Sunday, 26 April 2020

Zalozhniy Quartet & Vampire Design (Night's Black Agents)

Recently I was asked how I would make (S)entries, the Harker Intrusion, the Van Helsing Letter and the Zalozhniy Quartet into a campaign that in turn led into the Dracula Dossier. That would involve delving into the guts of several scenarios any one of which could spoil things for the players out there, so I shan't be doing precisely that. However I did think it would be useful to discuss each of those elements individually and talk about how I'd stage them. I'm going to start with the Zalozhniy Quartet, and discuss vampire design.

If you don't want even the least hint of a spoiler for that campaign, stop reading now.

As a Director when you purchase gaming supplements you know you will have to make some adjustments. They might be small or large. You might be looking for something strictly off-the-shelf, with as few user tweaks as possible. You might be the sort who enjoys playing with someone else's toys and bending them to your desired configuration, like a miniatures enthusiast who can't bear to put the paints away until it looks exactly as you imagined. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum some adjustment is inevitable to make the game fit on your table. No published supplement ever written is so perfect as to work for every possible group configuration every time. That means you need to understand vampire design. Or, in a different setting like Dungeons and Dragons or Mutant City Blues, adversary design.

Vampire design is absolutely key to any discussion about Night's Black Agents, and not for the obvious reason. Design is critical because it affects the overall aesthetic of the game, and that aesthetic has to bleed through into every scenario you play. Tone has to be consistent. That means you have to decide pretty much from the outset what your vampires are, because that will determine how they affect tone and therefore plot.

What's at ZQ's core? What are these vampires about?

In ZQ, without going into major spoilers, time is the core concept. Therefore as Director time is what you're going to be playing with. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about Satanic, Mutant, Alien or Supernatural entities. The key factor is time. These creatures play with time; they exist in between the ticking of the clock.

So every scenario, every moment within the game ought to be reinforcing this core concept. Think of it like a murder mystery. If Poirot is investigating a killing at the vicarage, he is always investigating that murder. There is never a point in the story when he is not investigating that murder. The narrative behaves as though he is obsessed with murder from the discovery of the body to the denouement. Eating breakfast? Going to the shops? Watching a film, reading a book? Never; it's all murder, all the time.

For you in ZQ, it's time all the time. As Director you need to emphasize this. It doesn't need to be some massive time-blorp. It can be something as simple as 'you're running late. 'She's always early, this isn't like her.' 'Gosh, is that the time? It's later than you think.' 'That clock's running slow.' You could begin every session by saying something like 'it's 8.36 am on Monday the 3rd,' and end each session with 'it's 11.58 pm on Weds the 5th.' That steady drip of time reinforces the tone, and puts the players in the mood for those moments when you really fork them with the naughty spoon.

I reference the Doctor Who episode Blink above because it's funny, but also because it reinforces the dilemma. Here's a brilliant example of a writer playing with the idea of time, using the simplest technology available: someone's video recording in 1969, played back in the present day. If your vampire plays with time then every chance you get you go wibbley-wobbley, just as freaky as you can.

Stephen King's The Langoliers does this very well - the miniseries not so much, but you can't have everything.

King doesn't start screaming from page 1 'time! Time, you bastards! Tiiiiiimmmmeee!' However much he may have been tempted. No, he starts with a dilemma: most of the people on board the plane have vanished, leaving only a few random artifacts behind. King progresses: why does the air feel different? The food stale? The matches somehow less inflammable? Why is the world so used-up? Then, and only then, when the situation has been established and the stakes clear, do the Langoliers appear on-stage in all their glory.

So in ZQ, what does this mean?

It means you can play with the scenery, that's what. It means 2014, 1970, 1940 and 1893 all occupy the same space at the same moment. It means Robespierre is giving a speech to the Commune, being executed, being born and is long dead all at once. It means it is always teatime.

'What a funny watch!' Alice remarked. 'It tells the month and not the time of day!'

Look around you. Right now. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Chances are the room you currently occupy - the physical building - predates you. Perhaps by decades, perhaps by centuries. Even if it was built in your lifetime unless it is very, very new it has had an existence in space and time that is independent of your own. There was a point when the wall wasn't there, it was over there. Or perhaps that door didn't exist before. The paint changed, the wallpaper was stripped away or applied.

