Cthulhu City, our new Trail of Cthulhu setting about a monstrous, mythos-haunted city adapts the Night’s Black Agents Heat mechanics to model Suspicion. Think of Suspicion as a slow simmer compared to Heat’s flash-fry. Rising Heat means police SWAT teams chasing you through the streets and airports shutting down; rising Suspicion implies police detectives knocking at your door in the middle of the night, or mysterious figures sabotaging your car to stop you leaving.

If your Night’s Black Agents game involves the characters spending extended time behind enemy lines, you may want to use these Suspicion mechanics in stead of Heat. Maybe they’re in a vampire-controlled city in Eastern Europe or maybe you’re running a historical Edom scenario with the Agents operating being the Iron Curtain, or a post-apocalyptic fantasy where greedy, sociopathic, inhuman monsters rule the world.

(Hat tip to “Nooch” over on rpg.net for requesting this adaptation.)

Suspicion

While in occupied territory, investigations into strange events and other vampire hunting activity may draw unwanted attention. This  is measured in Suspicion. The entire group of Agents has one Suspicion score in common; they are each other’s known associates. The group’s Suspicion begins at 0.

The groups’ Suspicion only rises once per game session; use the highest Suspicion gain incurred in the session.

Gaining Suspicion

Criminal acts, especially assault or murder, are the most common route to increased Suspicion, but showing undue knowledge of the supernatural or the Conspiracy also draws unwanted attention. Anything that raises Heat boosts Suspicion, but so do actions like:

  • purchasing large amounts of garlic or UV lamps
  • acquiring occult books
  • associating with other suspects
  • trespassing in vampire-controlled areas
  • possession of a foreign passport or legal-but-suspicious equipment like bugging devices
  • forbidden web searches
  • travelling by night
  • having no visible source of financial support

Averting Suspicion

Precautions: The agents can avoid increases in their Suspicion by ensuring that the city authorities do not connect the suspicious events with the hunters. Such precautions usually require spends from abilities. For example:

  • Make extra spends of Negotiation, Intimidation or Reassurance to convince witnesses not to mention the agents’ presence to the authorities
  • Spend Cop Talk to convince police to look the other way
  • Spend Evidence Collection or Forensics to wipe away fingerprints and sanitise a crime scene
  • Hide incriminating notes with Cryptography
  • Make untraceable home-made explosives with Chemistry instead of purchasing them on the black market
  • Use Disguise or Infiltration to avoid unfriendly eyes

Averted Suspicion can come back to burn the agents if circumstances warrant. If a witness comes forward later, or new evidence comes to light, or the investigators’ deceptions are penetrated, the Agents can gain Suspicion for older actions. Old Suspicion gains are automatically reduced by 1 point, representing the authorities’ lack of urgency in prosecuting old offences.

Losing Suspicion

There are three ways to lose Suspicion.

  • Wait It Out: Low levels of Suspicion diminish over time. If the agents’ Suspicion score is 2 or less, then reduce it by one point after a game session in which they avoid adding to their Suspicion. Suspicion scores of 3 or more do not diminish over time.
  • Buy It Off: Good standing and friends in high places can avert the attention of the authorities. The agents may reduce their Suspicion by one if, as a group, they spend Cop Talk, Reassurance, High Society or Tradecraft points equal to the number of agents multiplied by their current Suspicion score. For example, if four agents have a Suspicion score of 3, then they could reduce that score to 2 by spending 12 points from the listed Investigative Abilities.

These points don’t have to be spent all at once; the agents can put a few points aside after every game session until they have enough to buy down their Suspicion. However, if the agents gain any more Suspicion, then points allocated but unspent are lost.

  • Make A Deal: Various powerful patrons can intercede on the investigators’ behalf to shield them from the authorities.

Effects of Suspicion

Increased Scrutiny: As Suspicion rises, so does scrutiny of the Agents. At low levels of Suspicion, that’s largely cosmetic – mysterious figures watching them from across the street, threatening letters shoved through their door. It escalates through surveillance (phone tapping, bugs, intercepted emails, mysterious figures following them) and harassment (associates and contacts get arrested and questioned) until the agents themselves get arrested and questioned on suspicion of being vampire hunters.

Increased Watchfulness: Generally increased security – more guards, more alarms, more supernatural guardians.

Blowback: Rising Suspicion may also draw blowback from whatever Vampyramid you’re using.

Cover Identities

Suspicion acquired by different Covers is tracked separately; however, if a Cover is blown, then double the Suspicion attached to that cover and add it to the agents’ total.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

No backup.

No allies.

You’re all alone in the darkness. Just you… and them.

Night’s Black Agents: SOLO

ALONE AGAINST THE UN-DEAD

Written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (The Dracula Dossier, The Zalozhniy Quartet) Night’s Black Agents: SOLO is a stand-alone RPG which applies the GUMSHOE One-2-One rules to the award-winning Night’s Black Agents setting of spies vs. vampires.

One GM, one player – an explosive mix for a high-octane combat, or a cold-blooded chess game between a lone hero and the forces of darkness. Together, you plunge into an occult thriller that pits the gadgets and skills of a clandestine operative against the ancient horror of the vampires.

  • Can’t find an entire game group who can play when you can?
  • Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience?
  • Looking for a game to play online which fits superbly with virtual tabletops?

NBA: SOLO adds stunts, Mastery Edges, Shadow Problems and more to the One-2-One system.

Create your own Agent, or play as Leyla Khan – ex-MI6, ex-thrall of the vampires, now committed to hunting down and destroying her former masters before they recapture her. Sift through the ashes of Khan’s former life to find the clues you need to map the vampire conspiracy, then hunt down and slay the Undead.

Three explosive operations:

  • NEVER SAY DEAD
  • NO GRAVE FOR TRAITORS
  • CURRENTLY UNNAMED BUT IT’S GOING TO BE SOMETHING COOL

Status: In development

I’m working on the (somewhat delayed) first draft of Night’s Black Agents One2One, provisionally titled SOLO. These vampires nearly featured as the villains, but for various reasons, they got cut. Here’s the salvaged text, plus their standard NBA stats.

