Do You Know Who I Am?
“…And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.”
– David Foster Wallace
In Los Angeles, what you can do is often distinctly secondary to who you know. It is a city, that perhaps more than any other in America, thrives on name dropping, influence peddling and the ‘art of the deal’. Those who reign supreme in other municipalities, such as police chiefs and city officials, often find themselves far from the most important person in the room. True power is wielded by some of the richest and famous people in the world, including superstar athletes, big tech innovators, billionaire CEOs, mega celebrities and the powerhouse agents and executive assistants who work for all of them – all of whom live and party in Los Angeles, regardless of where they made their name or fortune.
The stratospheric elite of both hemispheres find shelter in palatial, gated residences tucked securely away in the Santa Monica Mountains which form the broad arc of the Westside’s ‘Unreal Estate’. Here is where you’ll find such famous addresses as the Hollywood Hills, Mulholland Drive, Old Bel Air, Brentwood and the BHPO. Any single neighborhood in Los Angeles contains more millionaires and industry leaders than entire cities elsewhere.
In order to capture the true spirit of of Los Angeles, we have put significant effort into the Influence system here at Liberation MUSH – with a great emphasis on making the wielding of power a kinetic and intuitive experience. Every character on Liberation MUSH is an agent of influence in some small way – and some are titans.
The Playing Field
There are six major sectors of Influence which are each represented in the game’s four urban regions, each of which have several sub-regions. You can use the +Influence command in any grid location to quickly note any particularly relevant geographic, demographic or historical factors that will potentially affect Influence resolution and arbitration.
- Academia: Examples: R&D, Occult, University
- Business: Examples: Finance, Industry, Pharmaceutical, Entertainment
- Community: Examples: Church, Media, Neighborhood Culture
- Crime: Examples: Underworld, Street Gangs
- Government: Examples: Bureaucracy, Health, Political
- Security: Examples: Legal, Police, Transportation
There are currently three major ‘urban regions’ where the Influence system is concerned. The Westside and Central L.A. comprise the beating heart and soul of Los Angeles, with the rest of the Greater Los Angeles area from Ventura County to Orange County often struggling to both cleave to and reap the economic dividends and pull away to maintain their autonomy at the same time.
The Southlands represents a vast sprawl of what in the popular media is commonly portrayed as a vast wasteland of gangs, ghettos, ugly industrial zones and tacky, resentful semi-independent cities like Gardena, Long Beach and Torrance. It is mostly occupied by NPC factions at game start, yet available for characters to try and penetrate.
East L.A & the San Gabriel Valley would ordinarily constitute a fourth major region, but they are not available for PCs to acquire Influence at this time.
The Westside: Affluent and influential, the Westside is pure L.A. glamour. Even Westside neighborhoods have as much fame as the celebrities who live in them: Brentwood, Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, The Bird Streets and West Hollywood just to name a few. It’s a place of movie stars and movie moguls, swimming pools and sports cars, all flocking there for the world-famous cultural institutions, hotels, shopping and global cuisines. It’s where those who have made their fortunes elsewhere choose to retreat from the world behind long, sinuous gated driveways, high fences and a legion of private security.
Beneath its sunny exterior, the Westside is riven with entrenched and increasingly insular local interest groups, most of whom are increasingly out of touch with the vast majority of their fellow citizens. There is an undeniable tinge of hypocrisy where well-off, progressive UCLA alumni and tiny dog toting celebrity-activists turn a blind eye to the aggressive tactics used to keep their manicured sidewalks clean of unwanted human detritus. The privileged sons and daughters of the Westside elite are more likely to be gently escorted home to their wealthy, connected parents by the Beverly Hills PD than to suffer any legal consequences from an underage, drunken joy ride.
