Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fireside Chat: Contacts Are People Too!

I want to talk about Contacts. As a game mechanic they serve a useful purpose, they find your players jobs, fence gear, sell gear, and provide a wealth of information for just a small pile of cash. The contacts your character picks tend to reflect the role, and back story of the character as envisioned by the player. These contacts have loyalty and connection rating, and are generally named after their role, and not themselves.

For example, in my current group we have a Decker/Face with a contact on his sheet that reads like this: KE Lieutenant (3/3) Now, that's enough to handle the contact. We know what he/she is, and what numbers to use for tests. This, for now, is enough. However, what happens when you actually start playing? Is this contact male? Female? Human? Ork? Troll? This is a trap that a lot of new GM's fall into. It simply doesn't matter.

Let's use the Lieutenant above. My Runners are looking to hit a local gang. Mr. Johnson wants to send a clear message that this upstart gang is moving in on his territory, but Mr. Johnson doesn't know, or won't divulge the location of the gang's base. So, the runners need to do some legwork. Knowing that he has a police contact, the group rings up this nameless, faceless, Lieutenant.

How do you proceed? As a GM I find you have a few options.

1) AR is your friend. Don't know, or care, about a contact's particulars? The Runners make a com-call, and the entire exchange is done via AR, they never see more than the contact's icon. Which, would be something police themed, and off the shelf.

2) Fall back on the archetype, we've all seen an episode of Law and Order, voila. Instant detective contact. Male, human, white, wrinkled, keep the conversation brief, and you should be in the clear.

3) Actually plan ahead. This is a tough one for new GM's but as you run more games this gets easier. I have a folio of canned Runners, contacts, places, etc. which comes with me to every game. If I need a canned police Lieutenant, I simply pull the canned policeman out of my folder, consult the list of pre-generated names, and pick one. This is tied to some vital stats, height, weight, etc. which allows me to build a plausible character out of a canned template.

I also make a point to keep every Runner I have ever built, for every edition. Just because the stats no longer translate into 5th Edition doesn't mean that the character itself isn't still valuable. In the end, it's the GM's job to provide a meaningful exchange. What that means to you, and to your players, varies by group. However, I find that I'm much calmer when I know I've planned for most eventualities.

Let's take a minute to look at the other side of the fence. Sometimes you have a player that knows exactly what they want their contacts to be. Name, age, place of employment, they have an image in their head and they want to take that image and express it on paper as a contact. These players tend to be more experienced, and in this case I have them write up a short bio for the contact. This gets tacked onto the back of their character sheet, and when the game wraps up, both their Runner, and their contact, get added to my folio. It's always nice for veteran players to see their old Runners, and contacts make another appearance. Plus, it gives you, the GM, a beautiful emotional hook. Don't ever discard an old character, crib sheet, or note from a game session. I've never regretted having too much detail on hand.


  1. Option 4: Make the contact details up on the fly. Only recommended for very experienced GMs.

    Interestingly, I do use the populating my world with persistent characters. Everyone knows my Ork Pimp Fixer Frederick Olivier Hollywood, or the club going elf Metarights Activist Melissa Chen, or the retired Troll Rigger Angdagnir, and all the other faces that show up in Seattle. They even know some of the Johnsons.

    1. I like the idea of making up details on the fly, and I've certainly done it, but I get held up on names a lot. I find t helps to, at the very least, have a bunch of names to hand, that I can use in a pinch.