The Conspiracy

They are the Sinful Elect, damned to immortality through sin. Each of them committed some terrible transgression in life, and were transformed into vampires as reward or punishment. Their numbers are limited; there are only a hundred or so of them at any time, and while they can create lesser vampires by feeding their blood to mortals, they cannot create more creatures like them. Until one of the immortal Elect perishes by violence, another cannot be created.

So, a hundred immortals; a hundred damned monsters, a hundred unchanging faces in the flowing tide of mortality. They band together for protection against mortals, and for company against the loneliness of immortality. Each vampire has its own domain, its own networks of servants and agents; there is no overarching conspiracy, just a network of largely independent cells. At times, the vampires even war with one another, but that risks exposure to the mortal world, and so they have fallen into an uneasy peace.

Hunger and the desire to escape damnation unite them all. These vampires must feed on blood to survive, and to prolong their unnatural lives. And as every one of them has transgressed in some way, they all have reason to fear damnation.

Type

The Sinful Elect think of themselves as Damned vampires, but really they’re closer to Supernatural or Alien monsters.

There is something out there, beyond our reality. Think of them as demons if you wish, or higher-dimensional aliens. Their dimension intersects obliquely with ours. They can only sense humanity as an undifferentiated psychic mass, a nigh-uniform spiritual sea. The demons extend – they are outside time as we know it, so the present tense is the only one that can apply to them – tendrils towards us, searching for purchase. They can only catch hold and take root when they find some soul that is different enough from the rest to stand out.

That is why, historically, vampires are associated with monstrous tyrants and mass murderers. Killing lots of people is enough to put a spiritual mark on one’s soul, a psychic abscess that the demons can detect and colonise. Other forms of transgression – or, more accurately, other ways that people might differentiate themselves from the rest of humanity – can also work. A genius artist, an iconoclast, a sailor drifting alone in the ocean, hundreds of miles from another living soul might equally draw the attention of these demons.  You don’t have to be a mass-murdering monster to make inadvertent psychic contact with an alien psychic monster from another dimension, but it helps.

Only a hundred or so tendrils connect the demons to our dimension, one tendril per vampire. When a vampire is destroyed, the tendril recoils, then fumbles for another distinct mind to latch onto. Killing a vampire, therefore, condemns someone else nearby to demonic immortality. Over the course of a few days, this new anchor for the demons sickens and seems to die, as the psychic poison transforms them.

Most vampires are unaware of their demonic nature; only a few have ever discovered the truth about their condition, although more have glimpsed something of it in ecstatic visions or bloody portents.

Play the Elect as “regular” vampires for the most part – the demonic element is a plot device to break the vampire Conspiracy into bite-sized cells suitable for an episodic game.

The Demon Connection

It’s up to you how much the demonic aspect of vampires plays into your game. You can ignore it almost entirely, and play the Elect as “traditional” vampires with a religious gloss. You can use it as flavour, dropping in the occasional psychic episode or glimpse of strange, terrible creatures reaching in from another dimension. You can use it as an ironic mirroring of the clandestine worlds – just as a spy is alone in a foreign city, serving the mysterious goals of an unseen agency with many other connections and agents, so are the vampires servants of mysterious forces beyond human comprehension.

Later in the campaign, you can use the demonic connection as a way for the player to strike at the root cause of vampirism.

What Do The Demons Want? This may become a key question later in your campaign. Is there a single demon-thing out there, or several? Is the creature sentient in a way we can understand? Are vampires an accidental side effect of the demon’s fumbling psychic contact with humans, or a deliberate malign creation? Is the demon really a fallen angel, or an alien entity?

Spread

The Conspiracy is primarily a European phenomenon – whoever vampire zero was, whoever first made contact with the demons, it was someone in Eastern Europe, and the curse spreads by proximity. When one vampire dies, another is chosen from the people nearby. In recent centuries, though, the vampires have spread out across the world, and the Conspiracy is global in reach.

Numbers

There are around one hundred true vampires – 144 is believed to be the upper limit of the vampiric population, although the Conspiracy proper usually has only 80 or so active members, with the remainder either cut off from the organisation or unwilling to work with their ‘siblings’.

A vampire can create lesser progeny by feeding its blood to mortal victims. These “half-vampires” have a lesser suite of vampiric powers. Progeny decrease the power of the parent vampire – in effect, the progeny share the same supernatural connection to the extradimensional demon as their parent, splitting the creature’s unholy blessing between them. Lesser vampires can’t create progeny of their own, and they perish instantly if their ‘parent’ is killed. Progeny aren’t seen as true vampires and aren’t included in the numbers listed above. Only a few vampires bother to create offspring, and even fewer keep them around for long.

Variations & Divisions

There are several sub factions within the Elect. These factions ebb and flow depending on which vampires are in ascendancy, and the names used to refer to them change over time, but presently the following have currency. These are loose groupings, and a vampire might belong to two or more factions at a time, or drift between them.

  • The Chamber: Vampires of the Chamber manage the Conspiracy. They believe that vampires need to stay hidden from humanity to avoid hunters and extermination, and the best way to do this is to work together and exert as much control over mortal governments and institutions as possible. The Chamber has huge financial and logistical resources, but spends most of its efforts cleaning up after the excesses of other vampires instead of advancing some larger agenda. The other vampires often dismiss the Chamber as a cabal of dull bankers and bureaucrats, always fussing about trivial matters.
  • The Dominionists: These vampires claim that they have the right to do whatever they please to humans. Just as Adam was granted dominion over all the beasts of the field by God, they believe that the Elect have been given authority over all mortals. The Dominionist vampires are monsters by any measure, perpetrating all manner of atrocities. Most of their members committed mass murder in some form before becoming a vampire.
  • The Eremites: Eremite vampires while away the centuries with their own private obsessions and projects. Some Eremites prefer to keep a low profile, living out one pseudo-mortal life after another, and only dealing with other vampires when the Chamber calls on them. Others have embarked on some century-long scheme to achieve a cherished goal – to safeguard the borders of their old kingdom, to destroy some religious group they despise, or to discover some occult secret.
  • The Seers: The vampire Seers seek the truth about their condition. They are aware that some supernatural force animates and connects them, and that this force can be invoked or commanded through occult means. Unlike the lone Eremites, the Seers work together, pooling their knowledge and resources. The two main lines of inquiry for the Seers are mental disciplines to establish contact with the demons through meditation and psychic training – and alchemy, to create mind-expanding drugs that make it easier to perceive the demon world. They refer to their demonic masters/higher selves as secret kings, guardian angels or immanations.

