Emerging Threats Unit: Characters and Scale of Stories

It’s been a couple months, so time for another Emerging Threats Unit post, so I thought I would jump back to a basics from another angle: the sort of protagonists in the Emerging Threats Unit: field operatives.

Protagonists: Field Operatives

A field operative is someone who goes to places to “eradicate (or contain) an unnatural influence.” ETU is an action-investigation game with a heavy lean on the investigation side of things. There’s pressure for smart characters being pushed to discover things in time, with violent action being what these characters would like to avoid. When you go up against horrors without enough intel, people die. People will die even if you have enough intel if you go straight to making it a firefight. So being a scientist is more important in ETU than being just muscle.

The sort of character types I’ve outlined so far include folks with bizarre expertise:

  • Cryptozoologist
  • Paraepidemiologist/Cryptoepidemiologist (includes memetic transmission)
  • Paraphysicist (which involves what people call “magic”)
  • Parapsychologist (also includes memetics)
  • Morticians and medical examiners (handy for determining what killed something and also how to keep the dead from rising)

Not everyone is an expert. There are “interns” — people who don’t have specialized in a form of unnatural knowledge, just “normal” scientific backgrounds. And there’s “support” — people who are more combat/survival-focused, there to watch the backs of the experts. Interns and support also have access to information, through wireless devices and through Mnemosyne. From a setting conceit standpoint, the experts are the assumed characters, but there’s room for playing newer characters (interns) or characters that are a contrast to experts (support). There isn’t room for “that guy who just stumbled upon the horror this morning” in ETU, though, because being in ETU is partly about a cloistered culture of silent, brave defenders.

Scale of Stories

The sorts of things I want ETU to cover, story-wise, between the X-Files  “investigate with some danger” pole and the high-danger pole of Delta Green (and similar, when they’re at their most dangerous). In thinking about where those take place, I realized that there are some overall settings:

  • Rural/nowhere
  • Small town
  • City
  • Metropolis

(The metropolis is a weird case, because that’s where humanity’s metaphysical herd immunity really comes into play, but that’ll be its own post.[1])

The shapes of those stories are remarkably different. In the smaller scale ones, both the Threats and the Unit are able to act with more freedom. When there’s a report of a Threat in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota, ETU brings the heaviest guns they can. However, cities and metropolises require ETU to work in the shadows, and the Threat is actually limited to where it can invade due to metaphysical herd immunity. That’s roughly two different shapes of action and two different shapes of investigation, which mix together to make:

  • Low action, overt investigation
  • High action, over investigation
  • Low action, covert investigation
  • High action, covert investigation

If Emerging Threats Unit is to succeed, it needs to support the characters mentioned above in those four modes. That’s what I want, and I hope those of you who have been following ETU want that as well.

– Ryan

Photo front: smi4450.deviantart.com/art/Monster-in-the-woods-344973702

[1] Short answer: one ETU theory is that civilization naturally gravitated toward cities in order to defend themselves against the unknown, and thats achieved by changing what we fear: other people rather than the outside.


2 Responses to Emerging Threats Unit: Characters and Scale of Stories

  1. blackcoat says:

    Also, the transition between the story types/locations is going to be interesting. Investigating a small town and needing to be covert about it to not alert the parasite infested people, but then when you manage to lure them all out to the caves at the edge of town your team can (finally) go dynamic.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally. That’s where limitations and consequences also live: risking exposure in a large city is A Bad Thing, though it’s also a strategic thing that you might have to risk (which I need to write about when I talk about metaphysical herd immunity). In a small town, the consequences are lower on a global level but massive on the local one, so you’ve got choices to make there.

      Also, it’s much easier to sterilize a rural location than, say, Seattle, both in terms of logistics and in the consequences of people noticing.

      Those are all questions and situations that I want ETU to be able to ask and present, and force characters (and players) to answer.

      – Ryan