Secret Police Forces in Traveller
This article is an edited (by the author) version of one that appeared on the author’s blogspot in September 2016, and was reprinted in the November/December 2016 issue.
The KGB and FSB. The Gestapo. The SS. The Stasi. SMERSH (from the James Bond novels). S.H.I.E.L.D. (from the Marvel comics universe). U.N.C.L.E. (as in The Man From… ). Torchwood (from the eponymous show, a Doctor Who spinoff). The Galactic Empire’s Imperial Security Bureau. Babylon 5’s Nightwatch and Psi Corps. Firefly’s Blue Hands Men and Operatives. 1984’s Thought Police.
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, often with little or no government oversight. Secret Police forces (SP) often have power to act extra-legally, and authority to overrule conventional police. SP are a product of an authoritarian government’s desire to exert control over the populace. They use coercion, threat, suspicion and force.
In some states the SP report 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, the scary dudes in dark outfits that show up late at night to arrest you. They’re definitely Armed Groups1.
In the Official Traveller Universe, the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service moves into this territory in some of its activities. The Imperials see the Zhodani Tavrchedl’ as secret police.
Harry Harrison’s comic hero The Stainless Steel Rat encounters Secret Police in The Stainless Steel Rat for President. (A fun read, by the way). They are officially the Federal Health Alteration Committee (a joke on the CIA) and commonly called Ultimados. They are the president/dictator’s personal hit squad. This is the worst element of SP forces, their capability to use deadly force against civilians. Acting ‘above the law’, they can assassinate enemies of the state with little fear of legal consequences.
Travellers often get involved in activities that may bring them to the attention of SP forces. Smuggling and other criminal acts get them pursued by conventional police as well, but it is the Travellers’ being off-worlders that makes them interesting to the SP. They could be working for another government against the locals. Moving arms or other goods for dissidents challenges the Powers That Be. Crime encourages social breakdown and public disorder.
SPs may target Travellers for elimination, but the referee should give the players some chance to escape or fight back. No one will appreciate having their PC taken out by unseen and unsuspected shooters. Near misses or minor wounds can increase the dramatic tension, while still giving the players a chance. Instead of elimination, Travellers could be arrested and taken to secret facilities, from which they can then escape in heroic fashion.
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 have discovered the PC’s inquiries or activities, and have them under surveillance.2
Secret police may not even be that secret. When the SP are above the law, there’s no need to hide their activities. Publicity adds to the sense of fear they want to project. In authoritarian societies, the locals will be able to tell who’s a SP agent, and avoid them when possible. Adventurers from off-world may have trouble picking them out.
To detect secret police presence in a social setting: 9+ on 2D6, DM +1 if EDU 10+, Streetwise, ½ Liaison, Law Level - 9 (min 0)
SP 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?
What Sorts of Governments Would Have Secret Police?
Any of them, but Secret Police are more common in governments that are remote from the governed. That includes Captive Governments, Dictatorships, and Oligarchies. Corporate governments may have them, as well as the often misunderstood Feudal Technocracy. 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 Secret Police for their own defense, if the state feels threatened.
As the examples above show, the organization often has an impressive name, but this is not always the case. 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.
Kinds of Encounters with Secret Police
The Random Encounter table has several entries for police or security forces, but these are the 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’. Secret police in Imperial Russia would join rebellious groups and even conduct actions against government officials to expose the plotters.
In my TU, the TAS and the Wardens3 are not secret police. They make a point of announcing who they are; it’s part of what makes them effective.
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
- See http://ancientfarfuture.blogspot.com/2016/03/armed-groups-in-traveller.html
- See http://ancientfarfuture.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-gamers-need-to-know-about.html
- See http://ancientfarfuture.blogspot.com/2016/02/where-do-i-sign-up-becoming-warden-in.html