Occult plans and using ghosts

We kicked of the game yesterday and the crew ent on the first score. They are Shadows, but during the crew creation we turned into the Strange territory and they focused on occult characteristics. As a result, in the first score they decide to use a ghost to retrieve drugs from the ship. This caught me by surprise, but I decide to roll with it and see what happens. I was a little unclear on the handling, so I wanted to ask for opinions on how this should work.

My general concern is to not turn the game into: we summon the ghost and it does things for us behind the scenes. I feel like this would kind of break the whole score aspect.

The party decided that they will find a recently deceased ghost, summon it and then have it infiltrate the ship to retrieve drugs. They rolled a 6 on the engagement, so I decided to skip the first step and have them spot a deathseeker crow. There was a fresh body in the water and the Whisper decided to Attune and coax the ghost out. I ruled it a desperate position, but with teamwork the scoundrel was successful and now they had a confused/enraged ghost on their hands being manhandled by the Cutter with Ghost Fighter. At this point we took a break.

My questions are:

  • How hard should using ghosts be to perform scores like that? Does anyone have experience with that? Should making the ghost do your bidding be a multi-roll/clock thing? How do you avoid a single roll solution to the score? I approach by making it more complex, but I am not sure whether that’s the right call? Maybe using the ghost should just bring unintended consequences (e.g. fight erupts on the ship and the ghost is chased by armed sailors)?
  • I was a little surprised with the plan “We find a fresh body”, because it’s very circumstantial. However, I decided to roll with it to not limit the players. Is that kind of plan acceptable?
  • How do you determine whether the ghost is successful? I intend to use the Fortune roll, but I am concerned that it will be disappointing if it fails after all this effort. On the other hand, I don’t think automatic success is warranted. I am thinking that the ghost retrieves the drugs either way, but the Fortune Roll will determine the consequences (e.g. Spirit Warden’s arrive, sailors give chase with ectoplasmic weapons).

I would love to get the thoughts of more experienced folks.

So if I recall correctly, the idea was to steal drugs from a Leviathan Hunting Ship.

It also sounds like the “Plan” was “Occult” with the “Arcane Method” being control over a Ghost. This would be the preferred opening scene for the players to see when “returning from commercial break” (as I like to say).

As I answer the questions, I’m also going to add some pointers and considerations:

Getting a Ghost to Do a Scoundrel’s Job

Well the first thing to mention here, and it wouldn’t be of any “fault” of your own, but this is going to be a pretty problematic approach as it is tackling the Levithan Hunters where they are the strongest (and this isn’t 100% well defined in the books).

This is a Ghost taking on a Leviathan Hunting Ship. Leviathan Hunters might as well eat Ghosts for breakfast. Leviathan Hunting Ships are equipped with portable lightning generators to deal with Ghosts on the open seas. While they are unlikely to be active while at the Docks in Doskvol, the analogy here is sending a fly to infiltrate a government building surrounded by an Electric Fence.

While I know the Score already kicked off, I’d probably remove dice for:

  • Is this plan contingent on many factors? (Yes: Get a Ghost, Compel a Ghost, get the Ghost onto the Ship, hope it can seize the drugs, and get out without being slaughtered by well trained leviathan hunters)
  • Does the Target have any special defenses for this plan? Yes- it’s a Leviathan Hunting Ship. Kicking the crap out of the Arcane is their specialty
  • Is the Target a higher Tier? Yes

Anyway, that’s stuff I would have made abundantly clear to the Players before the Job, but they are still welcome to proceed. Even the worst plans on paper can be a blast to play.

Pointer: 6 on an Engagement Roll

So, they rolled a 6, that means when the Action kicks off- they’re in a Controlled Position. Okay, what makes it Controlled? Well, it wasn’t a Crit, so we really shouldn’t skip any steps. In addition, it sounds like they wanted to find a Ghost nearby for the Job rather than grabbing the help of a Ghost before the Job starts or Flashing back to call the Ghost to come by and serve their bidding.

I’ll assume they wanted to get the Ghost while on the Job, so that should be our opening scene. Again, they rolled a 6, so for whatever reason, they’re in a Controlled Position.

As you mentioned, they find easy access to a body (albeit, mentioning a Deathseeker Crow is there means the Wardens aren’t too far away- so that probably wouldn’t be too Controlled- but hey, maybe they were busy that day ;p). Anyway, the PC moves in to coax the Ghost out and ask for it’s help.

This is a fresh body whose spirit is not old and feral. This isn’t so much dangerous as it is difficult. This probably isn’t very Desperate, the main Consequence here is time and that’s really it. The Ghost probably won’t suddenly rise up and strike at them or anything like that… again, they’re in a Controlled Position to start! They’d have to take some seriously foolish Actions to make this truly Desperate (and, again, it’s a fresh body with- at worst- a disoriented ghost… not even a feral one. The main Consequences here are Heat and time until Wardens show up). So the issue is not their Position, but their Effect.

In this case? If the Whisper doesn’t have Compel, it’d be Zero Effect. It isn’t impossible, it’s just that with their current situation- all they’ll do is invoke Consequences and no actual benefit. They’ll need like Arcane Implements or a basic ritual chant or something (set ups, pushing self, make things riskier by risking taking longer. etc.) to get to Limited or Standard Effect.

