Sunday, 13 August 2017

Dry As Dust (Night's Black Agents)

I was going to talk about something else, but then a question popped up on Ken & Robin's podcast about Dust mode in Night's Black Agents.

It occurred to me that I've been working on just that very thing for a writing project I'd like to see come to fruition, so with that in mind:

Dust Mode

[REDACTED] is written with Dust mode in mind.
Dust tends to be less cinematic than the standard setting. Characters are still badass, but they’re not Jason Bourne badass. Death is an ever-present reminder that mistakes may be forgivable but are also fatal. The vampires and their human allies tend to be much more challenging in open combat.
Dust tends to work well with Mirror mode, that shifting morass of ever-changing loyalties which makes heavy use of the Trust and Betrayal mechanics described on pages 40-41 of the main book.
The following rules modifications are required for [REDACTED's] Dust mode:
·         Remove the MOS rules.
·         Remove Cherry benefits that result in automatic success.
·         Keep Cherry benefits that do not imply automatic success, eg Medical School of Hard Knocks with its bonus point in Diagnosis.
·         Cap Health at 10.
·         Keep the Thriller Combat rules.
·         Use the Guns Kill rules given on page 63 of the main book.
The Thriller Combat rules make combats more interesting, as do Cherries like Martial Arts. Equally the Athletics Cherry gives access to Parkour, which allows for better chase scenes.
The point being that simply having access to those rules does not imply automatic success; just because a character is experienced in Parkour doesn’t mean she won’t screw up the vault.
However the MOS rules and Cherries like Infiltration’s Open Sesame do allow automatic success, and therefore should not be used if the Director intends to play this setting in Dust mode.
There are some grey area Cherries, and the Director should make a judgement call as to whether to use them. Gambling’s Luck of the Devil Cherry, for example, allows the player to make a dice roll at the beginning of the session and decide when to use it. Technically this could allow an automatic success, or an automatic failure.
The Director must decide whether this benefit is applicable in Dust mode. In my Dust games I allow it, on the basis that the Cherry does not necessarily result in automatic success or failure; the Difficulty of the test still needs to be taken into account.  
If Mirror mode is to be used then players assign Trust as usual.
It sometimes happens in Mirror games that the Betrayer reveals that they’ve been working for ‘the other side’ all along, where the other side is often an intelligence agency. In the example in the main book, Beatrice tells her companions Jack and Luc that she’s been working for the DGSE, the French external intelligence agency, all along.
In this setting, it’s also possible that the Betrayer is working for one of the players in this high-stakes game, like [YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT'S REDACTED]. The Director should consider carefully whether to allow this; it may be that aligning with one of the in-game agencies allows the player greater access to in-game secrets.
That said, it’s perfectly in keeping with Mirror mode to have a character announce she’s been bought off by one of the in-game agencies. If the Director wishes to allow it, by all means do so.

Why, Bob? Why?
Ultimately the point behind Dust mode is that it's gritty, more realistic, potentially more fatal. In Anthony Price's novels combat is rare, but when it happens somebody dies. In Price's war novels, like Hour of the Donkey, there's death by the bucketload; an entire unit is wiped out in the first few pages of Donkey. 
So the Thriller Combat rules have their uses. True, they add cinema, but they also increase the stakes, particularly if the Guns Kill rules are used. Plus, the players love Thriller Combat, possibly because it gives them the illusion of control. Never take away anything the players love. It's much better to destroy the things they love, preferably with as much drama and fanfare as possible. Try to arrange a brass band, possibly a few elephants. Elephants add class to every occasion.
That said, the MOS rules can be a problem because they allow the players to eliminate serious threats without rolling dice or spending points. One automatic success later, and the encounter that the Director thought would be challenging is reduced to a brief cameo moment, starring 'pink brain mist' in tonight's climactic scene. For much the same reason, Cherries that give automatic success are also difficult to deal with. Preparedness can be particularly annoying, but there are plenty of others.
Players become more concerned if they know they have to spend points to guarantee success, because their points pools are finite. Sure, at the beginning of the session they have pools for days, and can take on any foe, but they know and you know that, at the midway point, things change. The center cannot hold
To quote LBJ - or possibly John Wayne or Teddy Roosevelt - if you grab them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow. 
Inject anxiety into the equation. Make the players question whether they can hold out long enough. Once they start thinking they might not have enough oomph for yet another gunfight, they'll do their best to avoid another gunfight.

Finally, a word about the Guns Kill rules.

It's one thing to see those rules in print, something else again when the first player drops from, say, 5 Health to -6 in a single shot. The first time something like that happens, prepare for falling jaws to splinter floorboards. Assume Health 10, and two shooters, both of whom hit the target. On an average roll of 4+, the target is in serious trouble. If the total is much more than that - if one rolls 4, the other 6, say, or 2 5s - then the target is already on -6 Health, possibly in the first round of combat.

If that doesn't cause the players to rethink their John Woo ways, nothing will.

Enjoy!



Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Facility (RPG Any. GUMSHOE)

The agents gather their forces and prepare to strike. The opposition won't know what hit them - or at least, that's the idea. But what are the agents assaulting, and how difficult will their task be?

Any organized group, whatever its objective, has assets of one kind or another. Often these assets are brick-and-mortar buildings, facilities whose efforts assist the group's goals. For the purpose of this discussion I'm going to use Esoterrorists as an example, but the concepts discussed here could apply across the board. It doesn't matter whether Vampires or Cultists are behind the latest threat to humanity; certain characteristics are shared.

The purpose of this segment is to give you, the Keeper/Director, some basic vocabulary to describe these facilities to the players. This will be particularly useful if you have to do this on the fly, without much prior preparation. This will most often happen in an improvisational game, in which the characters are likely to go off-script in search of adventure.

So what are these facilities?

They:
  • Manufacture,
  • Collect,
  • Distribute, or
  • Analyze.
A manufacturing facility makes something, a collection facility stores it, a distribution hub delivers it, and an analyzing facility investigates.

So to take an Esoterror cell devoted to weakening the membrane by any means necessary, that group has means by which it collects material to further its cause, makes that material, distributes it, or tries to find new ways to make, distribute or collect it. For purposes of this example it doesn't really matter what that material is - it's a pure McGuffin.

What do all these facilities have in common? They need:
  • Security, and,
  • Monitoring.
Someone has to keep the facility maintained and safe from prying eyes. This may mean a simple padlock on an important door, or a full-fledged electronic surveillance system. Also, someone has to monitor what's going on, whether the facility is doing as it should.

For purposes of gamification, the Security and Monitoring aspects of any facility ought to be given a basic rating, Low, Medium, or High. This determines the Difficulty of any given test against or within the facility.

So for example: this Collection facility has Low Security and Low Monitoring. It isn't very important to the grand design, or the cell doesn't have the resources to look after this and its other facilities too. This implies that any attempt to Infiltrate the facility, use Digital Intrusion to crack its online database, or really to attempt any test, is, at most, 3, assuming the Gumshoe default of Difficulty 4 for all tests.  

This implies that the Collection facility has only the most basic of security. Maybe there's a guard at the door, or a few badly placed, cheapo cameras. It also implies that the characters may be able to infiltrate the facility without being seen, and if they leave without blowing the place up or burning it down, their actions may not be noticed by the cell for some time, if ever. 

Thus Low = Difficulty 3, Medium = Difficulty 4, and High = Difficulty 5.

This doesn't just affect Difficulty. In Gumshoe, it also affects Investigative ability spends. A Low Security, Medium Monitoring facility implies:
  • 0 point clues for anything involving Security, say Electronic Surveillance, and
  • 1 point clues for anything involving Monitoring, say, Bureaucracy.  
The point being that a Low Security environment, say, is lax in all areas. The security cameras aren't properly positioned, the guards are rent-a-cops, the fences have holes in them. This isn't the time to make the agents spend points on Military Science to work out guard patterns. Whereas a Medium Monitoring environment has some functioning safeguards, so it shouldn't be a walk in the park when your forensic Accountant goes through its books.

High Security or Monitoring, on the other hand, implies extraordinary safeguards. That in turn suggests that more than one point, or perhaps a combination of points from different abilities, are needed.

It's unreasonable to assume that there's a wide spread between Security and Monitoring. A High Monitoring facility would never have Low Security. Nobody in their right mind puts the most important thing they own in a cardboard box by the side of the road. So a High Monitoring facility will have at least Medium Security. Similarly a Low Security facility is only ever going to have Medium Monitoring, and so on.

If you extend the gamification to transport between facilities, then there's an argument for saying there can be a wide spread between Security and Monitoring, for a very brief period while the McGuffins are in transport. However even then a wide spread isn't really likely. You don't see banks transporting cash in a tuk-tuk

OK, all that's the bare bones approach. So what happens when you want to go into more detail?

First, take a moment to think about what it is you're trying to describe. Security and Monitoring are common factors, granted. However there are other factors unique to the kind of facility you're designing. For example:

A Collection facility gathers McGuffins. What does it need?

It needs:
  • Space, in which to safely store the McGuffins.
  • Materials that are important to the McGuffins.
  • Transport for the McGuffins.
Let's say the McGuffins are delicate, and need to be in a temperature controlled environment. This may be the case if the McGuffins are antiques, or bacteria, or high-end computer equipment. Then the facility needs Materials, equipment to maintain temperature, power for that equipment, and probably some kind of electronic monitoring system to ensure the equipment doesn't fail, or, if it does, that the appropriate monitoring body is immediately alerted.

