The Director's Chair is a series of ongoing articles aimed at those select individuals calling the shots behind every Optional System game, including the upcoming Killshot roleplaying game. Written by its creator, the Warden, you can learn how to expand on the rules and guidelines presented throughout this site and the games themselves to create a unique and dynamic game for your players.
Marks are like fingerprints; no two are alike. And just like fingerprints, they can land your ass in prison or the gas chamber.
There’s a common misconception in this business that all marks are “innocent” people or those who never saw the hit coming, so today we’re going to take this opportunity to clear up that myth once and for all. Yes, there are some marks who are truly unsuspecting and may not have deserved the fate a client may have in store, but that’s not always the case. As most clients are the type to get their hands dirty, most of their partners and associates are just as inclined to dip their hands in a little filth and threaten to get some of it on other people. These marks have made a career breaking the law and may even have some of the same training as the assassins or at least something generically close – they’re what we call professional marks.
A professional mark is someone who has knowledge, training, and ability to give the assassins a run for their money in more ways than one. Perhaps they have some combat experience and will shoot back without a moment’s hesitation, travel around the city with a couple of armed bodyguards, or cover their tracks to avoid ambushes and other surprise hits. They’re the marks an assassin needs to catch off guard or else they’ll risk turning the job into a suicide mission. As a Director, professional marks provide ample opportunity to test your assassins’ abilities, planning, and teamwork in new and exciting ways or put their cocky butts in the proper place.
Choosing the Right Focus
The greatest tool a professional mark can have is the same as any assassin – a good focus. In some cases, a mark sports the same focus as an assassin and in others they have one with greater applicability. For example, a mark with the Soldier focus can have the same application as the Enforcer assassin focus without being limited to a single attack type (such as ranged weapons). Another focus may be suited to take effect whenever the assassins take action, such as the Bodyguard focus available to most, you know, bodyguards. Even an assassin’s trigger cannot turn off or place a half penalty to the Bodyguard focus dice to a defense roll as this focus specializes in a constant state of readiness.
What’s important to remember about a focus – particularly a mark’s focus – is that there is no concrete list detailing exact applications and conditions. A mark’s focus is whatever you need it to be and whatever makes sense to the particular character. As a Director, you also need it to be something that can challenge your assassins and catch them off their game in comparison to previous jobs. For example, if your assassins have excelled at using triggers to kill the last three marks, you’ll want a professional mark to have a focus where the trigger’s effectiveness will be reduced. Break them out of the comfortable zone and force them to think outside of their box.
In a sense, a professional mark’s focus is a Director’s cheat. If you think about it, an assassin’s focus is a player’s cheat. Every focus in Killshot is an interpretive mechanic for the character’s overall training in a particular field, particularly when it comes to applying focus dice to a roll. Different Directors will make their own exceptions to the use of focus dice based on their own interpretations of a character’s focus or based on how the individual player expresses their use of the focus. One career’s use of Tech focus dice may be completely different from another and all of that is based around the level of realism each Director chooses for their career. If your Tech assassin has been able to make the case that her focus dice apply to picking the lock on the front door of the government building even though she’s a computer specialist, the same argument can be made in favor of your professional mark. “He’s a professional bodyguard. His job is to be prepared for anything and that’s why his focus dice don’t take a half penalty.”
That’s when Rule Number Two applies: it’s now up to the assassins to find another way to seize advantage over that mark. If a soldier can handle any form of physical combat, their focus is useless against the seductive powers of a Grifter. A good focus on your professional mark not only makes dice rolling challenging, but ramps up the Planning phase for your assassins.
Using An Assassin’s Focus
On a related note, professional marks can also make use of an assassin’s focus and include all the perks players take advantage of every game. The key to balancing this decision is while the mark gains more than the average focus – meaning a feature and a focus option or two – professional marks do not have the same progression as a true assassin. Don’t get me wrong, giving your professional mark an assassin focus does increase the mark’s difficulty, but without the same number of dice and training points to stay on par with the players, it is not the same as going up against another player’s character.
All obstacles in Killshot were designed to have less dice and training points than those available to assassins. Because of the nature of the game’s mechanics, the opposed roll always varies, but has a smaller chance of being on par with the maximum roll of your average assassin. For example, your average assassin with 40 training points will have a minimum of 7 focus dice, depending on how many focus they purchase. Your average mark built to challenge these assassins will have 4 focus dice + additional dice at a cost of 5 training points per +1d12 on a focus. Thugs will have no more than 2 focus dice + additional dice at a cost of 5 training points per +1d12 on a focus. From there, it’s all about how each individual character has spread out those dice; an assassin could have 0 focus dice on their Mind stat, while a mark could have +3d12. While it’s difficult to say with certainty assassins will always have the advantage over any mark (or thug), there is a greater chance in the assassins’ favor due to the volume of dice available between either sides. For this reason, selecting an assassin focus does not require additional training points for a mark yet bumps up the difficulty of success.
Dice rolling and focus aside, professional marks often lead lives of crime and have countermeasures prepared in the event they are attacked or killed. If your assassins thought Evidence Points were a pain, professional marks will make them wish for a holding cell and a trial.
Leaving a professional mark alive, even for one objective, can result in payback. To prove this point, I’d like to demonstrate an example from my own Killshot career. While playing Final Justice (the third job in Killshot: Direction), the assassins were able to kill all but one of the three professional marks hired to eliminate them: the sniper, Volchenkov. Thinking he was killed in an explosion, the assassins were able to handle the remaining two with little effort and quickly left the scene before police could arrive, leaving the Russian sniper to pull himself out of the water and plot his revenge. Using the information already obtained from the scene and clues discerned through the Evidence Points collected in the previous two jobs, Volchenkov was able to establish one of the assassin’s identities… and her family’s. At the end of Final Justice, just as the players were wrapping up and patting each other on the back, the identified assassin received a phone call from her cousin in distress. Before she could make out what he was saying, Volchenkov spoke into the phone, and then pulled the trigger on his handgun, killing her cousin. The line went dead and the session came to an end.
Professional marks offer Directors a chance not only to increase the difficulty of a job, but also provide impact, continuity, and subplot to an existing career. They can turn ordinary jobs into memorable storylines or result in the death of an assassin, spurring the rest of the Team on for their own revenge. It’s a tactic very similar to the season finale of successful TV shows; every week offers viewers a thrilling tale of the protagonists’ exploits with certainty of their success and survival, but the season finale tempts them with the possibility of something drastic and life altering. In other words, they are designed to make your assassins sweat.