Monday, April 13, 2009

The Courtier: The Power Brokers

What is a courtier?
This is a character role that has been mostly ambiguous and confusing to many gamer, including myself at first. A courtier is essentially a power broker. Their job is to facilitate a connection and to successfully close negotiations, at a benefit for themselves.

This job is fairly complicated and has a set of skills that may be unusual for an adventurer. Still, the kind of drama that it introduces in the game is very much worth effort if the GM and a player in the group is up for it.

Power brokers in the Game. Power brokers are a way to allow the PCs to me more pro-active in the events of their game-world. Instead of waiting for missions and reacting, they are pro-active and have their own agendas in a different context in a regular game.

A GM can have one broker in the game. Ideally, just one is enough to enhance the game experience immensely and so not to overwhelm the prevent the GM from having to weave a too complex a plot that he has enough time to prepare comfortably.

Courtiers in your game, are tasked to set the agenda, instead of the GM setting all of it up. They could be caught up in trouble they have made or are out to make trouble of their own. They have need for the other PCs as protection, their special skills and the ability to execute his plans while managing basic and social affairs for the PCs.

What Courtiers Do Step by Step:
Step 1: Gathering Intelligence
Step 2: Processing or Analysis
Step 3: Strategic Planning
Step 4: Execution
Note: typically a Courtier has his own assistant who is his steward, aid or valet. Usually the assistant takes care of basic management tasks for the Courtier in order to free his mind to anticipate future problems, his next course of action, and dealing with key persons.

Gathering Intelligence.
Role of the PCs: They must find good sources and interview them. PCs may delegate to NPCs for trivial tasks or for some of the key skills and representation necessary. Cultural and language barriers are common obstacles.
Key Skills:

  1. Relevant Skill to navigate a social sphere. Spheres like: the criminal underworld, Political Arena, Community's Social Life, Bureaucracy etc. (GURPS: Streetwise, Politics, Area Knowledge (Local) or Sociology, Administration).
  2. Questioning skill (GURPS: interrogation, an influence skill and Psychology). This is a secret roll of the GM.
Resolution: After the game briefing, this activity will take 30-45 minutes. This is one of the more carefree parts of the game where Players get to improvise and try to problem solve on the fly. The GM should try to make this part interesting as possible but fruitful still.
Sometimes the PCs just accompany the Courtier or his delegate to these tasks and get into some fun trouble or perform their personal errands. Bottom line is to take this opportunity to let the Players do pretty much what they want for the time being.

Processing or Analysis.
Role of the PCs: A specialist or the courtier can perform this within the party. Outside the party, the PCs must find a someone with the right expertise and must be able to present their information gathered to him.
Key Skill: a kind of Intelligence Analysis or Strategy skill (GURPS: someone with Intelligence Analysis of the proper field, or close enough to the proper field; the appropriate Strategy can default for this). The GM secretly rolls this and translates the situation to the PCs. The PCs are free to take the information or leave it, depending on how reliable they think of their own assumptions.
Resolution: If the PCs are looking for someone then allow for 10-20 minutes, if the PCs are equipped to do this, just a quick roll and few minutes of the GM explaining.

Strategic Planning.
Role of the PCs: The PC's Strategic Skills are there for the GM to highlight all the options and risks they can take and to take care of lesser details*. It is the Players who choose which course of action to take and the level of flexibility they will place in the execution of their plan if they don't trust its reliability (because it is a secret roll of the GM after all).
Key Skills: Appropriate Strategic Planning skill (GURPS: Strategy specified). This is a secret roll. The complexity of the plan will affect execution time and its manageable aspects. Encourage players to put their plan in a written outline. In this quick outline needs the following: Steps Taken, and Roles of every PC in key words and arrows.
Resolution: keep planning in 10-15 minutes. GMs should not punish Player's for their plan by making them be authors of their own failure.
The circumstances modifies the difficulty of the roll. If there is an active strategy working against the PCs, this is an opposed roll. The margin of difference between the PC's strategy's success or failure determines how the GM will arbitrate the situation on the fly. The margin of failure will determine a number of how "murphy" the gm will get, while on the margin of success how "serendipitous" the situation may be. The GM should not that, amount of casualties, resources, and effort lost in the end of the engagement reflects strategic roll. A failed strategy doesnt mean a failed execution, just a more difficult one.
The GM must remind the players that they should be flexible. If this is a complex plan call for a break (10-15 minutes) to prepare execution and consequence notes and to break down this plan to manageable chunks of 30-45 mins and call for a break. Players should not be idle and should be tasked to load out their characters for the execution of their plan. The GM may delegate the players to prep the board and may suggest they rehearse their plan.

Role of the PCs: As the Pieces are in Place, the GM executes the PCs plans and the triggers the consequences
Key Skill: The PC's key strengths in action.
Resolution: Depending on how complex the plan is, the remaining game time is taken up by this event. It is possible to fit one thorough encounter in an hour or 45 minutes, or Lesser encounters in 30 to 45 minutes.
Unanticipated consequences may require a break between these encounters of just 5-10 minutes. Unanticipated consequences in the very last part will be wrapped up with the best possible cliff hanger the GM can think of on the fly.

GM skills to be aware off:

  • Time Awareness
  • Fast Briefing
  • Fast Preparation
  • Story Telling
  • Improvisational skills.

Final Note: This is an example of what Courtiers do, but consider that the courtier could be doing this through the course of an arc, with each step being part of the background or the focus of an entire session.

Consider also that Courtiers act best in fleshed out settings, settings with a Power structure Web the GM would hand out to the Courtier Player. This would start as a macro web, and a web of the current role and place of the Courtier in his personal affairs. This is the best guideline for the GM to execute the drama through the adventures.

Things to look forward to: Power Brokers in Mahadlika and My Byzantium.
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