Sunday, 19 May 2019

Ripped from the Headlines - Crossbows, China's CIA Man, Huawei

Several people in Germany have committed self-murder in what appears to be a quasi-medieval suicide pact led by a man named in the press as Torsten W. Torsten and two women were found dead in a hotel room, each having been shot with a crossbow. Two other women, one a nineteen-year-old, were also found dead in a house in Wittigen.

According to @thelocalgermany, Torsten W. "owned a shop that sold medieval-style weapons and flags, offered sword-fighting classes and featured a bizarre female mannequin wearing suspenders, tied with ropes and chains, and smeared with blood-like red paint."

In the same article, Torsten is described as the leader of "a kind of sex circle with a focus on the Middle Ages."

There's been a small resurgence in cult stories In the last five years alone we've had five documentaries on Charlie Manson, four of them in 2017, the year Manson died, and there's a film coming up, Charlie Says, with Doctor Who alumnus Matt Smith in the leading role.

Part of this is because it's been fifty years since Manson. There's two or three more documentaries and films due in 2019, to go along with the Manson Family musical, the South Park episode, and the indie comedy film.

Part of this is because, right now, we're obsessed with this kind of mass lunacy, for some reason. Can't think why.

Gamifying this is surprisingly difficult, since most of the compelling scenes take place within the group, impenetrable to outsiders. Viewed from the outside, the Manson Family's just another bunch of cult mooks with a big bad boss, and whether said boss plays guitar or conducts orgies in a medieval dungeon is almost irrelevant. A nice character detail, possibly, but it doesn't add to plot. Put it another way: knowing that the Beach Boys once recorded a tune Manson composed doesn't really add to the Bullitt-style Thrilling Chase scene down the California highway in the third act.

There are ways in. The quasi-medieval cult, in NBA, could be a rival band of vampire hunters, woefully short on Tradecraft but effective in close-up combat. However given their backstory they may fit better in an Esoterrorists or Fear Itself session. Charlie Manson and his followers definitely fit the Fear Itself formula.

In other news, former CIA man turned double agent for China, Kevin Mallory, was sentenced to 20 years in prison this week. He only received $25,000 from China for his efforts, so that's $1,250 per year; not the world's greatest paycheck. Particularly when, at 62, he's likely to die in prison, or emerge a doddering octogenarian.

Mallory's one of several former intelligence assets suborned by China, but what strikes me about this story is how little money's at stake. I wrote last year about Brian Regan, the spy who couldn't spell. He too did it for the money.

I have been in the CIA for over 20 years and will be retiring in two years, Regan wrote in his letter to Libya. I feel that I deserve more than the small pension I will receive for all the years of service at the CIA … Considering the risk I am about to take I will require a minimum payment of thirteen million US dollars wire transferred in Swiss francs, the exact amount, before I will risk my life …

In fiction, we place an extraordinary value on secrets. I'm fond of the game Hitman, which is all about secrets and assassination. The first real scenario in Hitman, Showstopper, features a spy organization named IAGO which makes its living selling secrets to the highest bidder.

Outside Xbox created the vid. If you enjoy that kind of thing, I heartily recommend 'em. They also do fun RPG videos, for those who like cats, explosions, Eldritch Blast, and wacky pirates.

We fill out NDAs, convinced of the mystical value of all those trade secrets. We believe corporate espionage is some kind of James Bond world of spies and counterspies, that mysterious Illuminati-esque figures grow fat on the flow of information, that all-powerful hackers can destroy the world at the click of a keyboard, sending our secrets hither and yon.

What cases like Mallory's ought to show us is that our secrets aren't worth a bucket of horse manure. Hell, at least you can grow something with horse manure. China - China! - couldn't be bothered to scrape up chump change for top level classified information. $25K? If you want to sit in the driver's seat of a 2019 Porsche Boxter, say, you've got to cough up $59K, minimum. A flat in Manhattan, even a dump in Greenwich, costs around half a million. Hell, a lousy Fabergé egg sells for several millions, though if you're lucky you might find one at an LA flea market for a mere $14K.

Finally, let's look back at the Huawei scandal and current fears about surveillance tech inserted into Chinese-manufactured smartphones. It's widely supposed that Canada's detainment of a senior Huawei exec for breaking sanctions against Iran is cover for a more in-depth effort to prevent the Chinese from gaining an unbreakable hold over 5G wireless networks. It's thought China would attempt to insert malware and spyware, using Huawei as a stalking horse.

