The Zalozhniy Quartet for Night’s Black Agents sends the Agents on a desperate search for… wait. Spoiler warning. Don’t read this article if you’re likely to play in a ZQ game anytime soon. It’s a desperate search for, ah, something fuzzy and friendly and totally does not involve unkillable time-locked zombie monsters.

Now that we’ve cleared the room of non-Directors without clearance, let’s get into it. The Quartet involves a search for two mysterious substances, the nigredo (vampiric essence) and the albedo (a control substance of some sort). Combined, these create the rubedo, a marvellous compound sought by the vampires – and that, incidentally, gives control over the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia. (I note in passing that not only have world events overwritten the opening sequence of The Zalozhniy Sanction, set in Crimea, but current events in Riyadh may soon make the description in Treason in the Blood obsolete…)

If all goes according to plan, the Agents pick up the Albedo in The Boxmen and find the nigredo in Treason in the Blood.

The terms albedo, nigredo and rubedo are borrowed from alchemy. They’re three of the steps towards the Great Work to make the philosopher’s stone and achieve immortality, which makes them obviously pertinent to vampiric weirdness. You start with nigredo, with putrefaction and death (or, if you’re going with a Jungian know-thyself interpretation, the dark night of the soul). You’re wash it clean with (or in) the albedo (the Whiteness, Cleansing). You transmute it through citrinitas, the Yellow, the solar light, the dawn. Finally, you achieve the rubedo, the Red, perfection and victory and immortality (and access to Saudi oil reserves.)

So, there’s a whole alchemical step in the Magnum Opus right there – citrinas – that’s missing in the Zalozhniy Quartet. If that offends your sense of alchemical symmetry, here are some options for adding it in:

  • The citrinas is the human element in the vampire. CITRINE was St. John Philby’s codename for King Ibn Saud; the Conspiracy still use the Citrine codename to refer to the Saudi royal family (“we can draw down funds from the citrines”)
  • Citrinas is the essence of solar heroism – it’s vampire slaying. To create the rubedo, you need the blood of a hero. The Conspiracy needs to capture one of the Agents alive to complete their plan.
  • The citrinas refers to the ritual needed to combine the albedo and The Agents can obtain it from the Russian defector Arkady Shevlenko, or from Kim Philby’s safety deposit box, or St. John’s grave, or Dorjiev’s notes. Alternatively, the citrinas might be a potion that awakens the imbiber’s consciousness, enabling them to combine the albedo and nigredo safely. This also implies that the Conspiracy may end up needing to snatch one of the Agents.
  • The citrinas refers to a magical lens (maybe one of the glass fulminates retrieved from the desert, suitably polished) that transmutes the solar magic of daylight into the alchemical heat needed to achieve the rubedo. The Kingdom Centre in Riyadh is, of course, made using windows of citrinas; the Agents can delay the ritual by blowing up the Conspiracy’s lenses, or hike into the desert to find their own lenses.
  • Citrinas, the moment of self-realisation after death and cleansing, refers to the death-moment of a zalozhniy. Dr. Dorjiev wears citrine stones to anchor his life to that death-moment, as per p. 9 – if the Agents destroy or remove those stones, he’ll have to create a new zalozhniy post-haste to hide his death away again. (Kim Philby also created a citrinas token to sustain him through the Great Work, which is why he was so damned hard to kill – his citrine-stone ensured he survived the shell explosion in December 1937 in Spain, when he emerged unharmed from a blast that killed everyone else in the car he was travelling in. The citrine may be stored in his deposit box in the Kornersbank, or in some KGB storeroom in Moscow.)

For lots more alchemical fun, check out GUMSHOE Zoom: Alchemy

by Steven Hammond

It’s been two or three months since we published an update on the new Gumshoe character tool. I lost a little time to an Olympics related project, but we’ve been cranking away all of March, and I think we have some great stuff to share.

Addressing Your Input

First, I want to talk about what we did with the character sheets and surveys you sent in. The number one thing we heard was that you don’t want to see the huge list of possible abilities during play. Instead, you want to focus on your character’s abilities. Several you also asked for a straight list of abilities rather than the category lists found on the print sheets.

To implement this, we gave Black Book character sheets 2 modes — edit for creating or updating characters, and play for use during a game session. Edit mode, looks like a normal Gumshoe character sheet. All the abilities are visible and grouped into their categories. In play, you choose to view all abilities, or just the ones where your character has ranks. You can also have the visible abilities grouped or in a single, alphabetized list.

The other common thread was that Health, Stability and Stamina were hard to read in the grid boxes. We’ve addressed this by making those abilities large and prominent, while keeping the grid to make updating these often changing values easy.

The video below shows these features in action.

