a Night’s Black Agents adventure seed, by Adam Gauntlett

The Sacred Temple of the Paparo, founded in Naples, 1579, by three noble daughters of Giovanni Paparo, has been abandoned by those supposed to care for it. Once bedecked with ornaments and liberally endowed with treasures, it has been ransacked in recent years, down to the last candlestick. Now it is an empty shell, four walls and a waterlogged roof.

If only the dead stayed quiet …

The Director should pick and choose which elements she feels are useful.

Ways in:

  • The Paparo Foundation shares responsibility for the Sacred Temple with the Municipality of Naples. One of the trustees of the Foundation, Emiliano Paparo, has recently been caught in an antiquities smuggling sting in France. The odd thing is, when arrested he had several vampire blocks on him, and according to the arresting officers he became very agitated when they were taken away.
  • An English firm, Canter Antiques and Salvage, has been caught with several artefacts belonging to the church, and the Carabinieri are pressing for the extradition of the head of the firm, Maggie Canter, to answer charges of theft and antiquity smuggling.
  • An important figure with connections either to the Church, historical study or spiritualism (the Psychic, Online Mystic, Medievalist, Enigmatic Monsignor), goes missing and is found, dazed and confused, several days later at the church. This person has no idea how they got there, or where they were during the missing time.

History of the Sacred Temple

The conservatory with attached church is dedicated to the liturgical celebration of the Presentation of Mary at the temple, as depicted in the Protoevangelium of James. The feast day celebrates the birth of Mary, destined to become the mother of Jesus. It was home to many wonders, including rich furnishings, tapestries, mosaic flooring, a Caravaggio painting, and over seven hundred altars.

All of these have been stolen. The worst damage came from a 1993 smash-and-grab raid, but there have been plenty of robberies since. A fire in 2012 and a ceiling collapse due to water damage in 2014 sealed the deal. Now there’s nothing left but the four walls and façade. Even the mosaic floor has been dug up and stolen, to decorate some mafia boss’ mansion.

  • Archaeology, Architecture, Law and Streetwise, Core: This is nothing new. Naples’ proud history and at least a third of its magnificent churches have been ransacked, particularly over the last two decades.
  • Architecture, Law, Streetwise, Cop Talk 1 point: the Sottosulolo tunnels run under the Temple, and there’s supposed to be an access point somewhere in the crypt. One of the raids on the church came from underground, Camorra thugs stealing altars and statues of the Virgin, only to be murdered as they emerged from the tunnels two streets away, presumably by rivals.
  • Archaeology, Architecture, 1 point: The layout of the main hall is distinctive, and among its peculiar signature points is a whispering gallery, with two parabolic dishes used to create the effect. Anything said in that church can be heard by anyone in the church. Nobody knows why the church was designed this way, except that it was at the specific instruction of the church’s three noble founders.
  • Vampirology, 1 point: After the 2012 fire, when damage assessors tried to work out whether the building could be saved, three so-called vampire skulls were found in the damaged crypt. Each had a brick stuffed in their mouths, to prevent them biting others. Preliminary study suggested all three were female. The skulls were stolen soon afterward, and have never resurfaced.

What Do They Want?

Supernatural

The Temple was once, and still is, home to three Strix, linked to the Paparo family by blood and custom. The Temple was built to honor them, and in exchange the Strix promoted and protected the Paparo. Time passed, rituals and honors were forgotten, and the Strix became angrier by the decade. The Temple’s recent misfortunes are a direct result of this fit of supernatural pique. The Strix want the Paparo destroyed.

Damned

The three Paparo noblewomen became damned vampires, and built the Temple in their own honor. They perverted the honors due to Mary, directing it to their own glory. However they were put down in the 1600s, their remains hidden in the crypts below the temple. Without their protection, the Temple faded, collapsing altogether in recent years. One of the Paparo has been resurrected, and is looking for her sisters. She wants her sisters back, and her Temple restored.

Alien

The Paparo women intended the Temple as a vampire/Renfield detection and imprisonment system, which is why those Architectural anomalies exist. They wanted to protect Naples, and encouraged their descendants to do the same. Edom has an architectural study of the Temple in its archives, for that reason. It featured in several Gladio operations, before its unofficial decommission in 1980.  The vampires want to completely deactivate the Temple, and discourage any further study.

Mutant

One of the Paparo family became afflicted, and the Temple was built as a home for that dissident family member. There are hidden secrets in the crypt that throw further light on that family history. The vampire abandoned the temple shortly after the War, but still considers it part of her territory and will be annoyed at any incursion.

Telluric

The worst of the damage can be traced to a 1980 start point: the Iripina Earthquake, November 23rd. It undermined the structure of the building, and caused a dispute between the Paparo Foundation and Naples Municipality over who had to pay to repair the Temple. It also awoke the vampire, possibly a Bride or a by-blow, imprisoned in the crypt. Since then it’s spent its time creating the Temple it wants to live in, and extending its control over the Neapolitan underworld by selling its antiquities (it considers the Temple its property).

Conflict: The Detti War

The Detti clan, part of the sprawling Camorra network that controls significant parts of Naples, has been part of the Conspiracy ever since that unfortunate raid via the Sottosulolo tunnels. The raiders fell foul of the vampires, which is why they were massacred shortly after exiting the tunnels. Their capitulation has, over the years, given the Detti new honors and success.

