Six categories of things that PCs commonly have to do in my thrillers, capers, and clandestine ops

Continuing the discussion from Pre-generating a stable of PCs for sci-fi thrillers:

There are six main types of activities that parties of PCs generally have to do, or often find that they want to do, in the mystery, thriller, adventure, caper, and clandestine-operations RPG adventures that I run: investigate, find, infiltrate, execute, flee, and fight. I don’t mean that I set those things out for the PCs to do; the PCs in my adventures have to improvise their own way though the obstacles that I place before them. It’s just that

  • when the rubber hits the road it turns out that at any time the party will be doing one of those six things, so that any player who designs a character with no way to contribute to one or more of them has to be resigned to playing in audience mode some of the time, and
  • unless the characters have, among them, several ways to do each of those six things the party will face troublesome limitations, and will have to do some things the hard way, while the group may find things a little monotonous if they have only one tool for a large category of tasks.


Under the heading “investigation” I consider all types of investigations and intelligence-gathering, the things that a party might do to find out what is going on when that isn’t common knowledge. If they have a goal, they find out what they must do to achieve it; if not, they discover some of the opportunities available to them that they might choose a goal — what things that belong in museums are at hand to steal, what plots to destroy the world are afoot for them to thwart. Further, they discover what the situation is, what other parties are involved (and something of their interests and activities), what they have to do to achieve their goal, where they have to go to do it, and what obstacles will be in their way. Note that this does not apply only to ultimate goals for the adventure, but also to intermediate goals that must be gained as means to those ends.

There is a wide range of different activities and abilities that characters might undertake and apply to investigate an untoward event. They might take statements from witnesses, ask questions of the families, co-workers, and social contacts of a victim, investigate a victim’s quarrels and financial records, reconstruct their movements. They might search a victim’s home or workplace or car or other places of interest for physical evidence of a struggle, search the coats in the victim’s wardrobe for matchbook clues, try to determine what if any of their possessions are unaccounted for, canvas their neighbours for witnesses. They might confront interested parties and ask them questions, or converse with them socially and lull them into making indiscreet statements and inadvertent revelations. They might research financial and official records to discover hidden interests and other secrets, go to the local and steer the gossip to subjects they are interested in, check social media and newspaper morgues for background material and evidence of old quarrels, or a similar event occurring every time the stars are right. (it there is a body, they ought to view it in situ and attend its autopsy if permitted to do so. They might tap phones and intercept or at least monitor wireless, stake out a premises or plant watching or listening devices. They might survey public-source intelligence on a characteristic thing or material. If they have informants, or contacts on the Force of in the Agency, they might tap those.

In some settings an genres PCs might find that there is not sufficient evidence apparent at the start of an investigation, and that they have to do things to make NPCs reveal themselves. They might pick a suspect and needle them until they lose conrol. Or beat up a criminal until he gives them the name of another criminal. Or bully a witness until they are frightened into talking. Or pretend that they have discovered a secret and ambush whomever comes to kill them. Or act suspiciously and nab whomever starts investigating them.

Different investigative methods are used in different genres, but there is very often at least some element of searching for a discovery or information in adventures of many genres. Give some thought to how your character is going to get involved in any sort of investigation that occurs in your paradigmatic adventure, both in terms of (a) making sure that your character has relevant abilities that complement the rest of the party, and (b) bearing in mind that investigation is active, so that the correct remedy to not having enough information is to go out and get more. Shake the tree if you have to.


After investigation, you have discovered (or decided) that you must (or will) do the deed to the thing or person. But if it’s not obvious where the thing is you have a new problem. Sometimes that can be solved by more investigation, but when it can’t, or when you don’t want to try, there are some special techniques for discovering a location.

One approach is if you have access to a vehicle, object, or person who has come from the location. They can be exampled for geographically-revealing trace evidence (clay, mud, pollen…), for postmarks and despatch addresses. Their GPS breadcrumbs or cellular communications records can be peeked at, or their toll receipts. Perhaps they can be tracked back. Or a person can be lulled or tricked or bullied into revealing information. If you don’t have access to such a package or vehicle, maybe you can induce the opposition to send out something that will prove revealing.

Another approach is if you know of a package, person, or vehicle that is going to return to the secret location. You can put a tracking device on or in it or them. You can follow a person or vehicles on foot or in a like vehicle, or track them or it through traffic and surveillance cameras. You can follow a person or vehicle using an observation drone. You can squirt aniseed onto one of its wheels and follow its trail with a bloodhound. Sometimes you can just plain track them. My favourite is to stow away in the vehicle — a lot of my characters in Twenties and Thirties adventures have from time to time crouched on the luggage-racks of cars.

