Welcome 2017! Here's hoping the next few months will be more enjoyable than the last few.
I thought I'd start with something light, frothy, and slightly bloodstained, so here's some Vampire goodness courtesy of Night's Black Agents.
While in the UK last month I spent a small fortune on some fun reading material, and one of my purchases - mine for a quid - was Tony Thompson's book on the British underworld, Gangs. Thompson's a former Observer, Time Out and Guardian journo, and has a good eye for a fascinating story. His nonfiction includes Gang Land, Reefer Men, and Gangland Britain, and has a co-author credit on Written in Blood, an exploration of modern forensic science. Judging by Gangs he's well worth picking up if you happen to be setting any kind of modern day crime story in the UK.
He mentions something in his section on high-tech crime that I hadn't considered before, but is well worth adding to your NBA agent's bag of tricks, as follows:
'When I visited the offices of the Child Protection Command of the National High Tech Crime Unit at Scotland Yard, a nine-year-old girl, a twenty-seven-year-old stockbroker and a forty-eight-year old geography teacher were quietly surfing the internet. The girl was bored, lonely and looking for pen-pals; the stockbroker was looking to add to his collection of hardcore, sad-masochistic child pornography; while the teacher was looking for someone who shared his interest in ex with pre-pubescent blond boys. The girl was typing slowly, misspelling some words and abbreviating others. She made passing references to her favorite television programmes, complained about her lack of pocket money and told silly jokes.
"In reality the girl, the stockbroker and the teacher were just some of the dozens of fictional characters created by the unit's undercover officers.
"'Some of the pedophiles out there are the best hackers in the world,' Detective Inspector Brian Ward told me. 'They have the ability to examine the hard disc of someone online to check whether they are who they say they are.'
"This means that if an officer is going to pose as a nine-year-old girl, he has to ensure that everything on the hard disc fits with that. There will be certain types of music files, emails to and from friends about problems at school and home. All this information has to be created simply to ensure the deception is complete. Stacks of hard discs containing the different identities are spread about the room." [emphasis mine.]
Now there's something Players and Keepers can steal.
Usually fake identities are covered by the Cover ability, and presumably a Cover spend creates an online identity as well as the more usual fake passports and identity documents. After all there's no percentage in claiming you're a freelance art restorer who's worked with Christies, among other prestigious organizations, if you don't even have a LinkedIn profile to back it up. The first thing you can count on the opposition to do is Google you; you need to have something for them to Google.
But the kind of identity Thompson's talking about is paper thin. It exists only on one hard disc, and only for the purpose of fooling people who might scan that hard disc. There's probably links to social media sites which get updated sporadically, but it's not the same thing as a detailed cover story.
One of the things that can be done with Digital Intrusion is to 'provide a digital paper trail for a forged identity,' which is broadly what we're aiming for. Except this is less a paper trail and more a sculpted personality, adapted to be most attractive to the target, in order to trap the target. In this instance the intended victim is an SBA or other Conspyramid asset, and the sculpted personality is someone of interest to that person or creature - say, the Goth from Double Tap.
Under Covers and Legends (main book p112) there's rules for creating new Covers with Digital Intrusion or Forgery. For every 2 points spent, the agent gets 1 Cover. The Forgery bit's there for physical documents, so it's not much use for our current problem. The Digital Intrusion spend is, but lacks the tailor-made element of the online personality we're talking about.
This is sounding more like a Tactical Fact-Finding Benefit (main book p107), combining Criminology, possibly Human Terrain, or Vampirology - the exact Investigative ability will depend on the target - and Digital Intrusion to create a new Team Pool, Online Cover (X, in this example Goth), with a spend of 1 point from the Investigative ability plus X points Digital Intrusion, gaining 1 point Online Cover for every 2 points Digital Intrusion spent. Call it an Online Cover to underline the fact that this identity only exists as a special hard disc, to be used when tracking or trapping subjects online.
