September 15th, 2018

game mechanics for hiring spies

One of the player characters in Tapestry, Kenbash Nergul, a ghoul woman, has decided to put part of the profits from the recently completed voyage into recruiting a group of spies. So I've started looking at how to represent this. GURPS has published rules for describing and setting up organizations (in GURPS Boardroom and Curia), but I think I'm not going to use them, both because they're optimized for creating big organizations, from a platoon or a high school up to a multinational corporation or a research institute, and because they treat the organization a bit impersonally: the founder owns the organization and the organization is the focus of the loyalty of its personnel. I think this may be more like Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars or Charles Xavier and the (original) X-men, which seems to call for a less arm's-length model.

So first off I'm going to want to look at how big an organization Nergul wants, and what rate of pay it's going to offer. If she hires nixies (much less conspicuous in a nixie city!), typical pay is $650/month for a professional, $325/month for a tradesman, $162.50/month for a laborer or a common servant, and down to $65/month for an irregular laborer or petty criminal (a true "Baker Street Irregular"). Ghouls will work for less—they're a race of scavengers who can eat food a prison kitchen would throw away, and enjoy it, and food is the biggest part of cost of living, about 75%, so ghouls can get by on half of normal pay—but they'd typically be better suited to a different mission profile, so that would have to be taken into account.

Finding suitable employees would call for a Search roll. In GURPS terms, this will be a Search for hirelings. The standard roll would be Nergul's IQ, +1 for city size, -2 if (as seems likely) this is a dangerous job. Nergul can substitute Leadership, Streetwise, or Savoir-Faire (High Society) for IQ. If she's using IQ or Leadership, there's an additional -5 penalty for looking for hirelings who need to keep their jobs and professions secret. She can't substitute Administration (there's no Thieves' or Assassins' Guild!), Current Affairs (anyone in those professions who gets into the news is automatically disqualified), or Propaganda (Nergul certainly doesn't want to advertise). She can get bonuses to the search for offering unusually high pay, but I'm going to ask the player to roll vs. Nergul's Miserliness if she wants to do that.

Another option would be for Nergul to find a go-between, and pay finders' fees, but that would cost money (Miserliness again) and also give away information Nergul may not want to reveal.

Presumably this is going to be a continuing relationship, which raises the question of loyalty. For an employer-employee relationship, this is determined by a reaction roll (three dice, with higher rolls being better). Nergul will get a modest bonus for Status, a modest penalty for Odious Personal Habit (she chronically smells bad, largely from her overt professional as a tanner and furrier), and possibly a large bonus for Social Regard (Feared) if she chooses to approach the relationship that way. She can get a bonus for paying more than the standard rate (again, see Miserliness!) and she can get +3 if she can make a Body Language roll to assess the attitudes of her prospective employees. A typical result would be Good loyalty. She can substitute an Influence roll based on Leadership, or possibly Savoir-Faire or Streetwise, with success meaning Good loyalty; this would indicate relying on management skill. She might want to cultivate a persona with a Quick Contest of Leadership+3 against the average IQ of her employees, to play a suitable role in front of them; that would give +1 to reaction or Influence rolls.

Addendum: A further option would be for her to make a "cultivating a persona" role to get into the mental space of being a spymaster, probably with a Quick Contest of Leadership+3 versus average IQ of her spies. If she wins, she gets +1 to the reaction roll, or to an Influence roll as long as it doesn't also use the Leadership skill (no double counting!).

In any case, her employees are going to function as a Contact Group, defined by the class of skills they provide. How good those skills are will reflect her pay scale; how trustworthy the employees are as a group will reflect the loyalty roll, from Bad (unreliable) to Good (completely reliable). If she hires them full time, they'll be available on a 12 or less; otherwise, on a 9 or less. At this point, Nergul will have to spend character points. Perhaps she can talk her associate Gansukh (a male ghoul with impressive stealth and survival skills, whose player left the campaign a year or so ago) into sharing the point cost with her. In any case, the Contact Group advantage gets us back to the heart of the organizational definition rules, so I can work out some suitable organizational statistics indirectly.