Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Facility (RPG Any. GUMSHOE)

The agents gather their forces and prepare to strike. The opposition won't know what hit them - or at least, that's the idea. But what are the agents assaulting, and how difficult will their task be?

Any organized group, whatever its objective, has assets of one kind or another. Often these assets are brick-and-mortar buildings, facilities whose efforts assist the group's goals. For the purpose of this discussion I'm going to use Esoterrorists as an example, but the concepts discussed here could apply across the board. It doesn't matter whether Vampires or Cultists are behind the latest threat to humanity; certain characteristics are shared.

The purpose of this segment is to give you, the Keeper/Director, some basic vocabulary to describe these facilities to the players. This will be particularly useful if you have to do this on the fly, without much prior preparation. This will most often happen in an improvisational game, in which the characters are likely to go off-script in search of adventure.

So what are these facilities?

  • Manufacture,
  • Collect,
  • Distribute, or
  • Analyze.
A manufacturing facility makes something, a collection facility stores it, a distribution hub delivers it, and an analyzing facility investigates.

So to take an Esoterror cell devoted to weakening the membrane by any means necessary, that group has means by which it collects material to further its cause, makes that material, distributes it, or tries to find new ways to make, distribute or collect it. For purposes of this example it doesn't really matter what that material is - it's a pure McGuffin.

What do all these facilities have in common? They need:
  • Security, and,
  • Monitoring.
Someone has to keep the facility maintained and safe from prying eyes. This may mean a simple padlock on an important door, or a full-fledged electronic surveillance system. Also, someone has to monitor what's going on, whether the facility is doing as it should.

For purposes of gamification, the Security and Monitoring aspects of any facility ought to be given a basic rating, Low, Medium, or High. This determines the Difficulty of any given test against or within the facility.

So for example: this Collection facility has Low Security and Low Monitoring. It isn't very important to the grand design, or the cell doesn't have the resources to look after this and its other facilities too. This implies that any attempt to Infiltrate the facility, use Digital Intrusion to crack its online database, or really to attempt any test, is, at most, 3, assuming the Gumshoe default of Difficulty 4 for all tests.  

This implies that the Collection facility has only the most basic of security. Maybe there's a guard at the door, or a few badly placed, cheapo cameras. It also implies that the characters may be able to infiltrate the facility without being seen, and if they leave without blowing the place up or burning it down, their actions may not be noticed by the cell for some time, if ever. 

Thus Low = Difficulty 3, Medium = Difficulty 4, and High = Difficulty 5.

This doesn't just affect Difficulty. In Gumshoe, it also affects Investigative ability spends. A Low Security, Medium Monitoring facility implies:
  • 0 point clues for anything involving Security, say Electronic Surveillance, and
  • 1 point clues for anything involving Monitoring, say, Bureaucracy.  
The point being that a Low Security environment, say, is lax in all areas. The security cameras aren't properly positioned, the guards are rent-a-cops, the fences have holes in them. This isn't the time to make the agents spend points on Military Science to work out guard patterns. Whereas a Medium Monitoring environment has some functioning safeguards, so it shouldn't be a walk in the park when your forensic Accountant goes through its books.

High Security or Monitoring, on the other hand, implies extraordinary safeguards. That in turn suggests that more than one point, or perhaps a combination of points from different abilities, are needed.

It's unreasonable to assume that there's a wide spread between Security and Monitoring. A High Monitoring facility would never have Low Security. Nobody in their right mind puts the most important thing they own in a cardboard box by the side of the road. So a High Monitoring facility will have at least Medium Security. Similarly a Low Security facility is only ever going to have Medium Monitoring, and so on.

If you extend the gamification to transport between facilities, then there's an argument for saying there can be a wide spread between Security and Monitoring, for a very brief period while the McGuffins are in transport. However even then a wide spread isn't really likely. You don't see banks transporting cash in a tuk-tuk

OK, all that's the bare bones approach. So what happens when you want to go into more detail?

First, take a moment to think about what it is you're trying to describe. Security and Monitoring are common factors, granted. However there are other factors unique to the kind of facility you're designing. For example:

A Collection facility gathers McGuffins. What does it need?

It needs:
  • Space, in which to safely store the McGuffins.
  • Materials that are important to the McGuffins.
  • Transport for the McGuffins.
Let's say the McGuffins are delicate, and need to be in a temperature controlled environment. This may be the case if the McGuffins are antiques, or bacteria, or high-end computer equipment. Then the facility needs Materials, equipment to maintain temperature, power for that equipment, and probably some kind of electronic monitoring system to ensure the equipment doesn't fail, or, if it does, that the appropriate monitoring body is immediately alerted.

This in turn suggests significant investment - some kind of HVAC, distribution vents, means to control waste runoff from the equipment, some kind of monitoring station either automated or with human personnel. This only gets more important if the facility is somewhere that complicates that process - if, say, this temperature controlled environment has to exist within a tropical biosphere.

