The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

“I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.” – Nathan Rothschild

The Conspyramid

While preparing for the recently-abandoned Dracula Dossier campaign, I built a conspyramid using the Dracula Deck, and realised I could use that technique  for other campaigns too.

Perhaps I should translate that. Here’s a picture of the example conspyramid from Night’s Black Agents…

This is a very clever GM tool; you can think of it as a flowchart, or a dungeon map of the opposing forces. Players start unravelling the conspiracy by finding one node, typically one on the bottom row. They find clues alerting them to communication channels between the nodes (represented by the lines connecting them), and follow those to find and investigate other nodes. Eventually they reach the core leadership of the conspiracy, and either they or the Big Bad Evil Guy(s) die horribly.

The Dracula Deck is an optional accessory for the NBA campaign The Dracula Dossier; a custom card deck with one node on each card – you deal them into the conspyramid more or less at random to build your conspiracy. There’s no guidance on how to connect them, but I found that placing cards on nodes immediately suggested links – person X would logically talk to organisation Y, for example.

If you’re not playing NBA, you can use random encounters from whatever game you’re playing instead. In Traveller, nodes could be patrons, cargoes and whatnot. In D&D, they could be monsters – you could use the hierarchical level as the relevant monster table, with level 1 encounters on the bottom row and level 6 ones on the top.

In the real world, conspiracies are abandoning this sort of hierarchical structure in favour of cellphone-coordinated flashmobs and independent cells connected only by a shared ideology, which is much harder to deal with – there is no head to cut off the snake. In the Dracula Dossier, I can explain the hierarchy by saying the Count is at heart a 14th Century warlord who is not down wit’ da kids, and in other games you can say that interstellar travel times or low-tech societies encourage the conspiracy to use such a structure.

The Vampyramid

The other clever GM tool that goes with the conspyramid is the vampyramid; while the former gives structure to the conspiracy itself, the latter defines how the conspiracy will respond if the PCs poke it with a stick; here’s an example…

So for example if the PCs cause trouble for a level 1 conspiracy node, it might respond with one of the options on level 1 (“Reflex”) of the vampyramid; bribing the PCs, framing them for a crime, shadowing them, or probing their defences with a low-level attack. At this stage, the conspiracy doesn’t take them seriously so the higher levels are unlikely to be aware of them; the local goons are acting by reflex without orders from above. Messing with higher level nodes “unlocks” the equivalent level of responses, which grow rapidly better planned and more deadly.

As a group, my players don’t want to play the Dracula Dossier campaign, but both the Conspyramid and the Vampyramid go into my GM toolbox for future use. I recommend them to the house.

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Comments on: "Conspyramids and Vampyramids" (3)

  1. Bill Cameron said:

    I’ve long used Gannt charts in much the same manner, especially when a plot is unfolding over time.

  2. Istvan said:

    This method is also useful for oganizing not just conspiracies, but a powerful enemy with multiple tools in general.
    The “powerful” enemy can co-exist with the other fixed locations in your sandbox.

    Baldur’s Gate PC game:
    Sarevok is the main boss. He wants to appear as a capable leader “man who solves problems”, elected duke, and declare war. (all this to summon Bhaal IIRC)

    – one of his subordinates runs the one of the two mines in the region
    – an other infests the other mine with kobolds
    – his sidekick coordinating the bandits destabilizing the sword coast
    – his assassins take out nobles who would oppose him, or would be an alternative to him
    – a merchant guild (the iron throne) is manipulated to throw it’s weight in Sarevok’s favor

    Basically this is a simple conspiracy (maybe 3 or 4 steps), and simple response pyramid. (assassins, frame the heroes, etc.)

    Works well.

  3. Istvan said:

    Also, Crawford used a similar method in Godbound and Exemplars and Eidolons.

    Bigger aims are broken down into smaller chunks, and those smaller chucks are into separate adventures.
    Eg. the aim is to rally against the evil empire. It is broken down into 4 major problems (eg. defeat some of the Ten who were taken, clear the bandit infestation from the woods), where each problem is 4 adventures.
    Usually acting against a big threat is 4*4 adventures this way.

    However, there are two shortcuts (three in Godbound):
    – a big pile of gold can be used to buy off 1 adventure (eg. the bandit infestation can handled by a mercenary company)
    – an ally can be convinced to solve 1 adventure on it’s own (an ally is not necessary an individual, usually it is an organization, guild, village or fort)
    – Godbound can spend their “dominion points”. These are awarded for deeds worthy of a demigod (also the cult worshipping them provides them some dominion for free). Dominion points can be spent on permanent changes on the game world. For example establishing a mage guild, or training villagers to become skilled soldiers can be done with dominion points.

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