Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Night's Black Agents: Campaigns I'd Like to Run

Wherein I offer up a second campaign I'd like to run for this month's RPG Blog Carnival. You can find more info over at the Age of Ravens. You can read my first entry, Mage:  Technocracy Risen, here.

Night's Black Agents: 
Deluxe Campaign Edition

Conspiracies exist everywhere.

Some conspiracies are so good, they must be true.
Some conspiracies are so inept, they are not true.
Some conspiracies are true.

A team of former special agents, spies, and wet works specialists are assembled to stop a possible rogue CIA agent from purchasing nuclear and biological weapons for the terrorist organization he infiltrated.

Has this agent gone rogue? Is he purchasing live weapons or is he putting on airs and purchasing fakes for the terrorist organization? What purpose does the terrorist organization have for these weapons?

While investigating the former CIA agent, the assembled team will only fall further into the conspiracy. Is that another team watching the agent? Are they now watching the assembled team? Why is that person from one of the team's past involved?

Wedding cakes and conspiracies are built on layers. Layers add strength. Layers add support.

Layers allow you to hide things better left to the darkest corners of the Earth. . .

The high concept behind this game is to take John Steakley's novel Vampire$, lock horns with the idea of different vampire families as found in so many sources (such as Blade), rope it with brand names like Treadstone and Quantum, and then kill it with a thermobaric weapon.

I want to take the core premise of Night's Black Agents and take it to the next level. In keeping with the movie-style of the game, I imagine this campaign to be a trilogy – or perhaps an HBO series ala A Game of Thrones or AMC's The Walking Dead. I want to run this game for a larger than usual group of players (4+) or for multiple groups of players at the usual level. I want to build this game out into a full-on, potentially gonzo, campaign. I want to build it into a controlled sand box.

Tinker Vampire Soldier Spy
The game starts with the cast being assembled into a team to look into a situation. The handler wants the team to stop a CIA agent from purchasing both a nuclear and a biological weapon. The purpose for purchasing the weapons is not known. However, the word is out that the agent is looking for said items. The agent is currently in Varna, Bulgaria, but was recently in Berlin, Germany. The agent has infiltrated a terrorist organization based out of Chechnya.

The cast will be given the opportunity to track down the CIA agent, as well as, do some digging into his background. Neither of the activities are hard to accomplish. A few spends will reveal interesting tidbits about his background (think Treadstone activities). The cast will be able to track the agent and locate his hotel.

If the cast decide to investigate the hotel or follow the CIA agent, they will notice that others are also watching the hotel and following the CIA agent. Whether the watchers notice the cast will only be revealed with time. The cast will need to decide how to approach the CIA agent. Will they go in and extract him? Will they wait and find out who the seller is, then go after the seller? Will they wait for the deal to go down and then “retire” everyone involved? There are many options for the cast and none of them matter to the storyline.

Eventually, the cast will come in to contact with the other group watching the CIA agent. Depending on the cast, they may even drive right at that topic. I can think of at least three potential players (four if I was playing) that may perform such a tactic. Other forms of contact include the cast catching the other group watching the cast, the cast going after the seller or the CIA agent and the other group stepping in to assist one of the three (cast, buyer, seller), or perhaps the other group commits before the cast, going after the CIA agent for their own, nefarious reasons. Either way, a third party is established.

Between the CIA agent's terrorist organization and the third party, a bridge to the vampire conspiracy is provided. The game continues on as a standard Night's Black Agents game. As they cast climbs the conspyramid, they will have the opportunity to learn about another family of vampires. The cast may or may not realize this is another family of vampires and simply think all vampires are the same “family.” It will depend on clues gathered during game play.

By the time the cast reaches the top of the conspyramid, other families will know about the cast. Calls will have been made, emails sent, and pictures viewed. One of the easiest ways to build in the other vampire families is to allow the cast to follow the money to another family. For example, if the cast is following money from a vampire in the manufacturing industry, to the bank, to another bank, to someone in the arms industry, it could be vampires laundering money – or it could be one family buying product from another family. As the cast investigates the flow of money, they are noticed by the other family.

I intend to end the first “movie” with the cast destroying the head of one of these vampire families. The cast is not likely to wipe out the entire family. They may have the opportunity to do so, but this game is not about tracking all of them down to exterminate the vampires. It is about climbing the conspyramid to the top and cutting off the head.