The Detti have become so successful, in fact, that they have tried to expand by incorporating a Nigerian drug gang, an offshoot of the Neo Black Movement. This brand new alliance fractured as soon as the Nigerians realized the Detti were in bed with vampires, as the Nigerians hate vampires like poison. Blood soon flowed, and many of the street battles center on the Temple. That’s where the Detti meet their vampire paymasters, and that’s what the Nigerians want to destroy once and for all. Streetwise or Network spends forges a relationship with the Nigerians, that can get the agents in on the ground floor on the next raid on the Detti.


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

An adventure seed for Night’s Black Agents, by Adam Gauntlett

The Agents are hired for a simple babysitting gig in Monaco, playground of the idle rich, and find themselves in the Conspiracy’s crosshairs.

What Came Before

A group of hackers hoping to make a big score cracked a billionaire’s superyacht Wi-Fi system. The hackers downloaded everything they could get their hands on, thinking that there would have to be something in all that worthy of blackmail. Then, to add sauce to the roast, they locked up the ship’s systems and demanded a ransom in bitcoin.

The hackers got more than they bargained for, as the superyacht is owned and operated by a major Conspiracy asset. The asset was on board at the time, conducting delicate negotiations with a would-be business partner. The deal was ruined, and the asset is outraged.

The hackers realized they were in over their heads. The new plan is to hire some bodyguards – the Agents – while some very intense negotiations take place. Then they’ll run for it – or so they hope.

Monaco

The Principauté de Monaco microstate is on the French Riviera, with France on three sides and the Mediterranean on the other. This constitutional monarchy is currently governed by Prince Albert II of the House of Grimaldi, a Genoese dynasty that has ruled Monaco since the 1200s. Art, culture, high-stakes gambling, the famous Grand Prix, tax assistance, a balmy climate, and everything else a multi-millionaire could possibly ask for; Monaco has it all, in a package about the size of New York City’s Central Park..

Though technically ten wards, Monaco is often thought of as four quarters: Monaco-Ville, La Condamime (which includes Port Hercule), Monte Carlo, home to the famous casino, and 1970s newcomer Fontvielle, made from reclaimed land.

Population

A little under 40,000 people. The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California could accommodate all of Monaco twice over.

The native Monegasques, all 5,000 of them, are outnumbered in their own country; over a quarter of the population is French, with strong minority populations of Italians, British, Belgians, Germans, Swiss and US nationals. The official language is French, but English is widely spoken. The local language, Monegasque, is little used.

Special

Social norms are rigidly enforced, and tourists may be prosecuted if they walk around without a shirt on. Would-be residents need to deposit at least €300,000 in a Monaco bank account before the government will issue a residency permit. Meanwhile the wealthy drop their usual paranoia and drive around in open-top vehicles, with expensive jewelry on display, certain they will never be robbed or molested.

The Agents’ base Heat, usually 1, is 2 in Monaco due to stringent security protocols.

Further, any Heat-gaining action gains 1 extra Heat if that action involves overt lethal or potentially lethal violence. Getting into a fistfight is one thing, but guns or explosions provokes a rapid response.

Gambling and Spending Excessive Funds gains no Heat. Monaco’s seen it all before.

Thrilling Elements

As per European Tourist City, with the following additions unique to Monaco:

  • A-list celebrity, Hollywood star or similar, walking with her personal assistant or driving in a very expensive open-top car.
  • Major racing event. The streets are packed with competitors and cheering crowds. The Monte Carlo Rally takes place in January each year, the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco is held every two years, two weeks before the Formula One, and the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, one of motorsport’s Triple Crown events, takes place each year in May. Setup for each event takes six weeks and demolition three, so even without the race itself the streets are impacted before and after the event.
  • Coastal roads with hairpin bends; the least mistake will send your car crashing to its doom. All the more troubling, then, that so many petrol-heads in expensive cars seem keen to reenact the Bond-Onatopp chase from GoldenEye.
  • Confusing, narrow little streets surrounded on all sides by concrete, glass, and the occasional Belle Epoque masterpiece not yet destined for a date with a wrecking ball. Cramped, for Chase purposes.

Adventures in Babysitting

The Agents are brought in by a ‘Ndrangheta fixer, who puts them in a room with Maxim Ivanov, leader of the hack team.

The meeting takes place in the penthouse suite of a luxury Fontvielle apartment building, with an ocean view, three beds, two baths, living room and terrace. This, Maxim explains, will be their base of operations for the next few days.

He wants them to take care of Viktor Morizov. Viktor is to be treated with every possible courtesy, but he is not to be left alone nor is he allowed to leave the apartment. The job’s supposed to last from today, Friday, through to 9am next Monday. Anything Viktor wants, Viktor gets. So long as he never leaves.

Maxim gives them a burner phone to contact him, and five thousand Euro for expenses. It’s not a lot, not in a place like Monaco, but it should last a weekend.

Viktor Morizov: Civilian with high Digital Intrusion and Electronic Surveillance pools. Viktor’s a terrified twenty year old manchild. He speaks Russian, German and atrocious English, and behaves like a hick – which, to be fair, he is.

A Criminology, Research or Streetwise spend discovers Viktor’s criminal history. Viktor is linked with the Russian government sponsored group APT28, also known as Fancy Bear. Viktor, along with a handful of others, is supposed to have broken ranks and left the group in order to make money for himself.

Viktor has an external hard drive containing all the data the team stole. Treat this as a 4-point dedicated pool, Vampirology, and anything and everything to do with the Conspiracy asset and its links to other Nodes. The other hackers have been sent out of Monaco. Viktor’s here to sit on the data, and the Agents are here to make sure he doesn’t run.

