Sunday, 29 May 2016

Booze, Glorious Booze (Night's Black Agents)

Sometimes this blog writes itself.

Have a look at this news item, about a 150 year old wine cache found in the secret recesses of a Czech castle. The liquid gold, when tested under the most stringent conditions, proved to be as magnificent and desirable as any aficionado could wish for. Recovered by the state in 1985, only now have the Czech authorities bothered to do anything with it. Just as well, really, since in the 80s they could never have tested it so carefully as they can today, with devices that can pour off a snifter without damaging the integrity of the cork, and therefore the contents. The last three bottles of the 1899 Chateau d'Yquem are part of this 133 bottle collection. Those bottles alone are probably worth over $10,000 each; the auction price for the entire collection is incalculable, particularly since they've been tested and proved drinkable. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.

So there's all that. Now what can we do with this from a Night's Black Agents point of view?

There are vampire connections of long standing with Czechoslovakia. F.W. Murnau used Orava Castle, now a museum, as a setting for Nosferatu. Archaeologists sometimes find vampire burials and, on one occasion, a vampires' graveyard just outside Prague. And of course once upon a time Czechoslovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which gave the world some of the most evocative vampire legends to date; the desecration of corpses was so widespread that the Empress Maria Theresa was forced to pass a law forbidding exhumation and destruction of the buried dead.

Now here we have a wine trove found under a castle, complete with jeweled catafalque containing the alleged remains of a saint. So let's turn this into a Tale of Terror, Vampire Style, and see what can be done with it.

Option One:  Time Bomb. The collection was laid down by Satanic disciples who made a deal with a vampire, possibly Orlok the Nosferatu, possibly Dracula himself if there's to be a Satanic Cult of Dracula connection. The best bottles in the collection are tainted with vampire blood, and the intent was to send these bottles to important and influential persons, turning them into Renfields. For whatever reason this plan did not mature; if this is Dracula, perhaps his disastrous adventures in England preempted the wine plot. So the cache stayed hidden, lost and forgotten, until its rediscovery in 1985. Now the plan's been reactivated, which is why the auction has been scheduled. Soon the wine will scatter across Europe, vanishing into the collections of the rich and famous. That's why it was so important to establish that the wine is drinkable; without that extra touch, the bombs might have stayed in bottle forever. Character Link: A person of interest, possibly a known Renfield or Node, is paying particular attention to this auction. The person of interest is very keen to ensure the auction goes ahead without a hitch, going so far as to rig the bidding to ensure that certain people win certain auctions. Why should that be?

Option Two: Mine, All Mine. The wine cache was laid down by a wealthy and well-connected family, which had a vampire in its bloodline. This vampire used the family as a beard, relying on its wealth and influence to keep the vampire hidden. Possibly this creature is a former Bride of Dracula, or something of similar importance. When things got too difficult the bloodsucker hid in the saint's box, or perhaps the family got tired of supporting a freeloader and made sure it couldn't do any further harm. However when the cache was discovered in 1985 the vampire got out, and soon began cementing its local influence in Czechoslovakia, establishing a small network of human agents. It knows about the Conspiracy but is not a part of it, yet; it sits enviously on the sidelines, waiting for an opportunity. The time is now, and the wine sale is part of a scheme to raise some serious cash for its small network, with the ultimate goal of using that cash to fund a terrorist attack whose purpose is to prove to the Conspiracy how useful the vampire is, and how great it would be if the Conspiracy took it in. If the Vampire is a Bride, there's not a little sexual jealousy mixed in; "it's been how many centuries, and you still haven't called?" Character Link: Elements within the Czech BIS (domestic security) bring in the characters, anonymously, to check out some of the bidders. The BIS use the excuse that the bidders are Russian mafia, but the main worry is that criminal elements may be using the auction for their own purposes. The BIS can't be seen to intervene directly, but freelancers are another thing entirely.

