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Social Engineering

Hacking People the Old-fashioned Way—Social Engineering

Social engineering is one of the oldest forms of manipulation, dating back to the first time a cave man conned his fellow out of his dinner. The most common terms used to describe someone who consistently uses social engineering tactics to his advantage are “swindler” and “politician”, though most people can think of numerous others.

In a broad sense, social engineering is more than just lying to people—it’s a collection of bent-truths, half-truths, and non-truths brought together with the intent of deceiving others. Social engineering can be done on a small scale (one-on-one) or a large scale (one-on-many or even many-on-many, in group situations). Sometimes, the easiest way to get what you want is to convince someone else that it’s in their best interest to give it to you.

Any Manipulation skill is suited to social engineering, depending on the specific situation. Since the skill choices and circumstances are both equally broad, you should work with your GM to decide which skill works best for what you are trying to accomplish.

Social engineering is treated in many ways like “hacking” a person. Your goal is to manipulate them in to doing something you want. If the target is willing and able to assist you without being manipulated, it isn’t social engineering—it’s just a helpful person. In these circumstances, no check is required to get the assistance you desire; the person simply does as you ask (perhaps at the cost of a favor to be paid later).

When trying to manipulate an unwilling target, social engineering comes in to play. Such an encounter begins with the engineer (the character attempting to manipulate) interacting with the target (the person being coerced).

Generally, it is best to find a good role-playing reason for your character to need the target’s help. In most cases, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for an engineer to try to get his neighbor to come over and make him a sandwich when he could just as easily go to the kitchen and make it himself.

Once a motive has been established, the engineer needs to make an appropriate Manipulation check. If he is trying to convince someone to hand over their wallet, he would roll an Intimidate check, while a character attempting to lie his way out of a bar fight might use Bluff, Fast-talk or Lying. Choose the appropriate specialization as applicable, or simply roll Manipulation if no specialization is available.

Next, the GM determines the difficulty of the check. The base starting value for the check should be the target’s Persona attribute level (if known). Characters who are hostile toward the player are less likely to do what he wants, so the difficulty would be higher than someone who is friendly; add or subtract from the difficulty as appropriate (you can use Table: Repute Modifiers for help determining modifiers).

Any time the difficulty would be Mediocre or worse (Poor through Abysmal) there is no check required; the character is simply helpful. Difficulty levels of Fair and better require some additional interaction and perhaps a number of checks.

Once the difficulty has been determined, the dice are rolled. Add your modifiers and compare it to the difficulty. Success doesn’t necessarily mean that the target will instantly switch sides; higher difficulty levels often require more persuasion, and occasionally different types of persuasion (such as bribery).

For each degree of success by which you surpass the target difficulty, reduce the difficulty of the next check by that amount. If the difficulty becomes Mediocre or worse, you have successfully manipulated your target. If there is still a difficulty of Fair or better remaining, you may need to roll again (and possibly switch tactics. GMs may require additional skill checks and manipulation methods depending on the circumstances).

For example, Matt is attempting to get some information out of a rather surly barkeep. The barkeep doesn’t make a habit of giving up information about his patrons and he has a bad attitude. The GM sets the difficulty for this check at Superb. Matt doesn’t think this will be a problem since he has a Great Persuade skill, so he chats up the barkeep for a bit and casts the dice.

Matt gets a total die result of +1 which he adds to his Great (+2) skill, giving him a Superb result. Success! Matt managed to pique the barkeep’s attention, but just enough to avoid a complete shut- out. He’ll need to keep schmoozing to get the barkeep to open up a bit more.

Matt continues to chat up the proprietor and rolls the dice once more. This time the difficulty is only Great, since he managed to get the barkeep’s attention last time and reduce the difficulty by 1.

After the dice are rolled, Matt totals them up and finds that he gets a Superb result again. Since he beat the difficulty by 1 point, he knocks an additional point off of the total difficulty. Since he started at Great and is subtracting 2 points, the difficulty for the next check is Fair, and Matt can tell that the target is really starting to warm up.

Finally, Matt decides to make things a little bit more worth the barkeep’s while and offers him a little cash for his trouble. This time, Matt attempts a Bribery check, and gets a Good result. He has managed to win over the barkeep by decreasing the difficulty to Poor: Fair (0)—2 (since he defeated the check by +1) = Poor (-2). The difficulty is now Mediocre or worse, so Matt has been successful at his test.

Note that there is a price for failure. If you fail the check by 1 or more, there’s a chance the target will react harshly and even choose to ignore you. If you fail the check, increase the difficulty of the following check for each level by which you fail. If the difficulty would be greater than Phenomenal, the target is either completely unwilling to talk to you or, depending on their nature, likely to try to split you a new one.