Archives of Nethys

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Chapter 3: Subsystems


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 160
Not all elements of an adventure can be resolved with force of arms and the sizzle of deadly magic. Sometimes subtlety is required to circumvent foes or accomplish a goal. When the characters need to rely on improvisation and fast thinking to infiltrate a stronghold or organization to save the day, the infiltration subsystem provides a framework for those adventures.

An infiltration requires the heroes to employ guile and subtlety to achieve one or more objectives without directly confronting their enemies. The PCs’ goal might be sneaking into a den of thieves to relieve them of ill-gotten gains, navigating the winding passages of the city watch headquarters to break a friend out of prison, or putting themselves in just the right spot to snatch up the right person or the correct item at just the right time. Whatever the case, the heroes are working to avoid drawing the attention of an opposing party, such as the members of a thieves’ guild, the prison guards, or the invited guests at an upscale gala. Should the heroes draw too much attention, they might be attacked, arrested, or thrown out—in any case, blocked from accomplishing their goal.

An infiltration is fundamentally a roleplaying activity. The players narrate their characters’ actions in response to the situations around them, and the infiltration subsystem provides a framework to measure incremental success within the overall endeavor. An infiltration takes place over the course of multiple rounds, though it’s up to you to determine how long a round is. One round might encompass 10 minutes or 1 hour of in-world time, or something completely different depending on the story and your group’s preferences.

Building an Infiltration

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 160
When creating an infiltration, you’ll want to start with the party’s broad goals and an idea of how much time you and your players want to spend. The more complex an infiltration, the longer it will take to play out at the table.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 160
The first thing you’ll need to determine is the party’s objective, or broad goal. Maybe the PCs need to find their way into some hidden sanctum, find a particular person within an organization, locate and get away with a bit of treasure, or plant a piece of evidence. An infiltration can consist of a single objective, but a more complex one might include two or more objectives in sequence—the PCs might first need to find a way to enter the cult’s sanctum, then open the vault, and then escape with the relic.

To achieve an objective, the PCs must overcome a certain number of obstacles—specific challenges the PCs face, such as getting across a moat or past a nosy butler. For a simple objective, they might need to overcome only one or two obstacles, while a more complex one might require several.

It’s a good idea to offer more obstacles as options than the characters need to overcome, and the PCs don’t all have to choose the same ones. This represents the fact that there’s more than one way into a castle, and allows PCs to choose obstacles that play to their strengths. It also means you have more options you can adapt if the PCs decide on a truly novel way to tackle their objective.

Once a character has overcome the required number of obstacles to reach the objective, they move on to the next objective. This might mean that some characters move on to a second objective and start making progress toward it while other characters are still completing obstacles from the first objective. When all characters have completed the final objective, the infiltration is a success!

While the characters are pursuing their objectives, however, they need to avoid notice. Awareness Points (AP) measure the extent to which an opposing party is aware of the PCs’ actions, and apply to the party as a whole. As the PCs’ Awareness Points increase, the infiltration becomes more difficult as the opposition shores up its defenses. If the PCs generate too many Awareness Points, they are found out and their infiltration fails altogether!


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 160
Each obstacle has certain statistics that define how it works in play. Infiltration Points (IP) represent a character’s progress toward overcoming an obstacle. Each obstacle requires gaining a certain number of Infiltration Points to overcome—typically 1 or 2, but some challenging obstacles might require more. PCs can gain Infiltration Points in multiple ways—usually through a skill or Perception check, but sometimes another roll or even the use of a spell or item. These methods are listed in the obstacle’s Overcome entry. Unlike obstacles for chases, these use a difficulty band for the PCs’ level, rather than using set DCs.

The Overcome entry also lists whether the PCs need to overcome an object individually or as a group. For individual obstacles, each PC needs to earn the required number of Infiltration Points themself, while for group obstacles, all PCs working toward that obstacle pool their Infiltration Points toward it together. For example, each PC trying to scale a wall needs to earn points on their own, but the PCs could work together to search a guildhall for clues, and once one PC has picked a lock, everyone can enter.