If you can find a person who knows the location, then perhaps you can induce them to share it or to reveal it by an indiscreet word or action. Or you can drug, trick, or bully them into telling you. Quite a lot of different interpersonal skills can be pressed into service!

This is not usually a very big part of any adventure; it might be short enough to sit out. But perhaps you ought to give some thought to making sure that your party has a selection of methods for doing this at need.


In some adventures the big challenge is finding the person or thing, and once you have done that you can walk up and do the deed to them: arresting a culprit once you’ve solved a mystery, for example. Other times the things or person may be on top of a mountain, at the bottom of a lake, under and ice-shelf etc., or in a secure location such as a home, office, den of criminals, mansion, palace, fortress etc.

Action, caper, thriller, and clandestine-ops movies have provided up with an almost embarrassing profusion of ways to get into a building that either the opposition want to keep you out of or that you don’t want them to know that you are in.

  • Infiltration. If the approaches to a perimeter are watched or patrolled, the party may have to sneak through a patrolled area, which calls for military scouting skills.
  • Literal house-breaking. If there is a part of the exterior or perimeter that is unobserved and unpatrolled because there is no entrance there, you can use building tools, construction machinery, tunnelling, or perhaps even explosives or cutting torches to make a hole in the structure.
  • Second-storey work, a.k.a. cat-burglary. If there is an entrance (perhaps a window, balcony door, or entrance from an enclosed courtyard) that is unguarded and inadequately locked because it is deemed to be inaccessible, you can gain access to it with climbing and mountaineering skills and equipment, or perhaps by swimming (perhaps with SCUBA), parachuting, or using a small boat or quiet VTOL aircraft (a balloon, perhaps).
  • Physical penetration, a.k.a. Bacon & Eggs, or Black-bagging. If there is an entrance that is inadequately guarded because the door is locked or secured with electronic access control, a person with the technical skills to pick mechanical locks or otherwise exploit the weaknesses of security apparatus can gain access by circumventing the security. That may involve sniffing and cloning electronic keys, “borrowing” and duplicating mechanical keys etc., but surprisingly often that isn’t necessary.
  • “Social engineering”. If there is an entrance that is guarded by a point guard who controls passage, or if people pass through it using keys, it may be possible to get in by tricks as simple as just following someone who opens the door, or as preparation-intense as presenting in the guise of a courier or maintenance worker with a fake express parcel or work order — or in tuxedo and diamonds and a fake invitation, if there is a social event in the mansion.
  • Cuckoo work. When outsiders to the secured place are routinely or occasionally granted admittance, and if the people entitled to grant admittance are accessible, it may be possible to arrange to get in for a business meeting, job interview, social occasion, or make-out session. If a randy prince has ordered the guards to admit his floozies to a palace with no questions asked, this may fade into social engineering. This category also includes bribing, persuading, blackmailing, or flattering a person with legitimate access to the secure place to let one in for a purpose that is neither licit nor genuine.
  • Inside work. Once one member of the party has got in he or she may be able to open a way for the rest.

Case the joint! Getting in to the secure place often requires preparation and planning, which require preliminary investigation. The physical vulnerabilities of a security system may be revealed by military reconnaissance methods or burglars’ skill at casing a joint, or information about them may be elicited e.g. from the staff or habitués of the place while they are outside on errands or off duty. Revealing plans can be obtained from building authorities, construction contractors, or security installation firms. Sometimes photos on the social media of residents of the place can be useful. Information about upcoming opportunities for social infiltration can be found in local news, social media, gossip networks and so on.

It is very common in genre movies, and a useful trope in RPGs, for one or two characters with different sorts of counter-security skills to be required to get through concentric layers of security, and for counter-security experts to have to get a character inside who has the special abilities to do the deed to the thing or person.


There is a terrific range of things that the PCs might have to do in the place once they get there. According to the genre and mission, the setting and the ethos of the campaign, they might have to take a thing, place a thing, replace one thing with another, examine a thing, or alter a thing. They might have to open a safe, find a hiding place, examine records, take records, alter records, replace records with fakes. They might have to rescue a person, kidnap a person, deliver a person, replace one person with another, or with a corpse, or replace a corpse with a person. They might have to drug, harm, or kill a person, including using the place a a sniping position. They might have to treat as sick or injured person. They might have to deliver a message or item, or receive a message, or persuade a person to believe a fact or to take a course of action. They might have to marry or fuck a person, or perform a wedding for two or more people. They might have to collect sample, perhaps from a person using needles and swabs and biopsy tools. They might have to search the place for evidence, place watching or listening devices, install a wiretrap, or instal a rig that will perform a practical effect (or even, I suppose, project an optical effect). They might have to stage a scene to convince onlookers of some event. They might even place an explosive or incendiary, or an aiming beacon for artillery, guided missiles, and bombs. Pretty often they have to arrest somebody. Sometimes they have to fight.

