Masks: Secrets of A.E.G.I.S. Review

Marvel has S.H.I.E.L.D., DC has A.R.G.U.S., and Masks: A New Generation has A.E.G.I.S., the Advanced Expert Group for Intervention and Security. In Halcyon City and beyond, while superheroes are wearing flashy colors and punching their enemies through buildings it’s the agents of A.E.G.I.S. who fill in the gaps, clean up the messes, nip nascent threats in the bud, and keep an eye on everything in the name of protecting everyone. A.E.G.I.S. has always been a factor for the New Generation to consider, but we can now learn the Secrets of A.E.G.I.S. in the second Masks supplement from Magpie Games!

Like the Halcyon City Herald Collection before it, Secrets of A.E.G.I.S. is presented as part supplement and part in-universe document. Rather than Keandra Hunt assembling articles from the eponymous newspaper, however, Secrets of A.E.G.I.S. apparently came into our hands via a hacker who managed to break into A.E.G.I.S. systems and is now revealing their findings for better or for worse. Every game of Masks has some version of A.E.G.I.S. in its version of Halcyon City by default – the heroes of High Impact Heroics have dealt with their local variety several times so far – but this supplement looks to expand on that relatively bare-boned default state and provide us with some new ways to play the game, along with some new tools to use. Let’s take it chapter by chapter, shall we?

Chapter 1: A.E.G.I.S. Reports

Files ripped from the databanks of A.E.G.I.S. itself, these five reports cover organizations, teams, incidents, and individuals that the agency is keeping an eye on, including details on powers and allies, psychological evaluations, and various methods to deal with a report’s subject. The subjects in question are quite varied. A supervillain crime boss and his syndicate are what one might expect A.E.G.I.S. to be investigating, but a report on how to manipulate, control, or eliminate a young heroine who has done nothing but good is quite a darker take – and notes in the margins hint at conflict within the agency between those intending to put the report to use and those trying to protect her.

Essentially, the reports are the equivalent of the news stories from the Herald Collection: inspiration, ideas, and hooks for players and GMs to build off of. The difference is that the reports tend to go into a lot more nitty gritty detail, fitting considering where they’re supposed to be coming from; they’re fewer in number, but have more depth. Also unlike the Herald Collection the reports lack any new moves associated with them. That makes sense, as the Herald Collection stories were often genre-based or tied into facets of the setting, while these are more narrow and less likely to warrant new moves. It’s kind of a shame there aren’t a few more here, though, although Secrets of A.E.G.I.S. offers something else up in their place: bad guys.

Chapter 2: A.E.G.I.S Most Wanted

Ten more files, and ten villains: Chapter 2 consists of reports by top A.E.G.I.S. analyst Agent Delphi on villains who threaten both the agency and Halcyon City itself. Some used to be on the side of good, like former superheroes Brass Brilliant and Cold Snap, or rogue A.E.G.I.S. agent Carbine. Some are otherworldly threats like the alien tyrant Vanquish or the temporally gifted android Doctor Infinity. Rosa Rook manipulates events using Rook Industries, while the Dread Queen bides her time off the coast of the city.

Each file includes what the villain (or anti-hero, or mysterious figure) is capable of, a description of how they appear, what their origins are, the incidents they’ve been involved in, and an assessment of their threat level, motivations, habits, and goals, often ending in a warning to A.E.G.I.S. agents to proceed with extreme caution when dealing with them. Like the reports, these are potential goldmines for players and GMs alike to use or mine inspiration from; an entire storyline could come from our young heroes facing off against the Dread Queen’s latest nefarious plan, or confronting Carbine as she does what she feels she has to in order to neutralize dangerous supers (hero and villain alike).

What you won’t find for these particular adversaries is any crunchy bits: the files lack things like how many Conditions the character has,  for instance. For those you’ll need a copy of the Deck of Villainy, which is where all of these characters made their first showing. I’m of two minds as to that. On the one hand, if you’ve already got or end up getting the Deck these expanded files make the characters in question a lot easier and more interesting to incorporate into your game. On the other, if you’re not interested in getting the Deck but you wish to have your heroes face off against these characters then you’ll need to build them up mechanically on your own.

I caved and got the Deck a while back, it’s a high quality product, and this chapter has me hoping we’ll see more ‘expanded’ files on the Deck’s characters eventually, but I can see where it might be irksome to realize you’ll need to buy an add-on after you’ve already gotten a supplement. I suppose it depends on how willing you are to make up your own versions of the A.E.G.I.S. Most Wanted.

Chapter 3: Agents of A.E.G.I.S

The first of two ‘playsets’, this chapter is essentially a campaign seed built around the concept of the player characters being part of A.E.G.I.S in the organization’s Sirius Program, a sort of mentorship, training, and supervising initiative designed to foster young superheroes. The section includes advice for the GM on how to handle some playbooks that will take special consideration (looking at you Delinquent), a new step in character creation that gives the team three A.E.G.I.S. handlers to mentor them, an extra backstory question for everyone, and an entirely different story about “When Our Team First Came Together…”. Even the endgame is different: instead of retiring or becoming a paragon of the city these heroes either quit A.E.G.I.S. permanently or become official Agents of A.E.G.I.S.

