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Spies, Infiltrators and thier impact on organizations


Pathfinder Online

Goblin Squad Member

I have started this thread as the continuation of an interesting discussion that was taking place in the Kingdom of Aeternum thread between a few individuals about spies and infiltrators and thier likely impact upon organizations within PFO. Rather then coopt Aeternums real estate for an extended discussion on the topic, I thought it might be fruitfull to open a seperate thread where interested parties could share thier thoughts. I'll provide you with mine in a follow up post, shortly.

Goblin Squad Member

First and foremost, I think it's important for us all to recognize that regardless of how we might individualy feel about it, spying and infiltration WILL happen in this sort of game. Because of that, I'm going to concentrate my observations on what role I think it is LIKELY to play, rather then what role I might wish it would play and to also talk about ways organizations can try to deal with or mitigate that impact and even perhaps take advantage of it.

The best news for organizations is that Goblinworks has recognized some of the ways that infiltrators can mechanicaly mess with an organizations structure within the games subsytems and have proposed to put in place some common-sense controls for organizations who wish to protect themselves from this aspect of infiltration. In essence, GW is proposing to put in place a very granular set of permissions for the subsystems that involve organizational structure and assets in the game, this includes things like multi-party approval for changes to the organization. For Organizations that have serious concerns about the way sabetours can directly impact thier structure and assets this should be very welcome news. It means that organizations who wish to take advantage of these robust systems can set it up so that a single infiltrator can't press the proverbial "Big Red button" which makes the organization go BOOM as far as the games systems are concerned. I think we can all understand how usefull that is to an organization. It's likely that an infiltrator may be able to do SOME direct damage to an organizations assets but that damage will mostly be controled by the organization itself and the degree of unfettered access they have allowed to those assets. For example if an organization sets up a bank account and grants permission for an authorized individual to draw upto 5000 gold from said account, then a compromised individual could make away with 5000 gold. The nice thing here though is that it places a level of control in the hands of the organization to structure thier assets as they determine best suits thier needs and the level of comfort they have in regards ease of access and security. From what I understand of the proposed system (and someone please correct me if I have it wrong) it should be possible for an organization to setup one bank account as a "slush fund" and allow authorized individuals to draw funds from that account in order to provide some ability to dynamicaly draw upon resources as they are needed, while keeping the organizations main treasury in a seperate account with tighter access restrictions in order to protect it from sabetours. With such a system alot of the direct concerns over sabetours can be mitigated...potentialy to the point where it's not really provident for an infiltrator to "BURN" themselves in order to do direct damage to assets.

Of course there is another way that would-be sabetours can directly harm organizations which don't involve access to the games subs-systems at all. That is of course to gain positions of leadership or responsibilty and then purposefully make bad/harmfull decisions or sow internal discord. There probably isn't alot that an organization can do to prevent such activity from occuring but the response to it, at least from my perspective, is relatively straightforward. Individuals who consistantly make poor decisions or are disruptive because they actively wish to harm the organization are functionaly identical to individuals who make poor decisions because they lack aptitude for that position or are naturaly prone to disruptive behavior. While the latter may evoke a certain sense of sympathy, from an organizational perspective you can judge inviduals worth to the organization by the quality of thier actions. If an individual is consistantly doing harm to an organization in the position they occupy...the organization really need not involve itself in the seemingly impossible excersise of discovering whether this is purposeful malfeasance. The logical response is to simply move that individual out of the position where they can do significant harm, which need not be an overly divisive measure if handled carefull and if an individual ultimately can't contain thier disruptiveness, an organization can reasonably question whether that individual truely belongs in thier membership.

Thus sabetours/provocateurs can certainly do thier share of damage to organizations, especialy in critical moments, but at least the organizations themselves will have some ways of mitigating that. The more pernicious (IMO), and perhaps interesting form of infiltrator is the SPY. The individual who does not act DIRECTLY against the organization themselves, but rather feeds valuable intelligence to those (either directly or through intermediaries) who can. I'll try to provide my thoughts on this in a follow up post.

Goblin Squad Member

I've moved disruptive individuals out of places of power KNOWING they weren't saboteurs. It didn't feel good. I don't like having to tell someone they can't handle the responsibility I thought they could, but it's not always about being a nice guy. Sometimes it's about doing what is best for the organization, and everyone else trying to enjoy their gaming experience. So in that regard the only way a spy could really do much damage on that front is if the company lacked spine IMO.