Option Three: The Sting. Edom, or a similar organization, is using this auction as a lure to catch a particular target. The target's fondness for excellent vintages is well-known, and the intent is to kidnap the target while she's in the Czech Republic, extract her to an interrogation site - Black Light, for instance - and squeeze her dry. Meanwhile her temporary replacement is seen to be at the auction, placing bids and behaving as if nothing is wrong. Later, of course, the replacement's plane will 'mysteriously crash' on its way home. Or, if this is a Mirror game in which people's loyalties flip, perhaps the target will be turned and brought back into play after the auction. Character Link: Perhaps the freelancers were brought in to manage the kidnap, and keep up pretenses for a vital few days while the interrogators do their work. Or perhaps the freelancers were the target's security detail, and only discover after the fact that their employer was switched out for a double. This could be an excellent reason why the characters got burned in the first place.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

His Name Isn't Bond: Cover & Network (Night's Black Agents)

I've just finished reading Jeffery Deaver's take on British superspy James Bond, Carte Blanche. With this novel, 23 in the Bond series, Deaver updates the Bond mythology, reimagining Fleming's character in the 21st Century. Fleming's basic Bond is still here, complete with Bond's treasure of a Scot housemaid and the Vesper cocktail. Except this time Bond's shaken concoction with a slice of lemon peel gets a different name, Carte Blanche, and broadly speaking that's how the novel develops; Fleming's original, with a slightly different twist.

An example: CIA agent Felix Leiter appears in a support role, because that's how these things are done. At one point Leiter is threatened with death by crusher, his limbs dangling just that bit too close to the mangle. Instantly a Bond fan's mind turns to Live and Let Die where, in the novel, Leiter loses an arm and a leg, but still appears in later stories with prosthetic limbs. Will this be the moment, I wonder, when Deaver's Leiter gets his cyber upgrade? They're doing all kinds of things with artificial limbs these days ...

On the whole I enjoyed it, though I think there are too many changes here to satisfy a Bond purist, and there are elements of the story that make little or no sense. Take the support character Gregory Lamb, a British agent from MI6 sent to back up Bond. He has very little personality, appears only in a few scenes, and departs in a way that seems remarkably out of his established character; moreover, from the moment he arrives to the moment he departs he does nothing interesting, nor does he affect the plot in any way. I had to wonder whether Deaver really thought the character through, or whether he was hastily shoehorned in to solve a plot problem. Maybe someone won a place in the book through a charity lottery and Deaver didn't know what to do with him?

But this isn't a book review. I want to talk about a very cool scene about halfway through, and how it relates to Night's Black Agents.

The setting is Cape Town, South Africa. Bond is trying to pass himself off as a successful mercenary, to worm his way into the villains' confidence. He goes to the head villain's office, makes his pitch, and then says he has some pictures the head villain might be interested in. But Bond doesn't have those on him; they're back at Bond's office. Bond offers to email the .jpegs to the head villain, but the main henchman says no: go to your office, get them, and bring them back here.

Bond obediently does just that, and then the henchman says to the head villain: I don't trust this guy's story. Let's go to his supposed office, which I bet he doesn't have, and catch him in his lie. Which they do, only to find that Bond really does have an office, complete with staff, in this case South African police who Bond has brought on board thanks to what Night's Black Agents would call his Network contacts.

It's a brilliant scene, and immediately made me wonder how something similar could be achieved in Night's Black Agents.

To begin with, kudos to Deaver's Bond for actually having an honest to God cover identity. Usually he marches in under the name Bond, from Universal Export, and somehow nobody ever questions it. But let's consider this from a mechanical perspective, using Cover, Network and Preparedness.

Cover and Network are two pools that don't work the same way as other General pools. Both begin with high ratings that the player doesn't have to pay for - 10 Cover, 15 Network - and neither refresh. Instead the player has to buy them back with experience points.