This is worrying news, but what interests me is, China's been manufacturing high-end electronic goods for decades now. China makes pretty much everything from PS4 and Xbox consoles to desktop PCs. Odds are pretty good you're using a Chinese-made machine to read this post. Chinese surveillance tech is almost certainly a big part of the electronic ecosystem already.

Gamification … remember a while back when I talked about casinos in Macau, and hungry ghosts? I posited that a casino might use hungry ghosts as so-called luck ambassadors, slaving the ghost to a cloud-based slot machine system and using it to monitor player activity.

So here you have a slot machine that knows exactly who you are, I posted. It's tracked you from the moment you checked in at the hotel, and can continue to track you via the courtesy smartphone that the hotel gave you, or through your guest card, or any number of different ways. It can switch up the odds as it sees fit, to keep you playing. It can judge your tolerance for loss, and keep you pumped up for as long as your money holds out.

Now imagine if that machine was haunted - say, by hungry ghosts.

If you've followed gaming at all, you'll have seen anguished articles about gambling, and how some games use casino-style tactics to drain cash from underage players, and their parents. Take that a step further. Imagine a Chinese manufacturer who deliberately slips hungry ghosts into gaming consoles, ships them out to naïve Westerners, and lets the ghost handle the rest. A microtransaction or micropayment system, managed by the dead, whose purpose is to skim a little off the top and send it back to the manufacturer. Even if all they got was a fraction of a penny on every transaction, there are so many transactions it all adds up to one great big fortune.

Imagine what might happen if those ghosts get too ambitious …

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Darling Anna (GUMSHOE, Night's Black Agents, Mutant City Blues)

You may or may not be aware of Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey. As Delvey, Russian expatriate Sorokin scammed the rich and famous out of substantial amounts, by pretending to be a German heiress. Her scam wasn't the most sophisticated con game ever. She relied on charm and chutzpah, plus a little forgery, persuading people to lend her cash or pay her way. She racked up several hundred thousand worth of debt, and tried to get a $22 million loan to fund her Foundation. It was never going to last, and now she's been found guilty in court, sentence being four to twelve years, with the likelihood of deportation after release.

M Allen Henderson's Flim-Flam Man  is well worth looking at. Henderson lists these bunco traits:
  • Inclined to hold a low opinion of humankind, although this inclination is usually well-hidden.
  • Charming and personable.
  • Persistent and thick-skinned. He won't let a little failure get in the way of eventual success.
  • An actor who can fake emotions better than he can feel them. His act seems realer than real because he half believes it himself.
  • Not exclusively a con artist. He has engaged in, and will continue to engage in, other businesses, both legal and illegal, especially sales.
  • Proud of his ability to outsmart others, and expects others to outsmart him.
  • Lacking in conscience. 
  • Disrespectful of police and others in authority.
  • On the move, changing residences and businesses frequently.
  • Fond of showing off and is a big spender.
Sounds a lot like Dracula. Charming, personable, holds a low opinion of humankind, persistent and thick-skinned, lacking in conscience, fond of showing off, big spender …

Sorokin seems to demonstrate most of these traits, bar one; her addiction to Manhattan high life kept her in New York, when she might have been better served by travel.. Mind you, she took New York for every last penny she could get, and her success in that sophisticated city that never sleeps is what makes her famous. Other people stole more, but they didn't take New York's social scene for such a nasty ride. If her Foundation had ever opened its doors - an 'extremely pretentious private member's club', according to the Guardian's Hadley Freeman - it would have fit right in. New York has thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of plausible grifters like Sorokin. 'I lived in New York for a long time,' says Freeman, 'And that is the kind of … bullshit that you hear from people like that, in that area.' Sorokin wanted to fit in, and that is exactly what she did.

Let's gamify this.

Assume she's an asset in the world of Night's Black Agents. She's a natural chameleon who lives on social media, paying her way on someone else's credit card. She knew that, as a high-flying socialite spending a lot of money, hotel owners and restauranteurs don't want to challenge her. It's bad for business. So she can keep pushing the limit. It helps that she looks the part and keeps overtipping. Statistically she's a Civilian with effective High Society, Flirting, Flattery and Intimidation pools of 1 each, the Intimidation only useful against businesspeople and shop owners. However because she keeps pushing the limit she can be very successful, as a con artist. If there are two Bucharest Rules phrases that exemplify her, it's Build Your Own Network, and Keep Moving Forward.