Maxim Ivanov: Former Military Intelligence operative who thinks he has everything under control. A Criminology, Research or Streetwise spend discovers Maxim’s former life as an OMON special police operative in Moscow; he has several awards for bravery. He quit two years ago.

Maxim’s Plan:  Maxim has resigned himself to sacrificing Viktor and the data. However he wants to sacrifice Viktor on his own terms, so he’s trying to get as many bidders as possible, with this inducement: if you want the data I stole, pay me, and I’ll tell you where the guy who has it is.

This means it’s not just the Conspiracy the Agents have to worry about. Maxim’s contacting anyone he thinks will pay. Director’s choice as to who that might be, or what forces they might have at their disposal.

Maxim doesn’t care what happens to the Agents. Ideally he’ll cut them loose with a hefty payday, if all goes well. However he hired people he doesn’t care about because that way, if things go wrong, he doesn’t have to feel too badly about the corpses he’s leaving in his wake.

Except for Viktor, of course. Tough luck for the kid.

The Building

The penthouse is well-stocked with the basics, and has a massive flatscreen television with a Blue-Ray player and a huge library of movies. The owner, if anyone bothers to find out, is a midlevel Hollywood exec who comes to Monaco for a few weeks in the year in festival season, and rents it through an agent when it’s vacant. The other apartments in the building are likewise owned by absentee landlords, rented short-term to well-heeled tourists.

The building’s moderately secure, with concierge and security cameras throughout; Infiltration Difficulty 4 to break in. There is maid service. As this is the penthouse suite there are no neighbors on this level. Directly beneath are two vacant apartments, an owner-occupied apartment, (Aimee Charron, a very well-heeled socialite who ‘works’ as a personal assistant), and a tourist apartment currently occupied by a German gay couple, the Fenstermachers, here to gamble and have a good time. The rest of this six story building is occupied by about two score people total.

Avenues of Attack

Maxim’s plan goes belly-up shortly after he puts his advert on the dark web. The Conspiracy asset snatches Maxim off the street, and tortures him until he gives up Viktor’s location. This takes a while.

The Conspiracy asset also goes after the other hackers, hiding outside Monaco, and grabs them up one by one. Viktor’s in touch with them via social media, and some of the snatches are spectacular enough to make the news. As each happens, Viktor gets more and more despondent.

Meanwhile other would-be buyers gather in Monaco. They know they have to act quickly if they want the data. They can’t get hold of Maxim, so they do the next best thing: they buy the Agents’ location from the ‘Ndrangheta fixer who set all this up. It takes them time to find the right fixer and make a deal.

The Agents may discover this through Tradecraft, Streetwise, Digital Intrusion as an investigative ability to find the dark web advert, or similar. If they find out quickly, they can pick up as much as 2 pool points Preparedness, to use during their escape. If they don’t find out, then they lose 2 pool points Preparedness, since the first sign of trouble is probably when some goon puts his boot through the penthouse door.

Running Away From Home

Viktor becomes increasingly miserable as time passes. His friends are all dead or dying, Maxim is nowhere to be seen, and he’s surrounded by people he doesn’t know or trust.

If the Agents use Shrink, Reassurance or similar on Viktor then this scene does not happen. If they did not, Viktor tries to escape.

Viktor reaches out via his online connections to find someone who will help him. His attempts are intercepted by one of the data buyers, but Viktor doesn’t realize this. Digital Intrusion as an investigative spend spots Viktor’s attempts to find help, or traces his attempts after the fact.

Then he uses the pharmaceuticals in the penthouse’s medicine cabinet to whip up a quick knockout cocktail, to use on the Agents. He gets this to them however he can; maybe in their drinks, maybe in takeout food.

The homemade drug cocktail can be detected with 1 point Chemistry or Medic as an investigative spend, and purged in one round with 1 point Diagnosis.

Those who ingest it need to make a Difficulty 6 Health test. Success means they act as if Hurt for the next 6 rounds. Failure means they act as if Seriously Wounded for the next 6 rounds and Hurt for 6 rounds after that. This may provoke Consciousness checks.

Then Viktor makes a run for it. He thinks he’s arranged to meet friends at a coffee shop ten minutes’ walk away, but in fact the data buyers hired an extraction team to snatch him.

The Grand Finale

The Agents can hold out, or run for it.

Holding out isn’t helpful. Maxim’s not coming. His plan backfired, and he’s spilling his guts. Eventually the Conspiracy asset or the data buyers will get into the penthouse.

The Conspiracy asset prefers heavy tactics; bust in, bust heads, get out, use lawyers with buckets of money to cover the damage. The data buyers are more discreet, and may attempt negotiation. However they all want the same thing: Viktor, and his data.

The difference is, the Conspiracy asset doesn’t care whether Viktor lives or dies, and considers the Agents acceptable collateral damage. Also the Fenstermachers, Aimee Charron, the maids, and pretty much anyone and anyone else that gets in the way.

Leaving Monaco is tricky. The microstate is very small, but it’s one of the most heavily surveilled places in the world. The OPFOR can track the Agents’ movements, and intercept them before they get far. Consider this a Thrilling Chase at minimum, possibly an Extended Chase if you want this to track across France to some hideout of the Agents’ choosing.