Cover represents your agent's cover identities, and the stronger the investment, the stronger the cover. So if you invest 4 Cover points to create a pool in a particular identity, it's a pretty good cover. Whenever you do something that would test that Cover - cross a border, gain admission to restrictive areas - then you make a Difficulty test, usually 4, and you can spend from that newly created pool to bolster your chances. Failure means that something has gone wrong, but it's up to the Director what that means. [There is one Cherry that might affect Cover: if your Disguise rating is 8 or more you have Connected Cover, which means you can establish a cover identity that is both plausible and also related to your target in some way.]

Network is your pool of professional contacts, and like Cover the strength of each contact will depend on the amount of points spent on the contact. So in Carte Blanche, Felix Leiter is one of Bond's network contacts, in whom Bond's player probably put a lot of points bearing in mind how useful Leiter is to Bond. In the scene described above the leader of the South African police is also a Network contact, but one in whom Bond's player didn't put a lot of points, since this NPC challenges Bond in several different scenes and refuses to back him up at least once. Difficulty for Network tests depends on Heat; Heat is the amount of attention the authorities, usually the police, are paying to your character.

Preparedness is the game's equivalent to Monopoly's Get Out of Jail Free card. You use this ability whenever you see an opportunity to gain an advantage, or get out of a bad situation, explaining it away as a clever plan you thought of earlier but didn't mention until now.

So in this scene Bond blew a Cover check. Maybe he got overconfident and didn't spend points, only to have that magic number One turn up. What happens next?

The temptation on the Director's side is to turn this into a complete disaster, Han Solo style. That said, Deaver's solution to the problem shows that not every failure ends in failure. True, Bond failed the check. However the villains didn't draw weapons and gun him down on the spot, nor was his Cover completely blown. The failed roll merely meant they were suspicious, and decided to investigate further.

Now, from a game perspective, all the Director needs to say is, 'You're pretty sure [thanks to Tradecraft, Bullshit Detector or what have you] that they didn't believe your story, and will check on it.' If the player wants her character's Cover to hold up in future tests, she needs to do something about this. Otherwise the Difficulty in later scenes may be more than her Cover can handle, and that could be very bad if she happens to be behind enemy lines or in the major villain's lair at the time.

In game terms, I would suggest that unless the Cover is repaired all Difficulty tests for Cover checks go up by the amount of Heat that the group has generated. Which is about the time that the group may really regret stealing all those cars or blowing up those police stations, but that's just tough luck, really.

Bond's solution is a mixture of Preparedness, Reassurance and Network. This could be handled as a special Tactical Fact Finding Benefit, which for the purpose of this example I'm going to call The Big Store.

A Tactical Fact Finding Benefit relies on four attributes: the tactical ability needed to find the information, the action required, the circumstance under which the benefit comes into play, and the nature of the benefit.

In this instance the tactical ability can be Reassurance, which tends to be the con artist Investigative ability. I can see an argument for using Data Recovery as well, but Reassurance seems the obvious way to go.

The action required is this: the character creates an imaginary office, business or agency. This office exists in the virtual world on a 1 point spend plus a Difficulty 3 Digital Intrusion check, or in both virtual and reality on a 2 point spend plus a Difficulty 4 Preparedness check. In the virtual world it has a website, a history, possibly even a TripAdvisor rating if applicable. If it exists in the real world it also has an address and a small number of staff. If the target visits this Store, or just looks at it online, it seems in every way to be a genuine entity. The Director may wish to set limits on the Store, to avoid players claiming to own a huge multinational corporation that nobody ever heard of until five minutes ago. But that's up to the Director.

In Deaver's example, the office has a couple rooms and three or four staff. That's about right. So we're talking about a small operation, possibly a business like a diamond dealer's, a software developer, or small bed-and-breakfast hotel. There's nothing stopping a player from claiming to have a business somewhere other than the character's current location, so a character in Dublin can claim to own a pub in New York, no problem.

If the Store exists in the real world and the on-site staff are to be badasses in disguise, then there ought to be a Network spend to create those badassess. Otherwise they're regular civilians. Probably temps hired for the day, possibly criminals, but in any case they won't suddenly reveal themselves to be marksmen or Martial Artists. Nor will they fling themselves, lemming-style, in front of a bullet to save a character. If used as Mook Shields there probably ought to be a Stability penalty, since they really didn't deserve it.