Some deeds can be done without the characters having any particular skills, so that the people with the counter-security skills to get in can do them. Other times they require special abilities, or can only be done by a particular person. As a GM I sometimes prep adventures by offering a challenge that the whole party will have a necessary role in overcoming; one way I do that is to present a challenge in which some of the characters will be needed for their particular counter-security skills and others for their unique abilities to execute the mission once the others have got them into the place. I gently discourage players from generating characters that can do it all.

Flee or pursue

Many of my favourite movies in these genres have spectacular chase scenes in them, in vehicles, one skis, on foot, and even in free fall from aircraft. In RPG adventures chases and races can be very important, as for example when the PCs have to escape from the failure of their infiltration or after the success of their plan, or when they want to prevent their quarry from escaping them. But I have never managed to make them actually exciting, so I try to keep them short. That means that it can be okay for a patient player if heir character has nothing in particular to do in them.

Running on foot is an important special case, because a foot chase can easily break out from a burglary or social scene. So everybody might have to do it. Swimming and skiing chases also have the property that you can’t have a specialist driver do it for you, but those are less prone to being forced onto PCs. All PCs have to be able to run, or to have tricks for escaping foot pursuit, or to be prepared to get captured now and then.

As for chases in aircars, boats, and cars, those vehicles often have passenger capacity to convey a whole party of three or four. Which means that one character can specialise in driving things well enough to count on showing well in chase sequences. Even if different character specialise in different vehicle types, that leaves us with all but one players not needing to drive or pilot the vehicle during any particular chases sequence. I try to make them thrilling, I try to keep them short, but nevertheless its good if any character who isn’t the driver gets something to do in chases. Shooting at enemy vehicles is nice. I guess the remote control of escort drones and ambush rigs would be another possibility. I occasionally think of e.g. a motorcyclist who can take a shortcut to escape the pursuit and then set up and ambush for the pursuers or quarry. It might work on film but I’ve never quite seen it in RPG.


RPGs generally devote a lot of attention to combat, which is appropriate because the stakes are high and a lot of players care about the details when their characters’ lives are on the line. That means that combat in RPGs — or at least, the ones I favour — tend to be time-consuming.

Fortunately, it’s very usual for every player to make sure that they have something to do in a fight, and something effective. And the structure of combat rules in RPGs is usually such that a player gets involved and their character has something to do even if they aren’t very good, which is not the case in, say, social infiltration or lockpicking.

In James Bond 007 , when characters were built on “Agent” or “Rookie” budgets and had to specialise hard, and where parties really needed a breadth of capabilities among them, so that some PCs were forced to be designed as mediocre fighters, we did see a character type (“Clunk”) that was specialised in fighting and would protect the rest of the party in a fight by cleaning three clocks per round. In games that have a finer distinction among combat skills (JB007 has only two) what I tend to see is that all characters for this sort of campaign are adept with handguns and either unarmed combat or the use of knives, and the equivalents of Clunk bring on the ultra-violence not with very high Handguns and UC skills, but by spending points to be able to cut a swathe with a long gun, and maybe be able to use spears as well as fight unarmed.

Like running away, fighting is an essential fallback for when things go badly wrong. But though characters in these genres are not supposed to be soldiers or fight pitched battles in the towns, I do quite often see plans that go “and then there will be a fight, which we will win”. And that’s fine, so long as the players stack the deck themselves and don’t count on me to do it for them.

I don’t run games with grindy combat. James Bond 007 and ForeSight aren’t really lethal, but in either one a medium or heavy wound is the system’s way of telling you that you lost the scenario and ought to bug out.

These kinds of things resemble the kinds of activity that are common in the GURPS games that Roger and I run. Our styles are not the same, but they have a fair bit in common.

Something that I often find useful, but many RPG players have trouble, with is the ability to masquerade as a normal member of the public. You go out in public places and do things that normal people might well do (with, of course some less obvious elements). This requires the kind of stealth that is mostly “not being furtive,” acting as if you have a perfect right to be doing this.