What happens next is up to the Agents …


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

by Steven Hammond

Gen Con was a blast this year. I played a few games, talked to people I only see at Gen Con, and spent several hours helping out in the Pelgrane Booth. I had fun chatting with all the GUMSHOE and Black Book fans that stopped by. If you picked up a flyer in Indy, the discount codes on it will work until October 1. If you missed Gen Con, we love you too. The discount code WeDontAllFitInIndy will give you 20% off a 1-year Player subscription and it’s also good until October 1, 2019.

Summer wasn’t all play though. A couple of interns joined us and we cranked through the GM tools to get them ready for beta testing, which launched this week.

What are the GM Tools? They are a set of tools designed to help the GM offer a more immersive experience. Modeled after the GM matrices in the back of most GUMSHOE games, they

  • Help the GM keep track of characters’ ability ratings and pools, updating in real time as points are spent.
  • Remind the GM of character connections like Sources of Stability, Bonds and Network contacts.
  • Show the GM who’s been getting spotlight time recently, helping to keep the fun moving around the table.

Below is a short video that shows how the GM tools work in play.

 

The Tools currently support Trail of Cthulhu (and Bookhounds of London), Night’s Black Agents (and the Dracula Dossier), and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. The Yellow King RPG is coming soon with support for Shock and Injury Cards — we still have a couple tricky things to work out there.

Participating in the beta is easy. All Player level subscribers have access to the GM Tools via the “Campaigns” link on the left. Click that, then click “New Campaign” at the top menu to get started. Now you can invite anybody you want to play with. Anybody with a Free account can use the Play mode features when connected to a campaign.

Anybody who provides helpful feedback during the beta will get a free 1-year upgrade to the GM level. You can use our contact form to submit feedback. We are not only looking for bugs and usability issues, we are also looking for feedback on parts you like and new features you’d like to see added.

Take a look at the video and let us know what you think in the comments below.

The scenario (S)Entries from the Night’s Black Agents core rulebook is a quick and open-ended intro to the shadowy world of the undead. The players are hired to steal a laptop containing a dossier on the vampiric conspiracy; they steal the laptop, then get doublecrossed, forcing them to track down their former employer and steal the laptop a second time.

Adapting (S)Entries for GUMSHOE One-2-One is relatively simple. All the investigative elements map directly over – clues are clues. The trick is boiling the action sequences down into Challenges. You’ll need a copy of (S)Entries to follow these conversion notes.

 

The Lift

In the first action scene of the adventure, the player needs to sneak into the NATO base at Camp Butmir.

Challenge #1: Getting into the base

The simplest approach is to start with an Infiltration challenge to get in. An Advance means the player gets in easily and gets a bonus Filch die for the next challenge; a Hold means the player just gets in; a Setback means the player still gets in, but the alarm’s been raised and they’ll have to use Evasion to escape the base after grabbing the laptop. Note that the player still gets in even on a Setback – if the plot hinges on the player succeeding, then the player succeeds, but it might be a success with complications.

Challenge #2: Grabbing the Laptop

This is a binary challenge, with only Advance and Hold – steal the laptop undetected, or don’t steal it undetected. If the player’s spotted, run the third challenge. (S)Entries suggests lots of clever things the player might do to hide the theft (spying on the office with Electronic Surveillance, getting Lennart drunk with an Interpersonal Push) – reward clever tactics with bonuses to the roll.

Challenge #3: Escaping the Base

This is an Evasion challenge, with plenty of scope for Stunts. As it’s a challenge that the player only blunders into if they screwed up earlier, you don’t need to be generous with the rewards. An Advance might just mean getting away cleanly, a Hold means you get away with a Heat Problem, and a Setback means you escape but get both Heat and an Injury.

 

The Meet

In this scene, the bad guys ambush the player when she shows up to make the exchange. As written, it takes place out in the countryside, and they’ve got a sniper hidden in the hills. For a Solo Ops, consider switching to a more confined urban location. With only one player, you don’t need plenty of space for a firefight, and a lone player is going to be more cautious and paranoid about going out into the middle of nowhere than a group of players.

Assuming you go with the scene as written…

Challenge #1: Spotting the Sniper

This is a binary Sense Trouble challenge, at a high Difficulty. An Advance means the player spots the sniper and gets the option to flee; a Setback means the player goes right into the Fighting challenge.

Challenge #2: Car Chase

As we want to give the bad guys every chance of getting the laptop, a Hold or a Setback here means the player’s escape attempt is thwarted and the player’s car is knocked off the road or has a tire taken out by the sniper. A Setback means the player picks up an Injury. An Advance means the player gets away with no other benefit. It’s a Driving challenge, but with scope for a Shooting stunt.

Challenge #3: Anton’s Goons

This is a straight-up Fighting challenge; the main complication is that there might be a sniper with a bead on the player. In a multi-player game, that sniper shot might take out one of the player characters, but the rest could keep going. In a single-player game, instant-kills like that must be avoided. Model this by forcing the player to expend a valuable Stunt on countering the threat of the sniper – Evasion to dodge, Shooting to counter-snipe, Athletics to leap into cover.

An Advance means the player keeps the laptop; a Hold means the player loses the laptop, but keeps a goon to interrogate; a Setback has the player left for dead with a Serious Injury.

 

The Trail

This scene’s mostly investigative, and doesn’t require significant conversion. It’s a good scene to introduce the Network rules, letting the player bring in Contacts to help the search for Anton. Optionally, the final Surveillance might give the player an Edge for the final fight – or a Shadow problem on a Setback, penalising her when fighting the paymaster.