As a Conspyramid asset, she's a free-roaming grifter looking for a likely target. She wants validation and fame, so she'll be especially dangerous to agents who rely on High Society and interpersonal abilities. She fits into that world. Several Edom dukes, such as Osprey, Pearl and Tyler, are particularly vulnerable to this kind of infiltration, as are some of the Legacies. However playing on Sorokin's MO, her most likely targets are other women; people she can befriend, be a buddy. Then she starts to mooch.

She probably doesn't run whichever Node she's affiliated with. Her handler would have to keep her at arm's length. She's not someone you'd trust with the Seward Serum. However her background in art may give her unusual ability pools, or Network contacts. She's the kind of person who gets by on her friends network, so it's reasonable to say she knows a lot of peculiar people in all lines of work. She probably knows a few low-level thugs, and bodyguards, along with the fashion plates and restaurant owners.

She may fit better into a Mutant City Blues game, which is all about crimes and the criminals who commit them. I haven't seen the 2nd Edition document, so everything I say here is based on my knowledge of the original game.

As a Mutant criminal, she most likely has passive power sets. This isn't someone who throws fire blasts around or sprouts fangs. This is someone who gets what they want through manipulation. Possibly Sexual Chemistry fits, but she really doesn't seem to be the siren type. She's more likely to use Memory Alteration, Possession or similar; some form of mind control or influence. At most she might display Psionic Blast, but even that sounds a little too violent. The one thing she definitely will not have is Nondescript. Her entire grift depends on her being seen, especially with the right people.

However it could be more interesting to have her as an ordinary con artist who everyone thinks is a Mutant, either because that's the way she plays it, or because nobody wants to admit they've been taken by a Normal. Mutants in particular will never, ever, in a million years, willingly admit they were conned by someone who isn't themselves Mutant. That Resist Influence power the mark boasted about is looking pretty thin right about now.

Alternatively she could be a beard, a front for a mind-influencing Mutant who is Nondescript but who seriously loves the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Sorokin and her pals jet off to a luxury holiday in Morocco, and nobody ever notices that an extra face is along for the ride. When Sorokin gets busted, the Nondescript recruits another wannabe socialite. The girl who ends up in jail might swear up and down she has no memory of doing all those things people say she did; what of it? Nobody in prison's guilty. Everyone was railroaded.


Sunday, 5 May 2019

The Loaded Coin (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

In this method the pill is stuck to the center of one side of a coin. The coin is taken by the performer from his pocket along with two or three other coins. The 'loaded' coin, however, in being brought out from the pocket is held between the thumb and first finger and the other coins are gripped between the rest of the fingers and the palm. The loaded coin is so held that the pill is kept from sight of the spectators … the purpose of taking the coins from the pocket is, ostensibly, to make some minor purchase such as a packet of cigarettes. There should be enough coins left in the hand after making the purchase so that two or more may be put on the bar or table and yet have two of the same size left in the hand. One of these two coins is the one to which the pill is attached …

This Cold War era trick comes courtesy of the CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, written originally by magician John Mulholland and resurrected from the CIA archives by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace. The intent is to slip a drug into a drink, unnoticed. You use a coin rather than palming because pills tend to stick to warm, damp flesh, whereas a pill on the reverse side of a coin can be flicked into a drink with a quick shake, or sweep of a finger.

It might be used by a Cold War era asset, or vampire-savvy outfits like Edom or China's Room 452. The trick, intended to deliver incapacitating or mind-altering substances like LSD, comes from the same line of thinking that gave us Project MKUltra. The idea is to deliver a payload that neutralizes an enemy asset, in a public place like a bar. This is especially relevant for Night's Black Agents characters, who know that certain substances, like garlic, holy water, or dead man's blood, can incapacitate or even kill an opposition target. All of these could be delivered in pill form, surreptitiously enough to evade detection. In theory the agent could hit the target, walk away, and watch the target fall to bits.

Of course, there is one obvious problem with this tactic. Coins are becoming obsolete, especially in sophisticated cities where smart cards and touch cards are more common. Particularly in high-end establishments, paying in coins makes you stand out - and standing out is the last thing a covert agent wants.

