Sunday, 28 November 2021

Mr. Plot Hook (RPG All)

This week's post  is dedicated to Rent-A-Hitman, the only professional killer service with a HIPPA (Hitman Information Privacy & Protection Act of 1964) guarantee.

The site, operated by Californian repo-man Bob Innes and not Guido Fanelli, alleged owner of a family business that's been in operation since the 1920s, has been in operation since Innes came up with the joke company back in 2005. Some people take it very seriously. Wendy Wein of Michigan hired Guido to off her husband, only to discover that Rent-A-Hitman was, alas, a fake site. You can't really call it a scam, since the intent was never to defraud. Innes keeps the site going as a modern version of the big store, with all serious enquiries passed to law enforcement for follow-up.

Wendy pled guilty earlier this month and will be sentenced in January. She's looking at a potential 9-year bit, possibly more. 

"I really didn’t think that people were gonna be that stupid," Innes told Rolling Stone. "Boy, did they show me." 

In RPG terms, Guido/Innes is a variation on Mister Johnson. He's the middleman who sets you - that is, you the characters - up with a job. Nobody ever sees his face. He's the voice on the other end of the phone, the admin behind the website. Except in this instance there is no Mr. Johnson; there's just a dude setting you up for a fall. 

Mr. Johnsons are often seen as shady types setting the characters up for a fall. It happens so often, in fact, that some systems go out of their way to explicitly say their Mr. Johnson is a stand-up fella who would never lie. The Esoterrorists, for instance, says outright that Mr. or Ms. Verity does not tell lies. They may not know the whole truth, but they won't stab you in the back. 

Whereas the handlers in Delta Green might well withhold information if it suits them, or set agents up for something nasty - particularly if this is Fall Of, where the agency is on shaky ground from the get-go. Meanwhile Shadowrun's iconic Mr. Johnsons are about as reliable as a chocolate teapot, and the less said about the fixers and bullshit artists of Cyberpunk, the better. 

Which got me thinking: how best to play with the Mr. Johnson concept?

The mysterious employer who turns up mysteriously dead has been used once or twice before. Perhaps the most notorious version is Our Good Friend Jackson Elias from Call of Cthulhu's Masks of Nyarlathotep, though the Dracula Dossier pulls a similar stunt with Hawkins. Call of Cthulhu also has Professor Smith from Horror on the Orient Express, who brings the characters together, funds them, sets them on their way and then keels over dead at the appropriate moment.  

The mysterious employer who turns out to be a bad-ass is less widely used, but not uncommon. Again, going back to Shadowrun, the Great Western Dragon Lofwyr occasionally masquerades as a Johnson, or in this instance a Herr Brackhaus. Dracula Dossier also plays on this a little bit, in that any of their Legacies or more esoteric Johnsons could turn out to be a master spy or supernatural entity playing at being human. 

The mysterious employer who turns out to be a puppet of sinister forces is perhaps a little too mechanically similar to the mysterious employer who turns out to be an evil back-stabber, or the main villain. Still, you could get some play out of that, particularly if 'puppet' in this instance is literal - that the Johnson is just skin, or a mask, with nothing organic underneath. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, says the Great and Powerful Oz ...

One possible alternative to the puppet scenario is a Mr. Johnson who's being squeezed, maybe because they owe someone money. This version will not have the characters' best interests at heart, but that doesn't mean they actually want to betray the characters. No, what Mr. Johnson wants is to be free of the complicating factor that's making his life a living hell. That makes him unreliable, but not automatically evil. If the complicating factor can be dealt with, Mr. Johnson's reliability improves dramatically.

Hitman the video game series makes good use of a Mr. Johnson - in this case, a Ms. Burnwood - who works with the titular Hitman to bring down the system from within. They both have their reasons for wanting to destroy the agency they work for, the International Contract Agency (ICA). While they marshal their forces they carry out a series of assassinations for ICA's clients, waiting for the day when they can turn ICA inside out and gut it. In that instance Ms. Burnwood is 100% (or, well, 99% at least) trustworthy, but the agency they both work for definitely is not.

E3 2015 Trailer

In Dracula Dossier terms, a similar arrangement could easily be had with Edom, the spy agency that brought Dracula in from the cold. The agents could be loyal servants of the Crown, at least outwardly, while their Mr. Johnson helps them take Edom apart from within.

Alternatively in DD Damned campaigns, or anything with a strong supernatural element, your Mr. Johnson could, quite literally, be working for God. The Mysterious Monseigneur is a DD classic, but really any setting with clerics who serve a particular deity would fit. In such a situation your characters aren't just trying to fulfil a contract or obligation; they're trying to please a supernatural sugar daddy. 

Again, Mr. Johnson can be exactly as they seem to be and yet not. So for example the Mysterious Monseigneur could have all the trappings and outward appearance of a man of God, and yet be serving Satan - which would be a magnificent third act twist.

That's enough for this week. Enjoy!


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