Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Cat Man (Bookhounds, Dreamhounds)

Foujita was another painter who left us when his exquisite Japanese drawings attained a great vogue. But he came back to build a house and studio near the Parc Montsouris and to begin the nucleus of a new artists' colony ... Foujita was a lank-haired Japanese with gold-rimmed glasses. He brought an exotic note to the Quarter, and a whole school of Foujitas, their black hair carefully brushed smooth over their foreheads to their eyes, made their appearance. Sisley Huddleston, Bohemian Literary and Social Life in Paris.

Tsuguharu Foujita is mentioned in passing in Dreamhounds of London. Never a surrealist but a friend and colleague of surrealists, he drifts through Montparnasse like a benevolent, celebrated, cat-loving specter, before leaving France for Japan in 1933 where he became a minor celebrity and creator of war propaganda. He was, at root, the son of an aristocratic, militaristic father, whom he revered; his sympathies were naturally imperialist. Perhaps it's telling that he returned to France after the war and eventually obtained French citizenship; retreating from one failed imperial dream to De Gaulle's strong-state, French exceptionalism. Foujita died of cancer in 1968 and was eventually interred in Foujita Chapel, designed, decorated and built by him shortly before his death.

If there was one quality that disbarred him from membership of the surrealist circle, it was his financial success. His Modernist works were, and are, very popular. His collected art prints, the Book of Cats, published 1931, remains one of the most sought-after rare books in the world.

I never look at men, only at women - they have, each one such marvelous possibilities of beauty. But unfortunately most of them have not developed these possibilities because they have not learned the lessons cats can teach ... Cats never give anything away. They are out for what they can get. They have tigerish passions when aroused. They have grace, beauty of movement, intriguing languor ... Clever women live with cats ... They study the animal's movements, habits and emotional reactions ...

Dreamhounds are anathema to Dreamlands cats (p 116). Aggressive Dreamhounds are avoided even by earthly cats. Given that Foujita has a great love for cats (and that cats love him) either he cannot be a Dreamhound or, if he is, he spends all his time seeking out Dreamlands cats but never finding them. I lean towards Foujita being a dreamer in the usual sense - that is, he has a dream persona and it is not linked to his earthly form in the same way that the Dreamhounds can slip from waking world to dream without losing themselves.

Which brings me to a double-header, a Bookhounds/Dreamhounds scenario combination.

Since the scenario will be located in part in the Parc Montsouris, a brief description:

The Parc is one of Paris' four imperial parks created by Napoleon III, and inaugurated in 1875. There is a lake, wide, sloping lawns and a variety of trees. Allegedly the site was once home to a windmill, hence the name Montsouris, as in Moque-Souris (mocks the mice), a common nickname for windmills. The name may alternately derive from Ysore, a giant allegedly buried there; the burial story derives from a Roman cemetery, disused since the 4th century, that was on the spot.

Among its many features are an artificial lake, the malfunction of which allegedly caused the park's chief engineer to commit suicide; a wood-and-terracotta replica of the Palais du Bardo, a replica of the palace of the Bey of Tunis; a stone monument indicating the Meridian; a bronze statue memorializing the Revolution sculpted by Auguste Paris, to be melted down by the Germans in 1942. The Petite Ceinture railway runs through the park, and will continue to operate as a passenger service until 1934; it will run freight after 1934 for a time, but eventually the line that passes through the park will be altogether abandoned.

The site was previously a quarry and ossuary, devoid of greenery. Before work began, hundreds of skeletons had to be removed from the tunnels beneath the proposed park. 

Hook: the Dreamhounds become aware that a strange new group of  entities are appearing in the Dreamlands. Humanoid, conservatively dressed, always with black hair brushed smoothly over their foreheads, but otherwise featureless - their egg-smooth faces and mechanical movements betraying no emotion whatsoever. These creatures are most often seen in dream-Paris, in that section of the city where the Parc Montsouris can be found. They seem particularly fixated on the Palais du Bardo, which in dreams is a much larger and more forbidding edifice, guarded by One-Off Beasts who closely resemble armed hookahs, bristling with odd arms and glittering eyes. These Beasts do not allow anyone in, but the black-hair men take every opportunity to sneak across the threshold.

