Steve Jackson Games - Site Navigation
Home General Info Follow Us Search Illuminator Store Forums What's New Other Games Ogre GURPS Munchkin Our Games: Home

Go Back   Steve Jackson Games Forums > Roleplaying > GURPS

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 03-25-2023, 06:23 PM   #1
johndallman
Night Watchman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Security Clearance [5, 10 or 15] is a mundane social advantage. A government or other powerful organisation trusts you with secrets more important than would normally be disclosed to someone of your Rank, Status or other kind of importance. This advantage first appeared in GURPS Terradyne for 3e.

You don’t have to pay for Security Clearance to know things that are normal for your importance within the organisation. The chief NCO of a special operations force is cleared to know all about the troops, equipment and other resources of their unit, and that comes with the job. However, if that NCO needs to know details about the intelligence agents who report on another country’s secrets, that would definitely require Security Clearance: that information would not normally be given to someone who might be captured by an enemy. That means that most real-world people with “security clearance” don’t have this advantage: their backgrounds were checked as a prerequisite for their appointment. Prudent organisations will do very comprehensive checks in advance on individuals who might need to receive sensitive information on short notice.

The usual levels of Security Clearance are:
  • “Need to know” access to a small set of secrets [5]. A submarine officer knows their boat’s capabilities, but does not know all the engineering secrets that enable them to be achieved.
  • “Need to know” access to a wide range of secrets, or free access to a narrow range of secrets [10]. A submarine designer needs to know a wide range of engineering secrets, so that they can be integrated into a design; a national desk officer in an intelligence agency needs free access to information about her country’s spies in the other country, so that she can avoid clashes between their work.
  • Free access to a broad range of secrets [15]. This is for cinematic secret agents, who have plot armour against interrogation, or very senior government officials who want to know everything.
Security Clearance will always vanish if you talk to the wrong people about your special knowledge. It can also be incompatible with disadvantages. Characters who might be coerced or blackmailed (Addiction, Debt, Secret, or relatives in an enemy country) or aren’t reliably mentally stable (Greed, Sadism, Paranoia) might be denied Security Clearance, but this depends on the campaign and the agency. There is a ‑50% limitation for clearance granted by smaller organisations, such as city governments or smaller corporations. Security Clearance with that limitation might well not work as a prerequisite for a legal Alternate Identity, or for learning skills like Brainwashing, Cryptography, Electronic Warfare, or Intelligence Analysis. In some settings, Security Clearance is required for those traits.

In GURPS supplements, Security Clearance is, naturally, an option on templates for agents of large organisations, as well as cutting-edge engineers, and those who manage them, or clean up after them. Fantasy has some useful examples of low-TL uses of the advantage, while Horror gives MIBs the [15] level. Madness Dossier uses this advantage for characters deeply immersed in the Project, and several Magic supplements can require it for access to specific spells. SEALS in Vietnam requires all SEALs to have this advantage at [5], which represents them being much better-informed than most people in the setting, while having fairly low Rank. Supers adds the Informal, ‑50% limitation, and Zombies don’t have clearances, unless the seting is very unusual.

If all the PCs in a campaign will have the same level of Security Clearance, it can be omitted from character sheets and bookkeeping. The occult WWII campaign worked that way, and the characters built up considerable knowledge of Axis magical capabilities, while carefully avoiding learning about Allied resources, magical or otherwise. We handed in all the codebooks we recovered, but were never told about the outcomes, and were quite happy about that. Applying need-to-know to yourself is satisfying in its own way.

How has Security Clearance played in your games?
johndallman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 04:27 AM   #2
kirbwarrior
 
kirbwarrior's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Dreamland
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
You don’t have to pay for Security Clearance to know things that are normal for your importance within the organisation. The chief NCO of a special operations force is cleared to know all about the troops, equipment and other resources of their unit, and that comes with the job. However, if that NCO needs to know details about the intelligence agents who report on another country’s secrets, that would definitely require Security Clearance: that information would not normally be given to someone who might be captured by an enemy. That means that most real-world people with “security clearance” don’t have this advantage: their backgrounds were checked as a prerequisite for their appointment. Prudent organisations will do very comprehensive checks in advance on individuals who might need to receive sensitive information on short notice.
I was going to merely answer "It hasn't come up" because either no one has it or all PCs "have it", but reading this breakdown I'm now far less sure exactly what it is or how to figure out who gets it when. Or if it is even overpriced; If Rank 3 requires SC1 for certain knowledge, but Rank 4 doesn't for the same knowledge and they have access to more knowledge, then SC1 is worth less than Rank 4. However, unlike other traits I have this kind of issue with, I feel like I could easily figure it out when I actually have to (again, hasn't been used).

