With the release of Firewall, I began thinking about some of the realities of playing Proxies as opposed to Sentinels. Something that occurred to me was that Sentinels, being part-time agents often tapped on an as-needed basis, would not always be active compared to "always-on" Proxies. In terms of meshing the game narrative with the realities of play (or at least with how my players are) it made more sense for me to have Proxies as player characters and Sentinels as assets they could tap to make up for gaps in their skill set or get places they can't go themselves.
With that in mind, I drafted up some house rules for the players, as Proxies, to create a network of Sentinels or other Firewall-friendlies and general assets to have at hand. I refer to them, both the NPCs and the rules regarding their creation, as HumInt ("human intelligence").
Please, provide feedback on them and, of course, use them if you like them!
HumInt: Feet On The Ground
The tech may have gotten more advanced but the basics have not changed; a covert operative's greatest asset is their network. Informants, fellow agents, unwitting patsies, moles in rival organizations; these are the individual strands of a web at the center of which squats the agent, the spider feeling for vibrations. A master spy could topple governments all without firing a shot. Through their allies they can learn the comings and goings of powerful individuals, gather blackmail material or organize assassinations.
These rules are written under the assumption that the characters are playing Proxies or equivalent-level members of similar organizations such as Project Ozma, Oversight or the Titanian Fleet Intelligence. They are optional but recommended for characters with at least one reputation and Networking score of over 60 each.
At character creation, an agent can invest points of their reputation for a relevant network to establish pre-existing relationships with an NPC character. For example, @-rep can be used to create relationships with a Barsoomian or Scum, but not a Jovian; f-rep could be used to know a media personality but not a scientist.
Establishing new relationships can be done in-play; these should be roleplayed to some degree and in general should be slower, perhaps even taking whole sessions to form depending on the intensity and value of the relationship. Identifying, grooming and recruiting intelligence assets is not a fast process; it should involve at least some footwork to establish their basics aspects, a more detailed evaluation to test their capabilities and personality and then a final recruitment to seal the deal.
Rep invested in a HumInt asset is spent permanently, even if the asset is killed, captured or otherwise taken out of play. This is for balance reasons; the ability to create NPCs who act in your stead is both tactically extremely powerful and affords a great deal of narrative control to the player and should be expensive. The GM has approval over the creation of HumInt assets; they might stipulate complications or strings attached to them, or even outright refuse assets if they feel the player is abusing their rep or that the creation of that specific asset might provide too much of an "easy out" to a situation.
Once created, a HumInt asset can be tapped once per session for favours and information without needing to roll Networking or spending rep. The agent simply has to make the request and the HumInt will attempt the mission. Note that this is not a guaranteed success, simply that they will make the effort. Failure might well occur, which could endanger or even kill the HumInt, so it is not advised to throw them into the meat-grinder. One HumInt does not have access to everything in their entire field; if the GM feels the player is abusing their HumInt asset, they should take appropriate corrective action.
Each HumInt asset must have at least 1 point in each of the following qualities: Bond, Access, Talent, Resources. Each category scales from 1 to 5. Buying a level in a category costs rep equal to that level; buying the first level costs 1 rep, buying the second costs 2 etc. Thus each HumInt asset costs somewhere between 4 (1 for all) and 60 rep (5 for all).
Bond represents the nature and intensity of the relationship between the HumInt asset and the PC agent. This bond might be professional, personal, even romantic. Put simply, the higher the Bond the more the HumInt is willing to do for the PC agent without requiring payment or rep. They will be able to do higher-level favours but will require some form of justification or compensation for doing so; asking too much of them should have consequences..
- 1: Casual Acquaintance: The HumInt has agreed to do small favours for the agent but has no great investment in their well-being; they will not be great friends or relatives and are unlikely to be full members of the same organization. At this level, they will do 1-rep favors with no questions asked.
- 2. Fellow Traveler: The HumInt has some degree of affection or loyalty towards the agent or their cause; they might have some off-the-job contact or belong to the same interest groups. At this level, they will do favours up to level 2 with no questions asked.
- 3. Sworn In: The HumInt might be a relative, romantic partner or fellow agent; they have strong interest in the well-being of the agent. They will do favours up to level 3 no questions asked.
- 4. Loyalist: The HumInt might be a sibling, spouse or a former partner-in-crime of the agent and are willing to do almost anything for them. They will do favors up to level 4 no questions asked.
- 5. Fanatic: At this level, the HumInt would be willing to do anything for the agent. They might be a blood-brother, a die-hard believer in the same cause or a soul-mate. They will do any favour no questions asked.
Access represents where the HumInt is positioned that might make them somehow desirable to a PC agent. Generally speaking, it represents the employment but might also represent membership in certain anarchist collectives, crime syndicates or other institutions. This serves two purposes. First, it gives the HumInt some of their skills. Second and more importantly, it provides the player with a source of information and a way to open certain doors. Put simply, the more points in Access, the higher places your friends are in. But remember, a Cognite executive is not necessarily going to be able to know about the inner workings of Xperia...
- 1. Drone: A low-level position in a small-to-moderate level institution. This might be an indentured corp employee, a street thug a or a script-kiddie hacker. They will have a Profession skill at 40 and one other at 30. They can provide some basic insider information but nothing classified or sensitive, such as office chatter or the next day's orders.
- 2. Line Manager: An established position in their institution. This might be a mob lieutenant, a moderately respected scientist or a Direct Action squad leader. They will have a Profession skill at 40 and one other at 40. They will have access to some moderately sensitive information such as the location to a small drophouse.
