The default campaign model for Eclipse Phase is agents of Firewall, a clandestine, illegal, international conspiracy that seeks out existential threats to transhumanity. That’s a tall order and it’s a pretty different model than crashing through dungeons or searching libraries for eldritch secrets. The result can be overwhelming for both players and GMs but there are other resources out there to draw from, the most impressive being the vampiric conspiracy game Night’s Black Agents.
I’m not the first to look at adopting Night’s Black Agents for another game system. Kenneth Hite is well-respected in game design for a reason and this system is a great way to organize something broad and complicated. Despite the vampires that are central to Night’s Black Agents, the espionage systems described in the game are great for any genre. Lots of Eclipse Phase games don’t need anything like this but others, particularly those with the clandestine spy system of Firewall front and center, will be made a lot more exciting and satisfying for players with a little more spywork.
The discussion below will be pretty focused on the Inner System and the more traditional governmental and economic systems there. In a future article, I’ll look at this with the Autonomists of the Outer System and Inner Fringe in mind.
Levels of the Pyramid
There are five levels to the conspyramid in Night’s Black Agents. For the most part, we can reuse the same levels for an Ozma conspiracy in Eclipse Phase. Below are some examples of each level, not complete lists by any means but something to give you an idea.
- Level 1 – Street-Level Power: Street gangs, shops, private contractors, warehouses, informers, popular lifelogger, police precinct, university department, ego hunter, government office, Mars Ranger, Argonaut researcher, Reclaimer cell.
- Level 2 – City-Level Power: City-wide criminal organization, local bank, medium-sized subsidiary, labor union, city-wide media group, local mesh site, hospital, museum, university, telecom infrastructure, hyperelite, city government, habitat governor, Planetary Congress member, Barsoomian leader, Argonaut facility, aerosat council, local Triad.
- Level 3 – Regional Power: Major crime boss, large subsidiary, shipping company, religious movement, terraforming collective, military regiment commander, hypercorp facility, Oversight office, major university, morph bank, Tharsis League office, charity office, popular mesh site, Planetary Congress committee head, influential Argonaut researcher.
- Level 4 – Planetary Power: Criminal faction, hypercorp, shipyard facility, major media organization, Tharsis League department, Oversight division, major mesh site, influential charity, Consortium Minister, Morningstar official, LLA Council member, Jovian senator.
- Level 5 – Interplanetary Power: Major criminal faction, Hypercorp Council member, hyperelite family, Planetary Consortium media network, Planetary Stock Exchange official, Morningstar Member of Parliament, major politician or diplomat, LLA president, Jovian governor.
- Level 6 – Conspiracy Leadership: The Ozma agent, TAHI team, or Argonaut GRUE researcher that is heading up the mission behind everything else.
Using the Pyramid Structure
There are a few ways to turn the pyramid structure from an organizational chart into a GMing tool. They are discussed in detail in Night’s Black Agents, but in general here are the ways.
- Narrative Planning: The pyramid allows GMs to plan into the future in a way that provides a reactive setting but allows for players to explore and find their own ways. If you know that the PCs will be squaring off against a terraforming collective in the future you can start steering them towards the Martian outback. On the other hand, if the players completely mess up your plans (as they do) by blowing up an important facility, you know what other resources can be substituted in.
- Creative Integration: You can choose to leave one or two branches of your pyramid blank in order to fill in later. If the players have suspicions about who is behind the current situation, maybe you want to play into their expectations and fill in the branch accordingly. On the other hand, you might wish to avoid their expectations to keep them on their toes.
- Story Map: The chart doesn’t just show how the conspiracy operates, it also shows how the PCs will work their way up to the top of the power structure. Scenes and clues should follow back up the arrows for command and contact between the various components of the conspiracy. Taking down a lower-level component reveals orders that can be traced back to higher-level commanders, etc.
Night’s Black Agents uses these levels as a means of giving GMs guidelines on improvising situations. While the players move through the conspiracy, they are fairly likely to head into situations where the GM hasn’t proven anything. A Level 1 conspiracy component, for example, is relatively easy to spy on compared to a Level 4 component. We can do the same thing relatively easily in Eclipse Phase with just a few modifications.