The Big Store is used to bolster Cover. A grifter would use a Big Store to con a mark, using Cover to foster the mark's belief that the grifter really is who he says he is. The player's doing exactly the same thing.

So the benefit, which is the final point to consider, is this: the Difficulty for Cover tests in one scene is reduced by 3.

In context, going back to Bond, the scene plays like this:

Bond flubs his initial Cover check. He knows the villain is suspicious. So Bond establishes a Big Store, using Preparedness to make that possible since this is probably a 2 point spend situation. The reduced Difficulty is then used to make another Cover check in a new scene - remember, Difficulty increased by Heat and then reduces by the Store - and if this one succeeds, then the Difficulty of all future checks is no longer increased by the amount of Heat the group has generated. It drops back to 4, and Bond breaths a sigh of relief.

I hope that all makes sense! It's an expensive TFFB, so most players aren't going to try this every time they deal with an obnoxious bureaucrat at passport control. But for those moments when you're dealing with someone really important, like the major villain or a significant henchman, the Store can be the difference between a Cover that works, and a trip to the river with concrete shoes on your feet.

As far as Carte Blanche is concerned, if you're a Bond purist then you probably oughtn't to pick it up, as it may frustrate you. However there's plenty of fun to be had here, as well as some ideas for a Director to steal. I particularly recommend Bond's solution to a problem that Fleming never tackled: what to do if you capture, rather than kill, the villain. And no, that's not a spoiler. It's a Bond novel; you didn't think Bond was going to lose, did you? Deaver hasn't published any other Bond novels, but if he does, they may be worth seeking out.


Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Battleground of the Mind (Bookhounds of London)

In this ongoing series on Bookhounds campaign design, so far I've talked about the setting, why a bookstore should be either Spring or Winter, and what the first arc might look like. Now I want to take a step back and talk about another concept, borrowed in part from Ars Magica but also from Ken Hite's KWAS Mind Control: the Regio.

In Ars Magica, a Regio is a place of power. It draws its power from one of several possible spiritual sources: the Infernal, the Divine, Faerie, or Magic. More than one region is called a regiones, and in situations where multiple regiones are layered one on top of the other, a peculiar thing happens. Two people can stand in the same place at the same time, and yet be in two different versions of that same place.

Take a horror setting regiones, for example: a ruined castle. On the lowest level, which everyone can see, it is exactly that: a ruined castle. Faintly forbidding, and probably a bit nasty to hang around in for any length of time. It has a nasty reputation, and perhaps bad things happen there from time to time. But even with that, people who look at it see just the ruined castle.

At the next highest level, things change. It's still a ruined castle, but now the eerie quotient is raised. Strange noises, peculiar lights, odd weather effects, even unusual animals or ordinary animals that behave in an unusual way. Someone not in the regio, but looking at the castle from afar, would see none of these things. Someone near the castle, but not on that level, also does not see these things. However they don't see anyone on the next highest level either, nor do the people in the next highest level see them.

At the third level, things change still further. Now perhaps the castle is less ruined than it first appeared. It might not be completely rebuilt, but that tower where everyone says the old Baron used to torture his captives is intact. Also, the eerie effects increase in intensity, and achieve a kind of physicality not seen before. Old bloodstains become fresh blood. Faint moans become ear-piercing shrieks, and corpses which long ago went to dust have physical form. Moreover if there's any entity here capable of posing a physical threat, that entity exists and can harm people on this level of the regiones.