The Honorable Vampire
This leads to the second film in the trilogy, as the other family or families decide to pursue the cast. Maybe the cast decides to go after those loose ends, in order to destroy all vampires. That would lead them into direct conflict with the other families. If not, the other families could decide to send minions (vampire, ghoul, renfield, human, it doesn't really matter), after the cast. What starts as bad luck turns into odd coincidence, and ends with fangs. Soon enough, the cast realizes they have another family of blood suckers to deal with. If the cast runs and hides, the vampires dig them out. If the cast burns down a house, the vampires turn a loved one.

The second film will be darker than the first. The fight becomes more personalized as more and more resources are taxed or used up. The vampires will appear to have an endless pool of resources at their disposal. It is as if this is all a game to them (to some, it is) and nothing the cast does matters to the vampires.

Ball of string.
Wait! Was that a big dog's shadow?

The second movie moves away from the straight to the top attitude of the first movie. It needs to expand out from one family to two or more families. It needs to show a broader spectrum of the vampire community. What is vampire society really like? Do they have board meetings? Do they all meet on the second floor of a popular club, socializing and playing chess? Do they meander through art galleries late at night, pontificating on the weariness of the soul? Maybe they do all of this and more. How deep do those claws really go?

At this point, I would also like to begin to work in other elements from classic vampire films. Monstrous animals such as giant rats, cats, or alligators as guard dogs, werewolves as allies or enemies who aren't worried about the environment, or a mad scientist with a penchant for creating flesh golems is researching a way to cure vampirism or Banes of a vampire family. A group of psychic vampires infiltrating high levels of governments, allowing them to control whole cities or countries.

The second movie will need to end with a big explosion. I could set it up for the cast to take out more than one family. It could end with the cast discovering human government types have been in on the conspiracy all along, helping the vampires for whatever payment the vampires offer them. The cast should feel they came closer to dieing than ever before. Whichever way I go, the third movie is set up for revenge.

Smiley's Fangs
The third movie starts out hot and heavy. We return the cast to the conspyramid style game. The cast knows there is a snake's head waiting to poison them. As they work their way up the conspyramid, any and all resources will be used up. Government contacts turn on them. Friends suddenly pull their support away from the cast. Loved ones are murdered moments before the cast arrives to pull them from harm's reach.

However, the cast will also have their chance at revenge. They will have opportunities to defraud banks, blow up manufacturing facilities that supply the conspyramid with much needed cash, and go after people or things the vampires hold dear. This is Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith rolled into one and given to Oliver Stone to pen with Akira Kurasawa directing. Cast members could very well die leading up to the finalé.

Night's Black Agents: The Series
The end of the third movie could very easily be the end of the game. All resources are gone. Maybe new resources have been gained while destroying the vampire families. Monies gained, contacts made, trust earned outside the circle of cast members. Further adventures could include following leads to continents not yet visited (I currently imagine the series staying in Europe and Eurasia). Egypt, Johannesburg, New Delhi, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Rio offer different atmospheres to apply to the setting. What about those other monsters from classic film lore? What was up with the werewolves? Are there families of them, too? Has the mad scientist turned into Victor Von Doom and launched a plan to take over a country utilizing his golems? Are there awful humans the cast crossed paths with, who could use a bit of f-u (that's follow up, not what you thought it meant)? Human trafficking, money laundering, and selling firearms to the highest bidder does not go away, just because the vampires went away.

Blu-ray Extras
I am not certain how well the Gumshoe system will hold up to this type of beating. By all intents and purposes, it should work just fine. I may need to slow down the experience point progression to stop the cast from becoming all powerful beings in the universe. Another thought is to keep the progression, but then remove half of the experience points between the first and second movie. This is meant to represent a lull in activity and the need to relearn old skills. I like this idea less than simply slowing down character progression. Yet, it is an interesting idea, if only in theory. The players would need to know this was slated to occur before character creation occurred.

Running the game past the end of the third movie appears to be pointless. However, if the players are having fun and the director is not burnt out or bored of the storyline, it can be done.

A part of me wants to run this game with a high number of players. I think the reason is only that a high number of players reminds me of early D&D and WoD experiences. This is a step away from what I think of when I ponder sand box games or gonzo games. I think a better idea would be to run two groups congruent to each other. I could design a second conspyramid for another family of vampires and let the second group of players chase that tail. How do the two groups' actions affect one another? Are perceived threats suddenly gone? The casts could come across evidence of the vampire conspiracy watching another group of humans similar to their own. The conspiracy could even pit them against each other. The easier route is to simply allow the two groups to witness activities effecting the conspiracy or witness the after-effects of the other group.

I also have two sets of people I can see running this game for and there is very little crossover between the two groups. Both groups bring interesting things to the table and it could be fun to see where each of them take the game.