 Truth: Foujita has established an art school near the Parc, but it is getting away from him. Many would-be followers are copying his personal style and character in hope of inspiration, rather than listening to what he has to say about the craft. This results in an outbreak of quasi-Orientalism, as Foujita's would-be disciples produce plenty of Japanese-inspired kitsch, none of which is any good.

Enter Pierre Beres of the Librarie Incidences. Foujita can't seem to get a grip on his would-be followers, but Beres knows how such incoherent energy can be channeled. Beres gets them creating Foujita prints, to be sold only to Americans and similarly clueless tourists. Beres regularly meets his clueless painters at the Parc near the Palais to make the exchange.

Complicating the issue is a persistent rumor that Foujita's famous Book of Cats exists in two forms: the book that everyone knows about, and a special, very limited series of ten with extra prints based on the artist's oneiric experiences. This may pique the Dreamhounds' interest, since Foujita is not known to be a dreamer.

In fact not only in Foujita a dreamer, his dream form is being drawn to the Parc as so much dream-energy is concentrating there. The black-haired men want to establish a shrine at the Palais, but the hookah-creatures are preventing them. If the hookahs can be dealt with the black-hairs soon infest the place like termites, forever creating a dark and unsettling edifice whose purpose must surely be malign.

In fact what they build is a kind of press, and their intent ultimately is to feed Foijita's dream form into it in order to create the variant Book of Cats. If this succeeds then the black-hair men vanish as mysteriously as they appeared, but a new artifact is created that can be taken into the waking world, and perhaps sold there.

Meanwhile Bookhounds across the water in London hear intriguing rumors about a new, valuable - extraordinarily valuable, in fact - book, and only Beres of the Librarie Incidences knows where it can be found. Or perhaps an unscrupulous Bookhounds might join forces with Beres to ensure it is "found" - and sold immediately to some unfortunate rube. Unfortunately for those poor Bookhounds powerful Dreamlands forces have taken an interest in this Book of Casts. Bast herself is rumored to be deeply interested in it, but there are other entities who claim to be as keen on obtaining it as the Goddess - for whatever reason they may have. The goblins, or Gobs, seem particularly interested, which is odd of itself. Surely those persistent grifters only deal in opium? Does that mean the Book possesses some kind of addictive quality, similar to opium?


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Hiding The Body (RPG all)

You may have noticed recent reports about a tech entrepreneur murdered in NYC, found part-dismembered in his apartment. The killing has been described as 'a hit' and it is alleged the killer was disposing of evidence when the victim's sister interrupted him.

Disposing of a corpse is remarkably difficult. It can reveal itself in surprising ways. Here in Bermuda we have the cautionary tale of Edward Skeeters and his wife Anna, a childless couple who lived by the sea. Anna went missing one Sunday afternoon, and after a time her neighbors and friends noticed a peculiar phenomenon out at Long Bay channel. The waters were remarkably calm no matter the weather, and when this persisted a search party rowed out to see what they could see.

Reaching the calm, these two men were deeply impressed with the sinister character of the spot. "It was more conspicuous," they said, "than any other calm we had ever seen before. The calm would rise and spread out and then go away with the wind and tide. And then, the calm would rise again."

Corpses decay. They give off fat and oil. Oil calms troubled waters, as Pliny pointed out. There wasn't much left of Anna by this point.

Up came the skeleton; it was not a complete skeleton; it seemed to have broken in two. The legs were there - they were out straight - but the feet were gone and the arms and the skull; there was no clothing; the flesh was soft ... it was slimy ... there was a great stench.

Edward Skeeters hanged July 1879.

A corpse goes through several stages before it becomes a skeleton. It starts as a relatively fresh piece of meat. This when it goes through rigor, muscles stiffening and then relaxing, a process that was very popular in early detective novels as it gave fiction's greatest detectives a presumed time of death.

Then comes bloat, about 3 to 5 days after death. The gut begins to liquefy and gases extend the abdomen and limbs. Foul-smelling liquid is forced out of the mouth and nose due to pressure in the intestine. For those acquainted with vampire literature this should all sound familiar. The flushed and livid appearance, the gore at the lips - classic signs of vampirism. The corpse can be volatile in this condition, which is why William the Conqueror exploded at his funeral. It is also why funeral homes took to lead-lining their coffins, before embalming became popular.

