Sunday, 28 February 2021

Blair4 - Good Times, Bad Times

OK, the stage is set and the main actors are waiting for their cue. The opening act is about to start - but what should it be?

The first act should set up the rest of the show, and you can't have a tragedy without a little victory beforehand. Macbeth has his glorious moment in battle before his meeting with the weird women, Romeo his romance with Juliet. That taste of victory makes the tragedy to come all the more bitter. 

There's lots of options, but for my money there are two big moments that define the early years of Blair, one of which is right in the heart of London and couldn't be more iconic. 

The first is the Good Friday Agreement which put an end to the Troubles and brought about demilitarization and peace in Ireland; great for those players who really enjoy political negotiations, with potential for some high-tension moments. 

The other is the Millennium Dome project. So iconic it features (briefly) in Ultraviolet, defines the early years of the Blair premiership, and has as its capstone an honest-to-God jewel robbery complete with a high speed boat chase on the Thames. 

I know which one I'd pick. 


The Dome's one of those moments of overweening pride that, in hindsight, looks ridiculous but at the time seemed iconic. The original, relatively small-scale project conceived under the Tories as a kind of celebration of British ingenuity becomes an over-baked extravaganza as Blair pours money and optimism into the thing. 

The video keeps nattering about how it's in Greenwich, and technically it's not wrong. Speaking as someone who lived near there, it is in Greenwich. The awful, neglected bit of Greenwich. The dumpster fire end. The Greenwich everyone wants to see is further south, with the Market, the Cutty Sark, Brunel's under-river tunnel, the Meridian, the Observatory, the National Maritime Museum. The Dome is huddled on the Peninsula, like a boil on Greenwich's rump. 

The Peninsula is where the old gasworks used to be, and a whole bunch of other high-pollution industries, most of which were dead by the later 20th century. The kind of place they used as background for cop shows like the Sweeny, all empty factories and deserted streets, great for shootings and car chases. Imagine the toxic wasteland you'd find left over from a century or more of heavy industry. That's where they put the Dome. Also, some relatively cheap housing - at least, cheap by London standards.  

You couldn't even get there easily, not until the North Greenwich Jubilee station opened, and that was a late arrival. These days there are new roads, a Thames Clipper Shuttle stop, new bus routes, even a cable car over the river. Before the tube station opened in 1999 it was shank's mare or bust. 

There are all kinds of stories to be told, culminating most likely in Operation Magician to catch the jewel thieves intent on ram-raiding the DeBeers display in November 2000 - no doubt backed heavily by the Conspiracy. 

It's all new build, so something along the lines of 'we found this odd thing while digging the foundations for' [whatever it may be - the Jubilee Station seems an obvious pick] is an excellent starter. All very Quatermass, which fits any setting from Alien to Damned.


 

Then there's the displays, inside and out. You've got all the main events, Who We Are, What We Do, Where We Live, plus the art installations and other showpieces being set up outside the Dome ready for the big opening in 2000. Any of them could hide some Conspiracy plot, mind control device, peculiar necromantic summoning, or whatever-you-like. An Alien Stone hidden inside the Night Rain contemplation area, an over-complicated plot by Linea Dracula assigns to manipulate the Where We Live exhibit so as to effectively remove the Block that prevents vampires from entering a space if they haven't been invited, an attempt to spread the Vukodlak Plague via the many commemorative tchotchkes on sale - you can get away with almost anything inside a space designed to evoke wonder and awe by playing with what you see and hear.  

If you're wondering how far you can go, remember that we live in a world where this happened, and I defy you to invent a notion half as nutty:


Sourced from Kento Bento

So that's the start. What should the opening chapters be like?

Successful, for the most part. This is a tragedy. For a tragedy to have any impact there has to be a downfall, and you can't have a downfall without some initial, visible success. Romeo falls in love, Othello defeats all comers in court as well as on the battlefield, Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor and Glamis, and is emboldened to murder Duncan and become King. 

