Sunday, 19 February 2017

Ripped from the Headlines (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

Just a quick one this week to highlight a few newspaper articles that intrigued me, and may prove useful to Night's Black Agents Directors.

First the inspired and somewhat quixotic theft of two million quid's worth of books. I really hope the thieves aren't going to cut the things apart for their illustrations. That would be a tragedy,  but as a heist it has all the hallmarks of greatness. Whoever carried it out knew the target's security measures and knew exactly what to steal; that takes planning as well as flair. Plus there's a decent chance this was a theft to order, and that sort of thing is meat & drink to a Night's Black Agents Director. A group of thieves and ne'er-do-wells are gathered by some shadowy well-heeled sociopath to steal a small fortune in unsellable manuscripts? You couldn't ask for a better start to the campaign.

Next, a Dracula Dossier connection: The Harker Scene-Painting Studio is about to be turned into flats. Bram Stoker, when he worked at the Lyceum, became great friends with Joseph Harker, a scene painter and theatrical chandler, hence Jonathon Harker the Dracula character. Harker's studio survived until the 1980s when it was bought by Flint's, another theatrical chandler which still manufactures the signature color Harker's Red. Now the Grade II listed building is to be sold off, and several of Harker's descendants visited the studio to find Joseph's scrawled name, along with those of several of his family who went into the family trade, carefully preserved on the studio wall.

As a Director you could do many things with this information. To begin with it adds a hidden layer of depth to Billie Harker, Lucy Blythe and J.Q. Harker if they happen to be part of this grand theatrical tradition. Billie in particular could do with a switch from law student to RADA grad, perhaps working as showrunner or scriptwriter for a BBC epic about horror movies. Perhaps Lucy Blythe's name is up on that wall with all the other Harkers, or maybe J.Q. wanted to make a switch from a military career to an artistic one only to be badgered into submission by his domineering father.

As a location it has all kinds of benefits. A Grade II listed building that's seen out Dracula, the original vampire hunters and all their progeny, preserving the history of the generations? Was some secret hid in those brick walls, or stored for safekeeping under the floorboards?

Even as a Cool site the grand backdrops on their massive frames loom overhead like memories blustering in an empty head, and the weight of history hangs heavy on visitors. Some of the names on the wall are recognizable as Edom cut-outs or friendlies. Is that peculiar stain all that's left of a pool of blood spilt decades ago, or an old Harker's Red accident? If anything's still here, it's at best a minor artefact, or even a fake; or perhaps the Conspiracy hid a red herring here for foolish spies to follow straight into a trap.

As a Warm site it's probably used as an Edom safehouse-cum-meeting place, nice and anonymous. People come and go all the time, and nobody remarks on it if a stranger arrives here to never be seen again. That unmarked white van isn't at all suspicious, not when dozens like it are here every week. Perhaps Edom keeps the studio active out of some sense of family history, or because Billie agreed to become an Edom asset only if it helped keep the business alive. Maybe there's a temporary holding cell somewhere in the basement for Renfields captured in the course of an operation, somewhere safe, secure and anonymous for short-term stays before being moved on to better accommodation elsewhere. Probably last used in the 1970s, but even so if those walls could talk ... It's also a great hiding place for old artefacts, like the 1890's Cryptic Lockbox, or Aytown's Photographic Studies. Perhaps Harker's cameo is hanging, long forgotten, not far from the framed section of the wall protecting all the family signatures.

Last up is the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half brother of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The 45-year-old exile and gadabout was apparently sprayed in the face by an aerosol poison, while walking through an airport shopping concourse. The alleged assailants, two women, say they thought they were taking part in a comedy reality show. Their brief was to convince businessmen to close their eyes, at which point the two would spray them in the face with water. Except in Kim Jong-nam's case it wasn't just tap water, and he died shortly afterwards.

Let's say the women's story is accurate on its face. If so, kudos to their shadowy employers for coming up with a scheme that Bugs Bunny would have been proud of. This is the kind of lateral thinking I'd expect to see at the gaming table, but never in real life.

Also, it can be an instructive and frightening few minutes to research potential bioterroism agents that can be deployed via aerosol. "There is no vaccine or prophylactic immunotherapy available for human use." Oh goody. That'll help me sleep at night.

But from a Director's POV it does open up some interesting possibilities. Can Vampires deploy a spray agent to create Renfields? Or even just make a target more vulnerable to special abilities like Cloud Men's Minds or Mental Attack? Even a bog-standard hallucinogenic would be a reasonable attack agent, something to incapacitate without leaving significant traces for CSI to follow up later.

Of course, you'd have to come up with a scheme that allowed you the perfect shot. Simply breaking into someone's hotel room armed with a spray canister probably isn't going to get you what you want. Clocking someone in the face with a spritz of perfume would do it, especially in a crowded place where such an action might go without comment. A similar moment provided an inciting incident for a West Wing episode, in which POTUS secretary Debbie Fiderer thought she'd been spritzed by a couple sitting next to her at a public event.

"I thought they were guests of Leno's, but it turned out they weren't," Debbie says. "While they finished with the party ahead of us, I didn't even see the woman get in her bag and sffh! She spritzed right into my face." "You say this aerosol got on you?" the military doctor asks. Without waiting for a response, the doctor immediately shuts everything down and calls for a full decontamination process. And that's how you immobilize the White House for the evening. It's the sort of thing that might happen anywhere; in a restaurant, at a gala event, on the subway. Totally innocuous, totally deniable, and the ones who make the attack - if it is an attack - vanish into the crowd like ghosts.

Or you could go whole hog and spray an entire room or building with the stuff, like a Batman villain with zero restraint and a flair for the dramatic. But this only works if you don't mind the media fallout that will inevitably follow.

From a rules perspective, aerosol toxins are thoroughly covered in the main book, p78-9. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say whatever was used to dose Kim Jong-nam was a +6 damage aerosol attack agent. Almost all [toxins] will reliably kill or incapacitate all but the most dramatically robust of NPCs - human NPCs, that is, says Ken Hite. Too true, says Kim Jong-un.

Edit 21st Feb: I see the Malaysian Police are now saying that the women did know what was going on, and that there's been an attempted break-in at the morgue to steal the body. This is a story that just won't quit. In fact if someone in  Hollywood isn't already working on a comedy film treatment, they really should.

That's it for now! See you next week.

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