This in turn suggests significant investment - some kind of HVAC, distribution vents, means to control waste runoff from the equipment, some kind of monitoring station either automated or with human personnel. This only gets more important if the facility is somewhere that complicates that process - if, say, this temperature controlled environment has to exist within a tropical biosphere.

Say that the Esoterror cell is operating a facility similar to InGen's Jurassic Park in Isla Nublar, Costa Rica. That environment is fairly harsh: hot, humid, probably lots of salt in the atmosphere since it's an island, subject to intense storms. It's reasonable to assume that any complex technical facility in that environment wages a constant battle against corrosion, and that providing even basic aircon is more difficult there than it would be, say, in Texas.

However it couldn't exist at all if it wasn't close to Costa Rica. Politically stable, with a democratic government since 1948, and economically developed, it permits the transport network a would-be InGen needs to move all the construction equipment, scientific McGuffins and other things required to create the facility in the first place.

Equally, satisfying those needs may give the agents clues as to the facility's purpose and importance. In Greg Rucka's Queen and Country, when the agency needs to work out whether or not a particular building, out in the middle of nowhere, is or is not a chemical weapons plant, the two things that give it away, from satellite imagery alone, are an abundance of guards, and high waste heat from the machinery it uses to produce its McGuffins. Satisfying needs meant that the facility gave its true nature away. 

A Distribution facility's needs are similar, but not the same. It needs:
  • Space,
  • Materials, and
  • Transport.
But its need hierarchy is different.

If you were to map out a Collection facility's needs, its priority list would be Materials, then Space, then Transport. It absolutely needs to keep the McGuffins safe and viable, so it absolutely needs Materials. It needs Space, but that isn't as important as Materials, since it's reasonable to presume the McGuffins aren't staying forever. Finally, it needs transport links, but that isn't as important to it as the other two needs in the hierarchy.

So a Collection facility could be: out in an allegedly abandoned military base or missile silo. In a warehouse on the outskirts of a small town. In an old freighter anchored offshore. All these places are relatively remote and low-key, but they satisfy the need hierarchy. They offer Materials first and foremost, then Space, then Transport.

Whereas a Distribution facility's need hierarchy is: Transport, Materials, Space. Its purpose is to distribute, so it absolutely needs transport links to help it distribute. It needs to keep the McGuffins safe and viable for the limited time the McGuffins are within its care, so it needs Materials. It doesn't need Space as much as it needs the other two things, since the McGuffins aren't staying very long.

So a Distribution facility could be: a warehouse in a suburb near a major city. Container yards at or near a major port. Slaughterhouses on or near an important railway hub. A hotel at or near an airport. All these places are near the one thing it needs most, but in turn it means that the facility isn't as low-key. It needs some kind of profile, if only to blend in with everything else around it. Abandoned, decaying, marked with hazard warning signs - these are things you don't associate with important transport links. If it's a hotel right next to JFK airport in New York, it probably doesn't look like the hotel from Psycho

You can assign a needs hierarchy to all the facility types. Manufacturing needs Space, Materials, Transport. An Analyzing facility needs Transport, Space, Materials. With this needs hierarchy comes the first indication of what a facility is actually like, which in turn helps you design it quickly.

All that said, let's consider an Esoterror Manufacturing facility. Let's also presume that this facility is important but not vital to the cell, so it has Medium Security and Monitoring.

Say for the sake of plot that this particular facility is involved in food production, that it makes chicken nuggets which are infected with a biological agent that, in a percentage of the population, results in a disease which causes brain death. This allows the newly dead brains to be taken over by an Outer Dark entity.

It's manufacturing, so it needs Space, Materials, Transport. Space in this instance implies a lot of space - after all, there are a lot of chickens - and given the nature of the facility there's a lot of waste disposal too, and equipment for processing - the Materials part of the equation. There will be some kind of loading bay or shipping point - the Transport. There's also a small amount of the McGuffin on site. There would be more if this was a High Monitoring or Security site, but we've already decided this is Medium.

When the McGuffins are transported out of the facility, Security drops by one level, from Medium to Low. This in turn suggests that if the agents choose to hit the transport rather than the facility, their odds of success improve.

Assuming there's anything here that might provoke a Stability or Sanity loss, then that loss is probably not enough to drive anyone crazy, but enough to be a concern. Minor, not major; if it were major, the facility would be more important to the cell, and have High levels of Security, Monitoring, or both.

Medium Security implies plenty of locked doors, some kind of electronic alarm system, maybe a minor Outer Dark entity on site depending on how pulp you intend to play it. Medium Monitoring implies that if something happens to the facility the cell will respond reasonably quickly. Within a day if that something is overt, like explosives or a fire, within a week if it's just a break-in.  It also implies that there are resources on site that the agents might want to look at - filing cabinets, computer databases, midlevel management to interrogate. Difficulty for all tests within the facility is 4. Investigative Ability spends are at least 1 point.

Already you have a fairly clear picture of the facility, and thus what the agents can hope to get from the facility. You also know, for gamification purposes, the Difficulty for all tests, and the point spend. Those are the most important things you'll need to know before running any scene within the facility. 

Of course, you'll want to go into more detail for truly important, campaign-relevant facilities. This is just for those emergency moments, when the need arises and you haven't anything planned. Take a breath, consider your options, and ...

Enjoy!



Sunday, 30 July 2017

To Whom It May Concern (Night's Black Agents)

Once more we venture into the uncharted waters of short scenario design, this time for Night's Black Agents.

I run a movie night, and this month has been Roger Moore/Adam West/Martin Landau, in honor of the fallen. Last night was The Man With The Golden Gun, and I'd forgotten that parts of it are based in Macau, for which I've already prepared some background material. You should refer to that material when using this scenario.

The title comes from Queen And Country, by Greck Rucka. The line is Tara Chace's, in her first appearance, and she says:

It's not the bullet that has your name on it you have to worry about .. it's all those other ones ... marked 'to whom it may concern.'

Shortly after speaking that line, Tara is shot.

Usually I try to keep these to 2,500 words or less, but this time I exceeded the remit by a hundred forty seven words. Final count: 2,647.

**

Director's summary:

  • A Conspiracy asset hires the agents through a cut-out, tasking them with retrieval of some very special bullets.
  • The rounds were manufactured in the 1980s by a Portuguese craftsman living in Macau, for a vampire hunter. The hunter is long dead, as is the craftsman.
  • The craftsman's nephew inherited everything, but as most of it was useless to him he kept it stored away, until now.
  • Another vampire hunter, seeking the bullets, went to the nephew and made a generous offer, but all that did was alert the nephew to the possibility that he was sitting on a gold mine.
  • The nephew has been asking around, to see if anyone else is willing to offer him more than the vampire hunter. That's how the conspiracy learned that the bullets still exist; until now, they thought them gone, along with the original vampire hunter.
  • In addition to the vampire hunter and the Conspiracy, a would-be conspiracy Node, local Triad gangsters, has decided to muscle in, thinking to impress the Conspiracy by obtaining the bullets. 

Meeting the Buyer
Contact is made via Macau fixer Jorge Nolasco, an ethnic Chinese with Portuguese ancestry. [Physical: sallow, always wears high-end suits, dislikes physical contact. Treat as Mafioso without Thugs.] The meet is held in a private cocktail room at China Rouge, an expensive member's club that lets in non-members so long as they look the part. No flip-flops or T-shirts. D├ęcor: 1920s Shanghai, with deep reds, lattice screens, and innumerable depictions of the naked female form. A mural by Chinese-Kiwi artist Deng Xinli dominates one wall.  

Nolasco explains that the seller, Kim Sun Chan, is being greedy. Nolasco would cheerfully pay for the custom made bullets, but the price asked is far too high. He wants the agents to acquire the rounds for him, and is willing to pay the retainer he would have given Kim, had Kim not decided to get greedy. That retainer is US$60K, which seems over the asking price for 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but Kim is demanding more than US$100K, an outrageous sum. Nolasco's willing to pay half up front, half on delivery. The agents have carte blanche, but Nolasco says he won't intervene if they get arrested for any crime more serious than assault. He can help them avoid minor peccadillos.

Find out more - 
  • about Nolasco. High Society, Tradecraft, Criminology. Nolasco is a 'club promoter,' which means he arranges junkets for Chinese businessmen and government officials from the mainland. He almost certainly has Triad connections or he wouldn't be in that line of work, but his Portuguese ancestry may mean he's no more than a Blue Lantern, or uninitiated member. He's suspected of having links with China's Ministry of State Security, but again his Portuguese ancestry and his Macanese nationality probably mean he's an informant, not an agent.
  • about Kim Sun Chan. Gambling as an Investigative ability, Tradecraft, Criminology. Kim is a notorious gambler with ambition far beyond his talent. He's nothing special himself, but his uncle, Lazar, was a respected gunsmith who supplied some of the most famous names in the business, back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. However it's difficult to imagine even his best work being worth US$100 per round. Kim has very low-level connections with the local Triads, particularly the 14K, but that's because he owes them money.

Shaking Hands
Lead-in: Meeting the Buyer
Lead-out: The Game of Death, Death of an Industry

At some point the agents will want to contact or surveil Kim. [Physical: cheap suits, usually with something red, like a jacket or tie; elaborate sleeve tattoo probably intended to make people think he's with the Triads; gold tooth that winks when he smiles. Thug.]

If contact, he only agrees to meet in a public place, where there's lots of people. He's brash and demands the full $100K, no excuses. He says he knows what he's got, and if he doesn't get what he wants he'll sell it to the CIA. [Director: no he won't, but he thinks he'll get a better deal if he bluffs. Nolasco will be very unhappy if anyone tells him about the CIA threat.]