So from a game perspective the agents are probably facing off against anything up to a Level 4 Node, and winning, for the most part. Not necessarily easy victories, and if some friends or allies get dusted along the way that's the cost of doing business. Still, they've yet to really come face-to-face with the Vampires at the heart of the Conspiracy. 

These are the Good Times. 

You can set the stage for the Bad Times to come with the opening shots in the Kosovo War. Blair's heavily involved in the planning and wins the 1999 Charlemagne Prize for his work. How appropriate would it be if, while Blair is taking center stage in the ceremony at Aachen, the agents are busy fending off Conspiracy plotters behind the scenes? Perhaps they're trying to steal some scientific wonder, or trying to suborn members of Blair's government or family. Skulking around the Town Hall on the day of ceremony trying not to get spotted sounds like something every NBA character ought to attempt at least once in their career.  

Shortly after that comes the General Election in June 2001, and in November planes fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Bad Times begin in earnest.

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Blair3 - Initiation


1968 film, Romeo & Juliet

There's a reason why this story starts with a fight in the marketplace. It elevates the action immediately. This is no political intrigue, no intricate cat-and-mouse duel of wits. It's a straight-up stabfest, and it's there to demonstrate the stakes, just in case anyone was asleep when the narrator told us two star-crossed lovers were about to bite it.  

Pelgrane's Resource Guide has a useful section in the opening chapters: Initiation. Agents who have already had a close encounter with the undead conspiracy describe how that came about, and what consequences arose. Each segment looks something like this:

Afflicted

You were attacked – mentally or physically – by a supernatural threat, a horror you had no words to describe.

Changes: Gain Vampirology +1 and Sense Trouble +2. Either reduce Health by 2 or gain PTSD (Night’s Black Agents, p. 84).

Unanswered Questions:

  1. What scars do you still bear from the encounter?
  2. Do you recall the encounter clearly, or only in fragmented nightmares?
  3. Did the affliction heal naturally, or does it still trouble you?

Resolution: Kill the creature that injured you. (Alternatively – if the wound is unnaturally hard to heal, find a cure.)

It arises from a fairly basic premise: whatever happened left its mark, and now you, the one affected, have to deal with the consequences. It's a version of what has been called blue-booking, where players describe what happened to their characters in rules-lite terms. Often it's used to flesh out backstory, play out moments when X first meets Y, or how Z came to be. It usually takes place between games, so as not to interrupt play in formal sessions.

Often this is a solo experience but it doesn't have to be. I first encountered the term in Cyberpunk's Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads! where Blue Booking was described as roleplay between GM and player. In the example, Media Emile faces down some of Arasaka's Executive VPs at gunpoint in a meeting room on the 47th floor of Night City Tower. There's gunplay as well as roleplay but no random element, no checks, no dice; it's an extended yes-and improv moment in which the player gains information and is presumed to survive but not necessarily escape unscathed. 

In fiction you're encouraged to start with action. Whatever the most interesting moment in the character's life-to-date is, that's where the opening chapter finds the character. Nobody cares about Bilbo's many years of more or less blissful stuffing-his-face-in-Hobbiton life. What we care about is the moment when Gandalf the wizard pays him a visit, and inscribes a fateful rune upon his otherwise pristine painted green door. 

In RPGs you're also encouraged to start with action. If there isn't a swordfight in the marketplace within two minutes of the opening, start one. Bite your thumb at someone, or just bite your thumb, but whatever you do make sure blades are flashing.

In this particular campaign there are questions that need answering, chief among them being how the agents first meet the King. I've already discussed how you should design the King; but what was that first fateful encounter that bound the agents to the King?

I'm going to propose to you now that the opening chapter should be a Session Zero Blue Book, borrowing elements from the Resource Guide's Initiation chapter. In that Session Zero there shall be no dice, no random element, but neither shall it be a solo act. All the players will be at the table. The Director will be the Director. 

