GUMSHOE: Night's Black Agents - Tinker Tailor Vampire Die


First Post
For those that do not know, Night's Black Agents is Pelgrane Press' newest game, a combination spy thriller, eldritch horror, vampire suspense tale.

I adore this game and would bear it's RP-babies if it would let me. Mechanically, GUMSHOE is pretty clean and easy for new and experienced hands alike to pick up, allowing for the focus to be on the particular story.

For those that do not know me, I'm John. stuff. One of those things is gaming. And this is my game, a slightly hacked version of a Mirror-version of Night's Black Agents called "Tinker Tailor Vampire Die".

Some setup first:

This is a world where organizations like Mission Impossible's IMF also happen to have a need now to do things like "kill cultists, save the world, defeat arcane and terrible horrors that have for years (centuries?) attempted to control/enslave/eliminate mankind". You know, a typical Tuesday at the office.

The characters:

The leader of this team is Mace Hunter, epic superspy extraordinaire, who has climbed the ranks of authority and espionage usually by dumb luck, and he now sits behind a desk and conducts this "symphony of insanity", while still managing to go out and have a date with a beautiful lady/his secretary/the wife of someone important. He misses field work, and wants back in, but the team needs a home base leader now more than ever.

His Point Man is Nick Darter, and he's everything Mace was ten years ago, only more vegan and less casual. Nick specializes in small arms, cold drinks and looking really good in a tuxedo. Everyone assumes Nick will succeed and exceed Mace one of these days.

Anna Latwanna is the British hacker, working for Nick after he promised her he'd find out what happened to her sister Lucy (more on that in a minute). She does two things well, one with clothes on (there's not a system she can't get into) and one without (and she's desperate for Nick to try).

Mike Smith (not his real last name) blows things and people up. He's a trifle deaf now, but this lapsed Catholic priest is second to none with fuses and detonators.

(also not his real name) is most likely an escaped convict. No one is really sure. He's got no fingerprints, and depending on who you ask he's either a former Secret Service Agent or a birthday clown. He lives to drive and fly. There's a rumor he once turned an ice cream truck into a submersible to pilot the canals of Venice.

Desdemona Briggetti (probably not her real name) has a history. She'll have your history, if you're not careful. Desdemona has been a princess, an oil baroness, several different men and a leper. That was last week. This week she's whoever the job needs her to be.

This adventure has three prequels, explained below.
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First Post
The prequels occur anywhere from 1 year to 6 weeks prior to the start of the campaign. While these prequels are happening, the PCs are working at their previous jobs, getting burnt and disavowed and being recruited by Mace to a new team.

Prequel I: There's something about Lucy
Lucy Latwanna was a school teacher, who enjoyed her job, even if it was in the middle of nowhere, teaching kids who would be lucky if they got out with a grade school education. The town lived and died because of the mines and mill, not because some kid knew who Chaucer was.

On the second evening of Parent-Teacher conferences Hector and Evgeny showed up. Now Lucy was not one to quibble over a student having two daddies, she knew it was possible and it didn't bother her the way it bothered some of the other faculty.

Lucy didn't come back to school the next morning. Two days later, her bank accounts were empty, her apartment was cleaned out and all that was left was a note on a thumb drive.

A pair of couriers (two disposable characters I created for the players to learn the rules/mechanics) had to get the thumb drive to Mace, who was doing background checks on recently available agents. He offered the couriers fifty thousand dollars each to get him the drive in three days. All they had to do was drive eighty miles.

It should have been an easy job: go to the house, get the package, drive it, get paid. The couriers though, didn't expect a team of burglars searching the house when they arrived. Or that they'd get shot at.

Side note - couriers are surprisingly well-trained.

After getting the truck shot at, after one of them cracking some ribs from a fall off a fire escape, they got the drive, and did t heir best to put distance between them and the situation.

And all was well, until the situation had grenades. And one of the burglars tried to peel the skin off the second courier in her dreams. By using his teeth and an egg beater.

The truck didn't survive. The couriers did though, along with the drive, and got it to Mace at the airport, two hours before the deadline.

Prequel II: Mace on A Plane
Thumb drive in hand, Mace got on the plane and settled into his first class seat, ready to hear the words of his boss in his ears. "Good evening Mister Hunter, we have some more work to do, if you're interested..." He was used to it. Time for another drink. Time for eight hours of sleep.

Except what he heard was this:

"Good evening, Mister Hunter. We have some more work to do, and the job starts now. There's a problem with your plane, and in all likelihood, should you fail, I'll be sending fishing trawlers to find pieces of you all next month. We have reason to believe that on your flight is an old woman - someone old enough to have seen the first plane, and probably old enough to see the first printing press. Protect the drive and the plane Mace. Do all that's necessary. Nick is on the plane with you, he'll meet you in the lounge."

