Thursday, March 31, 2011

Crime 101 - Opportunists part 2

On Tuesday we, very briefly, went over the wonderful world of opportunists and how most people in the organized underworld don't like them. For those that missed it, let me save you some time. The underworld doesn't like opportunists because they can't be trusted. Today, we're going to look at how this concept can affect the games that you are running, or playing in.

PCs Are Generally Opportunistic
This isn't true for all Players, but by and large, PCs do tend to be opportunistic. I mean, there are people whose job in life is beating up big, bad, and scary things to take their loot. When was the last time a PC in your game didn't take the money off the guy he just killed? No, games like L5R don't count - if only because the societal punishment for taking that money is higher than the reward.

When it comes to working in a criminal organization, the PCs - in my experience - often tend to be just as opportunistic. Hollywood has made a big deal of focusing on the "best of the best" criminals who will do any job for the right price. PCs will then follow this same mercenary view, doing jobs for money and whomever pays more gets their service. In the criminal world, people like that generally don't last. Why? You can't trust them. You use them for a job or two, sure, but the second you think a competitor may be willing to offer more...well, then you might want to pay them in bullets instead (in the movies, this usually starts the 1.5 hour revenge portion of the story)

PC opportunism will come in other flavors as well. Players often don't think of the NPCs as full people, and will take advantage of them. They'll make efforts to get themselves the best cut all the time, and pull fast ones on the people they're working with. These are fine as long as the PC has all the power, and no one finds out about it, but as soon as one of those two factors break (and really, the latter is more important) the PC will probably find themselves on the wrong end of a team up.

If you really want to look at it, consider this. Most PCs are ambitious. They should be, they're PCs after all, and thus the main characters. However, on an Ambitious person's rise to the top, they tend to upset the status quo a whole lot. Especially when they're not willing to play the long game and do it "the right way". These kinds of people cause waves. The people already at the top don't like waves. They mess everything up. So, when a wave maker starts to show up, steps get taken to try and pacify the waves. Violently if necessary.

By the way, the point of telling you this isn't to make you start beating up on your criminal PCs. It is to show you that things should be made interesting for them, and to give them the motive. As many people don't like the opportunists, others will try to use them for a time as well. Pressure can then come from all over, and make for a very fun experience. At the same time, truly grievous crimes against the underworld might just be dealt with quickly..or at least, that will be the intent.

NPC Opportunists
Lets look at the other side of things. The PCs have made it. They are at least somewhat important and well placed in the underworld. They are men and women of ambition, controlled ambition, but ambition none the less. This is where the PCs themselves need to look out for opportunists. There are generally two approaches here that could be used, so lets quickly take a look at both.

Train's Coming Through
This is the first, and most obvious, way that an opportunist can come across the PCs. The PCs are in the way of what the opportunist wants, and the opportunist isn't afraid to go through them to get it. This will likely involve a rounding up of the PCs enemies, turning them into a group of some sort, and then going after the PCs. It can also just involve making the PC look weak so enemies will do their thing on their own, and further weaken the PC. Either way, the opportunist is chipping away at the PCs power base to find a way through. Question is, will the PC find out who is doing it and why in time?

On The Shoulders of Giants
The second way is a bit less obvious. PCs tend to be people on the move in society. Generally moving upward for that matter as well. What better way to get some upward momentum going than to grab onto the PC's coat tails and enjoy the ride up? This kind of opportunist is ok playing a bit of a slower game. They'll get themselves in close, act like a trusted friend, and ride the way up. However, they're looking for power more than friendship, so if a better deal comes around...well, knives go in backs for a reason, don't they?

This method may be harder to pull off. A lot of players won't trust an NPC once they have reason to not trust the NPC. A lot of GMs don't put the time and effort into these NPCs, complete with failings, strengths, and redemption, because the time : reward ratio can be very off putting. So you need to be careful trying this. Either put more work into your general run of the mill NPCs so they come across as a bit more 3D, or try to hide how deep the NPCs ambition goes. Maybe even have them pass a loyalty test or two before failing. Either way though, don't force the PC to not notice it, and give some warning before it happens. At least a die roll to try.

I'm sure the rest of you have other ways that opportunists can be put to good use in a game. Why not share them in the comments below?


  1. I have to admit, I've wanted to do opportunist NPCs before but never had the long range plan of getting one into the PCs trust and then have them keep pushing, work. Probably for lack of planning on my part but also because something unfortunate almost always happens to the NPC because of the PC's opportunistic ways.

    Me "But Jack is in the building."

    Them "Our enemy is way too dangerous, I like Jack but I don't think we can get him out in time. I'm detonating the explosives!"

    Me "sigh"

  2. That is when our good friend "Mr. Consequence" can come into play. Maybe Jack had something that would've really helped them out. The PC gets home to find a voice mail from Jack saying that he's found something, something huge. It's going to make them all rich beyond their wildest dreams. Jack is dead.

    A few weeks later, one of the enemy NPCs suddenly has a new source of income and fancy new gear for all of his troops.

  3. I've never actually had an NPC that sticks around with the PCs -- mostly for lack of ability to roleplay him and the world simultaneously, but this seems like an interesting way to do something like that. A hidden villain that the PCs trust. I like it.