Traditionally a Session Zero is a pre-campaign meeting and is often dealt with in a kind of checklist format, where players reel off the things they want to see and don't want to see, going forward. That's not what I'm proposing. This is more in line with the Initiation format, which tries to describe how the characters first became involved with the Conspiracy.

So start with action.

The Initiation section starts each moment with a brief, short descriptive header: Afflicted, Betrayed, Collateral Damage, Criminal Traces, Head-On Collision, Impossible Analysis, Old Files, the Trade. As a group decide which descriptive header best suits, either from that list or create one yourself. It can be a mixture. Ultraviolet uses Betrayal with a mix of the Trade, and opens with the sudden disappearance of a Met Detective Sergeant shortly after one of the DS's contacts tries to spill the beans on a criminal conspiracy, only to be brutally murdered. Action, action all the way.

Develop the scene from there.

Let's say that your opening scene is a version of Head-On Collision in which some of the soon-to-be agents are breaking into [BLANK] in order to [BLANK] and some are part of the protection detail. It doesn't really matter what BLANK is, but for this example let's say that the job's an assassination to take place in a fancy London high-rise, either an office or an apartment block. 

It doesn't have to be a London high-rise, of course. It could as easily be a pre-handover Hong Kong. Greg Rucka got good mileage out of that in Queen and Country (v4 Definitive Edition). Anywhere in the Commonwealth will probably do, but for the minute let's stick with London.

Let's set some ground rules:

  • Every character comes out of this changed in some way, and each player gets to decide how their character is permanently altered. Other players can offer suggestions, but it's the player's call as to what happens to their character.
  • Every positive change (+1 to Vampirology, say), is balanced by an equal penalty to a pool or some kind of permanent affliction (eg. PTSD, chemical dependency).
  • No more than +3 benefit total, and therefore a -3 penalty (or equivalent).
    • If using Trust, assign Trust points based on the events of this scene.
  • The individual player gets to decide what the Resolution should be for their agent, and that's the character's long-term goal in the campaign.
  • The players get to resolve the scene, as a group - that is, they decide how the Head-On Collision ends. In the example, was the target killed? Did the target turn out to be something damned/supernatural/alien/mutant?
Those permanent changes can be anything you want; be creative. Not everyone has to have an addiction or mania. It might be something more mundane, like a +1 or 2 to Heat whenever operating in [wherever it might be] because your reputation precedes you. Or Difficulty for Stability tests increase by 1 under certain specific stressors (whenever encountering Bhuta, say). 

Either during, or as a result of, this scene, the King comes into the agents' lives. Thanks to their actions the King now wants to be their patron. In much the same way, Philip Quast's character in Ultraviolet decides to bring Jack Davenport's DS Colefield onto the team as a consequence of his relationship with the policeman-turned-vampire Jack Beresford. 

Anyone who dies in this scene, dies. This can be a way to permanently alter a character, by taking up to -3 Network and describing how their comrade in arms was [burnt alive / crushed to death / taken by Them]. Someone who dies can be encountered in future scenes or scenarios, of course. That's what ghosts (and vampires, for that matter) are all about. This is also a good excuse for taking the Revenge drive. 

At the end of this Blue Book Session Zero the players should have decided how their agents first encountered the Conspiracy, and what the result was. They have a relationship with the King, which in turn will lead to future scenarios. They have a goal to shoot for - their Resolution.

Now it's time to start the show.

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Blair2 - Cool Britannia (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

 Last time I introduced the concept: a Night's Black Agents game set in Blair's Britain. The next step is to establish the terms of this tragedy. Who's on stage? What do they want?

In tragedy we start with hamartia - the fatal flaw. Often this is hubris, or overweening self-confidence. The essence of hamartia is to miss the mark, to fall short in some way, and in Greek tragedy the one who falls short is often also the one with all the gifts. The hero, the prince, the semi-divine, the one whose fall from grace is all the more poignant because they started so well. 