I've definitely had the opposite happen, there are definitely secrets (or other sensitive information) PCs have explicitly avoided learning even when their job would call for it. I may be an overly nice GM 95% of the time but my players are well aware of the 5% I go too far the opposite direction.
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by cosmicfish View Post
While I do not think that GURPS is perfect I do think that it is more balanced than what I am likely to create by GM fiat.
kirbwarrior is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 05:28 AM   #3
johndallman
Night Watchman
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Quote:
Originally Posted by kirbwarrior View Post
I was going to merely answer "It hasn't come up" because either no one has it or all PCs "have it", but reading this breakdown I'm now far less sure exactly what it is or how to figure out who gets it when.
I think the fair way to play it is to charge for it when some PCs have access to secret information, and others don't.

Organisations don't necessarily apply it consistently or fairly. Back in fall 2003, I was working on porting my employer's software product to AMD's x86-64 processors. At the time, Intel were not making x86-64 chips, but were selling the Itanium processors, which they have since abandoned.

A very senior manager in the company suddenly arranged a telephone appointment with me to disclose information that I was not allowed to tell my immediate management (although I could tell them that I was receiving information I could not share). That seems to correspond to Security Clearance 1 (Corporate, -50%, Informal, -50%, capped at -80%) [1]. The news was, of course, that Intel were developing AMD-compatible processors, which stopped being a secret a few months later, in February 2004.
johndallman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 07:16 AM   #4
Pursuivant
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

The classic example of Security Clearance given in at least one GURPS book is a TL6-7 cipher clerk. Normally, it's nothing more than a glorified radio operator or secretary job, except that you've encrypting and decrypting top secret information, possibly using top secret technology.

The same deal might apply to a secretary, servant, or PA for somebody who has access to serious secrets, like a high-ranking general's batman or aide de camp.

Arguably, Security Clearance can represent regular access to any sort of useful but closely held intelligence. For example, you might be a lowly janitor, but if you're working in a corporate law office which specializes in mergers and acquisitions and you're in a position to "overhear things," you might be able to make a tidy sum by playing the market or tipping off competitors.

In a cinematic setting, it's a way to give oddball characters who would normally never pass a background check access to Top Secret info on an "plot-dependent" basis. ("Sure, let the nameless costumed & masked guy with a sketchy legal history and dubious mental stability, with a talking chimpanzee sidekick, into the SCIF. What could go wrong?")
Pursuivant is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 07:33 AM   #5
thrash
 
thrash's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: traveller
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
You don’t have to pay for Security Clearance to know things that are normal for your importance within the organisation.
Note that the examples below pretty much all contradict this. It's hard to see how one could be an effective submarine officer or design engineer, or an intelligence agency desk officer, without knowing those secrets. Similarly:

Quote:
... skills like Brainwashing, Cryptography, Electronic Warfare, or Intelligence Analysis. In some settings, Security Clearance is required for those traits.
If the skill is required for the job (e.g., Intel Analyst), does it require Security Clearance or not?

Quote:
Security Clearance will always vanish if you talk to the wrong people about your special knowledge.
On the other hand, this is not magic: you have to get caught by someone who will inform the proper authorities, and they have to act on that information.

Quote:
It can also be incompatible with disadvantages. Characters who might be coerced or blackmailed (Addiction, Debt, Secret, or relatives in an enemy country) ... might be denied Security Clearance, but this depends on the campaign and the agency.
If you are denied a Security Clearance based on the contents of a Secret, it's arguably not secret any more. Losing an existing Clearance might be a consequence of having a Secret exposed, however -- or not, if the potential for blackmail is gone, too. Having an intact Secret might also be a reason to avoid undergoing a background investigation in the first place.

Quote:
If all the PCs in a campaign will have the same level of Security Clearance, it can be omitted from character sheets and bookkeeping.
What are the (game mechanical) consequences of not having the same level of Security Clearance as the rest of your party? Being (say) the Russian intelligence liaison in a NATO team tracking a world-threatening supervillain, or the civilian specialist called in to assist a group of special operators for this one mission. It's effectively a disadvantage.

Last edited by thrash; 03-26-2023 at 07:37 AM.
thrash is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 12:40 PM   #6
Prince Charon
 
Prince Charon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2012
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Security Clearance is going to be fairly important for the alt-SGC characters in the Stargate: Fantasy - Worldbuilding thread. This version is an international spy organization under the Five Eyes agreement. The SG teams need to know about the 'gate and other worlds, same as on the show, but do they necessarily need clearance above the [5] cost? It'll probably end up as a question to be voted on in the thread (later on, as there are a couple of others currently pending), but input from people who have already been thinking about this stuff could help.
__________________
Warning, I have the Distractible and Imaginative quirks in real life.

