Thursday, March 16, 2017

Designing Organizations: Overview and Empire

New Empire by Adam Burn
Organizations represent the heart of every Action game.  Organizations (the police, the CIA, a spooky cabal) hire heroes to fight other organizations (the Mob, terrorists, a spooky cabal).  While organizations aren't central in the sense that they're not the mechanics that drive the action, they encompass, surround and provide the context for the action.

So, more important for Psi-Wars than planets, or alien races, or cool technology are organizations. Of course, some organizations will be unique to planets or regions of space, but a few major organizations so thoroughly saturate the setting that they must be defined before the rest of the setting can be: the Empire, the Rebellion and the Space Knight Order.

All of them need the same sort of questions asked and answered to work in a proper Action context, so in this introduction, I'm going to start with the Empire itself as an example of Organization design.


The Components of an Organization

When we commit to setting work, like an organization, it behooves us to remember that this work serves a purpose: It needs to be useful to us.  What, from the perspective of an Action scenario, do we need from an organization?
  • People to fight
  • Challenges to overcome
  • Benefits for loyal heroes.
  • Competing agendas to exploit
  • Secret agendas to uncover
  • Personalities within the organization to give it a face
  • Vision and a sense of purpose to unit the organization into a cohesive whole
That is, in an Action scenario, we need people trying to put bullets in us while we put bullets in them, reasons its difficult to just walk into a place and take what you need, a driving force behind the organization that we need to stop, or possibly multiple so our more social characters can play one side off of the other, and secret information we can uncover in our incursions.  Of course, not every organization will be antagonistic, so sometimes we want to know what an organization can do for us.  And we don't want to deal with an organization in its abstract, but face-to-face: James Bond might work for MI6, but the face of MI6 are people like M, Q and Moneypenny.  Finally, the organization should serve some purpose.  People join it, support it and expand it for a reason.  What is that reason?

Also,  I intend for Psi-Wars to be useful to more gamers than just myself.  Thus, a broader, more flexible concept of the Empire is more useful, as it lets more people make use of it.  In principle, the Empire is "villainous," but some GMs might prefer to see it as heroic, or morally grey.  Alternately, we can show a variety of faces depending on how the scenario and the GM wishes to interact with his preferred organization: perhaps even though the leadership is rotten, the rank-and-file can be heroic, or vice versa.

The Vision of the Empire

Every organization should serve a purpose, even a vast, sweeping government like the Empire.  Its ruler needs a reason to get up out of bed in the morning, and its soldiers need a reason to grab their weapons and go and suppress a populace.  Ultimately, at their very core, even a government exerts its power through ideas, even if that idea is only "If I don't obey, they'll kill me."

We already know some of the history of the empire so we know some of its ideals: It had its roots in an increasingly insecure galaxy, in opposition to an increasingly self-absorbed elite that refused to deal with problems and then martyred those who did, and finally in a sense that the elites stopped caring about the common man.

Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither. 
-Benjamin Franklin

Security: The Empire arose from the fear and panic caused by a terrible, galactic incursion.  Its founders promised to do what the previous Republic could not: Protect its citizens and the status quo.  In a sense, the Galactic Republic knew it was fading and dying, and the Empire is an attempt to rejuvenate the dream of a united Galaxy.  This, probably more than any other aspect of the Empire, explains its popularity, and to support this goal, it needs to present a strong military presence and at least make a show of defending its people from clear and present threats.

On the idealistic side, this means the empire and its legions heroically charge headlong into danger and rescue its citizens.  More cynically, this acts as an excuse for huge military spending (which empowers the military elites and the industrial complex that profits from eternal war), and requires the Empire to manufacture enemies where none exist.  If the rebellion didn't exist, the Empire would need to invent it.  It also explains why the empire needs to constantly expand: it needs to capture territory to pacify dangerous locals and create a buffer between itself and the barbarian outsiders, only eventually that new territory becomes part of the Empire and itself needs to be protected, which means more territory needs to be conquered to pacify the locals and act as a buffer, etc.