From hamartia the peripeteia results - the reversal of fortune. Somehow the protagonists' falling short causes, inspires or otherwise brings about the tragedy that irreversibly dooms them. Not just them; in a Shakespearean context a tragedy usually brings about the destruction of any number of hapless bystanders, like Ophelia in Hamlet, or Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet

Though in this instance the better text might be Marlowe's Faustus, in which the hero with many gifts sells his soul for material gain.


1967 film adaptation with Richard Burton and Andreas Teuber

Before I talk about who's on stage, it would be better to set the stage.

Cool Britannia is a 1990s phenomenon that began before Blair's premiership, but Blair made it his own. It's a youth culture movement, Britpop, Four Weddings, Tracy Emin's bed and half a shark all mixed up in an over-sugared trifle. It's all the pent-up optimism that had been smothered in the 1980s, suddenly bursting free. The generation that might have been born in the 1970s but has no memory of strikes or Harold Wilson comes of age. 

It's also, incidentally, the early budding of Brexit. If you're 20 in 1997, you're mid-40s, rapidly approaching your 50s in 2021. All those ambitious dreams, fading away, optimism replaced by bile, ready to be persuaded that it's all someone else's fault. After all, it can't be your fault that something which began so well ended so drably. Boris Johnson's a political columnist in the 1990s, dripping his poison. Domenic Cummings is in Russia, trying to build a Sanara-Vienna airline. UKIP's political journey begins in 1993. Nigel Farage is floating adrift, politically, after leaving the Conservatives in 1992, and is trading commodities in the City. David Cameron's an ambitious young wannabe, flitting from the Treasury to the Home Office to the private sector; at the time of Blair's first victories he's working for Carlton Television.

So you've got an early burst of overweening optimism, of pop culture and youthful exuberance - a colorful repudiation of the grey and stodgy Conservativism John Major came to represent. Ultimately the Tories get swept aside by Labour in 1997, as Cool Britannia crests. 

That's the stage. Who are the players?

Blair's the Sun King in this narrative, but having the UK PM as an actual person the characters can interact with, and by extension manipulate, is probably counter-productive. This story doesn't need a Sun King; it needs a Gary King.


The World's End opening scene, sourced from SceneScreen

The one with all the gifts, the natural leader of the group - the one who'll become the biggest disappointment. If this is a straight Edom Files game then this is probably one of the Dukes, but let's say it's not. What then?

Whoever this is, it has to be a patron figure, potentially an Icon if we're using 13th Age concepts. Someone who provides not just money but also motivation, a walking, talking inciting incident. The one with a big enough mouth and personality to get the gang together. and back together again after the inevitable bust-up.

This isn't someone who takes attention from the PCs. Whoever this King is, their job is to alert the agents to danger, to uncover hot spots, and ultimately fail. Again, if the Icon rules are being used then this Icon will ultimately be dethroned - and whoever replaces them may not be inclined to help the agents in any way.

Finally, this King needs to fit whichever concept the campaign is designed around, and for a reminder those concepts are:

Mutant: Their markers are medical symptoms; their emphasis is infection. 

Supernatural: Their markers are strange superstitions, their emphasis hunger.

Damned: Their markers are holy symbols and spiritualism, their emphasis is seduction. 

Alien: Their markers are various uncanny effects; their emphasis is invasion. 

Since we have four concepts let's have four potential Kings: the Politician, the Media Mogul (alternately the Financial Mogul), the Tech Guru, and the Priest.

The Politician's a fairly obvious pick: a Blairite, someone who might be on the Cabinet someday but for now is holding down a senior post in the government. 