"The more corrupt a government, the more it legislates."
-- Tacitus

Five Earths, All in a Row. Updated 12/17/2022: Apocrypha: Bridges out of Time, Part I has been posted.
Prince Charon is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 01:05 PM   #7
RyanW
 
RyanW's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Southeast NC
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Quote:
Originally Posted by thrash View Post
Note that the examples below pretty much all contradict this. It's hard to see how one could be an effective submarine officer or design engineer, or an intelligence agency desk officer, without knowing those secrets.
Any officer has access to something that is some level of classified just to do their jobs. That's an assumed part of Rank. It's the officers in those specialized services that need to have Security Clearance to distinguish them from their peers.
__________________
RyanW
- Actually one normal sized guy in three tiny trenchcoats.
RyanW is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 01:44 PM   #8
Refplace
 
Refplace's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Yukon, OK
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

I do not like how this advantage is written.

For reference I joined the USAF right out of high school and was cleared for Top Secret, though most of my time in service I held a Secret level clearance as that was all I needed.
This is a very common circumstance.
When you are initially cleared for a clearance your background is checked accordingly. It will go up or down as needed, sometimes it can go up for one meeting and regardless you only get access on a "Need to Know" basis.
That Need to Know requirement means if you don't need it to do your job you should not have the information. I had a Top Secret upgrade for one meeting for example. No new investigation or anything (as far as I know), a senior NCO just called me in for a meeting where certain things were discussed.

So breaking Security Clearance down all that seems to fall under Level 0 [0]
Security Clearance [5] is very job specific, the kind of stuff you would pick up during a career while doing a specific job. I think most servicemembers would have thus for free during their service and for a short time afterwards until their info has become outdated as they are no longer getting new information.
Security Clearance [10] The "Free Access" is abnormal and could likely get you in trouble but fairly represents a consultant type. The second part I think is really still level 0 as the information is part of your job.
Security Clearance [15] is very cinematic, though certain politicians would have it.

The Need to know bits should not be part of specifically paid for Security Clearance.
__________________
My GURPS publications Buying them lets us know you want more!
My GURPS fan contribution and blog:
REFPLace GURPS Landing Page
My List of GURPS You Tube videos (plus a few other useful items)
My GURPS Wiki entries
Refplace is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 04:12 PM   #9
David Johnston2
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Quote:
Originally Posted by thrash View Post
]Note that the examples below pretty much all contradict this. It's hard to see how one could be an effective submarine officer or design engineer, or an intelligence agency desk officer, without knowing those secrets. Similarly:
Security Clearance is for when you have access to secrets out of proportion to your rank and need to know. For example, a cypher clerk with almost no rank but exposure to high level traffic or the personal assistant to a national leader. Interrogators who learn a lot about what their subjects know about both sides secrets. Also people who just have a fair amount of knowledge about what their colleagues are doing in their jobs even when it's irrelevant to their own tasks.

Quote:
If the skill is required for the job (e.g., Intel Analyst), does it require Security Clearance or not?
I think that was actually intended to apply to people who have such dodgy skills but no longer have the job they used them for.

Quote:
On the other hand, this is not magic: you have to get caught by someone who will inform the proper authorities, and they have to act on that information.
Uh-hunh.

Quote:
If you are denied a Security Clearance based on the contents of a Secret, it's arguably not secret any more. Losing an existing Clearance might be a consequence of having a Secret exposed, however -- or not, if the potential for blackmail is gone, too. Having an intact Secret might also be a reason to avoid undergoing a background investigation in the first place.
If you go back to the RAW it just says the GM is free to deny this advantage to people with dodgy pasts that can include things like Secrets and Debt. Of course if your secret is that you've developed a drinking problem on the job or been recruited by the other side that's another issue and it's up to the GM how good the background check really was.


What are the (game mechanical) consequences of not having the same level of Security Clearance as the rest of your party? Being (say) the Russian intelligence liaison in a NATO team tracking a world-threatening supervillain, or the civilian specialist called in to assist a group of special operators for this one mission. It's effectively a disadvantage.[/QUOTE]
David Johnston2 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-26-2023, 04:49 PM   #10
thrash
 
thrash's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: traveller
Default Re: [Basic] Advantage of the Week: Security Clearance

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Johnston2 View Post
I think that was actually intended to apply to people who have such dodgy skills but no longer have the job they used them for.
If they don't have the job, they shouldn't have the clearance -- that's what "need to know" means. This would be another case for "lack of appropriate clearance" as a disadvantage: you have the skills to (e.g.) break codes or intrude on networks, but you no longer have the access to do so legally.

On the other hand, I can see having had a security clearance (especially a lofty one) as an advantage for a time even after leaving the position that required the access. Maybe the equivalent of Courtesy Rank? It would represent knowing a few, specific secret things that others outside the organization would not, without necessarily having any way to know whether they are still current or not. It would come with "perks" like having counter-intelligence agents show up any time you wind up hospitalized, to ensure that you don't blab something important under anaesthesia.
thrash is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Tags
advantage of the week, security clearance

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Fnords are Off
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 03:33 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9
Copyright ©2000 - 2024, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.