Friday, April 29, 2011

Network Linkages in the Conspiracy Sandbox

Taking up where we left off with designing a character-focused sandbox this morning, we now add in the dynamic parts of the octopus that give it life.

Before we get much further, let's tick off the things you'll need to have for this campaign scenario before play begins:
  1. An overall idea of the goals and nature of the conspiracy.
  2. A roster of the NPCs and their rankings inside the organization (the subject of the last post).
  3. A symbolic mapping of the network's communication links (this post).
  4. A timetable, schedule, or other mechanic (random events and the like) for the conspiracy's actions and movements (next post, if there is still interest).
  5. Ideas on how to present hooks and entry opportunities for the players to unravel the network (next post).
Communication Links
How the network communicates is essential to its working—and vitally important to how the players explore the leads and dead-ends along those lines.

Top Secret gave six ways for each character node to interact with each other (note the legend on the network map below):

Direct two-way. The two characters can meet and talk directly to each other at their own discretion. Both parties know the location and identities of the other. In our example, Rebekah the Black (M1) has such a link with her subordinate One-Armed Jiri (L1) . One of the agents, Carlos the Dwarf (A2), has a direct (and stupidly indiscreet) relationship with his flunky, F5. I add in a solid line with arrows pointing between the two for each case below.

Direct one-way. One of the NPCs, the one where the points away from, can communicate at his discretion with the other. The pointed to NPC doesn't have the location or means to communicate with the other conversely. This is the preferred method for the lieutenants with their more trusted agents and flunkies (A2, A3, A5, A6, and F6). I add in one-way lines for them.

Transmitted” two-way. The same as direct two-way except that all communication is “transmitted” in our fantasy case by magical means: magic mirror, crystal ball, telepathy, message-carrying flying beast. Since it's an awfully long way to walk between outer Outer Kutalika and the Capital City, Rebekah and Mogg (L2) use flying monkeys to communicate with each other. I add the appropriate squiggly line with two arrows.

Transmitted” one-way. Same as above except only one party can contact the other. The paranoid songstress Rebekah deals with her flunkies, F3 and F4, in this manner with talking talisman.

Drop two way. Either NPC can communicate with the other freely by dropping an object or message at a predetermined hidden location(s). The two lieutenants have a message drop at public bath houses with their two flunky messengers, F1 and F2.

Drop one way. The same as above, but only party can send messages. Mogg and sends one-way messages and instructions to one each of their less-trusted agents, A1 and A4, this way.

Here's the completed network map. 

Obviously, this can get very complicated (this is a very simple network), but the pay-off is having a handy easy way to navigate relationships in a meaningful, layered way. (One way to simplify would be to make each node a full team rather than just an individual NPC, a circle of assassins in one town or a covey of witches in another. )


  1. This is good stuff Chris - I'd be interested in seeing it further developed. I had Top Secret BITD, tried to play it a few times, but it didn't click. When it came to RPGs with gun stats, I balked. Nothing against guns, it was more of a "write what you know" thing. Same thing happened with Fringeworthy. The technical details daunted me to the point that I never tried to run it. (I was the only GM in my early gaggle of gamer dudes). SO - seeing this translated into a fantasy frame is interesting indeed!

  2. This reminds me of a more sophisticated version of the "Expanded contacts of contacts" concept in one of the Shadowrun expansion books.

  3. Very interesting stuff !
    Need the next parts.

  4. Didn't get a chance to comment this weekend, but I loved this and the previous posts about character-based sandboxes. I used to game this way all the time, though perhaps much less formally. With a formal time-table of NPC locations and actions, I do wonder about how easy it would be to throw everything off the rails as the party inevitably disrupts the conspiracy. But I suppose that is what between-session prep work is for (revising the master plan).