|Carmel takes digital intrusion to the next level.|
The last session saw some very satisfying use of the Contacts mechanic, with our British agent, Sten Brodrington, leaning on his brother, still active at Vauxhall Bridge, for information on the Edom Project. Carmel Shaked, my ex-Mossad infiltrator, was busy buttering up her ex-husband, who is the defence correspondent of The Guardian newspaper.
I have always been a big fan of using contacts in role playing games. For players, it allows you to develop something of a backstory. Characters are not lone gunmen, wandering into town. In games like Pendragon and Shadowrun, there was scope to build and develop connections with NPCs, some of them of your own devising. Burning Wheel takes this even further, with its Circles mechanic, simulating a wider network of contacts, but also both positive and negative relationships with individuals or organisations within the broader game milieu.
In my Deadlands Noir campaign I drew extensively on one player character's comatose wife (a Savage Worlds drawback), incorporating her and her sister into a more sinister sub-plot involving a bound demon and a cabal of misguided occultists.
In many games, relationships, even when added to the character profile, rarely come into play, particularly if the game is based on a published scenario which has little or no bearing on the characters' relationships. Consider most Call of Cthulhu scenarios, where a friend or relative is frequently used to draw the investigators into the plot, only to disappear / die / retreat to a safe distance while the investigators get on with the mystery. Yet how much more interesting would the game get if each investigator had to map out their personal relationships in detail, and all the action were to take place in the same town where their loved ones dwell?
Trail of Cthulhu uses its sources of stability mechanic as a means both to allow investigators to restore Stability, but also to potentially assail what they stand for and care about, making the horror all the more personal. We are using a similar mechanic in our game, but here my character has named her ex-husband as a source of stability first, and now as a Contact, a senior journalist who might have information about the Edom conspiracy.
Now it could have been easy for me to simply add a relative as a source of stability who lived safely back in Israel (my character is an ex-Mossad black bagger who used to steal money from the PLO's Swiss bank accounts), but I wanted to combine the reason she left Mossad with a source of stability and a potential contact she could make use of in London.
Hence we now have Arthur Hepworth, a journalist Carmel met in Israel when he was covering the Palestinian situation in 2007. She was part of the team that was keeping tabs on foreign journalists, and this was how they initially met. Her main drive in the campaign is Transparency, inspired by her short and tempestuous relationship with Hepworth, and which led to her finally turning her back on Mossad and going private with Redline Corporate Solutions in Switzerland. In the era of Edward Snowden and the Panama Papers, I thought this would be a good drive for an ex-Mossad hacker (I've also been partly inspired by Lisbeth Sallander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
I've decided Carmel has a relatively harmonious relationship with Hepworth, whom she still holds a candle for. He has remarried and is living in Balham with his wife and two small children. Unfortunately for him, the team has become interested in the current Lord Godalming, William Turner-Hinton, who sits on the UK's Joint Committee on National Security Strategy. Carmel wants an introduction to him. His great-grandfather, we suspect, was involved in potentially scuppering the original Dracula plot in 1894, and his family's old home was used for training an SOE mission to Romania in 1940.
It has been fun to gradually fill in some of Carmel's background as the game has progressed, rather than having to come up with it all in advance. Leaving parts of your character's background or network of connections blank, and then filling them in later, seems like a good idea. It provides the characters with additional sources of help and information, but also brings NPCs into the game who have significance for your character.
Sten Brodrington's player has invented a brother who works at MI6, and who has dug into the encounter we had in Gibraltar the previous week with what we suspect was an SAS kill team (since declared dead in a 'training accident'). Brodrington senior is now fearing for his life and planning to go on an extended holiday.
So, as the plot thickens, so does the web of interpersonal relationships which seems to be providing the game with an additional layer of drama and role playing opportunities. That can't be bad!
|"I hear the Gobi desert is nice this time of year..."|