What are you doing with your Infiltration phase?

So I got to thinking about abzu’s comment that the Usurpation phase is actually the best phase for BE beginners to cut their teeth on, and it makes perfect sense: The Vaylen are actively moving against the humans at that point, there is direct confrontation (albeit more political and interpersonal than running and gunning), the lines are clearly drawn.

My first (failed) BE game started in the Infiltration, with the intent of playing through all three phases. I think one of the reasons the game didn’t go well is the fundamental practical and metagame conflicts involved with running a true Infiltration. As I see them:

  1. The GM’s side (presumably Vaylen) is secretly laying the groundwork for the Usurpation.

  2. The player’s side (presumably Human) is filled with characters whose Beliefs have no narrative rationale for being involved with the coming Infiltration actions.

  3. The Vaylen side’s Beliefs – assuming we’re talking actual Vaylen operatives – have no narrative need to be opposed to the PCFoN’s Beliefs. Vaylen Sleeper Alpha needs to set up a well-hidden landing area and warehouse facility, which has nothing to do with any of the humans’ starting (pre-Vaylen appearance) Beliefs.

  4. If the GM directs his GMFoNs’ Beliefs to oppose the Humans’ Beliefs, therefore creating useful conflicts and tensions, it’s hard for me to imagine them doing so while also fulfilling their required Infection actions.

  5. If the players come up with Beliefs that oppose the Vaylen’s actions, that takes them knowing about the Vaylen actions…which contradicts the point of them being secretive. It makes perfect sense a few maneuvers into the Infiltration (when the gaff is blown and that secret warehouse is stumbled into or unveiled), but for those first few maneuvers, each side is fumbling along doing their own thing (which has nothing to do with the other side’s goals).

For my money, the single most important set of skills in the Infiltration are the ones you tap for the Assess action. If you can’t Assess, you’re left Flak-ing the enemy (which sucks and is terribly slow). That means each side has Building scenes built around: research, cryptography, accounting, streetwise, observation, signals, and investigative logic. Well…the Vaylen obviously are on-mission to Infiltrate so it’s easy for them to watch the enemy using these various skills. On the human side, though, there’s no narrative traction for them to know there’s even an enemy to watch. Well…Vaylen enemies in any case. I suppose you can keep an eye on your opposing Relationships.

So I’m wondering…what are you guys doing with your Infiltration phase? How did you square this circle? Was this a total non-issue for you?


[Thread bump] I’d be very curious to hear folks’ answers to this myself, since my group may actually do World and Character Burning on Wednesday, and that includes picking a phase.[/thread bump]

From my own personal standpoint of Never Having Played, my guesses:

On the Vaylen side, the GM might do well to have his featured Figure of Note for the Infiltration phase be someone who’s NOT hulled, but is rather a “useful fool” whose political agenda weakens the planet – rather like Weller in the running example in the book – and focus the Infiltration on the human vs. human conflicts, with the Phase objective being something like changing the planetary government or dominant military, and with the actual Vaylen working quietly as a kind of secondary theme. That’s a very slow build to the direct Vaylen-Human clash in the Usurpation, though.

On the Human side, the players would probably do well to have at least one of them be “in the know,” someone who’s seen the Vaylen threat first hand – maybe here, maybe on another world – and is seized with the terrible certainty that the worm is coming to this planet too, soon. Then the human side can spend its Infiltration phase desperately struggling to get someone, anyone, to take the Vaylen threat seriously, with the Phase objective being something like changing planetary attitude or quarantine levels.

Hi, Sydney,

Can you get away with having a player in the know if the world the group has burned has the Ignorant trait, which every PC/NPC must take?

Sydney: BinGO! Bullseye.

Use the Infiltration phase to explore OTHER conflicts in the world. Set up something that’s only tangentally related to the Vaylen – a power struggle in the underworld, politics at court, a sea change in industrial/commercial trends. The FoN for the Infiltration doesn’t need to be Vaylen or even be aware of the Vaylen. He just needs to be willing and able to cause trouble for his own selfish ends. See Philippe in Sheva’s War. The comic is definitely a Usurpation Phase game, but you can easily picture him handily winning the Infilitration Phase with a couple of cut-outs and Baron Struncka (sp?). Philippe’s not Vaylen, and Rhiannon obviously stayed way behind the scenes – perhaps even off-world!

The conflicts for Infilitration are about the cracks and stresses that internal strife, bureaucracy, corruption and ineptitude cause. These rifts then allow the Vaylen to gain a toehold to exploit in the next phase.

You definitely have to be patient in the Infiltration Phase. Everyone’s got to agree to ease into the setting. Whereas, starting in the Usurpation Phase is jumping in feet first.

Ahh, so in a way, Infiltration is a chance for the group to flesh out and get to know the world they’ve created. That way, they really feel the “Oomph!” when the Vaylen start turning it all upside down in Usurpation (and then blowing it all away in Invasion).


Four levels of answer:

Who says I have to be ignorant just because I have the “ignorant” trait? (Or indifferent, or paranoid, or hysterically fearful, or whatever).
As I understand Burning Empires traits, they’re bribes, not restraining orders. Any character piles up a bunch of required traits from lifepaths and home culture, and some of them may be mutually inconsistent or simply out of keeping wiht the player’s character concept. If I, as the player, decide to play to those traits, I get juicy, delicious artha – but if I decide, “No, my character’s really not like that,” then I won’t get any artha, but it’s not as if anyone has the right to stop me, either. In fact, there’s a specific procedure whereby the group can support me, namely by voting the trait off!

