Sunday, 26 August 2018

Who Are We Fighting? (Bookhounds of London)

When I wrote last week about the start of a new Ars Magica game, I was reminded that once upon a time I designed a store for Bookhounds of London using Ars Magica as an example. Thus began du Bourg's, a genteel and gently decaying establishment devoted to the sale of incunabula of all kinds.

This time I'd like to talk a little more about adversary design, using du Bourg's as an example.

Du Bourgs, like the covenant in Ars Magica, is a settled, established location. It has a history, institutional memory, roots in the community. Unlike a traveling band of murder hobos, a bookstore can't solve all its problems by sneaking away in the dead of night to begin a new life somewhere else. It has to deal with its enemies as they arise, and will probably have to deal with them more than once.

The big difference between antagonists like these and the band of orcs a bunch of murder hobos meet once, stab to death, and never think about again, is that these are recurring threats. Over the course of a campaign the investigators must expect to deal with these threats, but not necessarily defeat them.

It's useful to divide these antagonists into groups, as follows:

Minor Recurring (Normal)

Major Recurring (Normal)

Minor Recurring (Thematic)

Major Recurring (Thematic)

In any game the Minor players are going to outnumber the Major ones by a factor of at least two or three to one.

Notice I've divided the groups into Normal and Thematic. Every setting is going to differ slightly in its definition of Normal; Swords-and-Sorcery Normal is not the same thing as Victorian Paris Normal. However in broad terms all Normals are alike, just as happy families are all alike.

Consider: every setting, whether it's science fiction, horror, historic, or wildly ahistoric, has a few elements in common. There is some form of Authority - it might be legitimate or illegitimate, but it's there. There will be agents of the Authority who are sent out to enforce its will, collect taxes, and do all the other things that make society function smoothly. There is some form of Anti Authority, whether actively criminal, like the Mafia, or closer to the freedom fighter model. Or, like the Triads, the Anti Authority can be both criminal and freedom fighter at the same time. The Anti Authority will also have its agents, sent out to enforce its will.

The exact nature of these groups depend on the setting. In a post-apocalypse setting where the planet is just recovering from some major catastrophe, like a zombie outbreak, Anti-Authority probably outnumbers Authority. In a feudal setting there will be very fierce competition to set one faction or another up as the Authority. Equally there will be different kinds of Authority within the setting - a religious Authority, say, and a non-religious one.

In every setting there is weather, there are other intelligent creatures, there is disease, there is decay. There is the urbis, there is wilderness. You can probably think of a few yourself without too much effort. The point being all these things can be Minor or Major Recurring antagonists.

The Dragonriders of Pern series posits that a major recurring antagonist is Thread, a microfilament spore that rains down from the sky, effectively making the weather a major recurring antagonist. Alan Hyder's Vampires Overhead destroys the planet with giant vampire bats from space that devour us all, leaving only a few humans alive - and those humans become the recurring antagonists, predating Walking Dead by more than a century. Wyndham's Kraken Wakes turns the oceans of the world into recurring antagonists, and so on.

You can make anything you like a recurring Normal antagonist. They don't all have to be at daggers drawn with the players - they just have to come back again and again, and oppose the players' schemes.

The other type of recurring antagonist is Thematic. This differs from the Normal in that a Thematic antagonist reflects the Theme of the campaign. In Night's Black Agents the Thematic antagonists are the vampires, ghosts, Renfields and other damnable creatures of the night. In Call of Cthulhu the Thematic antagonists are cults, ghouls, Deep Ones and other elements of the Mythos. It's not simply that in a horror game you have horror things - it's that the antagonist fits the core activity of the setting. The Nodes and Mooks that work so well in Nights Black Agents are completely out of place in Cthulhu, just as Cthulhu is out of place in a slasher flick.

So let's go back to du Bourg's, and think about those antagonists.

