Rival Searchers

It may not have been the first search plotline factor I mentioned, but the possibility of rival searchers, along with being a sure source of tension, is one of the most complicated potential elements of a search plotline. Each rival searcher only adds to the complexity.

How many are there? If you’re going for a straightforward race, you’ll probably want to stick with just one, to keep the variables to a minimum; if what you’re looking for is utter confusion and constantly shifting alliances, get yourself a bunch! I personally recommend not going over half a dozen discrete sides—four is about my limit most of the time, depending on how active they are on stage. From here on, you’ll want to address all the others for each individual rival searcher.

What skills do they have? One of the biggest factors that a character is going to look at when assessing her rivals is what they can actually do—particularly if there’s an overlap between the kinds of things the rival can do and the kinds of skills that it looks like finding the objective is going to depend on. Knowing what she can do—and how good she is at what she does—is important. So is knowing how much is reasonable for everyone else to know, moreso when you’re dealing with your own characters than if you’re a GM dealing with PCs. PCs only know what you tell them and what they can conclude from what they pick up; for other characters, the information has to have come from somewhere.

Then there’s intent and motivation. What do they want with the object of the search? Why? How badly do they want it? That’ll give you a sense of what lengths they’re willing to go to in order to get it, how far they’re willing to stretch their moral codes, and who they’re willing to use or willing to overlook being used by (and how they’ll deal with the latter contingency afterward) in order to get there.

How obvious is the rival about her goals? With some people, it’s obvious that they’re looking for something and nothing is going to stop them (or they need some help but nobody can do it without them, either). Others hide it pretty much until the last minute. The advantage to one’s goals being clear is an increased likelihood of finding someone willing to help them—and being able to talk about the issue without having to hide it in enough misdirection that they risk tricking an information source into giving them the wrong information through not knowing what they want. On the other hand, being obvious means that everybody knows you’re there to be taken advantage of or sabotaged. The subtle, on the other hand, might not get the free offers of assistance, but they’re less likely to have someone directly trying to interfere with them—and they can often get help from, and offer “help” to, unwitting rivals.

Likewise, what sort of strategy does the rival favor? I find that rival searchers tend to take [number] general approaches to their searches. Some of them focus on being the best searcher and winning out that way; some on piggybacking on other people’s efforts (particularly scary if they’ve managed to get connected to everyone else); some on sabotaging their opponents so they can proceed at their own pace without interference, and some on honestly working with whoever seems most sympathetic for as long as is necessary.

These aren’t going to be enough to flesh the characters out fully, but if you’re using existing characters as rival searchers, this is most of what you’ll specifically have to figure out for their new roles, and if you’re using new characters, this should give you enough to get you through until you can come back and round them out. Have fun!


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  1. Rival Searchers: Alliances | Exchange of Realities

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