The setting is 13th Age, which was designed by the lead designers of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd and 4th editions, and has been described as basically "here's all the neat stuff we wanted to put in D&D 4th ed but couldn't because it didn't fit with the established game." It's generally standard D&D subspecies -- humans, elves, dwarves, halflings -- and character classes, with a few outlier quirks. The large-scale cultural structure is loosely based on Imperial Chinese history, with Ages roughly comparable to Dynasties. The Dwarves and Elves are particularly longstanding societies that fight like two stereotypical siblings, always squabbling but woe betide an outsider who thinks to ally with one against the other. There are a dozen or so "Icons": beings -- mostly humanoids and dragons -- who are have apotheosized into essentially demigods, including the Emperor, and in the current age the Elf Queen, the Dwarf King, and others. Player characters have various allegiances and/or troubled relationships with these that influence play occasionally.
My character, Cal, is game-mechanically a Dwarf Bard. He's actually a career intelligence agent, inspired both by James Bond and Charles Stross's Laundry Files. (As I put it once, in-character but out-of-game-continuity, "Spy, bard, it's basically the same thing. You tell people stories. Sometimes they believe them.") The character sheet describes him as "Small and wiry (or perhaps just scrawny) for a dwarf. Graying hair, scraggly beard. Wearing the sort of tough-looking clothes you’d expect from a not-particularly-undercover enforcer type. Has good stories about being a roadie for a metal band." Of course, that's all a carefully affected look for this job; on the next job, he'll look entirely different.
One of the interesting things of how 13th Age does backgrounds is that characters have "one unique thing" -- a snippet of entirely freeform characterization that distinguishes them, specifically, from everyone else. For example, the wizard in our party has the "one unique thing" that he's the most powerful wizard of the Age. Not the most skilled, or the best ... just the most powerful. Cal's is this:
Back in the day, Cal received an official military commendation from the Elven Court … while working as a double agent for the Dwarves. It’s notable what a scrawny dwarf dressed like a stout halfling (with the help of occasional disguise spells from a very high-level handler) can get up to in a remote Elven outpost. And it’s a shame the halfling died in a tragic accident shortly thereafter.Over the course of the game, I've come up with a reasonably sizeable mythos for the Dwarven Diplomatic Apparatus, which is the approximately CIA-and-NSA-and-State-Department-all-in-o
For what it’s worth, Cal also got a medal from the Dwarves. If you read between the lines of the commendation that it came with, it says, “We don’t have the clearance to know what you did, but the head spymaster says you should get this medal.” Even that much is classified; the commendation letter burst into the traditional flames after Cal read it.
They are generally committed to the good of the Dwarven people, but they also have a strong institutional conviction in their own righteousness, which means that it is standard procedure to determine what the Dwarf King (and or his council, regional governors, etc.) should do about any given bit of intelligence before reporting it to them, and then spin the reporting or not-reporting of it so that they will do that thing. The government budget of course provides them with what they believe the Dwarf King would provide them if he had a full and true understanding of their value, although since you can't trust politicians and kings with that sort of knowledge it all comes from a thousand overages and surpluses here and there.
The Diplomatic Apparatus also has access to substantial magical power, due to treating it much like the NSA treats cryptography. This is nominally a world in which fast communication is exceedingly rare -- there are one-time-use teleport scrolls available, if the Archmage (one of the Icons) or his high-level apprentices owes you a large favor, and a handful of point-to-point teleport circles, and a few ways of magically entangling items such that breaking one will cause a signal at the other, but that's most of it. In this world, the DM and I have established that Diplomatic Apparatus has the resources to equip all of its field agents with a "diplomatic pouch" that will immediately teleport any small item placed into it to a receiving room at headquarters, at a rate of a few per day. This is usually used for reports, but I've also sent a few interesting objects back with it as well.
And so that's basically the background. This game had been going on for some time (two or three years, I think?) when I joined, so I was joining an already established group of characters -- and thus we established that I had been given the assignment to guard them. The reason the Diplomatic Apparatus considered it worth assigning a senior agent to guard them, and what he was guarding them from, is the story for next time.
Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.