Sunday, 31 July 2016

Edom: Side Missions (Dracula Dossier, Night's Black Agents)

So you've bought the Dracula Dossier, and are hooked on the idea of running an Edom-centric campaign. Great!


'Hmmm,' thinks the cunning Director. 'I need to run some small-scale Edom-centric stuff before moving on to the main meat of the story. That way I can introduce the group to all the things Edom has to offer, before Dracula turns up and makes salsa out of the Dukes. That's a bit of a problem, because it needs to be small-scale otherwise characters and important NPCs are going to end up dead before the story arc payoff. Some of the adventures in The Edom Files could be useful here, but not all of them. What to do?'

Well, what you really need are some small scenario seeds that showcase parts of Edom you want to develop in more detail later in the campaign. If E Squadron's going to play a big part in the showdown, then you need to have a few story moments where the characters interact with E Squadron before anything story significant kicks off. Same goes for the researchers, the support staff, the Dukes and all the other peculiar things that go to make up Edom as a whole.

These scenario seeds needn't be very large. In fact it's best to think of them as the opening sequences in a Bond film, just after the iconic score kicks in but before the title sequence. The Bond people got away with a lot in those moments, up to and including killing Bond, which happened at least three times to my knowledge and I wouldn't be surprised if it was more often than that. Though they could be forgettable at times; if you'd told me ten minutes ago that the opening sequence to Goldfinger involved heroin flavored bananas I'd not have believed you. Thank heaven for YouTube, I guess?

So with that in mind I'm just going to focus on the Hook, the Main Scene, and the Thrilling Moment, which is broadly the pattern those Bond intros aimed for. In each instance I'll state which Duke or aspect of Edom this is meant to illustrate, which means this is best read with a copy of the Basic Field Manual handy.  

In play, don't sweat the details. By which I mean that this isn't meant as a series of mini scenarios. It's an introduction to a particular part of Edom that might not otherwise get screen time, which means attention needs to focus on Edom interactions. If this scene is meant to introduce the agents to the Archivist, then let it. Don't get bogged down in mechanical details; it's perfectly acceptable to montage most if not all of the elements between the Main Scene and the Thrilling Moment.

Let's go back to Goldfinger's Banana. That scene involves Infiltration, Hand to Hand (twice), Flirting, Explosive Devices, Sense Trouble, Athletics for the wall climb and probably Athletics again for the scuba dive. If all of those pools were depleted in this scene and then the adventure proper starts, the player's right to feel aggrieved, since the character starts at a disadvantage. Even if you decide that the Flirting is a 0 point spend, everything else is a General pool, and theoretically failure in say, Hand to Hand, Sense Trouble or Athletics results in Health loss, while failure in Explosive Devices could be very embarrassing. [Incidentally if anyone can explain why they needed several containers worth of nitro in the poppy growing facility I'd be delighted to hear it.]

So instead of using dice, let it be a montage sequence of automatic successes, except for the Thrilling Moment. Describe the situation, let the player describe how the characters get through the situation, and then move on. Which is probably how Bond ended up with a seagull on his head; it's a throwaway moment, not intended as a major plot point. Brief chuckle, then on with the show. For a reward, if a reward is needed, use the Achievement system, as follows:

My Name is Bond: When the player provides a colorful bit of roleplay or hot-dogging in the opening montage, the character gets an extra 1 point of experience at the end of the session.

The Thrilling Moment is a bit different. This is the point at which there is some tangible threat, and it shouldn't be montaged away. Admittedly the opposition are never any more threatening than mooks or low-power Renfields, but even so there's a chance of failure. Here's where point spends become relevant again, so spend away. In the Goldfinger scene, that final fight with the mook in the dancing girl's bedroom is the Thrilling Moment.

E Squadron: One of the Boys. Hook: E Squadron is on emergency scramble, objective a freighter delivering a suspected high-value target (Dracula?!? probably not, but you never know) to the UK. Agents are to accompany E Squadron, verify the target, retrieve if possible and eliminate if not. Ship's crew and any others on board considered expendable. Main Scene: on board the freighter (Axel Logistics?) in a firefight with mooks and Renfields. Thrilling moment: escaping the burning freighter before its highly explosive cargo goes off.

E Squadron: Publish and be Damned. Hook: A tell-all book is about to be published by 'a former Special Forces veteran' that allegedly dishes dirt on past Edom operations. Unlike other veterans turned novelist this one hasn't cleared any of his work with the DoD, and his (foreign) publisher is very cagy about his true identity. Current E Squadron members need to be screened to ensure none of them have contributed to the book or met with its author. Meanwhile someone needs to find out who this person is and whether the information is genuine. Main scene: confronting the author in his Spanish hideaway. Thrilling moment: breaking into the publishers.

Chain Home Deep / Operation Piper: BIP (Burglary in Process). Hook: one of the patients the Social Worker looks after has been burgled. Although it seems nothing has been taken, standard protocol says the incident needs to be investigated by Edom personnel, and this time the Social Worker's insisting standard procedure be followed. Main Scene: tracking down a half-demented patient through the streets at night, as the patient tries to find the criminals who broke into her apartment. Thrilling moment: a confrontation with the burglars, who may or may not have links with a low-level Conspyramid node.