Clues: Bullshit Detector, Flattery, Flirting: he lets slip that there's another buyer, Emily Cho, who's got CIA connections. Cho, according to him, is more than willing to meet his price. Clues that lead elsewhere: Urban Survival, Criminology. Kim is being tailed by [N=P] thugs, and these really are Triad, 14K judging by the tattoos. Kim is either unaware or too arrogant to care.

Find out more - 
  • about Emily Cho. Tradecraft, Vampirology. [Physical: athlete with former Olympic ambitions, fencer, scar on left hand, thousand yard stare. Asset Handler.] Former CIA stringer who went rogue after a disastrous operation in Turkey. The Americans would very much like to bring her in for extensive questioning, probably at a black or grey site like Diego Garcia. Potential links with Russian intelligence. Vampirology knows she went off-grid when two of her assets were taken out by the Conspiracy, and she evened the score by taking out one of theirs. Director: she's why Kim thinks he can sell to the CIA. He doesn't know she's no longer with the agency.
If surveil, Kim lives in a relatively modest single room near the Hong Kong Express ferry terminal, where rents are around the HK$4 to 5K mark and luxuries like private bathrooms cost extra. Difficulty 5 to surveil; a Difficulty 4 check still succeeds, but does not notice the 14K Triad thugs following Kim. Kim has a mundane routine - eat, sleep, gamble - but he detours to the floating Casino Macau Palace, currently anchored in the Inner Harbor.

The Palace is a former boat-based casino, now derelict, and its ownership is obscure. Bureaucracy, Criminology or Accounting traces it to a notoriously violent 14K Triad boss, Broken Tooth Koi, who was jailed in 1999 on extortion charges. The Macau Palace went bust at about the same time. Broken Tooth has since been released from prison, but no longer has his former influence or ambition.

Kim knows all this because, back in the day, he worked for Broken Tooth as a Triad Blue Lantern; he never made it as far as a 49 foot soldier. Kim figures if nobody's looking after the old Palace it's as good a place as any to stash the loot, but he can't stop himself from checking on it regularly. Difficulty 4 Conceal, or a Notice spend, finds the stash, hidden in an old secret safe in what was a manager's office. However if the agents make this search and did not notice the Triad thugs following Kim, then the Triads attack the agents.
  • Triad 49s [N=P] use Thug stats, half are gym rats, and all of them use machetes (+0 damage). These are in the pay of Shrimp Boy Lai, an ambitious Triad who wants to make a name for himself, like the old days when men of power like Broken Tooth could chop people with impunity. He can't, because these days China would come down hard on anyone foolish enough to try. Shrimp Boy sees the Conspiracy as his way out; with the Conspiracy backing his play, he could do as he likes. Shrimp Boy may or may not know about the true nature of the Conspiracy, and in any case he's not very bright. Treat Shrimp Boy as a Mafioso with the gym rat and triggerman bonuses normally applicable to Thugs.
Casino Macau Palace: treat as a combination of Casino and Derelict Factory, not unlike a James Bond set allowed to go to seed. There aren't as many homeless people living aboard her as might be expected - they know that Broken Tooth still owns her, and they don't want to get on the wrong side of the 14K.

The Game of Death
Lead-in: Shaking Hands
Lead-out: Death of an Industry, Spooky, Payout

The agents may learn of Emily Cho through Kim, in which case they might get the drop on her. If they don't, then she learns about them from Kim, and gets the drop on them.

If the former, Traffic Analysis plus Tradecraft (studying the arrivals and departures list by air and ferry) or a Network contact allows them to track Emily from her arrival in Macau, two days prior, under the workname Mary Chow, an identity that, unknown to Emily, has already been exposed by her former CIA paymasters, so she's now on watch lists. She's staying at the Venetian Macao Hotel, (Difficulty 4 Infiltration), and when not on other business spends much of her time at its V Gym fitness center, with views of the Cotai Strip. Searching her hotel room finds a laptop (encrypted, CIA issue, stolen - the CIA would like it back) with some information about the failed Turkey op. Effective 1 point pool Vampirology, and Emily doesn't use it or connect it to the internet because she knows, if she does, the Agency will track her. She keeps it because it's evidence, and she's hoping against hope to clear her name one day.

If the latter, Emily assumes the agents are part of the Conspiracy. She's incredibly paranoid, not without cause. She uses Tradecraft to set up a safe house - short term rental, cheap one bedroom apartment, toilet optional - and pays some local prostitutes (Civilians, effective 2 point pool Flirting) to act as decoys while she slips an agent a sedative, either in a drink or injected. Onset 2 rounds, Difficulty 7 Health, success = Shaken, failure = incapacitation 1 to 6 hours. The incapacitated agent is taken to the safe house for interrogation, and since Emily thinks the agent is a Renfield or worse, she will not be gentle. However she will use techniques best suited against vampires or Renfields, so Vampirology will allow agents to convince her they really aren't undead or undead sympathizers. That goes a long way to earning her trust, but even so Tradecraft, Reassurance or Bullshit Detector (reading her for tells, the better to create an artistic lie) spends will be needed to win her over. These spends cannot be made unless the Vampirology hurdle is leapt first. Since Emily's working solo, a group of agents can overpower her, but she's no pushover.
  • Emily Cho, Asset Handler. Base Asset Handler package, substituting Disguise for Shrink, plus 8 points Athletics, Weapons, 4 points Hand-to-Hand, Shooting. Effective 2 point pool Vampirology. Those using Vampirology to see if she's ever had dealings with them notice scarring indicative of vampire attack.
Escape: if the agents don't flip Cho and ally with her, or the other agents mount a rescue, then the cops show as she's attracted too much Heat. As soon as they do, Cho makes a run for it. This can turn into a Thrilling Chase, with everyone on foot, through the packed streets of Macau. 

Death of an Industry

Lead-in: Shaking Hands, The Game of Death
Lead-out: Spooky, Payout

The agents may be distracted by Shrimp Boy Lai and his 14K thugs.

Shrimp Boy pretends to have status, but he's no higher than a 49 - a footsoldier, the lowest rank on the scale, just above the non-initiate Blue Lanterns. When he got into the game Macau still had a fishing industry, and as he's from a fishing family he used his connections on the docks to move heroin and narcotics from Macau to mainland China. However Macau's fishing industry is in ruins thanks to industrial pollution, and its last shipbuilding company went bankrupt in 2005. Now the Coalone docks are eerily vacant, and Shrimp Boy scratches out a living as an extortionist and low-grade pimp.

All the more reason to try his luck with the Conspiracy, but his attempt to ingratiate himself by snatching the bullets has only annoyed the local Node, which already has a plan in place and doesn't like the Heat Shrimp Boy's drawing down.

The agents may use Criminology, Cop Talk, Urban Survival or Electronic Surveillance to track Shrimp Boy to the Coalone docks, but if they do then they discover that the Conspiracy got to Shrimp Boy first.

Shrimp Boy and his team have been bloodily wiped out. The abandoned shipbuilder's warehouse (treat as Industrial but for making traditional wooden junks, so less mechanical and more hand tools) where they had their base is awash with blood. Just being in that warehouse gets the agents 1 Heat.

If Emily Cho has not already been dealt with then she got here first, and can be found on-site. The agents might leap to the erroneous conclusion that she took out all these thugs herself. If confronted, she runs; Thrilling foot chase, and thanks to her Athletics she can use Parkour. Forensic Pathology, Notice or similar spots that Emily couldn't have done this, as she hasn't the strength. Nobody human has the strength to rip arms from sockets, or break a neck so that the head faces backwards. Cho only came here to find out why Shrimp Boy was so interested in the rounds, and whether he and his team were Conspiracy assets. When she found them dead, she started investigating, to see if vampires were involved.  
  • Heat: if ever there was a moment for the cops to show, this is that moment. (N=P-1) armed police show up if the agents blow a Heat check, having been tipped by the Conspiracy Node that Triads have been fighting. The Conspiracy didn't intend for its own catspaws to get caught at the murder scene, but such is life.
Spooky
Lead-in: The Game of Death, Death of an Industry
Lead-out: Payout

The agents, once they realize Emily Cho has a CIA connection, may try to turn Cho over to the CIA or an intelligence agency. China's Ministry of State Security would be most interested in a former CIA agent and her encrypted CIA issue laptop.

They can reach out through Network to get this done, and if they do then the agency responds requesting a meet at the Venetian, on the walkway next to its fake canal and gondola.

The agent is only interested in facts, not stories, and couldn't care less about custom ammunition sales. The agent just wants to bring Cho in.
  • Intelligence Agent: base Investigator, with two Bodyguard types close by.
If the agents reveal Emily's location, or hand her over themselves, they can reduce Heat by 2. If, however, they try to feed the agent a load of nonsense or disinformation, Heat increases by 2.

If attacked, the agent will immediately withdraw.

Payout
Lead-in: Spooky, Death of an Industry, The Game of Death
Endgame

If the agents successfully retrieve the ammunition from Kim and hand it over to Nolasco, they get paid. The Conspiracy will take the ammunition and destroy it. The agents will be marked down on the Conspiracy's books as useful people to do business with.

