Monday, 15 September 2014

Night's Black Agents: The Nature of Conspiracy

I really wish I had more opportunities to play this game face to face, as the Gods of Tabletop intended. It's an exceptionally fun system and a very intriguing world concept. One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the nature of the Conspyramid, the way in which the Vampire conspiracy is organized, and wondering how it can be manipulated to best serve the game.

For example, in the Double Tap expansion Kenneth Hite talks about alternate eras for the game, such as Victorian, World War Two or the Cold War, and that got me wondering: how many Directors sit down and work out what the Conspiracy's been up to? What are its long term goals? Have those goals changed over the course of time, and if so what did that mean for the nature of the Conspiracy?

Any organized group has a long term goal, though most of them these days frame it in the form of a mission statement. Why does this organization exist? What does it want to accomplish, and what is it prepared to do in order to achieve those goals? From there other questions flow, such as, what does it need in order to do what it wants to do, where does it get the capital to finance its activities, and what kind of personnel will it want to recruit?

The game presupposes four base types of opponent: supernatural, damned, alien and mutant. I'm going to consider each in turn.

Supernatural: vampires are the result of magical or other supernatural activities on Earth; spirits, ghosts, witchcraft and the like. OK, let's presuppose that, in this campaign, vampires are created by necromantic activity, and while their bodies need blood in order to survive, ghosts are like cocaine or narcotics to them. A Conspyramid in this kind of game could be formed in order to supply this cocaine to other vampires. It would be interested in historical sites and artifacts, but demand is going to far exceed supply, and where in the real world this imbalance is usually met by price increases, it also often creates alternate suppliers, bad product, and a desire to increase supply. The Conspiracy, in its early incarnation, might have been behind Europe's colonial era, hoping to expand supply by opening up new sources of production. When that didn't work out, it might have tried to foster wars - even the Great War - hoping that the new machines it created to harvest ghosts would increase supply radically. Perhaps that didn't work out; the machines might have created bad product, or the War might have created new competition in the market as alternate suppliers gain a foothold. The market crashes, the Conspiracy is weakened, and when the Second World War breaks out it discovers that its competition has new ideas about market share, and the Conspiracy isn't invited. Cue the Cold War, aka the Conspiracy Fights Back, leveraging its position in Europe's governments to crush alternate suppliers by poisoning the supply, forcing its competitors to toe the line, eventually absorbing most of them into the Conspiracy. Now it's the Modern Era, where the Conspiracy is on top again. It wants to strengthen its hold on supply, absorbing the last of the competition while at the same time establishing its dominance in new markets like Russia and China.

Mission statement: The premier supplier of Gray in the Western World.

Damned: Vampires are the work of Satan or other explicitly demonic creatures opposed to mankind and God. This is a tricky one, in that it presupposes first, an origin story that dates back to before recorded history and indeed before Man itself, and second, it strongly suggests that the Conspiracy is not independent. Instead it works for a Higher Power, though in this case it might be more apt to call it a Lower Power. Very well; then let's take the Antichrist as our motivator here, and presuppose that the Vampires are ultimately descended from the spirits described in Revelations: And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.This Conspiracy is preparing for the day, as yet unknown, when the Final Battle will wash all creation in blood. In order to do so it has been preparing, protecting, and disseminating the seed from which the Antichrist will be born. This Conspiracy fosters the great migrations, like the flow of immigrants from the Old World to the Americas in the later Victorian period, in order to preserve that seed. It has great long lists in its archives of who begat who, and where; monasteries stuffed with genealogies, eventually replaced by think tanks with computer databases, all diligently recording everything its potential antichrists do. An orphan in Birmingham may be as important to the Conspiracy as a billionaire in Bombay. This kind of Conspiracy would be very interested in anything to do with genetics, and manipulation of embryos in the womb to promote or restrict certain characteristics. However with a religious outlook on life comes every religion's favorite game: the Schism. Somebody's going to have a preferred bloodline, and want to promote it above all others. Perhaps the Donovans who went to America in 1903 are the ones most likely to bring about the Apocalypse, or perhaps the sons of the Church the Pascuttis of Northern Italy have tried to stake their claim. The Conspiracy could have spent the last hundred years or more squabbling with itself, with rival factions happily slaughtering entire families in order to ensure that its favored bloodline makes it to the top. In that world, a disaster like the Titanic's sinking might have been manipulated in order to ensure that one specific person drowned at exactly the right moment. Meanwhile, that final War is coming, and there are vampires at top levels of the military in every government whose fingers have been itching on that trigger for more than half a century. What if someone decided 'kill them all, for Satan knows who is His'?