Sub-Regions: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, The Palisades & Malibu
Central Los Angeles: Central Los Angeles is the ‘left brain’ to the Westside’s right brain. It is a landscape of soaring skyscrapers, alternately flourishing and decaying commercial districts and high density housing. It is dominated as much by the interests of government and corporate elites as it is by powerful ethnic enclaves such as Koreatown, Chinatown or Little Tokyo in ways that are simply not mirrored in the more glamorous Westside. Whereas the Westside enjoys several ‘independent’ Police Departments, the LASD rapid reaction teams and nearly a billion dollars of private security investment, an often scandal-plagued LAPD is forced to meet the challenges of increasingly endemic homelessness, gang activity and street crime on its own. Despite that, Central Los Angeles is one of the most economically vibrant hotspots in the entire country with booming commercial arteries that extend from Downtown L.A. to the west along Hollywood, Santa Monica, Wilshire and Pico Boulevards.
Hollywood occupies an exciting nexus where the ruthless business culture of Downtown Los Angeles and the dreamy disconnection of the Westside merge and blend into each other. However, even though Hollywood exports the superficial imagery and philosophy of the Westside to the rest of the world, it remains at heart a dedicated worshipper of Mammon. There is nowhere in Los Angeles where the bottom line – and all of its myriad concerns from relatively benign brand marketing to semi-sinister kowtowing to foreign governments – rules more hearts and minds than Hollywood.
The San Fernando Valley, whose somewhat odd attachment to Los Angeles City resembles more of a feudal conquest than a natural outgrowth, was acquired under incredibly shady circumstances during the Water Wars of the early 20th Century. San Fernando Valley has a lot of people in it – and it tends to be where most middle-class-ish Angelenos live before commuting to work. Perhaps oddly for its size, wealth and often belligerently ignorant suburban population, it possesses a shocking lack of political autonomy. Its voting districts have been carved up in often inventive ways by the L.A. City Council to ensure the San Fernando Valley can never quite throw its weight around. Even in 2020, there are some parts of the ‘Valley’ where you can still see a truck equipped with a Confederate flag and a gun rack – an odd juxtaposition given the Valley’s historical fame for its gargantuan porn industry.
Sub-Regions: Downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, Hollywood, The San Fernando Valley, and Glendale.
The Southlands: If you ask most any American, the ‘Southlands’ vaguely refers to anywhere in the American Southwest that doesn’t snow in the winter. If you ask most Californians, the Southlands refers to just about everywhere south of San Francisco. If you ask most SoCal natives, the Southlands is pretty much everywhere in the Greater Los Angeles metro, including Orange County and San Bernardino (to their horror) yet emphatically not including San Diego. If you ask an L.A native, the Southlands is often described in a hazy fashion as everywhere between south of the Santa Monica Freeway and San Pedro Bay. It covers parts of Los Angeles City like South L.A. often seen in movies (and real life) as a hopeless gang-plagued wasteland and San Pedro, whose quirky, ribbon-like thread connecting it to DTLA is a remnant of the early 20th century ‘Water Wars’ that saw Los Angeles City make a determined push for the Pacific Coast, culminating in the Port of Los Angeles.
The Southlands also includes huge swathes of South Bay and the Gateway Cities, which range from productive or vaguely trendy areas like Long Beach or Palos Verdes, to semi-independent cities like Compton, Watts, Inglewood and Torrance who helped Los Angeles County earn the sobriquet of the gang, murder, drug and bank robbery capital of America.
Sub-Regions: South L.A., South Bay, Gateway Cities & The Harbor Region
There is no single ‘Influence’ Background in Liberation MUSH. Instead, your actual Influence is comprised of a network of your Rank, Resources, Fame, Allies, Contacts and Retainers who function as your ‘Influencers’, each of which are subsequently defined by their strength (dot rating), geography (Westside vs Central LA vs Southlands) and sector of influence (Academia, Business, Community, Crime, Government, Security).
You can are not locked into a single combination – You can take multiple Backgrounds and they can all apply to different regions or types of Influence, if you wish. There are two ways to combine a relevant Background with a chosen sector of Influence, and a region of the grid.
- You can take the most simple route, and simply connect the Background to one of the major regions (Central L.A, Westside or Southlands).
- In most cases, this should probably just be where you live or work, and then a certain element of hand-waving will be allowed.
- You can focus your Background and Influence sector within a sub-region instead, such as Hollywood or Koreatown instead of Central L.A., or Santa Monica instead of the Westside.
