A column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
Hillfolk and Blood on the Show present a couple of series pitches that cross the streams with our flagship GUMSHOE games. Chris Lackey’s “The Whateleys” lets you play in Lovecraft territory from the cultists’ point of view. My own “Mutant City: HCIU” flips the police procedural of Mutant City Blues into police drama where the cases matter less than the personal lives of the anamorphically altered detectives.
This mini-pitch pulls a similar trick in the world of Night’s Black Agents.
A nest of vampire operatives finds that its tangle of undying desires interferes with its mission to keep the modern world’s human spies from blowing the lid off the inhuman power structure.
The main cast plays mid-tier operatives of the international vampire conspiracy. Other, more powerful bloodsuckers stand in the shadows to destroy you if you fail them.
Is one of them the Big D, whose real name none dare whisper? Would you even know if he was?
From a careful distance, you control a network of renfields, human dupes and perhaps a low-ranking vampire or two.
What kind of vampires are you? Select from the array of choices given in Night’s Black Agents.
You comprise a command station—maybe linked to a single headquarters, maybe a notional HQ always on the move. Toward the goal of managing the activities of top human threats—or as you have come to call them, bloodbags—each of you performs a particular role.
- Gray-faced bureaucrat, afraid an old mistake is about to bite you
- Demoted former team leader, burning for redemption
- Weasel, reporting through a back channel to the big bosses
- Mole, a vampire doubled into the service of some competing supernatural power. Put off deciding who for as long as you can.
- Frustrated hothead, thirsting for direct action
- Recent recruit, sought by all as a balance-shifting ally
- Furtive comm jockey, secretly monitoring the lives of the human family she’s supposed to have left behind
- Passionate reformer, determined to change the way the command keeps the bloodbags in line.
- Burn-out, obsessed by a personal issue that overrides all but the most desultory interest in command business.
- Underestimated grotesque, shunned by the other cast members because he belongs to a stigmatized vampire subtype.
- Control freak obsessed with maintaining normality, whatever that is in this context.
- The heir apparent, recently turned by the boss and recipient of blatant favoritism and seething resentment
- Brilliant amnesiac, whose skill set makes her irreplaceable to the team, and whose incuriosity over the loss of all memories more than a few months old hints at mental programming.
- Token human, a toadying Renfield who fears that his masters will never turn him—and that he doesn’t deserve such a magnificent honor, even if they finally make good on their promises.
If Night’s Black Agents is the Bourne Trilogy if Treadstone were vampires, you’re the undead Brian Coxes, David Strathairns and Joan Allens. Raid the core book for world information.
The GM calls the opening episode as Red Alert, in which a new team of bloodbag operatives appears on the cast’s radar. Do they seem at first to be just another threat, or is their series-defining menace apparent from the start.
If you’ve played straight-up Night’s Black Agents (and if not, why haven’t you?), a nod or two to the human agents that made up the PC group will surely occur…
- Power is a Cage: Though among the world’s most terrifying beings, you’re stuck doing paperwork, peering at laptops, and ordering unseen minions to pursue troublesome bloodbags. Maybe it’s time you cut loose and let others worry about the humans for once.
- Buried Secrets; You thought you’d dealt with it as thoroughly as a stake driven through a heart, but an old operational blunder gains new, awful life.
- Articles of Faith: The ancient code governing all vampires collides with the exigencies of a crucial operation. Which do you sacrifice?
- Return of the Repressed: All vampires suppress their old human impulses, no more so than the steely operatives of Bloodbag Command. This week some of them start seeping out.
- Dead Drop: The ennui of undead existence is never more acute than in the drab, LeCarre-like offices of Bloodbag Command.
- Hellhound on your Trail: The bloodbags couldn’t possibly win, could they?
Tightening the Screws
- Office Party: One of you brings some live food into the command center to play with on a quiet night. It can’t possibly escape. What could go wrong?
- The Con Eternal: Your bloodbag subjects target a convention for horror fans, thinking its LARP rooms conceal real vampiric activity. Can you stop their sally against the fake thing from casting light on the real one?
- The Big Stake: A CIA drone destroys a vampire nest in Peshawar. You’re trained to rule out coincidence. Who knows what, and how do you shut them down?
- Chatter: Communications intercepts suggest a wave of anti-vampire actions from a group you’ve never encountered before and can’t immediately identify. To switch to this new target you’ll have to loosen vigilance over your existing ones.
- Crypt of Decryption: Bloodbags kill one of your best renfields and grab a key hard drive. You scramble to have it retrieved before they can decrypt it.
- Downturn: Vampire spy agencies run on black money. A global economic crisis turns off the spigot when you can least afford it. Do you resolve your budget problems by intervening to stop the financial panic?
Many themes and screw tightenings from Ken’s “Moscow Station” pitch could be adapted to a “Bloodbag Command” series.