Check for Traps
The Secret Art of Abduction

Alexander Macris | 16 May 2011 21:18
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Abduction on the Go

Abductive reasoning is so powerful and useful that you can use it to run entire adventures on the fly. All you need is a bunch of interesting and completely unconnected events, and some players prone to conspiracy theorizing. For example, in a game of Cyberpunk 2020, I've often just grabbed a copy of the Night City Sourcebook and rolled some random encounters. I might roll that "a convoy of US Army troops rolls up from South of Night City... towards an embarkation point" and "an agent on the corner is recruiting parties of Cyberpunks to move small, valuable commodities from Night City to various parts of the world." I could abduce that if the agent had ties to the US Army, and was selling a "surplus" of the very same commodities that the US Army troops had, then these two events would be a matter of course.

That instantly leads to other considerations - are there military police that are aware of the agents' activities that will seek to re-capture the "surplus"? Are the buyers enemies of the US who cannot be trusted to leave the Cyberpunks alive after the transaction? Are the "surplus" goods of such value as military hardware that the players might want to steal the whole shipment?

Carrying the example further, let's imagine that during the course of play, the Cyberpunks are attacked by three commandos carrying smartguns on a black operation. One player wonder wonders aloud "how did these guys find us?" Another player figures it out: "There must be tracking emitters in the cargo we're carrying!" The group immediately scans its precious cargo, and I reveal that, indeed, there are tracking emitters that have clued in the military to their location.

Except, of course, there were no tracking emitters until the players thought of it, and there was no "it" to figure out at all. The commandos were simply a random encounter (random encounter 00 on the After Midnight Encounters in Night City table, to be exact). I hadn't yet abduced that the commandos were tracking the player characters; I knew when I ran the encounter that the random table said there was a commando attack. I rewarded the player characters for their insightful act of abduction by having them be correct that there were tracking emitters, and allowing them to remove them.

Abduction, then, is truly a black art - akin to the quantum mechanics of a role-playing game world. Explanations for the facts of the game world may not exist until they are consciously observed; until then they are merely potential explanations, ideas floating in the seas of possibility. Abduction is how you plunge into the ocean of ideas and finds the best ones to explain the facts you're dealing with in your game.

At this point, you might have realized that I've shown you how to get some facts with which to generate abductive conclusions; and I've given you examples of my own abductive reasoning; and I've given you some suggestions of how to use it to run spontaneous games; but I haven't actually explained how to abduce. But that, sadly, I cannot explain: It's an intuitive leap.

As Musashi said in The Book of Five Rings, "it cannot be clearly explained in writing. You must practice diligently in order to understand."

Alexander Macris has been playing tabletop games since 1981. In addition to co-authoring the tabletop games Modern Spearhead and Blaze Across the Sands, his work has appeared in Interface, the Cyberpunk 2020 fanzine, and in RPGA AD&D 2nd Edition tournament modules. In addition to running two weekly campaigns, he is publisher of The Escapist and president and CEO of Themis Media. He sleeps on Sundays.

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