 

Alpha Test Starts This Week

What, does Alpha Test mean. The app is not feature complete, nor are all the features there polished. There is enough there to play with it and giving us feedback on how things work, find bugs, measure real-world performance, etc.

You should know things won’t be stable, servers will crash, and we don’t promise you will be able to keep characters from one release to the next. We are still moving too fast to spend time migrating data as our format evolves. If this sounds a little wild for you, then you might be happier waiting for Beta to start. At that point we will be feature complete, stable and polished. Once Beta starts, we will commit to preserving characters between releases.

A number of people volunteered to test the Black Book. We will email the first 10 people on that list with an invite code they can use to join. You cannot register without one of these invite codes. Every week or so, we will invite 10 additional people to participate. This will help ensure that we can keep up with the feedback and that there are always fresh perspectives giving feedback. There isn’t a scheduled start date for Beta yet that will happen when we are stable and feature complete. If you want to get in on the testing, go to https://theblackbook.io and submit your email address.

This is a project, I’ve been planning about for a long time and I am super excited for you all to finally try it out. Let me know what you thought of the video below and watch your email for those invite codes.

“The children of the night… what music they make!”

We’ve prowled around the topic of werewolves in Night’s Black Agents once in a blue moon. The ghoul stats in the core rulebook (p. 150) include a quick-and-dirty conversion to wolfman mode; a pack of terrorist werewolves shows up in The Edom Files. Some say Ken chains himself up in his basement on certain nights, but that’s probably a scurrilous rumour. It’s a pity, because werewolves work almost as well as vampires for occult espionage thriller games. You’ve got dark secrets, you’ve got secret identities, you’ve got distinctive means of dispatch, and a whole host of meaty metaphors to chew on. Werewolf as cursed soul, dragged in for one last job. Werewolf as terrorist, the monster hiding in plain sight. Werewolf as plague, as super soldier, as secret weapon.

This article presents a somewhat tougher and more developed werewolf than the hairy ghoul variant, but it’s still only a taste, and we don’t go into a deep dive on werewolf mythology here. Consider this article to be the moment when the big dog burst out of the woods at the side of the roads and bites you. Think nothing of it, it’s just a scratch…

Supernatural: Werewolves are skin-changers; humans able to adopt the form of a beast through sorcery, magic salves or some other supernatural gift. The power of lycanthropy might be inherited through a bloodline, or bestowed by a magical ritual, or maybe you need to put on an enchanted wolf-skin to become the beast (so, if you want to become a werewolf, you’ve got to hunt down and skin a werewolf). Supernatural werewolves have a measure of control over their transformations, and may willingly embrace their skin-changing talents. Possible examples: the devil-hunting Benandanti, viking berserkers, were-witches of Livonia

Damned: Werewolves are humans cursed to become beasts. The modern conception is that the curse is spread through being bitten, but it might equally be punishment for misdeeds (or the physical manifestation of spiritual corruption). Other traditions suggest that one can become a werewolf after death if buried in the wrong spot, or that drinking from the footprint of a wolf makes you become a wolf. In any case, the Damned werewolf is a victim suffering from a magical affliction – although the people it devours may not see it as a fellow victim.

Alien: Lunar associations and spiritual projections aside, werewolves are earthy creatures, things of meat and hair and bone and blood. Presumably, then, the alien werewolf is a byproduct or adaptation of some alien entity coming into contact with earthly fauna. Maybe weird dimension-shifting warp drives cause some sort of quantum overlap, entangling beast and man. Maybe werewolves are guardian monsters engineered using a mix of earthly DNA and alien science. Lycanthropic chest-busters, anyone?

Mutant: Lycanthropy was created in a bio-weapons laboratory, or as the result of experiments in creating super-soldiers. Obviously, there’s the last stand of the Third Reich in Operation WERWOLF (where the stated goal of creating a stay-behind network of partisans and guerrilla fighters was clearly cover for Nazi werebeasts), but you could also look at Stalin’s experiments in creating ape-human hybrids, modern genetic engineering experiments – or look back in time, and wonder if there’s something alchemical to the salves and enchanted potions of mythology.

Shapeshifting

Setting the parameters for a werewolf’s shapeshifting is as big a deal as deciding how stakes and mirrors work in a vampire-centric game. Here are four possible options.