I think you are forgetting what I consider to be the main purpose of spies though. Information leaks. That's the hardest to detect, and the only way in which GL has ever employed our own spies. Our most successful espionage operation warned us of a plot against us and coming war, giving us time to make our own preparations and actually make a preemptive strike. But a spy can really feed a lot of good data to the enemy even at a low level of infiltration. Are you telling your entire membership to be on at a certain time for a certain attack? Your enemy now knows too. Do you have a standardized training program? Your enemy now knows what training your initiates receive. Someone have loose lips in the public channel on Teamspeak? Your enemy is listening in.

Don't underestimate the impact a low level information leak can have. However there are simple precautions that can be taken to minimize that impact. I won't post them here because then everyone will know what GL will be doing to minimize information leaks.

Goblin Squad Member

@Andius,

I was planning to address that aspect in a follow up post. As you know, I don't have access to any specific information about GL's counter-measures so anything discussed here is just a general observation about the topic.

I think it's usefull for players in general to think about how it impacts the game and thier organizations...and I don't think anything that is likely to be discussed here really would include anything actionable that could be utilized by a would-be spy...or really probably anything that most of them don't already know.

Goblin Squad Member

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As has already been mentioned, one of the other significant uses of infiltration is information discolusure... i.e. SPYING. This sort of infiltration is more pernicious and more difficult to uncover because the individual really isn't doing anything other then they ordinarly would, so attention isn't being drawn to them. It can have significant impact upon an organization because information about an organizations plans and activities CAN be used to the advantage of outside entities at the organizations expense.

It's important to note that there are two broad categories that such activities tend to fall into. Targeted infiltration and opportunistic infiltration. Targeted infiltration is where your organization is SPECIFICALY being targeted for infiltration by another organization. This usualy occurs for political/ideaological reasons. The other organization see's you as a threat/rival and therefore is seeking to gain whatever advantage it can against you. Generaly speaking, an entity with enough time, resources and ingenuity to throw into targeted infiltration will succeed. An organization which is being targeted in this manner must pretty much accept that no matter what measures they put in place, they will eventualy be compromised to some degree. The real question here is how deeply and how much time/effort/resources it took for the infiltrator to do so. Putting a ton of resources into infiltrating an organization in order to learn that it's official "secret" mascot is the hummingbird is more of a losing proposition for the infiltrator then the organization being infiltrated.

One thing an organization needs to consider is whether the cost of the security measures they put in place to protect thier information causes greater harm to the organization then the value of the information they are protecting. (IMO) It's a perfectly valid approach for some organizations to operate from the premise that pretty much all thier information is compromised and just not put much effort or concern in trying to conceal it from spies. Rather then rely on the element of surprise, such an organization concentrates it's efforts at just being really good at execution and assumes everything they do is known to everybody at all times. It's the Wilt Chamberlain, "Here's exactly what I'm going to do with the ball" approach. In other words, if you are good enough or strong enough at doing something, it doesn't neccessarly matter if someone knows what you are going to do. Even organizations which have a high interest in security are going to have to make cost/benefit decisions about what information is actualy worth securing what you generaly aren't going to bother with.

The other type of spying/infiltration is opportunistic spying. In this case, the spy/spy-master isn't targeting your organization specificaly. They may not have any particular bias or grudge against your organization. They are simply seeking opportunities to proffit from. They don't really care whether it's YOU they proffit from or someone else. Such proffit may take the form of them acting directly upon the information (e.g. bandits seeking to rob someone) or simply a broker (waves to Blaeringr) passing it along to someone else for coin. This tends to be a bit easier to deal with, since ostensibly the spying entity doesn't have infinite resources to take advantage of EVERY target. That means they are going to concentrate on the ones which provided the greatest value in information for the least cost/effort. In other words you don't have to "Run faster then the bear", you just have to run faster then the "guy next to you". Being a less opportune target means you likely won't be bothered too much by these types of spies. There are 2 basic ways an organization can do this....decrease the value of the information that can be obtained from you and increase the cost/effort required to obtain it. At some combination of these two comes a tripping point where it simply isn't worth it to the opportunistic spy to try to mess with an organization.

One thing that struck me as an ironic reality here is that, at least as far as the "information broker" type of entity goes, an organization that is as open and transparent about it's activites as possible becomes almost worthless to him as a target. That is because a large part of the value he can obtain from brokering that information to another party is dependant upon the exclusivity of his access to said information. In other words if you anounce publicaly "Caravan leaving to mining camp at 3:00" , no one is going to pay for that information when they've already been given it for free. Of course, that still means you have to be prepaired for bandits trying to attack that caravan. However, even there the bandits may think twice about it. Firstly because if another bandit group manages to hit the caravan before they do, they've lost the time and effort it took to setup an ambush with no loot. Secondly because a caravan that is publicaly anounced has a strong possibilty of being A) Very well prepaired to deal with bandits or B) A false lead. Food for thought, anyway.

