Monday, 22 September 2014

Night's Black Agents: The Nature of Conspiracy pt 2

In a previous segment I discussed how a Director might work out what the Conspiracy's been up to, before the protagonists arrived. I summed it all up in a Mission Statement for each Conspiracy, describing its current goals in one sentence. Now I'm going to discuss the Conspyramid in a little more detail, and show why having a Mission Statement can pay off big time for the Director.

The Conspyramid is the structure by which the Conspiracy is organized. The main book suggests building a structure with six levels, each ascending level having fewer, more important nodes. A node can be a gang, a cell withing an organization, a facility or institution, a powerful individual, a whole subverted agency, or anything else that might be part of the vampire conspiracy. The Level 1 nodes tend to be the weakest, street-level faces or the organization, a Level 2 has power that might affect a whole city, Level 3s are provincial powers, Level 4s are national powers, Level 5s are supranational powers, and Level 6 is top branch: the core leadership cadre.

The Mission Statement should be treated as a broad guideline for the kind of nodes that might exist within your Conspyramid. The Mission Statement begs a question: in order to achieve that goal, what does the Conspiracy need? Answering that question gives you the basis for your entire Conspyramid.

To demonstrate this, I'm going to take the Supernatural Mission Statement and expand on it. Remember, the Supernatural vampire type is the result of otherworldly activities on Earth, and by implication lives in a world where there are plenty of other supernatural types: ghosts, witches, and so on. The Mission Statement in this instance is: The premier supplier of Gray in the Western World

So what's Gray? Gray is a kind of narcotic made from ghosts, which vampires find particularly enthralling and addictive. They might need blood to live, but they crave Gray the same way humans crave heroin or cocaine. In fact Gray is a term I've stolen from heroin addiction; it's a slightly altered form of one of the terms used to describe the mixture of blood and narcotic in the syringe. The original term is gravy, as in 'shoot the gravy.' I'm picturing Gray as a form of heroin admixed with processed ghosts, not unlike cutting a drug with, say, rat poison.

Given this, it's reasonable to assume that an otherwise careful supernatural vampire, hooked through the bag on Gray, might do pretty much anything to get more. It's also reasonable to assume that a human using Gray might end up much as a heroin user would after injecting heroin mixed with strychnine: that is, dead. In fact, doubly dead, given that the mix was ghost to begin with.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First let's talk about that Mission Statement, and what it means for the Conspyramid. If your organization wants to become the premier supplier of Gray in the Western World, what does it need?

At the lowest rung of the ladder, all those Level 1 Nodes, it needs groups and individuals that can help it move and market product. It's not about selling vials on streetcorners; vampires are notoriously reclusive, so the Conspiracy has to go to them. It needs runners who can deliver, it needs access to ports and airports, and it needs someone to do the tedious legwork of chasing down its customers, finding out where they live and establishing contact so that the Conspiracy can make another sale.

There's no reason you can't play with this concept. Suppose there's a celebrity vampire hunter in your world, a Seán Manchester crossed with Peter Vincent who does all kinds of talk shows and low-budget stuff. That's the perfect cover for a Level 1 marketing expert, someone who finds the customer for the Conspiracy. An occult group like the Golden Dawn could be another Level 1 marketing node; the Victorian original spawned so many lookalikes, imitators and alleged inheritors of the mantle that it's perfectly reasonable to assume a modern Golden Dawn infesting each nation in Europe, using its magician initiates to research and identify possible customers. Bicycle couriers, individual members of a nation's Customs Authority, any number of small airports are also good node fits. Low-cost air carriers like Ryanair made their fortune utilizing ex-military bases in the early 2000s; no reason why the Conspiracy couldn't have snaffled a few of those bases for their own use, or be piggybacking on the low-cost crowd.

