Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Argh! Boat Promises Something For Everyone (Night's Black Agents)

You may have noticed that zombie hordes are about to overrun a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Pearl. It's all part of a Walking Dead theme event run by Walker Stalker Con, and the Pearl will leave Miami packed to the gills with ravening undead in January next year. Which begs a question: in a cruise liner packed with fake undead, how would you tell if real ones were on board too?

Unless you've been aboard a modern liner, you really don't know what to expect. The Pearl boasts a 'chic bowling alley, sicteen delicious dining options, thirteen bars and lounges, dazzling casino, tranquil spa, and spacious Garden Villas ... just a few things that make this Jewel Class cruise ship a destination of her own.' But really, if your expectations have been tempered by old films of the Titanic and the other luxury liners of the so-called golden age - roughly 1900 to 1945 - you wouldn't recognize ships like the Pearl as a liner at all. It's a floating entertainment complex, a Busch Gardens on the ocean. Can a bowling alley ever be considered chic? Who cares! What matters is the twenty-four-hour service, the booming soundtrack on the dance floor, the piles of glittering stuff for you to buy, or be distracted by. You never even have to get off the boat and interact with those tacky locals; heck, you never have to see the ocean, if you don't want to.

Though there have been scenarios set aboard luxury liners, they tend to be the old-school glitter palaces. I've written two, Millionaire's Special and Vaterland, and there's at least one Call of Cthulhu scenario, The Mauretania. That's not counting any of the campaigns which might, as a side adventure, have the characters travel aboard luxury ships on their way to the next scenario destination. To my knowledge nobody has ever tried to set a horror scenario aboard a modern ship. With that in mind, let's discuss the cruise liner, and its possible uses in Night's Black Agents.

Since NBA is more of a European-focus setting, and since we started this talking about NCL's liners, let's look at NCL's Epic class ships, which travel to Italy, Spain and the Med. These things are massive, capable of transporting 4,100 guests, never mind the crew, and like pretty much every other luxury liner out there, NCL tries to persuade its guests to spend time, and thus money, on its facilities. Want an adults-only private beach party? Done. Aqua Park? Done. Sake Bar? Done. Ice Bar? Done. Live theatre? Done. Luxury spa? Done and done. It's loud, it's youth-oriented, and you've got money to burn. Time to set it on fire!

Generally speaking, the crew aren't supposed to fraternize with the guests, but that rule often gets overlooked. However there's often significant staff churn; it's a hard life, without many breaks, and the staff aren't encouraged to linger in the passenger areas. There are separate recreational facilities for staff; wouldn't do to see your deck steward gambling away his paycheck in the ship's casino, after all. This means that Disguise checks for protagonists passing themselves off as crew may be easier than expected; even fellow crew can't keep track of all these new faces, coming and going at every port. So long as you're not trying to pass yourself off as the captain or senior staff, it should be simple to slip on a staff jacket and go unnoticed.

From a Digital Intrusion point of view, the ship's main systems will be reasonably well protected, but anything else will be crackable. There's just too many possible points of infiltration; nobody could hope to protect the entire system. Plus there are all those o-so-tempting security cameras, keeping watch on every corridor and public area. How could you resist them?

Chase scenes can run the gamut. You could be on deck one minute, dodging through the water park, and running through a casino in the next chase increment. Chase scenes aboard a liner favor the Athletic, and anyone who can do parkour will have a field day. However due to the number of people and things littering the landscape, most chase increments should be considered Cramped. Normal is the best you can hope for; try not to trip over someone's toddler while making your escape through the bowling alley!

Remember too that we came to all this through the Walking Dead. Suppose this is a theme cruise, based on some popular vampire TV show, or perhaps it's a Halloween voyage. The Chase scene was already pretty convoluted; now you're doing the exact same thing, except through a horde of maybe-maybe-not undead. Is that fake blood, or the real thing? Is the nosferatu you just bumped into on the dance floor the genuine article? Who can say?

High Society types, especially those with Flirting, are going to get on very well in this type of scenario. It's a target-rich environment, and you can meet anyone here, from minor celebrities on down. It's also a target-rich environment for the criminal element, so expect to meet some of the smoothest con artists and pickpockets in the trade. 

So why is the Conspiracy involved? Well, there are several options:

  1. Smuggling. The cruise lines don't like to talk about it, but smuggling is a real problem. A liner is a massive operation, traveling from port to port; very difficult to police. Smaller items, like narcotics, are the easiest to transport, particularly since, in this era of GPS, the simple solution is to dump the cargo in a watertight container, before you ever reach port, and let the locals pick it up. This works best with small packages but more substantial cargo could be offloaded, under the right circumstances.
  2. Transport. Cruise liners go from port to port under relatively lax surveillance. Nobody wants to be the one to upset the goose that's laying the golden egg, after all, and these ships are very big business. Someone who wants to skip the country without passing through those surveillance-heavy airports can do so aboard a liner without as much fear of capture.
  3. Clandestine meetings. A secret meeting held in plain sight can be very useful; who would suspect that innocent-seeming tourist is actually a bioweapons expert, trying to sell his latest product to the highest bidder?
  4. Assassination. People die on cruise liners all the time, but the line generally prefers not to advertise this fact. Most cruise crime cases go unreported, and often when you see mention of a crew member who's gone missing, that means suicide. Perhaps that Norovirus outbreak is cover for something more sinister ...
That's it for now. Enjoy!

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