Goblin Squad Member

*waves back*

Goblin Squad Member

I agree about the two areas of concern. The first (outright theft) is something that should be dealt with in game mechanics. If we get that in the code, then we ca mitigate it to enough of a degree that it won't be more than a nuisance.

The second is more subtle. Frankly theres very little anyone can do about deep spies. They've been able to befuddle whole nation-stations. The best we can do is make sure that that individual has one crack at hurting us and that's it. But it won't be foolproof.

There are ways to lessen the second problem. They fall into the counter-espionage, deception and redundancy categories. I'd go into specifics, but then that would be telling ;)

Goblin Squad Member

That... a great analasis grumpymel. (Remind me why you want to be a simple soldier?)

Goblin Squad Member

I think theft is best dealt with by the players themselves. That's a big factor in what Ryan was talking about with the whole evil turning in on itself thing. But it would also be very nice to see a game mechanic that changes a character's alignment for theft, and a very big shift if that theft is done through first infiltrating a company. And then of course there's the reputation system. And perhaps a way to work it into the bounty system as well.

And if all that fails, hire a thug to break his legs.

Goblin Squad Member

Gayel Nord wrote:
That... a great analasis grumpymel. (Remind me why you want to be a simple soldier?)

Because it's more fun that way ;)

I'll leave all the deep thought/heavy decision making to the higher ups for this one.

Goblin Squad Member

Blaeringr wrote:

I think theft is best dealt with by the players themselves. That's a big factor in what Ryan was talking about with the whole evil turning in on itself thing. But it would also be very nice to see a game mechanic that changes a character's alignment for theft, and a very big shift if that theft is done through first infiltrating a company. And then of course there's the reputation system. And perhaps a way to work it into the bounty system as well.

And if all that fails, hire a thug to break his legs.

True, but dosn't that somewhat involve a bit of mind reading?

Jim is an alt spy, infiltrates the 7th veil, rises to the rank that he can manage storage, steals the best suit of armor in the stash, and gquits delivering the goods to his actual employers.

Tom joins the great legionares, he is on good terms with the leadership, rises to the top, and for his service is given permission to get a prized suit of armor out of the storage by the leaders. 2 days later, Tom discovers he had another obligation, or perhaps was requested by The legionares to be an ambasador to another charter, thus resulting in a mutually approved parting of ways.

Now obviously the first should be evil, the 2nd shouldn't. But how is it distinguishable? The entire concept of infiltration is manipulating your way into getting permission. I cannot imagine an automated system that can distinguish being given something, and tricking someone into giving you something. Hell, human judges can't even do that with accuracy in the real world. Just watch any judge show and listen for the "It was a gift" "No it was a loan!" arguements.

Goblin Squad Member

Perhaps GL would have a mechanic we could use to give him our blessing to leave and pursue his other goals?

Goblin Squad Member

Andius wrote:
Perhaps GL would have a mechanic we could use to give him our blessing to leave and pursue his other goals?

Perhaps, but now we are putting alignment into the hands of guild leaders. Lets say it wasn't amicable, lets use a hypothetical LN guild with a mostly immature leader, The leader did offer and give the hypothetical armor as payment for a service, lets say getting a settlement to a certain point, leading or winning a battle or something. Afterwards the leader and Tom get into an argument resulting in Tom leaving, should Tom be forced to give the armor back that he was given for a job that he indeed completed, or risk his jerk leader declaring it a "theft".

As I mentioned there are hundreds of cases in the real world where it's essentially he says she says in regards to if something was a gift, a loan or a direct theft, and short of a GM spending hours of chat log reviewing for every case, it is implausible to compare. Or we just give guild leaders status of judge of someones alignment... which is even scarier and ripe for abuse.

I personally don't think it's fair or reasonable to plant a hard to remove evil points to someone (at least one that has objective meaning outside of the group making the claim, like alignment would, reputation on the other hand I have no complaints) over something that was essentially given to them. Assuming rights are granular enough to control, I think this level of power is extremely dangerous and pokes tons of holes into the alignment system that is intended not to be easy to game, or to force or trick someone into getting a bad alignment hit.

