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GURPS Social Engineering: Keeping in Contact, Kelly Pedersen 24 September 2019

This GURPS supplement deals with contacts: how to use them, how to customise them, and a wide variety of examples.

Disclaimer: I was lead playtester for this book and therefore did not pay for it.

The first thing done here, and one of the most important, is to confirm the slight rules change that many people already made: a Contact's effective skill level is not a single specific thing they can do, but an abstraction which represents the contact's resources and ability to help with whatever problem you bring to them. (This works well for me anyway; my mental model of contacts rests heavily on Dark Conspiracy, where someone was defined as an academic, or a government, or a criminal contact, not a specialist in Research or Administration.)

There's more discussion of whether to classify a helpful NPC as an Ally (full stats, comes with you on adventures), Patron (more powerful than you, gives you major assistance) or Contact (gives you some information and favours but you can quickly wear down their goodwill).

There are cinematic variations, like Contact! (one contact who works as well as a group) and Friend of the Week (a modular ability that lets you swap in new contacts when the plot demands).

The meat starts with special enhancements and limitations, to tweak the core mechanics of appearance, reliability, and speed of getting bored running around to a PC's whims. The chapter concludes with a consideration of other traits that interact with Contacts: Advantages that can interact with them, but more significantly Disadvantages that shape relationships.

The second chapter goes into more detail about the process of getting information out of a contact, and indeed the sort of thing you can look for: secret information that you can't readily get without being an insider, convenient information that you just want to get more quickly, synthesis of information that you've already gathered from other places, and organised knowledge from a group (e.g. a single American cop might get you someone's name and address from their licence plate, but your cop contact group can also tell you their criminal records, known associates, and so on).

Next are favours, i.e. asking the contact to go and to something rather than just answer questions. These are classified as Quick vs Taxing, Nonhazardous vs Dangerous, and Inexpensive vs Costly; the more they move into the latter categories the more work it'll be to persuade your contact to do them for you. Specific types of favours are laid out, particularly including the use of social privilege to get introductions, jobs, and so on.

Having established what the contact can be asked to roll for, the chapter continues with the roll itself: how can that skill be modified (with bribery and extra time), and even with complementary skill rolls.

Slightly out of order, Frequency of Appearance and Reliability are covered next, also introducing levels of convenience: how much work is it for you to find the contact, and what else can you do at the same time? Reliability is expanded to cover incompetence as well as treachery (e.g. when the contact fails their skill roll they go hunting for the information and get into trouble). The chapter concludes with hints to the GM on how to keep contacts useful and interesting: mostly this means treating them as people, not just as a set of numbers, on both sides of the table.

The final chapter deals with categories of contact – and lays them out at the same sort of resolution as those old Dark Conspiracy contacts in categories (partly borrowed from Boardroom and Curia) like Advocacy, Criminal/Street, Martial Arts, etc.; each class has lists of typical skills, some examples, the sort of information they can provide, and the sort of favours they can do. There are some notes on running contacts with particular skills, such as design skills for new inventions, teaching, and so on.

Overall there's a great deal of excellent material here, and this book is very likely to be important in every game I run that's set in any kind of functional society.

Social Engineering: Keeping in Contact is available from Warehouse 23.

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