Power to the people: The prime source of discontent in the old Republic was the growing economic disparity between the aristocratic elites and the common man.  The rise of robots made it possible for capital-owners to dispense with labor entirely, leaving an entire swath of galactic demography without a way to participate in their civilization. The Emperor promised to change that by redistributing the means of wealth among the people once more.  This means the Empire must, first of all, seize excessive wealth and, second of all, be seen to redistribute it. This almost certainly means increased welfare benefits (the Roman Empire had the "grain dole") and likely the forced restructuring of planetary economies.

Idealistically, the Empire dismantles corrupt and top-heavy institutions and redistributes their wrongful gains to the everyman: the local farmer sees increased land and free robotic labor, while local workers find more and more work available for them (certainly in the form of more jobs building Imperial war machines), and those with crushing debts see their debts wiped away by government-mandated debt-relief.  Cynically, all of this generosity has to come from somewhere, so redistribution always creates winners and losers, and if the losers are aliens, rebels and outsiders, nobody cares.  Thus, this drives the forces of conquest.  And, of course, the one who decides where all of this wealth goes is the Emperor himself, and the ability to redistribute becomes a fantastic source of power.  Rather than use it to benefit "the people," why not benefit his allies?

Incidentally, this raises the question of "power to what people?"  The Star Wars fandom contains persistent but unconfirmed allegations of racism towards the empire, given the fact that all Imperials we see are (white, British) humans, while the Republic conspicuously contained powerful aliens.  What about our Empire?  Well, Germany definitely had a racist element to it, but in some ways that racism was a unifying factor: it suggested that "the German people" were a "race," which implied that the previously disunited people were, in fact, one.  Rome had a similar approach, uniting Rome and the Italian Allies under the special, privileged banner of "Roman Citizens."  Germany was never really an Empire, though, not in any lasting sense.  Realistically, an Empire must consist of a variety of races and cultures, all ruled by a central point of power.  I'd argue that the Empire definitely privileges a group, the central core of the former Republic, who receive special privileges over "non-citizens."  This, by the way, suggests the existence of Social Stigma(Second Class Citizens).   Our prime citizens are definitely human, but I'll wait to decide if it's exclusively human (though there's a conceptual advantage into making it so, as its simple: No need to remember the 3 Imperial Races or something like that).

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men 
-Lord Acton
Absolute Power: The Emperor makes the case that his reforms require absolute power (perhaps because of a history of suppression by the Senate).  He needs to be able to override the old laws and old traditions (the "constitution" if you will) to make necessary institutional changes.  He also needs secrecy, to prevent the enemies of the Empire (who are numerous!) from knowing what he's doing.  After all, spies and conspiracies lurk around every corner.  The Emperor, thus, must be seen to be powerful, with grand parades, and seen to be competent and trustworthy.  Proof to the contrary is necessarily seditious and must be quashed.

Idealistically, these two things work together to create a situation where a benevolent dictator that you can trust works behind the scenes to fix all the problems you face, and everyone needs to work with him to protect his vision of a greater Empire.  Cynically, yeah, can you really trust someone with absolute power and absolute secrecy?  Redistribution and rampant militarism become a source of absolute power: if you resist, the Empire will seize your wealth and park a fleet at your door.  If you tell people about their crimes, the Empire will declare your words to be seditious, censor them, and throw you in prison.  We have a recipe for absolute power, and thus absolute corruption.  This also means the most common "secret agenda" would be one of personal advancement.

Who serves the Empire?

The cumulative effect of the vision of the Empire is that it generally attracts two groups of people.  The first generally benefited from the largess of the empire: They saw their worlds saved, traitors rooted out from among their midst, saw the rich toppled and their property redistributed among their people, and saw the chaos at the end of the Republic era defeated by the unity and order of the Empire.  They see the ideals of the Empire as worth fighting for, worth dying for, and are willing to support the new order. The second also enjoys the largess of the Empire, but they have subverted the ideals of the Empire: they seize property for themselves, they invent enemies to justify their actions, they hide their misdeeds behind the veil of state secrets, and they grow enormously in power.  Because of their concentration of power, they tend to reach higher ranks more quickly than the idealists, and they use the idealist's own idealism against himself to exploit and control him.

How does the Empire achieve its goals?

The Empire is too large to be comprised of a single organization.  Instead, we can think of the Emperor as a capstone on three different organizations.