 

The Payoff

This is a two-stage or three-stage fight – taking out Anton and his remaining goons, then a battle against the paymaster. The paymaster challenge might use Cool instead of Fighting or Shooting if it’s a supernatural threat instead of a physical one.
The Laptop, when the player finally gets to hold onto it, is obviously a Continuity card.

See P. XX

a column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

A well-designed modular element for an RPG, whether we’re talking about a GMC, location, conspiracy, or occult tome, does more than extrapolate from an evocative premise. The text you write, explicitly or otherwise, indicates to the GM how it will be used in play.

Let’s look at roleplaying’s archetypal modular element, the one that has launched a thousand bestiaries, the creature. Or, if your core game prefers, monster, or foe, or alien life form.

In some cases the utility of a creature, or other modular element for that matter, goes without saying. That happens when the core activity of a game is so hard-wired to its modular elements that their function at the gaming table needs no further elaboration.

Take the venerable first mover and perennial market leader, Dungeons & Dragons. Its core activity is: fight monsters in fantastic environments.

(This greatly accounts for the enduring popularity of D&D and its stickiness as a concept. Not only does it have an exceptionally clear, easily enacted and highly repeatable core activity, it tells you this right in the brand name. Fantastic environment = Dungeon. Monsters = Dragon. It’s all right there.)

A well-wrought D&D creature design requires you to address its activity by showing the GM how it behaves in a fight, and how it interacts with its environment. In 5E, the stat block focuses on the former, and the descriptive text on the latter.

Different iterations of D&D have favored one over the other. The classic “Ecology of the X” magazine article format traditionally goes into way more extrapolative detail on a creature’s relationship to its environment than any DM can possibly put into play at the table. 4E, and its spiritual descendant 13th Age, focus much more on what the creature will do in a fight than in the broader world. A stat block might represent not a category of being, but a particular sort of orc or demon or pirate who attacks in a specific way, with its distinctive spell effect or weapon.

D&D casts such a shadow over trad RPG design that the very term “trad design” might mean “has a little D&D influence in it somewhere.”

It’s easy, then, to lose track of what you’re doing by applying D&D assumptions to the creation of creatures for other games. Making an adversary useful and easily playable in another rules set requires you to step back and consider the core activity you’re writing toward.

GUMSHOE games all have slightly different core activities, all of which can be expressed including the verb investigate.

  • Intrepid volunteers investigate the cosmic secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • At the behest of a benevolent conspiracy, trained professionals investigate an occult conspiracy to tear apart the world.
  • Ordinary people investigate their way out of horrific situations.
  • Burned spies on the run investigate the vampire conspiracy intent on destroying them.
  • A freelance starship crew investigates interstellar mysteries.

To design a GUMSHOE creature requires not just a focus on the tropes and themes of the setting—an eldritch abomination, a psychically invasive modern horror, an alien life form—but the creature’s role in the investigative action.

GUMSHOE’s emphasis on structure helps you do this. If you look at the scenario format, you can see that a creature might be:

  1. central to the scenario’s key mystery
  2. a secondary obstacle adding challenge and suspense along the way

In case 1, the creature is either the source of the mystery, or adjacent to the source. The PCs have to interact with it in some way to bring the case to a close. That’s your:

  • salt vampire feeding on the crew of the mining outpost
  • resurrected sorcerer bumping off anyone who uncovers his secret
  • ghost taking vengeance on its killer’s descendants

Many instances of case 2 fall into the broader category GUMSHOE calls Antagonist Reactions. When the heroes start poking around, the primary villain sends some lesser creatures to harry them. Secondary creatures might also be keyed to specific investigative scenes, as guardians or obstacles the characters must overcome before gathering clues. Examples include:

  • the gargoyles the corrupt priest sends to trash your studio
  • the mutated dogs in the abandoned lab
  • the faceless homunculus hitman known only as Mrs. Blank

Your description of a GUMSHOE creature might suggest ways it can appear in either role. When writing up Mrs. Blank, you could indicate how she acts when the PCs are tracking her through her trail of victims, and then what she does when she shows up at the behest of the vamp conspiracy to treat the agents to some silencer music.

Accompanying any core activity is a game’s default identity, the description of a typical PC group: ordinary people, trained professionals, burned spies, starship crew, or whatever. Take that into account also as you design your creature. Show the GM how to get the characters into contact with your entity. In other words, your description needs at least one plot hook demonstrating its introduction into play.

Super easy, again, in D&D: unless you say otherwise, the creature occupies the fantastic environment, ready to defend itself when adventurers show up to fight it.

The more specialized the default identity, the more guidance GMs need getting your creature into their games.

Let’s say you’ve designed a ghost that materializes out of printer’s ink. What motivates the typical group for this game to confront it? The answer differs if the PCs are ordinary people (Fear Itself), burned spies (Night’s Black Agents) or security pros who respond to assignments from their handlers (The Esoterrorists, Fall of Delta Green.) The question in the first two examples is “Why do the PCs care?” In the last case, it’s “Why do their handlers care?”

Keep these essential questions in mind as you first envision your creature, and again as you revise your text. You’ll probably spot passages that explore a rabbit hole of iterative detail but don’t figure into a GM’s key concerns:

  1. What does it do in my scenario?
  2. What does that scenario look like?
  3. Why and how do the PCs encounter it?

by Adam Gauntlett

The BMW shot through a red light turning against the flow, missing oncoming traffic by the grace of God, ignoring angry, blaring horns.