There are other issues. Prices have increased significantly since this trick was designed; even a packet of cigarettes will cost much more than a few coins. Also, in Mulholland's day security cameras were not anything like as common as they are now. These days even the dodgiest of pubs is likely to have CCTV, which means using this tactic increases Heat by 1. Moreover delivering a bane this way has its own risks; a vampire-friendly establishment might have countermeasures designed to detect, say, dead man's blood. This is more likely in Supernatural or Damned games, where science is less important than magic. If the pocket where you keep the loaded coins starts glowing red, or screaming, when you walk in the door, then you've got problems that not even Flirting can solve.

Making it Work: the agent needs to pass a minimum Difficulty 4 test, adjusted by Alertness modifier, spending either Preparedness or Filch, or a combination of the two. This may involve a Full Contest if the target is on the alert, for whatever reason, or is being watched over by a third party, like a bodyguard. Difficulty can be reduced if the agent can distract the target. In Mulholland's version this distraction came from natural patter, which in game would be Technothriller Monologue and can be prepared in advance. The remark is unimportant as to substance. It only has to express a reason, seemingly of interest or amusement to the performer, which makes it natural to show the coins. This can be achieved in other ways. At the end of the television show Mossad's season one, the distraction comes when an attractive member of the opposite sex walks past the target, which in game terms would be Cooperation. The exact reduction will depend on circumstances, but assume a minimum reduction of 2.

What happens next depends on the payload, and the target. Agents with a regard for their own health may want to scout out an exfil route before trying this tactic. An enraged vampire lashing out at anything and everything in sight is likely to do a lot of damage to its environment.

What's good for the goose is sauce for the gander. The opposition may try this tactic on the agents, perhaps delivering good old-fashioned LSD or some kind of knockout drug. A Sense Trouble Difficulty 4 minimum, increased by the opposition's Stealth modifier, detects this.  Alternatively the agent may spend Tradecraft to notice this Cold War spy trick. The result depends on the substance used, but it's reasonable to assume the effect takes place within 2 to 4 rounds, requires a minimum Difficulty 5 Health check, its minor effect is to inflict Shaken for the remainder of the scene, its major effect is to incapacitate for the remainder of the scene. Basic first aid given immediately can negate the minor effect, or reduce a major effect to a minor effect.


Sunday, 28 April 2019

Constant but Unhappy (Bookhounds of London)

The Constant but Unhappy Lovers, chapbook, published Ludgate 1707, by E.B. Bumped, woodcut (extra-illustrated), crozier chariot device. No reserve price.

The chapbook tells the story of two lovers, prevented from marrying by her obdurate father, Mr Butler. Broken-hearted, the gentleman, Henry Perpoint, signs up for a soldier and is shot while on duty in Spain. He survives for several days, and writes a letter to her in his own blood, which he sends with a lock of her hair, kept as a memento, and the ashes of his heart. Butler, meanwhile, marries his daughter to a Mr Harvey, a rich but jealous man. When the packet arrives Harvey intercepts it, and sprinkles the ashes in her tea. When he tells her what he has done, she bursts into tears, proclaims that the tea is "a draught so precious that no meat or drink shall ever come upon it." She retires to her room, cuts her finger for ink, and writes a poem in her own blood. She is found dead the next morning.

The author claims to be telling a true story of events that took place the same year the chapbook was published. In fact the subject dates at least to the Medieval period, and probably further, though the details have been updated to the 1700s.

Keeper's note: bumped means the cover is damaged, through careless shelving. Woodcut (extra-illustrated) means that the chapbook contains a woodcut illustration that was not in the original, and is probably an addition by one of the book's owners. Crozier chariot device means the book has a mark by its publisher, a crozier and chariot, most likely a reference to St Erkenwald of London, whose symbol is a chariot and who served as Bishop of St Paul's. This most likely means the publisher's shop was in or near St Paul's. No reserve price means the auctioneer will accept any bid, which is unsurprising for an otherwise unremarkable 18th century chapbook. All of this can be a 0 point clue for Book Scouts, Booksellers and Catalogue Agents, or anyone with a Bibliography pool.

This item is one of a longish list of interesting but not spectacular items, come out of a house sale. The Bookhounds probably attended to see if they can scarf up some material for the group's Forger, or purchase something cheap but interesting for the shop.

