Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This Man is an Impersonator

Here is the more-polished half of my current notes for the assassin skill, Impersonation. I have had a good burst of assassin-related ideas recently.


Impersonation is pretending to be someone you are not, whether subtly (through your speech and your motions) or overtly (through your appearance and your skills).

Core Ideas

The further removed you are from the target, the harder it is to impersonate them.

The further removed an observer is from the target, the more likely they are to take your disguised self as genuine.

If you spend time in proximity to an observer who is suspicious of you, they will periodically make checks to see if they become more suspicious of you. If they fail these checks, their suspicion will lessen, and the periods between checks will grow greater, until eventually they are no longer suspicious.

On the other hand, if someone doesn’t see through you right away, they’re not going to get another chance if you don’t stick around. Move fast, assassin.

Physically disguising the body is only one portion of impersonation. Depending on the scenario, one must also take care to disguise one’s voice, odor, or, most importantly, mannerisms. Here, “mannerisms” is considered to encompass all factors of a person’s personality, even those which are not explicitly described during the course of the game.

The next section discusses those factors which influence the accurate acquisition of a person’s mannerisms.

The amount of time the character spends acquiring target mannerisms, as well as the character’s level of skill in impersonation and the exact talents of impersonation which they have acquired, will determine whether they are able to imitate specific persons or not (the difference between imitating “Jergen the alcoholic, down-on-his-luck timber merchant” and “a timber merchant.”)

Disguising as a specific person will require the assassin to spend more time observing said person.

Factors Related to Acquisition of Mannerisms

Time Spent Observing

One dimension is how long you have observed a person, or a type of person, in order to imitate their characteristics. [What counts as “observing” a person is yet to be detailed.]
  • have never observed them
  • have observed them for less than a month
  • have observed them for 1-6 months
  • have observed them for 7-12 months
  • have observed them 1-3 years
  • have observed them 5 or more years ## How Close You Are to the Person
  • have never been in contact with this person
  • are from the same area, but at best have met them briefly or just seen them around
  • as above, but you are in the same profession or have spent time casually with them
  • have spent time with them to conduct professional or official business
  • have studied, worked, or fought alongside them
  • have done them a non-trivial favor
  • are friends with this person
  • as above, and have been friends for at least 1/4 of your life
  • are in or have been in a romantic relationship with this person
  • grew up as part of this person’s family
Additional factors are social class and cultural background.
  • are/are not in the same social class as this person
  • are/are not from the same or similar cultures

How Close the Observer Is to Who You Are Impersonating

We could use exactly the same factors as detailed above in the section “How Close You Are…”, or we could use the following condensed list. (Heck, we could replace the list above with the below one. Whatever floats your game-boat.)

When compared to the target, the observer:
  • is from the same area but a radically different social class, or is from an area distant enough so as to not know them (the exact distance varies based on geography: two mountain villages might only be five miles apart, but their residents mostly wouldn’t know each other.)
  • is from the same area
  • is from the same area, and might be an acquaintance (moves in the same specific social circles or has the same profession)
  • is a coworker, compatriot, or neighbor
  • is a family member or lover

Players Paying Attention

Player observational skills are not obviated by the presence of the character’s impersonation talents which deal in counter-recognition of disguised or concealed enemies.

Disguising yourself as bandits coming back from a hunt in order to get into their main encampment will work only if it fits with the facts, i.e. if:

1) some of the bandits went out for a hunt already and haven’t come back, and

2) you are not trying to do anything other than get in

Thus the player will not be successful if they speak thoughtlessly. In general, the principle is that character skill cannot undo pure player error, except in special circumstances which are almost always known ahead of time. (For example, a character with high Wisdom may gain from the background generator a once-a-week ability which allows them to retroactively have bought one item the last time they were at market.)


  1. This sounds quite interesting. If you were interested in making things more complicated, might you think about the quality of the observations taken? For example, seeing the target in a stressful or unordinary situation reveals more about them than seeing them in their routine and might help a skilled assassin impersonate them better.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Dani. That's a bit too gritty when I haven't even gotten to real rules for all of the above, but there's certainly no getting away from how many variables there are for observing someone.

    Consider the following: over some period of time the assassin's base % of "observation completed" builds up to to a certain threshold, maybe 50%. We could then treat this as a multiplier applied to the base assassination chance, or for impersonation that could translate to, say, a -2.5 penalty applied to observer's Wisdom checks to penetrate an impersonation of this target.

    In addition, over time the assassin builds up a number of leads: scraps of info related to the target's whereabouts, plans, personal relationships, and so on. These are all true, or almost all true; for the false stuff, some will be obvious and some won't. (And of course a higher level/higher-skilled assassin will have a higher percentage, if not a 100% percentage, of true leads.) Then, it's up to the player to follow up on those leads: to go talk to the target's uncle, to watch the target as their rumored business deal goes down, to snoop around the place they were seen two nights ago with a foreign woman ... and so on, and so on. The point is that the player has to intelligently pick and choose what to follow up on, by way of weighing the evidence they already have. Of course, some leads will go cold after a while.

    This makes everything entirely player-driven, based on two separate temporal mechanics. The assassin asks himself: "How long do I wait and build up basic knowledge, and in the meantime, what information do I actively follow up on to try and gain those extra scraps of vital info?"

    This "investigation" process seems like it could be a core component of the assassin, one on which many of the other assassin skills could rest. You're better at manipulating or provoking someone if you know more about them; you're better at getting close to someone if you know more about them; you're better at imitating them if you know more about them.

  3. That sounds fascinating, and I'm excited to see how you quantify that investigative procedure.

    1. I don't know, man, I really don't. I need to sit down and circumscribe my sage abilities so I have a framework for relating them together. Getting that big picture overview seems more pressing. And more pressing still is the need to dig in and begin work on a shred of the historical world as my game setting. I'm running into lots of roadblocks using a made up world.

      Amd of course all this must necessarily take second fiddle to my thesis and my classes and what have you. And I sure would like to be seeing somebody, but some promising ventures earlier in the semester, have by now fizzled out. I'm keeping my head up though.

      You have a good night, Dani.