Last week, I described using the conspiracy pyramid (or conspyramid) from Night’s Black Agents to make your Eclipse Phase game more spy-heavy. It’s an excellent organizational framework but it’s also a great tool for GMs to use for enhancing their campaigns. One of the best ways to do that is through the threats outlined in the “vampyramid,” the ways that the vampire conspiracies respond to meddling PCs in Night’s Black Agents.
I’ve tried and tried to come up with a title as clever as vampyramid for the Eclipse Phase version, but nothing has worked out. Fortunately, this is about the only thing that needs to change as far as the threat pyramid. The Eclipse Phase adversary pyramid has all the same components as the vampyramid, it’s just the details that need to change.
Row One: Reflex
- Offer Payoff: The conspirators come at the characters sideways and simply offer them a reward of some sort, whether transportation, money, rep, power, or whatever they might want. The conspiracy normally does this through an unknown agency for best success, sending a previously unknown agent to the group with the offer. That way it might seem like a third party but a little digging will reveal a new connection and expand the Adversary Map.
- Frame Agent: Rather than waste their time dealing with the characters, the conspiracy just frames one of them for a crime and lets the authorities handle their problem for them. If they’re really clever, they might try to pin some of their own nefarious actions on a player character. They’ve already got the records for those crimes, right? After the frame-job, they might approach the framed character or his surviving compatriots with an offer to make this “all go away” if they just back off. Or they might let the situation consume the group and continue with their plans.
- Shadow Agent: The conspiracy shadows one of the characters, either in the physical world or the mesh. The agent might start to notice strange pings on his accounts or his friends might say that people have been asking around. If the conspiracy doesn’t want them to know that they’re watching then they might follow them through public or hacked spimes. On the other hand, they might not particularly care if their tail is seen and be intending it as an intimidation strategy when the character realizes.
- Shadow Source: Rather than coming at the group directly, the conspiracy might shadow their network contacts, friends, family, informants, or whoever else they regularly interact with. If they can drive this person to panic, the contact will lead them to the characters and potentially show them how the group responds to a threat before they go in for an actual strike.
- Yojimbo: The conspiracy sends in a legitimately uninvolved party to take this nuisance out. They might operate through ego hunters, Ultimate mercenaries, criminal outfits, pirates, or any other group but the point is deniability. They want to deal with the player characters before they get much closer but they’d rather it didn’t come back to them. Of course, crafty PCs may still be able to pick up a trail from this and find a way back to the real threat.
- Probing Attack: The conspiracy sends in some foot soldiers against the player characters, but they don’t really intend for these minions to win. The attack is to test the characters’ abilities and the conspiracy, watching through a live feed from the attackers’ morphs or from an outside observation point (spime or physical), makes notes of their strengths and weaknesses. When the real attack comes, they’ll be that much more prepared.
Row Two: Containment
- Kill Enemy: The conspiracy does the unexpected and kills an enemy of the player characters. This might be intended to frame the character for a murder, turn another faction against them, bribe the player characters with a free murder, or just throw a red herring into the mix. Target an NPC that the characters particularly hate or who has been a thorn in their sides. The murder might also leave some forensic evidence that the agents can follow.
- Isolate Agent: One of the player characters gets cut off from his support networks. Assets are killed or turned against him, resources are isolated and burned, and reputations are destroyed. The idea is to make things much, much worse for the player characters so that they might back off and simultaneously to make it difficult for them to continue if they prove to be more stubborn. They also might try to turn the rest of the party against the targeted character, forging communications that make them look complicit or just holding them and then releasing them.
- Threaten Safety: The conspiracy goes after the agents where it hurts, threatening their safety and covers. Against Firewall agents they might expose their connections to others in the conspiracy, against members of other groups they might bring up past criminal activity. However they do it, the conspiracy forces the agents out into the open and reduces their ability to covertly investigate the conspiracy. It’s much more likely that the group will run afoul of the authorities this way or that the conspiracy will see them coming.