So Mace and Nick, having heard the same information, had to figure out who the old woman was. Which didn't take too long, since they found her in coach, knitting at Mach 2 with three rows of adoring fans staring at her. There was something about her, she in your head Nick felt and if he didn't stick to the plan, he would have put the plane into the ocean himself.

But with careful use of salt, a bathroom and a drink cart, the old lady wasn't a problem...

(GM Note - I homebrewed an excel chart of vampire-construction, if you're interested let me know)

She was however rather adamant that even if Mace and Nick stopped her, there would be others. And that they knew where Nick's mother lived. And they knew about Mace's summer cottage. And weren't afraid to pay visits. Somehow though, she was gone after Nick locked her in the bathroom.

The plane arrived in Munich, no one much the wiser. Most passengers thought it had something to do with oxygen on the plane or the altitude or the champagne.

Prequel III: The Munich Auditions
Mace and Nick were sent to Munich to assist some rather not-good guys in doing something not-good but for the greater-good. Nick always found himself in that position; Mace only got there after two or three drinks, if you blew in his ear just right.

They were posing as two hitters, button-men-for-hire, a pair of Americans who only trusted each other. It was not a hard role to play. Surrounded by angry German neo-nazi militants, their target was easy - level a building, run up a body count, maybe blow a safe or two inside and walk away.

Except this building was the house where Mace had previously loved Rebecca. Not just 'loved' Rebecca, but LOVED her, a long time ago before the job show its true colors and before he showed his. He left her via a single rose and an empty ring box.

But now she ran a day care. A day care for the children of diplomats and celebrities. And she was married now. With kids of her own.

The job was in two days. That was plenty of time for he and Nick to extract her and the kids, right?

Grudges run deep. Rebecca didn't patch that hole in her heart the way Mace did. She didn't drink for a week and sleep with any woman who smiled at him.

When he broke into her house, and found her at the breakfast table, the first slap hurt. The second and third may as well have been foreplay. She still kissed just like before. He had to get her out.

Nick however, met the leadership of this bomb brigade when they tried to tear his arms off and lick his heart clean. The meeting didn't go well.

So, Mace and Nick, against the nazis, against whatever was leading them, in Munich, armed with whatever they could scrounge up in about a day.

For any lesser man, running would be the only option. For Mace Hunter, running is not an option. Unless it's running headfirst into action.

The bombs went off, the building went down. The kids cheered. The nazis....not so much. Nothing could have survived that explosion, right?

Rebecca was supposed to meet him at the airport. To join him.

All he got was a single rose and an empty box.

They didn't go home for two months. Nick needed a rest. They went to Monaco. Mace introduced himself to several stewardesses and hotel employees. It helped him get over the pain.

The campaign starts about five weeks after that.....
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First Post
Tinker Tailor Vampire Die, Campaign part 1

Tinker Tailor Vampire Die (hereafter TTVD) hinges on a few key items. I'll lay them out first.

  1. Several elements are of my own design: specifically the build-a-vampire chart, the burnbox (supplies available at campaign start), the chart on how they got burnt, and the number of points available for creation.
  2. I also handle the 'Trust' component differently, and before they created the characters, I sat the players down and had them pick someone at the table who they trusted the most, and who they trusted the least. It's a large group (sometimes up to 7 players), so it worked out that no one got excluded in some capacity. Later, as characters were developing, I asked the players to justify their earlier selections through backstory.
  3. During prequel gaming, I discovered that I needed to pad the Stability of the players a little, so I threw in a +1 to the pool to keep them from becoming gibbering idiots too quickly.
  4. I re-instituted my AD&D house rule of "If you can explain it, I'll go with it", to keep the game from stalling into long silent down times.
Campaign Start

Mace has returned from Monaco (see prequels) and has set himself up a headquarters in New York City at "Undisclosed Midtown Office" with a cover ID of being "Special Liaising Assistant to the Assistant Under-Secretary of the National Department of Commerce". From here he can dispatch the team globally while working on his own private mission.

PRIVATELY....Mace has been overhearing chatter about a large and potentially dangerous conspiracy with fingers reaching everywhere there's an authority figure or financial opportunity. Of course, he's been hearing about this by sleeping with people's wives and drinking a little heavier than normal. He's called this conspiracy "The Blue Book", tracking it off-the-record and not even trusting Nick with the details. Yet.

So the campaign is built with two different, occasionally overlapping adventures, hooks and arcs. There are the missions that Mace gets from "The Man" and there are the missions that Mace and team discover/fall into trying to discover for Blue Book.