Archivist: Provenance. Hook: a reclusive European collector of occult grimoires is about to sell some of his rarest items at Stockholms Auktionsverk, the oldest auction house in the world. The Archivist wants first look, hoping to secure some impossible curiosity, but the Archivist can't travel without bodyguards. God knows what would happen if Dracula's people got hold of him. Main Scene: the auction house at the height of the auction. Thrilling moment: avoiding capture by Conspiracy goons after the auction.

Serum Researcher: Biohazard. Hook: A European biopharma company claims to be about to make a breakthrough with a compound whose effects sound suspiciously like Seward Serum. The biopharma's results, and testing laboratory, need to be thoroughly investigated, and only the Researcher has the skills. Main Scene: infiltrating the research laboratory with the Researcher in tow. Thrilling Moment: dodging the laboratory's suspiciously well trained security.

Pathologist: Great Aunt Nelly. Hook: The pathologist is convinced, thanks to a spate of suspicious autopsy reports, that a police forensic pathologist has been turned and is helping cover up vampire activity. Main Scene: confrontation with the police pathologist in a SOCO lab, possibly involving a new-fledged feral vampire. Thrilling Moment: dodging or dealing with the vampire's criminal goons, all of whom have high Driving pools.

Logistical Support: First Class Lounge. Hook: While retreating from a bad situation, the agents turn to Logistical Support to get them out of a hostile foreign country. Main Scene: getting through an armed cordon to a military airbase where a transport plane is waiting, as Logistical Support advises best route. Thrilling Moment: Renfield sniper tries to take plane out on takeoff, by shooting the pilot.

Phlebotomist: Dead Man's Hand. Hook: Edom's captured a Renfield, and the Phlebotomist is called in to help with the interrogation/incarceration. Main Scene: in a dark, anonymous cellar with the Phlebotomist and the target. Thrilling Moment: the Renfield somehow breaks free and tries to escape, possibly through unorthodox means - rat swarm attack, mesmerism, or similar.

Duke Tyler: Silent Night. Hook: Each year the Metropolitan Police are honored with a carol service at Westminster Abbey, but this year Tyler wants help; a senior member of the Met may have fallen under Vampiric control, and Tyler wants this person checked out discreetly without arousing suspicion. Main Scene: surrounded by cops and carol singers at Westminster Abbey. Thrilling Moment: the senior member hasn't been subverted, but the spouse has, and unless the agents move quickly this person may escape.

Duke Tinman: Stitch in Time. Hook: An old friend of the Duke who stayed in the Middle East building houses and hospitals has been snatched and held for ransom by bandits, and Tinman needs help getting him back. Off the books, of course. Main Scene: covertly infiltrating the bandit stronghold.  Thrilling Moment: racing for the exfiltration site where Tinman waits with a chopper.

Duke Prince: Tiger Team. Hook: Prince wants the agents to pose as a security Tiger Team acting under her direction, the idea being to penetrate a suspect organization (possibly a subsidiary of one of the larger players, like Leutner Fabrichen) using the pretense of checking the organization's security. Prince will be in constant contact via VOIP and email. Main Scene: the hack, as the agents penetrate the company's systems. Thrilling Moment: escaping the facility before security shuts the place down.

Duke Pearl: What's Yours Is Mine. Hook: Edom's black bagger needs someone to cause a distraction while he, and possibly some or all of the agents depending on Infiltration pools, breaks into a facility in Dubai to steal a well-protected computer hard drive. Also a Degas painting, but Pearl doesn't think the agents need to know that. Main Scene: the CEO's office in a fully automated office complex, including robot security. Thrilling Moment: slipping through the streets of Dubai in top-end sportscars, with the facility's security in discreet pursuit. Nobody wants to get the police involved if they can help it.

Duke Osprey: Graduation Day. Hook: as Edom's best-connected Lamplighter Osprey is always on the lookout for new talent and thinks he has a candidate; a mathematical genius about to graduate Oxford. However the genius has a former lover who's threatened to dump revenge porn on the net, which would overcomplicate Osprey's chances of getting the candidate to cooperate. Main Scene: in the Sheldonian Theatre at graduation, confronting the lover. Thrilling Moment: dealing with a bunch of Oxford yahoos who think the agents are getting above their station.

Duke Oakes: Cleanup. Hook: Oakes needs a team to hot-foot to Berlin on clean-up duty after a SBA asset got a bit too enthusiastic taking out a target. Oakes wants to be on-hand for this one, as the SBA was supposed to retrieve some data from the target but never did. Main Scene: a blood-spattered crime scene at silly o'clock in the morning, before the cops show up. Thrilling Moment: dealing with an IED the target thoughtfully left behind, and which the SBA didn't bother to mention.

Duke Nails: Glorious 12th. Hook: A Saudi terror financier is meeting confederates in Brussels on the 12th August, and it's Nails' job to clear the path for the kill team. Nails needs reliable hands to make sure the cops and Belgian State Security stay as far away as possible. Main Scene: in the Grand Place / Central Square, surrounded by baroque buildings, as the kill team makes its move. Thrilling Moment: foiling a bunch of mercenary vampire hunters who want to terminate the SBA.

