I Know a Guy who Knows a Guy

I was watching heist trailers, and was struck by the phrase “He’s the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy”. It jumped out at me that this is, in a nutshell, how to adjudicate contacting rolls, in any system.

Basically, you make the roll, and if you blow it out of the water, then you know a guy. Have a scene with that guy and get what you want.

If you don’t quite nail it, then your guy knows a guy, and he gives you an introduction.
If you really don’t do well, the maybe your guy knows a guy who knows a guy.

In short, the worse you roll, the further out you need to go. Now, this is cool for two reasons.

First, it generates more scenes, even if they’re just quick ones. Those scenes all revolve around people, which is great. It means the GM needs to have a decent stable of lowlifes, but if you’re running a game where someone knows a guy, then that should be an expectation.

Second, each additional circle introduces new wants and uncertainties. You can trust your guy, sure. And he says you can trust his guy, so maybe you can, but he’s going to want something for making an introduction with his guy, who may well have his own array for problems.

All of this hinges on an understanding that contacting (and really, similar social-gathering-information skills) should not just be treated as a mechanized version of google. Things don’t just happen – there are always people and things involved, and where people and things are involved, that’s where life gets messy.

But on the other hand, you don’t want contacting to dominate play – sometimes you just want to breeze past how you got you hands on a truckload of chickens and get on to the caper. To deal with that, I’d suggest the following rules of thumb:

  • If you succeed well enough that you got it from your guy, then don’t play a scene, just note which guy[1].
  • If you need to go further out, then that’s a reason for a scene. You need to meet with this new guy. And this is the important thing – you may not want to go alone. Bring at least one other character along as backup – after all, you ARE dealing with criminals here. And if you guys can’t get a good scene out of a clandestine meeting with some total screwball, then consider whether this genre is right for you.

  1. Yes, your guys should have names and personalities, even if just loosely sketched.  ↩

9 thoughts on “I Know a Guy who Knows a Guy

  1. Mark Richardson

    I may be forced to commit an act of robbery on this idea. I’ve been struggling with this in my game as “contacts” is such a generally shitty skill, and this makes it fun to get screwed.

  2. Scott

    I think I’ll be emailing my GM this one, as we haven’t found a way to make Contacts interesting for my manipulative bastard of a PC beyond using it as an info dump.

  3. Dave Chalker

    This might be another area where you can use a “Pick 2” approach:
    Unless you succeed with style, pick 2:
    The guy is untrustworthy
    The guy asks for a big favor
    The guy works on his own timetable

    (This totally seems to be the Burn Notice method- unless it’s your girlfriend/best friend/mom, it’s gonna cost you something, and even then…)

    1. Fred Hicks

      I subscribe to Dave’s newsletter, here, as a second vector for handling less-than-blow-it-out-of-the-water results on a Contacts roll. Both Rob’s method and Dave’s should be in the arsenal, IMO, to keep things varied.

      1. Fred Hicks

        Yeah, and a general process to check for all instances of “form” is good too since that one’s not gonna get caught much otherwise

  4. Alasdair Sinclair

    I like this – it seems to generate story possibility out of a “failed” roll. I immediately wonder whether you would also run this in reverse – you might be hired by a guy you know, but if you under-succeed your “find work” roll, you’re hired by a guy who knows your guy, and so on. Particularly relevant in those versions of the heist where you may be a patsy hired as cover for the real heist.


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