Saturday, November 24, 2012

Armchair Review: Night's Black Agents

Click the pic to see the RPGNow page.
This little gem from Kenneth Hite and Pelgrane Press comes at a really good time for me. Of course, I've written about my fascination for the Cold War era espionage genre, as well as the more action-packed Top Secret type of game, and other subgenres of the modern spy story before. But I think that with modern TV shows like Homeland and Rubicon, my interest in modern espionage has resurfaced.

Unfortunately, I'm just not up to keeping track of all the various socio-political alliances, tensions and betrayals all around the world for such a campaign. And I'm envious of those who can. I'd been thinking of creating an international evil spy / paramilitary organization, sort of a cross between S.P.E.C.T.R.E., T.H.R.U.S.H., and the WEB from Top Secret / S.I. when I heard about this RPG in development and decided to wait.

Here's the blurb from RPGNow:
The Cold War is over. Bush’s War is winding down.
You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly. 
Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter. 
It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.
Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.
Or worse.
Fantastic internal illustration from the book.
Now that Night's Black Agents is finally out, I've gotten ahold of a copy and haven't been disappointed. Here's my shortish review:
There is much to love about this RPG. First, it extends the already interesting Gumshoe game system used for such games as Ashen Stars, Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Mutant City Blues. I've been itching to try out the investigation mechanics for Gumshoe, and this recent incarnation and extension of the ruleset affords me such additional rules the combat and cinematic chase rules to support the espionage/thriller genre. 
Next, it also provides rule options to help emulate and support various subgenres of the spy thriller. There are rules for the interestingly-named subgenres: Burn ("psychological damage and the cost of heroism"), Dust ("gritty, lo-fi espionage"), Mirror ("hidden agendas and shifting alliances"), and Stakes ("higher purposes than mere survival or 'getting the job done'"). In addition to the Drives and Sources of Stability that we've seen in other flavors of Gumshoe, the Trust / Betrayal mechanics are particularly interesting and volatile in a espionage game (reminds me of Cold City / Hot War)! 
Gunplay and cinematic chase rules look good from the emulation space, though I'd be remiss if I didn't say that proper playtesting should be done on my part before I can say if it's to my taste. 
As for the vampire aspect -- great latitude is given to the GM and the players is choosing the type of vampires they're fighting (which is good to keep the surprises coming in a thriller), and the organization creation rules married with the classic genre pattern of starting at the bottom of the conspiracy pyramid and moving up through the ranks until dealing with the Big Bad (to borrow some Buffy terminology here) has really ratcheted up my desire to play this game as soon as possible! That's made easier by the sample vampires and their various minions also included in the book. 
Well done, Pelgrane Press -- I look forward to future releases in this line!
So I've started up character creation for a PBEM game with some friends, and hope to put this thing through its paces. I'm already thinking of how the Vampire: The Masquerade elements might be reformed into some kind of more criminal, espionage, world domination-y spin.

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That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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