Not even beginning characters live in a vacuum and all have some experience with the world and people. University students are exposed to any number of professors, soldiers meet people from all walks of life, lawyers know experts within the justice system, and so on. Each character begins with at least one close friend who is willing to help out when the character is in need - these are the character's Contacts. Characters may call upon their Contacts to assist in any way they can, dependent on the referee's discretion. However, most Contacts will not break the law or put their lives and livelihoods in jeopardy, and players are advised to remember that just as they may call upon Contacts, Contacts may call upon them. Friendship is a two-way street.
Characters are not restricted to only those Contacts that they start with and may acquire additional Contacts during the course of the game. There is no set mechanic for gaining Contacts, only that it can be accomplished through role-playing and cultivating connections. Again, the referee is free to control this as he or she wishes.
The make things manageable, Contacts are divided into broad categories - Academic, Criminal, Influential, Legal, Martial, Medical and a final catch-all, General. This division is mostly used during character creation to direct what type of Contacts a beginning character starts with. For instance, an Antiquarian begins with two Academic Contacts - perhaps a curator and a librarian; while a Socialite begins with one Influential contact and any two other contacts - maybe a governor, a detective, and a fence. The choices that a player makes here will help to define the character's background and add some color to the campaign.
Finally, Contacts help the referee craft a story with depth. They can be used as plot devices - anchoring a character to a specific area or interest, connecting characters to the game world, providing motives and goals for characters, they might even present plot hooks to the group and "call in favors."
Next week, I'll discuss Occupations, an entirely optional rule that further defines a character's background and offers greater character customization.