Normal, Minor:
  • That One Weird Customer. Maybe it's the smell, his lack of respect for personal boundaries, or his obsession with a particular genre or author, but it drives the characters nuts. He just won't go away; perhaps he's protected by Mister Bourg, or perhaps he's rather more familiar with the locks and bolts on the doors than he ought to be.
  • The Water Pipes. They knock, they leak, they freeze, they burst. Nothing anyone can say to Mister Bourg gets the place re-plumbed; it's a maze of old pipes and patch repairs everywhere you look. Is your section flooded again? Better call the plumber.
  • The Rival Book Scout. How does he always get to the latest sale or trove of rare books before you do? Is the man psychic? Whether he is or isn't, he's the reason du Bourg's hasn't had a Windfall by now.
Normal, Major:
  • The Rival Store. It's not quite as old as du Bourg's, and hasn't got its storied history. What it does have is staff that know what they're doing, premises that aren't crumbling to bits, and prices that are better than du Bourg's. Some of our oldest customers are being tempted away - and that has got to stop.
Notice what's happening here. None of these antagonists need a gun to threaten the characters. What they do is complicate the players' lives in ways they can't easily anticipate or thwart. That, and they all play into the greater theme of the campaign. I could have had a local criminal group as an antagonist, but the whole point of Bookhounds is sale and retail. It makes more sense if the antagonists reflect that.

On to Thematic, Minor:
  • Maher-shalal-hash-baz, the cat. This is a minor Mythos entity that takes the form of a cat. Exactly how that happens is up to the Keeper, but for the purpose of this example I'm going to assume the redoubtable hunter was taken over by Brood of Elihort, and occasionally drops a few spidery white creatures in darker corners of the building. The Brood are building something, and this time it's not a man-homunculus; it's some kind of device, or living machine. What purpose does it serve - and why is it here?
  • Dust Things have infested the sole remaining copy of D'Erlette's Ghoules and they want someone to find this long-lost book. They keep trying to possess customers and older staff members in an attempt to get them to reveal the location of the book, but it never works. Their possessed victims blurt out some occult gibberish and collapse, expelling the Dust Things.
  • Diana Wisbee, a member of the Fraternity of the Inner Light who keeps trying to persuade the bookshop to let her hold seances and talks on occultism. If the players let her, something goes wrong - perhaps she annoys the Brood, or summons up actual ghosts, or just gets horribly drunk and starts talking nonsense. If the players don't let her, she keeps coming back again and again, trying to get them to change their mind.  
Thematic, Major:
  • M. Etienne du Bourg, founder and alchemical experimenter, really does wander down in the basement. This mummified lich still has some interest in the business - that's why he insists on the yearly meeting - but books aren't his primary concern any more. He doesn't mean anyone any harm, but his experiments need supplies and might have unforeseeable consequences. Do the investigators help or hinder his research? What will he do in response? 
Notice I'm not adding stat blocks to any of these, or assigning them abilities. Whether Normal or Thematic, these aren't killers nor are they necessarily in direct opposition to the players. Leaky pipes aren't going to leap out in the dead of night, knife in hand, to stab someone to death. 

No, what they will do is spill water all over that squizz someone's been working on. Or make a particular room uninhabitable. Or make that wooden floor just slippery enough that someone falls. Or … 

See, the things that people remember about their day-to-day lives aren't the number of times they kissed their spouse goodbye in the morning, or smiled at a stranger. No. They remember when the car wouldn't start, or they missed the bus, or a co-worker stabbed them in the back. It's the way we're wired; we remember slights more than we do favors.

The job of an antagonist is to keep rubbing away at that old injury. The One Weird Customer turns up at the least opportune moment. The pipes don't burst on a nice sunny day when there's plenty of time to deal with the problem and a dozen plumbers practically on the doorstep asking for work. No, they burst when the shop's busy as hell, in the depths of winter, when you can't get a plumber for love nor money. Rubbing away, rubbing away - until the moment something breaks.

After all, the whole point of an antagonist is to break things. It's the players' job to fix them.


Sunday, 19 August 2018

Welcome to the Covenant (Ars Magica)

Some friends of mine have been agitating for a new ongoing game, and I offered several options. Only one was fantasy, and that was the one they jumped for. Ars Magica 3rd ed shall be my new RPG home for the next however many number of Seasons.

I loved this game when I was in uni. I know the game's had other editions since, but it's the edition closest to my heart. It's beautifully designed, the artwork's evocative - I mean, just look at that cover for a start - the rules are fairly straightforward, but most importantly there's a flavor of gaming here to suit every palate.

The biggest drawback is that it wants a lot of record keeping - fairly mathsy record keeping at that. If you're not prepared to keep clear notes, heaven help you. In D&D you can often fudge it, but in this if you don't keep track of what you're up to each season, you are asking for trouble.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure: this is troupe-style roleplay set at the tail end of the High Medieval period. The third Crusade has come and gone, and gunpowder hasn't yet burnt down the feudal world. The great plagues and famines have yet to devastate the continent, but it's only a matter of decades rather than centuries before the Black Death claims the lives of millions. Speaking of:

Did I mention how much I love this setting? 