Voluntary Shapeshifting (Any): Drawing on their inner beast, the werewolf can shapeshift into a wolf-man form. Or into a wolf. Or maybe they can take on either form. In every case, the werewolf must make an Aberrance test to change (Difficulty 4 if the transformation takes 1-6 rounds; Difficulty 6 to change instantly.) The Difficulty’s adjusted by circumstances:

-2 at night

-2 in moonlight

-1 if the werewolf’s already angry

-1 if the werewolf’s already injured

-1 if there’s fresh meat or the smell of blood

+2 on consecrated ground (Da, Su)

+2 in the presence of wolfsbane flowers (Su, Mu)

Triggered Shapeshifting (Su, Mu): The werewolf has to take some action involving an external trigger to transform – inject a shot of adrenaline, put on a belt of wolfskin, rub on a salve, eat a human heart. If unrestrained, the werewolf can use the trigger freely; doing it in combat requires an Athletics or Filch test (Difficulty 4). Spend 3 points of Health to change instantly; otherwise, it takes 1-6 rounds.

Projection (Su, Da, Al): The werewolf doesn’t physically transform at all – it’s a psychic effect, projected from the werewolf’s human body. Maybe the werewolf sends out her spirit, maybe it’s a tulpa or a distillation of the werewolf’s animal impulses. Maybe the lycanthrope possesses a nearby animal of the appropriate type.

Compulsive Shapeshifting (Da, Mu): This sort of werewolf has to transform in certain circumstances – the full moon being an obvious example. Resisting the transformation requires a Stability test (Difficulty 4, modified by the inverse of the modifiers listed above under Voluntary Shapeshifting). A successful Stability test buys the werewolf 1-6 combat rounds, but it counts as Shaken while caught mid-change.

When shapeshifted, add a suitable bonus (+6 at least) to the werewolf’s Athletics, Stealth, Hand-to-Hand and Health.

Other Powers

 

Immunity (Su, Al): Werewolves can’t be injured by bullets and other projectiles; weapon attacks do minimum damage. Fire and explosions do half damage and cannot kill the beast.

Regeneration (Da, Mu): Werewolves regenerate health when transformed at a supernatural rate (regaining almost full health every round for a super-tough werewolf, 3-4 points per round for something slightly more manageable). However, it can’t heal completely using this supernatural gift; the last point of damage inflicted by each injury must heal naturally. So, if you shoot a werewolf three times for five damage with each shot, it’ll be down by 3 Health when next encountered (in any form).

Savagery: In any round in which the werewolf is attacked or impeded, it gains 1-6 points of Aberrance. In any combat round in which the werewolf’s enemies all hide, flee or do something else non-threatening, it loses one Aberrance.

Werewolf Heart: In any form, werewolves possess animal magnetism and dangerous charisma. The werewolf can spend Aberrance to mimic the effects of spending Flirting or Intimidation.

Infection: Anyone bitten by a werewolf might:

  • Become a Damned or Mutant werewolf
  • Become a werewolf subject only to Compulsive Transformation
  • Have to make a Health test to avoid infection
  • Contract an especially damaging variant of rabies (onset 10-60 minutes, Difficulty 6 Health; Minor +2 damage and Hurt; Severe +6 damage, -4 Athletics, and -2 Health and -2 Athletics until cured).

Also, obviously: Animal Senses (p. 128), Darkvision (p. 128), Vampiric Speed (p. 133), maybe serial-killer-esque “It’s behind you” Apportation (p. 133), Strength (p. 137), Summoning (p. 137).

Banes

Silver, in all its forms.

Wolf’s bane, aka aconite.

(Da): Holy items.

Compulsions

Hunt on nights of the full moon.

Werewolf Assassin

General Abilities: Aberrance 4, Firearms 9, Hand-to-Hand 14, Health 14

Hit Threshold: 5

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +1 (claw or bite). The werewolf can only make one bite attack, but can make any number of claw attacks using Werewolf Speed as long as it has the points to spend.

Free Powers: Voluntary Transformation, Regeneration (in wolf form only), Savagery, Animal Senses (only when shape-shifted)

Other Powers: Werewolf Speed, Werewolf Strength, Infection

Banes: Silver

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

GUMSHOE core games present the GM with a default scenario structure you can use when creating your own mysteries to challenge your players. By following it you can ensure that the investigators have at least one, and preferably many, routes to solve the adventure’s key question, whether that be a killer’s identity, a vampire’s conspiracy, or a demonic entities’ location. It supplies a number of scenes in which the PCs can interview witnesses, examine physical clues, and hit the books in search of pertinent facts. Each key scene includes at least one core clue: a piece of information leading the team to another scene. As part of the standard header for the scene, we indicate its Lead-Ins and Lead-Outs–the scenes that feed into it, and that it propels investigators toward, respectively. This especially helps when writing published adventures, forcing the writer to make sure that each scene goes somewhere. Ideally the Lead-Outs line encourages the scenario creator to build in core clues that point in more than one direction. This gives the players the opportunity to make choices, deciding which leads to follow and in what order. These decisions ward off the dreaded linear or railroaded scenario. You can build in Alternate scenes that the characters can choose to explore, but don’t need in order to solve the mystery.  Both a Core and an Alternate scene can share the same Lead-Out. Designate the most obvious or likely scene as the Core scene and the one that feels like the sidelight as the Alternate. For a home brew scenario the distinction between the two doesn’t matter: bother with it only if you’re writing, say, a con game for someone else to run.

(Unlike a Core scene, an Alternate needn’t have a Lead-Out. Keep these to a minimum, and make sure they’re entertaining as heck in their own right. A session full of scenes that don’t pay off makes for a not only meandering but also confusing installment of your mystery.)

This isn’t the only way to put together a scenario but it’s one you can depend on to reliably deliver. Recently we have given this default structure a name, the Maze of Clues, to distinguish it from others.

Ken, in such scenarios as “The Carmilla Sanction” from The Edom Files, uses an alternate set-up called the Ocean of Clues. It establishes a mystery and a rich assortment of hooks you use to create your own scenes during play.

Both The Armitage Files and Dracula Dossier could be regarded as Ocean of Clues scenarios writ large over the course of an entire campaign.

When you prepare your own scenarios in advance, whether you write them in full or (more likely) as point form notes you will flesh out into scenes as you go, the Maze of Clues will help you elaborate your premise into a narrative that the players will fully realize when you play.

When you straight-up improvise without that kind of prep, don’t worry about the Maze of Clues and its different scene types. You’re not trying to reverse engineer your way into a scenario you can then assign Scene Types and Lead-Ins and Lead-Outs to. Nor will you have any reason to create the Scene Flow diagram that accompanies our published Maze of Clues scenarios. Focus on showing the players a good time. Almost any GM will find it more useful to focus their notes on details of the mystery’s backstory.

When I improv a scenario, I jot down names of people and establishments in a Google doc shared with the players. An example from a recent Yellow King session, from our “Aftermath” sequence:

  • Mercantilists previously under Castaignes want to go slow

  • Commercials want money
  • Jessie Daniels – chief of staff to Hank and perhaps his successor as war crime trial advocates
    • Melvin Mason – Guardian leader and a possible patron 

 

    • Theresa Tucker – patrol officer in psych ward at Bellevue 

 

    • Eula Mckenzie – nurse on duty at Bellevue 

 

    • Wilbur Salazar – original complainant 

 

    • Yolanda Howell – her kids were hacking around 

 

    • Ed & Andy Howell – her kids 

 

    • Lt Rita Woods – Theresa’s shift commander, hostile to the PCs 

 

    • Aaron Moran – got turned into a clown head 

 

 

Glorious Sun – dive bar near the cemetery, doesn’t take kindly to slinks and has a clown jar if you want to turn the red velvet sad clown painting around

 

Charles Cunningham – super of building where the mermaid is in the basement, wears sea captain outfit

I worry about distinct scenes and their placement in the Maze of Clues only if, and when, I later take that seat-of-the-pants session and write it for publication. (Sometimes I have to ask my players if they remember how they got from point A to point B!)

Some GUMSHOE games, including Ashen Stars and Yellow King, use a timing increment called an interval, which begins when one clue is discovered and ends when the next is found. For these games you do have to be able to decide what pieces of information count as core clues. But this is simple: a core clue is any bit of information, almost certainly derived from an investigative ability, that points to another scene. A shift in scene generally entails a change of location. In some instances that might be a virtual shift: for example, from the corpse you’re poking at in the morgue to the digital archive your forensics expert starts searching for obscure and suppressed biomedical research papers. Any info introducing another GMC, place or avenue of inquiry that leads the group closer to the mystery’s solution is a core clue. Should you ever ask yourself the question, “Is this a core clue?”, the answer is almost surely yes. Err on the side of declaring a new interval. Another test: if it’s not important enough to put in your notes, it’s not a core clue.

If the heroes get stuck and can’t see a way forward, you’ll solve that problem as you go, by inventing a new Core clue to pull them deeper into the mystery. Where the Maze of Clues exists to solve problems before they occur, you’re there to keep matters rolling in real time.

In short, scenario structures are here to serve you, not to have you serve them. Your improvised scenario can, in retrospect, be expressed as a Maze of Clues with Core and Alternate scenes and Antagonist Reactions and the rest. But there’s no reason for you to do that, or give yourself the nagging feeling that you ought to be able to.

Instead, use that time to figure out just how Aaron Moran got turned into a clown head–and what the team can do to stop it from happening to others.

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.

NBA: Solo Ops

ALONE AGAINST THE UN-DEAD

Written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (The Dracula Dossier, The Zalozhniy Quartet) Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops 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 Ops 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
  • THE DENIABLE WOMAN

Status: In playtesting

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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