The Imperial Military

The Empire needs to secure its borders, protect its people from external threats and, of course, crush rebellion.  For that, it needs a military force that can move swiftly to respond to threats and deal with incursions, as well as be suitably impressive to remind everyone of the power and grandeur of the Empire (he is, after all, making the Galaxy great again).  The Empire has at its disposal a galaxy worth of industrial mass production and generally the love (and/or fear) of the people.

This represents the military side of our Imperial Conflict, something for our Fighter Aces, Officers and Commandos.

The Senate and the Imperial Ministry

The Empire needs to run.  That is, taxes must be collected, laws passed, honors passed out, and so on.  A functioning bureaucracy is vital to the running of an empire, but isn't something particularly exciting to play out.  It matters in the context of scandal and potential sources of files and data, but it will rarely result in characters who exuberantly join in and depend upon it for favors.

When Augustus Caesar became princeps, he didn't dissolve the Senate as Palpatine does in Star Wars, but instead allowed it to continue, carefully rehabilitiating the egos, but not the power, of the senators.  In principle, Hilter also allowed the German Parliament to continue... only the only legal party was the Nazi party, and he had the sole right to pass law.  Still, I choose for a Senate here, at least for now, representing the high society of the Empire, and carefully packed with Imperial supporters and gently stripped of any real power.  It amounts to a large debating society that can vote on its own laws, or laws given to them by the Emperor, but only the laws passed by the Emperor come into effect, and he can bypass the Senate to pass his laws.  Thus, at best, it becomes a propaganda move, where the senate can only express disapproval by voting against the Emperor.

Together, we'll call it the government of the Empire, and it contains Administrative rank.  It also includes diplomats, who arguably negotiate with allies and enemies, but in practice typically dictate surrender terms to beleaguered worlds, and then act as governors, allowing the local rulers to issue edicts on the Imperial behalf.  Imperial Propaganda also issues from the government.

Imperial Security

If the Empire passes laws, it needs those laws enforced.  We need people who will chase down smugglers, hire bounty hunters and arrest con artists.  We also need people to root out the internal "enemies of the people," who uncover spies, traitors and dissidents in their midst.  The Roman example fails us, and Star Wars doesn't get much into this, but we can borrow from the German model, where party enforcers (the SS) became embedded into the very heart of the legal enforcement arm of the government, as concerned with party loyalty as with ensuring all laws were followed.  And, of course, given their absolute power, elite security agents became judge, jury and executioner.  The government would turn a blind eye to their personal empire building, provided they toed the party line.

A Mystical Conspiracy

The Empire of Star Wars is actually a secret conspiracy of evil space knights and wizards trying to take over the Galaxy.  By including such a conspiracy in our galaxy, we give our Space Knights and Mystics something to do, so it seems to suit both Psi-Wars-as-Star-Wars-Knockoff, and Psi-Wars-qua-Psi-Wars. What conspiracy is an interesting one, though.  Obviously, our orthodox space knights, our Jedi, oppose the Empire, because they're good and the Empire is evil.  They also worked to overthrow the last Empire, the Alexian dynasty.  This suggests that the upholders of the Alexian dynasty, the Oracular Order, would support the Empire, but the Alexian Oracles supported elites over the people.  They don't support the Empire either.  That leaves a Sith analog, which fits best anyway: a group of dissident space knights who have come to serve the Id instead of the Super-Ego, and work to turn the Emperor into the Mystic Tyrant and then to re-establish their power across the galaxy.  If the Empire are the Nazis, this order is the Ahnenerbe.

If the the Jedi are the Christians of the Roman Empire, and the Sith the Cult of the Emperor, then it might be nice to have a third philosophy.  We have our old Oracular Order, but the Empire of Star Wars seems very scientific without making much progress.  I propose a philosophy of neo-rationalism.  This philosophy is common both in the Cybernetic Union and among the educated elite of the Empire, and for inspiration, I'm borrowing a bit on the idea of Neo-Platonism, at least in the sense that the original, questing nature of Platonism had, in the hands of some Neo-Platonists, turned into mysticism and founder-worship.  Neo-Rationalism pretends to be about science and progress but, in fact, is more interested in quoting the sages of Rationlism to sound clever, and then engaging in very unsafe Mad Science.

I'll come back to philosophies and Space Knights when we tackle philosophies in more detail.

