Making Contacts (5e Variant Rule)
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Sometimes the characters need an ally. Someone who knows things, someone who can be their eyes and ears, someone who can give them guidance or warnings. Such an ally is a contact, a friend of a PC who is ready and willing to lend them a non-combat hand in their adventures! This could be a wizened academic at the capital library, a scheming con-man with ties to the black market, the bar-tender with his finger on the pulse of society, the local lord's gossipy adviser, a mysterious woodsman who is deeply in-tune with the surrounding wilderness, or even just some farmer who lets you sleep in the barn! A contact is an NPC who will go out of their way to direct, guide, warn, and support a PC. They are the supporting cast, somewhere between the main-character protagonists/antagonists and the extras who populate the streets and shops of your game. They can be used as quest-givers, MacGuffins, exposition providers, rumor vectors, hint sources, or assistants. The key here is that a contact is most likely a normal citizen, with little to no capacity for a real fight. Even if they are a trained warrior, like the local guard captain, they are still independent of the party, tending to their own duties, and only interacting with the PCs temporarily when called upon.
Making a New Contact
First off, the PC needs to spend time talking to people, hitting up local social events, buying people drinks and gifts, doing favors and errands, and in general just becoming more known in the local area. For every day spent searching for a contact, the PC must spend 2d6gp in incidental expenses.
Next, the amount of time it can take to find a meaningful ally can vary considerably. This depends on what they want the contact to provide, and on the population they are searching in. Each day they spend searching for a contact, the PC must make a charisma check against a DC determined by the settlement's population. The PC's roll receives a bonus equal to their character level, as the PCs slowly become famous. If they succeed, they make a contact! If they fail, they must continue searching or give up.
- (Population <100) DC25
- (Population <1,000) DC20
- (Population ~1,000-10,000) DC15
- (Population >10,000) DC10
The DC is then increased by the number and type of benefits the PC is looking for from a given contact. The list below gives a series of examples and associated DC modifiers, but the DM and player are encouraged to invent additional benefits. (And add them to this page while you're at it!)
- Room & Board.
- This character will let them stay a night or two on their property. The higher the lifestyle quality they provide, the higher the DC increase.
- Wretched. The character is basically saying it's OK for you to sleep on their doorstep, roof, or back-alley. No modifier.
- Squalid. The character is letting you sleep on the floor of a work area, like a smithy, or a stable. +2DC
- Poor. The character allows you to sleep on the floor of some out-of-the-way place in their home, like in an attic, crawl-space, cellar, or storage room. +4DC
- Modest. The character has a spare room, which they are willing to allow you to crash in from time to time. +6DC
- Comfortable. The character has a whole suite, apartment, or servant-home, in which you and several people may stay quite comfortably, or they allow you to stay in their home proper. +8DC
- Wealthy. The character owns a lot of good, unused property, with plenty of room for you and friends, in which you may stay happily. +10DC
- Aristocratic. You are basically staying in a palace. +15DC
- Rumors or Local News
- The character provides information of the local comings and goings. The bigger the settlement, the bigger the DC impact, as it is harder to keep track of everything.
- Village. +5DC
- Town. +10DC
- City. +15DC
- Specialist Knowledge
- The character practices a profession, such as a historian, court mage, architect, navigator, or the like, and will provide information relating to their area of expertise. +10DC
- The character will provide the party with transportation.
- Land. +10DC
- Sea. +15DC
- Air. +20DC
- Magic. +25DC
- Warnings or Fortunes
- The character is a fortune teller, watchman, or the like, and keeps their eyes and ears open for threats to the PC. They may alternatively give generic information about upcoming events, like weather forecasts, or fortune-telling services. +5DC
- Access to Tools or Facilities
- The character owns a workshop or stationary set of equipment, (Such as a smithy, a kitchen, a loom, etc.) which they will allow the PC to use. +10DC
- Faction Representative
- The character is an agent working on behalf of a given faction, and can provide faction information, tasks, quests, rewards, etc. The DC modifier is +10, but drops to +5 if you are a member of that faction.
- Black market
- The character has good connections in the black market enabling you to get otherwise inaccessible or even illegal items for the right price. The DC modifier is +10 but becomes +5 if your player is a rogue or has committed a large crime.
Once a matching contact has been found, the DM and player should work together to create the NPC, their appearance, attitude, lifestyle, home, title, family, etc. The NPC should be used as a plot-device character, guiding and directing the PCs, or facilitating their activities in the world. Keep in mind that a contact is doing the party a favor, they are not a servant or employee. If the characters ask for something more than a favor- like asking the guardcaptain to accompany them, or the ranger to guide them, or to stay for months in someone's attic suite, the NPC is reasonably justified to decline, or to expect payment in return. Contacts may also continue to engage in activities outside of instigated social interactions with the characters; they may independently approach the party as a quest-giver, or as a plot device. Contacts may even be targeted by enemies of the party, if those enemies find out about their relationship. In general, this is just a way for a PC to add an important background NPC to the narrative.