Sandbox NPCs for Eclipse Phase

In reading through the amazing Dracula Dossier, I’m most impressed by the sheer customizability inherent in the book. Pelgrane Press has done an awesome job in creating a book format that allows for quick and comprehensive GM response to player actions and expectations. As with other items from the GUMSHOE system, I thought immediately about how this could be applied to the technothriller genre of Eclipse Phase.

Not only are the NPCs in Pelgrane Press’s sandbox campaigns left up to the GM to connect, but their very nature is up for grabs with several versions of each character presented. The Armitage Files use the terms “Innocuous,” “Stalwart,” and “Sinister” for characters that are (respectively) just NPCs, major potential allies, and potential villains. The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook uses “Innocent,” “Asset,” and “Minion” for characters that are (respectively) neutral parties, working for a government agency, and working for Dracula.

In keeping with the viral naming theme of Eclipse Phase, I’m going to use the terms “Vulnerable” (an unaffiliated NPC waiting to get drawn into trouble), “Latent” (an NPC with other loyalties that could draw another group into the mess), and “Infectious” (an NPC thoroughly invested in the force that the PCs are working against).

Martian Station

There are plenty of stations in Mars orbit that are crossroads for travelers, including Progress (formerly Deimos), the Pontes shipyards, and the joint-hab within Phobos.

Hypercorp Shill

Name: Valéry Cingoliani

Defining Quirks: Laughs loudly at any joke; when sitting down for drinks or dinner, orders for the table; often switches the design of his smart fabric clothes every few hours with the latest trends.

Vulnerable: A good reminder that “affiliated” doesn’t mean “in on it,” Cingoliani is a puppet of whatever hypercorp employs him (probably Fa Jing, Eclogene, Skinaesthesia, Cognite, or Solaris) right down to the plastered-on smile. He comes across as incredibly insincere but also strangely compelling, thanks to a combination of natural charm and social-enhancing implants. He purposefully ignores any shady dealings his company might be engaged in and acts shocked if they are brought up, promising to “check on that, and see where these rumors are coming from.” After that, he’s eager to get back to business.

Latent: Cingoliani is willing to look the other way about shady dealings because he knows definitively which rumors are true and which aren’t. He has credentials with the company he claims to work for but all his real efforts are in finding valuable information to send back to Oversight. This sort of arrangement isn’t anything new, but Cingoliani is unusual in that he’s not terribly interested in the economics of the hypercorps in the Consortium. He was a military analyst before the Fall and he sees this as a continuation of that work. He keeps close tabs on the Station Security Chief for any potential breaches and knows all about the Barsoomian Spy’s loyalties. If the PCs approach him with a legitimate security threat, he doesn’t care about damage to hypercorp reputations and will be a ready ally. Just as soon as they explain where they’re getting this information, of course.

Infectious: Cingoliani legitimately works for the hypercorp he says he represents, even though he also passes information back to Oversight when something juicy comes up. He’s far from just a regular corporate headhunter, though, but a walking experiment by his parent hypercorp. If he works for Fa Jing then he carries a new social nanite swarm, while an Eclogene shill is sleeved in an experimental morph spliced with Factor genetics. The company has progressed past the point of laboratory tests in their creation and they want to try it out in the open. Thus, they created this empty position on an isolated station to see it work in the “wild,” with hidden handlers that Cingoliani might not even be aware of.

Ship Designer

Name: Birger Rietveld

Defining Quirks: Excellent mind for technical details but forgetful of people; bites upper lip while doing calculations; often has an AR holo of a ship design open that he spins around idly while talking.

Vulnerable: Birger comes across as a typical head-in-the-clouds designer. It’s almost laughably easy to get him talking with a Profession (Spaceship Engineer) or Hardware (Industrial) check and once he’s talking any social check can manipulate him into divulging what he knows about a subject. He’s not exactly at the epicenter of politics but he knows the Hypercorp Shill and the Station Security Chief socially so he can provide some background knowledge on them.

Latent: Rietveld might be easy to get talking but he’s a canny operator who only seems to be a clueless engineer. In truth, he’s an agent of the Morningstar Constellation, stationed in Planetary Consortium territory and feeding information back to Octavia. While the PCs are pumping him for information, he’s sharing what won’t have blowback on the Constellation and making note of what they’re interested in to report back to his handlers.