Even then there can be complications. "A well-designed mausoleum will have the crypts inclined very slightly to the rear," according to a Vice article, "to a drainage pipe so that the fluids that come out will be drained away discreetly. And it will be designed in such a way so that fresh air exchange is constantly coming through the crypts themselves facilitating dehydration out of a discreet vent in the back of the building."

Active decay comes next. The remains blacken and putrefy. It gives off liquids and chemicals. The stench reduces. This is when those famous maggots become helpful, tracking the rate of decay.

After Active comes Advanced, when there isn't much left to look at. After Advanced comes skeletonization.

There are facilities devoted to the study of decay. The US has several body farms, but the practice has not been widely adopted elsewhere. The UK, for instance, does not have a body farm, though there has been a TV series with that name.

What does this mean for your game?

To begin with, it enables creative set dressing for a scene. Trail, Bookhounds, and especially Night's Black Agents generate corpses on a regular basis, but rarely are they interesting. Suppose, for instance, your Bookhounds find a corpse in the course of their investigation.

Arthur's swollen body lies in his bed, limbs akimbo as if in his last moments he reached for the heavens in protest. Foul liquid smears across his face, gore expelled from his lips and nose. His stare is horrible to look upon, and your eyes dart here and there so as not to see it - but you can't help looking. [Stability loss is usually 3, in this case adjusted to 4 if Arthur pops. By this point he's three days dead.]

Arthur's blackened skin seems oily and somehow loose, an ill-fitting suit. Foul liquid sloughs off the bed and across the floorboards, a fatty pool of decay that you do your best not to step in. Flies buzz about, Beelzebub's children on grisly errands, many of them battering themselves on the closed window. You cannot believe it took the neighbors this long to notice the smell. [Arthur's been dead at least 6 days by this point. Stability loss definitely 4 now, though it might drop to 3 once skeletonization sets in.]

It also should alert the Keeper/Director to a rule of thumb that often gets ignored: corpses are very difficult to deal with. The longer it's left alone the more difficult it is to handle, as it becomes soft, oily and liquid. There's a reason why crime scene clean-up is now a thing people do for money. When the body's fresh and relatively intact it can be moved around without too much mess, but the longer you wait the nastier it becomes.

So for, say, vampires, corpses become a real problem. You generate corpses on a regular basis. Unusual corpses, ones that will make a forensic pathologist sit up and pay attention. Which is fine if you're on a battlefield or in a place where random killings are a regular event, but if you're in, say, London, you need to come up with a way of dealing with the problem. Otherwise slayers will take notice and pay you a visit. How the vampires in your game deal with that problem can become a scene, or several scenes, all on their own. Is that removals van part of a Level One Node? That crematorium? Construction company? What happens when someone finds your corpse store?

For that matter, what about zombies? Those poor unfortunate deadfellas condemned to wander - how come their decay process is so wacky? Those dead bodies seem to last for-freaking-ever, defying natural processes. Which, okay, they're basically magical creations at this point, so a certain amount of denying-natural-yadda-yadda is expected. Still, it seems unusual and arbitrary. Surely once they reach the skeleton stage, when muscles are a thing of the past, they're basically helpless? What about the ones in the bloat stage?

A so-so zombie series, Walking Dead.

A much, much better zombie series, Kingdom.

Finally, a story seed:

Waking Ned Devine (Night's Black Agents)

Tourists Shocked By Corpse In Garden A group of friends who rented a house in the Lake District got a nasty surprise when they found a corpse floating at the bottom of the garden. 

"The body was found caught in the weeds at the riverside, at the bottom of the garden," said the police. Foul play is suspected ...

Corpse Farm Discovered in Pastoral Fenby Bridge Following on events that took place two weeks ago the police have discovered a body disposal site at a Lake District farm. Estimates suggest at least twenty bodies in various stages of decay were discovered ... 

The agents are dispatched to Fenby Bridge ostensibly as MI5 liaison officers attached to the police investigation, but they have a particular reason to be there. They need to check whether the bodies found were vampire killings, and if so who was involved in the disposal operation. The locals are less than thrilled to be the focus of the investigation - it's ruining the tourist trade.