A particular PC can overcome an individual obstacle only once during an objective; likewise, the party can overcome a group obstacle only once.

Obstacles in Play

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 161
On a character’s turn, the character describes what they do to get past the obstacle. They then attempt any required check (or perform the required action, if their choice doesn’t require a check). The result of the check determines how many Infiltration Points the character gains toward overcoming that obstacle—or whether they instead raise suspicions and accrue Awareness Points!
Critical Success The PC gains 2 Infiltration Points.
Success The PC gains 1 Infiltration Point.
Failure The PCs accrue 1 Awareness Point.
Critical Failure The PCs accrue 2 Awareness Points. If the character’s actions automatically help without requiring a check, like using a spell, they usually gain 1 IP, but you can award 2 for particularly helpful actions.

Sometimes a PC might become stuck on an individual obstacle. Some opportunities (page 162) allow PCs to spend their turn helping others overcome a tricky obstacle.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 161
The number of obstacles to require the PCs to overcome for an objective depends partly on the complexity of the infiltration. For shorter infiltrations, use fewer and lower-IP obstacles; for a longer, more complex heist, you can add more obstacles with greater complexity. Also, bear in mind how many checks the PCs will need to attempt to complete their obstacles. An objective with mostly low-IP group obstacles will move quickly because only a few rolls are required, compared to one with mostly individual obstacles that each PC needs to roll separately for.

Sample Obstacles

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 161
While you'll want to create custom obstacles to suit the details of your infiltration, the following examples can be used directly in many infiltrations, or as inspiration for your own creations. You can also use the sample chase obstacles on page 159 as starting points.

Guard Post Obstacle

Infiltration Points 2 (individual); Overcome standard, hard, or very hard Deception, Diplomacy, or Stealth
Guards cluster at a checkpoint, alert for unusual activity.

Locked Door Obstacle

Infiltration Points 1 (group); Overcome hard or very hard Athletics or Thievery
A locked door separates the heroes from their target.

Trap Obstacle

Infiltration Points 3 (group); Overcome hard or very hard Thievery A trap bars the characters' passage. This obstacle follows the normal degrees of success for an obstacle, with the following modification for critical failure.
Critical Failure The PCs accrue 2 AP as normal, and the PC who critically fails the Thievery check also triggers the trap.

Awareness Points

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 161
The trick of any infiltration is to get it done before anyone notices. Awareness Points measure the opposition’s awareness of the PCs’ efforts, helping you keep the pressure on and ramp up the urgency. While Infiltration Points are specific to a given obstacle, Awareness Points are a single pool spanning the entire infiltration and all participants.

Awareness Points increase in three different ways. When a PC fails a check to overcome an obstacle, they incur 1 Awareness Point (or 2 on a critical failure). Other failed checks during the infiltration typically don’t increase the Awareness Point total unless the failure would reasonably cause a disruption. Awareness Points also increase by 1 at the end of each round of the infiltration, as the passage of time makes it more likely that the PCs will be discovered. Finally, the PCs earn Awareness Points whenever their activities are disruptive enough to draw attention to the infiltration, subject to GM discretion.

The effects of Awareness Points occur when the PCs reach certain thresholds. The specific effects and thresholds are up to you and your story, but typically for every 5 AP the PCs accrue, the challenges become harder, and if the PCs accrue enough Awareness Points (usually equal to twice the number of Infiltration Points necessary for the party as a whole to overcome all necessary obstacles), the infiltration fails.

Each threshold should have an effect. It might increase the DCs for obstacles, introduce a complication, spark a combat encounter, or have other effects. Reaching the highest tier of Awareness Points means that the PCs fail, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story! Failed infiltrations are an opportunity to introduce new challenges and move the story forward in a different way.

This basic Awareness Point scheme for an infiltration requiring the PCs to earn 10 IP can be used as is or tailored to your game.