- 3. Middle Management: A respected person in their institution, occupying a fairly secure position. This might be a junior executive, a notable hacktivist or a media darling. They will have a Profession at 50 and one other at 50. They will have access to some classified intel such as the secret drug habit of a minor politician.
- 4. Major Domo: Someone in a quite high position within their organization, in a position of some authority or respect. They might be a mob under-boss, the head of a department at TAU or a senior Oversight auditor. They will have a Profession at 60 and one others at 60. They will have access to highly classified intel such as the location of an oligarch's private hab.
- 5. Beating Heart: Though not a faction head, they are extremely well-placed within that faction. They might be the head of a hypercorp research facility, the most respected member of a certain Scum Swarm or (with GM permission) placed within Project Ozma. They will have a Profession at 70 and one other at 70. They will have access to top-secret intelligence such as the details of ongoing weapons R&D.
Talent represents some extra-curricular skills and abilities the HumInt asset has that might make them useful to an agent. These are practical skills, whereas Access is more social; what they DO versus who they ARE. They also help serve flesh them out more as a character. A HumInt asset might be a hired gun, a data analyst or have some extremely niche knowledge. If your team doesn't have a bomb disposal expert, sometimes it's useful to know one.
- 1. Dabbler: The HumInt has a fairly normal level of knowledge or skills. This is the man in the crowd, the average student and GED. They have two skills at 30.
- 2. Hobbyist: The HumInt has developed their skillset slightly beyond the normal means. They might have been raised bilingual or spend their weekends at the shooting range. They have one skill at 40 and two at 30.
- 3. Expert: The HumInt has some niche knowledge or a well-developed skillset. They might be an otaku, a trained technician or grad student. They have one skill at 50, with a specialty, and two skills at 40.
- 4. Specialist: The HumInt is highly capable and skilled in their chosen field. They might be a professor, a seasoned veteran or a professional athlete. They have two skills at 60, each with a specialty, and two skills at 40.
- 5. Polymath: The HumInt is truly exceptional and can hold court on a wide array of topics. They might be a renowned expert in their field of research, a high-rep Argonaut or an Ultimate Exemplar. They have three skills at 60, each with a specialty, at two at 50.
Resources represent the HumInt's material wealth, what physical gear or assets they can offer to the mission. This also includes their morph with any bioware or cyberware, and how much liquid asset they might be tapped for at any given time. Bear in mind that this represents how much the HumInt asset has to spare rather than their entire worldly fortune; it is assumed they have enough to meet their day to day needs. Still, sometimes you need someone with a safehouse, some untraceable funds or guns with the serial numbers filed off..
- 1. Borderline: The HumInt has enough to get by in their society but not much room for luxury. They probably live in cramped conditions with barely enough room for themselves, let alone other people; they may even be homeless. They have an unaugmented morph - probably a Case or Flat - and can be squeezed for up to 500 credits. They might be indentures, low level criminals or Titanian reboots.
- 2. Comfortable: The HumInt lives moderately well. They can afford small upgrades to their morph - which is probably a Splicer or Exalt - and could conceivably have room to house one or two others in their accommodation. They might be squeezed for up to the equivalent of 2000 credits before they encounter difficulties. Hypercorp employees, small Extropian operations or individual Scum might be at this level.
- 3. Affluent: Before the Fall, someone like this would have lived in the walled-off sectors; they have far more than they need and probably have extensive mods on their morph - perhaps a Sylph or Fury. They could be tapped for the equivalent of up to 10K credits of disposable income and goods. Hyperelite scions and the glitterati or lauded members of an anarchist collective might have this level of Resources to spare.
- 4. Privileged: Someone like this probably was born with a silver spoon in their mouths and have more than enough for a dozen lifetimes. Their morphs might be anything and are likely highly customized. They can be tapped for up to 25K credits in goods or services or have some other significant holding the agent can make use of, such as a private lab. Titanian Ministers, Lunar bankers or veteran gatecrashers might have this level of resources.
- 5. Obscene: People like this are few and far between; they might have been born into an oligarch's dynasty or have bootstrapped themselves up to being richer than God. They likely have unique morphs made by famed designers. They can be tapped for up to 50K credits in goods and services and have extensive holdings the agent might call on. For this reason, the GM should be careful about permitting a Resources 5 HumInt asset without good reason or no strings attached. People with this level of resources are mostly immortal Inner System oligarchs, though a few notable autonomists might ave enough sway to command the equivalent in rep.
Putting that all together with an example: in one game we had an NPC named Hadrian Nguyen, a morph designer. He was a wealthy man, having secured patents on a few key elements in the morph manufacturing process that made him independently wealthy through royalties alone (Resources 4). He was mostly withdrawn from day-to-day life as his avant-garde designs had fallen out of favour following the Fall (Access 2) though he was still an extremely skilled scientist and designer (Talent 5). Mostly he kept to himself in his private hab on Mars and dabbled with different aspects of morph design and manufacture and collaborated with a player character mostly out of immortal boredom (Bond 2): they always brought him the most interesting cases!
Personally, I recommend noting the basics of the HumInt (name, qualities, any important notes etc) on a small flashcard; when the asset is tapped on the mission, flip the card face-down to reflect that it has been used. If the GM is generous, the HumInt can be tapped a second time, but this should somehow endanger their position. The second time they are used in a session, remove the card from the table entirely. Between sessions, the GM should think up a potential consequence for the HumInt being overexposed. Perhaps they lose assets or their organization does not trust them as much any more; this might be represented by reducing one of their qualities. Alternatively, they might come under attack for supporting the wrong team. Rescuing a valuable asset could make for an exciting mission!