Duke Ian: Obbo. Hook: A high priority target is in the UK for a few days, and Ian needs a surveillance team to keep an eye on him the entire time. Main Scene: watching a meet between the target and one of the target's network (the Investigative Journalist, perhaps?) in a crowded public place, like the Tate Modern. Thrilling Moment: keeping the surveillance going as the target slips out of the Tate and tries to escape using three identical vehicles, each with a highly trained (8+ Driving) driver.

Duke Hound: Crashing the Party. Hook: A suspected SBA is active in Iraq, and allegedly attacked US troops aiding Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIL. Hound needs to sooth some ruffled feathers, but also wants to make sure first, that it was or was not an SBA, and second, that if it was the American Vampire Program doesn't get hold of it. Main Scene: infiltrating an alleged ISIL stronghold after a drone strike, to check the identity of the survivors. Thrilling Moment: discovering that the remains of the SBA have been eaten by dogs, who are now infected and roaming the bombed-out camp.

Duke Fort: Penny for the Guy. Hook: Fort has to burn down a particularly sensitive or difficult target, and wants to use November 5th as cover, pretending that the fire's been caused by faulty fireworks. The characters are tasked with keeping the targets busy while Fort does her work. Main Scene: In a burning building, just before the main charges go off. Thrilling Moment: keeping the targets in the building, ensuring they can't escape.

 Duke Elvis: Blabbermouth. Elvis thinks his current safe house and office in Belgrade is bugged. That's no surprise; the real question is, who's bugging it? The characters have to find out. Main Scene: In Elvis' office, sweeping it for bugs. Thrilling Moment: chasing down the spies, foreign nationals posing as aid workers who wanted to get information vital to a foreign vampire program, eg. China's Room 452.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

You've Got To Hear This Podcast

I wouldn't usually post on a weekday nor would I use the time to big up a podcast, but this is one you have to listen to if you have any interest whatsoever in cinema: The Secret History of Hollywood. This is by far the single best podcast I have ever heard, in any genre, and I'm not at all surprised that Audible has picked it up.

So what is this glorious thing? Briefly, it's one man's descent into cinematic obsession. This gent's knowledge of early cinema history is exhaustive; if ever you wanted to know anything about anyone in Hollywood before, say, 1960, this is the place to learn about it.

Moreover it's well presented. Despite the wealth of detail, it's not overpowering. The presenter is a pleasure to listen to, and the flow from moment to moment is seamless. I'm indulging in A Universe of Horrors, an in-depth study of Universal Studio's great horror experiment in the 20s and 30s and, while I know a lot of this material already, it's a treat to have it all laid out like a movable audible feast.

One caveat, and it's a fairly significant caveat: Ye Gods, these things are long. Like transatlantic flying time long. Universe of Horrors is over 7 hours worth of audio. I'm flying to the UK later this year, which is usually a 7 to 8 hour journey; I could plug myself in as soon as I board the plane, and may still not have finished listening by the time it lands. There are three separate episodes on Alfred Hitchcock, for over 18 hours total. And there's more ... and more ... and more ...

Leaving aside the obvious, the length of the episodes poses a device storage problem. Usually a podcast is, maybe, a handful of MB. Not so here. If you're so foolish as to download more than one you're looking at several GB worth of data. That takes time to download as well as space. Some mobile devices may find that difficult to swallow.

But!! If you let that put you off, you're really missing out. I cannot praise this enough. If you're a cinephile, this is a must-listen. It may be a constant companion for a week or so per episode, depending on how you devour your podcasts. In fact the biggest problem may not be listening to this one, but in finding time to listen to all the other podcasts you'll be ignoring while working your way through Secret History.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

A Lonely Vigil: Safehouses and their Keepers (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

I recently picked up The Anonymous Spy's Espionage Dictionary, and found this definition:

Safehouse: A house or apartment used for clandestine meetings between case officer and agent ... The person who lives in the safehouse ... is called the safehouse keeper. He is usually paid for the use of the safehouse. The safehouse keeper is a kind of support asset.

Support Asset: An agent who provides services to support an agent or case officer but does not necessarily provide intelligence information. Support agents may be safehouse keepers, couriers, live drops, etc.

It occurred to me that, in game, Directors and players alike often treat safehouses as disposable one-shots, somewhere to rest your head for a few hours before going on to the next thrilling chase scene or shootout. But in doing so we miss a chance to have some fun. A safehouse has a separate existence, and its keeper has her own concerns.

The main book says that 'ideally, a safe house also has several inobvious exits and good lines of site. Some spy agencies maintain houses or apartments complete with deep-cover minders who ask no questions, but provide alibis and explanations to curious neighbors. Others use heavily-travelled (but private) rooms in establishments like brothels, rehab clinics, or seedy hotels, trusting their agents to fit the pattern of anonymous visitors.'

Depending on the circumstances, those heavily-travelled (but private) rooms can throw up unexpected complications. In Spielberg's movie Munich, for example, the Israeli kill team have to bed down with PLO terrorists thanks to the machinations of their French criminal contact Louis. But the truth is the agent never really knows what to expect from these clandestine low-rent safehouses. Anything could go wrong. Their belongings could be stolen, their vehicles hijacked, and if they're quite so incautious as to use the wifi, well ...