The Serb, Karlo, gunned his Audi. So much for surveillance; Volkov would have his head if the bastards got away …

What makes a chase scene Thrilling? Well, Director, that’s largely up to you. Whether the agents are trying to recreate Bullitt’s famous San Francisco muscle car blowout, or skiing down the black slope like Roger Moore with a flock of AK47-toting goons on his tail, now’s the time to put the pressure on.

Though I’m going to concentrate on Driving chases, these techniques can be used for any Thrilling chase.

A film Director plans out each least element of a chase scene. A moment that flashes by in seconds might take up entire binders full of pre-prep, and on the day of shooting the chase environment is tightly controlled down to the least bump-and-scrape. In game, things are different. A Chase can blow up at any time, and you need to bring the Thrills.

How to do this?

First, use your camera.

DIRECTOR: cut to two junctions ahead. Water fountains many feet high from a broken main, and traffic slows.

KARLO: [groans]

Shift the POV to action, something that’s going to complicate the chase but which the agent hasn’t encountered yet. This allows the agent to factor the problem into the scene. Maybe Karlo uses this to his advantage, or maybe he saves his points because he knows trouble’s coming. Either way, the complicating factors you highlight now become action soon afterward.

The camera can look anywhere, which means you can look anywhere.

DIRECTOR: interior, BMW. The goon in the passenger seat looks over his shoulder at the Audi, as he slots the last few shells into his shotgun.

KARLO: Better get ready to duck, huh?

Or from any perspective.

DIRECTOR: Interior, National Police station. As the two cars flash across surveillance camera feeds, a dozen alerts go off, dispatchers scream down mikes, and every cop car in Baku gets the call.

KARLO: Well, there’s that Heat spike I wasn’t looking forward to.

Again, the point is to get the agent to focus on the immediate future, and plan accordingly. That shotgun isn’t going to get fired for another round or so, but Karlo knows it’s there. Those cop cars aren’t on the scene yet, but in a round or so …

When using the camera, never let the agent get complacent. Always cut to action, and never let up. The goon loads a shotgun. Water fountains. Dispatchers scream down mikes. It’s all action, and it all increases the urgency.

Second, cheat.

The players are encouraged to jot down some notes for those Thrilling Dialogue moments; so should you. If you know that one of your players chose to put more than 8 pool points in Driving, then you’d better learn the difference between a Bootlegger’s Turn and a Moonshiner’s Reverse, because the day will come when you want to throw that at your agents and watch their jaws hit the tarmac. The same goes for Parkour, or any other chase mechanic. Take notes, and deploy as necessary.

This also applies to landmarks. Every city has them, and cunning Directors use them. If you know the agents are going to be in Baku, Azerbaijan this session, a quick Google ‘famous Baku streets’ gets you some handy backdrops. After all, who doesn’t want to ram an Audi at high speed through Fountains Square? Gee, that pedestrian-only shopping street looks inviting – and there’s an achievement in Double Tap that looks doable.

Don’t worry about the city’s internal geography. Films never do. Bullitt certainly didn’t.  It’s not a good idea to slalom past the Eiffel Tower after blasting through Nizami Street, unless this chase scene was brought to you by Euro Disney, but otherwise, go nuts. Is Nizami Street near the Russian Flea Market? Do your players care? No? Then for the sake of this chase scene, it is. And if it actually is, well done – you look even cleverer than you already are.

Don’t put hours of research in. The agents might never see it. Just do a quick Google before the session, take notes as necessary, maybe save a couple of pictures if they add a bit of cool to a scene. Then you have it ready to go, if and when it becomes relevant to a chase sequence.

Finally, choose your words with thrills in mind.

The players aren’t going to get enthusiastic if you’re not enthusiastic. That means you need to use evocative language, which means you need to know a little about the subject. Not a lot. Nobody’s asking you to take a film course, but a few minutes down the YouTube rabbit hole wouldn’t go amiss.

Consider:

DIRECTOR: the BMW veers to the outside, wheels shunting up onto the pavement, sending pedestrians scattering. Brake, brake, quick shift and BANG! He swings at a 90-degree angle into the turn.

That’s a Swerve. It’s also (broadly) how you complete a 90-degree turn, which is less about the speed you go into the curve and much more about your speed as you come out of it – hence the braking at the start, and the veer to the outside to give a better turning circle. However if, as Director, you say ‘the BMW attempts a Swerve, using a 90-degree turn to do it,’ that’s boring. You need to make your language as compelling as possible, to spark the agents into doing something equally compelling.

Remember, this is all Improv, as has been said many times before. Improv uses the Yes, And, principle, so when you make an offer, the other actor has to accept your offer and run with it. That means there has to be an offer at the start – and if your offer is dull, the agents will have to work hard to make it less dull. Or, more likely, they won’t, and the chase scene falls flat.

Ideally, you make an offer, the agents accept and up the ante, bringing the thrills with offers of their own. Which you then accept, and up the ante again with more thrills.

Don’t feel as though every offer has to be earth-shattering. Even the best start small. That famous chase scene in Bullitt kicks off with a killer fastening his seat belt and a revving car engine. You didn’t need to know in-depth racing terminology to understand that fastening a seat belt and a revving engine equals wild times a-coming.

Equally, as Director, remember where you are and anticipate the obvious. If the scene is set at Val-d’Isère, one of the finest ski resorts on the planet, you’d better have a ski chase scene prepped. If the agents are in Monaco, home of the Grand Prix, one of the Triple Crowns of Motorsport, you’d better prep a car chase. It doesn’t automatically follow that there will be a race down l’Espace Killy, or high-powered muscle cars barrelling down the narrow streets of the most famous city-state in the world, but you’d be silly not to anticipate one.