Life & Death

A new vampire is created when an existing vampire is killed, opening up a place among the Elect – and leaving a tendril of demonic influence that isn’t latched on to a human host. This tendril attaches itself to a suitable candidate within a few hours, grabbing someone who is in some way spiritually distinct from those nearby. The demon’s otherworldly senses seem most attuned to those who believe themselves to be already damned; murder, in particular, leaves a distinct patina on the soul. However, there are no restrictions on who the demon might choose to invade, and one might equally pick a child, a saint, or an ordinary person who happened to think an unusual thought in the instant the psychic tendril brushed over their mind.

Once infested by the demon, the victim dies of apparently natural causes within a few days, and then rises from the dead as a vampire. To survive, the vampire must feed on human blood regularly. The appetite of a vampire varies from specimen to specimen, but few can go more than a month without feeding. Initially, the vampire appears human – it retains physiological traits like a heartbeat, warm skin, respiration, the ability to eat food and so on, but the passage of time strips these away. It’s the vampire’s psychic connection to the demon that sustains it, and that connection exists in the brain, so the brain is all that really needs to survive. Unless the vampire takes steps to maintain itself – drinking more blood and exercising its physical prowess – the human body withers, leaving only the monstrous brain in a grotesquely mutated shell, a leech-thing that can only suck blood and slither.

Killing a vampire requires the destruction of the brain – hence cutting off the head being the traditional method of destroying the creatures. Younger vampires perish if they cannot feed; the stake through the heart cuts off the blood supply to the brain, while placing a stone in the creature’s mouth prevents it from eating, both of which starve the brain of blood. Older vampires, though, are so ravenous for blood that it overcomes mere anatomy, and can grow new hearts or new mouths in order to indulge their thirsts.

Cure

Theoretically, it’s possible to cure a victim of vampirism by severing the psychic connection to the extra-dimensional demon before the victim dies. The only known way to do this is to present a more attractive candidate within a few hours of initial contact, before the demon has attached itself firmly to its new host. (That’s attractive according to the lights of alien demon horrors with a very warped perspective on humanity, of course; a demon might prefer the mind of serial killer to that of an ordinary bystander).

Powers

All vampires are preternaturally resilient, and hard to destroy through injury. Most also have some form of psychic ability – some can control the minds of others, or hypnotise with a glance, or become invisible by blanking the perceptions of those around them. The vampire’s powers grow with age.

Weaknesses

Only older vampires are afflicted by sunlight, although strong light does attenuate the vampire’s connection to the demon and blocks the use of some powers.

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand to Hand 8, Health 10, Shooting 8, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +2

Damage Modifier: +1 (bite), +0 (fist or kick) or +1 (firearm)

Armour: -1 (tough skin). Vampires who have lost their human form and degenerated into monsters are Rubbery.

Free Powers: Infravision, No Reflection, Spider Climb, Vampiric Strength, Regeneration (regains 1 Health per round, but must spend Aberrance at a one-for-one exchange range to ensure its regenerated flesh appears human-like)

Other Powers: Mental Attack (psychic blast), Magic, Vampiric Speed

Banes: Fire, Garlic, Sunlight, Silver

Blocks: Garlic, Hawthorn

Dreads: Fire

Requirements: Feed

 

A land that is thirstier than ruin
A sea that is hungrier than death
Heaped hills that a tree never grew in
Wide sands where the wave draws breath.

— Algernon Swinburne, “By the North Sea” (1880)

At some point around 1230 (perhaps during the “St. Luke’s Storm” of 1228 when the people of London saw “dragons and wykked Spyrites” in the storm wind) the action of the North Sea against the shallows on the southeast coast of Yorkshire threw up “stones and sand” to make an island probably to the east of a long sandbank at the mouth of the Humber Estuary. That sandbank is now “the Spurn” but the Vikings called it Ravenser (“raven’s tongue”) and a port of the same name appears on and off in history at the northern end of “the Neck” which connects the Spurn to the mainland such as it is of Yorkshire. Fishermen dried their nets there, then they stashed their boats there, then they traded without a lot of pesky taxation there, and by 1240 the Count of Aumale built a fortification on the island, which by that time was a “borough” named Ravenser Odd (an “odd” being Norse or Danish for a spit or point of land), or Ravenserodd, or Ravensrodd, or just Lod.

Map of the Humber mouth, 1595

In 1251, the Count obtained a charter for an official (taxed) market and fair, adding a (taxable) quay in 1297 and another in 1310. At its height, 100 ships called there per year (officially), and the town had 300 buildings, among them windmills, a tannery, a court, a prison (and gallows), and a chapel of Our Lady. Ravensrodd gained a royal charter in 1299, which came in very handy during its neighbors’ incessant lawsuits against it for piracy. In fact, another version of the town’s history says it began with a shipwreck, and was founded by the captain of that ship, one Peter-at-Sea (or Peter de la Mare), who began “convincing” other ships to land at Ravensrodd (“by fear and force”) instead of continuing on to Grimsby or Hull.