Then again, what's good for the spy is good for his vampire opponent too. The Dracula Dossier points out that Dracula has several safehouses in London, and it's a safe bet that London isn't the only place Vlad keeps safehouses. Moreover while Dracula can afford well-stocked and protected safehouses, his minions probably have to settle for those same seedy and well-travelled  hovels that the protagonists might use.

It's one thing to be a Mossad agent unexpectedly having to share a cigarette and sleeping quarters with the PLO, something else again for a vampire hunter to discover the rehab clinic she's hiding in for the night is temporarily inhabited by one of the bloodsuckers she's been hunting. Or Renfields. Or people smugglers working within the Conspiracy. Or ... but you get the point.

As Director you could switch this around and make the safehouse the focus of the story, perhaps even setting an entire mini-campaign around a group of safehouse keepers. After all, if Christopher Eccleston can do it, I see no reason why a player character shouldn't have a go. If the Director goes that route I'd recommend setting the safe house somewhere evocative and useful; Bucharest, say. It's doable in London, but doesn't quite have that same zing. There's a lot of merit in setting this safehouse, as with Eccleston's, in a remote rural or semi-rural area, for added isolation; but it could work just as well in an urban or suburban setting.

With all that in mind, let's kick around some example safehouses and their keepers, for use in an ongoing campaign. For each example I'm going to include the Ability that leads to this safehouse, and I'm going to start with the ones used only by the desperate, without the backing of a larger agency.

Military Science: This military base, first built back in the 1960s, had family housing on site that nobody uses any more. The cash just isn't there for maintenance, the roof leaks, and the electricity supply's wonky at best. However the right Cover and some judicious palm greasing gets you in, and you can stay so long as you don't draw attention to yourself.

History: You can get to the catacombs via this sewer outfall or abandoned building. As for what's down there, that's an open question; but martyrs, resistance fighters and revolutionaries have bedded down with the bones of saints ever since the catacombs were first dug. Not a bad place to hide a cache, either. Just don't expect power cables, sanitation or a decent wifi signal.

High Society: You know Selena? Well she's seeing Riff Raff right now so she's in the States. Or maybe the Bahamas. Anyway, she's not here, and that's the important thing. You can crash at her apartment for a few days. Just remember to feed the plants and if someone comes by asking about a cocaine stash, you don't know anything.

Occult Studies: This Parapsychological Society has been going since the 1890s, with minor interruptions during the World Wars, and keeps an apartment in its headquarters for visiting scholars. It's just above the library. Perfect for late night research, even if it feels incredibly lonely up there with nobody else around.

Streetwise: The local mafia uses this love hotel as a drop-off for people and narcotics smugglers; it's very conveniently placed, so close to the border and to rail and road networks. It's within an hour's drive of the ocean too, perfect for that last-ditch escape across the Channel. Normally you're only allowed to stay for three hours maximum, but with your Streetwise you know the code the mafia uses to allow their people to stay longer. Don't stay too long, though; the neighbors aren't that pleasant, and if you overstay there's a good chance the mafia will turn up to ask who's hogging the safehouse.

On that note, a very brief list of Unusual Hotels: Transylvanian Castles courtesy of the Kálnoky Estate, complete with walks in the countryside and an exploration of Transylvanian life.  H2tel Rotterdam, a floating hotel in the heart of the city. Shakespeare & Co in Paris offers a Tumbleweed program where people can stay in the bookstore on very easy terms, and it's probably not the only independent bookstore in Europe to do so. Or for the adventurous seafaring soul, a trio of Napoleonic sea forts in the Solent. However as this isn't a travel blog, let's move on.

Tradecraft: When the Cold War was still a thing, these canal boats were often used by spies as temporary lodging; nobody gives them a second look, and people come and go all the time. The old signal used to be a boat sticker marred in a particular way; look for one of those and, if you can find one, that means the owner's agreeable to letting his boat be used as a meeting place, if you know the sign and countersign.

Urban Survival: There's a bunch of trust fund anarchists living in a squat in a pretty decent part of town. So long as you can spout a few political slogans and have plenty of weed you could stay there a few days, and nobody will ask questions.  

OK, so those are some potential safehouse ideas for the spy on the run. But say you're running an Edom campaign, or that for whatever reason your group hasn't been burnt yet by its home agency. In that event the safehouses are going to be less risky, and have their own keepers.

So what's a safehouse keeper like? Well, it's someone who the home agency deems 100% reliable, for whatever reason. This probably means that the keeper has strong ties with the home agency's country or, better yet, the home agency's government. However this doesn't mean the keeper's trusted with Top Secret intel. Far from it; the keeper's purpose is to provide a safe, quiet environment, not to play at being Jason Bourne. The keeper probably has Tradecraft and may also have ancillary skills like Electronic Surveillance and Notice. That way the keeper can work out when people have been sneaking around the safehouse, and conduct a basic sweep for electronic listening devices. Given that part of the keeper's duties is to keep the neighbors from asking questions, the keeper probably also has Flattery, Reassurance and similar interpersonal abilities.

That said, the keeper isn't a spy, nor should she be treated as a spy.  She's not a crack shot, or some kind of low-rent ninja. The best way to design one is to pick an already existing template, like Civilian, and add the necessary Abilities to upgrade her. Director's discretion as to the template, but it's unlikely that a former Spec Ops badass is going to settle into the relatively sedentary life of a safehouse keeper. A former cop, on the other hand, is perfectly reasonable.

