Thursday, 31 March 2016

Night's Black Agents

Earlier this year (about two months ago) I started running a monthly game of Night's Black Agents.
It's a game I'd wanted to try for a while, hitting most of my interests, spies, vampires, crazy stuff, and so on in a single game. It's flexible enough to adapt to different groups and the encouragement to iron out details with your group fits my gaming philosophy of sharing ideas with the players; essentially treating gaming as a creative group project rather than a way for GM and players to oppose each other. The game offers four modes of play, each emphasising a different aspect of being a spy. A game based on Bond is as valid as Bourne epic, or a Smileyesque Wilderness of Mirrors. The vampires too are based on a number of different types, from the classics like Dracula, strange experiments that produce mutants, or alien stones (channelling Tim Powers' novels, The Stress of Her Regard and Hide me Among the Graves), and reaching back to pre-Christian times, and supernatural vampires from before Christianity which is where my game rests. For those in the know, we have supernatural vampires and the Stakes mode of play, though my conspiracy is still a work in progress.

I'm drawing on Carmilla, Lamia, and Christabel for my conspiracy, tying it to a specific vampire type... which I don't really want to touch on here in case any of the players read this - let's just say I'm also including Melusine and that snakes are more than a metaphor. I have plans around Romantic Poets, girls schools and Romanian orphanages and so on, the game is providing a surprisingly rich seam for ideas, which is another thing I love.

So far we've played through the (S)entries adventure in the main book and I'm currently running the Zalozhniy Sanction from the Zalozhniy Quartet, and intend to finish running it before I even think about putting together my own adventures, even as I flesh out the world by dropping clues everywhere. Basically I'd like to get the PCs to a point where the players can decide where they want to go by the time they finish the Quartet adventures, because even though I love the Gumshoe system it looks like a bit of a bear to write for.

As we speak the characters are on the outskirts of Romania, ready to run towards Vienna and safety. Or rather 'safety'; this is a horror game after all. We're playing on Sunday so hopefully there'll be a nice lot of things they learn and they won't lose too many Stability points.

System wise the things I like is how easy the system seems to be to use. The investigation skills work smoothly, and there's only been a couple of times when I've had to remind people not to roll for using them. The idea that you spend points and roll a dice for more active skills has gone down well. Combat, which I generally hate, feels fast and intuitive, clicking along through small firefights that last only moments rather than half an hour or more. It's one of the few games I've played in a long while where I've felt the pace was good, moving along without being too fast.

Lastly, the players have been wonderful, throwing ideas about like crazy, learning a system that's new to all of us, and pretty novel in the realm of RPGs. They've taken to the game's premise like ducks to water and a couple of them have quite happily thrown ideas into the hat for future plots. It helps that we're all spy fans, that a couple of them pretty much breathe tradecraft. We have a couple of things in place to help everyone keep track of the game, a prototype version of a virtual corkboard (we're actually looking for one that will do pictures so if you know any please let me know), and a session round up that gets emailed to everyone so there's an easy to hand reference to what happened last session.