Infectious: The clueless act is a feint within a feint. Rietveld is actually not one person, but a cover for a group of singularity cultists working in Mars orbit. The morph goes on trips to other stations or to Martian cities and comes back with a new ego inside. The ship designs and engineering schematics that “Rietveld” pores over are part of a plan to bootstrap the station’s computer core into a seed AI.

Station Security Chief

Name: Efrat Attaway

Defining Quirks: Keeps kosher and wears a Star of David; cracks knuckles while thinking; considers AR games to be childish.

Vulnerable: The tough, politically-savvy Attaway is anything but “vulnerable” but she does have a habit of investigating things no matter the risk. She has lived on the station since the Fall and tries to stay out of the grasp of hypercorps, despite the constant overtures of the Hypercorp Shill, to concentrate on the task of keeping everyone safe. While she wasn’t a soldier during the Fall, she saw her fair share of horrors and is determined not to let anything remotely like that happen again.

Latent: Trying is not necessarily succeeding and Attaway eventually found herself in one too many difficult positions. When faced with a threat that could have destroyed the station, Attaway elected (through gritted teeth) to accept the help of the Hypercorp Shill. Now she’s in up to her neck and is forced to feed information back to him to prevent him from forcing a hostile takeover of the whole system from the leverage he has over the station’s infrastructure. Worse, he acts like they’re friends. Disgusting.

Infectious: When that serious situation came, Attaway turned down the Hypercorp Shill and went it alone… Then she utterly failed and fell victim to the exsurgent threat she was trying to stop. Now she’s the infection’s best asset in taking down the station, with access to all the hab’s core systems.

Barsoomian Spy

Name: Selby Pascal

Distinctive Quirks: Replies “yeah, yeah, yeah” when she’s excited; listens to bombastic 19th-century music; flirtatious in a tom-boy way.

Vulnerable: Selby Pascal is driven by her ideologies and firmly believes the message of the Barsoomian Movement: namely that Mars belongs to true Martians. If approached with Interest: Barsoomians or Networking: Anarchists she will act sympathetic, but someone needs to prove they’re in the Movement (or at least fake it) to gain her trust. She is on the station gathering what information she can to give back to her handlers on Mars so that they can expose hypercorp greed and callousness.

Latent: In addition to being a fervent Barsoomian, Pascal is a fervent Autonomist and wants nothing more than to see the Planetary Consortium crumble and be replaced with the sort of technosocialist system they have on Titan. If approached by someone with ties to Titan, she can be convinced to sell out her Barsoomian contacts to support greater Titanian interest in the Movement.

Infectious: Like many Barsoomians, Pascal spends a lot of time in the Martian outback. She worked as a zone stalker for a while, recovering what she could from the White Zone and selling it in town. On a particularly memorable mission, she found not just loot but a live exsurgent strain that infected her covertly. Pascal doesn’t even realize she’s an exsurgent vector, the strain influences her thoughts very subtly. When the Movement was looking for someone to spy off-world she hastily volunteered on a whim. Now she’s on the station and finds herself unusually social, making friends and sexual partners all over the hab in a way she never did before…

Scum Swarm

All Scum swarms are different, but many of them have similar characters lurking about.

Tour Guide

Name: Mahmud Banner

Distinctive Quirks: Wears a skullcap; asks questions about people’s preferences and says “nice” in response, no matter what they answer; always waving hi to people as he moves through the swarm.

Vulnerable: Mahmud Banner escaped the U.K. during the Fall on a passenger ship that rapidly lost power and became adrift. It was rescued by a Scum swarm and Banner was one of the many passengers who elected to stay with the Swarm long-term. He’s a personable guy who knows pretty much everyone, directly or as a friend of a friend, making him an excellent tour guide for newcomers. He shows people around for the rep boosts but also because he is always on the lookout for people to join him in his simulspace interactive novellas.

Latent: Before he left the U.K., Banner was an employee at a major intelligence agency. While he was only a low-level computer tech, so few people from the agency escaped the Fall that he’s on a short list of contacts for the intelligence executive who also escaped and is now part of the Planetary Consortium’s Stellar Intelligence. He has dirt on Banner (stuff he did during the Fall that would ruin his carefully-maintained reputation) and has promised to keep it a secret if he passes on small bits of intel from the Swarm. It’s never anything big, just to keep an eye out for certain travelers and possibly to pick up a box in one spot and drop it off at the next stop. Clearly nothing to worry about…

Infectious: The man known as Mahmud Banner is a total fiction. That story about the passenger ship and the Fall is really just cover to help him integrate into larger society. In reality, this man escaped Qurain during the Fall before it became part of the Martian White Zone. He escaped with his life and the clothes on his back, but also an infection of the Watts-McCleod strain similar to those Kurdish refugees still in the White Zone known as Yazidis. Without any information on his condition, Banner has come to believe that he has been granted powers by God and is trying to figure out how to spread his condition so that he can take his place as a full prophet.