However it began, it ended just about as rapidly. The great storm of 1334 drowned “two parts” of the town and eroded the island badly; by 1351 the chapel and cemetery had drowned and looters carried off the chapel’s gold and silver ornaments. In 1360 the island was abandoned, the property owners feebly attempting to get writs against fishermen salvaging wooden beams from drowned buildings. The “St. Marcellus’ Flood” of 1362 (also called the Grote Mandrenke: “The Great Drowner of Men”) completed the job. In 1400 the walls of Ravensrodd could still be seen at low tide, but not long after that even the location of Ravensrodd was forgotten.

Trail of Cthulhu: The Shadow Over Ravensrodd

“… that town of Ravenserodd … was an exceedingly famous borough devoted to merchandise, as well as many fisheries, most abundantly furnished with ships …. But yet, with all inferior places, and chiefly by wrong-doing on the sea, by its wicked works and piracies, it provoked the wrath of God against its self beyond measure.”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

A mysterious island rises from the waves, becomes immensely profitable in gold and fish, then “by its wicked works” it drowns again. One hardly has to stretch to cast Ravensrodd as a medieval Innsmouth, destroyed by God rather than by J. Edgar Hoover. The Ravensrodd versions of the Marshes and Gilmans include family names such as: Barell, Selby, Brune, Cotes or Cokes or Coas, Rottenherring (meaning “red herring”), Keeling, Ferby, and perhaps most excitingly de la Pole, who married into not only the royal House of York but the poetic Chaucer family.

These families mostly removed to Hull in Yorkshire after Ravensrodd went down, or in some cases well before, buying up choice properties and investing in towns as far north as Whitby. So a Keeper looking for weird connections in Hull might begin with the mysterious (dream-driven?) suicide on December 6, 1924 of housebreaker Edward “Fanlight Jimmy” McMahon. McMahon apparently hanged himself in gaol despite having no motive to do so, after breaking into a house on Chariot Street. What did he see there that he couldn’t forget, or that Something wanted him to keep silent about?

Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers might also want to look into the murders in Hull of prostitutes Margaret Lowson (1966) and Evelyn Edwards (1967). One Samuel Stephenson (a stereotypical serial killer, down to the letters to Scotland Yard) confessed to Lowson’s murder and was convicted of it, but Edwards’ remains officially unsolved. The other Deep One spoor that decade is the Hull triple trawler tragedy: three trawlers out of Hull sank in January 1968, one of them only a day out of port.

NIght’s Black Agents: The Ravensrodd Inheritance

“… the inundations of the sea and of the Humber had destroyed to the foundations the chapel of Ravensrodd, built in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the corpses and bones of the dead there horribly appeared …”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

As I mentioned, the port of Old Ravenser goes back to Viking times or before, beginning as a monastic hermitage in 600 or so, a Danish invasion port in the centuries that follow, and reduced to only one manor house by 1400. At some point perhaps the monks drove something out into the sea, something that raised its own island and spread its own foul influence, trying to supplant the Counts of Aumale (all six of the Countess of Aumale’s children predeceased her; the line became extinct in 1274) and lurking in the manor house until the chapel drowned.

That something is the Danish vampiric spirit called the nikke (mentioned as the neck or nykr in the Director’s Handbook, p. 233). It might appear as a horse or as a bearded man or as a beautiful woman or youth. (In human form it has a slit ear, or a dripping wet garment.) Its “true appearance” may be that of a worm with blood-sucking tendrils. It surfaces every so often to work its wiles or slake its thirst in Hull: William Bolton kills Jane Allen in her flat in Andrew Marvell Terrace on October 17, 1902, stabbing her three times and himself once in the neck “in his sleep.” Six years later Thomas Siddle deprives himself of food, cuts his wife’s throat with a razor on June 9, 1908, stands stunned at the crime scene, remains insensible in prison, claims “something came over me; I only realised what I had done when blood was on my hand” …

Nikke

General Abilities: Aberrance 16, Hand-to-Hand 8, Health 10

Hit Threshold: 4 (above water), 6 (under water)

Alertness Modifier: +1 (at edge of water), +2 (on the water), +3 (under water)

Stealth Modifier: +2 (when not singing)

Damage Modifier: +0 (grasp; damage first to Athletics then to Health)

Armor: -1 (subcutaneous scales) or Corpse

Free Powers: Drain (drains air and blood from lungs, as Heat Drain), Regeneration (2 Health per round in water; all damage by next high tide), Strangling Grasp (as Lamia; NBA, p. 151)

Other Powers: Musical Enthrallment and Musical Madness (both as Mental Attacks; NBA, p. 131), Turn to Creature (Horse, Snake); Apportation (to its lair or to anywhere touched by its waters), Clairvoyance (everywhere touched by its waters), Dominate, Howl (when in the presence of a future drowning victim), Magic (Call Storms, Multiply Fish), Mesmerism, Necromancy

Banes: saying its name

Compulsions: sell magic to those who pay for it with “three drops of blood,” accept a coin dropped in water in lieu of a life

Blocks: iron knife or a steel fire-striker

Requirements: drown or drain humans, remain in or near its waters by day

Five desperate adventures to save the living from the hungry dead!

Pre-order now and get the pre-order draft PDF immediately!

They are so old they cannot remember their names. They are pale, spindly things, with long fingers that scuttle like cave-spiders and hollow eyes. They are strong – immensely, inhumanly strong – but act like old, arthritic men, shuffling along painfully, conserving their strength for when they need it. They are fast – terrifying, breathtakingly fast – but they move slowly, cautiously, fearfully. Their fear outweighs their preternatural gifts; for centuries, survival and control have been their watchwords, their overriding goals. We must not die, they whisper in the dark, even though they can no longer recall what it is to live.

And if the world must die so they can live, so be it.