An alternate Level 1, of course, is the customer itself. This vampire isn't part of the Conspiracy, but it knows someone who is; that same marketing expert who made the pitch in the first place. That would definitely require a face-to-face; a vampire isn't about to buy anything, sight unseen, from some chancer. There would need to be at least one sales pitch, from the Level 1. That in turn exposes the Conspyramid to risk, if the vampire is identified by other groups. An otherwise careful vampire who's been living quietly off of the locals for decades might get very sloppy if he's craving Gray, which will in turn alert the protagonists, as news stories leak out.

There's a further potential Level 1: a dead human addict. Any large organization has its fuck-ups and breakdowns; in this example, a batch of Gray ended up in the hands of a human addict who shot up, and promptly died in spectacular fashion. Spectacular enough to make the news, and probably also blogs and YouTube videos, as amateur ghost-hunters descend on the site to find out why, say, entities from the French Revolution are suddenly infesting a Berlin squat. Technically this isn't part of the Conspyramid proper, but whichever Level 1 managed to cock up so spectacularly as to deliver Gray to a non-customer is going to want to cover its tracks, and that exposes the Conspyramid to even more danger.

Let's move on to the Level 2 node. This is the national level node, the first one with real pull. If an entire Customs Authority, or at least its top ranking officials, has been subverted then that makes it a Level 2. A national level politician, or even a Eurocrat, is probably also a Level 2. The import-export company that transports Gray is a Level 2, and if we're using a low-cost airline like Ryanair in that role, then that airline is a Level 2.

Going further, what else does this Conspiracy need? Well, at the moment it has marketing, sales, and supply all at Level 1. What it lacks at the moment is a product, and for that it needs ghosts and heroin, as well as a means of cutting the ghosts with the heroin. That suggests factories of some kind, as well as a means of collection. It also suggests groups whose purpose in life is psychical research. If a university's parapsychology department has been subverted in order to concentrate on searching for and collecting ghosts, that would make it a Level 2; it might also make its grad students potential Level 1s in their own right. A highly placed Renfield in a crime syndicate, tasked with ensuring safe delivery of the heroin, is also a Level 2. I'm not picturing the factories as anything more sophisticated than the average meth lab, and there are probably quite a few of them scattered all over the target area. Each of those labs, complete with technicians and possibly also security, is a Level 2 in its own right. Whether they're interconnected in some way - perhaps all have the same cover story - is another matter.

Speaking of interconnection, these groups need a means of communication, and coordination. Individual members can get by on burner phones, but once you get to the stage when groups of people, institutions and factories are involved, something more sophisticated is needed to assist in coordinating efforts. After all, there's a lot of product to be obtained, cut, shipped and marketed. That implies a central hub of some kind, but preferably one that's divorced from the upper levels of the Conspyramid. It doesn't do anyone any good if, by capturing and squeezing some Level 1 pusher, an enemy can leapfrog straight up to the highest levels of command. Say this central hub is internet based, an email system or a BBS. Suppose the Conspiracy kept some tame black hat hackers on the payroll, a tiger team maintaining security on its Level 1 and Level 2 network. That tiger team would itself be a Level 2. Nobody above Level 2 would be on that network, but it would allow groups at Level 2 or below to keep in contact. Presumably there's one member of the tiger team with a telephone number, or other means of communication, with a Level 3. 

Speaking of which, here we are at Level 3. Now we're at the provincial level; if an entire ministry within a nation is compromised, or if there's an entity within the Conspiracy capable of doing significant damage, this is where it's probably going to be. There's one element of the Conspiracy as we've been considering it that hasn't been discussed, and that's Security. This is basically one big drug cartel, and an organization of this type is going to have both 'ordinary' enemies - public officials, police, nosy reporters, basically ordinary humans - and the other kind, the kind that perhaps knows about vampires and, more importantly, knows how to kill them.