The game presumes magic exists, and achieved its greatest heights during the classical and Roman period, when the Cult of Mercury spread the rituals and, more importantly, scrolls and proto-grimoires, of the wisest Magi far and wide. Your main characters are heirs to that magical tradition, who have become part of the Order of Hermes to further the study of magic.

However this isn't a story about wizards. It's a story about people who band together, forming a covenant or magical community. Everyone in that community is a potential character, from the lowliest Grog to the more powerful Companions to the Wizards in their ivory towers. The idea being that you, as a group, chart the course of that community from its birth in Spring to its eventual Winter, and possibly beyond. This will take years. It may take centuries, and over that period you can expect characters to come and go. The covenant, if all goes well, survives. 

A covenant begins in Spring, bursting with hope and enthusiasm but lacking resources. Not unlike the first time you leave home and go to university, or get your first job, or whatever might happen. Some covenants sputter and die at this point, but those that survive pass on to a glorious Summer, when their power is at its height. Then comes Autumn, when ambitions mellow and things settle into a quiet routine. After that comes Winter, when the rot sets in and power fractures. 

The writers captured this chronology in the Four Seasons books in which a covenant's cycles are charted over the course of four campaign arcs. Not coincidentally named after Shakespearian plays, it starts with Midsummer Night's Dream, in which a starting covenant struggles against the odds. The Tempest cements their rise with a challenge that seems linked to the very origins of the Order. A Winter's Tale plots the fall from Autumn to Winter, while Twelfth Night offers the possibility of redemption through glorious death. 

This Saturday is the first session, when the players design their covenant and create their first characters. They're all experienced gamers but none of them know the system. So what happens next?

Well ...

Here's a few tips for those starting their first game, whatever the system.

1) KEEP CALM. You know this system. Maybe the others have played this before, maybe not. Whatever else happens, you know for a certainty they've never played *your* game. Take a breath, don't lose your cool, be prepared to explain everything at least six times … and keep calm.

2) BRING EVERYTHING. Maybe it's different for you folks, but my guys prefer analog. They don't want it in .pdf; they want the actual thing. If there are six people at your table, yes, they will all want character sheets - but they'll also want a character generation cheat sheet, a spell list, or just something to read while they wait for the slower folks to get their heads straight. The great thing about .pdfs is you can print the bits you need and ignore the rest. Have extra character sheets, extra Virtues and Flaws sections, and some background material people can read.

3) SMILE, FOR PITY'S SAKE. Everyone knows this is meant to be fun, but this is as much about your performance as it is about the game. If you look worried, they get worried. Being a good keeper/DM/whatever is as much about reading the room as it is knowing the rules. Smile. Crack jokes. Be at ease. It'll kill their nerves and keep the session rolling.

4) BE GENTLE. It's their first time, after all. Remember what I said about repeating things six times? Make that twelve. Or however many times it takes for the message to get across.

5) START SIMPLE, GET COMPLEX. I started character generation with Grogs. They're the cannon fodder, the red shirts, the expendables. Yet they use exactly the same character generation system as everyone else, which means they're perfect for getting the players' feet wet. Once they'd done a few Grogs  they could move on to something more complicated. If this was D&D, I'd start at first level. Sure, it's tempting to give everyone levels and magic items so they can wallop dragons, but if this is everyone's very first game, never ever start above first level. To you it's all so simple, but to them it's incredibly intimidating. There's all these new terms, strange dice, a long list of abilities and characteristics to keep track of - and that's before they go anywhere near the dungeon or swing a sword in anger. On that note: no dragons. Goblins, yes. Giant rats, yes. Maybe a wolf if you're feeling daring. Anything capable of causing a full party wipe in one attack round should be nowhere near this adventure. Dragons come later. Complexity comes later.

Right now they've created Grogs and are halfway through Wizards. Next time it's covenant design, and the first small scenario.

So far we have:

Taleh Ex Miscellanea, clever but not spontaneous, a witch of the old school.

Brun de Avilla, a mountain of a man whose scars from past torture prevent him speaking.

An unnamed wizard of Verditius, a cunning vintner and inventive genius.