The Media or Financial Mogul is a bit different. An Alan Sugar type, pre-Apprentice, best known for being best known. Sugar himself is busy making computers at this point in his career, but if people know his name at all it's because he part-owns Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Alternatively the Media type is someone high up in the DGMT which owns, among other things, the Daily Mail, the London Evening Standard and the Metro. This is useful because the DGMT is founded by the Viscount Northcliffe and owned by another Viscount, his descendant the Viscount Rothermere who, as fortune would have it, is a very recent appointment in game terms; Jonathan Harold Esmond Vere Harmsworth, to give him his complete name, takes over in 1998 when his father unexpectedly dies. So you've got an entr√©e to the nobility as well as a media mogul in one handy package.

The Tech Guru is probably building one of the many Dot-Bombs in 1997 - though of course nobody knows that yet. Awash with cash and charisma, famous and adored, the Tech Guru flits from Big Moment to Big Moment, and never misses a First Tuesday. Nobody questions anything they say or do. It wouldn't be proper. Their genius means they're always right, a quality they share with Doctor Who - tho Christopher Eccleston won't revive that character till 2005.

The Priest might be an Ultraviolet-type quasi-bureaucrat, (first aired 1998); it's never very clear who Philp Quast's ex-religious is meant to be working for, though there's a strong Catholic vibe to his character. 


Ultraviolet trailer, sourced from Thespilian

There is another way to go. Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins, a female priest turned Deliverance exorcist, gets her start in 1998. Women have been able to be ordained as priests from 1992 but none are ordained until 1994, and women as bishops is a contentious issue right up to the first appointed female Bishop, in 2015. Merrily's a useful example because not only does she represent the very new, she also finds herself entangled in the ancient. She'd fit well into a Supernatural or Damned game, where a Philip Quast type is more generic.


Midwinter of the Spirit trailer, sourced from Acorn Media US.

With all that in mind, let's create some Garys.

Mutant: Their markers are medical symptoms; their emphasis is infection.

Politician: Malcolm / Nicola Fleming, a spin doctor with the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. Fleming's authority is murky at best; at times Fleming appears to have the PM's ear, while at other times Fleming's in temporary exile to some forgettable post within the Department. Fleming's a political troubleshooter who deals with some of the government's messier problems. A firm proponent of the Third Way, Fleming's no old-school socialist nor yet a union sympathizer. Fleming didn't get to where Fleming is today by ignoring friends; their Network is legendary. A Cambridge graduate (Trinity), Fleming has friends at the Science Park to help Fleming with any science-related crusades.

Fleming's current obsession is BSE and infected beef, which Fleming believes is linked to something far more sinister. Fleming suspects this is the first in a series of attempts to weaken the country through artificial manipulation of infectious diseases - to what end? 

In Play: abrasive, confrontational and aggressive when pursuing an agenda, all charm and smiles when dealing with anyone outside the Department, particularly the Media. 

Hamartia: insatiable curiosity. Fleming has to know, and doesn't care about the cost of knowing.

Supernatural: Their markers are strange superstitions, their emphasis hunger.

Financial Mogul: Bruno / Teressa Montgomery. born Melnyk to Ukraine immigrant father who left after the war and married late. Montgomery changed their name in the 1980s to Anglicize it. A financial genius who got his start in Thatcher's Britain, Montgomery is a staunch Labour supporter thanks both to his father and his mother, a coal miner's daughter with family ties to Neil Kinnock. These days he's moved from fund manager to guardian angel, providing start-up cash to some of Dot Com's most promising tech startups. Montgomery is as likely to be seen at First Tuesday events as they are in the board room. Montgomery is no grey little gnome; Montogomery is a petrol head with a penchant for classic cars, and owns at least two 1920s Bentleys formerly toys belonging to Woolf Baranato. Rumor has it Montgomery has tried to match it against France's Blue Train, in a recreation of the famous 1930s races.  

Montgomery's eldest child, Martin, suffered a tragic accident that left the boy in a coma. That's when Montgomery was first approached by a group Montgomery calls the Syndicate, which made them a proposition: do as we ask, and you can have your son back. Montgomery, a lapsed Catholic, went back to the Church instead. Since then Montgomery has made it their mission to find out all they can about the Syndicate; Montgomery hates losing, to anyone or anything.   

