Contacts Module: Got a long time to homebrew.

I'm not going to pretend that a Contacts Module is a high priority for D&D Next. I highly doubt that it would be released within the first year of D&D Next's release. And I don't want Mr. Mearls and his team wasting time and book space on something many groups wont touch. So I'm gonna have to make it and I have a long time to adjust my past Contact Houserules to fit DDN.

What is a Contact Module? Simply it allows Player Character to recruit and enlist minor NPCs within the setting to aid them in their travels via friendship, diplomacy, rivalry, fraternity, and family instead of coin. It existed in the 3.5 Unearth Arcana, I loved it, and modified it to my own ends.

D&D Next uses new math and assumptions.

So the first thing that must be done is remove the current progressions. DDN allows characters to have any background regardless of the class. Should everyone have equal number of contacts.

The second is to decide whether to make it Ability (Charisma) Dependent or Independent.

And the third is to define the types of Contacts. I expanded the rule to 5.
Infromation Contacts (You need them for what they know)
Influence Contancts (You need them for who they know)
Skill Contacts (You need them for what they can do)
Craft Contants (You need them for what they can make)
Location Contacts (You need them for where they can get you)

Does anyone have any ideas on how I should approach this for my next playtest session?

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I do not understand the UA rules on contacts, but it appears to be a natural progression to base contacts on background, race or class. You could probably add specialties as well. The question is how to determine pre-requisites based on the above, or just keep contact selection as an independent feature. However, that may be a lossed opportunity, as contact selection adds more weight to a feature like backgrounds, since it makes the choice to optimize the character based on a skill or trait harder because there are additional considerations that come into play.
Are you going for a 'everyone is more or less equal' (more modern approach) or a 'ability scores matter and players are not expected to be equal' (more old school approach).

If the former - I would make the number of contacts the same for everyone - but the social status and influence of the contacts would depend upon their background (a commoner would have very different contacts than a noble).  If the latter - I would make it dependant upon the charisma of the character as well as the background - more charismatic characters would have more contacts.

A hybrid of the two would be to give all characters the same number of contacts.  But to have the relationship (how much help the contact is willing to give, etc.) be based on charisma.

Alternately, one thought that comes to mind is something similar to how some games have worked:  You have a certain number of points to spend on contacts and the player can choose whether to spread them thinly (a large number of loose/ weak contact - they know a lot of people but those people aren't particularly beholden to them) or concentrate them into a smaller number of contacts but put more points into those contacts (you only know a few influential people but they are more likely to be helpful when you need them).  This number might be based on Charisma or it might not be...



Other random thoughts: 

Although the contacts ought to be influenced by the social class of the background - I like randomness, I like tables and I like unexpected outcomes.  There should always be a chance for the lowliest commoner to have influence with someone in the highest of circles.  Perhaps a small chance - but a chance.  Especially since adventurers are known for crossing social divides.

One 'issue' I see is that there tends to be two types of players:  Players who want the DM to tell them who their contact is and players who want to detail their contact on their own and define the relationship to fit their own character.  Are you going to try to handle both approaches or are you inclined more towards one or the other.

As I mentioned I like random tables and the like.  Even when creating my own PC (I find that after nearly forty years of play I kinda like the exercise of taking several disparate elements and explaining how those came together to create 'the character' rather than building the character out of whole cloth).  Rolling a few times in the Ultimate Toolbox (Alderac) is a good way to seed creativity.  I also like the traveller character creation system, especially the Mongoose version which generate contacts and rivals/ enemies.  I think a system that generated some rough contact information would be fun - but would be even more fun if your charisma modified the roll and there was a chance that you rolled low enough (more likely with a low charisma) that instead of a useful contact you ended up with a rival or enemy. 

Finally - one difficulty I see is that players in D&D often tend to move around and thus their starting contacts may not be useful later in their careers.   Are you going to leave the creation of new contacts entirely in the hands of roleplay (people they actually meet during their careers) or will their be more abstracted systems to handle the creation of new contacts 'off-camera' to replace the contacts that they outgrow (The lord of the local keep is a powerful contact early in the player's career - but once they have moved on to larger cities or even extra planar locations, the mayor of Podunktown really doesn't matter).  Alternately - can anything be done to grow the contact itself?  Maybe the lord gets 'promoted' and ends up ruling a Barony.  Maybe the local blacksmith becomes famous and ends up working for the Emperor himself giving the players a contact within his court, etc.  Just because they are NPCs their lives don't have to remains static while the PCs go on to bigger and better things.

