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.


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