  • The corpse farm is actually an offshoot of a larger operation. The owners of a cemetery in a larger town have been digging up corpses and selling their plots on to other buyers. Of course this creates a body disposal problem, which the cemetery owners have solved by offloading the bodies in a more rural, secluded location. The Fenby Bridge locals are genuinely upset, and have a right to be. However one of the corpses was less than dead, and less than thrilled to find itself carelessly tossed into the bushes. It spent the last however many years starved and trapped in a hole in the ground, only to find itself thrown out like garbage. This feral is the reason why the body ended up in the river; it was careless when it made its escape.
  • The Fenby Bridge locals are protecting one of their own, a man turned into a vampire during the Second World War. Through Aberrant influence and some natural charm it's been able to keep things quiet for decades, but as the tourist trade picked up and more and more outsiders came to the Lake District the problem became worse. The vampire refuses to acknowledge the danger, which means its human protectors have to go to greater lengths to keep it safe.
  • This is part of a larger Node operation gone wrong. Corpses from all over the country are sent to Fenby Bridge and places like it, scattered across the UK. The idea is to 'disappear' people, but the problem is the Conspiracy generates corpses faster than its crematoria can handle them. So the excess are delivered to places like Fenby Bridge until such time as they can be properly dealt with - except of course that never happens because the Conspiracy keeps generating more corpses and the old ones get forgotten about. The locals are genuinely terrified of what might happen next. At any moment someone in a far-off office may decide there are too many witnesses, and what kind of horror will be unleashed then?


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Getting Ideas (RPG General)

A short while ago I gave an interview to YSDC about my experiences with Bookhounds of London. You may have heard it by now - I hope you enjoyed it!

I talked about my scenario writing methods, and I figure now is as good a time as any to deep-dive. In the interview I said I go to my research library, dig out a likely-looking tome, and see what I can borrow from it. Some of you may wonder how to build a library like that. Well, the answer's simple enough. In any library there are going to be some core texts and some useful but not vital ones, and the core texts will vary depending on what you want to achieve.

A lot of my work delves into the fantastic and mystical, so my core texts are:

Standard Dictionary of Folklore and Legend, Funk & Wagnalls. It's a little on the dusty side. My copy's the 1984 version, but it was originally compiled in the 40s and 50s and some of its language choices reflect that. However there's nothing else quite like it out there, so until someone does a better job I'll stick with it.

New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, 1989, Hamlyn Publishing. Again, a little on the dusty side but thankfully much better organized than Funk & Wagnalls.

The Lore of the Land, a Guide to England's Legends, Westwood & Simpson, Penguin, 2006. Much less dusty, and reasonably well organized.

Past Worlds, the Times Atlas of Archaeology, 1993 Times Books. Again, a little dusty but there's so much here for the amateur, and it's explained clearly.

That provides a decent basis. What follows next depends on what I'm working on. I tend to do a lot of work in settings closely aligned to the UK and US circa 1920, so I've got things like Jimmy Durante's book on Nighclubs cheek by jowl with Mayhew's compendium of London Underworld lore. If I had a good research library close by I'd rely on that, but I don't, so I collect the things I need whenever I can get them.

This involves a lot of second-hand bookshopping, as well as regular visits to the National Trust jumble sale.

A quick word about our local National Trust. It looks after historic sites, maintaining them as best it can. To do this it needs a constant influx of money, and one of its charitable exercises is its yearly auction & jumble sale, which includes a decent book collection. The Trust takes in donations, and sells them to whoever will buy. Anything not sold is thrown away, so I try to rescue what I can. Yes, I said thrown away. It's a small island. Nobody has warehouse space, least of all the National Trust.

You can sometimes find some very odd things in those sales. I'm going to base the rest of this post on an item found in the last rummage: Bohemian and Social Life in Paris (Salons, Cafes, Studios) by Sisley Huddleston, Harrap & Co, 1928. It talks about Paris in the 1920s, with a heavy dash of pre-war and 1890s Paris to leaven the loaf. Huddleston first went to France to edit a British army newspaper, later settling in Paris and eventually Normandy. He's also written a book about Normandy which I wouldn't mind getting hold of; it sounds interesting. He turned Vichy during the Second World War and was briefly imprisoned by the Free French.

