While less reprehensible (perhaps) than assassins, spies involve many of the
same risks and problems. First and foremost, a spy, even more than an assassin,
is inherently untrustworthy. Spying involves breaking a trust.
A spy, unlike a scout, actively joins a group in order to betray it. A person
who can so glibly betray one group could quite easily betray another, his
employer perhaps. While some spies may be nobly motivated, these fellows are few and
far between. Furthermore, there is no way to be sure of the trustworthiness of
the spy. It is a paradox that the better the spy is, the less he can be
trusted. Good spies are master liars and deceivers even less trustworthy than bad
spies (who tend to get caught any way).
In role-playing, spies create many of the same problems as assassins. First,
in allowing player characters to hire spies, the DM is throwing away a perfectly
good role-playing adventure! Having the characters do their own spying can
lead to all manner of interesting possibilities.
Even if NPC spies are allowed, there is still the problem of success. Many
variables should be considered: What precautions against spies have been taken?
How rare or secret is the information the character is trying to learn? How
talented is the NPC spy? How formidable is the NPC being spied upon?
In the end, the rule to use when judging a spy's success is that of dramatic
effect. If the spy's information will create an exciting adventure for the
player characters without destroying the work the DM has put into the campaign
world, it is best for the spy to succeed.
If the spy's information will short-circuit a well-prepared adventure or force
the DM to rework vast sections of the campaign world, the spy should not
succeed. Finally, the spy can appear to succeed while, actually, failing—even if he
does return with information, it may not be wholly accurate. It may be slightly
off or wildly inaccurate. The final decision about the accuracy of a spy's
information should be based on what will make for the best adventure for the
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