Friday, 18 July 2014

Gumshoe Night's Black Agents Scenario Seed: The Incident

Pelgrane's Night's Black Agents is rapidly becoming one of my favorite systems, despite me not having that many chances to play it. I wanted to talk about an idea that's been bouncing around in my head for a while, which can be used as a scenario seed in your game. The pitch is this: what happens if an accident upsets everyone's plans, right in the middle of a complex transaction or investigation?

I first began thinking of this idea when watching West Wing, specifically season 3 episode 17 'Stirred'. One of the plot elements in that episode is a truck crash in an Idaho tunnel that causes a massive environmental hazard as waste from uranium fuel rods are spread all over the shop, and the President isn't sure, at first, whether this is a genuine accident or an act of terrorism. Yet similar things happen all the time: ships sink, or go missing, aircraft crash, buildings catch fire, people die. An important government official is found dead in an airport first class waiting lounge: natural causes, or no? A helicopter carrying NGO doctors is shot down by rebels or separatists while flying in a disputed zone, and all aboard are killed: an act of war, an assassination attempt, or something else? A train derails in a vital rail hub in an urban center, killing ten and injuring dozens more: faulty maintenance, driver error, something else? Forgotten vials are found in a lab containing plague germs that could theoretically wipe out half the planet; how did they get there, and are there more?

Then add Night's Black Agents into the mix, and wonder what happens if a Vampire is among the dead. There are any number of organizations who'd want to know what happened, why, and where the body is now. Particularly the body; any organization not part of the conspyramid will want that for their own research purposes. Powerful civilian groups as well as government agencies could be involved at that stage. Del Toro's The Strain, now a TV series, has a good example of this with its industrialist/power broker Eldritch Palmer; though I am not a fan of the books and haven't seen the FX TV show yet, there were some fun moments to be had and it's worth having a look if only for research purposes.

First let's consider the setting. This incident can happen anywhere, but it might be at its best when the protagonists have to deal with the culture shock of moving from a highly technical environment to one considerably less sophisticated. For that reason I'm going to put this in Nigeria, where conflict with Islamic militants is ongoing, but really it could be set in any of the many potential African war zones.

Let's further assume the conspyramid has a definite reason for having one of its nodes there. If it's Africa then we're probably talking about natural resources, perhaps minerals, gold or jewels. The conspyramid's influence has been detected by the protagonists, who decide to travel down to one of the major cities to find out more. Since this is Nigeria, let's make the city Lagos, and the resource tantalite, which the conspyramid is busily mining. For a game with a more science fiction bent, the conspyramid could also be infiltrating Nigeria's fledgeling National Space Research and Development Agency Headquarters for reasons of its own.

The protagonists are investigating this latest problem when, by pure chance, a terrorist bombing at a marketplace in a small city in Northern Nigeria, followed by an explosion at a hospital intended to catch first responders, kills a vampire among the hundreds dead and injured. Not just dead, either; bits are scattered all over the shop. The vampire was part of a hitherto unsuspected conspyramid operation at the hospital, which is now in complete disarray.

Now this becomes a time-sensitive problem. The bombers - presumably Boko Haram - have some of the body, civilians have some, and the Nigerian government, in the form of the hospital administrators, have the rest. Among the many institutions that might be interested in acquiring all those bits are the CIA, the Nigerian government, any foreign government - like China - which has ties with the Nigerian government, and of course the conspyramid itself, particularly if there's any chance that the remains might be revived. It's likely that not all of the institutions listed really know what they have; Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, for instance, might only have a very limited idea, though of course if the remains are unusual in any way - they glow with a blue light, kill everything they touch, emit strange silver worms and so on - they'll want to keep hold of what they have.

Then of course there's the conspyramid operation itself, which is now completely blown in more ways than one. Its computers and, far more importantly, its paperwork and samples are now scattered all over the street. Looters almost certainly helped themselves to a hard drive or two. Again, all the above agencies will be interested in getting that data, though not all of them will understand what it means.

The protagonists will have to get to the scene - no easy task, given that the city's in chaos and the military's dashing about like a headless chicken - get what they want, and get out, all without being intercepted or killed. This may mean negotiating with terrorists, like Boko Haram; it may mean bribing corrupt officials, raiding a morgue or two, dodging CIA investigators. It almost certainly involves at least one chase scene through the crowded streets, as conspyramid heavies close in looking for the same stuff the protagonists are trying to collect. Meanwhile if the remains - whether the vampire's, or the samples it was collecting - are in any way dangerous to human life, then people will be dropping like flies from a mysterious contagion. This does at least have the advantage of pinpointing potential locations, but an epidemic in one of the most populous countries in Africa is the last thing anyone needs. Particularly since it will draw in NGOs, health organizations, and more government organizations, all eager to contain the initial incident.

I hope this helps you! We'll talk again soon.

1 comment:

  1. It's a good idea to get a game running. One problem I see is that if the vampire was destroyed by the blast, explosives will be your party's weapon of choice for the rest of the campaign since they know it does the trick. On the other hand, if there are significant pieces of a vampire at large, depending on the proximity to the blast, they might not stay inert.

    I would probably want to have something special in this attack, which might be overlooked for a time: perhaps there was a silversmith set up close to ground zero, and shrapnel was responsible for the vampiric casualty (which also provides an opportunity for gathering a neat clue).