Petal Pusher

Name: Jayanti Chowdhury

Distinctive Quirks: Licks her lips while listening to other people; tends to stretch like a cat when she gets up; has a massive collection of classic Bollywood films.

Vulnerable: Chodhury is the go-to girl for petals and XP porn on the swarm. She’s not the only dealer around (not by a long, long shot) but she always has the latest stuff and she can always find exactly what you need. She’s an artist, really, working completely in the media of lust and psychedelics.

Latent: Aside from her usual wares, Jayanti Chowdhury is also a purveyor of morphs. She has a small stock of them, eclectic and selective models, that she’s willing to give to people for the right bartered drugs or large-scale rep boost. While Chowdhury says she gets them from a “friend off the swarm,” they’re actually stolen bodies from one of the morph trafficking operations (Les Goules or St. Catherine’s Tong, for example). Some of them are stolen straight from the assembly line but others used to house egos and might still have vestiges of their last owners kicking around.

Infectious: The morphs that Chowdhury get from her body-selling friends are scrubbed as fully as they can get them but Chowdhury adds a little something extra before she passes them on. Brainwashed a few years ago by a singularity cult (maybe psychosurgery, maybe the old fashioned way) Chowdhury laces her morphs with low-level exsurgent viruses that attach themselves to the egos inside. They are subtle things that work over the long haul to avoid anyone tracing the practice back to her, but Chowdhury and her cultist friends on the swarm hope to eventually bring everyone onboard into a gestalt intelligence that can turn the Scum swarm into a multi-bodied space leviathan!

Thrill Seeker

Name: Anna Eriksen

Distinctive Quirks: Twirls hair even while in a morph with a shaved head; follows every sport she can, and will talk at length about her favorite teams; always challenging people to dares.

Vulnerable: A transplant from the outer system, Eriksen is a wild child with very few inhibitions. She’s gone comet-racing, skydiving from low orbit, lava-sledding on Venus, and flown through Valles Marineris in a wingsuit. She loves the Autonomist habs on Titania where she spent the years just before and just after the Fall but she finds the anarchists a bit stodgy. She just wants to have fun and here on the Scum swarm she gets her wish 24/7.

Latent: Eriksen may have left the Outer System behind but they haven’t left her behind. Her family is still throughout the Uranian system and she has a few siblings who are part of very active anarchist collectives. They pressure her to feed back information to them and to lean on the Scum leadership (such as it is) to forge closer ties with the rest of the Autonomists. Anna has very little interest in this but family is family.

Infectious: One of Anna`s most recent adventures involved jumping from her swarm ship to a derelict they were passing and back again. While she was attached to the derelict she encountered something which has got in her head. When she jumped back, she brought a chunk of the ship with her. It’s just a little piece, she isn’t even quite sure why she grabbed it. Maybe you’d like to take a look?

Iconoclast

Name: Ichirou Himura

Distinctive Quirks:

Vulnerable: It’s a myth that all Scum are happy, stoned-out people. Their culture is one of freedom and hedonism, but some of them are just as belligerent and confrontational as the rest of the system. Himura is just one of these, a skilled hacker who loves the devil-may-care culture he lives in and actively despises the corporate, money-based economies that the swarm passes through. He develops amazing exploits to invade and take down hypercorp computer systems whenever the swarm is within range and actively gives out information he knows to other hacktivists on Autonomist message boards.

Latent: Himura isn’t just a lone operator, he’s actively working with the Barsoomians to bring down the Tharsis League, seeing this as the first step to destroying the Planetary Consortium. He knows the Barsoomian Spy (see Martian Station above) and sends her information to upload locally, masking the true source of the devastating exploits.

Infectious: While Himura might claim ideology as the reason for writing his exploits and railing against the Consortium, his real reason is a lust for power. Himura is a dedicated exhuman who is slowly ramping up the cyberbrain in his morph to superhuman levels. He uses the exploits to steal information from hypercorp computers to help this effort, crashing their systems afterwards to cover his tracks. It’s certain that someone has noticed by now but also that Himura is dangerously close to achieving his goal.

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