The seeming absence of HR in RPGs

A lot of stories rely on people being in the right place at the right time. While I like that structurally, and enjoy making use of it in various ways and to varying degrees in the games that I play, it really only works once in any given setting… unless you are playing Mage and you have to demonstrate that there really are no coincidences.

It occurred to me, as I got deeper and deeper into setting material for Hair of the Dog, and likely inspired by snippets I read on The Black Campbell, and on Compromise and Conceit, that sometimes, groups of PCs and NPCs really need a competent HR team to resolve some of their issues, whether those are interpersonal problems or just a shortage of skilled labour for a particular task, mission, or quest.

In All for One, Musketeers are considered to be gentlemen, and therefore should have a lackey. It is unseemly if they do not. From whence then, do these lackeys come? Who pairs prospective Musketeers with prospective lackeys? Surely it cannot all be coincidence?

In Mechwarrior, how exactly do Mercenary companies recruit all the personnel they need to keep their company running, and accomplish all that they are hired to do? Again… it’s not like you can hang out next to a battlefield with a sign saying “Will kill for food,” if you are looking for work, and what self-respecting mercenary company will be able to look its enemies in the face with the required amount of grim determination and steely resolve, if they know that half of the men in the company responded to a cheesy banner ad on MercNet which read, “Got Mech?”

I refuse to write a paragraph of examples about taverns and fantasy worlds.It has all been said before and most if not all of it is funnier than anything I might come up with, so please… skip a bit, brother.

There is not a complete dearth of HR in games, Shadowrun deals with the issue right up front, although unlike the real world the HR team get to try to kill you when the job is done. Call of Cthulhu and other investigative genres also have frequent occurrences of intermediaries hiring or suggesting the PC group to solve or otherwise resolve some mystery or problem. Even here though, there is somewhat of a lack in the other side of the coin… where can the PCs turn when they need to hire someone, or need help with their taxes, health insurance, or feelings of inadequacy?

Apart from the far too numerous coincidental meetings, the simple hand-waving and retconning of connections into sudden existence, and the timely decision of distant relatives to step up and do the right thing, game groups which ignore the clear sections on henchmen are really stuck for recruiting and counseling resources.

Yes, there is a point

What am I actually proposing? It’s simple really. By giving the players the opportunity to work the hiring and firing of hirelings, henchmen, lackeys, employees, secretarial staff, and security teams, or more importantly through an expansion or contraction of the actual playing group, you open up a very different kind of window into their perceptions of the game, where they want it to go, what is bothering them about where things are, and empower both them and you to do something about it, within the confines of the game setting, obviating things like “having to take a player aside for the talk,” or “taking a time out to discuss where the game is going.”

For those old enough to have started gaming with the same games I did, you might remember a TV show called Happy Days…. particularly the first season where Richie still had a brother. The question, “Whatever happened to Chuck Cunningham” is one of those iconic ones, like “What is the Matrix?” which live on long after the temporary inflation of their significance passes.

What happened to Chuck was that his character was removed from the show with a flimsy, “He went off to college.”  I guess we were not supposed to find it odd that he never came back. Perhaps colleges were carnivorous, brother-eating machines in the 50s…  Who can say?

In more groups than I care to remember, the departure of a player for school, relocation, or other reasons, was dealt with by the disappearance of the character and….  nothing. Character X was gone and he was never coming back. Often, for the sake of expedience, if a new player was needed, their new character was subsumed into the group with little to no ado and the game went on. I don’t think these were isolated cases. I think a lot of gamers and game groups do this. I think we all could have used a little ado.

As an option, I suggest making a session or appropriate number of sessions focus on the departure or arrival of a character (and the player). I suggest giving more weight to the NPC cast by having interviews, or whatever passes for them in the genre and period in which your game occurs, having characters introduced and described by other characters (always fun).

You might be surprised what pops up as being important~

8 Responses to “The seeming absence of HR in RPGs”
  1. BF Wolfe says:

    I like this idea. Some of the most memorable character traits have been introduced (inflicted?) by others (“I can’t hear you over the wheezing of the old man…”) 🙂 And lets not forget how much fun it can be when you don’t let a party know that NPC running toward them has a potential new PC behind it (*cough* Grasshopper *cough*). Mech warrior also has mercenary hiring via the ‘mercenary review board’ on Outreach if I’m not mistaken, which can play the role of both shadowrun-esque outsourcing ads and the medieval tavern.
    What of the role of a professional head-hunter? The modern business version of course. 🙂 I’m guessing they exist in any system where there is a profit to be made?

  2. Tyler says:

    Reminds me a little bit of the chapter on running an organization in Angel. The players can decide how much control their characters exert over the group they run, to the point they can hire and fire people, if they like.

    • Runeslinger says:

      It sounds like Eden Studios packed a lot of good stuff into their products. The only one of their Unisystem books I have is Army of Darkness and…. You know. Ash’s idea of human resources is referring to them as being a bunch of primitive screwheads and threatening them with lethal violence. 😉

      Thanks for the comment~

  3. Have you ever played Dark Heresy? It is set in the Warhammer 40k universe as members of the Inquisition. I say this because my Dark Heresy game has dealt a lot with HR in the sense that the Inquisition has a lot of authority and so we’ve identified potential recruits, ordered them to obey the Left Hand of the Emperor and gone on to use them effectively in battle. Those that survive are then absorbed into the great beast that is the Imperial bureaucracy of war.

    If you want more HR, I recommend you check out the system!

    • Runeslinger says:

      That does sound exactly like what I am talking about~ it is good to know that this theme has cropped up in more places than I thought…. just not the places I looked.
      Thanks for the comment.

      I definitely think games involving character participation in massive organization should get to benefit from and suffer at the hands of Human Resources management, of course, but I also think it is important for regular PC groups to take the time, and be given the opportunity, to be a part of changing group dynamics from player loss and replacement, character loss and replacement, or sudden changes of status due to great in-game success or failure.

  4. BF Wolfe says:

    *shudder* I’m having dark visions of my next character in your game having to fill out yearly performance reviews…. “so where do you see yourself in 5 years time. Mr Wolfe….”

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