Thursday, January 12, 2017

Building the Con Artist and the fine art of Forgery

I trust he needs no introduction
Lando Calrissian remains one of my favorite characters from Star Wars, not just because he was so stylish, but because of what he represented.  For the most part, the core invaded the rim, with great imperial vessels descending on backwater worlds, or the rebels bringing the politics of the core with them out to the desolate worlds of the rim.  But with Lando, the criminal sensibilities of the rim dived into the elegance of a core world.  He danced a delicate line between honest governance, real politick and rapscallionry and he made it look good.

The con-artist definitely fits Psi-Wars even better than Star Wars, though, because Psi-Wars is about Action, and Action needs a faceman.  Who better to be that than someone like Lando Calrissian?  But more than Lando, I want someone who not just defines elegance, but undermines it.  He's a confidence man, sure, but he's also a card-sharp, a gambler, and a forger.  He knows how to rub shoulders with the elegant, how to pretend to be like them, how to pawn off his forgeries as the real thing.  I want le Comte de St. Germain, or for those a little more up-to-date in their references, I want Neal Caffery. In spaaaaace.


What makes a Con-Man?

For the most part, the Con Artist is a fairly straight forward character.  He's a master of social engineering, with a strong leaning towards deception, making him nearly a straight lift from the Faceman of Action, or a less technically savvy Spy.  However, like the Bounty Hunter, he's much more deeply grounded in a criminal world (more than the Bounty Hunter, as the Con Artist is a criminal!), though he's not necessarily a thief (though he might certainly be a pick-pocket or a lock-picker) or a bruiser (He'd rather talk than fight), but more of a fixer.  He knows how to move through the underworld to find allies and connections and talk them into doing his dirty work for him.  He'll also need to move through a variety of underworlds, because his schemes will inevitably make enemies, and then it's on to the next set of marks.  That makes him a natural traveller, like the smuggler (though not necessarily adept at flying).

The ideal environment for a con-man is not the streets, though.  That might be his home, but it's not where he works.  He's a bon vivant, inserting himself into the world of the wealthy and prestigious (It makes sense that Lando would find himself in a place of wealth and prestige for precisely the same reasons).  He wants to be the mysterious and romantic stranger in a nobleman's ball, whom nobody can really place but everyone finds interesting and whose credentials seem perfectly in order and who naturally has an interesting opportunity to invest in, or has managed to acquire that rare artwork or relic you'd been looking for.  Worried?  Don't be!  You can trust him!

And, classic to the image,  he needs to be a master of games, both because gambling is romantic and thus fits his image and because his ability to read people, read the odds and his quick fingers will all serve him well at a game of Sabacc (or whatever we choose to call our gambling games).

The Con-Artist is deeply grounded in the social distancing mechanisms we've discussed both because he regularly transcends them and because he uses them as a weapon.  He can shift accent at the drop of a hat to become a mysterious stranger from a distant land.  He knows art, games, cuisine, and language, all well enough to convince you that he is who he says he is, and also so that you'll buy what he has to sell.  And, thus far, the rules we have already in place are plenty for everything we've described above except forgery!

The Art of Forgery

Forgery's not hard, is it?  In fact, Action already has rules: You can use Counterfeiting for forging money and Forgery for everything else, right?  Well, not so fast!  Forgery covers forging documents.  That is, you use Forgery to make up a new ID, or a fake warrant, or to otherwise prove you are who you say you are, but it's not enough to fake a painting, or a hologram, or a relic.  So what do we do for faking these things?

Unfortunately, I can find no rule in any GURPS book about this except, of all places, Power-Ups 7: Wildcards, where it allows Art! to substitute for forgery when creating artistic replicas.  So, it seems, Forgery does let you create artistic forgeries, but the process still bears some relationship to artistry.  Thus, I would propose the following rules:

To forge a work of art, roll the lower of your Forgery or Artist skill. Forgery represents your knowledge of the materials and security techniques that you'll need to bypass ("You can't just use any Gristian mud for the clay, you idiot!  Styxian sculpture use mud from the planet Styxia, which is very specific.  They'll test for berryllium isotopes that are common in Styxian soil.  Thankfully, I know a technique that'll make it look like Styxian clay, at least to most ultrascanners!"), while Artist lets you convincingly create the replica.  Apply the normal modifiers from Forgery, and to reflect how difficult the inspections will be, apply BAD.  Success means the work is good enough.  If you need to contest it with someone, or you need to check a forgery yourself, roll the better of Forgery or the appropriate Connoisseur.