AD&D's Ravenloft setting played with a very similar concept, calling it a Sinkhole of Evil. As with the regiones, a Sinkhole exists on multiple levels of consciousness, but here the Sinkholes are Ranked in terms of the event that created them. A Sinkhole of Rank 1 can be created by intense emotions. A Rank 2 can be created by emotions and a particular evil event, say the spot where a murder occurred. A Rank 3 can be created by emotions and a prolonged event or series of events, such as a torture session that lasts several days. A Rank 4 can be created by emotions, prolonged activity and a remarkable event, such as the sacrifice of multiple people at an unholy chapel over a period of years. A Rank 5 is the most monstrous, the kind of thing reserved for battlefields where the hopes and youth of warring nations were sacrificed to no good end. The scarred landscape of the Somme or Passchendaele, in a game based in our world, could be a Rank 5 Sinkhole.

Leaping to the KWAS, Ken Hite suggests something interesting: a conflict of the mind, in which the players battle for control of the Superego, Ego, and Id. With each conquest the conqueror becomes bolder and more powerful, meaning that resistance to future conflicts is at a penalty. Here is a situation in which the evil is, quite literally, within. But like the regio, and like the Sinkhole, it exists on a completely different level: it's a fight that cannot be seen from the outside, which is being powered by something unspeakably evil, and which can do incredible damage all without being seen by anyone not directly involved in the situation.

With that I propose the overarching plot of the Bookhounds campaign: the return of the Comte d'Erlette, author of the Cultes des Ghoules, through the flesh of a player character.

The Comte laid plans for this long ago. Through his book - bound in human skin, one of the special volumes - he laid the seed. He's been waiting a very long time for someone to find it, touch it, even read it, and now he has that someone. There was a time when Etienne du Bourg was the target, but Etienne forestalled that plan by dying - and really, was his death an accident, or did Etienne decide suicide was the better way out? Since then, the Comte has waited patiently for the right candidate.

Along come the protagonists.

This shall be a battle of the minds, that takes place at intervals during the plot. In each instance the Comte goes after the geography of the mind, striking out at the Superego, Ego, and Id. If successful, the Comte gets a new body, and with it a new lease on life.

Exactly which player gets the dubious honor of becoming a target will depend largely on circumstance. Is there a protagonist who has paid special attention to the book? Then the choice is obvious. Otherwise it will be up to the Keeper to decide who's first on the list, but if, say, someone should have the bad manners to die before Mind Control can be achieved, then the Comte sighs and moves on to the next likely target.

To look at, each layer of the target's mind exactly resembles the Bookstore, du Bourg's. Except different somehow, in odd little ways. A level 1 might be slightly unusual, feature NPCs who no longer exist - because they died - or have doors that will not open. A level 2 has doors which do open, and the protagonists may devoutly wish that they did not. Strange and terrible creatures may stalk the halls. Odd landscapes may be seen out the windows. A level 3 is completely beyond the bounds of reality. There is no outside world in this scenario, and you cannot trust any door to lead where you think it ought to.

Movement from reality to the mental realm may be as easy as stepping from one room to the next. The target simply discovers that, when she emerges from the stockroom laden with books that a customer asked for, not only is the customer not there but neither is anyone else. That signals the start of a mental attack, but as to when it ends ... ah, there's the rub.

How to get the other players involved? Well there are two obvious ways. First, the target can create the other characters in her mind, using them as mental bodyguards. The other players take over the role of those bodyguards, and play them as usual. Perhaps they have slightly unusual appearances; someone she always thought had a fish-face, say, now really is a fish, in a much-patched suit and cheap cravat.. But fundamentally they are the same people with the same suite of abilities. This option allows the Keeper to use lethal force without troubling his conscience too much about whether a character lives or dies. A mental construct, after all, can die multiple times - theoretically, anyway.

The other option is to use magic. If the characters on the outside find their companion standing mute and apparently senseless, the victim of a mental attack, they can use, say, Idiosyncratic Magic to get into their friend's mindscape. From there the game plays out as normal, only without the multiple deaths. One is quite enough.

As to how this might play out, that will wait for future posts, I feel.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Battlefield 1 Reveal Trailer - Historical Jibber Jabber

It's rare I have something drop in from the mystic land of videogames that's so firmly in my wheelhouse as Battlefield 1, the latest iteration in the warfare FPS franchise from Electronic Arts. As I'm busy working on an Esoterror project - more later - I thought I'd use the trailer as a mental cleanser, popping in from time to time to give my thoughts on it when I want a break from the project.