- Difficulty Modifiers: Consider applying a modifier when the conspiracy’s security and/or resources would make things difficult for the PCs. A suggested modifier is (Level x 10) – 10. This means that Level 1 assets don’t have any modifier and Level 4 assets have the maximum penalty (-30). Levels 5 and 6 are important enough that you should have them already statted out.
- Skills: When improvising conspiracy assets, don’t worry about assigning skills until they become relevant. You don’t need to know an NPC’s Infosec score until the PCs have to out-hack them. Same for Kinesics, Deception, etc. Use a pool equal to Level x 20 that you can assign as-needed to skill ranks. These are ranks on top of the asset’s attributes (pick an Attribute package from Transhuman).
Just like with Night’s Black Agents, these are just rough guidelines. For major NPCs or people you know will come up in gameplay, make them like any other NPCs and have them ready ahead of time. You can always steer players towards the major NPCs you’ve already prepped rather than scramble to create one on the fly. The bullet points above are really just for flunkies and redshirts.
To give you an idea of how this might look in gameplay, here’s an example conspyramid for a game with Firewall agents facing off against (ultimately) a zealous Ozma agent named Ricardo Vazquez.
From the players’ perspective, they first start either in Noctis-Quinjao on Mars or Octavia aerostat on Venus. The Venus branch is mostly about the pyramid’s money with some protection built in. The ethnically Vietnamese Lá Xanh Gang has been targeting the genetic research groups on the aerostat and blackmailing them to secure money, most of which they funnel up the pyramid. They are protected by Havryil Ruskov of Octavian security who collects their gains for the man bribing him (see below).
Ruskov is also collecting data from the Cynex Research Group which is secretly studying some Neo-Synergists they isolated (with the help of Lá Xanh), possibly the reason Firewall took notice to begin with. If the PCs make too much trouble they might find themselves squaring off against the impressive Bertrand Moreau-Durand, a hitter for the Night Cartel who answers to the boss Evgeni Nikolaev on Aphrodite Prime.
Meanwhile on Mars, there is a crooked Martian Ranger named Lt. Gan Kuan who is being bribed to look the other way in the Noctis region. In Noctis-Quinjao itself, Captain Warren Gessin, the chief of the local police, is actively keeping cops off cases and covering up criminal activity. Some of those activities are being perpetrated by toughs of the contractors union Local 73 and the hacker-for-hire Carlos Zapato who are both sewing a lot of chaos on behalf of a Biocon Hate Group in the area.
These two branches hinge on a relationship between Captain Kim Song Ok, head of the Noctis Rangers Department, and Vladimir Sokoloff, head of Night Cartel operations in Noctis-Quinjao. Together they are working with Smugglers in Noctis Labyrinthus who transport contraband into the city with cover by the police and Rangers. Song Ok is primarily looking for artifacts from the TQZ while Sokoloff is looking for stolen morphs which he sells to Les Goules through a partnership.
Les Goules gives those morphs to a Cognite Black Lab which uses them in experiments to make frightening soldiers: asyncs whose minds are totally under the control of Project Ozma. Part of their research involves Neo-Synergist data provided from Cynex through, eventually, the Morningstar diplomatic representative to the Planetary Consortium, Daityo Katsura. Katsura gets this data from Ruskov on Octavia and he also launders Ruskov’s dirty money through Ishtar Bank on Gerlach in Venusian orbit.
The data goes to the black lab while the money goes to Martin Hertz-Roseau, the director of the Consortium Martian Security Agency. This money goes to funding the bribes that keep Song Ok and the other law enforcement agents in line, and other bribes go to Senator Jacob LaMore, the congressman representing Noctis-Quinjao on the Planetary Congress. LaMore is a prominent conservative and he feeds information to Les Sentinelles, a reactionary mesh site constantly warning the public about anarchist and Mercurial threats. When the conspiracy needs a Martian target taken care of, Hertz-Roseau tells LaMore who tells Les Sentinelles they’re a problem and the biocon hate group mobilizes their people on the ground… for the good of the planet and all that.
At the top of this heap is Ricardo Vasquez, an Ozma agent who has promised Hetz-Roseau elite squads of psychic soldiers and promised Cognite a big payoff that will finally fix their Futura problem. He pulls the strings of these two interests and the rest of the pyramid dances along.