Say that the Esoterror cell is operating a facility similar to InGen's Jurassic Park in Isla Nublar, Costa Rica. That environment is fairly harsh: hot, humid, probably lots of salt in the atmosphere since it's an island, subject to intense storms. It's reasonable to assume that any complex technical facility in that environment wages a constant battle against corrosion, and that providing even basic aircon is more difficult there than it would be, say, in Texas.

However it couldn't exist at all if it wasn't close to Costa Rica. Politically stable, with a democratic government since 1948, and economically developed, it permits the transport network a would-be InGen needs to move all the construction equipment, scientific McGuffins and other things required to create the facility in the first place.

Equally, satisfying those needs may give the agents clues as to the facility's purpose and importance. In Greg Rucka's Queen and Country, when the agency needs to work out whether or not a particular building, out in the middle of nowhere, is or is not a chemical weapons plant, the two things that give it away, from satellite imagery alone, are an abundance of guards, and high waste heat from the machinery it uses to produce its McGuffins. Satisfying needs meant that the facility gave its true nature away. 

A Distribution facility's needs are similar, but not the same. It needs:
  • Space,
  • Materials, and
  • Transport.
But its need hierarchy is different.

If you were to map out a Collection facility's needs, its priority list would be Materials, then Space, then Transport. It absolutely needs to keep the McGuffins safe and viable, so it absolutely needs Materials. It needs Space, but that isn't as important as Materials, since it's reasonable to presume the McGuffins aren't staying forever. Finally, it needs transport links, but that isn't as important to it as the other two needs in the hierarchy.

So a Collection facility could be: out in an allegedly abandoned military base or missile silo. In a warehouse on the outskirts of a small town. In an old freighter anchored offshore. All these places are relatively remote and low-key, but they satisfy the need hierarchy. They offer Materials first and foremost, then Space, then Transport.

Whereas a Distribution facility's need hierarchy is: Transport, Materials, Space. Its purpose is to distribute, so it absolutely needs transport links to help it distribute. It needs to keep the McGuffins safe and viable for the limited time the McGuffins are within its care, so it needs Materials. It doesn't need Space as much as it needs the other two things, since the McGuffins aren't staying very long.

So a Distribution facility could be: a warehouse in a suburb near a major city. Container yards at or near a major port. Slaughterhouses on or near an important railway hub. A hotel at or near an airport. All these places are near the one thing it needs most, but in turn it means that the facility isn't as low-key. It needs some kind of profile, if only to blend in with everything else around it. Abandoned, decaying, marked with hazard warning signs - these are things you don't associate with important transport links. If it's a hotel right next to JFK airport in New York, it probably doesn't look like the hotel from Psycho

You can assign a needs hierarchy to all the facility types. Manufacturing needs Space, Materials, Transport. An Analyzing facility needs Transport, Space, Materials. With this needs hierarchy comes the first indication of what a facility is actually like, which in turn helps you design it quickly.

All that said, let's consider an Esoterror Manufacturing facility. Let's also presume that this facility is important but not vital to the cell, so it has Medium Security and Monitoring.

Say for the sake of plot that this particular facility is involved in food production, that it makes chicken nuggets which are infected with a biological agent that, in a percentage of the population, results in a disease which causes brain death. This allows the newly dead brains to be taken over by an Outer Dark entity.

It's manufacturing, so it needs Space, Materials, Transport. Space in this instance implies a lot of space - after all, there are a lot of chickens - and given the nature of the facility there's a lot of waste disposal too, and equipment for processing - the Materials part of the equation. There will be some kind of loading bay or shipping point - the Transport. There's also a small amount of the McGuffin on site. There would be more if this was a High Monitoring or Security site, but we've already decided this is Medium.

When the McGuffins are transported out of the facility, Security drops by one level, from Medium to Low. This in turn suggests that if the agents choose to hit the transport rather than the facility, their odds of success improve.

Assuming there's anything here that might provoke a Stability or Sanity loss, then that loss is probably not enough to drive anyone crazy, but enough to be a concern. Minor, not major; if it were major, the facility would be more important to the cell, and have High levels of Security, Monitoring, or both.

Medium Security implies plenty of locked doors, some kind of electronic alarm system, maybe a minor Outer Dark entity on site depending on how pulp you intend to play it. Medium Monitoring implies that if something happens to the facility the cell will respond reasonably quickly. Within a day if that something is overt, like explosives or a fire, within a week if it's just a break-in.  It also implies that there are resources on site that the agents might want to look at - filing cabinets, computer databases, midlevel management to interrogate. Difficulty for all tests within the facility is 4. Investigative Ability spends are at least 1 point.

Already you have a fairly clear picture of the facility, and thus what the agents can hope to get from the facility. You also know, for gamification purposes, the Difficulty for all tests, and the point spend. Those are the most important things you'll need to know before running any scene within the facility. 

Of course, you'll want to go into more detail for truly important, campaign-relevant facilities. This is just for those emergency moments, when the need arises and you haven't anything planned. Take a breath, consider your options, and ...


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