Regardless - I think that this is something that sounds interesting.

Carl
Carl pretty much said everything that I would have.

There is already some contact framework examples in the current material, under Backgrounds and Specialties. You could build on those examples.
Does anyone have any ideas on how I should approach this for my next playtest session?


What are you trying to model?

Is this rule supposed to model PCs expending effort during "downtime" to gain access to new contacts, that you just don't want to roleplay out during a session because it would give the other players nothign to do?

Is this rule a minigame of resource management, where the players are supposed to decide how much political favor will be spent aiding their contacts that could be used to advance their  adventuring career?

Is this a reward system?  I.e., this is one of the things that PCs spend their gold on because they can't buy magic items anymore?
Well my idea to make Ability matter while making every PC similar was to give Contacts levels. The sum of the levels of the contacts cannot exceed the some combination of the PC's level and Charisma score or modifier.

So high Charisma PCs would have a leg up but not much.

As for optimization, this is my preliminary thoughts on the contacts.

An Information contact would have Charisma 15 and be trained in Persuade, Bluff, Intimidate, Gather Rumors, or Sense Motive.

Influence Contacts would give you advantage when interacting with a certain group or person.

Skill Contacts would have 14 in the relevant ability score and be trained in any skill.

Craft contacts can produce a certain item or items once per month for free of a list.

Location Contacts can get you to a certain restricted or unsafe location once per month/week/day (depending on level).

Grabbing my cousin's noble from 4E, he has (Level(5) + CHA score(12)):

Lady Trollop-Ex Girlfriend (level 7 Information): Charisma 17+ Diplomacy
Jack the Spider (Skill 5): Dex 15+Stealth
Ser Cammile-Childhood Rival (Influence 5): Charisma 15+Reroll Check against Lord Cammile

Now I have to see how I would convert that to DDN.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Wrecan: It is a minigame resource element used to benefit their adventuring careers. You can send a contact to get you into a party or steal an item when the party thief is unavailable or roll a Knowledge check if you roll bad or help the party in diplomacy.

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In many ways, I would treat contacts similar to skills. Contacts are another PC resource, but but I wouldn't necessarily assume everyone would have the same number (like skills). The nature of contacts, IMO, makes the relevant (if any) ability very fluid. Let everyone begin with X contacts based on background (and backstory, as applicable). If you want to see if a particular contact can help you, then make a "skill check" based on the contact bonus. Allow players to invest in contacts just like skills. I might even go so far as to allow PCs to pick a contact instead of a skill training at creation. This would work particularly well for rogues, since there are many archetypes are much more social in nature, and what the rogue brings to the table is more who (s)he knows than any particular personal skill. It really depends on the nature of the campaign, but I like the concept very much.

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Wrecan: It is a minigame resource element used to benefit their adventuring careers.


Okay.  Sounds good.  What's the resource they spend to get contacts?  Level plus charisma?

In a game with bounded accuracy, it really doesn't matter what level yor contact is -- and your contact probably needs no levels at all.  Since the contact doesn't adventure, all that matters is her Abilities and Skills.

So Iguess the way to accomplish this is to give players a number of points equal to their level + Charisma and then assign a contact a number of points based on their value to the PC.

Each PC would, presumably have a d6 skill die, and a variety of skills available.  I might not even bother with the traditional skills like Gather Information and the like.  Just divide your city into various castes.  An NPC would have areas of Information and Influence in each caste.

The castes might be: Nobility, Church (even separate areas for separate churches depending on your campaign), Craftsmen, Academia, Underworld, Laborers, Nobility.  To get information or influence, the Contact would get a Contact die of 1d6 through 1d12 representing how informed and/or influential they are. You can even have separate dice for people who are well-informed but not influential -- like a minor clerk who reads all the Duke's mail -- of a contact who is influential but ill-informed -- like a powerful Duke who lets underlings handle the details but expects his orders to be implemented. When the PC asks for information or influence, determine a DC and roll a check equal to d20+3+contact die.  (Assume the NPC has a +3 ability modifier bonus to the check.)  As the PC levels, he may, instead of buying a new contact, use his own powers to improve the contact's station, thus improving the contact's skill die.

And for craftsmen, figure out what craft suppliers the PCs might cultivate: weapons, armor, minor items, gear, components, lore (in various areas) and rate them from with a d6-d10 craft die.  When the PC wants something, give it a DC and roll d20+3+craft die. The PC should probably pay for materials and have a limit of how much they can reasonably expect the craftsman to sacrifice.