Who says I can’t know about the Vaylen threat and yet be woefully ignorant about it?
“You must listen to me, my lord – I’ve been on a world where the Vaylen took over – it was horrible! They slither in through your ears at night and take over your brain, and they’re Psychologists, every damned one of them, filthy, mind-altering Psychologists! Also they like cheese. So we must establish a Strict Quarantine to prevent any imports of cheese to our world!”

Who says I have to stay ignorant?
I tell the GM, “Okay, it’s my Building Scene, so my character is slaughtering innocent peasants. Um, I want to make a Circles roll to find one who’s a Vaylen sleeper, okay? I’m thinking something like I’m torturing this guy – hey, Torture, can I FoRK that in? It’s, like, 8D – and he’s, like, totally enjoying it, and I’m getting pissed off, so I tell my Coroner relationship to vivisect him. And then, like, the Coroner totally stumbles on the Vaylen in the guy’s brain. So that’s a Circles test for my character, and if I make it, then a Human Biology test for the Coroner, right?”

Who says I can’t be genuinely ignorant and still do the right thing?
“My Lord, forget this ‘Vaylen’ foolishness – they’re a bogeyman to frighten children. The real threat is low-cost cheese products being dumped on the market by neighboring farm worlds. Therefore, to protect our own rural dairy-raising aristocracy, we must establish a Strict Quarantine!”

1: Of course. I keep falling into this “trait = limit” mindset. Thanks!

2 - 4: Whoa! I never thought of those! Brilliant! Thanks again!

Interesting. We stumbled into that solution ourselves in our own game, in a way. My starting GMFoNs were:

  1. A high-ranking League official who believes the Vaylen are a potentially lucrative trading partner.

  2. Bastard brother of an Anvil Lord (PCFoN) who sincerely believes his “legitimate” brother’s aspirations of greater political power will lead to ruin.

  3. A Vaylen agent who’s been placed as the planet’s Imperial Steward.

I started the Infiltration with the Anvil Lord as the human’s phase FoN and the Vaylen agent as the GM’s phase FoN. This is where my issues started: I was so successful at laying the groundwork the PCFoNs rarely had anything to do. No leads to follow, no intersecting paths, nada.

HOWEVER, the story totally shone when the bastard brother took center stage. Every time we had scenes with the brother, the story came into focus and clicked. Then I’d go back to the Vaylen dude doing secret stuff and everyone would be left twiddling their thumbs while I kept setting stuff up that had nothing to do with anyone else’s beliefs or storylines (but which supported my Maneuver!).

So, yeah. If we’d started with one of my two unhulled “useful idiots” on center stage, I could have let my Vaylen have understated building scenes to accomplish stuff in the Infiltration storyline but let the humans chew up the scenery.


Yup. This is why Star Wars and most of Shakespeare are fundamentally family dramas. We don’t care that the Evil Empire is nationalizing major corporations (though there’s a reference in the original shooting script; I think the scene was filmed but then cut), and we don’t really care what’s rotten in the state of Denmark on a policy level. We care about fathers and sons, lovers and mothers, and the political only matters if it’s personal.

Yeah…you may be right that starting the game in the Infiltration may be a hiccup in the design. I can’t call it a flaw because it’s a totally logical first phase. OTOH, if your players got into the game to kick Vaylen butt they’re going to be disappointed with the first phase. Some version of this little micro-essay would be a fantastic addition to any future edition of the game you put out.


I agree! (If only I could squeeze more text into the game!)

Hmmm… Maybe we need a “Handy Advice” page on the wiki… or, to be more hip and colourful, an “Emergent Behaviours” page…

Thanks for this thread, guys. It’s really clarified my thinking on positioning FoN for the three phases. Pretty cool to have a human FoN in the first phase, nearly untouchable, who just-sticks-it-to-the-players-every-chance-he-gets. He’s the guy the audience keeps screaming at: “Dude! The Vaylen are takin’ over! How could you be so stupid! So shallow! So blind!”

Just got done reading Chris M.'s Faith Conquerers and BOY did that clear a lot of things up for me. Seems like the Lord Steward was the human 1st phase FoN who was being sweet talked into betraying his race by the Chot cult. Great stuff!:slight_smile:

We are just about to start our BE game, and we are starting with the Infiltration Phase. More important my character is the Infiltration Phase FON. Really I think he is not (skill-wise) prepared to be an Infiltration FoN. Which is cool. He is in charge of security and investigation, but he came into that late in life and he is not very good at it yet. I think that playing a phase that focuses on our players relationships and the politics is just the point… our world is Paranoid, but not prepared. we are going to be looking the wrong way and the Vaylen will be here before we know it. By the time my character is actually skilled enough to make a difference it will be over! he will have lost his chance and will have to make it up after the spotlight has passed.

I think for the game to be really interesting the players should lose the first phase anyways. Set themselves up for a fall… I think initially we will be trying to take actions to gain control of factions rather than directly oppose our enemies.

I am excited.

Yeah, I think Sydney’s Infection spreadsheet pointed out that the Vaylen have a pretty clear advantage on the Inf. stage, probably so we can all get to the next, big, heart of the game stage: Usurp.

On the other hand, if the players DO manage to win the Infiltration somehow, that’s a big heapin’ pile of cool they just did.

I’ve been thinking lately that the Invasion stage is kinda of a “Oh shit, we Valyen really screwed up the Usurp and now we need to rectify it” since the book kinda points out that they’re not that hot at full blown invasions.

Well, that AND who doesn’t want a balls to wall WWIII conflict? Fire up the grav tanks sir, we’re going in!