In Play: urbane, talkative, more British than the British and very fond of traditional hunting/shooting/fishing pursuits. Enjoys being the smartest person in the room.

Hamartia: overwhelming ambition. It isn't enough to have money; Montgomery must have the fame and power that goes with it. 

Alien: Their markers are various uncanny effects; their emphasis is invasion. 

Tech Guru: Alan / Elaine Augustin, founder and CEO of MilesToGo, an online retailer dealing in luxury travel and leisure. Augustin's a poetry geek and a tech geek, and is fond of quoting Robert Frost at business meetings. Augustin, a former model turned tech wizard who can dress the part as well as talk it, is as well known in Paris couture as they are in London's tech scene. Less well known is Augustin's addiction to Madame JoJos, a seedy Soho nightclub, but if you want Augustin's attention that's where you must go to get it. Make a splash there, and you've a fan for life.

Which is how (and where) Augustin first met what Augustin calls The Queen.  Terrified and intrigued in equal measure, Augustin has been tracking The Queen ever since. Augustin won't rest until their curiosity is satisfied, though whether this is about knowledge or domination is anyone's guess. 

In Play: Bumptious to the point of arrogance, with broad gestures and wild flights of fancy. Everyone expects a tech genius to be eccentric, even flamboyant, and the burden of living up to those expectations is exhausting. 

Hamartia: tragic error. Augustin fundamentally misunderstands The Queen, though in what way has yet to be determined. 

Damned: Their markers are holy symbols and spiritualism, their emphasis is seduction.

Priest: Emelia / Arthur Prentice-Jones, a new recruit to the Church of England's Deliverance ministry. Prentice-Jones is a former psychiatrist who suffered a crisis of conscience when a patient committed suicide. This traumatic event persuaded Prentice-Jones that there was more that could be done to help people, and that faith was the beacon that lit the way forward. An overachiever, Prentice-Jones soon won plaudits for their work and it's thought that one day they might ascend to a Bishopric; for now, their latest challenge is to reform the Deliverance ministry and bring it into the modern era. This they do with a will, travelling across the country to discuss spiritual and Deliverance issues with priests and people around the UK.

This peripatetic life led to an unexpected encounter in Suffolk, at the University, where what at first seemed to be a nervous breakdown proved to be what Prentice-Jones now knows is Renfielding. When Prentice-Jones sought to bring this to his superiors' attention he was rebuked, and now they wonder whether the rot is actually within the Church itself. 

In Play: Calm, collected, very nearly bloodless - some call them the Cardinal, as they seem to be addicted to power and to ritual in equal measure. A deep well of compassion for the afflicted hides under that austere demeanor; Prentice-Jones got into this to help the desperate, and will do anything towards that end. 

Hamartia: intense drive and passion for advancement. Prentice-Jones knows that they are right and the world is wrong; they brook no obstacles, no delay. If it must be done, it must be done immediately.

That's it for this week. Next time out, the first steps. 

Enjoy!


   

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Blair's UK (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

 I've been reading a lot of early-2000s histories, specifically:

Generation Kill Evan Wright

One Bullet Away Nathan Fick

Hella Nation Evan Wright

Fiasco Thomas Ricks

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Bethany MacLean, Peter Elkind

All The Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis Bethany MacLean, Joe Nocera 


HBO Series, clip sourced from Storytellers


Sourced from Movieclips Classic

It's remarkable to me how all these events are happening at broadly the same time. As First Recon marines charge into Iraq in fall 2003 with a nervous Rolling Stone reporter hanging out of a humvee like a golden retriever on a road trip, the fallout from Enron's collapse in 2001 is ongoing; Skilling and Lay won't see the inside of a courtroom until 2006, and their former employees and investors are bankrupted. Meanwhile the major players in the 2008 financial collapse are galloping towards the finish line. By the time 2008 hits the Iraqi conflict is very much ongoing, and the marines Wright wrote about and Fick led have, in many cases, gone on to multiple tours, some of them suffering grievous injuries in that conflict. 

