Roleplayer #15, August 1989

A New Advantage: Contacts

From the upcoming GURPS Cliffhangers

by Brian J. Underhill

A Contact is an NPC, like an Ally or a Patron. However, the Contact only provides information. Contacts may be anything from a wino in the right gutter to the Chief of State of a country. The Contact has access to information, and he is already known to and guaran-teed to react favorably to the PC. The contact may want a price, in cash or favors, for the information. The Contact is always played and controlled by the GM and the nature of the price must be set by the GM.

The GM may assume that a contact is, in general, well-disposed toward the PC. However, the Contact is not an Ally or Patron, and is no more likely to give special help than any other generally-friendly NPC!

A Contact does not have to be created when the PC is first developed. Contacts may be added later. When appropriate, the GM can turn an existing NPC into a Contact for one or more PCs, possibly in lieu of character points for the adventure in which the Contact was encountered.

Whatever the case, the Contact can provide information only about his own area of expertise. The technician at the forensics lab probably has no information about Nazi agents in New York, and the First Secretary of the British Embassy probably can't do a ballistics comparison. The GM assigns a skill (Streetwise for a minor criminal, Forensics for a lab tech, etc.) to the Contact. All attempts to get information from him require a secret roll by the GM against the Contact's "effective" skill. Note that the effective skill is not necessarily the NPC's actual skill; the actual skill can be set by the GM if the NPC comes into regular play. For instance, the president of a local steel mill might actually have business-related skills in the 16-18 area, but he has an effective skill of 21, making him worth 20 points, because he himself has good connections!

Point values for Contacts are based on the type of information and its effective skill, modified by the fre-quency with which they can provide information and the reliability of the information. Importance of infor-mation is relative and the list of possible Contacts is virtually endless; a few are listed below as a guide to help the GM determine value.

Type of Information

Street Contacts. These are minor criminals, derelicts, shoeshine boys, street entertainers, fences and other streetwise NPCs who provide information on illicit activities, local criminal gossip, upcoming crimes and so forth. Base cost is 5 points for "unconnected" contacts (not part of the local criminal organization; Streetwise-12) and 10 points for "connected" contacts (Streetwise-15).

Business Contacts. Executives, secretaries – even the mailroom flunky – can provide information on business dealings. Base cost depends on how much the contact can be expected to know: 5 points for a mail boy or typist (effective skill 12), 10 points for the president's secretary (effective skill 15), 15 points for an accountant (effective skill 18) or 20 points for the Chairman of the Board (effective skill 21).

Police Contacts. This includes anyone connected with law enforcement and criminal investigation: patrolmen, detectives, forensics specialists, coroners, federal agents and so on. Cost depends on access to information or services. Beat cops are 5 points (effective skill 12); detectives, federal agents or records clerks are 10 points (effective skill 15); administrators (lieutenants, captains, Special Agents in Charge, etc.) are 15 points (effective skill 18) and senior officers (sheriffs, chiefs of police, District Superintendents, etc.) are 20 points (effective skill 21).

Frequency of Assistance

Frequency refers to the chance that the Contact can be found when needed. When creating the character, the player must define the way the Contact is normally contacted! Regardless of the chosen Frequency, a Contact cannot be reached if the PCs could not reasonably speak to him. No Contact may be used more than once per day, even if several PCs share the same contact. Multiple questions may be asked each day, at a cumulative -2 for each question after the first.

Almost all the time (roll of 15 or less): triple cost.
Quite often (roll of 12 or less): double cost.
Fairly often (roll of 9 or less): listed cost.
Rarely (roll of 6 or less): half cost (round up).

During the adventure, if a PC wants to talk with his Contact, the GM rolls against the availability number for that Contact. A failed roll means the Contact is busy or cannot be located that day. If the Contact is available, then the GM must roll against the contact's effective skill for each general piece of information the PC requests. A Contact can never supply information outside his area of knowledge. Use common sense. Likewise, the GM must not allow a Contact to give information that short-circuits the adventure!

If a PC gets a critical failure when trying to reach his Contact, that contact cannot be reached during that entire game session.

Reliability of Information

Contacts are not guaranteed to know anything useful, and are not necessarily truthful. Use the following modifiers (cumulative with frequency modifiers).

Completely reliable: Even on a critical failure, the worst response will be "I don't know." On an ordinary failure be can find information in 1d days. Triple cost.

Usually reliable: On a critical failure the contact will lie; on any other failure he "doesn't know now but check back in 1d days." Roll again at that time; a failure then means he can't find out at all. Double cost.

Somewhat reliable: On a failure the contact doesn't know and can't find out; on a critical failure he will lie; on a natural 18 he will let the opposition know who is asking questions. Listed cost.

Unreliable: Reduce effective skill by 2. On any failure he will lie; on a critical failure he will notify the enemy. Half cost (round up).

Money Talks

Bribery, whether cash or favors, motivates the Contact and increases his reliability level. Once reliability reaches "usually reliable," further levels of increase go to effective skill; bribery cannot make anyone totally reliable!

A cash bribe should be about equivalent to one day's income for a +1 bonus, one week's income for +2, one month's for +3 and one year's for +4. Favors should be of equivalent worth. The favor should always be something that the character actually performs in the game. The GM must maintain proper roleplaying; a diplomat might be insulted by a cash bribe, but welcome an introduction into the right social circle.

(Back to Roleplayer #15 Table of Contents)

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