I'd say any given contact is a number of points equal to half the sum of the highest faces of their contact/craft dice.  So a Duke with a d12 infleunce and a d8 information would be wirth 10 points.  Meanwhile, his d6 info no influence clerk is only 3 points, except if he is also a master jeweler (d10) on the side, his cost as a contact goes up to 8 points.

I'm not sure I understand the difference between a location contact and an inflential contact.
I like the idea of assigning each Background a 'price tag' and then giving each PC an amount of 'purchase points' equal to their CHA, WIS, and INT scores.  Then let them just buy some extra backgrounds as contacts and spend a littel more for straight + modifiers.

Contact games have the tendency to start offshoot adventures so I tend to roll random NPCs and let the players control them.

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Well in my setting, travel out of the areas guarded by the closest nation's military forts is dangerous between the pirates, savages, and monsters. Location contacts can get you from point A to Point B without a mess of random encounters.

Also they let you specific areas where a generic contacts wouldn't have the direct power to get the PCs into. An influential contact would still require a roll due to their versatility.

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I like the hero games rules for contacts, I'll find them and post them later. I think the flaw in the system your proposing has to do with the character your presented.

Thundrux the barbarian is from a far away clan and just arrived in the city.

elordrananian the bard/sorcerer/noble who's family has lived in the city since founding, has written a 20+ page character history with a complete list of his 22 family members arcross elf and human lines (many are retired adventurers themselves), all their carrieers, his 20 friends and teachers at the mages college, his noble family ties, theives guild accomplices, bardic instructors and performers, and the various contacts he has at every tavern or performing hall across the city.

these two simply could not be equal in their ability to gather info and help from the people they know. I prefer a system that has an investment of some kind. use a contact as mythrus suggested (a skill) or get a "well connected" trait (maybe the ability to make a difficult unskilled check even if the contact has no ranks) or a series of feats (well connected, incredible connections,) etc.  

bottom line is one single contact may have wealth to be tapped, an incredible set of skills or abilities that could be highly useful, influence among a powerful group or groups, etc. and I do think there should be some kind of cost for characters who excell at having connections like that.  
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@Baalbamoth

The idea is that Contacts are not supposed to be Major figures in the setting (No "I know a guy. The king."). Also they are supposed to be a few people the PC is personally close to and are willing to do free favors for (No, I am Rob Stark, level 3 fighter. Here are my 300 bannermen and contacts). The player would have to choose or the DM would have to allow a trade somewhere or have a group contact.

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THe 'barbarian just arrived in town' versus 'my family has lived here for the past seven generations' problem is one you will have to solve.


Unless it is your goal to force players to come from the local setting (and I find that goal questionable) - how are you going to balance the system so that a character with a nomadic backstory who may be new in town would be on a level playing field with a character who grew up in the town?


Carl
That is why I was leaning to contact levels, PC level, and ability score. So the Barbarian might have 1 powerful contact whereas the noble has 10 weak contacts.

Balancing it will be hell though with a new system.

Also maybe the contact system wouldn't assume every contact is in walking distance. So a barbarian could have all his contacts back at his village or just keep contacts open and collect them later like items as he has no relationships to maintain.

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I think this sounds like a module which would replace Backgrounds (since BGs do cover contacts).
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I could appreciate some randomness in the system as well, and tables if done right are a great tool.
I really like contacts systems, and have used an informal one for a long time. In my experience, the "Barbarian who just arrived in town and knows nobody" problem isn't really that huge; most people are okay with having far away contacts, and in general I don't think it hurts to encourage people to think of people to potentially write into their backstory. It's very rare that it's super important to a player that the character literally has absolutely nobody. In my experience, it's okay to play a little fast and loose with contact "tightness" anyway. Maybe realistically the guy you ended up sharing a room with at the boarding house for a week and happens to be the only guy in town that you know isn't as valuable a contact as the entire Theoretical Thaumaturgy department at the arcane university, but once the game actually starts, those kind of things don't really matter.

Even if someone was absoultely adamant that their character knows nobody whatsoever (but is still the type of person who can function as part of an adventuring party, I guess), that's not a huge deal. Contacts, as fully independant NPCs, feel a little bit like a party resource anyway in most circumstances, so if someone wants to forego having NPC contacts, that's fine.