The Persephone Extraction is a campaign for Night’s Black Agents, combining ancient horrors from classical mythology with the modern terrors of conspiracy and bioterrorism. It includes the following adventures:

  • THE PERSEPHONE EXTRACTION (Emma Marlow): Someone’s framed the Agents for a murder that hasn’t happened – yet. Warring factions within the Conspiracy struggle for control of a biological weapon, and its designer holds the answers the Agents need. Can they find Morgane Le Corre before her pursuers track her down – and just who else is hunting her?
  • SLEEPING GIANTS (Will Plant): The trail leads through Moscow to a sealed city, where forbidden plagues slumber in a concrete tomb buried deep beneath the tundra. The Conspiracy are on their way here, to obtain more of the pathogen they need to implement their cryptic Pale Agenda. The Agents are all that stands between the vampires and the plague…
  • CLEAN-HEELED ACHILLES (Heather Albano): Mysterious disappearances and archaeological traces bring the Agents to Istanbul, where they must uncover the secrets of an ancient monastery – and descend into the Underworld to confront the living dead.
  • THE PALE AGENDA (Bill White): The Conspiracy intends to recruit an international drug smuggler as part of their plan to end the world – but that initiation gives the Agents a vitally needed entry vector into the vampires’ most cherished tool. Corporate intrigue meets occult rituals in Madrid…
  • THE PEOPLE OF ASH (Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan): The final assault on the Conspiracy takes the Agents to Greece. There, they must uncover the ancient lair of the vampire elders and destroy them, once and for all time. Their clandestine odyssey ends in darkness…
Stock #: PELGN14 Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Heather Albano, Emma Marlow, Will Plant, Bill White

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Front cover_350Looking Glass: Hong Kong
is a “Low and Slow” city setting for many possible GUMSHOE games. This look at one of Asia’s most cramped and chaotic ports features the lay of the land, including markets and masses, and three unique backdrops for the main setting – a scenic or thematic element, or just somewhere to stage a fight scene. It also details Hong Kong’s factions, from organized crime all the way up to the The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and includes thirteen Hong Kong-flavoured adventure seeds. Use Looking Glass: Hong Kong in:

  • Night’s Black Agents as a modern-day equivalent to the role West Berlin plays in post-WW2 spy dramas – a speck of room to manoeuvre, just on the edge of an authoritarian state, with HK-themed alien, mutant, and damned vampires;
  • The Esoterrorists, as Esoterror operatives capitalize on on the city’s key fears of disease, and the dead;
  • Fear Itself, playing on the alienating effect of isolation within one of the most densely packed places on Earth;
  • Trail of Cthulhu, with extensive notes on Mythos locations and practices of an occult bent that would sit well in the backstory of any investigation.

This supplement exists in a world of instantaneous oceans of information, and holds plenty of rash generalizations, needed for game play and speed of familiarization. It’s not intended to be comprehensive; instead, it combines a few evocative details with broad-brush color. It is intended as a starter, a foundation for your own adventures, a framework on which to hang the fruits of your own research, similar to its sister title, Looking Glass: Mumbai.

Zip file contains PDF, EPUB and MOBI files.

Stock #: PELGN13D Author: Thomas McGrenery
Artist: Badger McInnes Pages: 20pg PDF

 

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I got a friend over there in the government block
And he knows the situation and he’s taking stock,
I think I’ll call him up now
Put him on the spot, tonight.

— Bob Geldof, “Someone’s Looking At You”

I see you, GCHQ!

                           I see you, GCHQ!

Her Majesty the Queen having graciously given her assent at the end of last month, the Investigatory Powers Bill has become the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016. And what’s the Investigatory Powers Act when it’s at home? At its bottom, it’s two Acts in one. The first half essentially provides legal cover to the program of mass surveillance that MI5 and GCHQ have been doing in the United Kingdom for years and years: gathering the metadata (who called who when from where) on every phone or text message in the UK and storing it. The second half allows a remarkably wide spectrum of the British government to access the ICRs (Internet Connection Records) of every website, app, and similar reached from or based in the UK. When you browse good old pelgranepress.com, GCHQ (and Scotland Yard, and the fire department, and Food Standards Scotland, and … ) can find out when you visited (though not which specific page), how long you stayed, your ISP number, and a few more interesting facts, all without the tedium of a warrant. (Further provisions allow the British government to hack individuals or even entire cities, but they have to get permission from a panel of judges for that.) As you might infer, that means staying underground in Night’s Black Agents just got harder, for Agents and vampires alike.

But ha ha ha, I hear you chortle, I’m an American so GCHQ can GCHFO. Not so fast, my fine patriotic friend. First of all, as Edward Snowden revealed, the NSA (in the great tradition of public-private partnership) works with telecommunications and Internet companies to gather and store similar metadata and ICRs. The recently enacted USA Freedom Act of 2015 ended the legal authority for the NSA to maintain its own metadata archive (unless it didn’t) but reinforced the NSA’s access to theoretically private corporate versions of the same records. (The USA Freedom Act not only extended most of the relevant provisions of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 but also managed to achieve an even more bleakly ironic name.) And of course, none of these laws by careful design did anything about Five Eyes cooperation, slightly better known as ECHELON.

ECHELON began in 1961 as a cooperative effort between the NSA and GCHQ to monitor (i.e., tap and record) all communications satellite transmissions, then spread to telephone switchboards, transoceanic cable traffic, radio signals, and finally the nascent Internet in 1981. By then the US and UK SIGINT agencies had been joined by the relevant surveillance forces in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand: hence Five Eyes. Even then, that was a misnomer, as Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway had varying degrees of access to Five Eyes product. India, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea, and Singapore (among others) have more limited deals in exchange for hosting ECHELON SIGINT facilities. France almost made it Six Eyes in 2009 (France has its own Intelligence Act of 2015 for metadata and ICR collection) but the CIA vetoed the full partnership required. (Don’t worry, France gets most of the benefits of Five Eyes membership under the LUSTRE agreement of 2011.) Because it is a full partnership: if, say, some pesky and ironically named law prevents the NSA from snooping on American citizens’ records, the NSA just asks Canada’s CSE to snoop on American records, all legal under Canadian law. And the NSA is sure to return the favor if the CSE wants to track some Canadian radical in Toronto.