However things become heated when the bids for this item surpass all expectations, and a bidding war develops between two people unknown to the characters, or the resident Ring. One, a foreign gentleman with a German accent, (Eugen Grosche, grandmaster of the Berlin magical order Fraternitas Saturni), is bidding remarkable sums, but is being outbid by a shabby woman in tweeds with a Home County accent.  She is Lillian Lewis, an Oxford academic and one of the steamboat ladies who got their degrees via the University of Dublin, at a time when Oxford didn't grant academic qualifications to women. This information can be had by 1 point spends of Occult, Credit Rating or History (Lewis is a renowned historian). Otherwise all the characters know is that one is clearly German, while the other is a redoubtable lady.

The characters can engage in the bidding war if they wish. Grosche has Auction 8 (he has the resources of his own bookstore to draw on) while Lewis has 10. However the bidding is brought to an unexpected end when, at the conclusion, Lewis drops dead of an apparent heart attack.

It later transpires - and the investigators can learn this immediately with Medicine, Forensics or Evidence Collection spends, otherwise they must wait for the official inquiry, which will take days - that Lewis was poisoned. Whoever did it must have injected Lewis with a fatal dose as she was bidding, so they must have been standing close to her. It would take a cool head and steady hand to do that, given the circumstances.

So, what happened to Lillian Lewis, why, and what does this all have to do with an otherwise unremarkable 18th century chapbook?

Facts to be uncovered by the investigators: The chapbook supposedly was once the property of occultist and artist Pamela Coleman Smith, co-creator of the Waite-Smith Tarot deck, though she denies all knowledge of the chapbook. Grosche believes it was hers, and also that the woodcut (extra-illustrated) is her work. That's why he wants it; he thought it an interesting early example of her art, and wonders if the woodcut is a precursor to her Tarot designs. He doesn't know that she denies it. Lewis, so far as anyone knows, had no interest in the occult or Pamela Smith, nor did she have anything like the financial resources to back up her frenzied bidding. Other Bookhounds and occultists believe the chapbook and its famous woodcut really is Pamela Smith's work, and claim she indulged in a bit of forgery to earn some extra cash back in the 1920s, when she was living in bohemian London. The woodcut shows a grieving woman writing a poem, and is similar in composition to the second trump of Major Arcana in the Waite-Smith deck, the High Priestess. Though intended to look as if it is an 18th century original, the woodcut is a modern addition, as 1 point Forgery or Art can realize. The poison that killed Lewis is a derivative of Gelsemium elegans, sometimes called heartbreak grass, a flowering shrub native to India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. It is popular among suicides, hence the name, and causes seizures, convulsions, paralysis and death.

Possible Conclusions:

  • The killer is a high-ranking member of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan. The chapbook is part of a book code, and the woodcut is a sign to those who understand it that this particular chapbook is part of a two-book cypher set. It ought never to have come to auction; an enemy of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan stole it, and it was sold by his landlord to cover his debts when he turned up mysteriously dead in a back alley. The dead man was Lewis' brother, and she found out about his death too late to prevent the sale. That's why she bid so frenziedly; she knows, through her brother, that something important is hidden inside the chapbook, and is determined to uncover the identity of her brother's killer. Grosche is a red herring, in this version.
  • The killer is one of Grosche's Berlin rivals, a potential successor to his position in the Order of Saturn. This Mythos-inspired madman wants to turn the Order to Mythos worship, but Grosche bars his way. The killer spread the word about the auction, knowing Grosche would hear about it. He also sent notice to Lewis, who he knew was a secret occultist who had clashed with Grosche before, in academic battles over literary scholarship  The killer knew that the two would bid furiously, to spite the other. He killed Lewis with an obscure poison, intends to plant evidence that implicates Grosche, and alert the authorities. With any luck Grosche will hang, and the killer will take over the Order.
  • The killer is Lewis herself. She met Grosche in Berlin in the 1920s, and became besotted - but Grosche did not return her affection. She threw herself into her work, but a brush with the Mythos fractured her mind, and she began to obsess about Grosche. He, she felt, was the anchor she needed, to bring her back to reality - but he stubbornly refused to accept that. So she manufactured the chapbook, made sure Grosche knew about it, and set up the whole incident at the auction. She used a Mythos variant of heartbreak grass, as grown by the Tcho-Tcho, which only incapacitates, not kills. She bribed the coroner and the funeral parlor with the last of her life savings, to keep them quiet, and then arranged her own funeral. Surely, she thinks, when Grosche attends the funeral ceremony, weeping over lost love and missed chances, he'll fall on his knees in gratitude when she reveals, from the coffin, that she's not dead after all? However if he doesn't show - as is quite likely - then the tantrum this Mythos-knowledgeable scholar falls into is likely to destroy the church, and kill several dozen innocent bystanders.   