Moreover the keeper's cover is long term, and mustn't be blown. If the agents leave corpses on the lawn, that's bound to attract comment. Equally if they use her wifi signal to host a hack of the host government's computers, and that hack is traced back to the safehouse, there will be repercussions. The whole point of the safehouse is anonymity; if the agents break that anonymity the home agency will not be pleased.

With all that in mind, consider the following Edom safehouse in Bucharest:

Edom maintains an apartment in Lipscani/Old Town. This section of Bucharest was long neglected; its beautiful businesses and houses were owned by the bourgeois, and after the Communists cleansed the place few wanted to move into the vacant buildings. For decades the only people willing to live there were gypsies, many of whom still live in the Old Town. In the early 2000s Lipscani changed from a run-down slum to a trendy, youth-oriented entertainment zone, making it more attractive to development. Too attractive, some would say. The rush to build and flagrant disrespect for the law contributed to, among other things, a disastrous fire at Club Collectiv which killed 27 and injured many more. The lack of maintenance and the ever-present threat of earthquakes means that many of the older buildings here have the Red Disc sign, indicating that the structure is at risk of collapse.

The keeper is Charlotte Nickel, one of the City of London's Masters of the Universe who moved into government work. Officially she's liaising with the Romanian Government; perhaps she's an economic advisor, a lobbyist for an NGO charity like Heal the Children, or a science advisor of some kind. However she's been on MI6's books for over a decade now, ever since she took a job in Dubai and agreed to pass on information to a Cambridge school friend working for the intelligence services. As far as Charlotte's concerned she's still working with MI6; she doesn't know anything about Edom. However Edom took her on board thanks to her mother's Romanian background. Charlotte's grandfather was a refugee who escaped the country after the abdication of King Michael I during the Communist takeover. That's why she wanted to move to Romania in the first place, and Edom smoothed the way for her.

Charlotte gets a regular stipend from Edom that more than covers the rent on this third floor Red Disc apartment, which overlooks Boulevard Brătianu. It has a balcony as well as a roof terrace, and is within walking distance of several popular nightspots. The apartment has all the mod cons and wifi, as well as a somewhat creaky elevator. 

Charlotte: Electronic Surveillance, Notice, Reassurance, Tradecraft; Civilian template, with personal defense training and Alertness Modifier 0.

That's it from me! Enjoy.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Hush Hush Houses (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

During the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, took over a number of English country houses to use as training bases. Called Hush Hush Houses by some - the need for secrecy was so great that not even the owners were told to what use their homes would be put - these country bases were used to train agents in every aspect of espionage, from wireless and demolition to small scale raiding.

Ring would have been such a house once upon a time, and Dracula Dossier Directors will know that Ring may, or may not, be active today. However I want to talk about a different use for the Hush Hush Houses, and tangentially about Eric Sykes and William Fairburn, who I've mentioned before.

Briefly: Sykes and Fairburn had both been in the Shanghai Municipal Police before the war, where they tangled with professional kidnappers and violent, gun-happy criminals. Their experiences inspired the 'shoot to live' policy which they passed on to their policemen, and later the SOE recruits. Among their training techniques was the Mystery House, which has been described as:

'... fitted out to look like the interior of a Chinese lodging house occupied by armed criminals. A trainee trod on floorboards which gave way under him as he entered a dimly lit room occupied by apparently harmless people who varied from mere lodgers to dope-fiends or stool pigeons. He had to take in the situation in a flash. Firecrackers, confetti, sticks and other physical objects were thrown at him. Anything like deliberate aim is a sheer impossibility.'

The SAS adopted this technique in its Kill Houses, which follow roughly the same pattern. Military training all over the world uses similar techniques, the biggest difference between modern and Sykes & Fairburn's Mystery Houses being the use of video screens rather than actual targets, which probably helps to cut down on accidents.

Their training influenced the construction of other ranges, like the one near Inverlair, in Scotland. Scottish hunting lodges and stately homes were often requisitioned by the SOE because of their remote, secluded locations; the neighbors never knew what was going on. The Inverlair range was like this:

'...the students were shown an elaborate little village, which lay at the foot of a steep bluff. At the top of a cliff a soldier stood beside a set of levers which looked somewhat like those in a railway safety box. The village we were informed was full of Germans. It was our business to kill them all. We were given two Colt .45 automatics already loaded, and two spare clips of ammunition apiece. Then one by one we were sent to attack each house in turn. The door of the first house sprang open in response to a brisk kick, and the signalman went into action. The houses were fully furnished and fully occupied. No sooner had a dummy, impelled by wires, leaped out of bed to tackle the intruder and been shot for his pains, than a trapdoor opened, men emerged from beneath tables, bottles and chairs came hurtling disconcertingly at the Gunman's head. Pistols blazing, one dispatched, as one hoped, all the occupants of the first house, and dashed to the second, where a fresh set of hazards presented itself.'

What does this mean for Edom agents, and E Squadron?

