Thursday, 28 November 2013

Night's Black Agents: Chilling Locales

Victory Games' James Bond RPG, one of the best spy games of its era, knew that if it was to capture the imaginations of the players it had to present itself as the perfect Bond experience. One of the ways it did that was by immersing itself in real world detail. The iconic Bond travels all over the planet, stays in the best hotels, is seen aboard the most luxurious ships, planes and trains; the players expected no less for their characters. The Thrilling Locations supplement did exactly that, and while I can't hope to achieve the same thing here, I thought it would be good fun to start the conversation by talking about hotels.

The best hotels offer sterling service, excellent kitchens, comfortable rooms, and convenient access to the best that the area has to offer. Some hotels have a gimmick, some have a reputation, but the key thing, from a Keeper's perspective, is that they stand out. The players need to capture an image of the place in their heads, to really get into the game. The best way to do that is to make the place memorable right from the start.

With that in mind, let's start with Hotel Castel Dracula. Located atop the craggy heights of Tihuţa Pass - which Stoker fans will know is the real name of the Borgo Pass - its views are second to none. Built in 1974 in a pseudo-medieval style, Castel Dracula was created with one object in mind: vampire tourism. Guests can visit Dracula's tomb, deep in the basement, and then adjourn upstairs to the restaurant, sampling local food washed down with Dracula's elixir. The Tihuţa Pass is perfect hiking for those who enjoy wandering in beautiful countryside, and for those who enjoy more lively festivities, there's annual Witches Parties and Halloween get-togethers. What more could a vampire ask for?

Yes, it's kitschy as hell, and definitely one for the younger crowd. But consider: if ever there was a place where a vampire could get his or her freak on, and not be noticed, it's somewhere like this. Supernatural or Damned bloodsuckers could be partying in the hidden basement, the one underneath Dracula's tomb. Or perhaps the place has deeper significance; maybe the location wasn't just picked for its connection to Stoker's novel. It could be hiding something genuinely evil behind a plastic facade. What was there before the hotel was built? Who owns it? Are there significant political or criminal connections? After all, Romania is the 9th most corrupt country in the EU; is the Hotel a front for some other organization, and if so, what?

For obvious reasons, a location like this best suits a Supernatural or Damned game, but Aliens and Mutants have their place too. Either group could be using the Hotel as a convenient base of operations. Romania's EU membership gives it a surprising amount of political reach, and its troops served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also part of the missile shield being put together by the US and the West. A group which wanted a voice in world affairs without appearing too obvious about it would do well to be on good terms with a government like Romania's.

Passing from the shadow of Dracula's castle, take a trip aboard the Orient Express. The name is synonymous with luxury, and the Orient Express Group has some of the finest hotels in the world. But it's best known for its very famous train, which still runs each week to Budapest, Istanbul, London, Paris, Prague, Venice and Vienna. In its heyday it was the train of spies and crime, as well as luxury travel, but now there are much faster trains, never mind planes, to get people where they want to go. It's more for the tourist than the traveler these days, and it's doubtful spies wander the train carriage corridors.

That said, vampires are nothing if not nostalgic. An entity that's been around for a hundred years or more might have been on the train for its original incarnation's inaugural run in 1883. Perhaps one ride a year, just to recapture the magic, is a habit the players will make a particular entity regret. But there could be a more practical reason for riding the train, particularly for a bagman or a fixer. A bagman knows that sometimes the best way to stay out of sight is to be visible. Walk as if you own the place; millionaires seldom get asked impertinent questions. A ride on the train could be the best way to get to Paris without being made, or it could also be a good spot for handing off the goods. A fixer who wants to hold a clandestine auction, say of some sensitive data with a very limited life span, might like the idea of holding a private auction aboard the Express. Its publicity is its own security; few will be willing to risk the notoriety that comes with an overt assault on the most famous train in the world. Picture a scene in that famous dining car, with the fixer sat in magnificent solitude at his own table, occasionally getting a text bid from one of the interested parties, perhaps in their own cabin, perhaps in the dining car, or perhaps somewhere else altogether. 

Or perhaps, since this is a train as famous for murder as it is for luxury travel, the Keeper could go the Polonium Cocktail route. Say an important contact - perhaps that fixer - walks off the train gravely ill, and checks himself into a hospital soon after. It's pretty clear he got a bad dose, and it was probably given him aboard the train, as several Orient Express staff are also sick, although none nearly as bad as the fixer. But who handed him the dose, and what happened to the goods he supposedly had on him? The mini flash drive's not at the hospital; could it be still on the train?

That's it for the moment, but I will return to this theme later. There are plenty of places out there perfect for a Night's Black Agents moment and, after all, your players deserve nothing but the best.


  1. Is that the same theme hotel Anthony Bourdain went to?
    (From about 19 minutes-

    He hated it.

  2. Actually, I'm not sure. I thought it was, but looking at the exterior shots, it might be a different Dracula hotel. I know there's more than one; I didn't think there was more than one in Romania. Intriguing!