We can also add a new Technique called (Type) Forgery, which improves the appropriate Artist skill to the new level for the purposes of Forgery only.  The maximum of this value is your artist skill +4 or Forgery, whichever is lower.  Thus, the best art forgers are usually better forgers than they are artists (if they had to "go straight" they'd be less impressive).

Psi-Wars might use any art specialties, but the most likely to come up are Body Art, Sculpture, Holoprojection (from Ultra-Tech).  You might make the case for Painting and Illumination representing beautiful, two-dimensional digital works.  In that case, Digital Painting and Digital Illumination default to each other at -2, and those both default to Body Art at -4 (and vice versa), Sculpture and Holoprojection default to each other at -4, and everything else defaults to each other at -6.

The same rules should apply if you're trying to pass off a fake cuisine (Cooking), intoxicants (Pharmacy) or Professional Skill (Brewer) for alcholic drinks.

Relics and antiquities represent a unique challenge.  They'll typically be made with whatever technological skill that is necessary to make them (typically Mechanic, Electronic Repair or Armoury, rather than Engineering, as you're replicating existing technology rather than creating an entirely new design).  However, these need to fit expectations, therefore, the GM might either require History or Literature rolls, or allow them as Complementary rolls.  Note that a skilled forger is going to have a hard time imitating the psychic signature of a relic.  You'll need Engineering (Psychotronics) to even attempt a solution, and likely some unique components (like, perhaps, a psuedo-fragment).  Fortunately, only characters with ESP can look at psychic signatures, though characters with access to Communion might be warned, and tend to have knowledge that transcends mortal capability.  Con psions at your own peril!

A good story always helps a forgery!  The quick patter of Fast-Talk or a well-written story with Writing might serve as a distraction from some flaws, or even explain those flaws!  Consider allowing a complementary roll, or at least a penalty to those who are inspecting the world more closely.

The Con Artist: 250 points

The Con Artist is equally at home with street gambling or a begging scam on the streets as he is sweeping princesses off their feet in royal courts and beating the house in some alien casino. The Con Artist glides from one social encounter to another, changing who he is based on who people want him to be, but always with an angle of more money, more fame, more power, always looking for the next big score.

The Con Artist is the master of social engineering on the edge of the galaxy, though isn’t too bad if he goes into the galactic core either. He prefers elegant solutions to violent ones, and will fare poorly in a fight. While all Con Artists excel at the basics of a con, this template further specializes the character into a forger (for those who sell counterfeit art), the gambler (for those who cheat at cards) and the bon vivant (who uses romance as a weapon). For further customization options, note that those who want to excel at Sex Appeal should invest in superior Appearance, and those who want to improve Escape, Sleight of Hand, Pickpocketing, Lockpicking and most forms of Artist would do very well to take High Manual Dexterity.

The Con Artist is at a disadvantage when dealing with psychics, who tend to see straight through his games, and especially his forgeries. For those who want some measure of defense, consider the Antiquities Dealer power-up.

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 12 [40]; IQ 15 [100]; HT 11 [10]

Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs; HP 10 [0]; Will 15 [0]; Per 15 [0]; FP 11 [0]; Basic Speed 6.00 [5]; Basic Move 6 [0].

Advantages: Charisma +1 [5], Honest Face [1], Lucky [15], Smooth Operator +2 [30], 25 points on DX +1 [20], IQ +1 [20], Basic Move +1 to +2 [5 or 10], Absolute Timing [2], Accent (Any) [1], Alcohol Tolerance [1], Ally (Varies) [Varies], Appearance (Attractive to Very Beautiful/Handsome) [4, 12, or 16], Contact (Fellow Con-Artist, Criminal, Cute local, Fence, Fixer, Security Agent, Skill-12, 15 or 18; 9 or less, Somewhat reliable) [1, 2 or 3], Contact Group (Gang or Security; Skill-12, -15, -18, 9 or less, Somewhat Reliable) [5 or 10 or 15], Cultural Adaptability [10], Cultural Familiarity (Any) [1], Daredevil [15], Eidetic Memory [5], Sensitive or Empathy [5 or 15], Fashion Sense [5], Gizmos 1-3 [5/level], High Heeled Heroine [1], High Manual Dexterity +1 to +4 [5/level], Language (Any) [2-6], Language Talent [10], Lightning Calculator [2], No Hangover [1], Pitiable [5], Rapier Wit [5], Sartorial Integrity [1], Serendipity 1-3 [15/level], Social Chameleon [5], Voice [10], Wild Talent 1 [20], improve Charisma up to +4 [5/level], Smooth Operator up to +4 [15/level], or Luck into Extreme Luck [30] for 15 points.