That all gets you started, and gives you your character’s and team’s connections to A.E.G.I.S. – connections which should be deeply important to both sides. But what actually changes in play for an Agents of A.E.G.I.S. campaign? First the playset offers a mechanic for creating and dealing with Threats; these are much more than an individual villain, instead “[encompassing] numerous dangerous foes, forces, weapons, and bases”. Threats have a few different facets. They have a Type – are they Invaders or Cultists or a Revolution – and a Desire that is their ultimate goal, something they are always striving to achieve (and, for the sake of play, should be neither easy to attain nor simple to prevent). The Threat should have a name, of course, and a few Faces, some important individuals who are part of the Threat.

Each Threat also as an Intensity, rated 1 through 5 (new Threats always start off at 2). Whenever time passes every extant Threat (up to four at one time) makes a Move based on their Intensity. The Sirius Team can then go on a mission, but can only address one Threat at a time and try to stop their Move from succeeding. The other Threats successfully complete their Moves. These Moves accomplish the Threat’s goals but also often increase Intensity, making the Threat more dangerous: an Intensity 1 Move is to put on a public show of strength, while an Intensity 5 Move is to launch a city-wide major attack. Every time a Sirius Team defeats a Threat its Intensity drops by one; if it ever reaches 0, they launch a last-ditch effort that will either raise their Intensity again or leave them completely defeated.

The playset also includes a change to structure in that the adventures the young heroes go on are A.E.G.I.S.-given Missions, complete with a briefing, a goal, parameters to stick to, and an Assessment of how they did afterwards. The team can refuse missions, of course – they’re not full Agents, after all – but it’s definitely a choice with some teeth. Finally, the playset adds a new Agenda, Principles, and Moves for the GM to work with that will help to convey what it’s like to be working with A.E.G.I.S., from its morally gray nature to how others view it to the threats it faces to the complexity and variety of its members.

Chapter 4: The Suits

The second playset, The Suits, plants a campaign seed that is just as deeply entwined with A.E.G.I.S. as an Agents campaign, but it’s quite different in tone, mechanics, and consequences. A.E.G.I.S. has been infiltrated and corrupted, and it’s up to our young heroes to either save or destroy it if they want to protect Halcyon City and the rest of the world.

The Chapter beings with a message from a Hacker (seemingly a different one from whoever attained the previous reports, given the tone) who has managed to discover a dark secret about A.E.G.I.S. and its Howl Division. Originally a covert force tasked with fighting interdimensional threats, agents of Howl Division eventually came into contact with spectral beings from in-between dimensions. These beings offered information – weaknesses, opportunities, warnings – about Howl Division’s targets and missions, and worked their way up to asking for people whose minds they could feed upon. As the spectral beings’ information was helping them neutralize genuine threats to the world and A.E.G.I.S. always has plenty of supervillains locked up in the Spike, Howl Division agreed. It reached a point where Howl Division agents even began forming supposedly symbiotic bonds with the spectral beings, named by the Hacker as Suits, creating super-powered agents known as Howlers.

When a particularly nasty supervillain arrived on the scene and Howl Division contributed to his defeat in a big way, the Division’s influence and power exploded. This all appears to be a good thing – Howl Division is A.E.G.I.S., and A.E.G.I.S. are the good guys – except now young heroes, people protesting A.E.G.I.S. overreach or policies, well-meaning agents, and others are turning up in covert Howl Division facilities, mentally drained. The Suits are spreading their influence, won’t stop until the entire world is a larder, and nobody but a brave or inquisitive few have any idea it’s happening.

Narratively the player characters find the Hacker’s warning or otherwise stumble upon the existence of the Suits and the true nature of Howl Division. Mechanically each player character, as part of character creation, gains a Connection to an NPC who is a member of A.E.G.I.S. and another Connection to one who is otherwise caught up in this whole mess somehow. This makes the fight against the Suits a personal one for the heroes, as they are forced to fight for the very soul of A.E.G.I.S. as people they care about are targeted.

The GM takes these Connections and builds a Relationship Map connecting the PCs to NPCs, and the NPCs to one another. The GM then picks three targets for the Suits: one NPC they are trying to corrupt, another they are trying to feed upon, and a third they are trying to outright eliminate. Each session the Suits move against their targets, and it’s up to the heroes to stop their plans. These plans can gain advancements or be thwarted depending on the PCs’ actions. Gain enough advancements and the target is corrupted, eaten, or eliminated as the Suits will it, get thwarted thoroughly enough and the plan is abandoned; either way the Suits will then move on to another target, following one of the target’s Connections to another NPC. If they cascade far enough through the relationship map the Suits move to engage in a final confrontation to either corrupt, feed upon, or eliminate the player characters instead of NPCs, acting openly to crush the last bastion of resistance against them. If the young heroes manage to thwart or undo enough of the Suits’ plans the monsters do the same thing, this time trying to deal with the team before it’s too late to recover from the team’s efforts.