Well, Edom's bound to have at least one Kill House site for CQB training. There's bound to be a degree of role play involved too; the agents have to be able to deal with unusual situations involving SBAs or their minions. If Edom has a captive and compliant SBA on its roster it might use that SBA in training exercises; otherwise a human asset with superlative Shrink and Interrogation pools could substitute. As one SOE agent recalled, post-mission, the most frightening moment was 'The mock interrogation at Beaulieu'; what would Edom, with all the Grand Guignol special effects at its disposal, not do to assess the operational quality of its agents?

With that in mind I present two possible Kill Houses, one dating to the War, another to the 1970s.

Glen Eagles is the code name for Pitfour House, a hunting lodge in the Grampians. Built in the Scottish Baronial style, this property was requisitioned by the SOE early in the war, and has remained in Government hands ever since. The property is remote and inaccessible; the best way in is by air, via helicopter. In its day it was a training ground first for Polish commandos and bag and burn experts, until Edom acquired it in 1940. There's plenty of evidence of the former occupants, from graffiti on the walls to the marks of hobnail boots on the floors, as well as the old explosive ordinance testing grounds.

Cool: While still on Edom's books officially, nobody's paid attention to Glen Eagles since the 1970s. This quietly crumbling edifice is home to bats, birds and rats now, keeping lonely watch over a forgotten part of Edom's history. Potential clues to the 1940 mission or a series of 1970s interrogations can be found here, but any important files have long since been transferred elsewhere. The fake French street built adjacent to Glen Eagles, with its wonky wire-operated targets, are all that's left of the Kill House. Some old remnants of Edom weapons tech circa 1940 are rotting away here, possibly even a live round or two for those who like playing with out-of-date potentially lethal explosives. Poachers sometimes come here, but are put off by the poor quality of the game; it's almost as if something's blighted the land.

Warm: The old sweats of E Squadron remember Glen Eagles fondly. It might look a relic but it's been carefully looked after over the years, like a well-oiled rifle. You don't get assignment to Proserpine without going through the Glen Eagles Hell Course first, a grueling shootout and CQB combat zone in which unmodified recruits go up against Jacked assailants as well as remote-control targets. You have to be able to tell the civilians apart from the targets; slip up, and it's back to your unit. To outsiders and Google this appears to be a privately owned outward bound hotel resort, but it's always booked up. Poachers are most definitely not encouraged, and the groundskeepers are very enthusiastic about keeping unwanted people off the property.

Brinkley is a 1970s urban brutalist build on the outskirts of Manchester. It's always been government owned but has housed a variety of government offices and schemes; currently its main tenant is MoneyForce, an organization whose purpose is to help armed forces members with money management. Anyone with Architectural or Military Science knowledge will wonder about those preternaturally thick walls and peculiar sightlines; its almost as if an iceberg settled in a suburban district, its deepest secrets hidden deep below the earth.

Cool: Edom last made use of Brinkley back in the 1980s, and didn't remove traces of its CQB or interrogation chambers. The grey bureaucrats who work here never bother about the peculiar smells that keep floating up from the depths of the building, beyond occasionally complaining to the facilities management team. Clues involving the 1970s mole hunt can be found here, possibly even a bolt hole kept by one of the 1970s people, looking for a place to store emergency supplies or evidence where nobody will bother to look for it. A Sealed Coffin (minor item only) or Cryptic Lockbox (probably minor, but you never know) may be found here.

Warm: MoneyForce may be the name on the lease, but it's a cover for Edom's state of the art Kill House, also known as Piccadilly for its eerily accurate reproduction of a city street, all underground. Just above Piccadilly are the interrogation chambers, where recruits in training get a first-hand taste of what might happen to them if they ever get caught by the opposition. E Squadron recruits getting their first taste of Serum always start with a run at Piccadilly, with live ammunition. There's also a laser bullet range for non-military Edom assets; E Squadron calls it the Kiddie Pool. Any non-Edom personnel found on site wins a one-way ticket to Proserpine; Edom had one very nasty scare in the 1990s, and since then has become paranoid about Piccadilly's operational security. If Edom has a compliant SBA on its asset roster, this SBA can often be found here engaging in one-on-one training; known as Hades, this involves a Piccadilly run with the SBA as the opponent.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

Note on sources: much of this material is based on information obtained from an Annual Soane Lecture publication, Country Houses and Secret Agents, by Marcus Binney.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Not Quite Book Review Corner: 100 Deadly Skills (Night's Black Agents)

I used to buy books from Paladin Press, which means I must be on a watch list somewhere.

The thing is, if you're a writer there are any number of skills you need to know a little about, but don't need to become expert in. Sword fighting is the classic example. If ever you intend to write a fantasy epic, you need to know just enough about the pointy end of a sword to make a fight scene convincing. Yet at the same time you mustn't become a sword spod, because too much detail is as bad, if not worse, than none at all.

Trouble is, while there are any number of reliable sources out there willing and eager to tell you all about, say, money laundering or the difference between slander and libel, there are considerably fewer that will tell you what a car chase is like, or what happens in an autopsy. Still fewer in those pre-internet days when I bought from Paladin.

The trouble is that tricksy word 'reliable'. Too often, when seeking out this kind of material, you get the kind of drooling ninny who'd not be trusted with a crayon, never mind an edged weapon. The sort who likes to play at being the hard man by pretending that they know all about, say, unarmed combat, or how to live off the land, or what have you.