Here's what Mace, to date, knows about "The Man" (so you at home can play along):

  • He's a high-ranking government official
  • He is NOT the President or Vice President of the United States
  • He is NOT the head of the CIA or FBI
  • He is not a ranked military officer, but he does have military experience
  • He is older than Mace (Mace figures he's at least 50)
  • He is or has been married to someone named "Julia"
  • He smokes foreign-brand (often Turkish) cigarettes
  • He drinks, preferring hard liquors and wines to beer
  • He does not own an iPhone.
  • He owns a home in New York, one in LA, one in Rome, one in New Zealand...all were bought in cash from a different realtor each time.
  • He prefers to communicate through buffers: often leaving voice mails, mp3s, or multimedia messages for Mace.
  • He has been inside Mace's home, when Mace may or may not have been awake.
  • He has killed before, and has no hesitation about doing it again.
  • He speaks at least 5 languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Italian, Russian and German).
  • He was educated overseas, likely Oxford
  • He has a soft spot for children, and will often make saving or protecting children a priority in missions
  • He does not use CIA or NSA chartered flights to ferry himself around the globe, but it is unlikely he flies commercially.
Here's what "The Man" knows about Mace Hunter:

  • Every damn thing.
  • Every affair, every disciplinary hearing, every part-time job Mace had since being in high school
  • He knows 10 of Mace's Cover IDs intimately, including the falsified credit histories and cover stories.

Mace is currently trying ascertain whether "The Man" knows about Rebecca's current location, Mace's hidden safehouses or Mace's slush funds (GM Note: He doesn't. Nor, to date, is he looking.)

Up Next: "The Asia Gambit" where the agents learn elevators are not their friends.


Loving this. I will probably move it over to the Story Hour forum, since it's more about plot and less about mechanics. Wishing I was in this game. :)


First Post
The Asia Gambit

Mace assembled the team at a Starbucks down by Wall Street, by telling each of them the meeting location via homeless people paid to hold certain signs. (Rather elaborate, but worth'll see why shortly)

Once gathered, Mace paid the staff to use their back room (free lattes!) and briefed the party.

A jewel thief is out of retirement, having been blackmailed to break into the Swedish embassy, needs to escape, and is willing to give up the names of former employers to get out.

Here's the wrinkle - he's not sure where he is. He was kidnapped, blindfolded, beaten and drugged. And he knows he was brought somewhere, a hotel suite across the street from the embassy, but in the middle of the night, something came in the room and...took care of his captors.

He was left alone though. That was 41 hours ago. He's since gotten free, and has some what free reign over the suite, but he's 60 stories up, he's not sure what is waiting for him in the hallway and he was only able to get access to the phone for 90 seconds to call the American Embassy and declare himself a "hostage of an unknown power".

Mace got called at 4 this morning, and told to get the information the thief has. Optionally, save the man. But the data is the priority.

So when Nick's original plan was to pose as Hotel Staff was going to take too long, Mace turned to Rossini, who had a brilliant plan.

Helicopter to the tall building NEXT to the hotel, break in and exfiltrate.

Yes, it was so crazy it had to work. Right?

Getting the helicopter was no trouble (once I explained that you can make a Contact DO something rather than only HAVE something), and getting there was great. Even the landing was okay.

Just that they never asked how far apart the buildings were. And didn't have a plan for how to cross them.

And they had no idea what to do about the Guatemalan Death squad on the hotel roof.

The firefight was long, and slow (not mechanically, but tactically), since the Death Squad couldn't hit the broad side of the barn and the players were conserving ammo not bothering to shoot at the riflemen.

Anna found the way across. Grapnel guns homebrewed from helicopter parts. (She's resourceful and prepared). This also was good, since the helicopter was eating bullets left and right.

Guns built, the team rappelled/tightrope walked across the street. Eventually. In between firefight volleys. Once on the roof, the fight got personal and Mike introduced them to gravity.

They didn't know what hit them after that. The party I mean. Some THING came up the rooftop access stairs and nearly knocked Desdemona off the edge (where she was hanging to gauge the distance to the possible open window). It was big. It had teeth. It smelled like old baby diapers.

Nick's shotgun just annoyed it. Mike's grenade slowed it. The tear gas though, that helped. It was huge, and filthy and mean and oh man did it beat the snot out of the team. Eventually, they lured it to the edge and shoved it off, because even dogs of the devil can't fly. But they limped into the hotel, and found an empty suite. And bled everywhere.

It was then they remembered the clock was ticking and the old jewel thief had info. Recuperating was no longer the priority and after trashing the bathroom (shower curtain bandages and bath mat sling), the party tried to track down the thief. Via the webtv in the room.

After a horrific mistake where everyone on the third floor got free adult movies for 12 hours, the thief was located. To the elevator! declared Rossini

When the elevator came, there was one man in the car. One man with a lot of guns. The players, rather craftily, crammed into the elevator and shot out the light.

