Last week’s post on a more downtime-friendly skill-based system got me thinking about the other thing you’d want in a heavy downtime WoD game: a way to use your downtime to grow your influence in the city. This is obviously most appropriate to a Vampire game, but could be relevant to Mage or non-White Wolf games as well. Everyone likes a system for quantifying favors owed and controlling events in the game world.

This system is largely based on the LARP rules for Influence, but with a lot more granularity. It requires a lot of bookkeeping because it’s meant to be a major subsystem: you could theoretically use it to run a game where the PCs spend most of their time garnering Influence and using it to solve problems without ever getting directly involved.

Categories of Influence

It’s up to the GM how granular influence is in a particular game. You might use the standard LARP categories (media, bureaucracy, finance, industry, etc.) or require it to target an actual contiguous organization (Channel 6, the DMV, Stonegate Bank, Excelsior Holdings, etc.). The latter will make more sense in a simulation-heavy game (as it becomes more clear how the character can turn favors into a result) while the former gives a much broader base of power to the PCs. If you want to have a more granular influence while giving the players city-spanning power, you may want to increase the downtime Favor points discussed later (as the system as designed makes it hard to maintain more than a handful of reasonably-effective influences).

Regardless, the minimum number of members of an influence organization is around 100: any smaller and the player could just control it directly rather than having to use favors. If you could conceive of a character having a Status background/merit in the organization, it’s probably big enough to support Influence.

Suggested broad areas of influence include:

  • Bureaucracy
  • Church
  • Finance
  • Health
  • High Society
  • Industry
  • Legal
  • Media
  • Occult
  • Police
  • Politics
  • Street/Underworld
  • Transportation
  • University

Influence is People

A character’s Influence rating in an area is the sum of individual contacts, friends, and thralls within the organization. The more people the character can ask for favors, the higher the Influence rating.

  • Each named individual has a control rating within the organization from 1-10.
    • As a rule of thumb, a character’s control rating in an organization is equal to Status (1-5) plus an applicable skill (0-5) that would indicate ability to direct the organization (Politics is the most obvious, but others could be justified).
    • For example, a politically minded-rookie (Status 1, Politics 5) and a clueless commissioner (Status 5, Politics 1) would both be worth 6 control rating. The former has little power but is really adept at using it, while the latter theoretically has a lot of control but can’t use it off-the-books very easily for the influential character.
  • Each such individual also has a relationship multiplier to this rating (based on how much she likes the PC).
    • A Contact knows the character and is friendly, but is unlikely to stick her neck out. However, having several of them an an organization certainly increases the chance they’ll at least look the other way when a better friend pushes through a favor. The contact’s control rating is quartered and rounded up.
    • A Friend either genuinely likes the character or owes her some serious favors and is thus willing to take more of a risk. The friend’s control rating is halved and rounded up.
    • A Thrall is willing to risk an awful lot for the character, either due to major blackmail, supernatural compulsion, or a genuine love. The thrall’s control rating is used without modification.
  • This generates the Influence rating.
    • All of the character’s relationship-modified control ratings are added together.
    • For every ten points of this total, the character gets a dot of Influence in that organization.
    • The character’s dots cannot exceed the highest relationship-modified control rating of any individual in the organization (e.g., if the character’s highest relationship is an 8-point friend worth 4 points, the character cannot have Influence higher than 4 until she improves that relationship or finds a more influential friend).

If the character has Status or otherwise works legitimately within an organization, she can count herself as one of her Thralls. This relationship doesn’t need to be maintained but also can’t be Burned (both explained later).

For example:

  • A character has several points of influence within the police force:
    • Detective Smith (Status 2, Skill 3), a Friend worth 3 points.
    • Captain Graves (Status 4, Skill 3), a Contact worth 2 points.
    • Officer Carmichael (Status 1, Skill 2), a Thrall worth 3 points.
    • Officer Jones (Status 1, Skill 2), a Contact worth 1 point.
    • Detective O’Brian (Status 2, Skill 2), a Thrall worth 4 points.
  • The character has 13 effective points within the organization, so has Influence 1.
  • If the character added a lot more points of contact, her rating still couldn’t go above Influence 4 without upgrading at least one of the relationships to at least 5 points.