Little is known about the game itself. It's set in the Great War. It's already been revealed that the Harlem Hellfighters, the black American (or perhaps that ought to be French, since the Americans wouldn't let them fight under the Stars and Stripes) regiment, will be a significant part of the game. Allegedly you'll be able to pilot tanks, planes and battleships as well as engage in ground combat. Not entirely sure why, since naval warfare really wasn't a thing in the Great War; everyone stayed home after Jutland. It might have been more interesting to give the players submarines. But what the hell.

With that in mind, the trailer:

First thought: the music's OK, but I would have preferred at least a nod to the tunes of the time rather than leap in with White Stripes. Eh, whatever.

0.08: trench warfare. Looking accurate so far.

0.09-11: desert warfare. Cool, the game's looking beyond the usual Trench Warfare stuff. Apparently that's a woman riding at the charge. Fair do. Not sure about the henna face tattoo; I thought that mehndi was more of a festivals/weddings tradition, than a 'let's stab people up and look good doing it' thing. Also, face tattoo? Is that what traditional mehndi's for?

0.14-0.17: back to the trenches again. Not sure when this is. I'm going to cross my fingers and say  1917-18. It's remarkable that everyone's striding around upright given the snipers, shrapnel and machine gun nests everywhere.

0.18-0.21: only one flyer used an all-red crate, and he didn't crash into what looks like a desert outcropping. Also, triplanes in the desert, what the hell. There was air warfare in the desert, but they used clapped-out hand-me-downs from the Western Front, not the latest and most modern kit. Plus I'm getting muddy about the timeline. If that's a tripe then this is probably 1917. So what's that remarkably intact building doing there? Why does everything look comparatively nice and not bombed to hell and gone?

0.25: Tanks? In the desert? Bullshit. Plus, if those are tanks, then this is 1918. They're working remarkably well, under the circumstances. The early tanks didn't like mud; God knows what those delicate little darlings would have made of sand, sand, sand as far as the eye can see. It's bad enough trying mechanized warfare in the desert in the present day. Those things would have gone two foot, coughed, and died.

0.034: I have absolutely no idea where we are. Italy? Maybe? It's the only explanation for why everything looks so green and verdant.

0.36: onwards, yeah, forget it. Not a clue. Most of it's trench warfare, some of it's sea warfare - again, that all came to a halt after Jutland - a chunk of it's air warfare, and I couldn't begin to tell when or where this is meant to be. Except there are tanks. So presumably 1918, Western Front. Except those are British tanks attacking what seems to be a British, or possibly American, position. Well done, lads. Medals for everyone. Historical note: the Germans did have tanks, but they never really got the chance to use them, except for one inconclusive little scrap in April 1918.

0.54-56: A zeppelin? What on earth for? Those things were a joke by 1918. You might as well send in Charlie Chaplin.

1.01: well, it's all over now, and I don't have to listen to that Godawful music. Thank Christ.

Impressions: it's traditional at this point to scream 'no gameplay' at the top of your voice, but in this case I think the criticism isn't as on-point as it could be. This is EA, after all, and Battlefield is one of its showcase warfare FPS titles. Unless someone screws up dramatically the gameplay will be solid but uninspired, because it is always solid but uninspired. Equally if there was anything really interesting it would be in the trailer, and it isn't. So nothing to look forward to, or to worry about.

It's just cinema, and not even very interesting cinema. It's unusual to see a Great War themed game, but there have been a few of those recently - Valiant Hearts, for instance - so it's not a complete shocker. I predict a bland and uninspiring single player experience tacked onto what is probably intended to be a multiplayer extravaganza that will last until the servers go dark. So maybe two years.