At least two, probably three nodes at this level will be dedicated to security. One node is a top-notch criminal law firm; if any of the nodes below Level 3 get into legal difficulty, these are the people who show up to deal with it. Another is the heavy mob, and if ever there's a time to use, say, a completely subverted special forces detachment, like a platoon (or whatever the term would be) from Germany's KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte, it is now. That heavy mob deals with any mortal threat that can't otherwise be handled through legal means. A third has got to be a specialized heavy mob, for use only in those circumstances where a vampire - possibly a dissatisfied customer - is involved. Perhaps there genuinely is an actual vampire hunter out there that the Conspiracy has on its payroll for special tasks; it might even be a religious order of some kind or, say, a senior member of the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Let's not forget that tiger team at Level 2, the one handling communications. It has to report to someone, and that someone is a vampire, or someone of equivalent authority, at Level 3. That entity's sole purpose is to act as Hermes for the Conspiracy, delivering information by word of mouth alone. Hermes deals with the other Level 3 nodes directly, face-to-face meetings only, and also communicates information to the Level 4 nodes. Hermes might even know who is at Level 5, but that's dangerous information to possess. 

From here we pass on to Level 4, the National branch. There's one more aspect of a Conspiracy of this type that hasn't been discussed so far: the money angle. Nobody's in this business for their health, and if a Conspiracy of this type has been formed to deliver Gray, then Gray must be fantastically valuable. Rivers of cash must be flowing up the chain, otherwise there's no point. Those rivers need to be directed, properly laundered, and distributed, and that means a Bank. Probably a private bank, unincorporated, that handles all the financial transactions as discreetly as possible. Only nodes at Level 3 and up will be aware of this Bank, and probably not all the Level 3s; no point in telling the heavy mob, for instance, where the money's coming from.

Equally if there's a significant individual within the Conspiracy tasked with acting as an adviser on field operations - a form of consigliere - Level 4 is where that individual will be. That individual needs to be close enough to the operation to be aware of its day-to-day operations, while at the same time be far enough away from the front lines so as not to become a target. A consigliere is also tasked with handling disputes, so if there's any issue between nodes at Level 4, 3, or maybe even 2, this individual will be involved, though it's unlikely that it gets face-to-face with a Level 2 node.

Since this is a drug racket, if there's a task force that deals with international smuggling that has been subverted by the Conspiracy, that will become a Level 4 node. Someone, probably several someones, at Interpol, say, or someone involved with anti-money laundering efforts at the EU. This particular node might not know as much about the Conspiracy as the others, but over time it could have gathered a significant amount of surprising information. Interpol, for instance, dates back to 1923; who knows what could be hidden in its files? Names, dates, incident reports; the Conspiracy would probably prefer those files were shredded or burnt, but there's any number of surprised and convicted criminals out there who can testify that, when it really matters, sometimes, somehow, the documents turn up.

Now we've reached Level 5, the Supranational level. If the Conspiracy has a Think Tank on its payroll, planning future operations, this is where it will be. Remember, the Conspiracy wants to expand operations further afield; it needs someone to plan for that, to establish contact in those markets, to make deals and identify opportunities. Equally if the Conspiracy has some kind of mad scientist type, perhaps someone who's been ghost-gathering since the Victorian era and who knows the process backwards and sideways, this is where that individual will be, probably in its own padded cell with lots of colored chalk and as many chalkboards as it wants.  R&D is vital to any forward-thinking business, and this is ultimately a business; what matter if the head researcher likes to eat babies, so long as it delivers?

Finally there is Level 6: the Board. The no-nonsense creatures of the night who run this operation. The Board is probably made up of the original members - the ones who formed the business back in whenever-it-may-have-been - and representatives from the competitors it has absorbed, over time. Perhaps there's some ill feeling about that; some Board members may feel that their past contributions haven't been properly rewarded. Be that as it may. The Board is still the Board, and woe betide anyone who manages to get quite that close to the Conspiracy's heart.

I hope this discussion has been useful to the Directors out there! Good luck, and good hunting.

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