- Red Herring: A lead pops up that leads the group in an entirely new direction, but it’s actually something that the conspiracy manufactures. They plant a false lead to throw the group off, pointing their suspicions in a new but ultimately fruitless direction.
- Hard Feint: The conspiracy comes in hard and fast, hitting the player characters with a powerful attack that might even draw the attention of the authorities or another faction. Their real intent, though, is to grab the group’s attention while the conspiracy conducts another operation somewhere else. This is an especially good response if the player characters have been consistently getting in the way of the conspiracy’s operations.
Row Three: Deflection
- Offer Protection: The conspiracy tries a new tact by offering to deal with some of the group’s problems for them if they just make themselves scarce. They might do this directly, saying that the two groups have reached an impasse and it’s best to cut losses, or they might do it indirectly from a seemingly uninvolved source (even a contact or someone posing as them) who recommends that the player characters leave the limelight for a bit while things blow over… during which the conspiracy can regroup and rebuild.
- Double Agent: A double agent is planted in the player characters’ networks, either a new asset with juicy and enticing information or a previous contact who’s been flipped or turned through psychosurgery. While the characters are likely to be suspicious, the conspiracy is likely to put a lot of effort into their double agent’s background so it might be a while before they can expose the betrayal, if they ever do.
- Bait and Switch: The group finds a promising lead that seems to go on and on. The conspiracy has planted this information and is hoping that the group will follow it until they are overextended and vulnerable. Then the trail dries up and suddenly the group finds themselves on the wrong side of the law, a criminal syndicate, or some other faction ready to swoop down on them on the opportunity.
- Haunt Agent: The conspiracy puts the squeeze on one of the agents by making their life a living Hell. They sell their information to spammers, plant their information on questionable sites and accounts, and spread memes that make it impossible for the agent to move about covertly. This is more than just burning safety or contacts, it’s ruining every aspects of the agent’s life. Even if the conspiracy is completely rolled up in the end they will still be in the middle of a shattered existence.
Row Four: Embrace
- Offer Drive: If you can’t beat them, bribe them. The conspiracy offers more than just a simple payment to have the agent turn away, they offer to set them up handsomely however they want. They will take out rivals, clear records, save loved ones. If the agent refuses, they might just offer rewards anyways which can cause some friction with the agent’s teammates. Alternatively they might make the situation worse: if the agent doesn’t want to set his mother up with a new more, maybe her ego is deleted entirely from the cold storage server it’s kept on.
- Double Cross: The conspiracy uses their double agent from Row 3 to lead the group into a trap. They are offered a new lead, a helpful mission in exchange for a favor, or even just a place to lie low for a while, but it blows up in their face when the double agent betrays them.
- Kill Solace: Using what they’ve gathered on a particular agent, the conspiracy targets what is most important to them and destroys them. They murder a loved one, destroy a community, or ruin an opportunity. Whatever the situation, the loss should be devastating to the agent and potentially take the fight right out of them. They might come back even more determined later but in the meantime they are the walking wounded.
Row Five: Entrapment
- Lure Agent: The conspiracy does more than just isolate an agent, they try to turn them completely. This might be done through blackmail or some other means of securing cooperation but it may also involve simulspace torture or psychosurgery. Unlike other operations that might make the rest of the player characters suspicious, it’s most dramatic if they have no idea that this is happening until the turned character can reveal their new allegiance at a critical moment.
- Hunt Agent: One of the agents, probably one that is isolated and harried from attempts in earlier Row, is hunted down mercilessly by the conspiracy. They are targeted by ego hunters or mercenaries working for the conspiracy and chased down with the intent of destroying them utterly. This is usually a sign of reaching the end of a conspiracy, something they will only do when they are desperate to stop the player characters, but that is of little comfort to an agent that’s being targeted.
Row Six: Destruction
- Kill Agent: One of the agents is targeted aggressively and potentially killed. While the group prepares for a final assault, the conspiracy throws all they have at them and it’s probably a lot. They come in guns blazing with all of the might that their organization can muster to take out as much of the team as they can, then hopefully round up the rest and destroy them as well before they can recover.