Mundus Novit: He Knows When You’ve Been Sleeping . . .

It’s always tough to fight a villain (or other opposition) who seems to know everything you are doing and is one step ahead. Unfortunately, too often, this looks like GM fiat, like the GM is using the knowledge gleaned from running the game to run the opposition. This isn’t any fun, and leads the players to also adopt meta-game tactics.

Everyone forgets that this isn’t a competitive game–at least, in general . . . your mileage may in fact vary–it’s a cooperative game.

So when you, the GM, are running an opposition that always seems to be that step ahead of the PCs, you need to know why that is. How is the opposition getting this information? And almost as importantly, how can the PCs learn of this so that it can propel the plot, and the fun, forward?

Yes, I do believe the PCs need to get a grip on at least some of the opposition’s methods. For two reasons: 1) it gives them a success while reminding them how good a foe they face and 2) the players realize it isn’t GM fiat. If you have a group that trusts the GM, #2 isn’t totally necessary, but still, show the players how clever you are by revealing some of the gears behind the machine.

How can the opposition get the goods on what the PCs are planning?

In a modern game, there’s SIGINT–signals intelligence. If the PCs discuss anything over a telephone, cell phone, or internet, it can be “overheard.” They may be taking precautions not to be overheard, and that needs to be taken into consideration. How good are their countermeasures? And if it is possible for the opposition to get some SIGINT, how much do they get and what can they deduce from it?

This is a place where it’s tough for the GM not to overstep. You know what the PCs are planning, so even small hints might seem like all the clues that should be needed to tip off the bad guys. But try to dial it back and be realistic regarding what the opposition has actually learned.  One clue that can easily lead to an unravelling is a name or even the recipient of a telephone call.

If the opposition learns about any part of the PCs support network, from their fence to their armourer to their tailor, you can bet the opposition is going to try for a snatch and grab and then some questioning. Will the NPC they’ve got crack? How long will they hold out? And what do they know?

The addition of even small amounts of information from NPCs that support the PCs can help the opposition get a better idea of what the PCs plan, or at least to where they might be destined.

And then there is the big resource, HUMINT–human intelligence. Are the PCs under surveillance? What about the team on the rooftop across from the apartment that are using hyper-sophisticated eavesdropping gear to listen in on the planning session? The neighbours might be worried that the PCs are terrorists and have called the FBI with a complaint . . . a complaint that the opposition has snatched from the FBI’s poorly guarded network.

And then there are the moles. Oh yes, there could be moles. Again, as I mentioned in “The Flick Got Switched,” betrayal from within the group can be tricky. If it’s not handled right, it can bring worse outcomes than suspected GM fiat. But consider this: if one of your players bows out and you’ve got a loose PC that has suddenly become an NPC, do you have a purpose-built mole right there? Depending on the game and its background, perhaps. In a game similar in tenor to Dark Horizons, it might work perfectly.

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