It's odd. There's been a bunch of multiplayer titles recently - Destiny, the Division, whatever that bloody silly mecha titans game was a year or two back - and all of them seem to be aiming for roughly the same market. Presumably someone out there is praying for a Team Fortress 2 success-level title, rather than the withered fruit that drops off the twig these days. But these things cost a fortune and if they're all leeching from the same customer base I don't know how the hell they're meant to make a profit.

Mind you, these are all made by the same small handful of AAA developers, and that might be the point. As the audience for Titanfall dwindles repurpose the servers for whatever Battlefield title is coming up the pipe, and that way you seldom have to worry about underutilized assets.  

Final verdict: historically wobbly justification for what's very likely to be Just Another Shooter. Collector's Edition pre-order at $220-odd (Jesus Wept), but that includes the statue and other gimmicks which nobody in their right mind needs, and you know in your heart that any DLC in the pre-order will eventually be released for everyone to buy sometime after launch. I note that the Desert War and Red Baron packs seem to be separate assets, so presumably if you just buy the core game you only play in the trenches.

Incidentally what the hell is it with pre-order rubbish? I liked feelies back in the day; the cloth map you got with Ultima III Exodus was part of the fun, and had in-game relevance. But the monkeys have taken over the zoo. Who needs yet another dust-bunny up on the mantelpiece, gawping down at the living room like a senile relative at a bar mitzvah? Just how stupid is the average consumer, anyway?

Don't answer that.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Tale of Terror, Vampire Style (Night's Black Agents)

I've been buried in an Esoterror project, so I didn't post anything last week. I know, I'm evil. But then, so is Esoterror, so I guess that works out in the end. More or less?

If you're a Call of Cthulhu fan from way back then you probably remember the Tales of Terror. The Tales are short adventure seeds, with three possible outcomes. The intent being to let the Keeper and players riff on the basic premise, and use one of the three outcomes as the core of the encounter. The old Unspeakable Oath used to print these fairly regularly, but I've no idea what's going on with the Oath these days. I know there's a podcast, but I don't really follow the site any more.

However one quick glance over there shows that it does still publish Tales every so often, so if you're still unclear as to the concept then here's an example written by S Cogswill.

With that in mind, let's tear something from the headlines and use that as a basis for a Night's Black Agents Tale of Terror.

Here's a good one: Pile Up On French Road After 'People Smugglers' Shot At In Police Chase.

"Belgian police opened fire during a cross-border chase with suspected people smugglers driving a car with a British number plate, resulting in a pile-up on a motorway in northern France.
At about 5am on Thursday, a lorry driver in Belgium called local police saying that smugglers had tried to get 17 people into his truck and that he and other drivers had been threatened with a knife, the French paper La Voix du Nord reported.

When police intervened, the suspects sped off by car, first hitting a Belgian police car, then heading on the motorway towards northern France."

For the rest of the article, click on the link.

From there we get to:

Possibility One: Botched Rescue. The so-called people smugglers are actually trying to save the seventeen 'smuggled' victims. These people were being held at a Conspiracy site in Belgium, for reasons the characters don't yet know - blood banks, biological agent testing, Satanic ritual, something else - and their rescuers did their best to get them across the border. However it all went wrong in the worst possible way, and the rescuers panicked and ran. It did not end well. Now there's seventeen people in a detention center who may, at any moment, be stolen back by the Conspiracy, never mind their two would-be rescuers currently in police custody. What next? Character Link: One of the rescuers is a character's Network contact, or even Solace.

Possibility Two: Node Fratricide. Two Nodes within the Conspyramid are fighting, as described in Double Tap. One of those Nodes is in the people smuggling business, and its rival tips off the police. The result is much messier than anyone predicted, because the people smugglers panicked and ran. Now the characters are in an excellent position to exploit the situation, either keeping pressure on the damaged people smuggling Node, or letting the people smugglers point the characters at the other Node, as revenge. Character Link: Either one of the police is a Network contact, or one of the people smugglers is an already established dramatically important character, possibly a foil for one of the player characters.