An unnamed archer (jeez, mate, really?) whose excellent armaments hint at an unsavory past.

Diego, a farmer and animal husbandman, whose drinking lets him down time and again.

An unnamed bear Bjornaer, whose master still pursues him after all this time.

Another cunning archer, Ella, a mercenary who had one brush too many with bad luck.

An unnamed Merinita magus, extremely intelligent and charismatic, a master of arts.

Everyone's having fun. That's the most important thing, after all.


Sunday, 12 August 2018

Playing With Real Toys: The Raketa Graveyard (Night's Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Timewatch)

Once upon a time in the former Soviet Union, someone junked the future.

All images for this post taken from Urbanghosts.

The Raketa series of hydrofoil riverboats were based on 1940s era designs, and you can see modernist and deco influences in these sleek rivercraft. Capable of 70km/hr cruising speed and built to carry 60-70 passengers, they were meant to be the river transport of the future. Built from the 1950s through to the 1970s and made available for export, they plied the Volga for many years. A few were sent to China, Cambodia, and Europe, but the vast majority stayed within the USSR. There are some survivors, but not many, and those that are still commercially viable have often been modified with new engines or had their hydrofoils removed.

The ship graveyard in the photograph is part of the closed city of Zayozorsk, Murmansk Oblast. Originally intended as a base for a nuclear submarine fleet, this administrative district, also known as Zayozyorny and Severomorsk-7, can only be accessed by those with the appropriate clearance, much like the satellite launch site Vostochny, discussed previously. Unlike Vostochny, there's little reason to think Zayozorsk has much of a future. A little under 12,000 people live there now, according to the most recent census. Like similar urbanizations of its type the closed city is nominally self-governing and exists as an urban core with an outer layer of more or less rural territory. This decayed shell with its rotting shipyards and disused railway lines is where somebody decided to dump the remains of the Raketa fleet. 

As a game location it has many advantages. It's a closed city, which means the characters will have to sneak in somehow with forged papers (or real ones obtained through devious means), or trespass. Anything could be going on there, from secret scientific experiments to Area-51 style storage for those things the Russian government would prefer to forget about. The people who still live there may know all kinds of things about what happened in Zayozorsk back in the day - or they might not be people at all. Innsmouth on the Volga? The last colony of an alien race? Vampires? 

Thrilling elements:

  • A group of dispirited soldiers nominally on patrol wander by. They may not notice much, but tangling with them only alerts the central authorities. 
  • Bored locals kick a football around next to one of the abandoned Raketa.
  • A sudden clatter comes from an abandoned building next to the ship graveyard. Did part of the roof cave in, or is someone watching?
  • Shadows cluster around an abandoned Raketa, and the last glimmer of daylight gleams off its remaining windows.
  • A murder of crows perched on a Raketa glare at human trespassers, and will not willingly move. They stare haughtily at any interloper.
  • A small group of homeless see the agents and make a run for it. What did they leave behind in their camp?
  • For one brief moment it almost seems as though that Raketa is brand new, untouched by time, as though it just launched. Passengers can be seen smiling and chattering among themselves, and the captain sits proudly at the bow. Then the image is gone, but its afterglow lingers in your mind.
  • Judging by the markings on that abandoned ship someone's been using this one as a place to store goods. Who was that someone affiliated with - Edom, the Russian mob, someone else? Is there anything left in the cache?  
Then the Scenario Seed:

Keyhole satellite data, elint and humint all suggest that something peculiar's happening at Zayozorsk, and it's centered on the ship graveyard. Russia's government pretends ignorance, but leaks from the Ministry of Internal Affairs suggest it's very keen to track down anyone related to engineer-shipbuilder and father of the ground effect vehicle Rostislav Alexeyev. Those who look into the matter further discover that most of his living relatives mysteriously vanished over the last two years, but two distant relations living in the West survive. 

Those who look closer at Zayozorsk discover that all transport to and from the closed city has been halted, and the embargo is being enforced by armed troops. 

Someone - a Network contact, perhaps - who claims to be in contact with someone inside Zayozorsk reaches out to the characters. This contact says his friend in Zayozorsk is asking for supplies, most of them medical but some scientific. Analysis shows the equipment could be used for all kinds of things, but is most likely intended to help restructure or rebuild a hydrofoil. What possible purpose could that serve?

