Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Night's Black Agents

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I'm a fan of Robin D. Laws' game designs. I thought Feng Shui was brilliant. Over the Edge continues to be one of my favorite games of all time.

And, of course, the GUMSHOE system in all of its permutations has influenced my approach to other games.

I'm also a fan of Kenneth Hite's work. His Suppressed Transmission books set the standard for weird conspiracy. For years, now, I've been half-convinced that Kenneth Hite and J.J. Abrams are the same person, because Alias and Lost both watch like something Hite would have written.

Kenneth Hite first used GUMSHOE for Trail of Cthulhu.  And it was brilliant, which should surprise no-one.  He's been involved with several games since, but now he's back to GUMSHOE, and, it should come as no surprise, the product is brilliant.

I speak, of course, of Night's Black Agents.

It's an odd duck. I'll tell you that straight up and in advance. It's a horror conspiracy espionage game.

The espionage genre's last real activity was the Spycraft line, and that was really more over-the-top action than espionage.  Mission: Impossible in game form (the movies, not the TV series).

Night's Black Agents returns espionage gaming to its grittier roots. And does so with a brilliant twist.

Your character? Used to be a spy. Until you got out or were forced out, and then did some freelance work.  And, eventually, you learned that the people you were working for (and, perhaps had always worked for) were vampires.

Yes. Vampires.

Vampires have dropped out of horror gaming for a bit. I suspect that part of it is due to Twilight and the Vampire Diaries. A large part of it.  White Wolf games aside, that is.  All of these have de-fanged vampires and turned them into misunderstood angst-filled self-loathing monsters.  Which, in my opinion, is wrong.  Vampires are monsters. Dangerous, cunning predators. 

Night's Black Agents has pages and pages and pages of "how to customize vampires for your game." Vampires can be very different from what you're used to, with a good mix of origins, powers, and other abilities.

Now, even though I was given a copy of the PDF for free, what sold me on pre-ordering a print copy was this line:

“I want to play the good vampire.” If it were up to me, nobody would ever get to play the good vampire ever again in any medium. It is, sadly, not up to me.
The basic GUMSHOE system has been tweaked here to support institutional paranoia and occasional bits of big action. A number of influences are mentioned throughout the book, and they include the Bourne trilogy of films, the Bond films (mostly the Daniel Craig version, but you can do more genteel spies if you want to), and a number of one-off films like Ronin. Violence is a thing to be feared - unless you have the advantage when it begins.

And there are several "modes" of play, too. If you want a more action-based game, it'll support that. If you want John Woo-style two-gun shoot 'em ups with immensely lethal consequences, it'll support that. If you want sneaking and hiding and minimal gunfire, you can do that, too.

Honestly, I think you could run The Hunt for Red October with this game. If you wanted to.  Of course, when you add the vampire layer, suddenly it gets ... odd. And not in a bad way, either.

Actually ... I'd play that. Marko Ramius has discovered that the top of the Soviet food chain is ... um ... at the top of the Soviet food chain, and so grabs some info and a top-secret sub and tries to defect.  Meanwhile, vampires in the US learn what's going on, and try to recover the sub so that they can learn about their Soviet counterparts (because there are multiple types of vampires) ... they deploy a few trusted pawns (James Earl Jones' character, whose name escapes me) to drop some breadcrumbs for the PCs (Jack Ryan and several other CIA analysts) to follow. But they also need to keep Dr. Ryan from getting too much information - after all, he's a useful pawn, but that may change if he learns about vampires ...

If you will please excuse me, I think I have some scheming to do ...

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