The characters of mine who do this tend to be reasonably good at close-up combat, simply because that may be required if you’re spotted, but it’s amazing what you can get away with if you look and act plausible.

In ForeSight the skill Stealth is explicitly but obscurely stated to cover both (a) avoiding being seen and (b) being inconspicuous on account of being the expected ordinary. But it seems to me that character-players often neglect the second use of it. I have from time to time been tempted to split Stealth into two skills, not for mechanical reasons but to draw players’ attention to the possibility of being visible but inconspicuous.

The majority of my GURPS play has been with @JGD and @Phil_Masters so it’s not surprising if our styles overlap a bit.

I don’t think I have a hard distinction between Investigate and Find - much of the time I won’t know exactly what I’m looking for until I also know where it is. (E.g. he’s clearly got a valuable something under guard which is being used to [whatever], but until we get sight of it we don’t know just what it is.)

I don’t think I’ve ever had “disguise yourself as a specific person” in a game. Make myself look less recognisable, sure. But generally it’s been easier to fake up an ID badge or computer record photo than to do the full imitation job. Perhaps I should change that. I do have a lot of social engineering melting into cuckoo work, in the general frame of “I am a person whom you don’t know, but I have a right to be here and you’ll get into trouble if you stop me”.

(My players know the story of Admiral Rickover and the sentry, but most of my security guards don’t.)

I don’t have enough chases. Need to do something about that too.

In the group of players with John and Phil we have a truism that the ideal GURPS fight goes something like:

“Hans, did you hear something?”

and I think none of us is especially enthusiastic about detailed combat (well, by the standards of people who are voluntarily playing GURPS). I mean, yeah, it’s there, but you try to make it happen on your terms and timing, because it can cause things to go irretrievably wrong faster than almost anything else.

This seems like a thing for which one might abuse some existing skills - in GURPS, perhaps Savoir-Faire to look as if you belong at the high-society party, Streetwise in the gang meetup, etc. Though I don’t think there’s anything that would cover “act like a normal person in public”.

Could it simply be Acting?

Likewise. It’s a staple in Hogan’s Heroes and Mission Impossible, but I’ve never seen it in an RPG and I don’t see any reason that I shouldn’t.

I never see a PC with the skills to make latex masks and other such prosthetic disguises. But then, I very seldom see PCs with design, make, and mend skills at all, except when I play them myself. In genre sources Night’s Black Agents has its “wire rat” character type; MacGyver and Burn Notice set popular examples of characters who design and make false documents, field-expedient and improvised secret operator gadgets, rigs to produce practical effects, hiding-places, improvised prisons; and there was nothing wrong with the movie FX: Murder By Illusion. But players very seldom seem to want to play an engineer, mechanic, rigger, set carpenter, practical-effects technician, costume & makeup artist, “cobbler”, or any sort of maker. I don’t know why.

So the “make, set-up, and prepare” sequences that are common in capers and clandestine-ops movies and TV do not in practice appear which I run material like that in RPG. I don’t get the sequences in which the characters acquire kit and materials from e.g. the black market, by stealing it, or by buying it ostensibly for a licit purpose.

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I played a fantasy campaign, where the big end scene was one of the PCs pretended to be a particular princess from a far away place. Of course, no one had actually seen her, just heard the ballads about her victories in battle and the portraits on coins. So no need for latex masks or disguise spells, just some hair dye and a little acting. (The PC was from the country, but was a runaway serf from a rural area, and had never been to the capital city, and a couple blown fasttalk rolls made a few important people suspicious…)

A real problem with ‘make and prepare’ sequences is that they’re hard to make fun for the players not involved, and they’re hard for the GM to prepare for, because you don’t know what the players are going to want to do. I did play a few sessions in a gurps campaign where the PCs were combat engineers in an alternate history WWI setting, which was lots of planning the attack on a fortress. (could we dig into to it, could we get artillery somewhere we could shoot at it, …). they semed to find that as much fun as the combat, but I’ve never seen much else of that.

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I wonder whether some of that divergence is because it’s largely a feature of interactive fiction which still doesn’t have its genre conventions well-established.

By which I mean that in linear fiction you can establish that you will need a roulette wheel stopper in act 2, and then in act 1 you can show Barney putting together something with a magnet and a foot switch. Behind the scenes, we can assume that the team has worked out the plan and decided that’s what they’ll need, but that’s hardly ever shown.

And some players like going that degree of planning, and I think the tech preparation to some extent can be a spin-off of that. But others don’t. And when a plan has been thrashed out, it can be satisfying for it to come off, but again not to all players.

