is heading in that direction. But for the Marquis the situation is worse than he realizes. While the interview is still going on, estate security alerts the Marquis that some unmarked vehicles  have entered the grounds. The newcomers claim government authority, saying they have arrest warrants for the Marquis and his family.

The PCs meet the Marchioness and her three children. These can be any age the referee decides. With little time, they must gather up the fugitive's belongings (the Marchioness will have way too much luggage) and get them to a vehicle. The PCs can use subterfuge or gunfire to get past the SP party to escape. From there they have a journey of at least several hundred kilometers to the starport. The SP unit will notify the normal police forces to assist in capturing the PCs. If regular police should apprehend the fugitives and/or the PCs, the SP will arrive and take them away to a secret detention site.

The referee must provide a map of Cathoria, and create suitable challenges for the PCs as they try to reach the starport, such as roadblocks, informers, vehicle breakdowns, missing children, and the relentless pursuit of the SP forces.
Once the group makes it to the starport, they will have to sneak the fugitives aboard. Local fleet elements pursue their ship as they escape the system.

Potential Enemies: 1D Police Patrol
Potential Allies: 2D Workers
Neutrals: 2D Traders

Interested players may want to return to Cathoria to help the Marquis, or they might be hired by the Marquis' allies on the neighboring world. The PCs could set up smuggling operations, moving people and goods in or out of the Cathoria system. The political instability creates lots of opportunities for enterprising Travellers. 

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/21604182@N04/23349269386">Tag des offenen Tores in der ehemaligen Haftanstalt Naumburg</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">(license)</a>


  1. Excellent as always. We get some background, several suggestions, a table to help flesh things out, and an Amber Zone showing us how to put it all together. Simple, but not simplistic, and immediately useful.

    Another winner, Mr. Weaver.

    1. Thank you, Bill! Jeff the editor of Freelance Traveller has asked to include this in an upcoming issue. I'm expanding the AZ with some more detail, and setting it in my TU.