It’s all about building up the offer. These are both evocative settings, known throughout the world for very specific things. It follows that the more you can lean on the setting for Thrilling elements, the better you can make your offer.

There’s no part of the world you can’t make Thrilling, even if you have to steal elements from somewhere else. It’s great when the chase scene’s set in Berlin, London, or San Francisco, where Thrilling elements are two-a-penny; but even if it isn’t, that’s no reason to cut back on thrills. Even sedate Guernsey has Neolithic monoliths, Nazi forts, and needle-thin roads with looming granite outcrops on either side.  Pick a spot, and I guarantee you can find something to Thrill over.

Not only do these elements make the scene more Thrilling, they can be written down beforehand and deployed when needed, which is a blessing. However don’t be afraid to invent elements as and when needed. Is there a Leichter Panzerspähwagen parked outside the Guernsey War Museum, perhaps as some kind of temporary exhibit? Would it make the scene more interesting if there was one? Then yes, there is. With a full tank of petrol, why not. After all, if James Bond can drive a tank through St Petersburg, there’s no reason your agents can’t ram an armoured car through St Peter’s Port.

Use your camera. Cheat. Choose your words with thrills in mind.

DIRECTOR: the BMW spins, sideswipes a fuel pump which immediately explodes, and careens into a parked car. The impact stops the now-burning BMW.

KARLO: I’ll just tell Volkov it was all their fault …


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Night’s Black Agents player characters are highly trained super-spies, veterans of dozens of covert operations, ready to use guile and lethal force to overcome any obstacle.

Night’s Black Agents players are even tougher.

Ready yourself for the inevitable conflict with our Director’s Screen, keeping your notes and maps hidden until that final dramatic reveal. On one side, stunning artwork; on the other, vital reference tables for your eyes only.

Accompanying the screen is the practical Resource Guide, containing

  • Initiation Scenes to kick off your campaign
  • New Monsters and enemy Operatives to bolster the ranks of the Conspiracy
  • Combat Options and Thriller Scene rules for when you need to zoom in on the action
  • Mission Skeletons and Location Plans to help build your adventures!
Stock #: PELGN15 Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artists: Marisa Erven, Jérôme Huguenin, Heather Landry, Georgia Roan, Jorge Fernández Sanz, and Karolina Węgrzyn Format: 4-panel full-colour GM screen, 56-page resource guide

Buy print edition now

Buy PDF now

Your lone spy in Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops has been burned. You’re out on your own. Oh, you’ve got a network of connections and contacts you can draw on specialist skills – you can find a forger in Budapest, or a computer hacker in Buenos Aires, or an arms dealer in Boston – but you don’t have the resources or backing of a major intelligence agency behind you.

At least, not at the start.

It’s possible through play to build connections with the CIA, or MI6, or the Vatican, or some other organisation. This works as a special variant of the Network general ability, one per agency. You start with zero dice, but can pick up one-use Edges (“A Favour from MI6”) or – if the Director approves – pick up more through experience.

When you call on a favour from an Agency, it’s a Challenge.

 

Friends in High Places

Agency

Bonuses: +2 if you’re on the Agency’s home turf.

Penalties: -1 per Heat card in your hand.

-2 if you’re really outside the Agency’s sphere of influence.

Advance 7+: The Agency’s willing to help you out. They’ll supply you with a local Contact, a suitably deniable Edge like “Suitcase Full Of Cash”, or a special Push representing the Agency’s imprimatur.

Hold 4-6: The Agency’s willing to assist, but there’s a catch.

Pick one:
either it’ll Take Time before the Agency can respond to you

or the Agency demand a favour in return

or You’re at -1 die to further tests using this Agency ability for the rest of the operation.

Setback 3 or less: They’re not going to help unless you spend a Push – and even then, you’re at -1 die to further tests using this Agency ability for the rest of the operation, and you’ve got to choice between Taking Time to get assistance or doing a favour in exchange.

Extra Problem: Gain a Heat Problem (or, if the Director’s feeling cruel, a “They’re Going To Double-cross You” Blowback Problem.

Stunt? No.

Once you’ve got two dice in an Agency, you can use them for stunts on other Agency tests – so, if you’ve got 2 Dice in CIA, you could spend these to get a bonus die in an MI6 test, representing you drawing on the influence of your patron to lean on the other Agency.

In the default Solo Ops campaign, our sample Agent Leyla Khan has the opportunity to rebuild her contacts with MI6 in the third operation, The Deniable Woman. She could convert the one-shot A Favour from Vauxhall Cross Edge into one die in Agency: MI6 (or Agency: Secret Intelligence Service if you’re being picky and accurate). She might also build connections with whatever vampire-hunting agency helped her in Never Say Dead, although doing that requires tracking down the mysterious Rostami and convincing her to bring Khan in from the cold…

 

In the setting of Mutant City Blues, approximately one in a hundred people developed a mutant ability in the wake of the still-mysterious Sudden Mutation Event. Some powers had obvious social or commercial benefits, and mutants with these powers could easily find a place. Mutant healers transformed parts of healthcare, telepaths and dream-peepers revolutionised psychology, transmuters made new wonders possible in chemistry and material science.

Other people were gifted with more dangerous powers – they could shoot blasts of fire from their fingertips, or spit venom, or drain all the oxygen from a room with a touch.

They, too, could easily find a place.