Goblin Squad Member

Nothing about any alignment system is going to be perfect. Every alignment system I have ever seen has many flaws, and PFO will be no different. You know how I know? Because it is impossible for them to make anything that doesn't have many flaws and still have it be even slightly useful. That's the problem with using game code to judge the morality of behaviors.

The scenario you are proposing is so rare it's a flaw I am willing to accept. Someone take something expensive from the company's bank for a legitimate reason, then soon after leaves the company, and the company's leadership decide to lower his rep.

Thats assuming many things.
1. He took that item within the time it could hurt his rep.
2. It was expensive enough to hurt his rep.
3. He was the one to withdraw it instead of the company's leadership.
4. He did not know he would be leaving soon.
5. He was the one to initiate the leaving.
6. He trusted the leadership that was corrupt enough to backstab him.
7. That leadership was indeed corrupt enough to backstab him.

I would expect this scenario to play out a small handful of times in all of PFO. I would expect it would cause people to either not take things from the bank of companies they are leaving, or give people the appropriate alignment hit, many, many, many times. AKA any time a disgruntled or highly corrupt person with bank access leaves a company.

Goblin Squad Member

I think it's important to keep in mind that "Alignment" is not a measure of "morality", rather it's a measure of how closely your actions align with the judgments of a specific deity.

Goblin Squad Member

Nihimon wrote:
I think it's important to keep in mind that "Alignment" is not a measure of "morality", rather it's a measure of how closely your actions align with the judgments of a specific deity.

Actually, it's a measure of a non-subjective form of morality into which every god and player fits. It is not dependant on any specific deity or their judgements.

GW Blog wrote:

In the real world, there's no absolute definition of good or evil or law or chaos, and everyone subjectively forms their own opinion of other people's ethics and morality. Two people could have very different opinions about a third person. In the world of Pathfinder, this is not the case. Alignment is a universal constant—an absolute framework within which every sentient creature is embedded. Two people can use magic to determine the alignment position of a third and they'll both get the same information.

Alignment in the Pathfinder world is also a descriptor. Things don't just act in good or evil ways; they are good or evil. And when a person uses something which is strongly aligned, that person is engaging in an act which is definitively aligned as well. The whole "ends justify the means" thing doesn't apply in Pathfinder.

There are also external consequences for a person's status within the alignment system. Some characters can lose important class features if they stray too far from a defined alignment—notably paladins and clerics. But there are forces in the universe who may be paying attention regardless of what path in life your character has chosen, for in Pathfinder, there are gods.

The gods of the Pathfinder world are strongly aligned. In fact, they are virtually the definition of what each alignment represents. There are several gods in some of the alignment positions who are each different expressions of the alignment they represent. And these gods are Paying Attention. How one lives a life is not theoretically related to how one spends eternity, it is a demonstrable fact. The gods are also a meddlesome bunch, and they grant and withhold favors to those who espouse their faiths and follow their teachings—including adherence to the god's preferred alignment, although many are fickle, so that one may never assume anything about a god's intentions or actions.

These effects will manifest in many ways in Pathfinder Online. Players will select an alignment for each character during character creation. Actions players take will tug at each character's alignment, shifting it this way and that. A prolonged series of minor actions, a few significant actions, or a single monumental action could shift a character's alignment into a whole new position.

Alignment will affect the kinds of religious services that the character can receive. Healing, restoration, and resurrection from some forms of death may require divine intervention. Alignment will affect the character's relationship with social organizations, and may cause a character to be ejected from them if the character's alignment diverges from the expected norm of that organization. NPCs may be more or less willing to interact with characters based on their alignments. The gates of some settlements may be open or closed to a character based on alignment.

In a world where alignment is meaningfully absolute and there is magic that can detect it, there are issues of security and trust which are therefore deeply impacted as well. Knowing where one's companions stand on the alignment graph is important. On the other hand, where would we be without espionage, betrayal and sabotage? A way to obfuscate or mislead others about one's alignment is a necessity. The cat-and-mouse game of alignment detection will be at the heart of many intrigues.

Goblin Squad Member

Andius wrote:

Nothing about any alignment system is going to be perfect. Every alignment system I have ever seen has many flaws, and PFO will be no different. You know how I know? Because it is impossible for them to make anything that doesn't have many flaws and still have it be even slightly useful. That's the problem with using game code to judge the morality of behaviors.