If the agents do not do this, or if they attempt some kind of double-cross, then the Conspiracy cuts its ties and tries to drown the agents in Heat. Nolasco, Emily Cho, Shrimp Boy or the Intelligence Agent from Spooky wind up publicly dead, and in such a way that the agents are implicated in the killing. Heat increases by 3, and security increases significantly at the ferry terminal and airport - the only viable ways out of Macau, short of crossing over into mainland China and going for a long walk. A Renfield will lead the security team sent to bring the agents in. If captured the agents will end up in a Chinese prison, but the Renfield's orders are to ensure the agents die, preferably shot while trying to escape. 
  • Custom ammunition: exact details up to the Director, but the vampires consider this especially dangerous. Design with your campaign's vampires in mind. Given its unique makeup, forgery is not possible, particularly not with the agents' limited means.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Truth Is Somewhere (X Files, Delta Green)

'One of those rare horror-genre gems produced for television,' wrote Adam Scott Glancy in a 1994 review for Unspeakable Oath. 'So far the first twelve [X Files] episodes rate nine out of ten phobias for solid horror/science-fiction genre entertainment.''

It's been a while.

Recently I was paid for an acting gig with iTunes cards, and used them to buy X-Files seasons 1 through 5. I tend to do that with stuff I want to see but don't care if I lose, which is always a risk when dealing with the Cloud. I pride myself on having a good memory, but I have to admit I'd forgotten most if not all the episode plots. Something about aliens? Maybe? And there were monsters, sometimes? Lone Gunmen? Someone who smoked a lot?

No, it was a total blank. This, mind you, after spending damn near every week plugged in practically at the electrical socket, waiting like a slavering fanboy for the least tidbit. That was back in 1994, and without wishing to be unkind to anyone here who may be counting their grey hairs, 1994 was over 20 years ago. If I'd had a kid back then, it would be on its way to college.

Hopefully I'd resist the temptation to call it Fox or Dana.

Looking back on it now, that first season was remarkably weak. Not awful - very good, really - but low budget, creaking along, with plots as shaky as an Ed Wood set. Inevitably they fell into a pattern: strange things happen, Mulder proposes something utterly absurd, Scully throws dirt on the whole thing, Mulder is proved right in every detail, madness ensues. Often there are plot holes you could drive a truck through, even if you accept Mulder's version without question.

None of that mattered at the time, and while it kinda matters now, that's only because time has passed. I'm less accepting of wild-eyed bullshit, and I've seen much better television since, so my standards have risen. Yet even with that firmly in mind I find I'm still in love with those early seasons, particularly from season 2 onwards.

That's when things begin to ratchet up, when Mulder's first informant Deep Throat is gunned down, the Cancer Man becomes more of a visible threat, and Mr X becomes Mulder's contact with the murky world of government conspiracies. Steven Williams plays Mr X, and he's such a badass in that role. He really makes it work.

It's also when I begin recognizing supporting cast. I don't know who was hiring back in 1994-5, but they picked some very decent talent. I knew Jack Black was in one of the early episodes, and he of course goes on to fame and fortune. But he's not the only one to hit the radar. Bradley Whitford, before West Wing, Jewel Staite, before Firefly, Titus Welliver, before Deadwood and Lost, Joe Spano, just after Hill Street Blues and before NCIS. Season 2 in particular is an exercise in 'spot the soon-to-be famous.'

If you really don't know what I'm talking about - which is always possible, though perhaps not forgivable - X Files was a supernatural/science-fiction genre show back in the 1990s, starring David Duchovny as FBI Agent Fox Mulder, and Gillian Anderson as his long-suffering partner Agent Dana Scully. The two are tasked with investigating X Files, cases involving paranormal phenomena. This can range from lake monsters to strange parasites from beyond history, irradiated fluke men and little grey men from outer space.

As you can imagine this does not sit well with their superiors, and Agent Scully is initially assigned to the X Files to debunk them, presumably because nobody's thought to fire Agent Mulder. Which is where the first of those peculiar plot holes appears; we're dealing with a massive conspiracy involving corruption at the highest levels, run by men who think nothing of murdering their enemies, their friends, the mailman; men who carry out mass experiments on unwitting human test subjects every other week without losing sleep over the death count. Yet those same men have some psychological block that prevents them from getting Mulder fired, even when he presents them with opportunities to do so with cause. It's papered over with tissue-thin excuses, but it's a problem nonetheless.

Looking back on it, I suspect it survived that initial year not because it was brilliant - good, yes, occasionally genius - but because it was unique. It was 1994. Nobody was doing horror on the small screen in 1994.

Hell, there weren't that many people making horror for the big screen either, come to think.

Tales from the Crypt is the closest thing it had to competition, and Tales was hosted by a scary Muppet. A bunch of carefree optimists tried to make a TV show out of Vampire the Masquerade, but that was in 1996, two years after X Files began, and it withered on the vine. Buffy doesn't start pounding dildos into pale Californians until 1997, and if I'd known what pegging was back then I'd have had a lot more fun watching that hot mess. Ultraviolet's 1998, and British. Touched By An Angel, maybe, but you could hardly call that horror.

It helps that Duchovny and Anderson, both talented actors, work well together. Anderson in particular is a lot of fun to watch; she's clearly got more on the ball than Duchovny. Yet Duchovny has one great talent: he's a natural doofus, and the show eventually starts playing to that, giving him more comedic or parody moments. I can't think of many television shows, genre or otherwise, that would be happy making its lead actor look like an idiot, and to be clear it's not like this happens every week, but when it does, it's a delight. Small Potatoes from Season 4 is a personal favorite.

Yet by the fifth season I find its appeal starting to wear on me. Though there are several moments when I can't wait for a show to finish, the episode Post-Modern Prometheus is the first one I couldn't force myself to finish. Yes, I know it won an Emmy. Chris Carter can thank his lucky stars I wasn't on the awards committee, way back when.

It starts to crumble under the weight of its own mythology at that point. There's just no way to make this all make sense, and it doesn't help that so much of it contradicts itself. One of the long-running secrets of the series is what happened to Fox Mulder's sister all those years ago; was she abducted by aliens, murdered by a serial killer, something else? But there are only so many times she can turn up as a clone, as a child worker clone, as an abductee, as a possible ghost, as a murder victim, before I start to lose interest.

You can butcher a turkey once, cook it once, eat it, make stock from its bones and skin, but when all that's done, you can't bring the turkey back again and eat it a second time. Not if you want to enjoy the experience.

Oddly enough I feel the same way about X Files as I do Delta Green, the RPG originally developed by Pagan Publishing many moons ago.

It first showed its warty head back in 1993, as part of the Unspeakable Oath magazine, but it doesn't really get its chance to strut its stuff until 1997. So it technically predates the X Files, though in practical terms it owes much of its format and initial appeal to that show.

Delta Green, as it was then, had a lot of promise, and I love its take on conspiracy theories, modern horror, cryptozoology, government cover-ups, little Grey Men. I played that game to death back in the day. I still have all the books.

Yet I look back on it now, and it's a mess.

A fun mess, but there's no skeleton here holding it together. The basic premise is solid, but the mythology soon crushes the whole thing under its ponderous weight. You could pick up a sourcebook and literally have no idea what you were getting, because the series didn't seem to be planned in any coherent way.

If you liked the Fate, for example, its New York occult menace based loosely on Club 57 and the exploits of Andy Warhol, there wasn't a Fate book you could get. You could get Count Down and Eyes Only, both of which have Fate-related material, but they also have a ton of other stuff you might not want. If you want to know more about tradecraft, intelligence agencies and the art of being a spy, that's in there too, but again it's scattered over most of the books with no real rhyme or reason as to which goes where.

The lethality level varies considerably. Some scenarios might as well have a footnote saying 'allow for 40 minutes downtime as everyone makes new characters right about now.' Others seem positively gentle in comparison. It reminds me of some of the X Files first season episodes, Darkness Falls in particular, where the writers find themselves in a situation where, logically, Mulder and Scully die. So they do, but not really. Delta Green isn't quite so kind.

There's some absolutely brilliant writing here, but looking back on it I have to ask myself how likely it is that the players are ever going to find this information, or find it useful. With the benefit of hindsight it seems to me now that it was written for the Keeper to read and be entertained by, but not necessarily use at the table.

One thing I admire about the Gumshoe clue system, apart from simplicity of design, is that it forces the designer to consider whether or not what's going on the page is useful. If it's a Clue, it has a purpose, and there's a definitive chain of events that lead from this Clue to the next Scene, where there are more Clues. From here, the players piece together the narrative, and decide what to do next.

I didn't back the Delta Green Kickstarter so I don't know what the new stuff's like. I almost regret that, but money's tight. One thing I hope and pray for is that, whatever it is, there's a plan. That someone has their eye on the long term, not a scattershot put-it-all-in-the-pot approach.

Anyway, it's been a day, and I'm exhausted.

Talk soon!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Vampire's Heart - Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier

There are several different classifications of vampire in Pelgrane's Night's Black Agents game, and this time I want to talk about the Damned variety, designing a vampire type from the ground up.

First, a word on sources. Much of the information I'm going to post here derives from Jean-Claude Schmitt's Ghosts in the Middle Ages: the Living and the Dead in Medieval Society. My copy's University of Chicago Press, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan, 1998. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the material.

The rest comes from a recent news article discussing a new technique whereby video clips have been encoded to human DNA.

The legend of Herle, aka Harlequin, aka Arthur, King of the Dead and leader of the Wild Hunt, goes back to at minimum the year 1000. Before that date there are reports of a ghostly army on the march, but the legends begin to coalesce into the version known to historians at that time, with multiple sightings and reports.

At its inception the army of the dead, if not precisely benign, at least serves a genuine purpose. Its troops beg for mercy, asking the living to give them prayers, or do deeds that will help them escape their torment such as returning borrowed goods, or repaying old debts. One of the most vivid and earliest accounts comes from the priest Walchelin, who told his tale to Orderic Vitalis, a Welsh-born chronicler who, at that time, was living in Normandy. In that story Walchelin is approached by several dead, including his own brother, all of whom ask for aid or for messages to be delivered.