- The benefit for doing this is that whenever your Influence is contested within your focused sub-region (Such as Hollywood or Koreatown) by a PC or NPC whose Influence isn’t similarly focused, your Background counts as if it were one higher (to a max of 5), and your opponent’s Background as if it were one lower (to a min of 1).
- The drawback is that your Influence cannot be asserted as well outside your focused sub-region. Your relevant Background will count as one less dot (to a min of 0, allowing no action at all) if you attempt to take Influence actions with it outside your focused sub-region. This penalty can potentially stack with the above if you’re invading someone else’s focused region.
I give numerous examples and suggestions below, but I mostly focus on Central L.A. and the Westside which is what will concern the vast majority of PCs at game start.
Who You Are
Fame: Are you particularly famous for something? Then you’re almost certainly likely to be considered influential to some degree or another. Write a ‘+note/Background me/Fame=<description>’ describing what you are famous for and then define these three things:
- Is your Fame primarily associated with the Westside or Central Los Angeles? If irrelevant, default to where you live on grid.
- Is your Fame primarily relevant to the Academia, Business, Community, Crime, Government or Security influence sector? The default answer is usually ‘Community’.
- Your ‘home’ grid room. Your Fame-related Influence will be useful for anything related to your home neighborhood.
SPECIAL: Once per RL week, you may use your Fame as if it were an equivalently rated Ally, Contact or Retainer, to undertake any Influence action that such can be used for (owing to the many people who know, admire or want to impress you. However, it can only apply to the grid room where your PC spends the majority of his or her time that week. I’m willing to handwave the exact details of how this favor transpires, but it must correlate with your chosen sector of Fame.
Rank: There are some characters that hold an official rank in an important mortal institution. This could be a business advocacy organization (such as the CCA), LAPD, City Government, or high level criminal cartel (mere street or biker gangs usually don’t qualify by themselves). This Background is never relevant to supernatural factions. It must correlate with a systematized hierarchy that is agreed to be significantly powerful in Los Angeles. Write a ‘+note/Background me/Rank=<description>’ describing the nature of your role within the organization you belong to, and then define two things:
- Is your Rank primarily associated with the Westside or Central Los Angeles? A LASD Detective that works WeHo will be associated with the Westside. An LAPD Captain or Koreatown boss with Central Los Angeles, etc. In general, anything involving LA City government will be Central LA. Beverly Hills or Santa Monica City government will be associated with the Westside.
- Is your Rank primarily relevant to the Academia, Business, Community, Crime, Government or Security influence sector? The default answer is usually ‘Government’ or ‘Security’.
SPECIAL: Once per RL week, you may use your Rank as if it were an equivalently rated Ally, Contact or Retainer, to undertake any action that such Backgrounds could ordinarily be used for. However, it is restricted to what makes sense within the context of the organization that you belong to. A good example would be a City Councilperson getting an extra patrol car assigned to watch over his neighborhood.
Resources: The more money you make, the more your opinions are taken seriously. The fortune to purchase a soapbox (or newspaper) is usually the prerequisite for most businessmen to transition into the political realm. Please write a ‘+note/Background me/Resources=<description>’ describing the main source of your income and then define these two things:
- Is your Resources primarily associated with the Westside or Central Los Angeles? It usually depends on where you live, where you work, and which you feel more strongly about.
- Is your Resources primarily relevant to the Academia, Business, Community, Crime, Government or Security influence sector? The default answer is usually ‘Business’.
SPECIAL: Once per RL week, you may use your Resources as if it were an equivalently rated Ally, Contact or Retainer, to undertake any action that such Backgrounds could ordinarily be used for. Money can pay for many services, such as hiring a private eye, or an unscrupulous accountant. You only need to justify it insofar as telling me what kind of professional you wish to hire. If you have Resources 6, you can take two Influence actions as if both were at 5 dots. If you have Resources 7, you can take three Influence actions rated at 5 dots each.
Who You Know
IMPORTANT! Liberation MUSH has a very important House Rule where Allies, Contacts and Retainers are concerned: Every Ally, Contact or Retainer is given their own dot rating and rated from 1-5, which determines their relative power to each other. As such, your actual Ally, Contact and Retainer ratings can far exceed 1-5 on your sheet.