Moreover it will probably outlast you. For years. Perhaps centuries.

Imagine if you could see all those moments at once. How permanent would the world feel to you then, when even the chair you sit in doesdoesnotdoesdoesnot like a cat in a box?

Now you've had that existential crisis, let's discuss the other issue you're likely to have with a published campaign. You need to be able to identify the parts that will not work for you, and to cut them. Don't be tempted to make it work. You'll only hurt yourself and your game. Just be able to see the problem for what it is, and get rid of it. If your heart isn't in it, the players will sense that. They're tricksy beggars. This can only damage the atmosphere, and thus the game.

Remember, the whole point is to provide an experience at the table which everyone enjoys. It's not to play the scenario exactly as written. Nobody ever does that. The Director might skip a scene, the players might not engage with the plot in exactly the way the writer intends. That's perfectly fine. The idea is to have fun. So long as you're doing that, everything else is optional.

Since this bit does involve spoilers, in ZQ:

Each zalozhniy has a mortal wound that would have killed them if it were not for supernatural intervention. If they suffer this wound a second time, they are killed outright. For example, a zalozhniy who is “supposed” to die from a stab wound is destroyed if stabbed in the right place; a zalozhniy who was originally destined to die in a burning house can only be destroyed by incineration. Discovering a zalozhniy’s true death requires investigation, but if the agents can deliver the right type of attack (often with a Called Shot), the creature is instantly destroyed

When I first read that, I thought it was brilliant. Creepy. Totally in keeping with the aesthetic. Then I gave it some thought, and asked myself how I was going to communicate that bit of lore to the players. Then I asked myself how the players were supposed to use this information. 

GUMSHOE is ultimately about piecing together clues to unravel plot and resolve story. Say this is a murder mystery: in the room with the cooling corpse there is always something that indicates the identity of the killer. It might be blood spatter and forensics, or a written note clutched in the corpse's hand. There's always something. That means as Director you need to be able to look at any given situation and, without effort, think of a couple of clues that lead to information. The players then use this information to resolve the scenario's dilemma. You never want to hide information, or present information that the players cannot use. Note I say cannot. If the players do not use information, that's their own problem.

Problem: What about someone whose chosen death no longer exists in the modern world? If someone was supposed to be trampled to death by European bison, will cows do? If so, how do you manage that without playing the Benny Hill soundtrack in the background?

Problem: What about a heart condition? Drowning? Electric shock? Extreme allergic reaction? There's a lot of ways to die. What counts as dying before your time? Hell, what's 'your time'? Is it just old age or is there something more to it?

Problem: How do you investigate someone's true death? It's not as if you can pull an autopsy report off the official file. There can be no autopsy; there was never a body to cut up.  If you know that Mack the spec ops veteran was last seen when an IED took out his vehicle, fine. Except that doesn't tell you whether he died of explosive damage or heart failure or something else altogether. You'd have to get close enough to the target for Medicine or Notice to work, and if you're that close then the vampire probably has its fangs in you already.

So I began to wonder whether or not this mechanic was worth keeping. It's cool and I like the idea, but I'm already finding ways to bork it. If I can do that then the players will definitely do the same. Or, worse, they'll never find out about this mechanic and so never use it.

I'm not saying the idea's unworkable. I'm saying I can't make it work for me. So I can either tinker with it until it does work - which, as I mention above, is a really bad idea - or I can cut it. If I cut it I have to replace it with something that does the same job, but which I can make better use of.

So what does this mechanic do? Is it vital? Is there another way to get the same result?

It provides an instakill mechanic. Vampires can be killed by other means, so it's not vital. I can think of other ways to get the same result.

My fix: every vampire has a time they're supposed to die, but didn't. If Mack the spec ops veteran was supposed to bleed out at 1.45 pm and 43 seconds, then that's when he's most vulnerable. If someone delivers a killing blow at that split second (called shot), the vampire dies outright. The vampires know the moment of their own death and are incredibly paranoid about it, making sure they're in a safe place at the appropriate time. At that very split second each day the distortion field expands in the same way it does when a zalozhniy feeds. So if the players pay attention to those moments when the vampire seeks a safe place and their distortion field blorps, they can work out the best moment to attack. 

Enjoy! Next week, something different.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Ghost Plane Recovery (Night's Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Fear Itself)

This week's installment is inspired by Mark Felton Productions, and the story of the spy plane Kee Bird.