However as time passed the army of the restless dead became stigmatized as Satan's legion. Priests anxious to drive out the last vestiges of paganism told their flock that the warriors, priests and peasants seen in Harlequin's army were actually devils, who took on the form of ghosts to fool honest men into doing the devil's work. This is how, for example, Arthur King of the Britons comes to be depicted, in a mosaic at the Cathedral of Otranto, as riding a goat, Satan's steed.

Herle's restless legions are often seen at crossroads, for 'those places, due to the number of people of all sorts that passed through them, were more polluted than the fields. In these sordid places, the living were shown the true punishments endured by the evil in the hereafter.'  Often they are depicted wearing hoods - 'the hood or the cape is the specific dress of the dead and the instrument of their torment' - which are not really hoods at all, but things of blood and fire which weigh heavily on them. Similarly those of Herle's troop who go armed or ride horses do not really carry weapons, but red-hot things that burn their flesh, nor are their steeds horses but devils disguised as same. As a rule the items they carry symbolize their sin, which is why the warriors carry weapons, but also why the priests and bishops carry croziers and wear monkish habit, and why the peasants are often seen carrying domestic items.

From this tradition, as an aside, we get Dickens' Christmas Carol, where Jacob Marley wears a chain of his own devising, forged in life, which he must wear in death. The deeds which men do in life live on after their death, tormenting their souls, which is why blood is so often a theme; those who spill it are most likely to end up damned.

In Yorkshire there is a tale recorded by William of Newburgh in his History of England, in which vampires are dealt with summarily by the people. When the bloodsuckers first appear, people turn to the church for aid, and after some back-and-forth the clergy recommend putting prescriptions for absolution of the tombs of the damned revenants. However a gang of 'the young' decide instead to disinter the creature and cut it to bits, burning everything except the heart in a bonfire. They preserve the heart because 'its presence would have prevented the cadaver from burning.'

Put all this together, and we get:

Harlequin's Legion

Explicitly demonic entity opposed to mankind and God.

Origin: A soul polluted with evil, inhabiting a corpse. At some point in the past - how far back is up to the Director - a Grand Grimoire was broken up and scattered to the four winds, encoded into the blood (DNA) of especially evil souls. This Codex, if it is ever recreated, will cause the destruction of mankind and usher in the Apocalypse.

Some vampires have parts of this Grimoire engraved in their corpus, and these are the more powerful and magically astute of their brood. The others, lesser creatures, are merely evil, and brought to their undead condition by their more powerful siblings. These lesser vampires do not have the Codex as part of their DNA, but that does not make them harmless or easy to defeat.

One vampire takes on the title of King of the Dead, referred to in literature as the leader of the Wild Hunt. The actual leadership function may vary, but it is this vampire that contains within it the index of the Grimoire. It has a direct link to the very foundations of evil, is exceptionally powerful, and can, with the proper rituals, recreate the Codex. Whether or not it wants to is unknown; it may be quite insane, or perhaps the title of King of the Dead is one that can be stolen by rivals. If the latter, then the Herle may prefer to remain anonymous, to dissuade would-be usurpers from taking its heart.

A vampire may be created by magical ritual, or it may be created by another vampire. If the latter, only a vampire with part of the Grimoire encoded to its DNA can create a vampire; all other vampire types lack this ability.

As a group the Wild Hunt tends to segregate itself into the types it remembers of old: warriors, priests, and peasants. The warriors consider themselves elite, wolves among sheep. The priests are the lore-keepers, the Codex made flesh, who keep other vampires in line. The peasants are everyone else, the ones who lack the special DNA strands. Other vampires mock and despise them, and consequently they bully everyone weaker than themselves - usually humanity.

They can be detected by their hoods. These are not real items, but coronas of blood and fire that form around their heads; the warriors can extend this corona around their whole body, at will. This spiritual manifestation of their sin can only be seen under special conditions: certain high holy days, or at places of especial spiritual pollution. These include modern-day crossroads - subway terminals, airports, and similar gathering places where hundreds, perhaps thousands of people come and go, on their way to one place or another. Vampires avoid these places if they can, which makes travel difficult.

The hoods also appear in photographs or on video feeds, which makes surveillance both easy and difficult. Easy, because the hood is a dead giveaway; difficult, because with the hood on it's impossible to tell who's who.

The heart is tough to destroy, and in many cases impossible. It can be cut out of the body and dissolved in strong acid or similar, but does not burn easily. A peasant's heart can be destroyed. A warrior's can be destroyed with considerable effort and magical assistance. A priest's is imbued with the words of the Codex, and therefore has been touched by semi-divine power. It cannot be destroyed, and can only be bound with magical assistance.

So long as the heart remains, the vampire can be reborn. A corpse is required - anyone's - but once the vampire heart is put in its chest, the creature is renewed. From that point on it can take its original face and form, fresh as the day it died, or it can assume the face and form of the corpse it borrowed. If the latter, the body takes on the appearance of natural decay over time, which can provoke Stability checks depending on the age of the corpse. This only affects appearance, not smell or fluids.

Aberrance: 10 (peasant), 13 (priest), 16 (warrior). The Harlequin probably has a much higher Aberrance, but it's impossible to say how high.

Hit Threshold: base 4, increase to 5 with Vampiric Speed. 

Hand to Hand: -1 (peasant, fangs), +0 (priest, fangs or talons), +1 warrior (rows of razor teeth, bony claws). 

Armor: -1 (peasant, tough skin), -2 (leathery hide), -3 (corona of blood, covering the whole of the corpus).

Free Powers: Darkvision, Vampiric Speed and Cloak of Darkness are common to all. Vampires which have recently gained a new body in reasonable condition temporarily gain Mimic Form, but this only remains viable as long as the corpse stays presentable. As a general rule the first signs of obvious decay set in very quickly; the skin becomes waxy and bluish within half an hour. However people often overlook this so long as the person seems otherwise normal. After three days there is no hope of a convincing Mimic Form. Priests also have Hive Mind - they are all part of the same entity.

See also Death and Resurrection.

Other Powers: All have Heat Drain and Regeneration (between scenes). Priests also use Necromancy and can Summon (zombies). Warriors lack the priest abilities, but make up for it with Vampiric Strength, Wings, and Turn to Creature (varies, often a wolf or bear, but sometimes other animals like a pig, cat, goat or horse).

Blocks: holy symbol, hawthorn.

Compulsions: Must show the sign of their damnation - the hood of blood and hellfire - on certain holy days, and at certain locations, such as holy places, crossroads or areas that count as crossroads, like subway stations. Priests and Warriors can resist this by spending 4 Aberrance, but there are circumstances - particular holy days, or moments when certain stars are in ascendance - when spending Aberrance will not work.

Dreads: dogs, particularly black and white dogs, which are the informal symbol of the Dominican order.

Requirements: Must commit ritual sacrifice to Satan at least four times a year. Must sleep in a place soaked with blood; it can be grave soil or bedsheets.

Death and Resurrection: The body can be cut to bits and destroyed, but the heart remains viable. If the heart is destroyed, the vampire cannot return. If the heart is still within the body, the body cannot be destroyed; it must be cut out first. Otherwise a vampire can walk through, say, a house fire and emerge seemingly unscathed, though its clothes will be ruined. An IED or similar can obliterate the body, leaving only the heart behind. A nuclear blast might obliterate peasants and warriors, but even that will not destroy the hearts of the priests.

It is said that should someone gather together all the hearts of all the priests and carry out a specific Satanic ritual, the Codex will be recreated. That will kill all Vampires instantly, warriors and peasants alike, but create an item of such awful power that the world itself will be shaken to its core.

The priests say they want this, but in practice they delay the apocalypse, preferring instead one more day of life to eternal rest within the leaves of Satan's book.

That's it for this week! Enjoy.



Sunday, 9 July 2017

Israel's Flying Horses (Dracula Dossier, Edom)

Mexico's in the news for something other than border walls, as the government's use of Pegasus malware against opposition politicians and media personalities comes to light.

The malware was used to infect the smartphones of anti-corruption crusaders, journalists criticizing the President, and senior members of the opposition National Action Party, the intent presumably being to track their movements, emails, and private messages.

Pegasus is supplied by Israeli cyberarms dealer NSO Group. Based near Tel Aviv, this company 'provides technology to help authorized governments battle terror and crime,' according to Forbes. Its founder Omri Lavie, allegedly a former member of Israel's Unit 8200 signals intelligence group, seldom speaks to the press, and details about the group are thin on the ground.

It specializes in iOS hacks, and deals strictly with governments, not individuals. However as Mexico has shown, governments are by no  means above abusing their position. You have to wonder what NSO intends to do about customers who ignore the provision in the purchase agreement that says the software can only be used to combat crime.

Pegasus uses malicious links in innocuous-seeming messages to install malware which jailbreaks the iOS device it's installed on. The jailbroken device then feeds data from text messages, password entry, email, location and so on, back to home base.

The points to take home here are, first, that it's an iOS device, and Apple has a reputation for security. Not as polished or as impregnable as previously thought, but still, compared to Android, it's practically Fort Knox.

Second, that the messages sent were relatively sophisticated compared to the usual stuff that ends up in the junk file. Targeted messages from trusted senders, on subjects that the recipient would have no reason to think are bogus.

NSO isn't the only company in the cyberwarfare business by any stretch, but it's gained notoriety recently thanks to the Mexico reveal. Presumably Apple intends to patch the specific vulnerabilities revealed thanks to the scandal, but NSO will find a workaround, if it hasn't already got one.

