Monday, February 13, 2017

Blog In The Saddle Again

Now that my commute is about two hours a day shorter than it had been (I've moved much closer to work), I think I'm going to try a bit of blogging again. I'll start by telling you about my latest RPG campaign...

I recently started a new campaign of Night's Black Agents, the spies-vs-vampires RPG from Pelgrane. Our fourth session meets this weekend (at my new apartment). The game is off to a great start.

My players include some very strong character-actors, and they seem to be really enjoying themselves with the slow-burn horror of trying to convince themselves that the supernatural forces arrayed against them really are supernatural (and specifically vampires) and not just some elaborate psy-op. In my previous NBA campaigns (this is the third I've run), I've felt the need to throw overt and obvious vampirism into the PC's paths very early on, usually the first or second session, to start the game with a bang. Not this time. I'm taking the vampirism slow, and been just focusing on creepy but deniable supernatural evil thus far, as well as a tangled web of counter-intelligence operations. Part of the reason for this new pacing is because, as mentioned, I have the right play group for it. The other half of the explanation is because for this game I've we're using what is probably the coolest RPG sourcebook ever published: Dracula Unredacted, and it enables a very unique play structure and pacing.

Dracula Unredacted is part of The Dracula Dossier, a collection of tools for running a freeform improvised campaign built around the notion that in 1894, British Naval Intelligence tried (and failed) to recruit a Vampire as an asset. You hand the players (not just their characters) a copy of this after-action report from that mission, annotated by at least three generations of spies, and let the players (and their characters) decide what parts of the "novel" to dive into. Do they poke around London and Whitby searching for corroborating evidence that this document is legit? Do they cross the border into Romania and attempt a raid on Castle Dracula? Do they stalk Dracula's leave-behind-network of criminals and undead minions, as hinted and mapped by Stoker's manuscript? Do they seek out the retired operative that ran MI-6's attempt to pit Dracula against Hitler in WWII, as referenced in the annotations? There's a million directions you can take the campaign, and the accompanying Director's Handbook features multiple competing interpretations of every NPC, location or organization mentioned in the Unredacted version of the novel, so as GM you always have multiple ideas at your fingertips no matter where the players decide to take the plot. The players are in control of where the plot goes, and the GM has everything they need to make sure the game is exciting and intriguing along the way.

In the first session of my campaign, the PCs raided a German BND safe-house, got their hands on an antique manuscript that can't be judged by its cover, fought off "trained attack rats" (that's the rational explanation they decided on, any way), and escaped pursuit by killing an MI-6 scuba team. In the second session they smuggled a hypnotized fugitive asset across the border, won big in Monaco, and stumbled into the aftermath of a botched operation involving the CIA and the Romanian SIE. In the third session they encountered another unusual rat; this time it was draining the blood of their fugitive asset / former employer. They chased it off, got the hell out of Monaco, and covered their tracks once again. Then they decided to double-back and trace the movements and actions of some of the opposition assets they encountered in the first session. This weekend, my PCs will be running a surveillance op against the "Median Empire" outlaw motorcycle club, as that gang conducts some sort of mission at the Chateau D'If, the famous "Count of Monte Cristo" prison island in France. Going in to the mission, they don't know if the bikers are mundane criminal types, vampiric Renfields, or some entirely other sort of supernatural working either for or against the vampires. Heck, the PCs aren't even certain that vampires exist yet. It's kinda awesome how much time they spend debating the notion that it might all be just a tandem psy-op and pilot animal-control technology program. Man am I having fun in this campaign.

I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about it in the coming weeks.


Ryan Cruz said...

It's great to hear from you again! I always liked your work with WFRPG, you're one of the few resources I had for the game (which is a shame now that it's dead).

Rolfe Bergstrom said...

Thank you, Ryan. It's good to have the time to blog again.

Yes, there was a lot to love about that edition of Warhammer, and more than a few weird quirks to really wonder about. It's a shame it died. I would have liked to see a backwards-compatible "point 5" edition come along with revisions where needed, and erratum for a few of the wonkier or broken cards, because the concepts at the heart of it all really unique, creative and innovative.

Ryan Cruz said...

I just loved how they approached a lot of areas of an RPG that most veterans don't think are much to handle but can be a lot for new players to wrap their heads around. For me the system was much easier to teach to new players than just handing over a character sheet, and teaching ideas like group dynamics was much simpler to convey with the party sheet while showing them the consequences of thinking individually over the group.

It really is a shame, because not a lot of designers would risk creating something this unique in the RPG space that is already so firmly established, and even more so that most veteran players wouldn't give this game a chance because of what it appears to be on the surface. I've GM'd this game for both veterans and newbies and it's a complete success as a system, and it's my favorite because of all the tools they offer for the GM.