I don’t have an answer for this but I think this may be why that kind of broadly technical role may be unpopular. Another reason: a fighter gets to do things that culturally we find exciting. A social manipulator gets to have conversations with perhaps a bit of dice rolling (for all we always say “it’s the character’s charisma, not the player’s” it’s more fun if the player speaks in character). The technician doesn’t do either of those things but is interacting largely with rules entities.

I do, sometimes. I acquired the taste for it from building magic items in D&D and Ars Magica.

In a space navy game, I deliberately played an engineering junior officer rather than one from the warfare branch. I did this because the interstellar travel mechanism was interesting and different, and wanted to explore it a bit. It also meant that I wasn’t competing so much with the other players.

In the occult WWII game, I bought up Armoury (Small Arms) enough to be able to upgrade small arms and make custom ammunition for them, which was useful.

All of these examples have required player effort and talking to the GM, outside game time. Many players aren’t willing to do that, but I like it.

Hmm, and you’ve been willing to put in a fair bit of effort in learning about what real-world Armoury makes possible, or pushing the boundaries of my conception of how FTL travel works in that setting. (And I’ll add another one, in the occult WWII game, poking at the interactions between radioactive decay and magic.) I come to suspect that, perhaps because it lacks crunchy rules support the way fighting does, technical stuff really requires a lot of player engagement with the subject.

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Like Roger, I think that Investigate and Find have a lot of overlap.

I’m sure I’ve played a system that split Stealth stuff into Sneak (trying not to be seen) and Shadowing (trying to look like an innocent member of the public whilst following/spying on someone). I’m pretty sure we mostly use Acting and/or Convince and/or Fast Talk for the “Yes, I’m from the gas board and have come to inspect the boiler” moments. Depends on the system an how granular it is. Does it just have “Persuade” to cover all eventualities? Or does it split it into Bluff, Deceive, Fast Talk, etc.

That saying, most of said skills are ones which imply interaction with an NPCs. I can’t think of one which really covers those ‘carrying a clipboard and striding about confidently, as if you belong there’ moments.


:ninja: I have actually done this as part of a pentest. It is stunningly easy if people aren’t alert, and if their full-time job is letting people through they aren’t alert.

(So the Admiral Rickover story. Some time in the 1970s. he starts walking up the gangway of a nuclear attack boat; he regards them all as his personal property, after all.

Sentry: “Halt and show me your ID.”
Rickover: [doesn’t halt]
Sentry: “Halt and show me your ID NOW!”
Rickover: “Do you know who I am, son?”
Sentry: “Yes sir, you’re Admiral Rickover sir, and you’re going to be the deadest goddamn admiral in the US Navy unless you halt and show me your ID SIR!”



On technical characters and making latex masks etc…

My Dark Heresy character had a psi power which meant I could “bio-sculpt” the appearance of myself or other PCs for disguise purposes. I never used it, because (a) the chances of succeeding the roll were so small and (b) the benefits once success was achieved were so marginal… that it didn’t seem worth it.

On “make and prepare” sequences in general… the unpopularity of those characters is probably because - unless your system has a flashback mechanic, like Leverage does - once the dice rolls for the Preparation & Training Montage have been done, then your character has nothing else to do for the rest of the game. Which might mean sitting around looking bored for 2 hours while other people sneak about like ninjas or blow shit up.

I played an engineer in d20 Star Wars once. Never again. In starship combat, the pilot got to make decisions and do cool stuff. The gunners got to make decisions and do cool stuff. But me? Every round of a looooooong combat it played out liked this:
GM: Do you want to reinforce the shields?
Me: Yes.
GM: Roll engineering.
Me: I succeed. We get [1d4] shield points back.

It was tedious beyond belief. Eventually one round, when the GM asked “Do you want to reinforce the shields?”, I said “No”, just for a bit of variety. The look of shock on his face was priceless. He genuinely thought I would be having fun making the same roll for the same trivial effect again and again and again. He genuinely thought that me failing 1 engineering roll in 5 or only getting 1 on a d4 would be nail-bitingly tense for me. In reality it was pointless make-work.

Playing a Rigger in Shadowrun was much better fun. I had drones that I could fly around to take part in exploration and combat bits of the plot.


I think the issue with this is down to RPG systems in general. Obviously I am not familiar with all rulesets and systems, but all I have played use some form of skills system (barring old D&D, but now they have Proficiencies, so they evolved) where players have to allocate dice/points/pips/etc among all their various skill choices to make their character. Over time they get more points, which can be used to master their already chosen specializations, or become more jack-of-all-trades types.

