Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crime 101 - Blackmail Part 2

On Tuesday we talked about Blackmail and how it works. Nothing particularly special, especially if you read the Extortion piece last Tuesday. Today, I want to talk about taking blackmail, and throwing it into your game. Whether you are a player, or a GM, you can do this, because blackmail is mostly about a method of approaching a problem, not necessarily the problem itself. So, let's go and discuss how blackmail can work in a game.

Generally It's Political
I'm not trying to say blackmail can only work in a political setting, but it is more likely to appear in a game that is political. Games like Legend of the Five Rings and Vampire (both Masquerade and Requiem) have a strong political component to them, where a character's reputation can be just as important as any of their combat stats depending on the situation. These games generally have something in the advantages/disadvantages for already existing blackmail (I know L5R 3rd ed had it.)

Just remember, the rules for extortion means that whomever is being targeted for blackmail in your game needs to care about their reputation, and they need to care about it enough that they're willing to pay for it.

The Setup
Setting up a blackmail situation however can be tricky. Sure, movies and tv can give you lots of examples of how to do it, but the initial setup is often very confrontational. Combine that with a lot of PCs default reaction to confrontation being to "blow it all up" and it can be hard to do. However, if you are blessed with a more politically minded player, a bit of blackmail can really spice things up.

My recommendation to start things off would be the impersonal opener. A message is given, with a sample of the proof and simple instructions "Meet me at 3 am in this bar, come alone, or I post these pictures online" perhaps. Keep the PC away from the actual blackmailer for a bit, it prevents the meeting from going overly confrontational. Also, play it like you would if you were really blackmailing someone that capable. You need to assert control, and you need to assert it fast. Don't mess around, and make sure the mark knows that actions have consequences. Then, give them time to cool down before pushing again.

Handling the mark is going to take time to get right, but you can do it. Just be sure to be clear on who is in control. If you're blackmailing a PC, making it clear the PC is not the one in control can be all the fun you need to get out of this. No, really. It can be!

A Cautionary Note
Before we go further, I want to bring up a cautionary note. Players, by virtue of being called players if nothing else, are often looking to 'win' at the RPG. Now, you can't actually 'win' an RPG in the long run, but you can win situations. This is why so many situations in games drop into combat. It is just so much easier to permanently resolve a situation that way. Think about it? How many villains in your game have your players let live? Not how many have escaped, or tricked their way out, how many have the players just let go?

My guess is not all that many. Also, keep in mind the key rule for blackmail to work. The target needs to value the hostage more than the ransom. Many PCs when faced with the choice of their rep or their money will choose their money. Others will just try to turn the tables on the blackmailer. Either way, it can be hard to pull this off. because of this, you want to be careful when blackmailing your PCs, because their response could be volatile.

Blackmail is wonderfully easy once the set up is done. The target knows they're the target, and that they aren't in control of the situation. This is true for real life, as well as in game. Sure, in game you may get more action to try and turn the tables (see above note), but in general once you're in control you have it. All that is left is to collect your ransom, and return the hostage - or extort more stuff from the target.

Honestly, Blackmail is one of the more straight forward things to put into your game, because it is almost completely social in nature. Where it isn't social, it is binary. You either have the proof of what you know, or you don't. You are either in control, or you are not. Start off right, and everything just falls into place.

So have fun with it, and watch out for those PCs. They may just blow up the meeting place instead of giving their blackmailer a dime.

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