For reference, Limited Effect would probably be a Spirit whose faculties probably aren’t fully about them (basically an “Incomplete summoning.” They “did the thing,” but not all the way). A solid mechanical representation would be a reduced Dice Pool for the Spirit’s Fortune Roll.

It should still be noted that this Ghost isn’t fully Compelled to Action. Not only did this start the PC off at Zero Effect to “Compel without the Permissions of Compel,” but we should consider the Ghost might not follow through as precisely as the player would want.

Sure, the PC summoned them forth from the body and demanded the Ghost do their bidding- but the PC does not have the fictional permissions of Compel. This might mean that even if the Ghost has a modicum of success on its Fortune Roll, I’d probably factor in its own nefarious desires into the process. I don’t want to negate the PC’s overall success at getting the Ghost to do what they want, but I also want to respect the fictional permissions that they do not have, in this instance, the Ghost will treat their command with a little more “leeway.”

If the Whisper does have Compel, then sure, it’d probably be Standard Effect right off the bat (maybe Limited, as I think Compel assumes the Ghost is readily around to be Compelled, not a freshly summoned ghost). Nonetheless, Ghost will Obey the order as best they can (again, the more general the command, the more likely they’ll handle things their own way).

How Does the Ghost Do the Thing?

So let’s assume the PCs are able to kick off the Job by seeking out a Ghost in a Dead Body somewhere. It’s a little bit of a stretch, but it’s not like the Docks are the cleanest place in the world- surely they’ll be a dead drunk or whatever in some alleyway. I’d probably mention this shortcoming to the Player’s Intentions and just suggest that they go poking about for Ghosts already hiding around or whatever… regardless of how they get the Ghost to do what they want, how do we see how well the Ghost does?

Well, a Fortune Roll is a good choice here. The base dice pool? Hmm… hard to say. The Docks have a rating of 2 in it’s “Occult Influence.” So let’s start at a Dice Pool of 2. I’m taking away a die for the Leviathan Hunter Ship, that’s for certain. If it isn’t fully Compelled (or it was Limited Effect), I’ll probably take away another die. So as it stands, it’s a 0d Fortune Roll for the Ghost to Infiltrate the Leviathan Hunting Ship (again, this is why I would have warned the Players about this idea). They could boost it with some fictional advantages, perhaps causing distractions, getting more Ghosts, etc. I’ll be generous and say that somehow they get 1d to this roll. So what might the Outcome be?

Without Compel

  • 6: The Ghost gets the Drugs out of the Ship (somehow). However, in all the effort, it is really Hungry and the Captain of the Ship looks so tasty. Against it’s better judgement, it leaves the drugs right at the gangplank- in reach, but still not safe to grab- as the Ghost causes trouble on board the ship!
  • 4/5: Same as above, but the Drugs are on the Deck of the Ship
  • 1-3: “The Ghost Fails” is super boring. Instead, the more interesting “Things go horribly awry” would be “Hell Breaks Loose.” Perhaps the Hunters have been capturing Spirits for a while (maybe they make good bait for a particular Leviathan they hunt?). The Ghost lets loose these captured (and highly feral) Ghosts and the ship is infested with several dozen Ghosts. Chaos ensues, maybe the drugs get taken to the top deck as the crew of the ship tries to activate the portable lightning barriers, etc.

With Compel

  • 6: The Ghost does the thing without any distractions, the Crew has the Drugs, but (to add some excitement to the Score) some Hunters call out that their cargo has been stolen! They yell for Dockers to cordon off the Docks!
  • 4/5: The Ghost is able to drop it off at the Gangplank (like the 6 result without Compel above). Again, maybe spice things up with both an attempted possession of the Hunter Crew and/ or having the Hunters realize something is stolen.
  • 1-3: Again “They don’t do the thing” isn’t very interesting. How about they (The Ghost) run off with the Drugs- handing them over to the PCs as they draw Leviathan Hunters attention by wailing at them “Murderers! Murderers! You foul, filthy, humans!”

So the tl;dr here and more direct answers:

  • Remember they started in a Controlled Position, but what they are asking to do here is rather tricky. So it probably wouldn’t have been Worse Positioning, but Lesser Effect
  • In this case, it is monumentally hard for a Ghost to do what they are asking (for the reasons I outlined above).
  • Making the Ghost do their bidding probably isn’t several Rolls. A single Action Roll should suffice, but recall Fictional Permissions with and without Compel.
  • Finding a Random Fresh Dead Body is a bit of a Stretch. I probably would have indicated that having a Ghost ripe and ready to go would have been requisite for their Plan to kick off.
  • A single Fortune Roll would suffice to see what the Ghost does. It probably would have been a 0 or 1d roll (for reasons I outline above). A 1-3 does not have to mean total failure, just that things went bad.
  • Even on a 4+ for “Does the Ghost get them the Drugs?” you can still toss new obstacles in front of them (The Hunters realize something is missing, a rival faction shows up, the Ministry of Preservation suddenly arrives and cordons off the area, etc.).

Anyway, I hope that all makes sense and hope that helps


@Sully5443 Thanks a lot for the detailed response! The Whisper does have Compel. Making it a single roll but introducing complications/obstacles once the ghost enters the ship makes sense, I will use that.