Point being with this and many of the books I pick up: it's a period piece. Sisley talks about things that were important to him and his at the time, because he was there at the time. It's the closest thing to a primary source that I'm going to get.

The pieces I'll quote now come from the opening chapters:

Or that other Chicago merchant who not only collected pictures by old masters, but dabbled himself in painting. (I have known a number of men and women who have come to Paris after a strenuous life of business and who in a spirit of emulation have suddenly decided to become artists.) My friend was looking at his collection. He was attracted by a certain picture.

"That," said he, "is almost like a Corot. Why, it must be a Corot. And yet it cannot be a Corot. How curious! There is much in it that reminds me of Corot, but then again - no, it cannot be."

"You are right," was the response. "it is a Corot. Only, I have just touched up the sky a little."

Or this piece about nightly entertainments.

Again, at Montmartre the party is shown a 'cabaret' which is also the 'private property of _________.' Needless to say the cabaret is not open except for the express purpose of this visit. The chansonniers are specially hired. The men wear long, flaxen wigs, baggy trousers, flowing neckties; and the girls wear red aprons, and their false hair is arranged in a golden casque. These things are expected, and they are supplied. 

Still, it was just as bad before the War, when the Tournee des Grand-Ducs was in vogue. The Russians - whether Grand Dukes or not - and the rest were conducted to faked apache dens. There were red-aproned, golden-casqued girls, and the sinister looking Apache with caps drawn over their eyes. In the course of the dancing a quarrel would break out. A duel with knives would be fought. The Grand Dukes had their money's worth of thrills, and then the girls took off their aprons and the men donned respectable hats and went quietly home to bed.

The obvious use for these snippets is a Paris-based game, so Dreamhounds of Paris, or perhaps King In Yellow. If I was working on either of these settings I'd probably turn to a source like Sisley for inspiration. However there's no reason why I should restrict myself to Paris. These are ideas; ideas can be used anywhere.

So what's at the core of both these ideas?

  1. An overweening rich man with artistic ambitions ruins an original by touching it up, pretending to more skill than he actually has. 
    1. Imagine being the expert who has to judge whether that really is a Corot, a question that could mean millions. A genuine masterpiece - or a fake? 
  2. A fake Paris is more valuable than the real thing, at least to tourists. 'These things are expected, and they are supplied' - now there's a sentence!
Let's take these ideas to Eversink and play with them there.

Swords of the Serpentine is a fantasy setting in which the glittering jewel that is the city of Eversink is everyone's goal. If you're rich, that's where you want to be - to flaunt your wealth. Tourists flock there every year, eager to see the latest, the best, the craziest thing Eversink has to offer.

So let's talk story ideas.

A Caprian trader whose wealth comes from alchemical supplies sales (though she doesn't practice alchemy herself) comes to Eversink and, within months, establishes herself as a society doyenne. She has money to burn and wants above all else to acquire that veneer of sophistication that can only come with being a big noise in Eversink.

As part of this self-improvement scheme she dabbles in art and purchases several great works, prizing above all else the landscapes painted by Leonine D'Quinto, a renowned painter of Eversink's glories as they were several hundred years ago. As the trader fancies herself a genius in her own right, she touches up her purchases to better fit her own artistic vision.

This angers the ghost of the great D'Quinto, who goes looking for someone to help him take revenge on this philistine trader. Enter the heroes.

Twist - ghost of D'Quinto? Not hardly. D'Quinto's statue still graces the mansion it was placed in, though that long-abandoned manse is sinking away. No, the ghost is actually forger Gino Boniface who took great pride in his ability to capture D'Quinto's style. The last thing Gino wants is for some sniveling parvenu to ruin the forgeries he took such care to make.

Perilous Opinion
[Either one of the heroes possesses the necessary ability/reputation to value art, or they are hired as bodyguards by one who does.]

A Caprian trader and collector of D'Quinto masterpieces wishes to show off her collection in a specially built gallery, but there is some question as to the art's provenance. In order to bolster her collection's reputation she brings in a proven D'Quinto expert to show Eversink that her collection is not only genuine but the most magnificent collection of D'Quintos ever established in one place.