Imperial Challenges

So, you're up against the Empire.  What does that entail?  Well, for opponents, that depends on who you're facing (typically Imperial Security or the Imperial Military).  But we can present some unified security ideas.

The Empire is typically BAD 2 to 5, though going up against the Emperor himself is going to be BAD 8, at least.

Physical Security

The Empire prefers to rely on a combination of superior industrial capacity, superior manpower, and omni-present surveillance to keep its installations secure.

First, the Empire typically constructs very large and imposing buildings around its points of defense.  Even a military campaigning on a planet will typically include engineers who will build up some kind of fortification for when the military sleeps, resulting in impromptu bases an fortifications the military can retreat to if necessary.  For handling materials, doors and gates tend to be Security and attached hardware tend to be tough (see p21 of Action 2).

The Empire has more than enough soliders and police forces to engage in patrols.  These typically consist of between 4 and 10 men, who report in at regular intervals, usually once every 15 minutes or at checkpoints along their route.  Killing a patrol will result in an investigation within 15 minutes.

The Empire also believes in constant surveillance.  They prefer to construct their installations with long hallways allowing a single IR camera to watch long stretches of corridor.  The Empire prefers to have every corridor monitored thus, but this might not always be practical. Naturally, humans watch these cameras, which means the destruction of a camera alerts watching guards that something has gone wrong, and that not all cameras are watched with perfect attention and, of course, that you can kill the people in a camera room to evade detection, though again, you've got at most 15 minutes until someone needs to check in again.

The empire prefers electronic locks.  It might use a number pad, but the most common lock requires a key-swipe.  These keys might be issued to individuals, but they're often associated with their security chips (see below).

Information Security

Computers in the Empire are typically huge, centralized mainframes with access terminals all throughout the installation.  Local terminals have access to standard services (a map of the area) or local security concerns (the local work roster, access to local cameras or lock overrides).  To hack them for anything more central than that (total system access, highly classified files, etc) is either impossible, or requires double BAD penalties.  The central mainframe contains access to all information on all local terminals plus all vital and important information, which makes them the prime target for attack and are thus usually hidden at the heart of an installation, surrounded by thick walls and locked doors, and they always have a self-destruct function that will ruin the computer and its data if the Empire decides they've been compromised.

Data can be transmitted to interstellar locations by the Imperial Data-Net.  This involves relay stations, usually small stations (often completely automated or with only a few people) in orbit around a star.  The destruction of a relay station can remove a system off from the Imperial Data-Net, but they usually have a few redundant stations and they keep their locations secret.

All imperial transmissions are encoded and those codes come in multiple levels (Code White, Code Red and Code Black).  Officers cleared for a given code level receive the necessary codes on a security chip that they carry with them, which looks like a thick, clear plastic card with colored stripes denoting its level of clearance. This security chip can be inserted into a console to gain access to higher security levels and is often used to unlock doors.  The security chip also contains the officer's data, so the Empire records which person accesses which data.  These codes are updated daily: the officer inserts his card into an encoder in the morning and receives his new codes.

The concept of the security chip has been expanded across the empire: all citizens need to have an identity chip, a similar card that they must carry with them that Imperial Security can check at any time to verify that they are who they say they are, as well as any other pertinent information the empire wants to keep on them (criminal record, etc).  The chip, of course, does not carry that information directly, but rather, the imperial data-net has all the necessary information in their databases and the card contains an identifying sequence that points to the right entry.  That means that you need to hack into an imperial database to change your credentials.  Good luck!  Sometimes, imperial officials will issue temporary identity chips that contain allof the necessary information on them.  This is usually the case with things like tourist visas or temporary permits for new Security Agents or recent recruits, or any time there needs to be a stop-gap measure between the issuance of an identity chip (or a change to an identity chip) and an update to the central Imperial data core.  Typically, once the change has been made, no new card is issued: the card contains identifying information that is only accessed if it's more recent than any database information found based on the card.  These cards are checked at computers at stations, or run against hand-held devices and then signaled back to hearquarters.  The total time to run an identity chip is a minute or two at most.

Social Engineering Security

The Empire relies on its Identity Chips to prove identity.  If someone has a chip that verifies who he says he is, most officials will simply believe you.  The Empire's greater concern is treachery and disloyalty.