For those who don't want the full story, the short version of Kee Bird goes thusly: in 1947 a B-29 Superfortress spy plane flying a photoreconnaissance operation over the Arctic came down in the snow-packed tundra close to Thule, Greenland. The crew survived and were rescued along with all their camera equipment and film. The plane was left where it lay until 1994, when a privately funded rescue attempt almost succeeded in repairing the aircraft and flying it to Thule for a complete restoration. Unfortunately the fuel line ruptured, a fire broke out and the fuselage burnt beyond salvage. What little is left of Kee Bird still sits out there, all but a memory.

The Arctic has been a popular destination for surveillance aircraft since the early days of the Cold War. Even today aerial espionage is an ongoing pursuit as the Russian border is close to Alaska, and then there's the invaluable natural resources to be had. Oil is everyone's concern. That's one of the reasons why the Arctic is littered with old spy craft, and both sides have lost planes and people (warning: footage, Tu-22 plane crash 2019). Russian pilots lack the survival gear American crews enjoy; Kee Bird's people could survive for two weeks in 1947 with the food and clothing they carried on board, but Russian flight crew carry only life jackets. If rescue's following on swift wings, fine, but two weeks is two weeks. Even Russians find it difficult to survive on a diet of snow.

A Tu-22, operational from 1962 in various incarnations, carries a crew of 3: pilot, gunner, and technical officer. She has two turbojet engines and is roughly 41 meters long. Her max range is just shy of 5,000 km.  The Americans call her Blinder, while to the Russians she is Awl, after the pointed leatherworking tool.

With all that in mind:


American tech billionaire turned aviation enthusiast Peter Bell is looking for experts to help him rescue a Cold War era Soviet spy plane. According to his research, the Tu-22 went down in the Arctic tundra in 1968 while on a spy mission, and its location wasn't known to either side until 1974. Thought to be sunk in a frozen lake, recent satellite footage shows she's actually above ground and in remarkable condition given the circumstances. Bell thinks she can be repaired and flown out, at least as far as the nearest friendly airstrip where she can be properly seen to. Bell doesn't think she has any secrets to spill; he believes Soviet special forces stripped her of her surveillance equipment and film back in the 1970s. That doesn't explain why the Russians didn't destroy the airplane, to ensure it didn't fall into American hands. Bell waves off this objection as mere quibbling. He wants this bird; it's the ultimate prize, the crowning jewel of his collection.

Either the characters are experts hired by Bell, or they're special agents (Ordo Veritatis, Edom, your esoteric agency of choice) inserted into Bell's team for reasons best known to the higher-ups. The sponsor agency is convinced there's [McGuffin] in that old plane, and wants the agents to secure it before Bell stumbles onto it.

Whether there is or isn't, it soon becomes clear that the sponsor agency isn't the only one sniffing around. A smooth, bland, Harvard-and-Sorbonne academic and a former military Swede both show interest, but while the characters may rightly suspect both of them of being spies it's difficult to tell which agencies they represent. Is the freewheeling Swede a Russian agent, or a CIA front man? Is the academic getting instructions from Moscow, or the Farm? They each have money to burn, and can call on some serious hitters should the need arise.

Then the characters go to the crash site, far out in the frozen wasteland. Except crash is perhaps the wrong word; this Tu-22 is in such good condition it might have landed at an airstrip. There's nothing to show what happened to the crew. There isn't any surveillance equipment, but what comes as a surprise is there's no indication there ever was any surveillance equipment. This is some kind of modified cargo flight, and the container has Soviet biohazard markings. Why didn't the Soviets try to recover it, or at least destroy it? Why did the Americans just leave it out here, when they've known where it is since the 1970s?