The Heat is (Echel) ON

When it’s too hot to breathe
And it’s too hot to think.
There’s always someone looking at you.

— Bob Geldof, “Someone’s Looking At You”

So what care you about such civics metadata? You’ve got vampires to kill. Not so fast, my burned buddy: All those eyes could start watching you any minute, especially after you start setting off bombs and shooting people near security cameras. Even if who you were shooting didn’t show up on the cameras.

This might turn up in any number of ways. If the Agents have an active opposition within that government — vampire infiltrators, Project EDOM, or just a grimly determined Javert — then they need to stay off the Internet. And off their phones. Even burner phones, or perhaps even especially burner phones.

The Director can abstract this by adding +1 to all Heat roll Difficulties in a Five Eyes or associated country for each 2 points spent on Research or Network (looking on the Internet; calling someone for help). If the Director thinks a certain investigation or operation involves a little too much Web browsing or phone activity, she can always toss in another +1 on top.

Heat is also hotter in the Five Eyes’ targets, of course: the NSA makes a very deliberate habit of owning all electronic communications in Iran and Pakistan, for instance. Just quickly scanning the map, it looks like your best bet is a country like Uzbekistan where the government uses old-fashioned surveillance to track foreigners but doesn’t have an electronic cooperation deal with the NSA, or a region mostly off the security systems’ radar like West Africa or the Caribbean.

If the Agents whine that “of course they were on Tor” or whatever, she can remind them that the NSA cracked those systems years ago, but allow points spent on Digital Intrusion or Preparedness to “shield” points spent on Research and Network in Five Eyes nations. If the Agents have a case officer or other contact in ECHELON, they might even get a free “Heat shield” for their online (or on-phone) activities … as long as they do a favor or five for their Big Brother, of course.

The good news, at least in the UK, is that the ludicrous list of agencies allowed to snoop electronic activity means that the Agents are sure to have a Network contact who can get access to a Conspiracy courier’s cell phone metadata, or a vampirism researcher’s Internet activity. Lower the Network Difficulty for such tests by -1 in the UK.

By Tom Abella

Introduction

Conventions are special. Home games with friends and the occasional new player are our bread and butter, but I’ve always considered Con games to be a time to go the extra mile for the players (people actually paid to get in, for crying out loud). In preparation for running Night’s Black Agents at a recent convention, I decided to create some extra special handouts for my players. Be warned: some mild spoilers for The Van Helsing Letter are up ahead. Fortunately, knowing the names of characters and locations won’t actually tell you whether they’re out to help, hinder, or help-then-hinder your team.

Dossiers

One thing I knew ahead of time was that my players would all be new to NBA (only one had played any GUMSHOE game before), and I wanted to make sure everyone had all the guidance they needed for the game. I made a lot of notes on how best to walk them through the rules, but I also went above and beyond in creating their character sheets–I’m sorry, their character dossiers.

dossier

Forget orange–manilla is the new black

I was able to get some tabbed folders online (I can neither condone nor police any readers who steal them from work), which offered a two-page layout. On the right side went their character sheets, followed by the one-sentence skill description from NBA (a great reference to have behind your character sheet).

player-notes

The success of GUMSHOE games can be measured by the amount of diligent note-taking by players. #hugesuccess

On the left side, I started with the two pages “Advice to Players” from the core rulebook, which helps to mentally set the stage for the players, and is short enough to read while everyone gets settled at the table. Behind those two pages went some additional reference sheets from the core rulebook – – guidance on skill modifiers and combat actions that I want everyone to have so we’re not getting bogged down during combat.

I added a few extra details for flavor. The pre-gens came with surnames, which I wrote on the folder tab and then used a black marker to “redact” their first names. I debated redacting unused skills and other text from the character sheets and advice section, but decided against it for practical reasons: if fewer players showed up, players would get extra points to add to their character. Plus, it’s good for players to know what others on the team can do. A less-menacing option would be to use a highlighter on those skills the player does have (once you open the door to the tabbed manilla folders, all kinds of office supplies start looking reasonable).

Altogether, the dossiers were a success with players, and also provided some extra scratch paper in a pinch.

Finding Faces

Most character sheets come with a blank spot for the character’s image, and I wasn’t going to leave those blank if I was making dossiers for the players. Fantasy and sci-fi settings have lots of art available online, but it can be a challenge to gather images of a group of characters who don’t look like they were cobbled together from a half-dozen sources. Modern settings don’t have that problem, particularly in games like NBA that are supposed to evoke spy thrillers (though I wouldn’t go so far as to grab Tom Cruise or Matt Damon – – look for familiar, not constraining). Between the background and skill set of each character, I was able to easily find headshots for everyone.

character-images

Three are nods to spy movies, two to TV shows, one to their character description, and two are Ciaran Hinds. His picture counts twice because my God, look how badass he is in b/w.

I went one step further and created another batch of known/potential NPCs, including a few extras not included in the scenario (no need to tip the players off that the secretary at the lab is a nameless NPC, plus it helps them remember the layout and people in a setting). I’ll admit here that I was a little tight on time, and my Google skills may have started to fail me.

npcs

Yes, a couple of these faces look familiar. Also, yes: Pierre Athanese was the best hit I could get from Googling ‘Friendly old French man’

Why stop at people? Next up were locations: a half-sheet printout for all the major locations they would possibly encounter in the game. I like how they set the mood and helped anchor the scenes, and in at least one instance they helped settle a question about the layout and design of a site.

athanor-and-heilberg

gsv-and-mine-entrance

schloss-glockenstein

Google image search was great for these, and anyone looking for more variety of creepy occult bookstores should just look up Ken Hite’s Tumblr.

There would be some traveling involved, so I thought a map of the region would be helpful. It turns out that Bing maps is much more handout-friendly than Google Maps:

map

Not pictured: garish primary-color lines and roadwork icons showing the state of central European highways.