Which brings me to Edom, because if you think Her Majesty's Government hasn't already got a deal in place either with NSO or with one of the other outfits, you must be living in a very nice imaginary world, and I wish it were the real one.

So what would Edom target with Pegasus?

To begin with, Prince is the one most likely to be doing the targeting, and given her backgrouns in Israeli intelligence she may already have links with NSO. But Prince can't do everything herself. She's a Duke of Edom, not the IT bod fixing every downed server and workstation complaint. There'll be a team handling the day-to-day stuff, the routine monitoring, the cyber surveillance. Which means there'll be relatively junior personnel in charge of remarkably powerful equipment, particularly since Prince's condition means she can't be on site during the working day. And how likely is it, really, that the other Dukes completely understand the technology used by those staffers?

It's a situation ripe with potential for abuse.

Picture this:

OPERATION IRISH GIANT is bringing in great intel on a London-based Node. It might be the Satanic Order, or some well-placed patsy on Her Majesty's payroll - perhaps even a Government minister. All of this intel is coming from jacked smartphones, which Edom has cracked thanks to software provided by a well-known cybersecurity firm.

However the congratulations that echo through the halls at Ring soon go silent when it's discovered that a very important person - perhaps the Journalist, or Lord Godalming - is tracking down a story about hackers on the Government payroll who've been jailbreaking iOS phones in order to pursue private vendettas. This person broke phones belonging to his ex-wife, kids, and the ex-wife's new girlfriend, all as part of a messy divorce and custody battle, and they used the IRISH GIANT code to do it.

Now the very important person is about to go public with the story, whether it's a front page expose or embarrassing questions in the House. However if they do, then the good results from IRISH GIANT will be drowned out by the scandal.

The subjects will almost certainly discover the hack and change phones, but worse, the shroud of secrecy that protects Edom will be penetrated. The Dukes might find themselves the focus of the investigation, as journalists chasing the first story get sucked into the second, and ask very embarrassing questions about a secretive Government outfit that spends its time - and the taxpayers' money - on what appear to be pointless errands.

That leaves Edom with two problems to deal with. First, somehow silence the important person before this thing goes public. Second, track down whoever it is who abused IRISH GIANT resources. Was it mere incompetence or Conspiracy-inspired?

With a possible third option: perhaps it wasn't an internal problem. Perhaps it was the cybersecurity firm itself, using its software to bait Edom, and then hook it with a fictitious scandal. Why? Perhaps the firm's a Conspiracy asset. or perhaps it's in the employ of its home nation's vampire project. After all, crippling the competition is the name of the game.

That's it for this week! 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Vathek and the Burning Tower (Bookhounds of London)

The Needles bit inspires me to tackle some other short scenarios, but rather than use CoC 7E I'm going to pick a different system each time.

The scenarios will be stat lite, and no more than 2,500 words. Though GUMSHOE uses a scene-by-scene format, space limitations require limited scene-by-scene breakdowns.

This scenario is 2,423 words long.

This one will be for Bookhounds of London, and is nominally set in 1931 or later. It can't be earlier than that, as the fire referenced in the scenario didn't take place until then.

***

William Beckford (1761-1844), famed bibliophile and author of Gothic masterpiece Vathek among many other works, built the neoclassic folly Beckford's Tower on Lansdown Hill in 1827, to house his library.

This Bath landmark stands over the mile-long pleasure gardens known as Beckford's Ride, and it was William's habit to oversee his gardens from its 120 ft. height. It is crowned with an octagonal lantern decorated with gilt gold columns, and at its base are two drawing rooms, the Scarlet and the Crimson, both paneled in oak and richly appointed. The stairs that lead up the tower have 154 steps, and at the center of the spiral is a colossal polished granite vase.

In William's day he kept his vast collection there, and added to it. He would spend days picking through choice items, sometimes leaving notes in the fly-leaf to record his thoughts on the book's merits, or lack of same. When he died the collection sold at auction, and the property passed first to a publican, and later, thanks to a gift by William's daughter, to the church, which used the grounds as a cemetery. The Scarlet Drawing Room was converted to a chapel to serve the cemetery. Among those buried there is the Tower's architect, and Beckford himself, in a specially built pink marble monument.

The Tower was allowed to fall into an alarming state. By 1918 the Tower's condition is described as 'piteous and dilapidated,' and in 1931 a fire all but destroyed the Scarlet room, and very nearly brought the whole Tower down.

Since the fire a rumor has spread among bibliophiles that a fourth Episode of Vathek has been discovered.

When the original was published William left out three Episodes from Vathek's life, which were later incorporated into the novel after the author's death. This fourth episode is supposed to be a coda to the novel; the other three are the stories of Prince Alasi, Prince Barkiarokh and Princess Zulkais, but this fourth is the Story of Giaour, the servant of Eblis who lures Vathek to damnation. According to those who claim to know about it, the manuscript is annotated in Beckford's own hand, and was found at the Tower either shortly before or after the fire - accounts differ as to which.

Obtaining this manuscript counts as a Windfall for the store.

There are three NPCs of significant importance to the scenario: Alfred Drinkwater, a forger who intends to make a mint selling forged copies of the Episode, Parthena Quill, a devoted collector of all things Beckford, and the mystic Carathis - aka Molly Hannan - who claims to channel Beckford's soul and tells anyone who'll listen that the discovery is a fake.

Molly Hannan, before she became a mystic, used to work at the Faraday Building telephone exchange in London. In fact it's thanks to the exchange that she became a medium; she claims voices came down out of the phone lines and instruct her. When forced to return to London by Drinkwater's scheme she goes back to her old haunts. This important detail can be discovered with 1 point Oral History.


Image sourced from alondoninheritance.

Opening: The Bookhounds are made aware of the potential Windfall by Parthena, who asks them to obtain it for her. Parthena's scatty, but she has money to spare, and even if she didn't pay, the prestige that would go with a newfound Beckford is immense. Core History/Library Use: Beckford's life and the history of the Tower. Core Cop Talk/Forensics: judging by the published version of events, the fire was arson. Streetwise: the likeliest suspect is a known bibliographic firebug named Jimmy 'Topsy' Cooper, as he's not been in his usual London haunts recently but has been seen in Bath, allegedly acting as a book scout for an unknown third party - not that lazy Topsy would know a squiz from a top hat. Topsy came back to London the day after the fire.

The Bookhounds may try to: forge their own version, go to Bath to investigate, track down Topsy.

Forgery: The Bookhounds gather materials for their forgery, which means spending Forgery, Textual Analysis points and similar to build up a pool which will be used to create the end product. This represents buying materials, research, getting comparisons for Beckford's handwriting & so on. Doing so alerts Alfred Drinkwater. He's not best pleased that someone else is capitalizing on his scheme, so he sends some Rough Lads (p53 main book) to warn them off. The Rough Lads are instructed to Intimidate not damage, but things can easily get out of hand. Interrogation leads back to Drinkwater.

Drinkwater: The forger is in hiding. He's staying in a derelict tub moored just offshore in the East End, and he's paying the kids who play on the banks of the Thames to keep an eye out for anyone trying to find him. Streetwise or Bargain spends needed to creep up on him, otherwise it's a Fleeing check vs Drinkwater's pool of 8, increased by 2 due to the advance warning. If cornered and Intimidated, Drinkwater admits he came up with the scheme. The idea was to cause a small fire, and pretend that the documents were 'discovered' during or after the fire fighting, hidden behind some damaged paneling. Topsy was supposed to be the discoverer, and he was supposed to pretend to be a passerby who helped the firefighters deal with the blaze. Unfortunately his catspaw Topsy Cooper got carried away. This scene leads to Forger Found Out.

Forger Found Out: Shortly after Drinkwater is found, and either confesses all or runs away, Drinkwater is found dead near the banks of the Thames. His heart has been burnt out. Those who have read Vathek - 1 point Library Use - know that, at the end of the novel, the wicked Caliph, his attendants and his paramour all end up tortured by Eblis in Hell, their hears eternally aflame with the fires of damnation. Evidence Collection finds Drinkwater's copy of the Beckford manuscript, hidden away. Evidence Collection (1 point) notices that Drinkwater died a few steps from a phone booth, and appears to have been running away from it at the time. Leads to Windfall or No?

Bath: A few days after the fire and the place is still a mess. The church hasn't got anything like the money it needs for restoration, and an appeal has gone out for donations to cover repairs. Evidence Collection finds clear signs of arson. Streetwise/Reassurance finds that the local scoundrels are angry that a Londoner - Topsy Cooper, by the description - came to Bath to burn the Tower. Oral History (1 point) discovers that local mystic and medium Carathis is very upset about it, and has gone to London swearing vengeance. Carathis, as anyone who's read Vathek will know - 1 point Library Use - is the name of the Caliph's mother, a sorceress of considerable power. Carathis is known to claim to channel the spirit of William Beckford, one of Bath's prodigal sons. Leads to Topsy, Windfall or No?

Topsy: Can be found drunk out of his mind at one of his usual East End haunts, core Streetwise. In this state he'll tell anyone anything, but there are some Rough Lads looking for him - Drinkwater's goons - so the Bookhounds will need to dodge them first. Topsy spills the whole scheme, and also says he's terrified of a woman he met in Bath shortly after the fire, who threatened to kill him unless he told her who orchestrated the scheme. Leads to Drinkwater, Windfall or No?