  • Bell's Betrayal: This isn't about a Cold War era spy plane. This is about Bell. The whole point is to lure him out to the wastelands so, back home, his business interests can be strip-mined for cash and data. His closest associates/spouse/deadbeat brother has sold out to [Esoterrorists/the Conspiracy/someone equally sinister] and this situation is a set-up, a fake designed to leave him stranded in the back of beyond. The so-called spy plane was dumped here a year ago, and there are clues aboard the Tu-22 that prove it. Maybe those biohazard markings are non-standard, or the parts date to the 2010s not the 1960s. However the sinister agency isn't satisfied with an Arctic boondoggle. The Swede/Academic paid off one or more of the team to sabotage the effort, destroying communications equipment, survival gear, and using special mind-control drugs to bend Bell to their will. The characters need to realize this and get the heck out before the traitor leaves them to rot in the Arctic wastes.
  • Doublefake. This has nothing to do with the Arctic. The characters aren't even in the Arctic; this is a clever simulation, a psychological interrogation. They've been captured by [Esoterrorists/the Conspiracy/sinister forces] but the information in their heads is just too valuable to risk physically damaging them to get it.  So their interrogators designed the ultimate mind-game: let the characters think they're in the Arctic, while the drugs/psi-leeches/magicians get to work stripping them clean. Think of this as Thrilling Interrogation, Night's Black Agents style. The closer the interrogators get to their goal, the more the characters sink into the simulation. However if the characters resist then the simulation breaks down: Bell forgets his lines, the plane starts to look like a cardboard prop, and why isn't it really cold up here? Isn't this supposed to be the Arctic?
  • The Thing. The Russians don't know what was aboard this Tu-22; all records relating to the crash were destroyed and anyone connected with the mission executed back in Brezhnev's day. Putin would really like to know, which is why he dispatched the Academic/Swede. The Americans think they know, but were never able to confirm their hypothesis and all records relating to its salvage attempt went missing about the same time Richard Helms destroyed the MKUltra records. In spook circles this old Tu-22 is a folktale nobody takes seriously any more, but now Bell's stirred up some bad memories. The powers that be want to be reassured. The McGuffin's lost for good, yes? The cargo destroyed? Things get stranger when the characters find a survivor: Technical Officer Adrik Lebedev, who has absolutely no business being alive forty-odd years after the crash landing yet is apparently asleep at the controls. He's as surprised as anyone to find himself alive; the last thing he remembers is the pilot, Vadim Orlov, saying they were going through heavy turbulence. He won't talk to Westerners; he's a good soldier. But who is he, really? What is he? 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

The Queen's Messenger (NBA)

This video is sourced from Side Note, a channel about obscure historical and geographical topics.

Imagine a man whose mission is to transport secrets. Sometimes it's nothing, sometimes it's something. It might be a box of Cuban cigars, or it might be the ins and outs of the latest missile crisis. He's very nearly a stock character out of a Hitchcock film, or an Agatha Christie novel: white, almost certainly male, very British, probably in his forties, probably spent his entire working career in the diplomatic service. He's about as unrepresentative of the Commonwealth as it is possible to be, unless you reduce the Commonwealth to Australia and Canada. Even Australia's a bit of a stretch, since judging by that photograph at 1.06 none of them have seen the sun in years. Yet he represents the Commonwealth, carrying communiques back and forth from all corners of the globe each day of his working life. All that for about 25-35K a year, more or less. Plus expenses, presumably, but even so that's a relatively meagre pay packet for that level of responsibility.

Side Note points out that these messengers have been targeted by honey traps, and the risk to their lives (and messages) is real enough. In addition to those examples mentioned in the video, two are known to have died in accidents: a plane crash in South America in 1947, while another went down with the SS Berlin in 1907. The Berlin sinking is one of those explicable tragedies common to sea travel, but the crash of BSAA Star Dust has been fodder for conspiracy theorists and UFOlogists almost from the moment she went down.

Events like these are the stuff of detective novels, and Agatha Christie used a plot much like it in her 1922 novel The Secret Adversary. The kick-off is the sinking of the Lusitania during the Great War, when a male diplomatic courier who knows he isn't getting on a lifeboat hands the McGuffin over to a female passenger to deliver to the embassy. However she never gets there, and the story is about what happens next. Christie doesn't specifically mention King's Messengers, but it's pretty clear what her doomed courier is.

So how to use this in your Night's Black Agents or Dracula Dossier game?

To start with, the Messengers are obvious targets for enemy action. If the Conspiracy can read minds, or pull the Dracula mesmerism trick, then the Messengers are likely targets. Even if the Conspiracy never gets to read those messages in the diplomatic bag, the courier's mind is a very useful secondary target. These are the people in the room where it happens, after all. They've seen and heard things that nobody else had the chance to. Knowing what they know could be invaluable.

