Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Dirty Laundry

Something odd came up while I was helping a player create their character, he asked “What trait do I use to represent knowing someone’s dirty laundry? You know, blackmailable secrets nadf stuff.” I admit the first thing I went to was Favor + Ally, Contact, Patron and Completely Unreliable or Unwilling. But that seemed a bit like overkill. It felt more like “I know something so bad about you I can make you my bitch.” What about knowing stuff without the other party knowing that you know? I ended up even starting a thread in the Steve Jackson Forums to see if I could find any useful bits from the hivemind. Turned out a few shook loose and I came up with a few of my own.

Kick ’em When They’re Up
If the idea behind the character’s knowledge is that they’ve got blackmail so bad that their target is going to help them multiple times then Ally (Unwilling, -50%), Contact (Completely Unreliable), or Patron (Unwilling, -50%) is the best bet. Buy the trait at the appropriate level for the campaign and call it a day. If your knowledge provides monetary funds then buy spend points on Trading Points for Money (p. B26) for a one-time lump sum or purchase Independent Income. This might not work for all sorts of financial-incentivized blackmail, after all Independent Income is based on your Wealth level, not your target’s. To get around this, the GM might allow you to purchase more than 20 levels of Independent Income or perhaps allow a form of “Super-Effort” as a modifier. Such a modifier, let’s call it “Deep Pockets” should probably cost around +300% (making Independent Income 4/level) and does what all Super-Effort modifiers do – it lets you look up your level on the Speed/Range Table (p. B550). In this case instead of each level giving your 1% of your Starting Wealth, it gives you the look-up number from the table as a percentage. You can mix levels with Deep Pockets with those who don’t have it. You could for example have Independent Income 5 (Deep Pockets, +300%) [20], which gives you 15% of your Starting Wealth every month instead of 5%. Do note that it wouldn’t start becoming useful till higher levels like most traits with such “Super-Effort” modifiers. Consider also the possibility of borrowing the Frequency modifier from Allies or Patron, with the modifier requiring a monthly roll against the number to get the funds. If you’ve got dirt on a entire organization ask if the GM will let you buy “Hidden Lore ([Organization] Secrets)” as a skill choice. Security Clearance with Informal (-50%) might also work if you have access to your very own Bernsteinin Deep Throat.

Hidden Lore†

p. B199

Default: None.
Hidden Lore needn’t be a supernaturally-related skill, it could instead represent a operational level of knowledge of a particular group or organization:

        Organization: You know the ins and outs of a particular organization or group along with all their dirty laundry and where the bodies are buried. If you have 2 or more points in this skill and Rank for your organization you may make a skill roll to gain temporary access to a specific secret just as if you had Security Clearance for your group. If you already have Security Clearance then you can temporarily treat your level as one higher. If you have 4 or more points in this skill you don’t need Rank, but you must make skill rolls at -2.

Kick ’em When They’re Down
If the knowledge of secrets/blackmail is a temporary or one time thing then follow the advice above, but add Favor (p. B55) and possibly purchase the whole thing as a Potential Advantage. The GM might also want to represent such secrets using a version of the Hidden Knowledge perk (GURPS Powers 2: Perks, p. 20-21):

Secret Knowledge†‡
        Instead of having access to a particular skill, you have access to highly sensitive information about a particular target or organization. As long as you don’t actually act on what you know, you’re safe. At the end of any game session where you act on your knowledge roll 3d and on a 15 or more this trait disappears; a critical failure means it gets replaced with a Enemy (p. B135) or Secret (p. B125) instead! Additionally, reduce this number by 3 per point of value this trait is worth over the first, so if you have a Secret Knowledge perk worth 3 points then it disappears on a 9 or less and on a 17 or 18 the bad guys decide to come after you! The GM may optionally allow you to spend a single character point to avoid this if you have one available. The GM should determine the scope of what you know exactly using the rules for Security Clearance (p. B82): Security Clearance at the first level costs 1-point, level two costs 2-points, and level three costs 3-points. If this perk is about a individual then by default they do not know that you have dirt on them, for organizations this costs a additional point. For example, if you know that Pentex, Incorporated is selling dangerous magically additive fast food that would cost you at least 2 points (free access to a narrow range of secrets) if they knew you knew or 3 points if you discovered it on your own. 
Kick ’em all around
Knowing things you shouldn’t can have a downside and the archetypical trait of such knowledge is the Secret disadvantage. Said disadvantage implies that you either did something someone wants to punish you for (whether it be society, a particular person. etc.) or that you know something you shouldn’t. Consider also Duty (Involuntary) if you are forced to do a particular job or be employed by a particular person or Dependent with Unwilling (+50%) from GURPS Social Engineering (p. 80), but with the twist that you are unwilling to take care of the subject and bad things will happen to you if you don’t. Finally, if you know something you shouldn’t and the bad guys know that you know it’s a classic case for the Enemy disadvantage.
Picking Over the Bones 
When it comes down to it, knowing secrets about someone or something is really a role-playing bit – not a trait to be defined. The exception to this is knowing something before the game actually starts, though the GM may ignore it because it could provide a great hook! Still, if it must be defined consider using some of the above traits for such nebulous things as “I know about the Cardinal’s secret aims to take over France!” or the like.
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