Ever since I played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I wanted to do a conspiracy-laden infiltration roleplaying game. In the Star Wars mythos. This campaign, which I named Galaxy of Intrigue, has felt like a cursed endeavour, since I have started it three times now, in both tabletop and chat environment. But this, the third time, seems to be the charm, as we have progressed well, and I am remaining hopeful that we can actually finish the plot. But regardless of the outcome, I have learned a few tricks from the game.
First of all, I decided to use Storyteller as the engine. Storyteller is simple and flexible, and putting a stealth infiltration mechanic on top was a fairly trivial matter. But the most important thing was that I put all the important clues and facts on cards and gave them to the players when they discovered them. All the NPC’s, events and objects. They are a great reference, especially as the players can find connections with them. I think I’ll do that in every roleplaying game now. And I want to play Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, since apparently ita has also card-based things going on. And huge layers of abstraction. Mmm. Abstraction.
Speaking of abstraction, an extremely good point was made in the last Galaxy of Intrigue session. We had only 50% of the players present, but I decided to go on regardless. In a situation where I decided to roll for one of the missing players, one of the players said that there should be a system for missing players, where the players on-site could use the character as a resource. That is such an ingenious idea that I am surprised that I hadn’t heard about it sooner. Let’s create a system!
After character creation, a player gives his character a Primary Ability and a Secondary Ability. These are based off the character’s stats, skills, features and personality. For example, an exemplary hacker would have ”Computer Handling” as a primary ability and ”Information Gathering” as a secondary ability. Whenever the player is not present, the group can use these two abilities once in the session.
The primary ability is as reliable as the character itself, and does not incur a risk to him. For example, the previous hacker’s ”Computer Handling” can be used once to pretty much automatically succeed in a single computer-related problem. This should preferably happen off-screen, so the spotlight is on the players on-site. The secondary ability is less powerful and incurs a risk to the character if he fails. The GM rolls appropriately when the ability is used, and on a failure the character might run into a problem or a complication. Continuing with the hacker case, sending the guy to find information on a specific person might end up with him getting caught by a security or a counter-agent.
This is just a quick and generic idea on how to generally use a playerless character in a variety of games. A specific game should have its own rules. In D&D and the like, a missing character could be an automated follower, doing things based on its role: Defenders give extra Defence and HP to the guy they are standing next to, strikers give flanking and damage bonuses etc.. Perhaps a character that hangs around automatically aids skill checks. Just like the old saying goes: When life gives you lemons, transform them into resources.