Gaining and Maintaining Influence

If a PC meets and befriends/controls a member of an organization during actual play, that character can immediately be added to the character’s appropriate Influence sheet. GMs are, however, encouraged to enforce the logical consequences of players trying to get too many “free” points of Influence this way: a Contact isn’t just someone that the PC met once and using powers to create a bunch of Thralls in a short period of time has its own repercussions. This is more for situations like a player asking, “Do you think ace reporter Rob Stetson counts as a friend now that we saved him from a pack of werewolves?” And, indeed, if all the PCs could jointly count the NPC a friend, she can be added to all their sheets (though some might spend more time maintaining the relationship than others).

Other than NPCs met in play, a character can make friends and maintain relationships by expending Favor points.

Each PC gains a certain number of favor points per week:

  • One point for each dot of each applicable Background/Merit that could be used to do favors for contacts. Resources is the obvious go-to, but Contacts, Fame, and other such traits might be convincingly argued to give the character an easy ability to improve the lives of her contacts (either through gifts/bribes or by throwing them leads or other career upgrades).
  • One point for each dot of each Influence. It’s rather easy to call in extremely minor favors to keep people happy.
  • One point for each dot in an applicable die pool if the PC spent most of her free time that week working on scraping up Favor. This could be virtually any die pool that the player can justify (social pools to wine and dine the contacts, investigation pools to turn up leads or blackmail, etc.).

No favor points are gained for the week if the PC was completely off the grid/out of town for most of the week. Making your rivals go on the lam is a good way to bleed them of control.

For example, a PC:

  • Has Resources 3, Contacts 2 (5 points)
  • Has Police 2, Media 2 (4 points)
  • Spends the week turning up leads on mundane crimes with Wits 3 + Investigation 3 (6 points)
  • Gains 15 Favor points for the week.

This will change infrequently, so the player can generally write a passive/active total of Favor points gained each week somewhere convenient on the sheet.

Making new friends uses these Favor points:

  • You can add a new Contact by paying her total control in Favor points. For example, a Status 2, Skill 3 individual costs 5 points to add as a Contact.
  • You cannot add a new Contact with Status higher than your Influence dots (as you’re effectively using your existing friends to get you into contact with their superiors). This does have a minimum of one: you can start out a new type of Influence by scraping up contacts from the bottom of the organization.

Each month, you can maintain and improve your relationships with Favor points:

  • You must pay an individual’s effective rating each month to Maintain that relationship (e.g., a control 6 Contact worth an effective 2 costs two Favor points to maintain).
    • If you do not pay to maintain that relationship for the month, put a — next to the character’s name.
    • If the character already had a —, reduce that relationship by one step (Thrall>Friend>Contact>No Value).
  • You can pay double an individual’s effective rating each month to Improve that relationship.
    • If you paid double for the month, put a + next to the character’s name.
    • If the character already  had a +, improve that relationship by one step.
  • A — cancels a + and vice versa. If you neglect a relationship, you’ll eventually have to pay double to remove the risk of it dropping.
  • If a relationship drops to No Value, you can always pay the initial Contact cost to regain that character, even if her Status is now higher than your Influence (but it would have typically been cheaper not to let the relationship drop).

Actions in-play can also adjust relationships at the GM’s discretion. Players might want to direct resources gained during a scenario to favorite contacts, work to get their Thralls higher Status or train them to higher political skill, or otherwise improve a source of influence. If a target was made a Thrall by supernatural means, a reduction to Friend status either means the character was not maintaining the compulsion or, if it was permanent, the contact did something to make peers suspicious and cannot currently give the character full access to resources.

On-screen contacts might also get killed, removing them entirely. And, if you identify an enemy’s contacts, you can kill or suborn them yourself.

Next week’s post explains how to actually use Influence.