Timewatch: the Zayozorsk contact is trying to rebuild, not just a hydrofoil, but the forward-facing Soviet Union of her youth. This time traveler is sick and tired of modern Russia, and seeks to remodel her vision of the Soviet Union on modernist principles exemplified by the Raketa. She feels this era, when Soviet technological advances were at their height and the world trembled at the feet of the USSR (at least as she remembers it), is the world she wants to live in. To that end she's been collecting everything to do with the Raketa and the man who designed them. She's built a kind of gestalt-brain out of Rostislav's relations, and using the equipment she has on hand she's rebuilt a test case Raketa to take her away from the present and into an alternate reality. The people who live in Zayozorsk are broadly on her side; they don't relish being ignored by Putin's Russia and want to return to the good old days when they had meaningful jobs and Zayozorsk had a future. The only thing holding Putin back is the thought that the rebels might have nukes; nobody has a clear idea what was still stored at that old sub base. It's Timewatch's job to ensure this gestalt alternate-reality machine never launches.

Esoterrorists: A cell has been busily at work trying to create a quasi-religion based on Soviet era futurist technology. People have been sneaking into Zayozorsk from all over, at first to see this grand new design and later to help build it. The town has been reinvigorated, and not necessarily in a good way - people are disappearing, perhaps having crossed over into the new reality, perhaps not. The cell hopes that all this futurist worship will weaken the Membrane sufficiently to let them breach reality's walls and bring their own version of the future through. The Russians will move in at any moment to cleanse the town, but if they put a foot wrong they might puncture the Membrane more efficiently than the Esoterrorists themselves. Putin's champing at the bit, but Ordo sympathizers within Russia's establishment would rather Ordo Veritatis went in first; that way if something does go badly wrong, it's not their fault.  

Night's Black Agents: A breakaway Conspiracy node has been working on its own project. This Node thinks Soviet-era futurism is the key to an important Conspiracy goal, but the higher levels of the Conspiracy disagree and have, until now, quashed all investigation along these lines. The Node thinks it knows better than the higher-ups, and has funded a low-level Facility to carry out test work. All this is very much off-book, and the Node hoped nobody would ever find out about it before the Node was ready to unveil its triumph. In a shocking turn of events that surprises nobody except those in charge of the Node, someone did find out. They leaked. Now all kinds of people are taking an interest, from Putin's Russia to the agents, and possibly other government-sponsored anti-vampire programs. The Node wants to clean up the Facility before anyone finds it, but the scientist in charge just won't quit despite all the red warning lights and alarms. It's a race against time to get any useful data from the project before wetworks teams move in.  


Sunday, 5 August 2018

You Must Pay The Penalty (RPG All)

Sometimes characters fail, and that's okay.

What's not okay is the binary choice system we, as Keepers/Directors or what-have-you, put ourselves in by insisting that failure = extreme penalty, usually health damage or catastrophic plot damage.

I've often thought this is a holdover from the earliest RPGs, where assuming THACO is X and the character rolls something less than X, the character misses. There isn't a middle ground. Hit, or miss, with the possibility of critical miss or critical hit.

The recent Pelgrane One-2-One systems make different assumptions. It's very difficult to out-and-out fail a roll. The character usually has 2D6 for any test, where a result of 3 or less is a Setback, 8 or less is a Hold and above 8 is an Advance. So the character's only likely to get a Setback around 8% of the time. Whereas the character's very likely either to succeed (perhaps with some complications) or win extra benefits, so long as the die roll is unmodified.

This is in no small part because having the character fail in a One-2-One in any scene other than the climactic ones is boring. Lovecraft didn't end Innsmouth at the part where Roger Olmstead makes a break for it out his hotel window, slips, and falls to his doom. Neither should the Keeper end a story before the character at least understands what's going on and what's at stake.

It's different in a combat-heavy system, where the plot can be irrelevant and the only real criteria for success is how many levels a character gets. In any game where the plot takes second or third place to contests, whether or not a character out-and-out fails a contest is extremely important, because those contests are the only means the character has of influencing the shape of the game in any significant way.

In a game where plot is more important than contests, the character has other ways of changing the shape of the game. The character can create plot, or solve the existing plot, and while this can involve contests it doesn't have to. The character who gets blackmail information on an important NPC and uses that information to force the NPC to do a certain thing, is just as successful as the character who draws her sword and wins a contest, forcing the NPC to do a certain thing. Both these courses of action assume that having the NPC do a thing is as important, if not more so, than getting levels or gathering treasure. However one method involved little or no contests, whereas the other was nothing but contest.