Possibility Three: Blown Op. Among the people being smuggled is an operative on the run, who was hoping that the smugglers would be able to get him/her across the border after the operative built up too much Heat. However increased police vigilance, thanks to the Heat, led to the car chase and subsequent disaster. Now the operative is in real trouble, and the only hope is that someone gets the operative out before the opposition catch up. Character Link: The characters are gathered as an ad-hoc rescue team, or possibly a snatch team unknowingly working for the opposition, by a friendly Asset Handler. This op needs to happen fast; in a few hours the operative will be moved from a holding cell to somewhere much more secure. In an Edom Files game, the operative is Edom and so are the rescuers.

Why do this? Well, because it's fun, obviously. But also because it serves a useful purpose. There are going to be times when the Director is at a loose end, or the plot seems temporarily derailed by circumstances beyond the Director's control. While waiting for inspiration, the Director can use a Tale of Terror as an easy bridging point between the current impasse and the next significant plot development.

Besides, they're easy to do. All you need is a good headline for inspiration, and from that come up with three reasons as to why those events will interest the characters. After that, let the players go nuts. They're probably going to go nuts anyway, so what the heck.

On that note, since the headlines have been so useful this week, let's have another:

Oil Tanker Washes Up on Liberia Beach with No Crew or Lifeboats

"An abandoned oil tanker has washed up on the shores of Liberia in west Africa, prompting an investigation - and speculation over the fate of the ship's crew.

The Tamaya 1, which is registered in Panama, ran aground on a beach near Robertsport earlier this week, apparently without a crew or lifeboats. On Thursday the Liberia national police and bureau of immigration inspected the ship, days after local residents first discovered it on the beach.

The 64-meter (210ft) tanker's last known position was on 21 April near Gambia and Senegal, according to shipping site Marine Traffic - well north of Liberia along the west African coast. The ship was en route to the Senegalese port of Dakar, according to the site."

Panama registers nearly 20% of the world's merchant fleet. Panama is an open registry, also known as a flag of convenience, and has been since the 1920s. If your ship is Panamanian registered, Panamanian laws apply; this is often done by ship owners to reduce costs, particularly labor, but also the cost of keeping up with environmental regulations. Critics claim open flag jurisdictions are hotbeds of crime and terrorism.

Liberia, the Land of the Free, is still suffering from the effects of the civil war, and rebel leader Charles Taylor's excesses. As of 2005 the constitutional republic is led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but it's an uphill struggle. Trial by ordeal is not uncommon in rural districts, and corruption is endemic at all levels of government.

With all that in mind:

Possibility One: Asset On The Run Perhaps it's one of Edom's SBA's, a Conspiracy entity gone rogue, or an escapee from one of the other interested parties' weapons programs. Whichever it is, it's loose, and is doing its best to stay free. A lot of very powerful (and peculiar) people are suddenly very interested in Liberia, and agents are being sent in to see what happened to that escaped asset. Character Link: The agents have faced this particular asset before, but now the tables have turned the asset may be more amenable to moral 'suasion. Or, a Network contact in Liberia is very worried about some of the stories coming in from the hinterlands, and asks for help.

Possibility Two: Stage One of the Master Plan. The Conspiracy is planning something big, really big. The Liberian operation is either a test run, or the first stage in what amounts to a vampiric coup, taking out the democratically elected government and replacing it with a catspaw. Why? Well, Liberia's asset-rich, but perhaps there's something else out there that the Conspiracy really can't do without. Works best with Mutant or Alien vampire types. Character Link: This is it. If the agents are ever going to find out what the Conspiracy is all about, Libera's the place to be.

Possibility Three: Panamanian Shenanigans The Conspiracy's Node in Panama is shipping dangerous materials across the globe, and this time something went very badly wrong. Now that Node is scrambling to cover up the mess, and has hired mercenaries, or a science team backed up by mercenaries, to deal with whatever-it-is that's loose in Liberia. Character Link: One of those mercenaries is a Network contact, possibly a Solace. Alternatively one of the people the mercenary team comes into conflict with is a Network contact or Solace.