Impersonating one would be a very handy way of getting past what might otherwise be impenetrable security. A passport, a tie, the right kind of public schoolboy mannerisms and you're golden. Of course, it would be a shame if your vampire type was one of those allergic to silver; those greyhound pins and insignia would be the very devil. Grit your fangs and bear it, I suppose.

In the Dracula Dossier Edom would probably want to keep half an eye on the Messengers, just in case. Sounds like a job for Osprey, and in a low-key game where Edom is a handful of in-the-know operatives working through friendlies and go-betweens it's likely Osprey is a Messenger. After all, he's got to have some kind of diplomatic day job that allows him to keep an eye on operations worldwide. Besides, he's practically built for it: smooth features, well-preserved, well-dressed, Etonian accent? Hello, Central Casting!

Of course, impersonating a Messenger is a one-time-only gig. It gets you out of a scrape, but almost certainly raises every single red flag it is possible to raise. There are only a few of them, after all. Given the delicacy of their work they're probably monitored very closely. I say probably - we are talking about the English, whose tradition of bumbling towards disaster is well established. Perhaps it's all done on a handshake and a smile. Traitors have skated under the old school tie before, with hardly anyone bothering to delay their progress let alone stop them before they skip across to Moscow. Or Dracula's Castle, in the current fictional narrative.

A player agent as a Messenger is a very intriguing possibility. Being an active diplomatic agent does limit your options; you can't just bunk off for the day to stake vampires if you're meant to be carrying vital messages to, say, the Mission in Bahrain. However a Messenger is the ultimate Mule, more likely to take Archaeology or Art History than Forgery, or perhaps just extra points in Bureaucracy. The sort of agent used to High Society, with a healthy dose of Flattery and Bullshit Detector. Traditionally the Messenger doesn't carry a gun, but that doesn't stop them having a decent Shooting or Hand-to-Hand pool. That said, Preparedness, Shrink, Surveillance and Network seem more likely General spends.

Perhaps your agent is a former Messenger, someone shuffled out of the Service for the good of the Service. Oh, you got your pension and possibly even a gong; after all, nobody really wants to admit what happened even if it is an open secret. You still belong to all your old clubs, and wear the tie now and again. Plus, you have Network friends in all sorts of interesting places. However if anyone's likely to bear a smoldering grudge it's the man who got canned from the most interesting diplomatic job ever. Could be more interesting if it was the woman who got canned; misogyny's a potent motivator, and Lord knows the British establishment's riddled with it. Revenge or Thrill-Seeker (back in the saddle again) seem reasonable Drives, possibly also Transparency and Patriotism.

After all that, a scenario seed:

The PEP (Politically Exposed Person)

Allan Daigliesh, Queen's Messenger, is a happily married man with two sons and a daughter, all rapidly approaching University age. It's been a difficult marriage; constant travel takes its toll, and Allan hasn't always been a model husband. However he's recently been behaving erratically, and the question is whether it's stress of the job or something else. Edom is interested in Allan's case, and brings the agents in to find out what, if anything, is going on.

  1. The Cuckoo. One of Allan's children is becoming romantically involved with a Legacy, most likely Billie Harker, Tabitha Holmwood or Thad Morris, but it's Director's choice. Allan knows this, and knows what the Legacy represents because he's had brushes with Edom before. The last thing he wants is for his child to get anywhere near the shadowy world of Edom, but all attempts to break off the relationship have failed. That's why he's nervous; he knows it's only a matter of time before these chickens come home to roost.
  2. The Renfield. The Conspiracy is putting pressure on Allan through his wife Belinda, who's traded in the red wine for a different scarlet beverage. The Conspiracy knows Allen makes regular trips to [X] Mission, and wants to see what's in his diplomatic bag. Either Belinda is using Aberrance tricks to get the information, or the Conspiracy's just using her as leverage to get Allen to do what it wants. The pressure's affecting Allan's job performance, and there's a chance he may break under the strain.
  3. The Man in the Mirror. Allen's learned one secret too many and wants to change his life for the better. He wants to do something to make it right, and he's started with a little whistleblowing. Perhaps he's made contact with the Journalist (or someone posing as the Journalist) or a foreign diplomat like the Chinese Agent, but whoever it is has Conspiracy links. Allan thinks he's about to do something good, for once; he doesn't know he's talking to the worst kind of people. Assuming, of course, that they are really people …

Sunday, 5 April 2020

The Bagman (Night's Black Agents)

I've discussed the Pink Panthers before. This clip is a Sundance short from the television feature The Last Panthers, which features (among others) the late John Hurt, and David Bowie's reworking of his Blackstar track is in the credits, for those nostalgic for a world pre-2016. Apart from giving the cunning among you an excellent Thrilling Chase moment (and some cool music to go with your game - the album's less than $10, Directors) it suggests a story idea.

