Sunday, 28 June 2020

Rockers, Spies and MICE - Flipping Vampires (Night's Black Agents)

This week's post is inspired by a Guardian article about the use of musicians and artists to shred the Iron Curtain.


Stop me if you've heard this one before. US government agencies - basically, the CIA - backed ideologically useful artists, singers, performers, and sent them across the Iron Curtain to boogie for their country. The idea being that if the enemy saw how wonderful freedom was, they'd stop being the enemy. Even when, as was the case with Satchmo, the artist in question faced significant restraints at home, they were expected to perform to order abroad. Except, as with Satchmo, they sometimes didn't; the celebrated jazz singer refused to do as he was told until Roosevelt mobilized the army to enforce anti-segregation laws.


So far, so Radio Free Europe. Let's talk about MICE.

Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. These are the factors that flip assets. If you want someone's cooperation you appeal to at least one of those drivers. Compromise is perhaps the trickiest, as it can range from blackmail to revenge, but they're all straightforward human impulses, played on like a violin.

Human, yes - but vampires were human too, once upon a time, prey to all the ills flesh is heir to.

In Night's Black Agents the characters will frequently want to turn the Conspiracy against itself. Take one Node, play on its baser impulses, and get it to smack one of its neighboring Nodes until its chimes ring like Big Ben. After all they're vampires, not zombies - they have free will, and anything with free will can be subverted. Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego - and no prizes for guessing that Ego plays a big part in the vampire psyche.

You think to baffle me, you with your pale faces all in a row, like sheep in a butcher's. [now there's a dated reference. How many of you reading this have even seen a butcher's shop, much less sheep's heads for sale?] You shall be sorry yet, each one of you! You think you have left me without a place to rest, but I have more. My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side.

Cultural espionage shows up in at least two Dracula Dossier scenarios, both in the Edom Files: Blood Coda, in which the action revolves around a Russian ballet troupe sent to London to dazzle capitalism, and Day of the Wehrwolf, where the agents encounter terrorists bent on blowing up Radio Free Europe. In each scenario cultural espionage is a background against which the main action takes place; nobody expects the agents to engage directly with ballet as an art form used to influence the West. However it can be a lot of fun to play with cultural espionage, as a form of gameplay.

Let's say the agents have a particular asset in mind. They've taken the trouble to know this asset inside and out. They're confident they have their fingers on the pulse, metaphorically speaking. They want to make the asset theirs, or at least influence the asset in a certain direction. But how to make the move? Just going in with guns and attitude escalates the problem. The soft approach is called for.

Show me the vampire who can resist a star. It's a huge ego-boost, particularly for those low on the Conspiracy's org chart. If you're in Dracula's clique then you know whatever you do for the rest of your unlife you will be second banana. If you're lucky. Did you command armies? Were you feared throughout Europe? Did the townsfolk not dare to speak your name aloud? That's great. No, really, super. Here's a scrub brush. There are toilets that need cleaning.

  
Now put a celebrity in the mix. Someone with fame, talent, charisma. Someone who's much more, well, likeable than you will ever be. Then imagine what happens when that celebrity finds you the most interesting thing on Earth - or performs just for you.

When Money won't work, when Ideology's a non-starter, the smart agent leans heavily on Compromise and Ego. All wrapped up in a pretty package, with charming smile to match.

The Wedding Singer

This story seed is nominally set in Monaco, but can easily be changed to a different location.

A celebrated Russian Mafia boss has arranged it so his daughter will have the ultimate private show - a concert in her honor at the Monaco Yacht Club. Invites are out, and this is very much by invitation only. If you don't have Streetwise or High Society sufficient to impress the higher-ups, you aren't getting in.

However the agents know that a very important figure within the Conspiracy is keen to get in. The performer is someone that Conspiracy bigwig rates very highly. They'd do, well, anything to get closer. Perhaps a quiet back-room conference - a quick bite, maybe?

In this seed the agents have two challenges. First, they have to get into that performance. They can't blunt-force this Infiltration. Monaco's much too high profile for stick-on comedy moustaches and a bit of the old Peter Sellers.  Force will be met with brutal retribution. Monaco's the most highly policed location on the planet, with cops and soldiers aplenty available at a moment's notice. With all those cameras watching everyone's least move it will literally need only a moment before Heat becomes unbearable. However they get in, it will need to be ironclad.

Second, they need to make a Network contact of that celebrity. Ideally this isn't just a point spend; you don't want the players thinking they can buy Beyoncé with X number of Network points. The agents will need some kind of leverage - which brings us back to MICE. Again, Ego is probably the most useful leverage but don't forget the power of Money. After all, Money bought Jackson Pollock. The rulebook calls it Excessive Funds for a reason. Given the Monaco setting this might be a fun time for some Gambling challenges to rack up funds. Perhaps the agents get the celebrity's cooperation through some strategic baccarat, in much the same way Sean Connery gets Sylva Trench's attention in the opening scenes of Doctor No.

All of which leads up to that psychological moment. Celebrity meets Vampire. At which point the agents presumably play their ace and flip that asset. Or not. Then, as with every con game, there is the blow-off, as the agents exfiltrate without arousing suspicion. Cackle bladder optional.

Mind you if it all goes wrong and BeyoncĂ© ends up one of the Conspiracy's converted it shall be an interesting after-mission briefing with Edom (or whoever's paying the bills). The agents will be lucky if they escape with a written reprimand in their case file ... 

Enjoy!

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