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The Empty (or...storytelling really smart NPC's)

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  • The Empty (or...storytelling really smart NPC's)

    In the 2nd Edition Werewolf core book there is an Idigam named Sag'Suga Isim (aka the Endless Hunger), who has the power to create claimed minions called the Empty. These are generally claimed that have been infused with his power and have really high stats in Intelligence. Maybe not much of a challenge physically against werewolves but really smart.

    Recently I just finished watching Watchmen on HBO and it occurred to me that the Empty are not just smart but REALLY smart. Their stat line is Intelligence 9, Wits 10, and Resolve 12. It occurred to me that these things would be more like Adrian Veldt smart since Intelligence 9 would be off the charts of superhuman intelligence . They might actually be more of a danger than if Sag'Suga Isim just pumped the extra points into physical traits because, a strong claimed can just be jumped upon by a pack of wolves, but a super mastermind claimed has probably not only anticipated what the Uratha are going to do, but have probably created a master plan which involves the Uratha being destroyed, kind of like a genius chess player who can plan 40 moves ahead.

    So, my mental picture of these guys are sitting around a table with Jeremy Irons accents planning something so fiendishly brilliant and cunning that the Uratha have already lost, they just don't know it yet. One day they are going to fall into a trap filled with silver or have their friends turn on them and probably have no idea who was behind it all.

    Then comes the classic dilemma of, how do you portray a super genius? I imagine the average gamer probably is more intelligent than the average person and probably has intelligence 3 (though some people might say I am being generous). This I think was an issue in Aberrant where some characters had superhuman intelligence, but the game master or PC only has average intelligence and so cannot realistically come up with a super plan on their own. One possible solution is to have something extraordinary happen, then backtrack and say that it was part of the plan all along.

    In addition, what sort of plots can these guys come up with. I am sure that at that level of genius, money, silver, people, and resources are no object. Starting companies that hit the S&P 500 would be routine. Owning Silver mines, bribing politicians, influencing foreign policy, all would be child's play to these guys. They might even invent something like a portal that is a permanent gateway to the Hisil if you want to get really creative.

  • #2
    Sometimes a big number on the sheet means something ominous and transformative. A Thousand Years of Night for Vampire, and Imperial Mysteries for Mage, present characters who in their age and experience transcend the limits of humanity. These characters exist in a more exaggerated genre; their aptitude is weighty and sets them apart. Both books provide optional mechanics to represent ways in which these characters' transhuman Attributes manifest in the story beyond simply being buckets of dice and larger numbers, and if you're interested in running an antagonist with this kind of genius, they're not a bad spot to steal from.

    Sometimes a big number on the sheet does not mean something ominous and transformative. Sometimes it's just buckets of dice and larger numbers. Not every NPC written up for the Chronicles of Darkness with Attribute ratings beyond 5 is actually meant for a genre context where their mastery is impossible and elemental. Many spirits especially just use higher numbers because they're balanced differently from humanlike characters in the system, with larger numbers but fewer fiddly systems to exploit and capitalize on.

    Eyeball it. Does this antagonist make more sense with Sherlock Holmes, Death Note, Ozymandias levels of cunning and insight and fallbacks? Or are they just more likely to be successful at the actions they take that use that particular Attribute? From a strict mechanical rules sense, without the above optional systems for transhuman Attributes, the difference between Intelligence 5 and Intelligence 7 and the impact it has on play is rather small.

    If you do like an antagonist with that kind of deviousness, I do like the Imperial Mysteries rules. They're simple and versatile, and don't require you, the Storyteller, to be as intelligent as the fictional character you're portraying.

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    • #3
      While this is old advice and there's a lot more new stuff you could use, traditionally the go-to for super intelligence was using meta knowledge. They don't need to lurk and eavesdrop on your Pack for weeks to really know what Gifts and Renown you have (they are after all worn on your sleeve, so to speak) and how to counter it.

      But more recently there's been a lot of powers and games that play off of the 'I knew that was going to happen' like the Cahalith auspice ability which lets you have had a dream about a moment that's happening, giving you a bonus to it. And Demon is full of them, using meta-abilities that are justified through their quantum existence (you can't be sure I didn't put a gun in there, so I put a gun in there). You could flat out have it be predictive there, while also justifying powerful counters.

      I imagine one of the issues that can come from that would be if the intelligent character keeps pulling out increasingly bigger sticks where does it end.

      Acrozatarim posed a good example of a werewolf hunter that acted smartly. It's not a matter of someone who snipes werewolves but works through layers, encouraging an increasing of crime in a territory until werewolves and their extended pack members are identified, then targeting them through incidents that are common enough to not be too suspicious, since once a werewolf starts tugging at strings they can follow the lead back to the mastermind (though even then, she works in a very mastermind fashion, as she isn't someone who could be easily identified by any of the perpetrators).

      The Empty, not being as limited to the human realm as a regular human, would be able to extend those manipulations to the spirit world. Which is where you can double down on the influence of powers that be. It's not just a matter of, say, the police department sending extra men to patrol the area, as spirits being moved to target loci, upset carefully made in (or just nearby) the territory, which can have a cascade effect (spirits lacking a locus next door can come to your territory, causing conflict, keeping werewolves busy and off balance as they deal with hit after hit).

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      • #4
        This could be quite fun to run. It would take a bit of finesse. I haven't had to run this, but if I were in your situation this is how I would handle it...

        First - think about the end game, how your players might defeat your intelligent NPC. There are several ways to handle a super-intelligent opponent:
        • The Cyberiad solution: work on their underlings so that they don't trust the super-intelligent boss to be acting in their best interests. The boss is only as effective as his henchpeople and if they don't follow his instructions then he's hamstrung.
        • Too many variables: the mastermind can in time react to your every move, so don't give her time. Bring in extraneous threats, set fire to their equipment and send 100 pizzas to their lair.
        • Niven's Protector Solution: The super-intelligent opponent can predict your every strategy, so go random: they can't predict your moves if you are guided by a 100 sided die.
        • The McGuffin Solution: They will always be prepared for whatever weapon and forces you bring to bear. So you have to obtain the Quantum Tome of The Pharaoh, which will obscure all of your existence/provide random weapons and allies/change the value of Planck's Constant/grant you absurd luck.
        • The Daredevil: Born Again Solution: A clever opponent might make it very clear to a hero that if they attack, then they will lose all that they hold dear. That hero may choose to lose it all anyway. "A man with nothing to lose has nothing to fear."
        Once you have drafted a few possible solutions, you then have to persuade your players that (1) their opponent is so vastly clever that the players can't rely upon their usual ways of attack and (2) you're not just being an effing jerk about it. I'd have the villain to play be the rules of the Leverage game system where they can second guess all the actions of the players and the players end up hurting themselves or the ones they love. Then some character must explain to the players what they are up against, so that they hit upon a strategy that takes into account the villain's talents. In fact the character who explains this may be the villain herself - that would make for a dramatic scene.

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