“Everything plays a role in the overarching secret battle”. This is a much more focused campaign idea than even Agents of A.E.G.I.S.; even if you’re playing as Agents of A.E.G.I.S. and facing down Threats, the Suits and their plans work away in the background of everything you do. It’s a game of secrecy, dire threats, and shifting loyalties where the heroes are truly over their heads and have to ask themselves what they’re willing to do to stop the Suits.

New Playbooks

The final section of the supplement includes two brand new playbooks for players to try out: the Soldier and the Brain. The somewhat snarky description would be that the Soldier is Teenage Captain America and the Brain is Teenage Tony Stark (or Reed Richards, Shuri, etc), but they’re both quite a bit more interesting than just standing in for a well-known hero.

The Brain is, as the name suggests, a genius, a ‘once-in-an-era kind of mind, and they know it’. The character’s abilities all depend on that impressive intellect, manifesting as the inventions they have created: suits of armor, robots, force fields, size-altering devices, that sort of thing. It then follows that Superior is the Label most commonly mentioned in the Brain’s moves, although it’s not the only one. Those moves largely revolve around the application of logic, science, analysis, sheer genius. There’s a thread of arrogance running through many of them as well, the dark side of knowing you’re the smartest one on the team. For an example, yes, Tactical genius can help you point out an enemy’s flaw to a teammate, but a less-than-perfect roll might leave you looking like a showoff or belittling your teammate.

The big narrative device for the Brain is their Shame: they at one point invented their own worst enemy, a creation that could threaten everything, and the Brain carries no small amount of guilt over that (MCU Tony Stark, meet Ultron). The character’s shame is out there, a constant looming threat, and every confrontation has consequences for the Brain. They also must constantly work to make amends for it; doing so in a session marks potential, but failing to do so gives Influence to a teammate as what others think of the Brain weigh on them. This goes so far as to alter later Advancements; one explicitly draws the Shame into a final confrontation, and only allows the Brain to change playbooks if they survive. The usual retirement/paragon Advance is also altered: instead the Brain simply becomes a Paragon of the city “for however long [they] have left.”

The Soldier is much more than just a member of a Sirius Team: they’re a superhero of A.E.G.I.S., an official member of the organization who was trained by and is deeply tied to it. This manifests in a number of ways. First,  A.E.G.I.S as a whole has Influence over the Soldier, and that Influence cannot be removed except via a specific and late Advancement that also changes playbooks. The Soldier also has an additional and entirely unique-to-them Label, aptly named Soldier. Soldier the Label is one for an image of the hero as “devoted, committed, driven, and obedient”. In many ways it represents the Soldier’s ability to act as an effective agent. It can be used for any move so long as you give  A.E.G.I.S Influence (and since they always already have Influence, your Labels immediately shift as a result), and is also used for unique moves that involve using  A.E.G.I.S authority and/or resources.

The other playbook moves are where the Captain America vibes kick in, particularly as they all are named for Cap quotes. They range from keeping the Soldier in the fight, to maintaining moral codes and loyalties, to tactical planning, to brash-but-heroic attacks. It makes no small amount of sense that Savior is the only Label these playbook moves really interact with.

Narratively there’s a lot going on with the Soldier and  A.E.G.I.S, of course; even outside of an Agents of  A.E.G.I.S campaign, the Soldier still represents the organization and firmly believes in it, and the organization supports them in turn. GM advice for dealing with a Soldier is all about this relationship, and if the relationship starts to genuinely sour then things are going very wrong. Like with the Brain, the Soldier’s Advancements are slightly altered; rather than potentially becoming a paragon of the city, they can become a Senior Director of  A.E.G.I.S.

A Soldier playing in a Suits campaign would be particularly interesting . . .


So there we have it. After reading the Halcyon City Herald Collection (and TimeWatch’s Book of Changing Years) I’ll admit I’m biased in favor of this kind of ‘written in-universe’ supplement going in, but I can also now say that it’s dependent on a couple of factors. First, the supplement has to have a lot of potentially useful material. Second, the in-universe bits have to be actually enjoyable to read. If it can’t do both, then it’s probably not worth checking out.

Luckily Secrets of A.E.G.I.S. does manage both, presenting multiple ways to look at the organization within your own campaign, the playsets to mix things up, and the new and interesting playbooks to try out, while also being fun enough to read cover to cover.

The PDF version of Secrets of A.E.G.I.S.: A Masks Supplement is available on DriveThruRPG for $11.99.

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