5 Awareness Points: Suspicions are raised. Increase the DCs for obstacles by 1. The first time the PCs reach this tier, a complication occurs.

10 Awareness Points: The first time the PCs reach this tier, a complication occurs.

15 Awareness Points: Increase the DCs for obstacles by a total of 2, and the first time the PCs reach this tier, a complication occurs.

20 Awareness Points: The infiltration fails.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 162
Sometimes when a plan goes sour and seems like it can’t get worse, it does. Complications are unexpected problems that compound the difficulty of a challenge. The party might trigger a complication by critically failing a check to overcome a challenge, by reaching a certain threshold of Awareness Points, if you need to spice up the infiltration, or through their own decisions—maybe the wizard’s castle has various wards, each triggered when a PC attempts to use a different kind of magic.

Many complications increase Awareness Points or otherwise make infiltration more difficult. A common form of complication is attracting the attention of guards who try to stop, capture, or even kill the PCs. When this happens, the infiltration may briefly shift into encounter mode as the PCs attempt to defeat their assailants—hopefully taking care not to arouse more suspicions. The sounds of battle are loud, so unless combat occurs in an isolated area or the PCs take precautions, each round of unmitigated combat noise causes them to gain Awareness Points, at the very least.

When you create a complication, decide on the details of how it will play out. Each complication has a trigger that determines when it occurs. It might affect only a single character, or it might affect everyone in a certain area, and you’ll need to determine whether multiple PCs can work together to overcome it or whether only one can. Complications must be overcome before the characters involved can overcome other obstacles, and attempting to overcome a complication takes a character’s turn just like trying to overcome an obstacle. Many complications are one-off events and are overcome automatically, even on a failure, though not without a cost. If a complication requires PCs to gain Infiltration Points to clear it, it has an Infiltration Points entry, just like an obstacle.

Don’t overwhelm the characters with complications. Typically, you’ll want to aim for two complications per AP threshold. Otherwise, the PCs may end up spending more time on the complications than on the heist itself, and the chance of failure may be too high.

The following example is a common complication that could occur in almost any infiltration.

Do I Know You? Complication

Trigger The PCs reach 5 Awareness Points for the first time. Overcome standard, hard, or very hard Deception, Diplomacy, Performance, or Stealth
Someone thinks they recognize you, and you must either convince them otherwise before slipping away or find a way to dodge the person entirely.
Success You convince or otherwise dodge the person.
Failure You are recognized, and the party accrues 1 AP.
Critical Failure As failure, but the party accrues 2 AP.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 162
Not everything that happens during an infiltration is a challenge that must be solved—sometimes PCs can use their turns to aid the group in some way. Opportunities are very similar to obstacles, but they don’t provide Infiltration Points or count toward the objective. They instead provide some kind of benefit, such as a magical password to disable security features further along, reducing the party’s Awareness Points, or lowering the DC for a later challenge. But opportunities sometimes come with risks—failing can increase the PCs’ Awareness Points or trigger complications. You’ll need to decide what opportunities are available and when, and whether they can be completed multiple times or only once. For example, the PCs can steal the guard’s keys only once, but can cause a distraction several times.

Some opportunities might be available at almost any time in any infiltration, like this example.

Smooth the Path Opportunity

Requirements The PC has successfully completed an individual objective and some other PCs have not.
Having completed your objective, you help an ally who is still trying to reach that goal. Describe how you are helping. This gives the ally the benefits of Following the Expert (Core Rulebook 479). In unusual cases, the GM might allow you to attempt a relevant skill check to overcome the obstacle on behalf of the other PC instead.

PC Preparations

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 162
Sometimes the party has a chance to prepare before conducting their infiltration, by scouting a location, bribing officials, and so on. This takes the form of special downtime activities that can give the PCs Edge Points (EP): resources and advantages they can bring to bear during their infiltration, such as stolen uniforms, forged documents, and the like. As with infiltration opportunities, careless work runs the risk of increasing Awareness Points—but in this case, before the infiltration even begins!