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Forgotten London: Rat Queen (GUMSHOE, Bookhounds of London, Night's Black Agents)

From Westwood & Simpsons' The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends:

The tradition concerns a mysterious, luck-bringing Queen Rat. This was a supernatural creature whose true appearance was that of a rat; she would follow the toshers [sewer workers] about invisibly, as they worked, and when she saw one that she fancied she would turn into a sexy-looking woman and accost him. If he gave her a night to remember she would give him good luck in his work; he would be sure to find plenty of money and valuables [among the garbage that ends up in the sewer] He would not necessarily guess who she was, for though the Queen Rat did have certain peculiarities in her human form (her eyes reflected light like an animal's, and she had claws on her toes), he probably would not notice them while making love in some dark corner. But if he did suspect, and talked about her, his luck would change at once; he might well drown, or meet with some horrible accident.

In Bookhounds, the Flusher (Contacts in the East End) is the theme-specific descendant of the tosher. Flushers know what's been found in the sewers, and who's been lost there, and they know the tangled labyrinth of tunnels beneath all London. The flushers will not talk to those they know despise them … although their sergeant, the Ganger, might unbend for a good reason. Especially if they've seen something Down There that you can show you know something about.

As with most things to do with the Victorian poor, Henry Mayhew is the most useful source.

Were it not a notorious fact, it might perhaps be thought impossible, that men could be found who, for the chance of obtaining a living of some sort or other, would, day after day, and year after year, continue to travel through these underground tunnels for the offscouring of the city; but such is the case even at the present moment … Many wonderous tales are still told among the people of men having lost their way in the sewers, and of having wandered among the filthy passages - their lights extinguished by the noisome vapours - till, faint and overpowered, they dropped down and died on the spot. Other stories are told of sewer-hunters beset by myriads of enormous rats, and slaying thousands of them in their struggle for life, till at length the swarms of the savage things overpowered them, and in a few days afterwards their skeletons were discovered picked clean to the bones …

They carry a bag on their back, and in their hand a pole seven or eight feet long, on one end of which there is a large iron hoe. The uses of this instrument are various; with it they try the ground wherever it appears unsafe … Should they, as often happens, even to the most experienced, sink in some quagmire, they immediately throw out their long pole armed with the hoe, which is always held uppermost for this purpose, and with it seizing hold of any object within their reach … without the pole, however, their danger would be greater, for the more they struggled to extricate themselves from such places, the deeper they would sink … in addition to the long hoe already described [they equip themselves] with a canvas apron, which they tie around them, and a dark lantern similar to a policeman's [with a lens that could be restricted] this they strap round them on their right breast, in such a manner that on removing the shade, the bull's-eye throws the light straight forward when they are in an erect position, and enables them to see everything in advance of them for some distance; but when they stoop, it throws the light directly under them, so that they can then see any object at their feet.

Rat Queen

Athletics 9, Health 5, Scuffling 10

Hit Threshold: 6 (small and nimble) or 4 (human form)

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier +3 (rat form) or 1 (human)

Weapon: -2 (bite, rat form), -1 (bite, human form), claws +0 (human form)

Special: a bite from a Rat Queen does not heal. In game terms, the Health damage heals but the wound still seems recent and will not scar or scab over. This is because the Queen uses these bites to mark her prey, either so she can give her victim good luck, or so she can track the ones she hates. Any bitten victim can be tracked unerringly by the Queen, and her Alertness and Stealth modifiers increase by 2 against those victims.

Armor: none. However a Rat Queen killed, or buried, in London's sewers or the river Thames will re-form one month to the day after being killed. To ensure she doesn't come back, it's best to bury a Rat Queen far from London, or at least to burn the remains and scatter them to the winds.

Stability: +1 in rat form, none in human form unless the person seeing her knows what she really is, in which case loss is +1.

Magic: 8, refreshed each day at sunset.

Spells: Rat Queens are often friendly with ghouls, and many know how to Call/Dismiss Mordiggian. Rat Queens of this type can also summon ghouls, on a 4-point spend per ghoul summoned.

Create Hypertime Gate is also a common Queen trick. All of them know Dominate, and are very familiar with Idiosyncratic Magic. This last is why so many would-be sorcerers seek them out, often at their peril.

