This system codifies a phenomenon commonplace in most long-term campaigns: the friendly bartender, gruff weaponsmith, or absent-minded sage who points the PCs in the right direction, passes along important clues, or offers unusual skills and knowledge.
The PCs have one or more unnamed contacts marked on their character sheets for later use. A player can define a contact for her character at any point during the game, giving the PC access to a friendly NPC. This variant is particularly appropriate in campaigns that feature mysteries, intrigue, and lots of character interaction. It’s especially effective in the hands of a GM who doesn’t mind improvising new NPCs on the spur of the moment.
For example, when a character needs an inscription translated from the Lorumese language, an invitation to the Lord’s Pageant, or the services of a master in Craft (gemcutting), the player tells the GM that he wants to define one of his character’s contacts for the purpose. Then the GM describes how the contact came about, from the character’s point of view: “You buy your lute strings from Kinard Warshaw, who is the husband of a Lorumese woman, Teryeth. She remembers you as one of the musicians who performed at their wedding feast, and is happy to do you a favor.” In game terms, Teryeth has a friendly attitude toward the PC that continues unless the character does something to change the relationship. She is willing to translate the inscription, and she may perform a similar service on other occasions as time goes on. The player notes on the character sheet that one of his character’s contacts has been defined as Teryeth Warshaw, a speaker and writer of the Lorumese language.
Player characters gain contacts by selecting the Connected feat; when a PC obtains a new potential contact, she must select what type of contact it is (information, influence, or skill), but doesn’t define it further until it’s needed.
NPCs And Contacts
While all defined contacts are friendly NPCs, that does not mean that all friendly NPCs are defined contacts. The contact variant is intended to supplement, not replace, other social interactions with noncombatant NPCs. It gives a player a chance to insert a minor character into the ongoing drama.
Defined contacts should be among the campaign’s most stable characters. Unless the characters are completely obtuse or have remarkable misfortune, the minor characters they define as contacts aren’t going anywhere. They’re generally available wherever they happen to live, and they usually have the time and inclination to help their friend the PC. Major NPC characters—those defined entirely by the GM—are off limits as contacts. A player can’t just say, “I want to define the queen as a contact.”
A contact won’t risk life or livelihood on the PC’s say-so, but a contact makes some sacrifices for a friend. For example, a contact will burn the midnight oil translating an ancient text or sneak the key to the pantry out of the castle (as long as it’s back by morning).
There’s an inverse relationship between the contact’s importance in the ongoing campaign and the amount of help she can provide. In other words, if you choose the mayor as your contact, sometimes he’s too busy to see you at a moment’s notice, but he’s very helpful when you get an audience. Beppo the cobbler, on the other hand, practically lives in his shop on Water Street — making him available day or night, but the ways in which he can aid you are more limited.
Types Of Contacts
Contacts come in three varieties; information contacts, influence contacts, and skill contacts.
Information contacts are useful for what they know. They’re the ones who hear all the rumors—and they can discern which ones are true. Some just have an uncanny sense of what’s going on in their neighborhood or town, such as the grumpy bartender, the talkative fruit merchant, and the watch captain who has seen it all. Other information contacts have more focused interests, such as the army sergeant who knows all about troop movements, the fence who is privy to every major theft in the city, or the scribe assigned to write down every utterance of the high cleric-prophets.
An information contact is generally a commoner or an expert with one-third the class levels of his PC friend. It’s okay to give such a character a few levels in another class such as wizard, rogue, or fighter if it’s reasonable for someone in the contact’s position to have this experience. Most information contacts spend their skill points on interaction skills such as Diplomacy, Gather Information, and Sense Motive.
Influence contacts are useful because of who they know or who they are associated with. While a player can’t define the queen as his character’s contact, he can define one of her chambermaids as a contact. The maid doesn’t have a broad store of information, and she doesn’t have any skills the PCs might need. But she might be able to put in a good word with the queen, and she can certainly make introductions between the PC and the rest of the queen’s domestic staff. The purpose of an influence contact is to enable and smooth talks with more important, but less friendly, NPCs.
An influence contact has one-quarter the class levels of his PC friend, almost always in an NPC class (adept, aristocrat, commoner, expert, or warrior) unless the character is in an environment such as a wizard’s academy where almost everyone has specific class levels.
Skill contacts are useful for what they do. Some skills—especially categories of Craft, Profession, and Knowledge—are rarely possessed by PCs. Skill contacts have those skills in abundance, so they’re useful when characters need a smith to repair a lance, an honest broker to appraise a giant pearl, or a herald who can identify the helmed knight displaying a two-headed wyvern on her standard. A special category of the skill contact is the linguist, who can tell you what “Bree-Yark!” means in Goblin.
A skill contact is generally an expert with half as many levels as his PC friend. He has maximum ranks in the skill he is best at, and his highest ability score is in the key ability for the skill in question. A skill contact always has the Skill Focus feat related to his field of specialty.