This style of campaign allows for the director to use all of the Modes of play recommended in the Night's Black Agent core book. The first movie should be run in one mode. The second movie can interweave the modes from session to session or storyline to storyline. The third movie should return to one mode of play. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run - RPG Blog Carnival (Entry #1)

Mage: Technocracy Risen
The war is over and the Technocratic Union has won. Tradition Mages are counted amongst the Nephandi and Marauders.

Using 2nd edition Mage rules, the players take on roles reflecting the various Technocratic mages. The work for a new organization, code name: New World Order, in the government which caters to the hunting and extermination of rogue paranormal activity. The players can represent any of the groups within the Technocracy. New World Order men in black, Progenitor doctors, Iteration X cyborg, Syndicate analysis, or Void Engineer scientist. Think FBI-type organization, only dealing with reality deviants.

This game works best when the setting specific lexicon from Mage is not used. The Unions would not use the same language as the Traditions. A more clinical and sterile feel should be applied and the language utilized is one of the easiest ways to implement such an effect. Each creature type would have a categorical name similar to the scientific naming convention for animals. Void Engineer equipment would have overly elaborate named equipment – with a steampunk look if that suites your style.

My game would also focus on a science fiction approach, including a heavy dose of red tape and bureaucracy. The look and feel would be closer to Bladerunner or the recent remake of Total Recall, not the bombastic MiB series. Slums are easily reproduced via the look found in Dredd or Repo Men. With the Technocracy in charge, there is a good chance items like Google Glasses are old news. Instead, fully interactive glasses and contacts work similar to the communication devices seen in the Ghost in the Shell TV series.

The Sleepers in the setting are more passive and less likely to cause problems for the Technocracy. At the same time, this means the potential Paradox backlash for Tradition Mages is quite high. Mages casting in public are extremely powerful or extremely suicidal. This results in many cases of Mage activity being related to what were once Tradition Mages that are now Mauraders.

Nephandi are still around and work great as boogie men. I would expand their repertoire to include not only devils and demons, but also Lovecraft inspired creatures and ill beasties like those found in The Book of Unremitting Horror. It's also available in d20format.

For a different style of fun and excitement, a trip to the moons of Saturn to help a Void Engineer with a problem. Imagine the look on the players' faces when they realize their characters are traveling through outer space, not an alternate dimension (or is that vice versa?), in a Tesla vessel. It, of course, looks very much like something out of a Buck Rogers episode. Now, was the problem here due to aliens, Migo, or are the low grade Iteration X cyborgs revolting, again?

Criminal organizations backed by Tradition Mages might be selling magically enhanced drugs that are highly addictive and prone to bending reality. The combination of Dreamspeaker, Verbena, and Euthonatos Mages working together towards a collective end could create a dangerous situation. It also puts the NWO agents in a position where they need to work with local police. Cue up a few corrupt police officers on the take and suddenly the NWO agents are walking into a trap. If the criminals are in the know about what the Tradition Mages really are, they may end up cluing them in to the NWO agents who are snooping around town. If there wasn't a trap set before, there will be now. Instead of gang bangers and made men, the cast are looking down the barrel of a death mage, spirit walker, and witch.

I could add espionage to the setting by letting the cast work with Iteration X or Progenitors. Perhaps a doctor or tool has gone missing. Was it a kidnapping? Are Tradition Mages working to move a bioweapon to Saskatoon? Or maybe it's a plant and the NWO agents need to follow the Tradition Mages thieves back to their lair!

And if that isn't enough, I still have office bureaucracy, vampires, werewolves, fae, wraith, and a metric tonne of Internet support for oWoD.

An alternate take on this setting would include the cast as Tradition Mages or other supernatural creatures struggling to survive in this brave new world. How do they pick up and move on? Where do they go to practice magic? How hard has it become to travel via the Umbra?

This may sound like an investigation heavy game. However, I find the versatility of the Storyteller system allows me to run the game how I see fit. Investigation heavy when I need it, but easy to run precise action sequences filled with gun- and kung-fu. Still, if the players wanted a different rule set (GURPS, Gumshoe, FATE), it is easily accomplished.

I know White Wolf approached this setting concept at one point in time. However, I was not running games in the World of Darkness by then. So, I am completely unfamiliar with those products.

This is my first foray into the RPG Blog Carnival. If you have made it this far, thank you for reading my entry. If you aren't sure what the RPG Blog Carnival is, please check out Lowell's blog, Age of Ravens, for more information.