Allies: Allies are mortals who support and help you — family, friends, trusted business associates, or even a group of mortals (such as a gang) that owes you some informal loyalty. Unlike Retainers, they have their own concerns and agendas, and can’t always prioritize doing you one favor after another. Allies are rarely aware of your character’s supernatural affiliations, if any. Allies that are considered meaningful enough to mechanically represent with a dot rating are typically persons of influence and power in your home city.
Set your ally using ‘+note/Background me/Ally <rating> – <name>=<description>’. Describe your relationship to them, and then define these two things:
- Is your Ally (or their interests) primarily located in the Westside or Central Los Angeles?
- Is your Ally primarily relevant to the Academia, Business, Community, Crime, Government or Security influence sector? A Professor or Occult Researcher might be Academia. A Detective or Private Security Company would be Security. A City Rep would be Government. A street gang would be Crime, and so forth.
Contacts: You know people all over the city. When you start making phone calls around your network, the amount of information you can dig up is impressive. Rather than friends you can rely on to help you, like Allies, Contacts are largely people whom you can bribe, manipulate, or coerce into offering information. A particularly high level Contact (with a rating of 3+) is likely an associate who can give you useful and accurate information in their field of expertise. A 4-5 dot Contact rating might represent an important city official such as the District Attorney (or someone in their office!), whereas a 1-2 dot Contact rating might be a bouncer, DMV clerk, beat cop or homeless weirdo.
The greatest help that a high level Contact provides is allowing you to pierce cover-ups that would otherwise be beyond your means. If the information isn’t particularly sensitive, or no one has taken the effort to occlude it, then even a 1 dot Contact might perfectly suffice. With a Director’s permission, the Backgrounds of Herd, Kinfolk and Cult can also substitute for individual Contacts.
+note/background me/Con 2 – Westside Security= <Name> has blackmailed a Beverly Hills PD desk clerk to pass along information, such as about break-ins or domestic disturbances, that would usually be kept under wraps.
Retainers: Not precisely Allies or Contacts, your Retainers are servants, assistants, or other people who are your loyal and steadfast companions. Many vampires’ servants are ghouls whose supernatural powers and blood bond-enforced loyalty make them the archetypal examples of this Background. You must maintain some control over your retainers, whether through outstanding personal charisma, salary, the gift of your vitae, or supernatural means such as Dominate or Presence.
Retainers essentially fall into one of two narrative roles (whether or not it is acknowledged ICly): A bodyguard or an agent of influence. Not every ‘bodyguard’ Retainer is necessarily intended to protect you in combat. It could be a driver or a butler, for example. However, it is only agent Retainers that factor into the Influence system, and they typically do not follow you around like a ‘bodyguard’ type Retainer does. In both cases the dot rating of your Retainer plays a huge role in determining their competence.
Set your agent Retainer using ‘+note/Background me/Ret <rating> – <name>=<description>’. Please include the following:
- If the Retainer has a Bodyguard or an Agent template.
- The nature of your relationship and the primary means of ‘control’ you exercise over your Retainer.
- If your Retainer is an agent, whether they’re primarily located in the Westside or Central Los Angeles.
- If your Retainer is an agent, whether they’re primarily relevant to the (broadly speaking) Academia, Business, Community, Crime, Government or Security influence sector.
What You Can Do: Overview
It is important when arbitrating conflicts of Influence for the Director to make a fair and timely decision and then implement the results. It is difficult to feel a sense of ownership over your character’s personal agency or impact on the setting, if every action is subjected to weeks or months of arguments. It is similarly vital to have a game where players feel as if they are inhabiting their characters, and not the other way around. Your success in an endeavor should not be dependent on your RL paranoia or capacity to list every possible exigency. Rather, your character’s +sheet should correlate with what can be reasonably expected of them.