Even so, the problem persists: where to find that kind of information? Well, thanks to a timely post on the New York Times' book list, I think I've found one: 100 Deadly Skills, by Clint Emerson.

Emerson's a former Navy Seal with considerable field experience, and is exactly the kind of source I'd normally be wary of, for the reasons outlined above. However his writing style is refreshingly straightforward, for this kind of material. Moreover he doesn't strike me as the kind of fella who's compensating for something. It sounds like faint praise, but once you've read a few of the ones who are, you'll understand how important that is.

In fact the situation reminds me of Sabine Baring-Gould, who I've spoken favorably of before, for similar reasons. The two don't cover the same material - far, far from it - but Baring-Gould is remarkably clear, for a Victorian antiquarian, and that's a tremendous plus, particularly after you've tackled a few who aren't anything like as clear. The same applies to Emerson.

I'm not going to try to evaluate the advice Emerson offers. I'm not an expert in these things. The point is, you don't have to be an expert; you just have to be convincing, and this material is exactly that.

There were times, when reading it, that I'd slip into armchair critic mode. For example, there's a chapter on improvising a holster. When in-country, your Violent Nomad needs a lot of things that aren't easily obtained, and buying a holster at a gun store draws attention, assuming that the purchase is even possible. So the VN -sounds a bit like something out of Roald Dahl - has to make one, which in this instance means getting a wire clothes hanger and bending it into a holster shape that will slip neatly into the back of your jeans, clipped to your belt. It seems simple and practical; all very Blue Peter.

Yet throughout it all a treacherous voice in the back of my head whispered 'I haven't seen a wire coat hanger in years.' I guess you can still buy them? You must be able to, surely. I couldn't tell you where. Everyplace I've been to in the past decade sells those plastic things. Often the ones that bleed dye all over your clothes.

Why buy this book? Because it's entry-level Technothriller Monologue that will keep your character alive.

Technothriller Monologue in the main book is just used for Shooting. You rattle off a quick bit of cool-sounding patter, and get an in-game benefit, in this case a 4 point refresh of the Shooting pool. Deployed correctly, it boosts the cool factor of the scene, which makes your Director and fellow players happy bunnies. Well, happy gunbunnies. Plus, since you're going to be burning through points, that refresh is timely. Except it only applies to Shooting, not the other General abilities. Nuts!

However Double Tap expands the Monologue to pretty much every General ability in the game, so long as your pool is 8 points or more. Danger Zone for the Sense Trouble freaks, M4d Skillz for the crackers, Like Smoke for the Infiltrators and so on.

You're encouraged to develop a monologue in advance and write it down, since this kind of thing is difficult to come up with on the fly. But then you run into the problem outlined above: where do you get the background information you need to make this monologue work?

Ta-daa! And thank you Mr Emerson.

Let's try some examples:

Blending Agent Surveillance +8, 3-point refresh. 'Mobile surveillance at night? No problem. I rigged an improvised infrared light - easy really, all you need is a white light keychain LED and a bit of camera film - and zip-tied it to the underside of the target vehicle. You can't see it with the naked eye, but my smartphone's camera can pick it up just fine. He'll show up like a firefly, even if he turns all his lights off. Away we go!'

Danger Zone Sense Trouble +8, 3-point refresh. 'Too many coincidences. Sure, that guy could have been in the bodega just by accident, but I've led him a merry dance since then - the restaurant, the market, the museum - and each time I've seen him, at about the same distance away. Besides, his body language is all wrong for this neighborhood; he walks like he has nothing to fear, which says he's either secret police or a damn sight worse than the secret police.'

Calculated Risk Preparedness +8, 3-point refresh. 'When we stole this car a while back I stripped it out. The airbag's gone, for a start - you can get a rifle in the space where the airbag used to be, if you try - and I made full use of the voids in the car door panel, passenger side dash and under the seat cover. Fresh water, food, medkit, money, a laptop, mobile, a few weapons; it's all here, and without a full search nobody will ever know it's here.' [possibly add: 'Then I planted the car a few blocks away, just in case we needed it.' depending on circumstances, up to and including Cover's blown and it's time to leave the country sharpish.]

Like Smoke Athletics or Infiltration +8, 3-point refresh. Athletics: 'Got to get up that drainpipe, but that's why I bought extra bootlaces. A Prusik knot, the kind used by rock climbers, can only move up a rope or line; downward pressure causes it to lock into place. A few knots later, I have hand and footholds for an improvised climbing harness - and up I go.' Infiltration: 'They deployed tear gas, huh? I bet they think they've got me buffaloed. But that's why I carry this plastic jug, a sponge, and some tape. The sponge, when soaked with clean water, is a pretty good air filter. A little bit of DIY, tape the whole thing to my face, and I have a gas mask good enough to get through the room. By the time they come and get me, I'm long gone.'

Quick Change Disguise +8, 3-point refresh. 'People pay more attention to colors than to faces. The surveillance team has seen me in bright colors all this time; they probably aren't even looking for me any more, just the Hawaiian shirt. I'll duck into this restroom and switch to a simple white over denim combo. Job done; they won't even blink, as I walk right past.'