A 2 point Magic spend summons one Rat Thing, or a 20-strong rat swarm. Up to 6 points can be spent this way in one scene.

While in the sewers, a Rat Queen can summon dead toshers from the muck where their forgotten bones sank. Treat as zombies for combat purposes, and for each 1 Magic point spent the Queen gets a tosher. They all have weapons, their hoes, which strike for +1.

Rat Queens know where all kinds of peculiar things are hidden, lost, or abandoned. Seekers after treasure, or just a back way in to some well-guarded sanctum, can bargain with the Queen, but her price is usually very high indeed.

Some Bookhounds claim a Rat Queen can, if she wishes, give their store good luck. A Windfall can be had, if the Bookhounds meet her terms. Of course, her enmity works the other way, and any Bookhound store on the Queen's bad side suffers a Reverse. This is why some nervous Bookhounds frequent East End and riverside pubs; they hope to catch the Queen's roving eye.

Killing and properly disposing of the body of a Rat Queen dispels all of her magical effects, for good or ill. So Windfalls vanish, as well as Reverses. However if it ever becomes known who did it, other Rat Queens, Rat Things and ghoulish allies will take vengeance against the killers.

While Rat Queens don't lead cults, they have many friends in the East End and sewer Flushers, and can call on these friends for any aid short of actual combat. Many of these friends have been the Queen's lover in the past, and bear her bite mark; a useful identification aid for Bookhounds trying to work out who to trust.

Night's Black Agents Variation: though Rat Queens can still be found in the East End, and particularly Docklands, the area has transformed since Mayhew's day, and so have the Queens. Now they can often be found in gastropubs, or the latest two-or-three star restaurant, or some banker's multimillion pound den overlooking the shining City and the Thames. They move among the elite, and have become power players in their own right. Their ability to confer Luck makes them very popular creatures, and they trade on this, changing lovers every other week or so. Rats ride high, in this new London. In a Dracula Dossier game, Dracula long ago learned about the Rat Queens, but whether they became his Minions or remain a neutral supernatural power is an open question. If they did not become minions, they surely resent this foreign parvenu and can be persuaded to become temporary, fickle allies, with the right inducement. If they did, a Queen will be in charge of a London-based Node, perhaps a Satanic temple; they accept nothing less than dominance inside their territory, but aren't interested in anything outside London. In a NBA game without Cthulhu or related magic, assign two free and one other Renfield power to a Queen, and Aberrance 10.


Sunday, 14 April 2019

Espionage FUBAR (GUMSHOE, Night's Black Agents).

This week's post is inspired by recent events in Florida, at the President's member's club Mar-a-Lago.

You've almost certainly seen the reports by now, but a brief recap: a Chinese national was caught by Secret Service agents on Sat 30th March, as she attempted to infiltrate the club with two passports, four cell phones, malware on a data stick, and a laptop with an external hard drive. It's not clear why she was there. The theory being passed around in the papers is that she wanted to infiltrate an event organized by a "spa owner" (alleged whorehouse madam and human trafficker) which was to take place that evening.

It seems remarkably amateurish, especially for China. Given that Mar-a-Lago probably isn't the most secure installation in the world, I'd have thought it'd be much, much easier to suborn a senior staff member at the resort, and keep them on permanent payroll for moments like this. Or even get one of China's people hired as full-time staff. Heck, if all you want to do is put malware on the system, given that Mar-a-Lago's cyber security is probably even shakier than its front door policy, sneaking malware in via someone's Facebook page seems the better bet. Frankly, it sounds more like something North Korea would indulge in, given its penchant for wacky schemes and ambitious hacking.

Gamification coming right up.


The Night's Black Agents hear, via Network - so before the media gets it, but only just - that a security breach at a Conspiracy-friendly government locale was foiled by alert security, and that the person responsible was captured, along with a quantity of suspicious items. Director's choice as to what, exactly, was on the agent when they were captured, but suggested kit includes assassination tools (particularly those known to work on vampires), data sticks chock-full of malware, mini cameras and similar surveillance tools. There's enough information for the agents, particularly anyone with Vampirology, to realize that, whoever it was, they knew enough about vampires to take effective countermeasures against them.

The precise location is going to depend on your campaign, but suggested locales are the House of Parliament in London, a high-profile event venue like the British Museum, the Berlaymont Building in Brussels, the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, or the Victoria Palace in Romania.