There's a common through line: the willing complicity of those put in power, to guide institutions and countries, in their own destruction, for reasons that don't hold up intellectually or philosophically. Hubris, and pride. From Dick Cheney massaging intel until the White House could swallow it, and Colin Powell standing up in front of decision makers and spouting a lot of what proved to be nonsense designed specifically to bamboozle his listeners, to Enron's financial wizards and, later, the major banking institutions' accountants, auditors and risk analyzers willfully manipulating data to make the onlooker believe the risk was minimal or, at best, appropriately managed, we've been living through twenty years at least in which the facts on the ground never mattered, funded in part by the economic machine that is the United States running full tilt until it couldn't run any more. 

A significant portion of the US electorate has now been conditioned to believe in bullshit and elect bullshitters, and there are times when I wonder whether this modern variant of a much older story can be traced, ultimately, to the politicians who cooked up the Iraqi conflict all those decades ago, and the businessmen who fleeced their investors and employees; the ones who abandoned any semblance of truth when truth didn't achieve their goal.  

This has been the age of lunacy.

In the United Kingdom, this was the age of Tony Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007. He's there for Enron and Royal Bank of Scotland, there for Kosovo, Afghanistan, for Iraq, and bows out just as the economic disaster he helped create is about to explode. I lived in the UK more or less from his earliest days as PM almost to the end of his run; I was still a uni student in the 1990s. Personally I would have preferred his predecessor John Smith, but when Smith died of a heart attack Blair was the logical candidate.

Blair has extraordinary talent, and his premiership ought to have been glorious - were it not for his many wars. Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and the one that broke him - Iraq. His willingness to follow George W. Bush's government into an unpopular and deeply divisive conflict cost Blair all the political goodwill he'd gained up to that point. Labour's majority shrank, and by the time Gordon Brown took office the writing was on the wall. It would have taken a much better leader than Brown to save the party from defeat, and in 2010 a hung parliament eventually gave David Cameron his shot at the brass ring - a chance Cameron dismally mismanaged.

Blair's UK is also the UK of Greg Rucka's Queen and Country, one of the ur-texts of Night's Black Agents. Rucka's Tara Chase is very much a creature of Blair's government, cooperating closely with the US' war on terror, and Blairs' wars are her wars, from Kosovo (the scene of her first adventure) through to an abortive attempt to remove Zimbabwe's Mugabe.

It occurs to me that Night's Black Agents, and its offshoot the Dracula Dossier, suits Blair's UK more, perhaps, than any other timeline. It's fresh enough that most people can remember the details, albeit through the fuzziest of lenses. The technology's not completely foreign to today's gamer; the internet now isn't the internet then, but it's not as if they were still using 3.5 inch floppies back in 2000. The first generation iPhone hasn't turned up yet nor yet the iPad, but that's the only major difference most gamers are going to notice. That, and the strange freedom air travelers enjoyed, before the towers came down.

Most importantly, the big relationship is already established and very familiar to everyone: Poodle-ism, the willingness of Blair's government to do pretty much whatever Bush wants it to do. UK business leaders aren't much different; just as Enron's destroying California's electricity supply and Lehman's racing towards a cliff, Royal Bank of Scotland is headed for a fall, Northern Rock is about to drown in sub-prime, and Rupert Murdoch, the éminence grise of journalism, is solidifying his grip on the UK's political landscape.

It's the age of lunacy - and who better to take over the asylum than the pre-eminent lunatic, Dracula?

So for the next few sessions that's what I'm going to talk about. A Dracula Dossier / Night's Black Agents game set in the early 2000s, during Blair's premiership. What would change? What would stay the same?

What stories can be told?

Enjoy!