In the course of their duties as part of the Heightened Crime Investigative Unit, Mutant City Blues characters might bump up against mutant-related military activity or espionage. They might have to liaise with military police to arrest a mutant recruit who fled the Army’s GXI section, or discover that the disease-spreading criminal has powerful friends in Washington thanks to her connections to a secret mutant bioweapons group.

Select Operations Support Group

Part of the USSOCOM Special Operations Command, the Select Operations Support Group brings together the most powerful mutants from the US military and trains them to take part in special operations missions. The Select Operations Support Group’s primary purpose is support for conventional SOCOM tasks – they’re more interested in having teleporters carry supplies to units behind enemy lines, or water manipulators who can disable underwater drones without being detected. Still, anyone in the SOSG has passed the supremely demanding Q Course used to vet all special forces recruits.

1stGXI

The 1stGenetically Expressive Infantry Brigade is a newly-formed US Army unit made up entirely of mutants. Ostensibly, the 1stGXI’s purpose is to group mutant Army personnel together to develop methodology and tactics using heightened abilities, similar to the Heightened Crimes Investigative Unit. The GXI program has been troubled since its conception; initially it was seen as an exercise in PR, and mutant soldiers tried to avoid a transfer to the unit to avoid damaging their careers. Since then, it’s been rocked by a scandal involving a cell of mutant separatists who were caught stealing explosives and ammunition from the army. The GXI still has a tarnished reputation.

CIA Program GRIDFIRE

The CIA reactivated their old STARGATE program within days of the first mutant manifestation, and quickly identified and recruited mutants who might be useful either for intelligence gathering or for their black-ops section. The program isn’t called GRIDFIRE any more – its current codename is classified, but the GRIDFIRE name was used in a tranche of documents leaked by a whistleblower who revealed details of the program’s use of mutant mind controllers and telepathic interrogation techniques.

Of particular interest to police was a subprogram called SPEEDRUN, which monitored the prison population for mutants with useful abilities, and offered them reduced sentences or special treatment in exchange for the use of their abilities.

FBI Talent Resource Office

FBITRO is a section within the Bureau’s Human Resources division that recruits and trains mutants who might be useful to agents in the field. If an FBI agent needs a Tracker, or someone who can command birds, or bulletproof backup, the TRO can find the nearest reliable and thoroughly vetted mutant. TRO prefers, where possible, to use law enforcement personnel, so HCIU mutants might be temporarily seconded to FBITRO and assigned to a federal investigation.

FBI Mutant Screening Centre

The Mutant Screening Centre’s primary role is to identify and monitor mutants with Article 18 powers. It also functions as the federal equivalent of the HCIU, taking on investigations that involve considerable use of mutant powers. MSR hands off most of its cases to local law enforcement when possible; it’ll inform local authorities when a registered A18 subject moves into their jurisdiction – or when a rogue A18 needs to be apprehended.

Brightlane Services

Brightlane’s a private military contractor that provides “security consultancy” across the world, especially in war-torn and unstable regions. Brightlane employs a considerable number of mutants; they’re especially interested in recruiting mutants with combat abilities. Brightlane’s been accused of pressuring mutants into working for them; allegedly, if they need a particular talent, they’ll use blackmail or other threats to ensure compliance – or so the rumours go, anyway…


Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Limited edition with bookplate

Night’s Black Agents won two silver ENnie awards for Best Game and Best Writing, and was nominated for Best Rules, Best Interior Art and Product of the Year. Find out why with the limited edition!

Only 100 copies of the faux-leatherbound limited edition Night’s Black Agents exist. 50 are available to customers in the U.S. and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the U.S. and Canada. The books are faux leather with silver foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by Kenneth Hite, which you can add to your book.

Night’s Black Agents puts you in the role of a deadly secret agent, taking down the forces of darkness.

Bring your favorite high-octane spy thrillers to the table with Night’s Black Agents from legendary designer Kenneth Hite (Trail of Cthulhu). Have friends who love console shooters? This is the tabletop RPG for them! Access the eyes-only Resources page for blank agent dossiers, quick-reference sheets, a 20-minute demo and more — but sweep for tracking devices first.

 

Buy the limited edition

The Cold War is over. Bush’s War is winding down.

You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly.

Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter.

It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.

Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.

Or worse.

Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.

Updating classic Gothic terrors for the postmodern age, Night’s Black Agents presents thoroughly modular monstrosity: GMs can build their own vampires, mashup their own minions, kitbash their own conspiracies to suit their personal sense of style and story. Rules options let you set the level of betrayal, grit, and action in your game. Riff from the worked examples or mix and match vampiric abilities, agendas, and assets for a completely custom sanguinary spy saga.

The included hook adventure gets the campaign going; the included city setting shows you what might be clotting in Marseilles’ veins even now. Rack silver bullets in your Glock, twist a UV bulb into your Maglite, and keep watching the mirrors … and pray you’ve got your vampire stories straight.

Designer’s blog entries

An interview with the publisher

Free downloads and resources for Night’s Black Agents

Listen to Ken Hite talk about Night’s Black Agents on the Fear the Boot podcast

 

 

Review Highlights

Read all the reviews here.

As good as the toolkits that Night’s Black Agents provides are, the rules and advice deliver on the game and genre that they promise. Whether it is blood pumping action or heart stopping shocks, Night’s Black Agents is probably best shaken, and definitely has the “Vampire Spy Thriller” staked. – Matthew Pook

Vampires and spies – once you’re past the initial surprise, you’ll see that they work tremendously well in tandem. Well, I think they do, and I think the book’s an absolute knockout. – Sidney Roundwood

 

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