Problems arise when the expert discovers that the trader has been adding her own personal touches to the D'Quintos. Specifically, she has been adding herself to each crowd scene. It's moderately subtle, but it's there, and each time she does it she drastically devalues the D'Quintos.

The expert ought by rights to expose this fraud. However the trader is backed by the Thieves' Guild and is too valuable to them to be insulted by an art expert. If the expert is to speak freely, he will need protection. Enter the heroes.

Mysteries of Temple Market
Temple Market is known for its high-end restaurants and its mysterious mansions. One daring entrepreneur intends to capitalize on both, and operates the latest sensation: The Lady.

The Lady offers a dining experience. Located in the basement of one of the Market's more obscure mansions, it capitalizes on a near-forgotten murder that took place there two generations prior. Each night at the Lady they recreate the fateful night, and ask patrons to decide who, of the pool of suspects, murdered Eliana Vespacci, newly wedded bride of the Vespacci heir. The family bitterly object to this ruthless monetization of their tragedy, but lack the resources to oppose the Lady directly.

Indirectly, though ... perhaps some money-grubbing heroes could be persuaded to break up the Lady.


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lies, Damn Lies, and Missing Billions (Night's Black Agents)

This week's post is based on two versions of fraud, as outlined here:

This video about the recent Wirecard scandal is from Tom Nash.

This video about money laundering via casinos, particularly in Macau, is from Economies Explained.

The Wirecard fraud is deceptively simple. It is alleged that the top brass at Wirecard lied about their source of income. About $2 billion on their books had no basis in reality. The bank accounts where the money was held didn't exist, neither did their so-called business partners. So far, so Enron, but the part I especially like is at 12.22, where the hack-for-hire group Dark Basin enters the picture. According to the video, Dark Basin swiped journalists' emails (among many other things) and posted them, carefully edited, publicly on a leaks website. The intent was to make it look as if those journalists were blackguarding Wirecard to benefit short sellers of Wirecard stock - turning an accounting scandal into an insider trading scandal.

What puzzles me are the actions of the regulator and auditor, both of which did their best to enable Wirecard. Which isn't completely unheard of - auditors and regulators can be dazzled by massive profits and smiling, spreadsheet-wielding execs. It's just so bizarre that it's Germany's regulator doing it, that it's EY - Ernst and frocking Young - caught in the middle. The Germans are the original Sober Business Brains. How did they get it so wrong? EY ought to have learned from its dealings with Lehmans - but I suppose the idea of an auditor learning from its mistakes is a bit utopian sci-fi.

The Economies Explained video details what, on its face, is also a simple fraud. China wants its money kept in China. That's why it doesn't allow tourists to leave the country with more than a paltry sum. So Chinese billionaires buy travel packages to Macau for ludicrously expensive prices, which include an eye-watering sum in poker chips. The gamblers play a little at the tables, maybe they win, maybe they lose. It doesn't matter, because when they stop they still have most of their chips, which they then exchange for US$. Bingo, cash smuggled out of China.

Incidentally if you're a long-term reader then you'll remember an important point about those travel agencies: they're Triads. They operate what amounts to a loan sharking service masquerading as a travel agency. Debts don't cross borders, and it's impossible for a Macau casino to collect on gambling losses when the gamblers are tucked away in China. Macau's Triads cooperate with mainland Triads to recover debts that would otherwise vanish along with the debtor. However in this instance what's happening is the Triad travel agency stands in the middle as a kind of financial broker, no doubt collecting a very nice commission for letting Chinese billionaires change their Renminbi for dollars.

What does all this mean for Night's Black Agents?

Well for one thing it puts the bagman in a whole new light. Traditionally that lonely figure is imagined as a sneak with a briefcase full of cash, shuttling from one mysterious rendezvous to another. Sure, maybe in the 1970s, or when the amounts concerned can be counted in the thousands - chicken feed, really.  But in this happy-go-lucky modern world in which we live billions are in play and electronic currency is the order of the day, which means a bagman is much more likely to be sat behind a computer as creeping across the border. In the main book Data Recovery is listed as an alternate investigative ability; I'd be inclined to make it a starting ability, with Intimidation as the alternate. I'd also be inclined to swap the Digital Intrusion and Sense Trouble starting loadout, so Digital Intrusion starts at 6 and Sense Trouble at 3.