Close quarters combat in the dark, in an elevator. Eventually they reached the floor, and wedged the elevator open with the guy's corpse.

The hallway was clear. Bone chillingly cold. Cold enough to see breath. But clear. The door though, when they got it, was torn off its hinges.

The old thief was inside, safe, rested even showered and shaved. But he wouldn't talk. He just wanted to leave. So into the elevator they led him, and Nick just turned his eyes away for a second....

when he was pulled up through the elevator access panel, screaming and babbling as something large and spider climbed up the elevator shaft WITHOUT using the ladder.

The team gave chase via the ladder. Rossini though realized the elevator worked so he rode up. And he was fine until the cable was snapped and he plummeted down. He didn't die, but only just.

Back on the roof, the spidery thing spoke sweet words. And the old thief cried before the thing tore him to pieces. One word. "Grolliniere" And then his head left his neck and his spine left his back.

The fight lasted maybe five minutes. They practically leveled the whole helipad to stop that thing. Nick almost lost an eye. Mike broke his leg, discovering he could still pray.

But they could go home...successful?

"Grolliniere" he said. The name of a French banker who only works with drug cartels and arms dealers.

The team was going to soon as they healed.

Next time.....Mace Hunter meets Devico.

Just a note to say this looks great, and that Night's Black Agents looks great too. I don't have my bloody hands on it yet, but that game has every appearance yet of being the best design yet from one of the 21st Century's best game designers.


First Post
GM Note - One of the things I like to do with the characters of any campaign I'm involved in is to show them doing more than just the particular plot. Yes, it's all nice and well and good that the paladin is up early praying for guidance, but it's also good to see the paladin relaxing at the tavern cheering on the bard or seeing the spymaster doing normal-person tasks, giving them a chance to be a real character in a three-dimensional world.

Mace Hunter, the spy who can do any/everything (allegedly) had to go grocery shopping last night. Living alone at headquarters is pretty easy when you've had some supplies shipped to the door, but eventually you need milk and bread and coffee. So to the store he went.

While standing in the dairy aisle, and thanks to an inadvertent slip of the tongue ("I'm ready for anything, anytime."), who should he run into but Devico, who also had to go to the store.

Devico is a bad man. He's bad because to him, it's still the 1960s and he's the baddest cat in Harlem. Except it's not the 1960s, and he's a white guy from Kansas. Devico is an information broker, able to connect people for a fee and not above blackmailing them when they don't stay connected. He calls himself, "Like AT&T, but with more gunplay."

Devico knows a thing or two about Grolliniere and he may know something about The Man (no, he's not The Man, the players worked that out in about ten seconds). And while waiting at the checkout line, he made Mace a deal.

"I know this store is about to be robbed in a minute. If, during the robbery, you can get your team together and send them to an address I give you, without calling the cops here, I'll tell you what I know about Grolliniere."

Mace never send out text messages faster.

Thankfully the team wasn't too far away and were able to hack into the grocery store security feeds to keep an eye on the robbery in progress. Through a series of blinks, Morse code taps on a stapler, and a clever use of brand names in a sales flyer, Mace sent the team to Devico's requested address.

Naturally it was an abandoned house on a block of slowly withering trees in a run-down poor suburb in residential New Jersey. And naturally, the place was beyond decrepit.

At least on the outside.

Swift work with prybars got them entry into a house that had its own power supply, phone system and military grade air system. Basically this house was a bunker.

Or, as Nick believed, there was a bunker and someone put a ghetto on top of it.

The house was deserted, dark and the lack of bulbs in the fixtures frequently gave pause and had the team tying rope to one another and sticking close to the walls. Which was great, until the landmines.

No, not a mine field, just a pair of landmines rigged to pressure plates in the wall, so that when the players leaned against the wall to get around the puddle of possible goo/acid/really-just-diluted-pudding-with-glitter-in-it) they went BOOM.

Anna didn't know what hit her. She did however, find both pressure plates, after caroming off one onto the other. So I guess you could say the walls and ceiling hit her. Repeatedly. She survived, but mainly because Mike dragged her into the car and left her in the backseat.

The rest of the team went through the bunker, and found a rather disturbingly sterile, recently used medical room, and they toyed with bringing Anna in there, until something came off the ceiling and tried to turn their brains into milkshakes and pulp.

Little known fact - If you put enough bullets into a thing before it can put its claws through your face, you win.

The party also noted two things:
1. They tend to get beat up A LOT, and should probably consider finding a medic for a team position.
2. Going to a strange address given by a man in a grocery store is not exactly part of the job description.

But onward they ventured, and down into the bunker they went. Past rows and rows of empty rooms: barracks, cubicles, bathrooms and storage closets. Past old computers and reel-to-reel machines thick with dust. