In the latest episode of their authentically regal podcast, Ken and Robin talk Vampire: the Masquerade PCs as Night’s Black Agents villains, unlikely movie stars, food books, and Andorra’s 13 day king.

While searching for French vampire inspiration for a new Night’s Black Agents campaign I’m running, I came across Paul Féval’s La Ville Vampire. The Wikipedia synopsis doesn’t do it justice.

in which the protagonist is Gothic Novel writer Ann Radcliffe herself. In it, to save her friends from the dreaded vampire lord Otto Goetzi, Radcliffe and her fearless vampire hunting companions, Merry Bones the Irishman, Grey Jack the faithful old servant, the revenge-driven Doctor Magnus Szegeli, and Polly Bird, one of the vampire’s earlier victims, mount an expedition to find the legendary vampire city of Selene.

As a tale of gothic horror, it’s somewhat lacking – one big action scene is a drunken Irishman with a magic spoon vs a whole city full of vampires, and my countryman comes out victorious – but the vampires are so off-the-wall weird that they deserve a Night’s Black Agents writeup.

A Society of Horrors

“Each vampire is a collective, represented by one principal form, but possessing other accessory forms of indeterminate number. The famous vampire of Gran, which terrorized both banks of the Danube around the town of Ofen in the 14th century, was man, woman, child, crow, horse and pike.”

If a vampire drains a victim to death, the vampire can incorporate that victim’s essence into itself. It can then create a shade of that victim, a physical copy that’s bound to obey the vampire. The shade can merge back into the vampire when no longer needed. Shades left alone for too long may stray or become capable of independent thought.

The shade is not always a perfect copy; if the vampire’s unlucky or the victim’s resilient, then the vampire succeeds only in incorporating a diminished and changed form of the victim. Monsieur Goetzi, for example, devoured an Austrian soldier whose shade manifested as a young boy (but retained the captain’s military knowledge and taste for drink), while a Jewish moneylender was reduced to the shade-form of a parrot. (In game terms, the victim gets to make a contest of Stability against the Vampire’s Aberrance; if the victim wins, the vampire gets only the diminished version, or even no shade at all.)

Shades retain their original game statistics (reduced if the shade’s a diminished version), but can draw on the vampire’s Aberrance pool.

Creating a shade costs the vampire one Aberrance; this is refunded when the shade remerges with its master.

If a shade is slain when outside the vampire, it melts away, and the vampire’s Aberrance is permanently reduced by 1.

A vampire cannot have more shades than its Aberrance rating.

Entering Shades

A vampire can submerge itself inside one of its shades if it prefers, giving it a sort of shapeshifting. For example, Monsieur Goetzi could hide himself inside the parrot-shade.

The Synovie

In the period when Doctor Otto Goetzi came to the county of Stafford to be the tutor of Edward S. Barton, he was still only an apprentice vampire. He had neither a double nor any accessories at all. Do you remember poor Polly Bird, the daughter of the High Farm, whose premature death set the whole parish mourning three years ago? Well, my friends, it is the unfortunate Polly Bird herself who is speaking to you. Monsieur Goetzi, when he received from Peterwardein the diploma of a master vampire, immediately chose me to be his double and the foundation of his interior mechanism.”

The vampire’s first victim is of special importance – the first victim’s shade manifests as a copy of the vampire. Féval refers to this shade as the synovie, and it seems to be a sort of major-domo or organising principle, responsible for keeping the other shades in line. The synovia has the same ability scores as the vampire, and has the memories and personality of the vampire overlaid onto its original mind.

Deprived of access to its synovie, a vampire cannot manifest its other shades. In the novel, Goetzi’s synovie ends up reasserting her original personality when separated from her master, while retaining her physical form as a perfect copy of the original vampire. (She still thirsts for blood.)

Duplication

When his accessories had departed, Monsieur Goetzi duplicated himself so that he would have someone to talk to. He lit a fire, and anyone who lifted his eyes that evening from the valley floor to the summit of that inaccessible peak, untrodden by any human foot, would have seen two grey shapes squatting in the snow, warmed by a livid brazier.

All the vampire’s shades, with the exception of the synovie, can create a single duplicate of themselves at the cost of one Aberrance each. When a duplicate remerges with the original shade, this Aberrance is refunded. Duplicates have exactly the same ability pools as the original when conjured. Therefore, it’s tactically sound for a vampire to conjure all its shades and then have them all duplicate themselves before going into battle, so everyone’s got maximum Health and Combat pools.

A slain duplicate vanishes.

Clockwork Heart

Merry Bones plied the scalpel conscientiously and proved his talent for butchery. But beneath the slicing edge of the blade, not a single drop of blood sprang forth. Evidently, nothing but the heart itself was alive; its envelope was dead and dry. “Pay attention, please!” said Polly. “My life is attached to that of my master by a small thread of nervous tissue, which you must cut before touching the heart. You will find eleven such threads in the pericardium: one for each of my co-accessories. My own thread is the first on the right. Can you see it?”

Vampires have clockwork hearts that secrete a ruby-red liquid. A severely injured (reduced below -12 Health) vampire is not slain, but requires rewinding via a keyhole in the left side of the breast. Such keys are held by an evil priest (it’s not clear from the text if there’s a singular evil priest who has a single key, or if there’s one evil priest who has a bunch of keys, one per vampire, or if a wounded vampire is expected to wander until he happens to meet an evil priest who happens to have a suitable key), but rewinding the vampire restores it to full Health. A suitable evil priest dwells in the city of Selene.

If the vampire’s heart is extracted and burnt, the ashes of the mechanical heart can be used as a potent bane against other vampires.

Even when the vampire’s at full health, a little fluid leaks from the keyhole over the course of the day; bloodstains on a shirt can give away the presence of a vampire.

Death Stench

I ask your permission now to use a rather offensive word; circumstances demand it. Nothing stinks like a vampire who is at rest in the freedom of his own house.

A Wounded or mostly dead vampire exudes a potent stench, suffocating anyone in the same room (lose 1 Athletics or Health each round). Preparedness for smelling salts (or, in the modern day, a gas mask) guards against this effect.

Eldritch Glow

Towards evening, when the shadows of twilight descended upon the Rhine and its banks, a pale green glow appeared…

Light sources near a vampire burn with an unnatural greenish tinge; this green shade intensifies if the vampire spends Aberrance. At night, when a vampire is near, even the moon can appear to glow with a green light. In the modern day, this effect extends to electronic screen display and electric lights.

These stats are for a relatively weak vampire like Monsieur Goetzi; older and more powerful vampires can have vastly higher abilities, with Aberrance scores of 50 or more (and a matching number of shades).

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand-to-Hand 6, Health 10, Shooting 6, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +1 (drops to -1 if the vampire spent Aberrance recently, due to the eldritch glow)

Damage Modifier: -2 (fist or kick), -1 (barbed tongue) or -1 (golden needle)

Armour: Vampire flesh is “rather tenuous; it is soft and a trifle sticky”, and glows faintly at night. It counts as 1 point of Armour.

Shades are composed of a sort of ectoplasm that’s not any more resilient than normal flesh; a shade that’s reincorporated within a vampire regenerates all damage within 24 hours.

Free Powers: Drain, Death Stench, Clockwork Heart

Other Powers:

1-Aberrance: Society of Horrors, Duplication

2-Aberrance: Strength, Vampiric Speed, Sorcery

Banes: Vampire Ash (consuming vampire ash causes a vampire to explode)

Blocks: Running Water (a vampire can cross running water, but only feet-first; shades must be carried across)

Dreads: Fire, Courage (a host of vampires hesitated to attack Merry Bones, and fled when Lord Wellington showed up.)

Compulsions: A captured vampire is compelled to serve and obey its captors, just as a shade is compelled to obey a vampire.

Requirements: Rewinding, feeding.

 

Go Team Vampire!

The major villain of Le Ville Vampire, Monsieur Goetzi, isn’t an especially effective threat – his internal menagerie consists of a bald heiress, a militant urchin, a dog, a murderous parrot, and a serving girl-turned-synovie who ends up betraying him). A more competent vampire could seek out and incorporate a whole team of specialists into itself, and rely on their mastery of mundane skills instead of burning Aberrance on Vampiric Speed and Strength. An elder vampire could be a whole wealthy family or a corporate board of management, discarding and replacing shades to hide its immortal core. Féval’s vampires can feed on animals as well as humans, so a vampire might show up with a built-in horse – or, for that matter, a pair of tigers.

As a vampire’s shades are compelled to obey their master and are inherently trustworthy (as long as regularly ‘debriefed’ by reincorporating them), a vampire could play all sorts of mind games against a team of hunters – is that your Network contact, or the shade of him? The novel brings up the ‘alibi-ity’ of duplication, letting a vampire be in two places at once to confuse players even more – or send disposable minions or even suicide bombers against the players. Finding a way to identify a shade with Diagnosis or Vampirology should be the first priority for the player characters!

Next up – things get even weirder, as we enter the Vampire City!

by Lisa Padol

When I first started running the Dracula Dossier, setting up the 1894 group, one of my players wanted a special relationship with Dracula. They wanted to have had their character have met Dracula as a child and for Dracula to have taken a liking to them. After all, the player argued, just because one was an evil serial killer, it didn’t mean that one couldn’t, you know, like someone.

I said no, and while I was correct at the time, it wasn’t for the reason I gave, as I eventually figured out. The reason I gave was that I was holding by what Ken Hite had said: There are no nice vampires. There are no good vampires. There are no vampires who are your PC’s friend.

And this is all correct, but doesn’t actually touch on the real reasons. “This person is first, last, and in between a villain” says nothing about having special relationships with PCs.

No, there were two reasons that I came to realize actually mattered here:

1. You do not get to be the special one in an RPG. EVERYONE needs to be special. 

This has an obvious fix, of course. Give everyone a special relationship. The player wasn’t asking for others not to have this, and multiple special relationships do not dilute the game. They are all unique, just as snowflakes are.

Also,

2. I didn’t yet know enough about my Dracula to figure out how this would work. 

It’s the second that was more important, as we were beginning the campaign at the time. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, who the PCs would be, how they’d interact with each other and with Dracula. I had no idea we’d have a session 0.5 or that one of my players would create a unique Fiasco set for it, or that this would define the starting relationships among the PCs.

The 1894 leg of the campaign was something of a glorious disaster that still worked better than it should have. I was feeling my way with Dracula. I knew he was Nicolaus Olahus, but not what he wanted or how he was planning to get it or how the Edom recruitment plan had been shaped. I used Count De’Ville, and later decided that he was acting far too incompetently to be Dracula. Obviously, he was someone who’d been turned into a vampire by Carmilla, yep, that’s what I meant to do all along.

I created secret passages on the fly, trying to figure out between sessions where they led and why. I dumped far too much of the Hawkins Papers and other handouts on my hapless players, who struggled to figure out what this meant for them, for their characters, and for what they should actually do. I rewrote sections of Dracula and handed four chapters of the reworked novel to players without bothering to highlight the new material.

I spent the time between sessions recalibrating and trying to account for apparent contradictions and gaping holes in what passed for my plot. And, I managed to fit the pieces into a narrative that actually made some amount of sense.

And by the end, though I’m not sure I saw it then, the PCs had special relationships, each one different.

One PC did indeed have an odd relationship with Dracula in play. She was a psychoanalyst who personally knew Freud. Dracula / Olahus was fascinated by this new field of learning, and their relationship grew out of their interaction in the game.

This was the only special relationship with Dracula, but not the only special relationship. The player who made the initial request created a woman who had seen faeries as a child and had married the man who’d bought her family home so that she could continue to look for them.

And she found them. They convinced her to go travel the universe with them, going into a faerie mound. Her NPC husband followed her.

The faeries were actually mi-go, and traveling the universe means what you’d expect. The player created a very different PC, but seemed happy that the original PC and her husband were traveling the galaxy in mi-go brain cannisters. She pointed out that the happy, if deluded, couple could return to the campaign in the present day, something I’m very much contemplating. The mi-go are not Dracula, but are very much a faction in my Dracula Dossier, and, I hope, an interesting one.

Another PC was bitten by Count De’Ville, which was a mistake on my part. Instantly:

  • The player played the PC as trying to cut herself off from the flow of information.
  • The other players made plans without the PC, including plans to deal with the PC fatally, if necessary.

In other words, while the character had a unique relationship with a vampire, the player had less to do. This is not good. I’ve got a rules hack to use for the future which will probably make this sort of thing less of an issue, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the first hint that a PC is compromised cripples player agency. You don’t want to do that.

However, at the end of the 1894 leg of the game, the PC had been freed of vampiric influence. De’Ville was dead. The player thought about this, and decided that the PC would approach Carmilla to say, “Your lieutenant died. I think that means you have an open position. I would like to fill that.”

That was fine because it did use player agency. The PC became mostly an NPC, with one exception: I let the player play her in the 1977 leg, with mixed success, again due to suboptimal GMing calls I made. But, the character is still around and has enjoyed a unique relationship with a vampire that is very different than the psychologist’s unique relationship with a vampire.

One of the other PCs had a special relationship with someone in Edom, and ended the game deciding to take over Edom from the inside and reform it. And, while he was at it, perhaps he’d look into non-vampiric forms of immortality. As with the PC mentioned above, he returned as a PC in 1977, but as with her, he’s mostly mine now.

The final player had a little bit of everything, in a way. His PC felt personally betrayed by De’Ville because the PC used De’Ville’s diary from his vampire hunting days as a Symbol. Destroying De’Ville made him feel vindicated. He was also a close ally and friend of the PC who psychoanalyzed Dracula, and they had friendly arguments over various symptoms of vampirisim and What It All Meant.

And, he was the half-brother of the woman who went off with the faeries. Two of the other PCs had seen through the mi-go illusion and were shaken, but he was not. He stayed in his half-sister’s ancestral home, training her son in the ways of hunting vampires, and eventually joined his half-sister and her husband on their travels throughout the galaxy.

As should be obvious, the 1894 leg was full of bumps, fits and starts, and mistakes, but was also a fair amount of fun and set the foundation for the rest of the campaign (which… also involved a lot of mistakes, including a repeat of the one involving compromising a PC). We’ve been playing on and off for about five years, I think, and are now in the final leg of Dracula Dossier, set in 2015, starting with the death of Sir Christopher Lee.

The group has changed a little, as folks dropped in and out of the various mini-campaigns and one-shots. It currently has 5 players, 4 of whom were in the original 1894 leg.

Well before the 2015 leg started, I got a similar request from a different player, a request that her PC have a special relationship with Dracula, for Dracula to be obsessed or fascinated with this PC, who, like her 1894 PC, is a psychoanalyst. The player wants to have a chance to resolve some of the issues we never were able to bring to a satisfying climax.

As before, my gut reaction was “No!”, but this time, I was well aware that my gut was incorrect.

For the 1894 leg, I couldn’t agree to anything specific in terms of the relationships folks would have with Dracula because I didn’t even know who he was. For the 2015 leg, I know EXACTLY who Dracula is now. I know what he wants and why and how he plans to get it. Sure, there are details I need to work out, but I know why he might have a special relationship with the player’s character and how that might work, at least as we begin play.

I am not sure I can provide the closure the player wants. While a valid concern, it is not, however, a reason not to try. We’ll have to check in with each other to make sure we’re not misinterpreting things, but that’s true in any RPG.

And one thing the player had the 1894 PC say stuck with me. She said that she was Nicolaus’s last chance, that he’d steadily lose what little empathy he had left with humanity. And I think it makes sense that she was correct. And I also think that, whether or not the 1894 PC and the vampire ever met again, in some way, Nicolaus never stopped arguing with her in his mind. Both were disappointed in each other, and… by all rights, there should be play in this.

And, as for the Special Snowflake issue, and the answer is not “No, you don’t get to be the Special One with the Special Relationship to Dracula.” There are better answers.

One is to give everyone a special relationship to Dracula of some kind.

Another is to give everyone a special relationship to someone who, if not Dracula, is as cool as Dracula in their own way. I have a lot of pieces in play, including the mi-go who are also the faeries and who also run the Scholomance (and one of the other PCs accepted an invitation to take a whirlwind tour of Mars and Jupiter. Her brain has since been restored to her body), several different factions of Edom, an Israeli counterpart of Edom, and walking products of elder thing technology, all of whom are represented by NPCs (some of whom are former PCs). And that’s before we get to Edward Kelley / Abraham van Helsing…

There really is enough specialness to go around.


Lisa Padol has been running GUMSHOE since Eternal Lies came out. She needs to remind herself that she doesn’t have time to playtest everything for Trail of Cthulhu, the Yellow King RPG, and Night’s Black Agents.


The Dracula Dossier reveals that Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit a vampire in 1894. Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula UnredactedFollow those clues to the Director’s Handbook, containing hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, dangerous locations, conspiratorial nodes, and mysterious objects. Together they comprise The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG. Purchase the Dracula Dossier starter kit bundle in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Big Bloody Spoilers for both The Zalozhniy Quartet and The Persephone Extraction in this article. Don’t read if you’re a Night’s Black Agents player. Here, have some deliberate disinformation so you don’t accidentally read anything important.

 

  • DRACULA’S BEHIND EVERYTHING

 

  • EDOM STANDS FOR ENGLISH DEFENDERS OF MAGIC

 

  • YOU ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE VAMPIRES

 

  • IT’S ALL THE OCEAN GAME.

 

  • STAY ALERT TRUST NO-ONE KEEP YOUR LASER SIGHT HANDY

 

  • PELGRANE’S GOING TO LICENSE COUNT DUCKULA FOR A GUMSHOE KIDS/NBA CROSSOVER ANY DAY NOW

Continue reading »

A group of unknown antagonists recently rescued a reporter from a kill squad in Marrakesh; they were then spotted in London at the site of an assassination. What follows is an intercepted internal memo from a mysterious organization calling itself EDOM. Interested agents who want a more detailed account of the events as they transpired should click here.

 

by Noah Lloyd

Just because you’re physically distancing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be social, and what better way to stay social than by finding ways to play some of your favorite games? Pelgrane Press is on all the major virtual tabletops – and then some! I’ve collated some of our products, specially designed for your internet-based play, below:

Roll20

Roll20 is the virtual tabletop with the largest userbase out there at the moment, with both free and premium account options. Roll20 has official character sheets for both GUMSHOE (optimized for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents) and 13th Age. Additionally, we’ve got three modules for 13th Age all available for download on Roll20 right now, one of which is absolutely free, and the other two of which have 20% off until September:

In the coming days we’ll also be releasing a free Trail of Cthulhu scenario, “Midnight Sub Rosa,” which was originally collected in Out of the Woods. Watch our twitter (and this space!) for when it goes live.

And, if you didn’t know, you can also grab the Hillfolk Card Deck as an add on in Roll20, which will add some inspiration to your Hillfolk and DramaSystem games.

Fantasy Grounds

Fantasy Grounds is a premium-only service that offers expanded virtual tabletop services. We’ve got two officially licensed 13th Age products available for all you Fantasy Grounders:

We’re working on building more modules on this VTT, so if you’re a Fantasy Grounds developer, let us know!

Astral Tabletop

Astral Tabletop is a newcomer in VTT-land, but that doesn’t mean that their services aren’t top-notch and unique – and, they’ve made all their paid services free through the end of May. They have a particularly robust dice rolling syntax that they’re consistently expanding, and I was impressed by their animated maps (though this can be tough on folks with poor internet connections).

I have been hard at work making official character sheets for use with your Pelgrane games; while these, unfortunately, aren’t quite ready as of this See Page XX, they should be ready very soon. We’ll be providing templates for 13th Age, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, TimeWatch, and (drumroll) the Yellow King RPG. What other Pelgrane games would you like to see support for? Help me prioritize!

That said, don’t think that just because our official sheets aren’t quite ready yet, that you can’t get a lot out of Astral. I encourage you to play through their tutorial, see what it has to offer, and get a group together!

And don’t be dissuaded by my failure to finish the character sheets! There are plenty of other ways to play online.

Discord, Slack, and Zoom

If you aren’t interested in specially designed virtual tabletops for your roleplaying games, don’t overlook the ease and usefulness of simplified chat and networking applications like Discord, Slack, and Zoom. Games like Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents (indeed, all our GUMSHOE games) don’t usually need maps for their scenarios, and they’re well-suited to playing in the “theater of the mind.” However, Slack’s free version only supports two-person video calls (perfect for a One-2-One game!), and Zoom’s free version restricts calls to 40 minutes. For those reasons, my personal favorite app to roleplay on is Discord, which supports multi-person video calls, simple voice channels folks can jump in and out of, and the creation of dedicated servers for each of your games, if that’s how you want to roll.

(When you sign up for Discord, they provide you with your own private server, and there are bots you can add which will even serve as simple dice rollers! I really like Sidekick, who I’ve happily nicknamed “Roll Buddy.”)

Speaking of which, did you know that we have a Discord server? If you’ve got a Discord account set up, you can find us here: https://discord.gg/xKfgxVm

On our Discord you’ll find two channels that are particularly relevant to this discussion. If you’re a GM and you want to find some folks to fill those slots in a Nights Black Agents roster, go ahead and post in “looking for players.” Similarly, if you want to find a game to join, you can either post in “looking for games” or keep an eye out in “looking for players” the next time a GM puts out a suitable invite.

If you’re not gaming but still want to talk about all things Pelgrane, we’ve got dedicated channels in the Discord for each of our game systems, and we’d love it if you came to say hello.

If Discord, Slack, or Zoom are more your speed than an official VTT, remember that you can find hundreds of digital products—adventures, core rulebooks, supplements, even music—over on the Pelgrane webstore.

by Adam Gauntlett

Running all over Europe shooting vampires attracts attention from governments, police agencies, and other unsympathetic official observers. Night’s Black Agents represents this attention, and the concomitant investigations and pursuits, with the abstract value of Heat.

If you make it go Boom, there are consequences. What should those consequences be? How can they be put into effect?

Heat comes from illegal, particularly flamboyantly illegal, actions. Stealing a car gets a bit of Heat. Blowing up Parliament gets a ton of Heat, and probably a sniper’s bullet right between the eyes. However, what the Director needs to understand is, Heat isn’t personal. The authorities don’t know that it’s bang-and-burner Fibber McGee who’s been blowing up all those police stations. They just know there’s a lot of smoking craters where police stations used to be, and are very keen to arrest whoever’s been doing it. So more cops get put on the road, the investigation team gets larger, special contingency schemes are activated, and, in truly awful situations, domestic intelligence agencies, or military agencies, get involved. All this increases Heat, and thus make it more likely that Fibber and his partner(s) in chaos will encounter official resistance.

This means more overt signs of domestic turmoil. Wherever Fibber and his pals go, there are road blocks and stop-and-searches. The underworld shuts down, because the cops are closing down every den of vice they can find. If the police don’t usually go about armed, now they do. If they are usually armed, then they’re even more trigger-happy than before. Soldiers or special forces become common sights. All this, of course, before anyone makes a die roll. The agents smacked the wasps’ nest with a baseball bat; now the wasps retaliate.

So right away you can see one function of Heat: to provide consequence for outrageous actions. Which in turn encourages the agents to save up the really crazy stuff for when it’s necessary, as opposed to going full Terminator whenever they see a police station.

Now let’s look at specific Heat call-outs in the rules. Heat increases Difficulty, and Heat shuts down access to the Black Market.

Let’s say the agents have earned 5 or more points of Heat. That means the Difficulty for all suitable General tests goes up from base 4 to base 5, because the Difficulty is now based on Heat. Going through airport security, breaking into Government IT instillations, Network tests and similar – basically, all the subtle, sneaky, bluff-and-diplomacy options become trickier to pull off. So Throckmorton P. Gildersneeve, the team’s hacker and cracker, is going to find it much more difficult to get into even the least well protected of networks.

Here Heat serves as a complicating factor. It’s not directly affecting the agents, but its indirect effects can be catastrophic. This in turn forces the agents to think about their Heat, and how to lower it before a disastrous General check ruins them for good. It doesn’t mean as much to Molly’s Parkour checks, because those shan’t be affected by Heat – but how often does an operation’s success depend entirely on Parkour?

To reinforce this, the Director should enforce this rule as soon as it comes into effect – so as soon as Heat hits 5 or more – and keep hammering away at it for as long as Heat remains at that level. Keeping Heat, and thus Difficulty, high, means the agents will be spending more from pools, and risking greater negative effects every time they make relevant General tests.

Then there’s the Black Market option, or, as I like to think of it, the Banhammer. If Belulah the Wetworker wants to buy guns, she’s got to go to the Market, but if Fibber’s been raising the Heat to unacceptable levels, then this could be costly. If Belulah’s total Streetwise pool plus the number of points spent is less than the team’s total Heat, she gets betrayed by the dealer, in some way. This doesn’t have to mean a fight. It could mean she gets defective goods, or is sold a nice, reliable American assault rifle – you know, the ones with the RFID markers, easily traced.

Notice that team Heat affects the team. It might be Fibber who got a little too bang-happy, but everyone pays the price. This is called Collective Punishment; it’s been with us since the 2nd Century BC, at least. Under Collective Punishment, everyone in the group pays for the sins of one member of the group. “Private Pyle … has dishonored himself … and dishonored the platoon,” as Full Metal Jacket’s Gunny Hartman puts it. By letting everyone know that it was Private Pyle who earned the platoon pushups, Gunny Hartman bullies the platoon into helping Hartman police Pyle. “I have tried to help him, but I have failed. I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation.”

The Director should never have to worry about Heat. The Director should welcome Heat. It’s the agents who should worry, because with each point of Heat their lives become more and more complicated. They might all rack up Heat heedlessly, stealing cars, getting into fights, and then get wide-eyed and cautious when Heat reaches toxic levels, and options become unavailable, or too costly to pursue. If they know that they’ll all have to pay for the actions of one, they’ll start policing the one, leading to conflict – and conflict is the engine of Drama.

Let’s go through an example. The team is Fibber the bang-and-burner, Molly the black bagger, Belulah the wetworker, and Throckmorton the hacker. Fibber, the scamp, has been up to his old tricks, and the team’s Heat is 6.

They’re just coming from a scene in which Belulah, in search of weapons, was betrayed by her black market contact, and a fight broke out. All of them got dinged, but the worst was Throckmorton, who’s now Hurt.

Now they’re going into a scene that involves breaking into a Conspiracy installation. It has to be tonight, for plot reasons. They don’t have an easy or quick way to drain Heat, so they’re going in with the Difficulties and penalties appropriate for Heat 6.

Throckmorton could have used Digital Intrusion to change the police database, but he’s Hurt and facing increased Difficulty. He felt the risk wasn’t worth it, especially since he needs his pool for the Infiltration scene, and hasn’t got an easy way to refresh, in the time available. Molly might have tried something similar with Disguise, but she doesn’t have many pool points left after a test earlier in the session. None of the rest of the group have any applicable General abilities, so there’s no chance of getting rid of the Heat before the operation.

Already nerves are on edge, and the other three are snapping at Fibber, who got them into this.

Now they have to break in. When they cased the joint earlier, the guard regime was patchy and their internet security was a joke. Not any more. All the cunning options have Difficulty 6; cop cars drive past the front gate every fifteen minutes, and the Conspiracy’s IT guru is busy on-site, ensuring all that precious data stays secure. After all, the Conspiracy isn’t dumb. If Government installations are upgrading security because police stations are vanishing in puffs of logic, the local Node is at the very least going to change the locks on the front door.

Fibber, anxious to regain group favor, says he’s Prepared for this. “All the Conspiracy bigwigs ride around in those fancy black cars, and carry special ID, right? Well, it just so happens I’ve got that exact kind of car, with the fake IDs to go with it, and some of those off-the-rack suits they like to wear. That should get us past the front gate, right?” Fibber’s plan is a success, and with the advantage gained through Preparedness, the group gets past the front gate.  Throckmorton stays behind, using his hacking skills to take over the security cameras and guide the agents through. Besides, he’s already Hurt, and getting shot at isn’t in his job description.

Unfortunately for Throckmorton, Difficulty’s up, and the Director isn’t telling him by how much. He rolls the dice, and gets a dirty success – high enough to succeed, but below Heat & Hurt levels. So the Director decides that the IT guru spots his attempt and lets it succeed, so the IT guru can backtrack the feed and find out where the attack is coming from.

Meanwhile the team’s getting on with the job, and are close to the objective. Not all of the group has Infiltration, so Molly’s pools have been draining rapidly to cope with this and the higher Difficulty. Now they’re in position, but there’s a bunch of guards between them and the objective. “That’s new,” says Belulah, as she gets her silenced weapon out. She wonders if she can earn the Hush Puppy achievement. That pool refresh is looking pretty tasty, after the black market fight drained her combat pools.

“Uh … guys?” says Throckmorton, over the coms. “There’s … uhh, there’s a bunch of scary spec ops-looking dudes, converging on my location. Can I get a little help?”

“Don’t worry!” Fibber gets out one of his special little packages. “I Prepared for this, too!”

The night is ripped apart by the all-too-familiar noise of high explosives going off, and, in the distance, police sirens.

“Hey! Big Ba-Da-Boom!” says Fibber.

“Great,” reply his unenthusiastic teammates.

Over the years, we’ve released a number of one-shot adventures for our systems during Free RPG Day, and we often get messages asking us for the PDFs. As we know everyone’s looking for more gaming opportunities at the moment, we’ve collected them all here, now.

All we ask is that if you download, run and enjoy these adventures, you consider making a donation to Doctors Without Borders, to assist in their efforts to fight the coronavirus COVID-19.

Donate to Doctors Without Borders

 

In our third Pelgrane Video Dispatch, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan reveals his favorite GUMSHOE ability. Robin’s was obvious. Many guessed Ken’s. But can you predict Gar’s answer? Only a click on the video will tell the tale!


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 the Pelgrane Shop.

by Adam Gauntlett

In Night’s Black Agents, the Network ability represents your network of professional contacts. It works something like Cover in play; at any time, you may reveal or remember the existence of a member of your network in a given city …

Walther PPK, 7.65 millimeter. Only three men I know use such a gun. I believe I’ve killed two of them … Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky, GoldenEye.

Fibber felt ice trickle down his spine as he looked at the corpse of his friend Rico Marcelli, laid out on a morgue slab, the autopsy Y-incision a brutal reminder that, this time, it really was the end of Rico.

Fibber wasn’t just mourning the death of a friend, a colleague, a comrade in the fight against the Conspiracy. When Rico went, he took 4 of Fibber’s Network points with him. Those would be difficult to replace. Plus, Rico was supposed to be finding out as much as he could about the vampiric killer Sweetie-Face, the Conspiracy’s number one killer. Now all Rico’s work was gone – or was it? Maybe, before the Conspiracy caught up with him, Rico had time to load up one of his special dead drops; if he did, Fibber could salvage something from this disaster.

Network, and by extension Contacts, are special tools which the agents can use to help them out in a tight spot. In story, they represent old friends, professional colleagues, people whose skills and talents are vital in obtaining whatever McGuffin needs to be obtained this time. Mechanically, they are floating pools of Investigative and General points and boosts, which can be drawn on to overcome an obstacle.

What is an obstacle? Well, it’s whatever happens to be blocking plot progress in the moment. It doesn’t have to be a threat to life and limb. It can as easily be an invitation to that exclusive party, underworld gossip, or that all-important, difficult-to-obtain, Bane or Block.

Why use a Contact to overcome that obstacle when you have Investigative pools to spend? Perhaps your agent doesn’t want to spend their own points, or hasn’t got them to spend. Banking points in a Contact is a good way of ensuring there’s a way round every obstacle, no matter when or where they occur. Think of a Contact as the Swiss Army Knife of NPCs; a tool for every conceivable occasion – and reusable, so long as the Contact has points left.

In the Bond films GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough, Robbie Coltrane plays one of Bond’s Network contacts, Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky, a former KGB agent turned entrepreneur and shady dealer in questionable merchandise. In their first meeting, Bond offers Zhukovsky a benefit – cash from an arms deal gone wrong – in exchange for a meeting with the shadowy Janus, boss of the crime syndicate that snatched control over a powerful, experimental weapon. In their second, Zhukovsky is much more involved with the plot, and saves Bond from a death trap with a carefully aimed bullet from Zhukovsky’s cane gun.

So in their first meeting, the obstacle was information, and an introduction. In their second there are several different obstacles, culminating in a final confrontation in which only Zhukovsky’s intervention gets Bond out of a situation that would otherwise have ended the story prematurely.

If this were an NBA campaign, Bond’s player probably didn’t invest that many Network points in Zhukovsky to begin with. After all, Bond doesn’t need Zhukovsky for more than one thing. So let’s say the player puts in 2 Network points, creating the character, giving Zhukovsky just enough points that Bond can buy that introduction to Janus. The arms deal gone wrong is flavor text; it means nothing to the overall plot, but it provides a reason for Zhukovsky to get involved. It represents that initial Network spend; Bond gives Zhukovsky pool points, and in exchange Zhukovsky overcomes an obstacle for Bond.

However it later becomes clear Zhukovsky’s more useful to Bond that he appeared at first glance. Bond’s player therefore invests more Network points, boosting Zhukovsky’s pool and thus allowing Zhukovsky to do more things for Bond. Network points don’t refresh, either for the contact or the agent, so every time Zhukovsky intervenes, he gets one step closer to burnout. In the story, Zhukovsky exhausts his pool and dies, but not before getting Bond out of the mess Bond’s in.

A Network spend is a big investment for the agent. The agent has to keep paying on the installment plan, with hard-won experience points, or have their Contact repossessed. Even that has its advantages, for the Director. In NBA, losing a Contact to the vampires means a potential cameo later on.  Zhukovsky returns! As a hungry ghost, a ghoul, a vampire, who knows … For Fibber, this might mean Rico’s about to get up off the slab and put the bite on him. That Y-incision could be the perfect decoy!

A Network Contact is usually unplanned, so, unlike every other Director-controlled character, the Contact is the player’s personal project. This does mean the Director needs to keep an eye on what the player creates, and offer advice or guidance, as needed. Zhukovsky’s a brilliant example of a good Contact; an ex-KGB with a sideline in arms dealing can have his fat fingers in all sorts of pies, and be seen anywhere in the world, from Macau to Manchester. On the other hand, Irene the hotel front desk attendant is less useful. Sure, she can overcome that one obstacle at the Paris Ritz, where she works, but she’s probably not going to be at the Ritz Dubai next week, or the Ritz-Carlton Moscow the week after that, never mind the 2020 Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection next month. Irene is pretty much stuck in Paris, along with all those Network points someone invested in her. Moreover she’s only useful in hotels; she won’t be arranging illicit gun sales, or breaking the agents out of prison.

Fibber and his somber team discuss their options. Rico’s death almost certainly means Sweetie-Face is tracking them, possibly even preparing an ambush. Fibber thinks Rico may have left some intel in a safe house that Rico set up, so they decide to go there first.

Sure enough, it’s a trap – but not a very well-planned trap. ‘Sweetie-Face is getting sloppy,’ says Fibber, as the team stacks dead mooks in the bedroom of a La Busserine apartment, in Marseille.

Belulah thinks that was the point. ‘There’s a lot of cops hanging around,’ she points out. ‘Plenty more than I’d expect, given how tough this neighborhood is. Almost like they’re waiting for the Go order. Did you see those stacks of cash and whatever that stuff in the brown bags is, in the bedroom? I bet Sweetie-Face set this up so she can hang some kind of major crime on us, maybe terrorism or drug smuggling.’

The team starts to sweat, particularly bang-and-burner Fibber, who’s in enough trouble as it is. Belulah grins. ‘I can call in my old pal George,’ she says.

Belulah’s player initially thought of a Marseille gangster Contact, but the Director pointed out that someone closely tied to Marseille wouldn’t be much use in, say, Japan. Not that next week’s scenario is set in Japan, but … [discreet cough]. Instead Belulah puts 4 Network points into George Gamble, founder and CEO of Worldwide Forensic Experts LLC, a small, specialized humanitarian forensics company. George used to work in war zones; a Marseilles apartment stacked with corpses is probably not even the goriest thing he’s seen this week.

Meanwhile, hacker and cracker Gildersneeve puts the backdoor he installed on the cops’ network to good use. Sure enough, the cops are planning a raid on this very apartment block, searching for some big, tough, organized crime types. A few more keyboard taps, and Gildersneeve delays the raid for a precious few hours, by laying a false trail. It won’t last long; Belulah needs to act now.

Of course, the team could cleanse the apartment with Investigative spends. However nobody has a lot of Technical points to burn, and Belulah’s concerned this could end up with bags of suspicious chemicals in the trunk of the car, corpses on the back seat, and Fibber in the passenger seat playing with C4, while she’s driving down La Canebière with sirens howling in the background.

No. Better to make this problem go away. No fuss, no muss.

‘Hiya, Belulah,’ says George. He has his equipment in a carrybag, and Noddy suits for all the gang, so they don’t leave any more forensic traces.

‘No time for small talk, George.’ Belulah’s busy gathering the team’s guns in a bag, for easy disposal. She’s burning Streetwise to discover if dumping them in the Canal or the Harbor is a good idea. ‘We need this whole place cleansed, as if we were never here.’

‘Can do. It’ll be just like that time in Rome. It’ll cost you, B.’ Mechanically, a point spend from the Network pool Belulah invested in George, but in narrative it could be anything. Bond used cash from an arms deal gone wrong to lure Zhukovsky. In game, Belulah uses her High Society connections to get George access to exclusive parties.

‘Sure. Back room of Insomnia, Berlin?’

‘Done, and done.’ George starts laying out the tools of his trade.

‘Oh!’ Belulah remembers Rico’s dead drop. ‘Fibber thinks there’s something hidden here, but he’s not sure where.’

‘If it’s here, I’ll find it.’ Sure enough, George pulls out the intel file Rico hid on a data stick stuffed behind a false power socket. Rico’s last testament is now in Fibber’s possession.

‘You’re a doll, George. Do you speak Japanese?’

‘Hai!’

‘That’s good to know. See you round, George!’

The team scarpers. They have evidence, and their clothing, to dispose of, and Fibber has the clues Rico gave him. It’s time to give Sweetie-Face a taste of her own, bitter medicine …


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.

 

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