Man, this is becoming a series week for this blog, what with yesterday's Character Types entry, and tomorrow's Dramatic Situations. Today though, I want to return to what I'd like to be Tuesday's regular update of Crime 101. Today in specific I want to talk about one of the bigger crimes that can be committed. Not big because of how vicious, mean, or historical every instance of it is. Big because of how easy it is to lump so many crimes, or at least aspects there of, under this one umbrella. Yep, as the title says, today I want to talk about Extortion.
So, what is extortion? To put it simply, Extortion is the act of getting something from someone, generally against their will. To work, you need to have three things. A target, a desired ransom, and a hostage. We'll go over those three things later, but already I am sure you can see how vast this crime can actually be. Kidnapping is a form of extortion, as is Blackmail, racketeering, and even things like mugging. The methods are different, sure, but the bare bones of how they work are very much the same. So, let's break down extortion and see how it works.
I'm going to start with the Ransom because it is the easiest to go over, and also will often determine who/what the Target is, and who/what the Hostage needs to be. The Ransom is the easiest part to determine, because it is very simply what do you want? Do you want money? Do you want a backstage pass to a big concert? Do you want your divorce papers finalized? Out of jail? What is it you want? Once you have that, you know what your ransom is, and you can move on to the next step. See, this was easy.
For my fun/silly example, I want a klondike bar. What would I do for a klondike bar? Why, commit extortion of course!
Now, the Target, once you have your ransom in mind, is fairly easy, but a bit trickier. You need to find someone who is capable of giving you what you want. If you want money, you don't extort a poor person, unless that poor person can get you into a bank vault. But, you see the point right? For someone to be a good target, they need to be able to give you what you want. Otherwise, you're just barking up the wrong tree, almost literally.
More than having what you want, a Target needs to be vulnerable. You don't want to target someone who will fight back every step of the way. You want someone who you can control. This, ultimately, is what the hostage will be. What you need to control your target. So, for choosing your target, you first want to see who has access to what you want. Then, you need to find out who is also vulnerable. Does someone have a daughter that they dote on? A favorite puppy? A treasured family heir loom? Good, that means you have something to use against them. Which brings us into...
For the silly example, my target will be a fellow player at the gaming table. Let's call him Dominic. He is able to get me a klondike bar, and I feel he has enough vulnerability for me to be able to control him. So yes, he'll do nicely.
Now, I kinda just said what a hostage is. It is something you can take from the person, and hold against them to control them. This is often the person's vulnerability, but it needs to be a particular vulnerability. It needs to be something that the person will do what you want for. It does no good to take a man's dog hostage, when he won't get you into the bank vault. Now, the hostage has a number of issues they bring up all on their own, but we'll cover those in the entries on those specific crimes. What you want though is something you can seize, show that you have, and be able to give back to the person once they've done what you wanted. Those last two are the most important, because if you can't prove you have a hostage - or if it isn't something you can give back at least in part - the person has no reason to work with you, now do they?
For my silly example, I am taking Dominic's dice bag hostage. Yes, we are into petty school yard bullying here. See how vast extortion is?
How It Works
Extortion works on a very simple assumption. Without this assumption being true, the whole thing tends to fall apart. The assumption is this, and is technically two facts.
The Target values the Hostage more than they do the Ransom. The Offender (you) values the Ransom more than they do the Hostage.
When these two things work together, extortion goes off smoothly. The target pays the ransom, and the offender returns the hostage. The business is done, and everyone goes away. Obviously, the extorted is not as happy, though depending on the hostage they may be relieved.
Concluding our silly example. Dominic returns to the table to find his dice bag gone. He asks where it is, and I tell him that it is safe, and for the price of one klondike bar it will be returned safely to him. As proof, I give him one of the die from his bag. Dominic grumbles, but knows its not worth arguing with me when I'm in this mood, goes up and pays the $0.75 for the klondike bar. He gives me the ice cream, and I give him back his dice bag. Voila, extortion has happened.
Now, because I'm not actually a jerk, I'll give Dom the $0.75 back, but the example was mostly to show how it can work on even a very small scale.
Fun With Extortion
Now, the fun thing about extortion is that with just a slight change in view, almost anything can be extortion. Legal extortion sure, but extortion. Don't believe me? Let's look at your usual trip to your gaming store.
You go to your store, and they have things you want. Only to get them, you have to pay money. Now, this is just a normal sale right? But we have all the pieces for extortion here. The Target (you), the Offender (the store clerk), the Hostage (the book you want), and the Ransom (the cost of the book). Yes, this is taking wide liberties, but it does work. You value the book more than the ransom, so pay the cost. The clerk values the ransom more than the book, so gives you the book. You then go about your merry way.
That is a normal sale, but put that into an emergency situation. A big storm is coming, so the local supermarket raises the price on all their canned goods by 500%. Now, there are laws against this to protect people, but it did happen before. It is extortion of a kind.
Why am I pointing this out? Mostly because it is fun to think about, but also to try and hammer home just how easy it is to bring extortion into a game. So think about it, have fun with it, and let me know if you have any questions.
Oh, and for the record, Dominic's player really hates that someone taught me how extortion works. Even if I've yet to actually fully extort anything from him.