I've a special fondness for Thrilling Scenes, where the agents engage in an extended contest for Fabulous Prizes. Are you still alive at the end of it? Congratulations, that's your fabulous prize! There's Duelling, Hacking, Heists, Interrogation, Negotiation, Sneaking, Trailing … have I missed anything?
Well, there is something left on the table, and I thought I'd discuss that today.
Normally, as fragile bags of meat and blood, the agents prefer to avoid drawn-out combat; those unhappy moments where either you have to break through the enemy's defenses, or they force their way through yours. That's when even the best falter. However there may come the day when something unspeakable's scratching at the door, or far too many (or well-armed) mooks are outside, and all they want is to come in and kill you.
As with all Thrilling scenes, the pursuer [besieger/attacker] wants to reduce the Lead to 0, while the runner [besieged/defender] wants to increase the Lead to 10, or whichever threshold is set by the Director. If the Lead goes to 0 then the attacker achieves its victory condition, which is almost certainly to get inside and slaughter everything they find. If the Lead goes to 10 then the defender achieves its victory condition, which may be simply to hold out (we made it till dawn, guys!) or find a way to escape.
This Scene involves a chase ability. Normally a Thrilling scene is one-on-one, so a General ability is used, like Digital Intrusion or Driving. In this instance no one General ability covers all the bases, and in any case a Siege implies many against many. There may even be Civilians or similar non-combatants in the agents' group, who don't normally have useful combat skills but who can at least point a gun in the direction of the enemy and pull the trigger. For that reason, the Chase Ability is a special pool created by the Defender from the Defenders' available pool of Investigative abilities.
Each Agent/defender contributes as many points as they wish into this pool, but each point has to be justified. For instance, say the attackers include supernatural entities. Occult Studies or Vampirology might be useful. "I sprinkle salt from the canteen over every doorway and windowsill, to keep the ghosts away!" Military Studies, Architecture, Electronic Surveillance, Human Terrain, Intimidation, Streetwise, Cop Talk might all have their uses, but it's up to the agents to justify their use. Spend is 1 point buys 1 point; theoretically in a Dust game it could be reduced to 1 point buys 1/2 a point, but that's up to the Director. The agents could also justify pool boosts by bringing in extra assets. Each otherwise useless civilian who is given a gun will boost the pool by 1 point, for example - always assuming the civilians can be persuaded to fight.
There could be other ways to achieve the same result. An otherwise useless civilian who's put in charge of monitoring the security cameras ("don't touch anything, just shout out when you see the bastards on camera,") could also count as 1 pool point. Ultimately it's up to the agents to create this pool and justify each point they put in it.
The Director determines the attackers' pool, preferably in advance. A good rule of thumb is 1 point per armed (or otherwise useful) Mook, 2 points per leader or trained special forces type, and a score equal to half the entity's Aberrance pool for each supernatural type. So 20 mooks led by a special forces type is 22 pool. Or six werewolves with 8 Aberrance each is 24 points, and so on.
'Otherwise useful' in context means 'able to contribute in a way that doesn't involve outright violence.' So the mook who's in charge of flying drones overhead to scout out defenses is worth 1 point, and the mooks in charge of running digital security, blocking out cell phones and other electronic options with their signal jammers, are worth 1 point per mook, Mooks disguised as cops directing curious onlookers away from the scene of the action, special purpose troops like dog handlers, exorcists, scientists who keep the super-science opposition under chemical control, and so on.
The benefit of this system is, it creates a Pool by which Thrilling progress can be measured, while leaving General abilities intact - in case you want to use them later in a bloody showdown. Or escape sequence. It's highly likely the attacker will have more points than the defender, so the defender will have to spend carefully during tests.
Next step: establish the setting. Are they in an old spooky house? Abandoned military complex? A tangled necropolis, a decommissioned police precinct, somewhere else? Whatever it may be, allow the agents to derive up to 3 Pool points from the setting, so long as it can be justified. "I know these old Soviet bunkers," says the agents with military training. "We can establish choke points here, and here." Or, "I bet there's some useful corrosive chemicals in the biolab." However it's done, so long as it's plausible (Director's call), the agent gets 1 point per justified use of the setting.
Now - Showtime!
In a Thriller Seige, both sides take whatever action they see fit. Ideally each agent involved in the siege should get a chance at controlling the spotlight, but play our the scene as works best for you. The action may involve outright attacks, Digital Intrusion attempts to get control of the security cameras, Infiltration to exploit weaknesses, whatever. Each side then makes checks, against a Difficulty of minimum 4. This Difficulty may rise or fall, depending on the circumstances that prevail at the time. Does the enemy hacker have special equipment, or Cherry level ability? Then unless the agents can justify countermeasures - hey, our hacker also has Cherry level abilities! - the Difficulty for the enemy's Digital Intrusion check is 3. Are the agents well protected and on higher ground? Then the enemy's Difficulty to shoot them goes up to at least 5 - and so on.