Mission statement: To protect and prepare the Chosen One.

Alien: Vampires are alien beings, or earthly beings who nevertheless follow different laws of physics. Let's presuppose in this instance that the vampires are truly alien, not earthly in any way. I'm going to steal an idea from Quatermass II - which I highly recommend - and suggest that the creatures fell from space, infected a certain percentage of the host population, and the infected then set about creating an environment in which the original creatures can live. That in turn suggests a definitive timetable: the vampires have a set date on which the original creatures are to arrive, and must meet their goal by that date. At the same time their goal requires a massive expenditure of energy and equipment, which means it can only be achieved by cannibalizing a nation state's worth of resources. In this world the government, probably more than one, has already been taken over, and the facilities are being built. This is a process that probably takes up all of the Cold War, and began earlier than that; say the creatures arrive shortly before or during World War Two, begin colonizing where they land, and start infecting useful humans as soon as possible. They spend the Cold War identifying suitable targets - any nation with the potential for a space program - and, once a target is identified, using that space program as the stepping stone for the Conspiracy's goals. The Director could have great fun with a V2 rocket spy one-off, in which the protagonists first identify potential aliens in the German weapons program, only to see those infected scientists snapped up by Russia and America. Was this unintentional, or were sympathizers in both governments trying to save their infected comrades in Germany? By the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Modern Era either the Conspiracy has subverted all of its chosen targets, or it has succeeded in most and failed in others. That second option in turn suggests that some nations are aware of the infection, though probably not cognizant of the Conspiracy's higher goals. Naturally they can't tell anyone; stating that an otherwise friendly nation is the tool of an alien conspiracy isn't something sane prime ministers do. Yet they will have their own intelligence apparatus on the lookout for possible infestation, in some cases perhaps sending kill teams to other countries to eliminate the threat. Even so, the Doomsday Clock is ticking; the Conspiracy is about to achieve its long term goal, unless someone does something. Like, for example, destroy all those facilities it's been building to house the aliens ...

Mission statement: We shall build Utopia.

Mutant: Vampires are earthly beings infected or changed by (or into) some freak of nature. Let's suppose that there is such a thing as a vampire gene, that it existed in the Classical world and that it spread West from there, only to be all but exterminated by the Black Death and the persecutions that followed. What with y pestis slaughtering untold millions in its first appearance in the early 1300s, then recurring again and again up to the early 1600s, followed by persecutions, witch burnings and the final vampire purges of the early 1700s, it seemed as if the mutant vampire was eradicated from the earth. Then, in the Victorian period, the few scattered remnants of the breed begin to reestablish themselves. The initial focus of this nascent Conspiracy is on survival; it never wants to come that close to extinction again. However it soon becomes obsessed with its origins. What is the vampire inheritance? Can it be promoted? Why is it so vulnerable to certain diseases, and can it be protected against them? Virologists and scientists in the colonies and darkest corners of the earth might be funded by this Conspiracy, desperate for knowledge. The Conspiracy might even start funding or infiltrating relief organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, in hopes of learning more about itself by studying viruses and diseases across the globe. This Conspiracy also has the potential to become a colonizing power. Say it becomes aware of a strain of other mutations, like the Penangglan of Southeast Asia.It's going to want to study this variant to see how it evolved, and whether its mutation has any benefit to the Conspiracy. Naturally this doesn't bode well for the Penangglan. The protagonists could even be caught up in the hunt as potential, unwitting allies of the Conspiracy, in a bring-em-back-alive romp through, say, Vietnam and Cambodia; Platoon mixed with R-Point, except this time the CIA - or something that passes for the CIA - is pulling the strings. That could lead neatly into a Cold War game, as the Conspiracy starts pushing its genetics program, hoping to create the perfect mutation; one that is truly invulnerable to disease, and spreads much more quickly than in previous variants. This Conspiracy hopes for a breakthrough event in the Modern Era, one in which it can release a perfected bioweapon, ensuring its continued survival by eliminating the competition once and for all while at the same time promoting its own genetic superiority.

Mission statement: To ensure our survival and eventual triumph.

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