Sunday, 22 January 2017

A Growth Market (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

A short while ago I mentioned Tony Thompson's book Gangs and drew inspiration from that for a scenario seed. Now I'm going to dip into his follow-up, Gang Land, for a look at something that can be stolen by Dracula Dossier Directors.

'I first became aware of the impact of Vietnamese cannabis gangs in 2005,' Thompson writes. 'While attending a murder trial at London's Woolwich Crown Court, I noticed that five cases being heard that day featured defendants with the same name - Nguyen; I thought I'd stumbled across some massive conspiracy but soon learned that each of the cases was separate, that all involved homes which had been converted to cannabis farms and that none of the defendants were related to one another.'

Nguyen is a very common Vietnamese name, and what Thompson had actually stumbled across was a very simple scheme. Send in your representative, a sober-seeming member of the community with impeccable credentials. Get the lease signed. Set up a fully-functioning cannabis farm in an otherwise ordinary house. Move in your chosen 'gardener,' a man or woman whose fear of you far exceeds any fear they may have of the consequences of arrest. Get the gardener to take care of the plants. Harvest. Repeat.

Frequently those involved are children, sent to the UK to work off family debts at home. "Children are an increasingly valuable assets to criminal gangs," says Philip Ishola, former head of the UK’s Counter Human Trafficking Bureau, "Because they are easy to get hold of, easily intimidated and exploited, and easy to keep isolated and unaware of what is really happening around them, which makes it far less likely for them to be able to disclose anything of use to the police."

Since Vietnamese gangs account for something close to 90% of the supply of domestically grown cannabis in the UK, those of you who enjoy a quiet puff on the occasion may want to bear in mind you may be supporting child slavery with your habit.

Leaving that unhappy thought to one side, let's talk about Nodes.

In the Conspyramid (main book p 157) nodes can be 'a gang, a cell within an organization, a facility or institution, a powerful individual, a whole subverted agency, or anything else that might be part of the vampire conspiracy ... each node will have its own penumbra of guards, lackeys, underlings, investigators, or other assets not explicitly indicated on the chart.'

A Node designed with the cannabis farming template doesn't sound like a very powerful or significant one. It's likely to be at the lowest level, defined in the main book as a street-level power. Street level Nodes can be police departments, museum departments, street gangs and so on, so it can have multiple personnel and locations, maybe some heavy hitters, but probably doesn't have enough pull to get the really powerful assets.

Before we go deeply into what this Node might be like, let's take a step back and talk about design.

When I discussed Villains I made reference to a writing exercise that can be used for Nodes just as easily as Villains. I provide a list of questions that need to be answered, and a modified list will do as well for Nodes, as follows:

  • What is the Node's Level and primary designation?
  • Name three physical attributes that should be emphasized when describing this Node.
  • List three primary assets.
  • Where is the Node based?
  • What is the Node's primary function?
  • What is the Node's secondary function, if any?
  • What is a problem the Node has to deal with?
  • What is the Node's ultimate goal?
  • What, if anything, is the Node's secondary goal(s)?
  • Which other Nodes interact with this one?
So with that in mind let's talk about this particular Node.

Its Level is 1, the lowest in the Pyramid. Its primary designation is Cannabis Farms.

Physical attributes are tags that can be applied to any of the Node's locations or personnel. Think of them as tags added to a blog post, or tags added to an asset in computer game design. In this instance since this is a street level Node and pretty dark, I'm going for: half-starved illegals/children, rats & vermin, quiet neighborhoods.

Primary assets are not necessarily leader types. They are assets that the Node uses on a daily basis to go about its business or protect itself from harm. In this case the primary assets are a series of rented houses where the farms are based, a small network of adult criminals (using the Thug template from the main book) who organize the farms and distribute the product, and a police informant who has access to Holmes 2, so the Node can keep an eye on any official investigation that might take place. This police contact might be the only Renfield in the group, kept docile and obedient by blood addiction. Alternately one or two of the adult criminals may be Renfields.

The Node is based in the greater London metropolitan area, in this example. Cannabis farms are spread all over Europe, so a similar Node could as easily operate anywhere in Europe. In this instance the Node doesn't have one big base; it has half a dozen small outposts, many of which have little or no defenses. The group doesn't care if one or two farms get knocked off. It has plenty more, and can make more quickly. 

The Node's primary function is to earn money for the Conspiracy.

The Node's secondary function is to provide safe housing for other Conspiracy assets. A quiet suburban house is the perfect place for SBA's on the run, and all those illegal kids are handy snacks.

The Node's problem is that other criminal gangs are constantly trying to steal their turf. This is a low-level Node; it can't go running to the higher-ups every time some scrote tries to rip it off. It has to deal with its problems in-house. That means relying on its own Thugs, or any supernatural powers its leadership might possess. Since this is nominally a Vietnamese gang ideally the leadership's powers, if any, should be drawn from Vietnamese folklore, say a Krasue variant. If this were a Romanian gang - perhaps, with Dracula Dossier in mind, run by the Human Trafficker - then the leadership's power would be different.

The Node's ultimate Goal is probably closely aligned with the Conspiracy's ultimate Goal. Say the Conspiracy's function is to ensure Dracula's ascendance to power. Dracula might have any number of ways to do this that the Node doesn't know about, but the Node will help in any way it can. Perhaps it uses the cash it earns to corrupt important politicians. Perhaps it helps the Human Trafficker distribute and control illegal immigrants. Perhaps it produces a corrupted form of cannabis which makes the smoker more susceptible to vampiric Mental attacks (+1 Difficulty). Perhaps the rats that infest each of its houses are breeding some kind of mutant rodent, or just supply rats for ordinary rat swarms which the Conspiracy uses to devour its enemies.

Its secondary Goal, if it has one, is unique to it. Say the leadership is a Ma Lai with the traditional three red dots on her neck and a scarf wrapped tight to conceal its suppurating throat wounds. It may want to wear only the best fashions, or be cursed with eternal hunger that makes it seek out raw meat each night. The Node may change its patterns or activities to cater to that need. The Node may have an ongoing rivalry with another Node, in which case the secondary Goal will be to defeat that Node, and so on.

Finally, which other Nodes interact with this one? Say for the sake of this example that the Human Trafficker supplies immigrants to a number of different criminal Nodes. That suggests the Human Trafficker is a Node unto him (it?) self, which this Node interacts with. Or that the chemicals it uses to mutate the cannabis plants are supplied by a specialist Node. Or that one of the corrupted politicians its money created makes up another separate street or city level Node. The point is that by looking at the Node's Goals and its Primary Function you should be able to work out which other Nodes logically would interact with this one.

For that matter the players are bound to come up with connections of their own that you can run with. Say the players find out about the Renfield police contact, and start looking for other corrupted cops. You might not have decided to have corrupt cops in the game until now, but once the players start looking for them maybe you can establish a completely new Node around that idea. Connections breed Connections, and sometimes the best ones are the ones you haven't thought of yet.

One last thing before I sign off. I also use this idea in a short story written for my Patreon page. Go check it out, and let me know what you think!

That's enough for now. See you next week!

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