One last batch was cars, which were also fun and helpful. It took a little agency away from the players, but they’re playing spies, and I figured the pickiest they could be would be to look for speed or maneuverability. Whichever they chose, I’d offer the cards face down and let them pick.

cars

Director’s choice of whether Top Gear references result in skill point refresh or immediate TPK

Actual Creation

All the handouts were made in Paint – – no special or expensive software. 96 pixels = 1 inch, and set it up with 0.5 inch margins all around. The font is Gill Sans, which can be found online for free (and ethically) without too much effort, and I lined up the words by eye (again, nothing fancy). Just make sure they’re a solid color against the background and you’ll be fine.

At the Table

The printouts work great for figuring out who is where (unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the players refused to split the party), and also great at trying to identify connections between conspirators. They also make for great character stand-ins to remind the players of who else is on their team (we found four large d6’s made for a solid base). Altogether, an easy way to add a little something special to your next NBA game.

You can download Tom’s handouts as a zip file here.

“Some curiosity may be felt as to his history; I will trace it with the utmost truthfulness, according to his own words, adding any necessary explanations. He told me that he was eighty-eight years of age when he came here, and that he was the son of Prince Ragoczy of Transylvania by his first wife, a Tékéli.”  

— Prinz Karl von Hessen-Kassel, Memoirs (1817)

Proud if neglectful papa, Ferenc II Ragoczy

The perhaps-too-gullible Prince Karl wrote these words about my friend and yours, the quondam immortal alchemist, composer, and confidence man who called himself the Comte de Saint-Germain. He also called himself, among a dizzying array of other pseudonyms, the Count Ragoczy (or occasionally Czarogy, for a change-up) and claimed to be the vanished heir to the throne of Transylvania, Prince Leopold Georg Ragoczy. The last reigning Prince of Transylvania, Ferenc II Ragoczy, had three sons before his ill-fated rebellion against Austria collapsed in 1708. The eldest, Leopold Georg, died in 1700. Or did he?

The Esoterrorists: I AM = EOD

Yes, of course he did. But the psychic dislocation of the Transylvanians, betrayed by their Christian brothers and their Turkish enemies, deprived of their proper Prince by the duplicitous Emperor, left a seed of doubt. By the 18th century, Esoterror groups had run the “Lost Heir Working” many times, sparking false hope, civil war, and repression that fed the Outer Dark. The Esoterror agent known as Saint-Germain decided to play a bigger game: he would run a “Quantum Heir Working” both claiming and denying his identity to spread chaos and ruin across Europe. Indeed, he was in Russia during the 1762 revolt that put Catherine the Great on the throne; his machinations at Versailles (and the Illuminist sects he left behind) toppled the Bourbons in 1789, leading to a quarter century of global war. The founder of American fascism, William Dudley Pelley, venerated him as a Secret Master … and so he was. Modern-day OV agents track a cache of Saint-Germain’s suddenly discovered letters from Budapest murder-auction to Paris musical conjuration site to Montana cult compound, unwittingly re-linking and re-awakening his 18th-century apparat to once more bring flame and tyranny to the West.

Night’s Black Agents: Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

No, Saint-Germain wasn’t a vampire. But Prince Leopold Georg was, from birth. (Saint-Germain, who never ate or drank in company, and never seemed to age, was a Renfield.) The Prince’s mother, Prince Karl foggily recalled, was “a Tékéli.” The Conspiracy cover story pretends this refers to the noble Thököli family of Hungary, from whence actually descended the Prince’s grandmother. But no, Saint-Germain actually said “Székely,” the term Dracula uses in the novel for his own Hungarian forebears. The Linea Dracula split in the 16th century, when Count John Dracula allied himself with the Bathory clan. Internecine warfare decimated the vampire ranks until Count John finally won in 1683. Diehard secret foes of Count John made a deal with the Bathorys’ great rivals for the throne of Transylvania, the Ragoczys. Ferenc II gave his blood and other humours to a Székely assign, who magically and alchemically conceived a vampiric moonchild. This may explain the entry in Ferenc’s diary on his son’s passing: “I confess my affliction at his death was not of the slightest.” John Dracula’s influence at the Imperial court explains why Ferenc was never imperially confirmed as Prince of Transylvania, and perhaps why his rebellion was so thoroughly crushed. But the Empire never found Ferenc’s true vampiric heir, who worked against the Hapsburgs in the shadows and perhaps engineered their fall in 1918. This by now 320-year-old vampire commands great magics as well as the Theosophical cult of Saint-Germain in Europe, India, and America, giving orders to his subordinates telepathically or while in mist form, to avoid being identified as an Un-Dead four-year-old. The returned Dracula hunts this lost heir to his vampiric throne, blood of his blood, Leopold Georg the Last of Transylvania.

Trail of Cthulhu: The Mahatmas of Madness

Prince Karl all too accurately recalled Saint-Germain’s words. His mother was a “Tékéli” — something fearful and primordial from the antarctic reaches of the Earth. (Saint-Germain in 1779 also puckishly described his mother’s country as one which had never been ruled by “men of a foreign origin.”)  How she arrived in Vienna in 1691 we may never know: brought on board a Dutch brigantine blown off course south of Cape Horn, perhaps. Saint-Germain finally died in 1784, at the age of ninety, still appearing as a fifty-year-old man. Madame Blavatsky claimed that “The Master Rakoczy” was one of the Hidden Mahatmas or Secret Masters or the Great White Brotherhood — and the cry “tekeli-li” is associated by Poe with the fear of white things. Are the Himalayan White Masters who spawned Saint-Germain the hideous Mi-Go, or gnophkeh worshippers of Ithaqua in Leng? Does the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign hunt Saint-Germain or his Mother, or seek the secret of immortality hidden in his alien blood? Did Saint-Germain transmigrate his consciousness into a new body, like Ephraim Waite? Did Edward Hutchinson steal his essential saltes from the crypt of St. Nicolas’ church in Eckernforde and resurrect him in “Castle Ferenczy” in Transylvania? Is Saint-Germain’s Mother, like Grendel’s, still lurking somewhere, gravid with a new Secret Master? Send the Investigators to the ruins of Castle Ferenczy in Rakus to dig up some clues, dodge some Romanian Iron Guard sorcerors, and follow the Trail of Saint-Germain wherever it leads.