Note that this is written as if the agents are being besieged, and the Conspiracy is besieging. This is what I expect to happen, most of the time. It's unlikely that the agents and their private army will have Dracula and his eight goons besieged in the Royal Mint of Spain, but it could happen. If it does, just switch the consequences as needed for Attacker or Defender Wins.
There are four potential outcomes:
Both Sides Fail: Neither side suffers much. If the attacker has the better margin, the Lead decreases by one, and if the defender has the better margin, then Lead increases by 1. Ties go to the defender. The Director should let the agents decide exactly what that means. Did the security cameras fail? Power go offline? Was an important attacker injured by a stray bullet? It's only a difference of 1 point, so it's not going to be a major event, but still ...
Both Sides Succeed: Much as Both Sides Fail, except this time Lead increases or decreases by 2. Has an important defensive point been overrun? Did some of those civilians messily die? Has the enemy successfully sabotaged the vehicle the defenders were planning to use to escape?
Defender Succeeds, Attacker Fails: Lead increases by the margin of success, or the enemy loses an important asset. Losing an asset reduces the enemy's pool by 2, and eliminates the asset. So that special forces leader, for example, might have tripped a booby trap and had her leg blown off. She might not be dead, but she certainly isn't participating in the siege any more. That means she's not eligible for combat, can't shoot, and can't lead her mooks. Or that tank the attackers were relying on just blew up, the chopper crashed, one of the werewolves freaked out and is now running across the moors - whatever best suits the situation at the time.
Attacker Succeeds, Defender Fails: Lead decreases by the margin of success, or one of the agents takes a hit to Stability or Health equal to the margin of success +2. Say the margin of success is 6. That means one of the agents takes a hit equal to (6+2) 8 points. The agents get to choose which happens, thus allowing the agents to take the hit themselves rather than lose Lead. The agents get to decide exactly what happens to the injured agent. Is Cornelius the bang-and-burner a little too close to his latest blast? Was the sight of that bloodsucking horror too much for Maria the wetworker?
Thrilling Moments: I'm on the khazi! [Dog Soldiers] A siege implies the defenders are protecting, or at least trying to survive in, a structure. The agents work best as a group, but imagine what would happen if the enemy got inside, and started splitting the group up. Sarge's trapped in the khazi, the rest of the team are trying to hold out in their own little defensive positions, or desperately attempting to regroup, come what may.
I'm boss up here. [Night of the Living Dead]. Perhaps best for Mirror or Dust games, the defending group splits into opposing factions, for whatever reason. The civilians trapped in here with the agents prefer to do what their boss says, rather than what the agents think is right. There's a sarcastic, sniping know-it-all among the hostages who Just. Won't. Shut. Up. Is one of the agents a traitor, working with some shadowy organization, or is the brainwashed black ops badass finally realizing who put them through that pain all those years ago?
We're in the middle of a city. Inside a police station! [Assault on Precinct 13] The agents may feel, with some justification, that they're in a safe spot. Maybe they're holed up in a church, or on sanctified ground. Maybe they're in a very public place, where outright violence ought to bring heavy police response. Take that security blanket away. The church is desecrated, the cops are in bed with the Conspiracy, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Famous Siege Moments: Beau Geste. The heroes are holding out in the fort, but it looks grim. Any moment now the enemy are going to come swarming over the battlements, especially when they realize how few defenders there are. So what does our hero do? He puts corpses up on the battlements as if they were soldiers, so the enemy thinks there are more Legionnaires than there are.
Men of Harlech. The lads at Rourke's Drift are down to their last few rounds and a prayer, with innumerable Zulu baying at the gate. Morale is at an all time low. [Stability checks went very badly.] What to do? Have a sing-song, that's what. If nothing else, it might raise those ebbing Stability pools.
Koulikov Jumps First. The defenders may feel pretty safe in their bunker, but the time will come when they have to change position - or be lured into changing position, along a track that the enemy have a sniper positioned. Here's the moment when the agents find out just how lucky they are.
The Final Moments
Either the defenders win, or the attackers do.
If the defenders win, then they hit their victory condition, which presumably was either to hold out for long enough, or to escape. They get away with it. The vampires drift away before dawn gets them, the mooks run away, the special forces retreat. All's Quiet on the Western Front. Time to go! No escape rolls needed, and if there was a McGuffin the agents were trying to steal or protect, consider it stolen or protected.
If the attackers do … well, things probably go very badly for the defenders. Anyone who's not one of the agents dies, or is captured. Each agent takes damage to Health or Stability, agent's choice, equivalent to 1D6+5 (roughly the same as Near range, Class 5 explosive, except the damage can be psychological rather than physical). Anyone who survives that gets a chance to escape, or to hide amongst the dead and hope not to be spotted. Rolls will be required, to get away with it. Some agents may be captured, requiring a rescue later. Or perhaps, when that agent returns … they'll have switched to the Vampires' team.