Night’s Black Agents Competition

The Competition

Ken Hite’s new vampire/spy thriller was released on pre-order at the end of November and sales have surpassed expectations so to celebrate this, we are running a competition to design your own Night’s Black Agents Conspyramid. The section on Conspiracies starts at page 155 of Night’s Black Agents but we have included the Conspyramid information below.

The Rules

You have to design your own conspiracy using this blank Conspyramid.  Include a brief (200 word) summary of the conspiracy.

  1. Only one entry per person
  2. Your work must be original
  3. You must include your name and address in the entry
  4. You agree to allow us to make your work availble for non-commercial use
  5. We may use your entry for publicity, but you can remain anonymous if you wish.

Entries must be received by Friday 17th February 2012. Entries received after this date will not be eligible. Entries should be emailed as a PDF attachment.

Prizes

First place will receive a Night’s Black Agents Limited Edition when it is released next year. Two runners up will have an NPC immortalised in the forthcoming series of adventures, The Zalozhniy Sanction.

The Conspyramid

Now it’s time to build a conspiracy. Lay out a conspiracy structure with six levels; each ascending level has fewer, more important nodes. A node might be a gang, a cell within an organization, a facility or institution, a powerful individual, a whole subverted agency, or anything else that might be part of the vampire conspiracy. The vampires may only have subverted the node’s leader, its main cadre, or key personnel within the node. In general, each node will have its own penumbra of guards, lackeys, underlings, investigators, or other assets not explicitly indicated on the chart.

The lines between the nodes indicate command, communication, and control: who can tell whom what to do for the vampires. If you’d like, draw various kinds of lines to indicate various specific options: only one-way communication, post-hypnotic or false-flagged command, partial or unwilling control, etc.

The following examples are generic guidelines. A vampire conspiracy rooted within the medical establishment might have a single key researcher at Level 5, and the Belgian health ministry at Level 3. But in general, the higher the level, the more powerful the node:

Level 1

Street-level power: street gang, parish church, branch bank, shop or small business, warehouse, stringer or informer, NCO or squad, police precinct, museum department, professor or scholar, government office, power station.

Level 2

City-level power: citywide racket or gang, cathedral or bishop, major bank office, factory or medium-sized company, labor union, journalist or TV producer, attaché or consul, captain or platoon, police department, museum, library, hospital, NGO chapter, university department, millionaire, power plant, local ISP or telecoms branch, mayor or city government department, party boss, legislator or MP.

Level 3

Provincial power: one racket in major criminal organization, large company, broker or merchant bank, trucking company, industry-wide union, TV station or newspaper, deputy chief of station, colonel or battalion, military base, security police office, university, major museum, research hospital, airport, prison, influential NGO, governor or provincial or state government department, presidential or ministerial aide.

Level 4

National power: nationwide criminal organization, archbishop, corporation, national bank, shipping line, airline, TV network or chain of newspapers, chief of station or ambassador, general or corps, military research facility, telecoms company, billionaire, transnational NGO (e.g., Red Cross, Amnesty International, Greenpeace), head of security police, minister or cabinet department head.

Level 5

Supranational power: major international criminal organization or major crime lord, cardinal, multinational corporation, multinational bank, multinational press corporation, major figure in EU, IMF, NATO, or Russian government.

Level 6

The vampires, or their core leadership cadre. This might be one Prince of the Vampires, or the central board of XSanguin, LLC. Individual vampires might exert power at lower levels as supervisors or key links in the chain. Vampires might be or run lower nodes all by themselves, especially if the vampire conspiracy is itself hierarchical, as might be true of a conspiracy modeled on the Church or the Mafia, or one existing since medieval times.

Using the Conspyramid

The Conspyramid is an arbitrary diagram, not a full-scale table of organization for the vampire conspiracy. Its nodes and lines are abstractions, not hard-and-fast requirements. They exist for three basic reasons.

Narrative Planning

The Conspyramid lets the Director sketch out the future trajectory of the campaign. If you come up with a great adventure idea set on a Greek island, the Conspyramid gives you an idea of what clues and pointers further up the chain that operation will uncover. Lines of control indicate potential directions out of that node’s op and into the next. Planting a chain of clues or informative ops is easier when you know approximately where they point, what you should plant to point there, and where they ultimately need to lead. By establishing benchmarks, you can pace your campaign more reliably: if the agents have started planning strikes on Level 5 nodes, you need to amp up the danger and start foreshadowing the big finish.