Windfall or No?: By this point the Bookhounds ought to know the details of the scheme, have met Drinkwater, and probably have a copy of the forged manuscript, either their own version or Drinkwater's. If they don't have a forged version assume someone else, a rival bookseller, does - probably another forged copy, not Drinkwater's. The industry buzz is intense, and experts in Gothic literature flock to either praise or debunk the find. Then Parthena Quill, Beckford enthusiast and would-be purchaser, is found dead at her home, heart burned right out of her chest. Forensics knows the heart's a tough muscle; it can even survive professional cremation (of the period, mark you, not 21st century standards). The method of death strongly indicates occult involvement, possibly Megapolisomancy. Library Use (1 point) knows the Vathek clue as described in Forger Found Out. Reassurance / Oral History (1 point) discovers that Parthena's maid Dorcas saw Parthena arguing with a woman whose description matches Carathis a day before her death. Evidence Collection (1 point) notices she died with a telephone in her hand, part melted from some tremendous heat. Leads to Battle of the Experts, Chasing Carathis, Carathis Strikes.

Battle of the Experts: Several qualified and famous experts descend on whichever shop says it has the manuscript, demanding access. If rebuffed, they all declare the manuscript to be a fake, and the shop suffers a Reversal. If somehow placated or convinced, they declare the manuscript genuine, and the shop gains a Windfall. However placating them may require a combination of Forgery, Bargain, Reassurance and other appropriate abilities, as justified by the Bookhounds. The Experts, all three of them, have a combined total of 6 in their appropriate abilities. Treat this as a Contest, and the Bookhounds may choose to knock some of the Experts out of the running with Intimidation or similar, reducing the combined pool by 2 each time. Leads to Toxic Expert, Chasing Carathis.

Toxic Expert: If the Battle of the Experts seems to be going in the Bookhounds favor and the Bookhounds have not started Chasing Carathis, then Carathis acts against the idiot Experts prepared to believe such a ridiculous forgery. That Expert is found dead, his or her heart burnt out. Forensics as per Windfall or No? with the additional benefit that signs found at the scene indicate the force came out of the telephone, and may travel via telephone wires. The death of the Expert cancels any Windfall effect, as the others promptly declare the manuscript a forgery. If asked, on condition of anonymity the survivors say they're terrified they'll die next, and have been told as much by an angry woman whose description matches Carathis. They will never admit as much in public, and there is no chance of getting the Windfall back. This leads to Haunted Expert (Red Herring), Chasing Carathis, Carathis Strikes.

Haunted Expert (Red Herring): After Toxic Expert, one of the William Beckford Experts claims to have been visited in the night by the ghost of Beckford himself, swearing vengeance. In fact this is a lie, though it may not be a deliberate lie; perhaps the Expert's overheated imagination took over. Given the details in the Expert's account, the Bookhounds may mistake this for a Mythos entity attack, perhaps a Dust Thing. It's nothing of the kind. However if the Bookhounds don't realize this and waste time chasing it up, Carathis has time to beef up the paramental. Its Scuffling and Health each increase by 2, and it gains an extra +1 damage. Leads to Chasing Carathis, Carathis Strikes.

Chasing Carathis: Carathis has many friends in the fortune-telling and medium community. Oral History or Reassurance with these people tracks her down to a cheap flophouse in Soho. However if the Bookhounds didn't spend a point, then they still track her down but one of the people they talk to warn her they are coming, which means a Fleeing contest vs her pool of 6. If she Flees, she does so in such a way that leaves no doubt as to her Megapolisomantic powers, eg she vanishes into the shadows. Important: as her powers are linked to the telephone exchange, ideally this should happen within close proximity to an important point, eg. near a red telephone box or one of the many telephone exchanges. If caught and Intimidated she defiantly says she didn't kill Drinkwater, Parthena or the Expert, but she did cause them to die. 'Eblis knows! Eblis judges!' she shrieks. Leads to Carathis Strikes, Carathis No More.

Carathis Strikes: If Carathis is still active, and if she has already moved against the Experts, Parathena and anyone else who's annoyed her by taking William Beckford's name in vain, then she moves against the Bookhounds. She does this by going to the Faraday Building, using her Megapolisomancy to summon up the entity she calls Eblis, and sends that over the telephone lines that snake out from the Faraday Building Exchange to attack whoever is her target. Without access to telephone lines or the Faraday Building - which over years spent working there she has turned into a powerful Megapolisomantic Lever - she cannot do this. Ideally the Bookhounds will stop her before she kills again; from this point on she can always be found at the Faraday Building, which she knows inside out. She can hide in there for weeks if need be. Leads to Carathis No More.

Carathis No More: If Carathis is removed from the equation then the entity she called Eblis no longer has enough power to attack victims. It has just enough power to strike out wildly, which it will do, but once it runs out of juice this time it will fade out of existence. This ends the threat, and successfully concludes the scenario. If Carathis is not removed, then she will continue to direct the entity until everyone she thinks deserves punishment is dead. At the Keeper's discretion this may mean that she goes one fatal step too far, and Eblis turns on her, destroying Carathis. This is most likely to happen thanks to interference from the Bookhounds.

Epilogue: By the end of the adventure the Bookhounds should have dealt with Carathis, the paramental, and the Experts, and may have secured a Windfall for the shop. If any of the named NPCs somehow survived - particularly Parthena - they may become Contacts (p92) with an effective pool of 2 in any one Investigative ability. If Carathis survives then she goes back to Bath to stew over what happened, and she may try to get revenge. However the events of the scenario took a lot out of her, and the Lever she used at the Faraday Building is burned, so she can no longer summon paramentals.

The Paramental Entity: Summoned up by Carathis using the power of the City, and specifically the telephone exchange, this creature is semi-controlled by Carathis. However her control is not absolute, and if left to its own devices this rage-filled creature will go on a rampage.

Appearance: A darkness surrounding a telephone line, like a cloud of flies or similar, with a beacon of crimson at its center.

Abilities: Athletics 8, Health 6, Scuffling 10

Stealth Modifier: +2

Attacks: Electrical Surge +1

Special Tactic: On unmodified 6 Scuffling check, the entity targets the heart directly, doing +5 damage. 

Defenses: non-silver weapons do minimal damage, refresh 1 Health/round

Stability: +0

Note: if Carathis is taken out of the picture, Scuffling drops to 6 and it loses the special tactic.



Sunday, 25 June 2017

Quick and Dirty: Macau (Night's Black Agents)

I enjoyed the Kabul piece, so I thought I'd return to the theme and talk about a city that has fascinated me for years: Macau.

Macau (also Macao)

The first European settlement in the Far East, former Portuguese colony Macau has been an autonomous territory under China's one territory, two systems policy since 20 December 1999.

Macau is famous - or possibly notorious - as a gambler's paradise. Over 40% of its GDP comes from casinos and games of chance, and close to 70% of government tax revenue. Macau is the preeminent gambling center in the world, with its 33 casinos bringing in somewhere near $30 billion annually. Vegas, by contrast, earns closer to $10 billion annually from over 120 casinos.

Its gaming history goes back to the 1850s, when the Portuguese legalized gambling. Macau's colonial masters needed a source of revenue; its preeminence as a trading port had declined considerably since the Portuguese took over in the 1500s. Chinese gamers flocked to Macau's fantan houses, but Macau's popularity as a gaming destination didn't really take off until the 1960s when the government, always a little leery of gambling and the crime that went with it, finally embraced gaming as a source of revenue and began promoting Macau as the Monte Carlo of the East.

In the 1960s casinos were operated by a monopoly, the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), not unlike Monte Carlo's Societe des bains de mer de Monaco. However unlike Monaco's state-owned Societe, the STDM is owned by one family headed by Stanley Ho, or Ho Hung Sen, the 95-year-old King of Gambling. Stanley, with his financial backers Henry Fok and gambler Yip Hon, bid for Macau franchises when they were put out to public tender, and won the bid for Macau's gambling monopoly for a little under half a million dollars. Stanley Ho parlayed his stake into political power, and had an important role in the handover negotiations in the 1990s. It has also been alleged that he has links with the Kung Lok (Mutual Happiness) Triad.

In 2002 this monopoly system was broken up and Macau's casinos are now run by a handful of concession and subconcession syndicates, though the STDM still has 16 casinos of its own. Stanley Ho has made few public appearances since a fall at his home in 2009, and has fallen out with members of his family over business concerns.

In recent years Macau's economy, though still booming, hasn't been as robust as formerly. In part this is due to changes in China. Chinese anti-corruption laws are having an effect, but the larger issue is a change in tourism. Previously Macau was the preeminent destination for Chinese tourists, but with the expanding Chinese economy people have more options, and travel world-wide. This hasn't broken Macau by any means, but its gambling revenue has flattened since 2014, and the government has said it is looking for other sources of revenue.


Image sourced from Wikipedia under Creative Commons.

Macau is 60 kilometers southwest of Hong Kong. It has 41 km of coastline, and a vanishingly small land border with mainland China. It consists of the Macau Peninsula, the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and the recently constructed landfill Cotai that connects the islands.

The entirety of Macau is only 30 sq km.

There are eight parishes in total, and a significant portion of Macau's land mass is reclaimed from the ocean. The northernmost parish Nossa Senhora de Fatima, for example, which borders the Chinese city of Zuhai to the north, is made of land reclaimed in the 1960s and 70s. The Cotai Strip, where many of Macau's casinos are located, is reclaimed, as is Santo Antonio on the western portion of the peninsula.

Local currency is the MOP or Macanese pataca, but Chinese renmibi and the Hong Kong dollar is accepted everywhere.

