Monday, December 19, 2016

Psi-Wars and GURPS Social Engineering

For my next trick, I'd like to look at GURPS Social Engineering and its associated products, like Pulling Rank.

Normally, this would be the part where I argue against its inclusion, because each new element we add has a cost.  We need to write it all out, work out the details, fold it into our game design, and then our players need to learn it. And, in fact, GURPS Action already has a lot of social rules, so why bother with Social Engineering?

Because Social Engineering is a very different book than books like Mass Combat.  It more closely resembles GURPS Martial Arts or Thaumatology in that it's a list of ideas that we can take or leave as we wish.  In fact, GURPS Action already uses some material from Social Engineering (Pulling Rank is derived and simplified from it, for sure).

Moreover, GURPS Action's social rules don't cover enough.  It assumes Earth at TL 8, while we're tackling a galaxy far far away at TL 11^.  We need to think about aliens and strange customs and the impact of galaxy-spanning organizations on the interactions between individuals.  We don't necessarily need to incorporate ever element from GURPS Social Engineer, but we should, at least, consider them, and get an idea of what might need to change, and what is fine as it is.

Naked GURPS Action: What we already have

As stated before, GURPS Action already has a lot of social mechanics.  Let's take a quick look through there and see what's already in place before we move on to actually looking at how GURPS Social Engineering works.

Pulling Rank

This is probably the most important part of "social engineering" in GURPS Action, and it shows up right there in book 1.  The Officer already has some elements from here, and I've already made a few adjustments.  Obviously, Pulling Rank needs to change considerably.  The benefits that one can get from asking a TL 11^ space empire are vastly different from what one can get from a TL 8 government (for example, we don't get helicopter flybys!).  Moreover, what organizations we can ask and how they interact is worth looking at.  I'll look at this later, though, as I think this deserves a much deeper look than a post or two.  And, indeed, it has its own book, with an additional follow-up book, Boardrooms and Curia!

Important skills and traits here are Smooth Operator (and Intuitive Statesmen!) and Administration.

Social Engineering

Starting on page 15 of Action 2 we have Social Engineering, which discusses how to bribe, manipulate, interrogate and interview people.  It also discusses "word on the street" and how to deal with contacts.  In brief, Social Engineering in Action focuses on rapidly persuading someone, or getting information.  That's its sole focus.  It has one last optional point in Fitting In which is just generally getting along with others from your organization.

Important skills and traits for this are typical influence skills: Savoir-Faire, Streetwise, Intimidation, Sex-Appeal, Fast-Talk and Diplomacy. Connoisseur, Gambling, Dancing, Carousing, Merchant, Public Speaking, Interrogation, Psychology, and Detect Lies all also make an appearance.


Starting on page 26, this mostly covers hiding evidence more than anything else.  For more social manipulation, Impersonation and psy-ops discuss manipulating people directly.  The main focus here is fooling others into believing what you want them to believe, allowing you to get away with some kind of clever scheme. Important skills and traits here are typically Disguise, Fast-Talk, Acting, Propaganda and Psychology.


Finally, on page 35, we have a discussion on Social Engineering in combat.  The point here is to distract, frighten or enrage opponents.  Psychology is your prime skill here, but Fast-Talk and Intimidation make appearances as well.

Social Engineering in Action

So what we have here are five basic goals:
  • Manipulate an organization to get some sort of assistance
  • Manipulate people directly to get them to do what you want
  • Manipulate people to get pertinent information from them
  • Fool people so you can get away with some scheme
  • Manipulate people in combat, either to distract them or to drive them off completely.
All social engineering here is driven towards the goal of finishing the mission.  You look for information to solve the mystery, then get people or organizations to help you succeed at the mission, through either trickery or combat (which is supported by social banter).

What we don't see here is detailed politics, romance, hassling with legal troubles, mercantile negotiation, etc.  Any Social Engineering we apply in Psi-Wars support similar goals (which isn't to say that you can't add, say, romantic mercantile negotiations into your games, but that Psi-Wars, like Action, shouldn't support it out of the box)
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