Characters in shows and movies do not need to worry about this. They typically begin the series well versed in all manner of things, and their tricks always work unless it is more dramatic for them to fail.

Take Michael Westen from Burn Notice. It has been years since I have watched any of it, but I remember him being proficient in Guns, Hand-to-Hand combat, Demolitions, Forgery, Acting or Bluff, Intimidation, Stealth, Lock picking and Electronic Security (maybe Infiltration would be better for this?). Maybe Drive as well. Certainly Athletics. He also had a number of Contacts, which would be a skill in some systems. And he was highly skilled in most if not all of these! A PC cannot compare with that!

Or let’s take MacGyver. Again, going by my memory of episodes. Obviously lots of points in Science, Engineering, or maybe all that just gets lumped into Education. Enough that he could likely teach these subjects professionally. Then something in Craft, unless that falls under Engineering, for making all the random things he does. He definitely exhibited outdoor Survival and Mountaineering. He has Infiltration and Stealth. Minor amount of Hand-to-Hand combat, as he occasionally engages in fisticuffs but is not great at it. And I feel like I am missing some. Maybe Lockpicking and Security? Can’t remember all the episodes. Still well over what the average PC can cover with skill points.

So you either get PC’s who have a little bit of everything, meaning they have higher risks of failing difficult skill checks, or ones who specialize in a couple of things and be above average in a few others, with little chance of success in untrained skills.

Circling back to the lack of “maker” characters, In think it’s because a focus in those kinds of skills leaves the character less likely to be able to perform other tasks that players expect their character to encounter. As such, they think they will be relegated to the person who is back at base making nifty things for other characters to use in the field. Or end up being the “man in the chair” support. Some people may get into such a role, but I think most players want a more active role in events.

An exception to this is sessions where the PC’s can prepare the environment. Luring a target into an area where they can be captured. Bad guys are coming to take back something the PC’s stole, so they have a bit of time to fortify. Things like that. This is often where we see the heroes in television shows break out their ingenuity and set up traps, decoys, pitfalls, etc., and where a maker type character can really shine. But that requires sessions that lead to those circumstances.

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Is it a conservation of ninjutsu thing? Single lead character, has all the skills. Five leads, they split up the skills between them so that there’s someone who’s a specialist in X, someone else in Y, etc.

I’ve had some fun messing with that: only sneaky crawly person can get through the air duct, but at the other end they have an engineer job to do, so engineer has to try to talk them through it. That can be effectively dramatic.

Something like Leverage is probably a good model here. Everyone has basic level competence at everything, but only one has really good level competence at any one thing, and many of the logistical constraints are setting things up so that that person can be the one in place to do their thing.

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In my defence, I was young and stupid(er)… but back in the 1990s I remember looking at a distance penalty table and working out that my rigger character could stay in his solar-powered plane at very high altitude above a completely different city and still run drones effectively.


And finally, with my GM hat on… players with a technical mindset who habitually play technical characters can sometimes be an infernal pain in the backside. Because they want technical answers which are accurate to the nth decimal place about:

  1. Things which they know are non-technical, like magic.
    PC: I go to the Physics Department and scan the bag of holding in the MRI scanner. What do I see?
    GM: How the fek should I know? The scenario writers never anticipated that!

  2. Things which the GM - or sometimes the player themselves - has just made up on the fly.
    PC: Can I reboot the old, derelict computer and find a circuit diagram of the complex?
    GM: Oooh, that’s a neat idea. Yes you find a circuit diagram. So you can have +1 to any future skill rolls where you could legitimately use the circuit diagram.
    PC: Tell me exactly how the security system for levels 4 thru 9 are wired on the circuit diagram! I need to know precise and exacting details before I make any more decisions!
    GM: What the fek?!? YOU invented that circuit diagram. How the hell do I know what’s on it!

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I’ll admit it, I love improvising this stuff. (See comments above, and there’s a post somewhere where I managed to work out how to turn a bag of holding into a perpetual motion machine.)

My answer to part 2 might well be “here’s a pen and some paper, and I’ll have to sign off on these before they enter canon”.

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I’ve played two systems which tried to give everyone something to do - the old Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat Simulator, and the one in GURPS Spaceships which you’ve played in Wives and Sweethearts. In both cases they tried to have engineering decisions that mattered on a tactical timescale; I’m not convinced they completely succeeded. (Gunners similarly tend to be “here’s your target, roll to hit”.)