For another it gives us several new potential plots and Nodes. Dark Basin alone is a Node unto itself, potentially a freelance one at that. Not officially part of the Conspiracy, but brought in for dirty tricks campaigns and discarded as expendables. Maybe it ranks at the International level, given its reach, but its resources are paltry.

Operating from a small room above a shuttered tea stall at a west-Delhi retail complex, BellTroX bombarded its targets with tens of thousands of malicious emails, according to data reviewed by Reuters. Some messages would imitate colleagues or relatives; others posed as Facebook login requests or graphic notifications to unsubscribe from pornography websites. 

Just the sort of thing you want on your work machine. In a spy thriller the agents often have to infiltrate heavily-armed compounds to get what they're after. Imagine breaking into a stuffy little office above a decommissioned tea stall. It's a pretty good excuse to dig out Looking Glass Mumbai, at that.

Closing out, let's have a story seed.

A Three Hour Tour

A Macau Triad boss, Tong Sang-koi, is on the run. Tong, formerly a big noise in the 14K Triad, ran a travel agency at the Casino Babylon where until recently he regularly sold incredibly expensive tour packages to mainland Chinese gamblers. However something went wrong, and nobody's entirely sure what - at least, nobody outside the insular world of Macau organized crime. China wants Tong badly, and if that wasn't bad enough the CIA would also like a quiet word with the former 14K big shot. The investigators pick up on this when gossip suggests that Tong was attempting to sell important vampire-related intel to China's Room 452. Nobody knows where Tong is now, but everybody wants his data.

Not just his data. Digging a little deeper (Streetwise, Tradecraft or similar) discovers that Tong went missing shortly after a Chinese high-roller bought one of his $100 million special packages. This high-roller, Robin Yonghau, was later found insensible in his Macau hotel room with no coherent explanation for his condition. Nobody knows where the $100 million went either.

The investigators will need to find out where Tong Sang-koi is, what's his connection with Room 452, and what Robin Yonghau has to do with any of this. This will mean going to Macau in the first instance, but Tong could easily have run to pretty much anywhere after that, so if as Director you'd prefer to reset the action to, say, Vancouver, feel free.

Possible answers:

  • Tong Sang-koi found himself in the middle of a dangerous deal. The Conspiracy wanted to move a billion dollars out of China and found itself a willing mule, Robin Yonghau. Tong discovered the vampire connection, and as luck would have it knew enough about vampires to have means of contacting Room 452. However the USA's Find Forever got wind of it, and muscled in at the 11th hour to snatch the prize - one Chinese Jin-Gui, acting as Robin Yonghai's controller. Things got messy, the Jin-Gui got dusted, and nobody but Tong knows where the money went. That paints a very bright and glowing target on Tong's back, so he's keeping his head as far down as possible.
  • Tong Sang-koi is a CIA asset. The CIA put the bite on him back in 2009, when he tried to relocate his ill-gotten gains outside of Macau. Ever since the CIA has been using him to monitor Chinese organized crime, and to encourage Chinese billionaires to relocate their cash out of China. After all, every Renminbi that leaves via Macau is a Renminbi the Chinese government can't use to prop up its economy. However Tong got tired of this arrangement and wanted out, so he made a deal with the Conspiracy: if I help you get $100 million, get me out of this. The Conspiracy obliged ... but it's an open question as to whether Tong Sang-koi is living the high life or down at the bottom of the harbour.
  • Tong Sang-koi is a Chinese asset. He let himself be 'recruited' by the CIA so he could feed false intel to the Americans, but he's been working with Room 452. The Chinese want to get their hands on the CIA's home-grown vampire, so they dangled a very tempting $100 million target knowing that in order to grab it the CIA would deploy its prize possession. It did, Room 452 moved in - and then things went South. Nobody's sure where the money went, where Tong is, and most importantly where the American Vampire ended up. Was this all an elaborate bluff somehow orchestrated by the American Vampire to escape with $100 million in stolen, untraceable cash?