Typically, you’ll limit the preparation phase in some way, such as by setting a number of days the PCs have to prepare and by constraining how many preparation activities are available to make sure the PCs aren’t entering the infiltration with so many Edge Points that the infiltration is no longer suspenseful. The more opportunities for Edge Points you give, the lower you should set the Awareness Point thresholds for complications and failure. Also decide how many times the characters can benefit from each preparation activity—most activities should grant their benefits only once.

You can use the activities below for your infiltration by adjusting the details, but you should also create custom activities that link directly to your story.

Edge Points

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
Edge Points (EP) represent advantages the party gains by proper planning, quick thinking, the intervention of an ally, or some other benefit. They are typically gained by pursuing opportunities in previous infiltrations or through preparation before the infiltration. When a PC fails or critically fails a check to overcome an obstacle or a complication, they can spend an Edge Point to succeed instead. Some Edge Points can be spent only during particular circumstances—for instance, no matter how well you forge documents, it won’t help you unlock a door—so consider using unique tokens to represent such Edge Points.

Preparation Activities

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163

Bribe Contact

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
Cost A bribe worth at least one-tenth of the Currency per Additional PC listed on Table 10–9: Party Treasure by Level. Doubling this amount grants a +2 circumstance bonus to the check.
Requirements You’ve successfully Gained a Contact (see below).
You offer a bribe to your contact to help the heist in some way. Attempt a hard or very hard Deception or Diplomacy check.
Success The contact accepts the bribe and you gain 1 EP.
Failure You believe you successfully Bribed your Contact and gained 1 EP, but in fact the contact informs the opposition of the attempted bribery, adding 1 AP to the infiltration. The GM can reveal that this Edge Point grants no benefit at any point during the infiltration, as befits the story.
Critical Failure As failure, but adding 2 AP to the infiltration.

Forge Documents

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You prepare forgeries that might serve as convincing props. Attempt a hard or very hard Society check.
Success You create convincing forgeries and gain 1 EP you can use only when presenting some form of paperwork.
Failure You create unconvincing documents. You gain 1 EP that (unknown to you) grants no benefit when used.
Critical Failure As a failure, but a PC who tries to use the Edge Point gets a critical failure, even if they use the Edge Point after rolling a failure.

Gain Contact

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You try to make contact with an individual who can aid you in the infiltration. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard DC Diplomacy or Society check, or a check using a Lore skill appropriate to your prospective contact.
Success You make contact and gain 1 EP.
Failure You fail to make contact.
Critical Failure You insult or spook the contact in some way. Future attempts take a –2 circumstance penalty. Special Multiple critical failures might cause the contact to work against the PCs in some way, likely increasing the party’s Awareness Points.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You seek out rumors about the infiltration’s target. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard Diplomacy check.
Critical Success You gain inside information about the location or group you’re trying to infiltrate. This grants you a +2 circumstance bonus to future checks you attempt for preparation activities for this infiltration. If you share this information, those you share it with also gain this bonus.
Success You gain inside information about the place or group you’re attempting to infiltrate that aids your planning.
Failure You learn nothing.
Critical Failure You hear a few mistaken rumors and take a –2 circumstance penalty to your next check for a preparation activity. Word spreads around that you’re asking after that group or individual, increasing your Awareness Points by 1.

Scout Location

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You spend time observing the place or group you wish to infiltrate. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard DC Perception, Society or Stealth check.
Success You make observations that provide 1 EP.
Failure You learn nothing particularly noteworthy.
Critical Failure You misjudge some aspect of what you observed, gaining 1 EP that results in a critical failure instead of a success when used, even if a PC uses the Edge Point after rolling a failure.

Secure Disguises

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 163
You seek to procure or create disguises. Attempt a normal, hard, or very hard Crafting, Deception, Performance, or Society check.
Success You procure or creates disguises, gaining 1 EP that can be used only to maintain a cover identity.
Failure Your efforts result in an unusable disguise.