There are two categories of Abilities which interact with the +Influence system: There are Active Abilities, like Leadership, Streetwise, Etiquette, Bureaucracy, Finance, Investigation, Law or Politics which are actively rolled to determine the magnitude of a success or failure. And there are Passive Abilities like Diplomacy, Intrigue, Intuition, Style, Elusion, Networking, Area Knowledge, Covert Culture, Media and Vice which are compared to the Passive Abilities of conflicting PCs or NPCs behind the scenes (depending on the nature of the confrontation) to determine relative difficulties. Some are used quite often, while others are situationally niche and are included chiefly to not penalize those who lean into more specific areas of interest.
The Secondary Ability ‘Power-Brokering’ isn’t normally rolled as an Active or Passive Ability. However, please note it has a significant impact on how well you can temporarily assert your Influence into other regions or into other sectors of Influence that you don’t currently possess. This will be expanded upon later.
In many situations, allied/employed PCs and subordinate NPCs, such as Retainer agents can substitute their Active Abilities for your own on a per action basis (with the right justification). More rarely, PCs belonging to the same organization can conditionally substitute their Passive Abilities for that of the organization’s leader. This is always dependent on the nature of the organization. For example, a Seneschal is the only character in the Praxis who can substitute their Passive Abilities for that of the Prince wholesale. Other Camarilla Officers might only be able to substitute a single rating, or none at all. Supernatural organizations such as the Camarilla, Technocracy Construct or Garou Caern will receive their own writeups.
|INFLUENCE SECTOR**||Active (Offensive)||Active (Defensive)||Passive (Offensive)||Passive (Defensive)|
|Academia||Academics||Etiquette OR Bureaucracy+||Instruction OR Networking||Media OR Intuition|
|Business||Finance++||Law||Networking||Intrigue OR Media|
|Community||Leadership OR Expression||Etiquette OR Streetwise||Networking OR Style||Media OR Area Knowledge*|
|Crime||Subterfuge OR Larceny||Streetwise||Vice||Intrigue OR Intuition|
|Government||Politics||Bureaucracy||Diplomacy||Intrigue OR Area Knowledge*|
|Security||Investigation||Law OR Security||Military Science||Covert Ops OR Elusion|
++ Some Merits (not live yet) might allow you to swap in different Abilities, like Gambling.
* Area Knowledge requires a relevant regional Specialty.
**Read the Tracing example below for details on how these line up.
Basic Influence Actions (Overview)
You can take one Influence action each RL week, for every Influence-relevant Background that you have. If you have a lot of relevant Backgrounds, this can turn out to be a lot of Influence actions, which is only proper. It often makes a great deal of sense to combine different kinds of actions together, such as monitoring what an opponent does and concealing your own manipulations while striking at them.
The most basic gameplay element is to exercise your Influence to either increase (max +2) or lower the difficulty (max -2) of certain dice pools in certain grid spaces, which is tracked with the +Influence program. If you wanted to make your neighborhood safer, you would want to do things like raise Larceny or Stealth difficulties, and lower Alertness and Security difficulties. Bonuses benefit your entire faction, and any other faction you wish to extend it to. Penalties affect all other factions, except those you exclude.
You must ICly know a Faction exists and have some official contact with them, to either include them in a benefit or exclude them from a penalty.
It is up to you to provide a convincing explanation for why your Influence would affect such and such dice pool. After all, A news reporter (Community) could write about a salacious murder, or a Professor (Academia) could publish a statistical analysis of rising crime rates and ultimately, if indirectly, have the same effect of a Police Captain assigning more patrols to an area.
Some factions will want certain abilities discouraged or encouraged for their own reasons. And each grid room can only allow for one on-going effect realized to each type of Influence. I’ll go into the exact details of how conflicts are settled, further down.
You can only encourage or discourage an ability in a grid room with an Ally or Retainer Influencer – or with the equivalent of one.
Narrative Influence Actions
Spying vs Counterspying
The bedrock of the Influence system is knowing what other characters (whether PC or NPC) are up to, and keeping them from finding out about your own machinations or movements. If you wish to have a basic idea of what another PC, NPC or even NPC Faction might be up to in either a major region or sub-region, you need to assign a Contact to it.
There are many Narrative Influence Actions you can take. I’m going to spend more time than usual on Tracing, to help convey some concepts.