TimeWatch: The Saint-Germain Variations

Dodgy mystics or occult weirdos really want to find out the truth behind Saint-Germain, and one of them, Elsa Bailly, gets ahold of a time machine. Fearing the Master’s magic, she heads for 1700 Transylvania to kidnap Saint-Germain as a baby — unwittingly spawning the legend of the Lost Heir that Saint-Germain later plays upon to credulous audiences. Is his “magic” just sleight-of-time and paradox? Does he play coy about his past because he grew up outside time, where he learned to grow diamonds and jam with Handel? Are the various Saint-Germain impostors his enemies or his alternate selves? Did Elsa steal the infant Saint-Germain — or an Outer Dark tulpa, or a vampire, or a shoggoth-spawn? This looks like a job — like a lot of jobs — for TimeWatch.

See P. XX

a Column About Roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

 

Was it a whole ten years ago that Simon Rogers and I sat by ourselves at a small table on the far fringes of the Gen Con exhibit hall? It feels like only yesterday, that forlorn time when we had nothing to lure passersby but a stack of The Esoterrorists first edition and some Dying Earth books. Yes, it’s the tenth anniversary of GUMSHOE and although we were slow burners at first, the system has gradually inveigled its way into gaming’s collective consciousness. We could have no more humbling/ego inflating proof of that than Pelgrane’s amazing showing at this year’s ENnie Awards. I should count myself lucky that Simon, Cat, Ken and Gar left a few medals on the table for Feng Shui 2.

View from Pelgrane Gen Con booth, 10 years ago (Artist’s Rendering)

On such occasions, one’s thoughts naturally turn to think pieces, and Simon has asked me to look at ways in which GUMSHOE scenarios have changed since the early days.

To me the key innovation has to be the addition of Lead-In and Lead-Out lines to the scene headers. These immediately show the GM where the scene probably fits in the investigative sequence the players create as they wend their way through the mystery. For example:

Harp’s Place

Scene Type: Core

Lead-Ins: The Bait, What’s Up With Chuck

Lead-Outs: Irland is Missing, Dawley, The Water Commission

Although we sometimes also still do scene sequence diagrams, they only really work for very simple, more or less linear scenarios. The more possible ways through the investigation a scenario provides, the more tangled and confused the web of scene connections looks when expressed in diagram form. Instead of acting as a play aid, a diagram makes the scenario look more daunting than it really is. Lead-Ins and Lead-Outs put the information in front of GMs when they really need it—while they’re running the scenes.

From a scenario design standpoint, they encourage the writer to include multiple ways in and out of their scenes, giving players additional options and fighting linearity.

* * *

The other big change, Gar has pointed out, can be seen in the way Investigative point spends are treated. Some early scenarios went a bit off-model by requiring overly high spends for benefits. If you see a 3-point spend in an early adventure, you can almost always strike that out in exchange for a 2 or even a 1. Other early adventures sometimes get stingy by making only the core clues free, and charging for other information you don’t need. Since those first scenarios we have more consistently adopted the approach I have always used, which is to provide plenty of info for free and make the players separate the pertinent from the incidental.

Over the years we have also learned how emotionally invested players become when they choose to spend an investigative point. I initially conceived of investigative spends as just a grace note, a fun minor occurrence that would happen every now and again. No big deal. That thought underestimated the cognitive difficulty of letting go of a resource—any resource. Early scenarios allowed you to find out information in an especially cool way, or add dimension to your character, in exchange for spends. For example, in one of the Stunning Eldritch Tales adventures you can specify that you already know one of the key characters—but it’s up to the player to squeeze a concrete advantage out of that. It turns out that players want a bigger, clearer gain when they spend points. So in more recent scenarios you’ll see us moving more toward palpable game advantages, like bonuses to general ability tests, or being able to avoid a clearly undesirable plot outcome.

You’ll see this thought carried through into the simplified equivalent of investigative spends that appears in GUMSHOE One-2-One. In that iteration of the game they become scarcer resources, and must always deliver something strong when they are spent.

* * *

Roleplaying scenarios in general sometimes lapse into extended passages of background information that might be of interest to the GM while reading but has no likely way to come up in play, and will thus remain undiscovered by the players. GMs need enough information to run the scenario and understand the logic behind the actions of the supporting characters they’ll be playing, in case players hit them with unexpected questions. But when writing it can be tempting to just start spinning out details of the fictional world without finding a way to make them pay off at the table. Even in the early years I think we mostly caught and fixed such passages during the development phase. The Great Pelgrane who sits atop our London eyrie remains vigilant against them today, snapping up transgressors of this principle with his piercing beak.

Another factor I’ve been more cognizant of over the years: the possibility that GMs will over-interpret a throwaway line of in-world description. For example the tradecraft Ordo Veritatis agents use to conceal their identities isn’t mean to become an obstacle during play. Instead the GM should describe it as challenging without making it a genuine uninteresting additional hassle. But if I don’t come out and say this while writing, I can easily mislead the GM into making a big deal of what I regard as an atmospheric element. The general fix for issues like this is to break more readily from fictional world voice to speak directly, designer-to-GM about what I hope to help you make happen at the gaming table.

Other than that the changes to scenarios mostly come from the emulation of the new genres we take on. Ashen Stars required a look at the way investigation works in shows like “Star Trek” and “Firefly.” Likewise with Night’s Black Agents and contemporary spy thrillers like the Bourne Trilo… er, Quadrilogy I guess it now is.

With Cthulhu Confidential and The Yellow King on the horizon, we’ll continue to refine GUMSHOE for particular experiences. I look forward to seeing what our scenarios will look like in another ten years’ time.

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