The big difference between an Online Cover and ordinary Cover being that the points thus gained can be used as Cover, or as Intimidation, or as Reassurance. This pool shouldn't be split two or three ways; it has to be or, not and. The Intimidation being something along the lines of 'I've caught you doing something your superiors really would not approve of, so you'd better do as I say,' while the Reassurance is along the lines of 'I really am who I say I am and I'm exactly the kind of person/opportunity you fantasize about. Come play with me.'
Imagine being the Conspiracy asset who suddenly realizes that his interest in, say, child porn is about to be leaked to the police, or that her secret desires are within reach. What would that asset do, either to keep a secret - imagine what happens to assets whose private lives draw unwanted attention to the Conspiracy - or to get the one thing they want more than anything else in the world?
So in an operation the Online Cover (Goth) can be used to tempt or force a computer-using SBA into doing something risky - like come to a rendezvous in some lonely spot, or download something they really shouldn't. Then the target can be neutralized, or flipped and turned into a double agent, or their network can be compromised. Or something else; the players will come up with something interesting, no doubt.
The next idea comes from Romania's diluted disinfectant crisis, covered in some detail here.
Briefly: the Romanian health care system is riddled with corruption, and one part of the bigger problem involved a pharmaceutical company, Hexi, selling heavily diluted disinfectants to Romanian hospitals. When the Collectiv Nightclub fire resulted in many avoidable deaths through infections, the scandal broke. Hexi's CEO, Dan Condrea, was charged with fraud, only for the charges to be nullified when he drove his car into a tree. The fallout claimed Romania's Health Minister, who resigned while public protests were at their height.
Corruption doesn't begin and end with diluted disinfectant. The entire healthcare system in Romania is supported by a network of bribery; if you want good treatment, or just sufficient anesthetic to get you through an operation, best to have a full wallet and a willingness to share. This is one of the reasons why so many Romanian healthcare professionals prefer to leave Romania as soon as possible.
Consider the fate of a Conspyramid asset that supplies, say, immunoglobulins and immunosuppressants to Romanian hospitals. This asset can have two functions: first, it's a moneyspinner. Thanks to significant dilution of the end product - resulting in avoidable deaths, naturally - it can charge top price for substandard product, paying off handsomely. Second, it's an excellent means of creating new Renfields, particularly in important government positions. Everyone has to go to the hospital at some point. Say an official's daughter needs an organ transplant: not only is the transplant a success, but also the Conspiracy now has an undetectable asset on the ground in the official's house.
Then it all starts going wrong. A massive event - like the Collectiv fire - exposes the deception. An investigative journalist is hot on the trail, and an expose is only days away. The Conspiracy has to act. Does it try to silence the journalist, or clean up loose ends at the pharmaceutical company?
As is traditional, the three possibilities:
One. The Conspiracy already had its hooks in the Journalist, as can be confirmed by looking at the Journalist's medical history; she's a Renfield. The whole thing's a Conspiracy plot, using an expendable asset - the pharma company - to take out its enemies in the Romanian government. The scandal alone should be enough to force a few inconvenient Government types to resign. The agents are brought in by the Journalist, partly as window dressing - foreign spies messing with local politics plays well in the papers - and partly so the agents can be lured into an Conspiracy ambush.
Two. The Journalist managed to dig up some extra information about another Conspiracy asset in Romania - a cursed monastery perhaps, or some lonely forsaken orphanage. This was possible thanks to negligence on the part of the pharma CEO, which is why the CEO is now in little bits scattered all over the freeway. The agents are brought in by the pharma's CFO, who's seen what happens to those who don't play ball and is looking for protection.
Three. The CEO collected blackmail material for years, thinking that he was dealing with Romanian mafia rather than some supernatural Conspiracy. When the CEO died the blackmail material was supposed to be forwarded to Interpol, but a contact at Interpol thought this was better dealt with by the agents and so forwarded the blackmail folder to them.
That's all for now. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!