In a plot-focused game there has to be some kind of penalty for those moments when the character fails a test. The question is, what kind of penalty should it be?

I handle failure by ramping up the consequences but keeping the chain going, and I announce the consequences in advance. So:

Player: Okay, now's my chance. I tie together several blankets and, using them as an impromptu rope, escape out of my hospital room to the ground below.

Director: You can do that, but be warned: if you fail this roll, the nurse will come in the room while you're escaping and scream, alerting everyone.

Player: Fine. [rolls, fails]

Director: You reached the ground but now everyone knows what happened and where you are. Security is on its way.

Now, I could have said that failure means the character slips, falls, and injures herself. However it's usually more interesting to impose a story consequence in a story-driven game. Health loss is only an interesting consequence if this is the kind of game where a lot of combat happens, because in those systems health is more important than any other stat. In story-driven games health is rarely the most important stat.

In the above example failure didn't injure the character but it did impose story consequences, thus continuing the chain of events. If the test succeeded the character could probably escape unnoticed. Now the character has to find a solution to the story problem, which is that security will recapture the character unless the player does something to prevent it.

Moreover I warned the player ahead of time. That's important for two reasons: first, it raises tension. The player knows even before the die is cast that there's a significant penalty for failure. Second, by establishing consequences ahead of time the Keeper avoids seeming wishy-washy. Failure has to be failure, not a reason to create more tests until the character finally passes one. Oh, you failed that test? Um. Well, we can have another test … and another … and you're really bad at this, but let's have another test

The swashbuckling game 7th Sea tried something similar in its death mechanic, by insisting that player characters never died outright in a fight. Instead they became Helpless, and could only be Killed by a deliberate act. This encouraged players to do reckless things in combat - which is the point of a swashbuckling game, after all - secure in the knowledge that, while there might be consequences, they would not necessarily be character-ending ones. Moreover if there was a chance your character could die, that possibility would be flagged by the obvious presence of a Villain capable of taking that deliberate act.

Ultimately this was because 7th Sea valued story over combat, but still wanted a fair amount of combat. The setting was very Douglas Fairbanks, after all, and you can't have that kind of story without at least one sabre duel in some dramatic setting.

Bear in mind there probably weren't any safety nets or guide ropes on set. That's all Fairbanks.

This should be ringing a chord with, say, Night's Black Agents Directors. After all, those games also involve significant combat or chase scenes with potentially fatal consequences for those involved. At the same time the Director probably doesn't want to kill the characters midway through the scenario.

But if you can't or don't want to kill them, there has to be something else you can do. In any game there's usually something, but the Director has to be creative.

For example:

At the end of a Thrilling Chase scene across the rooftops of Paris, the agent fails a roll and the enemy gets away. Rather than have the agent who failed the roll tumble to the ground, the Director rules that the agent made the leap but didn't quite get to the rooftop. Instead they landed on the balcony below, taking 1D6 damage. In addition, the Director rules that for the remainder of this scene and the next scene the agent has the Hurt condition, and takes penalties to physical action contests, to reflect sprains, bruises and possibly broken glass injuries sustained during the fall. 

If the agent was trying to get away instead, the Director rules that the agent tumbles into an occupied apartment and the enemy does not follow, not wanting to get caught by the police. Or maybe there's a Bane there, if the pursuer is a Vampire. The agent suffers the same damage and Hurt condition as above, and also gains 1 extra Heat. The agent gained 1 Heat anyway just for being in a chase; now the total is 2. Also, the agent now has to deal with the situation the agent tumbled into - whatever it may be. 

In both examples there is a penalty and it's a serious penalty, but it does not kill the character or end the session prematurely.

The point to bear in mind is this: in any system, no matter the setting or mechanics, there is always an option that does not involve character death. In Night's Black Agents a character can increase Heat, lose Stability, or suffer penalties to future die rolls to name just three potential consequences. A character can also be Captured, or bitten by a vampire, or lose important equipment or evidence. Say an agent obtains an important Block or Bane only to drop it in the Seine. What happens next?

There is always the possibility of failure, and when a character fails that character must pay the penalty. However it's up to you, as the Daffy of this scenario, as to what that penalty should be.