In Mongoose’s 2nd edition of the Babylon 5 Role Playing Game, the designers added an interesting mechanic which my players found fun to use:  influence.  Since the B5 universe involves intrigue and politics, the players are assumed to have to wrangle, call in favors, etc. to find out information or influence people they do not have direct contact with.

The character has a certain number of influence points in various fields — military (their own or other), society, media, political organizations, or criminal ones.  This is added to 2d6 and any modifiers to beat a set DC.    You can use influence to gain access to equipment and resources, or to pressure groups to aid you in some way.  This latter bit is particularly fun:  say your an agent from the Earth Intelligence Agencyon assignment in the field and you have to find out who is the Narn agent in charge in your location is, and get him to give you information on a group you’re after.  You tap your Earthgov influence of 12, roll 2d6 (7):  the difficulty to get this information is not hard, but the exerting the influence through the Narn government might be.  The difficulty to get aid from Earthgov is 10 — easily passed.  EIA pressures the Narn government for the contact — DC12, since you are are going a step further from your initial contact, you take a 5 penalty on the original roll…and still pass the test.  The Narn AIC is alerted to your presence and need for aid.  He has the information you need.  Now if say, you had needed the Narn to get information from the group, itself, and the GM had set that difficulty at 10, the cumulative penalties (two steps from your EIA contacts) would have provided a 7:  the Narn does not have what you want, but does have some of the information you need to point you in the right direction.

We liked this mechanic, so I ported it over to my Cortex games:  Battlestar Galactica and Serenity.  Here, your test roll would be Intelligence+Influence (Bureaucracy, Politics, Business, whatever…)  If you have Contacts that are applicable, add that die (this is “Friends in High/Low Places” in Serenity, or “…in Strange Places” in BSG.  Political Pull might also be applicable…  Set the initial difficulty, with a step up the difficulty ladder per faction you must go through (another route to go would be to add a die step difficulty per faction…)  So if your trader in Serenity needs to get hold of a smuggler working for the 14K Triad for get access to his supplier of X, he would tap his own contacts — say the Brotherhood of the White Chrysanthemum.

He rolls his Int d8, Influence d6 and Friends of d4 for a 7+3+3: 13.  Tapping his friend in the BWC is an Easy (3), who talks to a frienemy in the 14K (Average, 7), who talks to the smuggler (Hard, 11), who does give you the name of the purveyor of X…you needed a Formidable, 15 to get his assistance and failed.  What you don’t know — the smuggler does want competition and informed his supplier you were coming…and that he should dispatch you with haste.

This mechanic would be easily replicated in most game systems.  In the Decipher Star Trek game, a Negotiate or Investigate test might start with tapping Starfleet agents on a world, have them talk to Romulans, then to whatever group/faction they needed to talk to.  Set the initial TN, then add +2 for each step the request goes through (with possible additions for interaction stance, etc.)  Or have the degree of success moderate how many groups can be influenced in a chain.

For Hollow Earth Expedition, you would use the Bureaucracy or Streetwise skill (plus whatever bonuses for Ally, Contact, Mentor, or Fame) to make these remote influence tests:  each step away from your Ally/Contact/Mentor would be a step up the difficulty ladder.  (Say your connections to the Council of German Jewry give you a Easy task of asking your friends in the CGJ to contact their people in Berlin about the disposition of a friendly agent.  That Average to get information from Germany.  But say you need them to get a message to the agent, who is currently under surveillance by the Gestapo…that might be Tough, as the CGJ needs to go to a Jewish sympathizer in the polizei to get past the SS.

It’s an interesting mechanic, and one that my players seemed to find a lot of fun.