- Begin with selecting a specific PC, NPC or NPC Faction whose generalized comings and goings you wish to track or basically know where to find them.
- Select a region where you wish to trace them. This will be either Central L.A., the Westside, Southlands or one of their sub-regions, like Hollywood, Santa Monica or South LA..
- Your target must be in the chosen area to be traced. However, nothing is stopping you from using multiple Contacts to trace them across multiple regions. It might even paint a fuller picture of their activities.
- You must assign a relevant Contact to do the tracing. There is room for creativity here. If you have a Business Contact, you can write something about tracing credit card purchases. If you have a Security Contact, maybe traffic cam footage, or neighborhood watch lookouts. A reporter (Community) or informant (Crime) could be equally helpful.
- Remember that the Fame, Rank and Resources Backgrounds can all acquire temporary Contacts, provided you meet their requirements.
- Although the Influence Director is willing to read into the spirit of what each Contact might potentially take initiative for on their own…the nature of the information you glean will still be heavily inflected by their Influence sector. A homeless bagman and a corporate spy will likely notice very different activities.
- You have done all you need to do at this stage. You don’t actually need to know anymore about how the rest works. You can just sit back and await the result. However, in the interest of complete transparency, I’ll do a deep dive on what comes next:
- Check to see if your target (whether PC or NPC) is assigning a Contact to Conceal their comings and goings that week, and what kind of Contact it is.
- Check to see if your target has some kind of specified, ongoing supernatural power that would make your attempt to trace them hopeless. There is no chance that a corporate secretary is going to notice a Nosferatu who only moves around in the sewers while Obfuscated. Even if he might have used Obfuscate 3 to pretend, once, to be a CEO at a single event. A lot of this involves basic, tabletop-esque common sense.
- If they happened to pick the exact right type of Contact to Conceal themselves from your exact nature of Trace, the target will receive a bonus.
- Otherwise, The target will still get to add their Contact dots to the defending dice pool, but the resulting contested roll will take place using the Offensive and Defensive values of the Tracer’s chosen Influence type. This could give an immense advantage if you know someone’s weak spot.
- Example Contest:
- Isaac Abrams is trying to trace the Setite infiltrator known as Dawn Cavanaugh whom he believes to be operating in Hollywood. Isaac is using his Resources to pay for a 5 dot Private Eye (Business). His Private Eye is Business, since his Resources is noted as Business related.
- Dawn is trying to conceal her whereabouts with the aid of a follower, which amounts to a 3 dot Community Contact. Dawn would have gotten a bonus if she’d been using a Business Contact, but it won’t be relevant here.
- The Influence Director determines their respective dicepools and difficulties like so:
- A Business Influence action has Finance (Active Offensive), Law (Active Defensive), Networking (Passive Offensive) and Intrigue OR Media (Passive Defensive).
- Isaac’s dicepool will be his Finance (4) + his 5 dot ‘Private Eye’ Business Contact, for 9 dice.
- His difficulty will be decided by his Networking (3) vs Dawn Cavanaugh’s Intrigue (4). That means his Difficulty to roll against will be +1. As such, he’ll roll 9 dice vs Diff 7 instead of Diff 6.
- If Isaac’s Networking had been 5, then he would have lowered his Difficulty from 6 to 5, instead, since his Networking would have been 1 higher than Dawn’s Intrigue.
- The defender (in this case Dawn) always rolls at Diff 6, unless it is somehow modified by another power or special Influence Merit. In this case, she would roll her Law (2) + her Community Contact (3) vs 6.
- How much Isaac learns about Dawn’s going about in Hollywood will depend on how many successes that his roll beats her own roll by – if he succeeds at all. 1 success over your target’s will give you a vague idea of whether that person was even in the region at all. 5+ successes will give as detailed an accounting as is realistically feasible, given the nature of your Contact and your target’s perambulations.
- Either way, should Isaac succeed, it will help him along the way towards tracking down her exact location.
- A Business Influence action has Finance (Active Offensive), Law (Active Defensive), Networking (Passive Offensive) and Intrigue OR Media (Passive Defensive).