This raises two red flags for the agents. First: does this mean there's a Node of the Conspiracy operating at that location? Second: who is this luckless infiltrator, and what do they know about the Conspiracy?

To answer that question, the agents are going to have to rescue the infiltrator, or at least take possession of any notes taken from the infiltrator's interrogation. Both will involve sneaking into a National-level installation at the very least, with all the chicanery that implies. However there's a potential big reward on offer, because apart from anything else, whoever sent that infiltrator in will want them back. That means the agents could earn themselves Excessive Funds, or at least one big, fat, favor from a Vampire program like China's Room 452. The agents will need to move very quickly to pull this off, since it's only a matter of time before the infiltrator is put somewhere even the agents can't break into.

For a Dracula Dossier variant, the agent is from Edom, and might even be a Prince. Pearl is the obvious choice, but Tyler and Elvis are strong contenders. If this happened, then Edom will be very eager to get them back. However it raises a third red flag: was the Prince betrayed by a mole within Edom, or is this an elaborate attempt to defect?


Sunday, 7 April 2019

Hacking Vampire Healthcare (Night's Black Agents)

This week's post is inspired by Verge's article, Health Care's Huge Cybersecurity Problem.

The article's pretty scary. It boils down to this: there are multiple vulnerabilities that can lead to catastrophic breach, hospital cybersecurity is almost nonexistent, and the consequences vary, from bitcoin highwaymen to purpose-built government malware designed to create false diagnoses. Hospital tech is basically a big, expensive black box to the people who rely on it every day, for everything. It can't be replaced easily, it can't be upgraded easily, and to date the focus has been on protecting client personal information, rather than protecting the tech itself. After all, you can be fined for a data security breach. For now, at least, nobody's tried to sue a hospital because its cybersecurity negligence caused permanent health injury - or worse.

How to gamify this?

Consider Night's Black Agents. There are several vampire types - Damned, Supernatural, Alien, Mutant. It's reasonable to presume that Damned and Supernatural types don't interact at all with hospital tech. There's no real biology there - it's all beyond the reach of modern science. However Alien and Mutant types must have some kind of biology, different though it may be. Renfields and other human cut-outs would definitely be affected. Then, of course, there's the Nodes.

With that in mind, some story ideas:

Primary Caregiver: The Beacon Institute is a national, potentially international, Conspiracy Node which poses as a scientific research organization, run by a charity, whose mission is to investigate and cure obscure blood disorders. It keeps a hack team on the books, whose purpose is to spread malware throughout all the hospitals in the country. That malware 'identifies' obscure blood disorders, feeding false diagnoses to selected patients. Those patients can only be treated with drugs issued by a Beacon cutout, but the drugs make the patient seem as if they have symptoms. Patients suffering from these symptoms eventually come knocking on Beacon's door - at which point they vanish. All this is done to secure blood donors for the Conspyramid, either as some sort of long-term scheme involving blood type McGuffins, or for some other reason. Perhaps particular blood types are tastier, or perhaps the vampires have a pressing need for blood in large quantities on demand. Perhaps the vampires use this to lure important targets into the Node's clutches, where they can be Renfielded.

Enemy Of My Enemy: Rogue vampire-hunters have seeded hospitals throughout the country with malware, to identify Renfields, and possibly also vampires, if their biology can be analyzed by human technology. The vampire hunters then track the targets, capture them, interrogate them, and kill them. The problem is, this system throws up a number of false positives, people who have nothing to do with the Conspyracy but whose quirky biology make them seem to have the taint. The agents are alerted when someone close to them turns up dead, apparently the victim of a medical 'accident.' Dracula Dossier Variant: as above, except the system is more sophisticated, and run by Prince. She's using malware developed by friends in Israel to carry out the con. If the agents are Edom, then she's using them to distribute the malware and further investigate the targets after they've been identified by the malware.

Caught in the Middle: Third party hackers based in Ukraine get more than they bargained for, when malware the group uses on hospitals turns up at a Node caregiver facility. The hack group just wanted bitcoin, but it ended up with several GB worth of Conspiracy data and a hit squad. The data's out there on the net, nested in a neutral hospital database. The hack team wanted to sell it to the highest bidder, but now most of them are dead and the rest in hiding. Which hospital has the data? Can the agents get to it before the Conspyracy does? Maybe if the agents can track down the surviving hackers they might get a jump on the vampires, but that means a trip to Luhansk, currently held by the People's Republic.

That's it for this week! Enjoy.