Population

Just shy of 600,000 people, or about the size of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The median age is 39, and over 50% of the population is between the age of 25 and 50. Unemployment is very low, at about 5% for those between 15 to 24 years old, and in addition the government pays a subsidy to its citizens, amounting to a little over a month's minimum wage income. Literacy is over 95%.

The official languages are Portuguese and Chinese; only a little over 2% of the population speak English. Cantonese is by far the most wide spread language, but there's a good sampling of all the Chinese dialects as well as other regional languages such as the Philippines dialect Tagalog.  Portuguese is spoken by less than 1% of the population.

Formerly Catholic during Portuguese rule, and boasting the first Western Christian school in the far east, Macau is majority Buddhist.

Conflict

As a special administrative region Macau is overshadowed by China, but the relationship is complex.

Traditionally Macau has been a hub; goods, services and people flow to and from China via Macau. Today what this means is Macau supplies opiates, amphetamines and other narcotics to China, while at the same time stripping Chinese tourists of their cash at the casinos. Meanwhile poor Chinese flee the mainland via Macau, and often find themselves stuck in dead-end jobs cleaning, cooking and otherwise serving the rich who flock to Macau.

About a third of the population are migrants, and close to 10% live in poverty. The working poor find it all but impossible to live in modern, hyper-expensive Macau, and many have chosen to relocate to the mainland and commute to work. This leads to an odd situation where Macau natives have to move to China for economic reasons, while China's poor move to Macau, also for economic reasons.

In China, gambling is illegal. While Macau is tolerated, China sometimes lashes out. China believes gambling leads to or facilitates government corruption, particularly by local government officials who ought not to have the kind of cash Macau demands. Clearly they could only afford their gambling habits thanks to bribes or embezzlement.

These crackdowns cause a serious problem for Macau's economy, which is one of the reasons why Macau's government is traditionally very pro-Beijing. Macau is often thought of as China's filial child, while Hong Kong is considered more rebellious and wayward. Macau believes the best defense is to cause no offence.

Where Monaco, which relies on France for its external security, still has several hundred troops and police, Macau, which relies on China, has no troops of its own. It does have a police force, the Public Security Police, armed with Smith & Wesson Model 10 handguns, shotguns, MP5s and gas launchers.

China has an armed presence in Macau, the People's Liberation Army Macau Garrison, a little under 2,000 strong, about 600 of which are actually in Macau while the rest are just across the border in Zuhai. Its main base in Macau is on the Cotai Strip, among all the glittering casinos. Its soldiers tend to keep a low profile, and wear civilian clothes when off-base.

This may be part of the reason why, unlike Hong Kong, there is almost no pro-Democracy or independence movement in Macau.

Because Macau enjoys a unique relationship with China, foreign intelligence services have used it as a base point for operations. Bejing has long suspected that agencies like the CIA use US-owned casinos to tempt wealthy Chinese into foolish behavior, which the CIA then uses to blackmail them.

Triad crime is a significant concern. However as a result of the breakup of the casino monopoly, allowing foreign interests to invest in Macau, triads in the present day tend to work more cooperatively together and to spread their influence beyond Macau's borders, to China in particular. This requires diplomatic skills the triads never needed before. In the past, competition was dealt with directly. Now, in order to avoid anti-corruption purges and official displeasure, the triads adopt a softly-softly approach.

Beijing's concern about Macau corruption is not misplaced:

According to a member of the 14K Triad also interviewed for the study, most VIP-room contractors 'are triads or businessmen with a triad background ... The casino management would select the most powerful triads, based on a couple of factors including money, triad, reputation and ability to mobilize manpower.' ... VIP rooms are described in the study as 'bank-like' business enterprises. A junket must provide hotels, transport, loans and sex services. High rollers are expected to spend at least HK$500,000 per trip in a room.

That half-million dollars has to come from somewhere; bribes and embezzlement's probably the least of it.

Triads are also involved in casino security. In 2010 four men were arrested on conspiracy to commit bodily harm charges and a fifth on murder charges, as part of a retributive strike on a Macau casino employee suspected of cheating. Initially the men were supposed to break his arms and legs but, when the order came down to kill the dealer instead, one of the thugs balked and talked to the cops.

It turned out that the one who ordered the hit was a Wo Hop To triad boss, the person in charge of the casino's VIP rooms. Not only that, his company Jumbo Boom owned the junket concession; he got his both from those booking the holidays, and later from their expenditure while at the casino.

Most VIP gambling in Macau is leveraged, Reuters points out. Gamblers usually bet more than their cash on hand. This is particularly true of mainland Chinese high-rollers who, because of Beijing's strict capital  controls, aer limited to carrying the equivalent of US$5,000 in renminbi per trip when they leave China. Macau's six publicly listed casino operators lend to only a small minority of their patrons, according to company filings. This is because collection of gambling debt is illegal in China and Macau forbids casinos from writing off their bad or uncollectable debts.

Which begs the obvious question: if you can't legally collect on gambling debts in China, who do you turn to when a debtor in China refuses to pay?

This has proved a problem for US casino owners who can't or won't do business the Macau way. Either they get in bed with the triads - the only people who can collect on debts - or they don't do business at all.

Backdrops

Hac Sa Beach in Coalone, a black sand or volcanic beach. Due to erosion the government has shored up the beach with yellow sand. This is the largest natural beach in Macau, and is part of Hac Sa Bay Park. The Park includes a large barbecue area, mini golf, tennis courts, basketball and baseball fields, and there are many fast food stands if you don't care to make your own BBQ. The Beach is a popular spot for young lovers.

Mong-Ha Fort, built in the mid-19th Century to defend against Chinese attack after the First Opium War. The Fort was deactivated in the 1960s when the Portuguese military moved out, and this hilly area has since become one of Macau's green lungs. It's a public space with good views of Macau, though there isn't much left of the fort itself, and there are several walking trails. Mong Ha Hill also is home to the Lin Fung Temple, a restaurant and an art gallery.

Altira Macau Casino, formerly known as Crown Macau, opened in 2007 and boasts 216 guest rooms in its 38 floor complex. It's one of the tallest buildings in Macau, owned by a joint partnership between Hong Kong's Melco International and Australia's Crown Limited. There are 220 gaming tables, over 500 slot machines, a spa, fitness center, indoor pool, and seven different restaurants and bars. Its Yi Pavilion 5 star dining area overlooks all of Macau, and has only one table, seating up to 15. Rooms start at HK$1,500, or just a touch over US$192/night. Its website mentions its casino in the most tactful way possible, without even a picture of the gaming tables. 'Unlock a dazzling world of privileges! ... Terms and conditions apply. Participants must be 21 years or above. Gamble responsibly.' 

Three Hooks

The CIA has lost an asset. China, in another of its reprisals, arrested a half-dozen Western employees working in mainland China as publicists/junket bookers for a Macau casino, alleging that they are part of a criminal syndicate. However one of them is actually a CIA asset, though it's not clear whether the Chinese have figured this out yet. The CIA can't afford to make the snatch; if the agents do it, they can name their own price. What nobody's yet realized is that the whole thing's the brainchild of a Chinese government official who doesn't want to pay his gambling debts, and has engineered this crisis to bully the casino into backing off.

One of the People's Liberation Army non-coms enjoys a modest fortune acting as a broker for mid-ranking Chinese officials. He can arrange for pretty much anything, up to and including money laundering and lending at modest rates. As he's PLA the officials feel comfortable dealing with him, but in the grand scheme of things he's a bit player in a much larger, Triad dominated drama. Now he's provoked some very serious people, and wants out of Macau. He's willing to trade his contact list for safe passage - and he knows some very interesting people.

A would-be God of Gamblers has come from mainland China to strike it lucky. He wears red underwear, yells Deng! (eight, lucky numerology) at every turn of the card, and obeys all of the folklore rules except one: he deliberately cultivates bad feng shui. This is because he's actually a necromantic corpse, revived by a Jin-Gui who can't resist Macau's tables but who dares not come down to play in person. The Jin-Gui stays in the gambler's room; he says 'she's' his hot date, but you can't have sex before you play - it would drain the luck right out of him. The Jin-Gui controls the corpse telepathically and gets its thrills second-hand, but if anyone gets a good look at its dead pawn in an octagonal mirror, the truth will be revealed.

Thrilling Elements

These are unique to Macau:
  • Street vendors serving up Macau's signature chee par pau, or pork bun; hungry customers cluster, and the delicious smells tempt the most jaded palate.
  • Taipa, formerly a fishing village, now a laid-back tangle of shops and restaurants. Easy to get lost in its maze of streets.
  • A flock of scooters breeze past, narrowly missing someone's expensive limo.
  • Tourists cluster round the ruins of St Paul in the historical district, snapping photos.
  • Glittering casinos with all the fakery and glamor you'd expect of a high profile resort, from Vegas-style Venetian mashups to T-Rex displays.
  • Security guards on call at all times, ensuring that the gaming rooms are kept private; only guests of the hotel and gamblers allowed in.
  • The Macau-Hong Kong Turbo Jet ferry shooting back and forth from the two former colonies, packed with tourists and workers.
  • Night scene with neon signs and lights aplenty, dazzling the eye and screaming for attention: shop here, gamble here, come here and spend!
  • Street signs on every corner, in both Chinese and Portuguese.
  • Yet another extravagant fireworks display or huge event at one or more of the casinos.
  • Police on an anti-subversion raid forcibly clear out a house or business, hauling away the occupants for vigorous interrogation.
  • Hotel staff fawn over a visiting Chinese high-roller.
  • Long queues, everywhere, for everything. Crowds everywhere, particularly on weekends and holidays.

Enjoy!