Last week we played 7th Sea for the first time. This week -J. took the GM seat and ran Night’s Black Agents (NBA) for us.
NBA mashes up vampire fiction with super spies in the vein of Jason Bourne. It’s an action-thriller with a focus on conspiracies. As a Gumshoe game the play focuses on resource management, with players spending points to advance the story and gather clues.
One of the great joys about starting this new Monday night RPG crew is not being the sole GM of the group. I’ve burned out in the past and having other GMs to spell me will help with that immensely. The social pressure of being in charge tends to wear me down.
Aadesh Jha, Infiltration Expert
Coming into NBA I knew I wanted to play someone who wasn’t American. British super spies have a long and storied history so I looked in that direction. Instead of going with a traditionally WASP English dude, I made a Nepali-English soldier who formerly served in the Royal Gurkha Rifles before being recruited into the SIS. He was with MI6 for a few years before geo- and office politics shuffled him out of the service as the SIS went public in 2010. In true British fashion, he was made “redundant” as the organization went through a tumultuous period. After that he went freelance but kept in touch with his handler, Evelyn Sharp, DBE, who offers him contract work from time to time.
The main things to know about your NBA character are their investigative abilities and their sources of stability. Aadesh is an infiltration and retrieval expert – many of his investigative and general abilities focus on those areas, both physically and digitally. He’s also something of a consummate professional as a spy with multiple points in tradecraft, languages, criminology, and streetwise. His sources of stability are: his cap badge from when he was in the RGR (a symbol); his local bartender back in London, “Uncle” Bob (solace); and his dad’s country cottage (safety). He can use these to regain stability, which is effectively a sanity pool.
Meet Eliza Snow, MD
Our NBA mini-campaign is just two players and will run for three sessions. Aadesh’s partner in vampire hunting is Eliza Snow, an epidemiologist who is tracking vampirism as if it is a disease. Her focus is much more biological science and organization focused that Aadesh. It seems she stumbled across vampires while on assignment in Japan and hasn’t been quite right since. Lost a promising career and started taking shady jobs. She and Aadesh met in Berlin when an SIS friend of Aadesh’s wound up dead in some vampire-related nonsense.
The two have teamed up because Aadesh had already suspected something really bad was lurking in the shadows and had connections all around the world. So now when Eliza finds herself drawn to crazy, inexplicable outbreaks, Aadesh acts as her bodyguard and assistant.
The Turkish Outbreak
Once we established backgrounds and connections, play began in the foothills of eastern Turkey north of Lake Van, not far from the Armenian border. Eliza used her contacts in the Turkish government to get clearance to help out with a humanitarian response to a mysterious outbreak – one that matches the profile she’d built on vampirism.
Aadesh walked through the camp – set up with tents for containment, triage, living quarters, etc. – as Eliza spent time with patients. One thing Eliza noticed is one of the volunteers wasn’t following proper safety protocol – no gloves, mask, etc. – for an unknown disease vector.
Then the screaming started.
One of the patients complained that his skin felt as if it were on fire. His eyes went grey. And then he went feral, as his fingernails grew into talons. Several volunteers were hurled bodily from the tent as they tried to restrain him. Aadesh ran toward the screams and paused, unsure if he should shoot a medical patient. That all changed when the… creature… leaped on another patient and ripped out her throat with his teeth. The damn thing moved way too fast. Impossibly fast.
Firing multiple missed shots drew the creature’s attention to Aadesh and he nearly got eviscerated. Eliza dove into the fray with hypodermics of sedatives. Working together they only just managed to kill the beast with a fire extinguisher to the head. When the Red Crescent volunteers started asking questions, Eliza spun them a story about a prion disease that affects aggression centers of the brain.
In the headcount after the action, one volunteer came up missing. The woman who had been ignoring safety procedures. A quick search of her tent showed she had bugged out, taking her laptop and any of her written notes. Eliza used her Turkish intelligence contact to get info on her while Aadesh poked around the tent a bit. Her notes may have been taken but the notepad was still there. A quick rubbing revealed notes showing she knew way more about the disease than she should have. A frightening amount. And phrased as lab notes from an experiment. Could she be spreading this intentionally? We can’t take that chance.
We requisition a vehicle and head to the volunteer’s apartment. Aadesh goes in ahead, spending his Infiltration MOS for auto success, and finds the place cleaned out in a hurry. It had been set up with some pretty impressive electronics, based on the number of power strips left behind. He picks up the remaining phone and gets the last number called from the operator: the nearest regional airport. Other hints from the Turkish officials suggested she had contacts in Istanbul. That was our next stop. Eliza came up after giving Aadesh time to do his thing. And. She. Knocked. That was a great moment of levity, where here player absolutely played up the sort of amateur spy nature of her character and I got to have Aadesh react with incredulity.
The chase was on and our quarry had a head start. Aadesh spent some network points to create a contact in the Armenian embassy who hooked them up with a chartered flight to Istanbul. That was a good call, because they managed to get into Istanbul ahead of the regional flight. The suspect, though, wasn’t staying in Istanbul. She transferred to a flight to Odessa. We followed, naturally. That’s where we left the session.
This is my first play of a Gumshoe game. I can already tell that it’s going to be about resource management. You spend points out of your various pools to get clues and power your dice rolls. Sure, you can roll the dice for shooting or infiltration or digital intrusion without spending. But then your d6 roll is unmodified. That’s a scary proposition and it asks the player: how much are you willing to invest to make sure this succeeds?
This works really well with investigative abilities – get clues just for being present with the right ability, spend for extra clues, and you can never spend to get nothing. The general abilities are a bit stranger. Now, I fully recognize that the first thing we did was fight a goddamn vampire and that might skew my perception on the difficulty of combat, but… I spent my entire shooting pool to take that down. More than! There was a technothriller monologue in the middle that gave me three points back. And I spent those, too. I suspect our characters will be much more Bourne-esque badasses against normal human opponents. For now I’m a bit concerned about the difficulty of the game and the cost of success for two players.
Having two players worked quite well, for the most part. We’re still finding footing as a group so there wasn’t quite as much easy roleplay as I typically like in a session. We worked well together, though. The dynamic is starting to form, not just for the characters but for the players. It will be nice when the rest of the players can join us later in the summer, though. My preferred sweet spot for an RPG is 3-4 players. With one player bowing out due to life happening, we are at 5 members. That’s perfect for a GMed game.
-J. is a really solid GM and I’m glad I’m playing NBA with him at the wheel. He’s hinting at a lot of geopolitics in the campaign already and actively working our backstories into the narrative. This is shaping up to be an interesting, player-driven short run of Night’s Black Agents. I’d previously only played in his 13th Age campaign but I think NBA (and Gumshoe in general) suits his style and demeanor a bit more.