Now we are blurring the line between reputation and alignment. A guild leader should have the right to completely ruin my reputation his organization, and any organizations that trust him, but giving them the tools to scam alignment... which in result can stop me from joining my future guild of choice afterwards (assuming the hit he gives winds up shifting my alignment, thus possibly putting me out of step of what I want to join)... why is that a good idea?

And the situations being ridiculously rare? I would beg to differ there, in almost every MMO I have ever played there has been some discussion or debate on who was entitled to what, and the guild leader being in the wrong, is certainly not uncommon, I can think of about 5 scenerios within the guilds I have been in within the MMO's I've played within the last 15 years where I have seen where disagreement over usage of guild bank items has lead to arguement, with some of those arguements potentially leading to a gquit, of those examples 2 of them I would believe the leader was the one at fault, 1 the player was indeed at fault, and 2 I would not be able to make a reasonable determination without having an unmodified version of the chat logs between the leader and the player.

Yes I agree alignment is inevitably going to be gamed and attempted to be constructed into a griefing tool, but the goal is to reduce the ways for it to be used as a griefing tool, not create them. Social engineering is by definition manipulation, Accepting something given to you, should never be an evil act, and determining whether someone was "tricked" is not something that can be definitively confirmed, even by humans.

Goblin Squad Member

I've got to agree with Onishi on this one. A Guild certainly should be able to bork someone's REPUTATION....afterall, if someone is unreliable, they are unreliable even if it's not thier fault or they really didn't intend to be.

However, one's alignment is a more fundemantal statement about ones place in the cosmology...

example Bob fails to show up to guild duties and obligations on time because he has a terrible memory and cant quite seem to keep track of things or manage his time well, despite the fact that he really TRIES to do so and really values and recognizes the importance of obligations and duties.

Bob is UNRELIABLE not CHAOTIC.... Bob BELIEVES in the values of law and order, he just lacks compentance on executing things that require time management or memory skills.

But really here, the importance of the system GW setup is that it DOES allow a guild a high degree of control over thier assets and structural mechanisms. The general rule of thumb applies, anything that you give one person control over, be prepaired to lose to that person.

Goblin Squad Member

Andius wrote:

Nothing about any alignment system is going to be perfect. Every alignment system I have ever seen has many flaws, and PFO will be no different. You know how I know? Because it is impossible for them to make anything that doesn't have many flaws and still have it be even slightly useful. That's the problem with using game code to judge the morality of behaviors.

The scenario you are proposing is so rare it's a flaw I am willing to accept. Someone take something expensive from the company's bank for a legitimate reason, then soon after leaves the company, and the company's leadership decide to lower his rep.

Thats assuming many things.
1. He took that item within the time it could hurt his rep.
2. It was expensive enough to hurt his rep.
3. He was the one to withdraw it instead of the company's leadership.
4. He did not know he would be leaving soon.
5. He was the one to initiate the leaving.
6. He trusted the leadership that was corrupt enough to backstab him.
7. That leadership was indeed corrupt enough to backstab him.

I would expect this scenario to play out a small handful of times in all of PFO. I would expect it would cause people to either not take things from the bank of companies they are leaving, or give people the appropriate alignment hit, many, many, many times. AKA any time a disgruntled or highly corrupt person with bank access leaves a company.

This can be solved by having companies/settlements/kingdom/people be able to flag ownership of goods. These goods cannot be sold or traded as long as they are owned by that group/person(could be a contract). If the contract is terminated, they have X amount of time to return to items to a drop location, or they become open for attack by any party hired by the owner. This gear cannot be destroyed by the game death mechanic, it is preserved on the body along with the random items, and until everything is returned(if they are keeping things in storage) they are still open for attack. It also gives something to encourage loyalty, if you are outfitted in borrowed gear, you will be less likely to quit, because the owners hold the power to strip you of your equipment or make your life hell.

Why would this system work in the game? It is a magical system created by Wizards that have a higher power than is obtainable in the game, therefore it cannot be manipulated.


I don't think saying it was invented by really, really powerful people would make as much sense as saying it was a really, really good idea. And goodly people would go to lengths to prevent misunderstandings and to prevent suffering to others.

Valkenr wrote:


This can be solved by having companies/settlements/kingdom/people be able to flag ownership of goods. These goods cannot be sold or traded as long as they are owned by that group/person(could be a contract). If the contract is terminated, they have X amount of time to return to items to a drop location, or they become open for attack by any party hired by the owner. This gear cannot be destroyed by the game death mechanic, it is preserved on the body along with the random items, and until everything is returned(if they are keeping things in storage) they are still open for attack. It also gives something to...

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