This article is intended as a brief overview of what influences are and how they are generally used in Atlanta Interactive Theater. Influences are a tool that may be a little confusing, but this document will hit the high points for those unfamiliar with influences. For more specific information, please read the influence section in the rulebook.
Influences represent the contacts that a character maintains within the mortal world, developed by past associations and chosen to represent the interests of one's character. Influences, in addition to the role-playing aspects, are available to exploit in different ways for your character's own personal gains. Bleeding your colleagues, contacts and associates for favors and cash is nothing unusual, this is a World of Darkness after all. There are many different types of influences, each defining a segment of the world. For a complete list, along with descriptions and specialties, see the Influences page.
In general, there are limits to what influences can do, especially outside those specific actions defined in the rules. In cases outside those, they are more of an indirect tool, used as bribes to others to accomplish things rather than accomplishing them directly. When combined with the fact that most disciplines cannot be used in downtime, this means that the heart of the game is still player actions at the events, but influences can provide an interesting and valuable supplement to those actions.
All influences are available at the game and, even if used there, are also available during the downtime. For example, if your character has 3 Underworld, you can cash them in for $300 at the game, and then use the same 3 Underworld to acquire some weapons that downtime. However, there are restrictions for using influences at the game, as generally it is far more effective to allow your contacts an entire month to do something rather than having them do it in a single night. During a game, certain actions are restricted to certain influences. For example, you would need influences in Finance, High Society or in Street in order to acquire small weapons. In addition, it takes time for items acquired at the game to be delivered, at 10 minutes per influence, and, for each influence you spend, you must spend a minute out of game.
It is much easier to use influences during downtime. First, any influences can be used for most actions (researching rituals being an exception). In fact, most influences are better at certain tasks, giving 25% bonuses when used for that task. For example, if I have 4 Underworld influences and I attempt to acquire a weapon with them, I receive the effect of 5 influences. Finally, there are several actions that can only be done during downtimes, the most important being: building Business Units (BU's), creating havens, and using influences to acquire blood.
Generally, there are several broad areas that influences are used for:
Acquiring Things - Weapons, Armor, Blood, Books, Havens, Cash, BU's, Bodies
Learning Things - Investigating People, Events, Actions, Holdings, Rituals
Hiding Things- Covering Up Actions, Holdings, Anonymous Postings
Stopping Things- Hindering Actions, People, the City, Destroying BU's
A few influence actions deserve extra notes:
Cash- All influences at the game and in the downtime can be traded in for $100 each (or $125 for Finance influences in the downtime), by either going to the influence desk and asking or stating it in the influence use section of your downtime report. Both at the game and in the downtime, cash money can be used to match influences spent. One can only spend the amount of cash towards an action that is equal to the number of influences spent (the number, not the effect with bonuses). For example, if you have 5 Industry influences, you can use $500 to back those influences, thus giving you 10 resources towards whatever influence action you are taking. This makes your influences go farther, but also means that you can only do as much as your influences let you, rather than throw large amounts of money alone at things.
Business Units- BU's are a way to generate influences without having to spend XP. Essentially, what you are doing is creating a downtime-only influence through investment in a share of a company or control of a contact. If you invest 15 influences of one type and 5 of any other (or $500 cash) then a BU is created which will generate a downtime influence of the same type as the 15 invested. The BU can be transferred to others, and can also be destroyed or stolen, but does not cost XP like buying an influence. No influence is generated the month the BU is created, and transferring it uses up that month's influence as well, but other than that, the owner receives one normal influence to spend each month. BU's are highly valued and an excellent source of currency, both for the additional influences and because they are valued by others, being appraised at $4000 at the Giovanni auctions.
Investigations- The amount of information that you can get from an investigation can vary greatly. You can check out people's downtime actions, their holdings etc, but there are things about them that you can't find out using influences. One cannot find a haven using influences, only by in-game play. Things that are more related to role-playing, such as those related to character background like their sire, siblings, mortal descendants and such, may not be available, as they are highly dependent on what the player has made available to the STs regarding the subject. The information may just not be out there to find. Generally, it is easier to get information on NPCs and ST plots, as they are the ones writing them. The only limits on this sort of resarch are the amount of time and energy the STs can put in to creating such backgrounds to be investigated.
Cover Ups- It is pretty difficult to hide things, as you need to spend influences for each thing that you wish to hide from potential investigators, whether it's an action you are taking or preventing analysis of your holdings. In general, there are limits to how much anyone can discover, even without you covering it up. To a large degree this will depend on how many influences they spend- fewer influences will mean more vague information that they receive once they have gotten through any misinformation. Also, there is a time limit on when people can investigate things- they have the two months after the action ends to do so, or it cannot be investigated. Of course, this deals largely with player to player actions. Outside that, one of the most important functions of using influences to hide things is covering up breaches of the Masquerade, so that the mortal realm does not realize that something unnatural is occurring within it.
Hindering- There are times when influences are stopped, through player actions using influences either at the game or in their downtimes. These can be targeted at someone specific or even at the city as a whole. In addition, there are times when, owing to current ST plots, influences of various types can be shut down to different degrees for the city, and it will take player actions to correct these problems. Some ST plots have causes and effects, so that they can build and grow if they are not managed properly. Problems of this nature will be noted at the influence desk for narrators at the game, and its results will be shown in downtimes when those are returned at the next game.
I hope that this was helpful to those unfamiliar with the concepts behind the influence system. Of course, all of these aspects have more detailed rules and interpretations that are needed to fully utilize them, and these can be studied for more effective use later.