There are other TTRPG systems that attempt to really dig down into the relative value of contacts, mashing their relative power, numerousity, willingness to help and availability to help into formulae that spit out a cost number, and I don't think that's very helpful for an adventure fantasy game like most D&D game. (In a modern investigative setting or something, where Who You Know is a relatively larger deal, it feels more worth it.) Maybe other people have had trouble with characters having uneven distributions of contacts, but I haven't. It is absolutely the case that some people are more eager to call on contacts than other people. It's just a continuum differene people lie upon. Sometimes someone will have a jillion loyal and eager and powerful contacts and rarely think to bother to bother them, while other times someone will be constantly suggesting the party asks Shemp the Bookie, My Only Contact if he knows anything.  Most (essentially all) actual humans have a pretty good sense about what's too far in terms of calling up your contacts to help with things. It's theoretically an issue, but not one I've ever run into.
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I could appreciate some randomness in the system as well, and tables if done right are a great tool.




Well if Next comes with a random character table that combines class/race/background, perhaps it can be used for random backgrounds. Roll a 7,1,6 and now your PC has an Information PC who is a knight with 15 Cha.

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Even if someone was absoultely adamant that their character knows nobody whatsoever (but is still the type of person who can function as part of an adventuring party, I guess), that's not a huge deal. Contacts, as fully independant NPCs, feel a little bit like a party resource anyway in most circumstances, so if someone wants to forego having NPC contacts, that's fine.



That is true. Contacts is more of a group resouce like potions. Having the contact on your sheet just lets you make the roll and make the yes/no choice.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Contacts could come in different qualities, initially restricted by level, with the DM able to waive some of those restrictions as needed based on RP resolutions. It sounds like contacts should always be non-plot-centric NPCs, and could be given out as "quest rewards". A merchant might be able to help you fence some goods, or the local tough might give you info on a rival gang in the area. Perhaps the captain of the guard will overlook some questionable acivity if it is in the towns best interest, etc. Lots of plot-device resources here, as well as minor boons.

What I like about the entire idea is that contacts tie the character deeper into the game world. Perhaps you have contacts that are out of the local area, that doesn't mean you can't contact them (most campaigns would have couriers available). The challenge for myself (and others, I am sure) is actuall thinking of good contact concepts that both fit the character concept, and aren't blatently too good. This is where a nice long list of appropriate contacts based on level would serve well.

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@ Lesp& Orzel- heck no its not a party resource, who's fencing the loot has always been an issue in D&D especially if magic items are very rare.


The players ability to tap a good contact can make all the difference in a game, how likely is the church to believe the lev 1 cleric that a unspeakable invisible evil is about to decend upon the city? what resources would the church provide? who else might the high priest contact to prepare for this evil and to what level? sure a lot of this is on-the-fly Dm-ing but I would like to see a scale or some sample difficulty ranks to help resolve issues like this without fiat.


also, contacts represent roleplaying and xp benifits, typically the rogue does not bring the whole party (complete with paladins, etc) to the seedy bar the theives guild hangs out in. I tend to reward characters with xp when they get inventive without a die roll... IE figure out a way around a huge trap or very difficult encounter in a way nobody else thought of? bonus xp, find a way to blackmail a high ranking member of the merchant's association to get some writ or right? bonus xp, use a contact to find out the major weakness of the BBEG the party will soon face... bonus xp. sit around in the tavern with your thum securely planted while the other characters are running around the city roleplaying and tapping contacts for info or aid... no bonus xp.  

so yeah I dont think all character backgrounds are equal, not all contacts are equal, and contacts can mean a significant xp and roleplaying benifit that there should be some cost for (if the PC has a large advantage over other characters)

"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Gygax
I wasn't equating Contacts to Rewards. To me, the base system should treat Contracts like limited equipment tied to characters. Then if the DM wants to treat them as rewards then it is their choice. But contacts would be more like nonadventurer companions with no upkeep.

It would be like magic items and attunement. A DM can ignore attunement caps and allow Christmas tree PCs if they want but the base system uses a limit of some sort.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

I've never played with attunement so I dont know how that functions or caps or whatever, but I do think some characters like having more equiptment than other characters and are willing to pay for it.

If all characters are equal under the contact system regardless of background, class, etc and there are no options for PCs to pay (in points, feats, gold  or whatever) to have better or more numberous contacts, and no way for a character to recieve a reward for having no contacts or back out of the contact system (from a far away land, primitive tribe, racial outsider aka goblin/drow etc) then I dont think I'd support a contact system like that and wouldent use it in my game.  
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The Contacts module should be able to handle both Contacts as Resources and Contacts as Rewards, both in equal and unequal varieties. That should be simple.

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