Disadvantages: Choose a total of -20 points from among Compulsive Carousing [-5*], Compulsive Gambling [-5*], Greed [-15*], Impulsiveness [-10], Jealousy [-10], Lecherousness [-15*], Overconfidence [-5*], Secret (Past Scams) [-5 to -10], Sense of Duty (Team) [-5], Social Stigma (Criminal Record) [-5], Trickster [-15*], Wealth (Struggling) [-10]; Another -30 points from the above or from Addition (Any) [Varies], Alcoholism [-15], Callous [-5], Chummy or Gregarious [-5 or -10], Compulsive Liar [-15*], Cowardice [-10*], Curious [-5*], Easy to Read (Psychic) [-10], Gluttony [-5*], Kleptomania [-15*], Laziness [-10]. Pacifism (Reluctant Killer or Cannot Harm Innocents) [-5 or -10], Selfish [-5*]. Skinny [-5], Social Stigma (Criminal Record) [-5], ST -1 [-10], Trademark [-5 to -15], Unfit [-5] or Very Unfit [-15] or Vow (“I don’t use blasters” or “I don’t use weapons”) [-10 or -15]

Primary Skills: Acting (A) IQ+21 [2]-17. Detect Lies (H) Per+11 [2]-16; Fast-Talk (A) IQ+21 [2]-17; Streetwise (A) IQ+21 [2]-17; One of the following: Savoir-Faire (High Society, Servant or Mafia) all (E) IQ+11 [1]-17, Public Speaking (A) IQ+11 [1]-16, Diplomacy (H) IQ1 [1]-15, Carousing (E) HT+21 [1]-13, Sex-Appeal (A) HT+11 [1]-12 or Intimidation (A) Will+11 [1]-16;

  Choose one of the following packages:
  • Bon Vivant: Dancing (A) DX+2 [8]-14, Connoisseur (Any) (A) IQ+1 [4]-16; Current Affairs (High Culture or People) (E) IQ [1]-15;
  • Gambler: Games (Any) (E) IQ [1]-15, Gambling (A) IQ+1 [4]-16, Sleight-of-Hand (H) DX+1 [8]-13
  • Forger: Forgery (H) IQ+1 [8]-16, Artist (Any) IQ-2 [1]-13, (Art) Forgery (H) Artist Skill+3 [4]-16
Secondary Skills: Beam Weapons (Pistol) (E) DX [1]-12; Stealth (A) DX+1 [4]-13; Either Brawling (E) DX+2 [4]-14 or Karate (H) DX [4]-12; Either Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-13 or Judo (H) DX [4]-12; Choose five of Filch (A) DX [2]-12, Escape or Pickpocket both (H) DX-1 [2]-11; Panhandling (E) IQ+31 [2]-18, Area Knowledge (Any) or Current Affairs (Headline, High Society, People, Regional) all (E) IQ+1 [2]-16, Administration, Connoisseur (Any), Disguise, Electronics Operation (Media), Holdout, Lockpicking, Merchant, Smuggling, Writing all (A) IQ [2]-15, History (Any), Law (Regional or Galactic), Literature or Poetry all (H) IQ-1 [2]-14, Scrounging (A) Per+1 [2]-16, or Observation or Search both (A) Per [2]-15.

Background Skills: Computer Operation (E) IQ [1]-15; Navigation (Hyperspace) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14, One of Pilot (Contragravity or Starship) both (A) DX-1 [1]-11, Vacc Suit (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Choose 20 points from a background lens;

*: Modified by self-control value

1: +1 from Smooth Operator

Con Artist Power-Ups

Antiquities Dealer 25 points
Mastery of antiquities and, worse, relics requires a very delicate touch and a very specific focus. Thus, this package includes a variety of interrelated skills necessary to make it work. A basic antiquities dealer can get away with Archaeology and various crafting skills and dead language, but those who want to fool psychics will definitely want to grab at least Electronics Repair (Psychotronic) to improvise a psychic signature, Mind Block to keep them from reading their mind and should consider Expert Skill (Psionics).

Skills: Forgery (H) IQ [4]-15 or improve Forgery by 1 level for [4] points; History (Any) (H) IQ-2 [1]-13; Choose five of Armoury (Body Armor or Force Sword) or Electronics Repair (Any, but especially Psychotronics) (A) IQ+1 [4]-16 or Archeology, Artist (Sculpture), or Expert Skill (Psionics) all (H) IQ [4]-15, or Mind Block (A) Will+1 [4]-16, or any dead language at Accented [4].
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