Or let's have a shot at some Gear Devil (Driving +8, 3 point refresh): 'Time for a reverse 180. Shifting into reverse, I drive backwards three car lengths at about 25mph, then shift to neutral and twist the wheel all the way left. Once she flips the full 180, back the wheel goes, and I floor it.'

There's also a string of improvised weapons, any of which could be whipped up by a player character in less time than it takes to type this sentence. For the most part I'd rate them at -1 damage, with the possible exceptions of the thing with the umbrella and the newspaper nail bat. Those may go as far as +0. Also, Jesus H. That would leave a welt.

Plus a bunch of handy tools and tricks, like how to defeat zip ties, pick locks, make an improvised flash bomb, shoot from a vehicle, trick fingerprint scanning software, and so on and on. Again, I don't claim to know whether any of this works. However it seems convincing, and makes for a cool scene. Those are the two factors you, as Player, need to take into consideration.

You want that action hero moment, because it gives you benefits and because it makes for a better scene.

Now, that's enough from me. See you next week!

Sunday, 3 July 2016


I don't usually talk politics here. This isn't the place for it. However as a Overseas Territory, colony or whatever else you care to call it, when the English tore up their passports, they tore up mine too, and I didn't get the admittedly small consolation of voting in the referendum. So it's been on my mind.

I deliberately use the word English, by the way. It sure as hell wasn't the United Kingdom that voted Leave. Though to be absolutely fair the Welsh also had their hands in this decision, bad cess to 'em.

Assuming Brexit goes ahead as planned, it's a good bet that the United Kingdom will cease to exist shortly thereafter, probably within ten years. So a child born today may only know the United Kingdom as a fading memory, like old episodes of Looney Tunes or Trapdoor.

Scotland will go, for a start. God alone knows what will happen to Northern Ireland; there's a certain logic in rejoining the rest of Ireland, but that's not a logic I expect anyone to actually adopt, for reasons which ought to be obvious. Wales will probably go as well, not because it's annoyed by the result but because the Welsh know opportunity when they see it. Though what happens after the door shuts behind them is anyone's guess.

But let's talk about the Crown Dependencies for a moment, places like Sark, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey; and also the Overseas Territories, which is a slightly longer list that includes Bermuda.

If you think we're sticking around, you're off your bloody head.

I can only speak for Bermuda, but I'm pretty sure that the question of Independence has arisen time and again for each of those Dependencies and Territories. In most cases I suspect it was a very short discussion. Small countries do not do well on the larger international stage. We need someone to speak for us, and so long as the United Kingdom remained a strong, reliable force, there was never any reason to take Independence seriously.

Well, there's reason enough now.

Don't be fooled by the Little Britain attitude that places like Gibraltar adopt. Small nations have a very finely tuned sense of self preservation; we can jump ship in a heartbeat. Gibraltar, for example, has Spain. Yes, the Gibraltarians are loath to accept Spain as their savior - very, very loath, as shown in the 2002 referendum -  but they'll eat tapas and like it if their only other option is leaving the EU. Though I note that they'd rather eat haggis, if given the opportunity. They say No now. Give them a taste of financial decline post-Brexit, and they'll say Maybe. Once they say Maybe, Yes is only a few more hard years away.

Tears will be shed, I don't doubt. Tears cost nothing, and dry quickly.

Now, Bermuda's relationship with the EU has always been more theoretic than practical. I've often wondered why, for example, there've never been EU challenges to our Immigration laws. I'd have thought that, given our relationship with the EU via the UK and given that freedom of movement for workers is such a cornerstone of the relationship, someone would have tried to argue by now that our fairly strict Immigration laws were trumped by EU membership. Yet the challenge never happened.

But that's a relatively minor drop in the ocean. Fact is, we've never had to think about Europe, really. For the average citizen it's somewhere we can't really afford to visit on holiday very often, and besides, the flight's hours and hours. That said, I've just spent the last few weeks performing Shakespeare with a would-be student who's down in the dumps because her preferred choice of university is probably off the menu now. So take that for what it's worth.

For the businessman Europe is more of an issue, but even then our attention's usually focused on North America, mainly because of geography and shared history. Not all of it creditable on our side; we sold cotton and guns in the Civil War, and booze during Prohibition, for a start. But shared history nonetheless, and besides, there's a reason why the motto's Whither the Fates Carry Us. We know full well that the best way to get along is to shape our course to the prevailing wind, particularly if there's money to be made.

So here's my prediction, for what it's worth. If Brexit goes ahead, and if it's as nasty as expected, then Bermuda will go independent within the decade. We may not care about Europe but the one argument against independence which always succeeded was that having a strong partner on the world stage was more important. If England drops rapidly into political chaos and financial turmoil, that argument no longer applies.

What happens after that is murky. We'd do well not to tie ourselves to Uncle Sam, but that's the more likely scenario. In my ideal over-the-rainbow wishful thinking we'd somehow get back into Europe, perhaps via Scotland. God alone knows how. There's a reason why it's called wishful thinking.

Independence is not something I ever thought would happen, but then I never thought the United Kingdom would implode. Yet here we are.

Sorry for being a downer this time out, but I needed to say that. It's been brewing ever since the referendum.

Normal service will resume next post.