Imperial Security regularly deploys security agents who will audit officials suspected of criminal or seditious activity.  Primary concerns are supporting the rebellion by any means or undermining imperial rule in some way (such as taking bribes).  If found guilty, the official is very publicly punished, making an example of him.  The Security Agency is definitely allowed to commit torture to extract a confession, and thus the very presence of Security Agents are enough to encourage cooperation.  Those who do cooperate are given much lighter sentences and allowed to maintain their dignity to some degree and let off the hook, depending on what they did (taking bribes and then explaining what you did and turning the bribes over to the Empire results in forgiveness.  If you gave away major imperial secrets, you're probably screwed).  The net result is that if you want to turn an Imperial official, you have to make him more afraid of you than he is of Imperial Security, or you have to offer him something that makes him think he can escape justice.

Typical punishments include public execution or service in a labor camp (the Empire doesn't condone slavery, but it will force you to work to death extracting resources for the state if you break its laws).  Lesser crimes typically just result in fines or imprisonment.  The laws of the Empire are sufficiently convoluted that Imperial Security can usually find some law that a family member has violated, and thus the threat of arresting someone's daughter, son or wife is also a typical punishment: Those who betray the Empire, even if they escape, inevitably find that Imperial justice will fall upon their friends, family and allies.

Psionic Security

Psionics haven't been such a cause of concern that the Empire has felt the need to move against them.  The days of Space Knights are long behind the Galaxy.  Typically, this is left to our secretive conspiracy of evil space knights to root out when funny things begin to crop up.  That said, neo-rationlist scientists and the Empire's academic body have been busily rediscovering psi-tech, and will certainly begin to put it into practice soon.

Imperial Agendas

The primary concerns of the Empire are securing its power, personal advancement and hiding/rooting out corruption.

In general, the Empire will move to secure itself, and in so doing, open up an opportunity for corruption, and then hide that corruption via a cover-up.  Characters investigating the Empire might first start trying to prove the innocence of a party, and thus discover a cover-up, which means they uncover corruption in a plan that was meant to help the people of the empire, but has been subverted.  They might uncover a hidden agenda against the rebellion, or a secret weapon program, hidden at the heart of the conspiracy.

Securing the Empire

The empire seeks to defeat the Rebellion and bring all of the Galaxy under its dominion.  Most "secret Imperial plans" will, thus, be of this flavor.  Some examples:
  • Secret attack plans on an independent world
  • Details on a spying operation into the Rebellion
  • Details on a new secret super-weapon that will end the Rebellion once and for all.
  • Diplomatic negotiations with an independent world containing secret subversion plans to make sure the world will definitely fall into Imperial hands

Personal Advancement

The powerful of the Empire will seek to become more powerful, often at the expense of the Empire, of independent worlds, or of political rivals.  These plans are invariably individual plans rather than overall plans of the Empire, but they're still relevant to an Action-inspired scenario.  Some examples:
  • Plans to assassinate a rival
  • Details of a secret agreement between a corporation and a powerful political figure
  • Details of a secret agreement between an enemy faction and a powerful political figure
  • Proof of bribe-taking, corruption or embezzling of Imperial funds
  • Proof of subversion of public programs for the enrichment of a specific elite

Corruption and Enforcement

Corruption represents a two-edged sword for the Empire.  On the one hand, it threatens to undermine what the Empire presents itself as.  It needs its officials to toe the public line about securing justice and peace for its people.  On the other hand, corruption is what the Empire is all about.  It entices powerful generals and politicians into service by promising them fantastic rewards that violate the promises the Empire made to its own people.  Thus, it needs to expose that which threatens the Empire, hide hypocrisy, and create scapegoats when that deception is uncovered.

Personal advancement covers most of the actual corruption the Empire might seek to expose.  This covers how the Empire goes about uncovering that corruption and what it does when it finds it.

  • Information on a pending investigation on a potentially corrupt politician
  • Information on a current, or completed, investigation on a corrupt (or innocent!) politician
  • Information as to the current whereabouts of an incarcerated or enslaved family member.
  • Details of an organized cover-up of a politicians corruption or a general's war crimes
  • Proof of a doctored report that shifts blame from a guilty politician to an innocent party
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