Incidentally if you want to know more about the Pink Panthers I highly recommend the documentary Smash & Grab, available on iTunes.

In the Last Panthers six episode series (which I have not seen but would like to, and it is on iTunes, and I have free time, so YOINK!) the action opens with this heist, but soon delves deep into the criminal underworld that underpins heists like these. With the real-life Panthers what typically happens is that the heisted jewels are given to a Bagman to be sold to a middleman at whatever-the-current-rate is on the dollar, or Euro. The middleman forges whatever documents need to be forged, recuts the jewels when necessary, and sells the diamonds on. Diamonds being very easy to dispose of, the trade is relatively low-risk. Plus, it's basically unsupervised. Currency transactions are monitored when you're moving several thousand dollars at a time. Diamonds worth the same amount or more can fit in your pocket, and raise no alarms when you cross borders.

In the teaser the crooks get into the vault at about 1.50 and then something interesting happens. The lead throws what looks like high-value loot aside, choosing instead to rifle through a file box of stuff. The audience never gets a clear look at what the stuff is. It's organized, it fits into a small box, and looks like a collection of labelled packets.

If anything ever was a McGuffin, this is it. In series plot, the packets are individual diamonds worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions. In your game, they could be anything.

Say this theft targets a Conspyramid Node, a false front that pretends to be a jewelers but in fact provides the Conspiracy with X, whatever X is. X could even be diamonds, if you like, and the loss of same leaves the Conspiracy in a delicate financial position, or brings unwelcome attention from the insurance assessor.

Say the people who carry out the hit escape with the McGuffin, which is of vital importance at least to a National and possible International Node. Now the crooks have it, but everyone wants it. The question then becomes, how do your characters get close enough to the crooks to get the McGuffin without frightening off the crooks, or triggering a Conspyramid response?

Because there will be a response, a big, fat, screaming blood-in-its-eye response. The Conspiracy is pissed, and for once in a way it's not aiming its big guns at the agents. The four-alarm-fire bell is going off, and all the underworld wants to know where these crooks are.

The agents may also want to know something else: why the crooks targeted the McGuffin, and what they intend to do with it.

Of course, to find all that out they'll need to get close to someone who knows the crooks well. They'll need to get close to the Bagman. He's the one the crooks have been known to have used before, the one who they might use again - or at least trust, a little.

The recent resource guide features different scenario skeletons for several different possible plots, including flip operations where the goal is to subvert an important character and get them to do [X], whatever [X] may be. In this instance they have to flip the Bagman, so he'll tell them how to contact the crooks who pulled off the caper. The usual leverage won't apply here; the Bagman's known to be a crook, so revealing his criminal past or dodgy dealings won't work. Blackmail's probably a non-starter unless the agents can come up with some pretty convincing leverage.

Likely flip motivators include: kill a Renfield, or even a vampire. Prove convincingly that your knowledge of vampirology is second to none. Prove that you aren't working for the Node, perhaps by destroying Node assets. Use an Interpol (or similarly connected) Network Contact to reduce the Bagman's legal difficulties, perhaps by tearing up or losing some outstanding arrest warrants or getting the Bagman's friend out of prison early.

However, there is a time constraint. If the agents take too long, the Conspiracy will flip the Bagman. The Conspiracy has supernatural leverage at its disposal; it may even be able to divine the crooks' location through the Bagman's spilled entrails. Once the Conspiracy does that, the crooks probably have a very short shelf life.

So the scenario then moves from a flip operation to a Thrilling (possibly Extended) Chase to get to wherever in Serbia the crooks currently hide. If the Conspiracy gets there first then it gets the McGuffin. If the agents do, then they may or may not get the McGuffin but they'll definitely have to fend off or avoid the Conspiracy's rapid response team. Can the agents exfiltrate the crooks before the big bad bloodsuckers get there? Will it all end in blood & tears?