Also, you can invent operations based on the nodes you’ve decided will come into play: if one of the nodes is a derelict Russian Army base in Kaliningrad, you can start thinking of things that might lead there, and plan out a great fight scene for that location. Or alternately, figure out what the conspirators in that base are doing to advance the vampires’ goals, and where the player characters might run across those activities. Think of the nodes as providing a menu for adventure locations, opposition, and clues.

Creative Integration

Leave one or two arms of the Conspyramid blank (or sketch in new arms) and you’ll have a place to insert elements you invent later on in play. By relating them to your earlier structure, you can see where you should leave clues and trails between older and just-invented elements, knitting your new ideas into the game. If you can fit a new element into the structure the players have begun perceiving, it plays less like an arbitrary plot shift and more like a new discovery.

These new elements don’t have to come from you alone. Sometimes player speculation is so brilliant (or hoses the agents so badly) that you retroactively make it correct: if the players are constantly worried that GSG 9 is a vampire hit squad, put it in the Conspyramid (Level 3 or 4 sounds about right) and start leaving deliberate clues in that direction.

Mechanical Support

You can use the Conspyramid to inform player deductions using Human Terrain and Traffic Analysis when building an adversary map (see p. 114). The Conspyramid also assists in answering questions posed as a result of player character capture (see p. 116), fills out convenient logbooks or phone trees, and gives you at least some answers any other time when agent abilities might logically deduce what the opposition looks like.

It also provides a rough guideline in play to Difficulties of obstacles and to abilities of opponents:

For a given obstacle, the Difficulty equals its Conspyramid Level +3. For example, a Digital Intrusion test on the hard drive of a Level 2 mob accountant has Difficulty 5; that same test against a satellite control system run by a Level 5 aerospace company has Difficulty 8.

Generic opposition forces have combat or other relevant abilities equal to Conspyramid Level +1 (x2). In other words, go up one Level, and multiply that number by 2. For example, Level 1 foes have Shooting 4, Level 3 foes have Surveillance 8, Level 5 foes have Hand-to-Hand 12. If you want to figure off-the-cuff Alertness or Stealth modifiers for the opposition, divide the Conspyramid Level in half, rounding down: Level 1 foes have +0, Level 2 or 3 foes have +1, Level 4 or 5 foes have +2.

These are, of course, rough ad hoc guidelines, intended for off-the-cuff rulings and quick-start combats. Feel free to switch them up to better suit story or dramatic considerations. However, generally increasing foes’ capabilities as the agents get closer to the vampires and as the campaign gets closer to the climax makes both logical and dramatic sense.

Conspyramid as Story Map

Rather than a hierarchical chart accurately depicting power flows in the conspiracy, you can also think of the Conspyramid as a narrative road map to the final scene of the campaign. The changes in Difficulties and opponents’ abilities now serve a purely dramatic, rather than a partly simulationist, purpose.

To clarify this, turn the Conspyramid on its side, with Level 6 (now Column 6) pointing to the right edge of the paper. The campaign’s narrative arc moves from the left side of the page, where any number of possible leads exist in Column 1, toward the right side of the page, the destination: the final confrontation with the vampire lords. Links between boxes no longer indicate power or control, but represent the clues and connections the agents might find and follow as they move through the story. If they get thwarted or stumped, they can move along the column or back to the left, pick up another thread, and see if they can follow that one farther.

5 Responses to “Night’s Black Agents Competition”

  1. Nook Harper says:

    This is inspirational. Whilst Nights Black Agents is on my New Years buy list, I’ll be looking for ways (excuses) to apply this in other games.

  2. […] American Northeast plays nicely into one of the central ideas of Night’s Black Agents: the conspyramid. If you don’t already know, the central conceit of Night’s Black Agents is that there […]

  3. […] neat tool to add structure to your games, especially those of a conspiratorial bent. This link is to a competition Pelgrane Press ran when they first announced the tool, but if you skip the […]

Leave a Reply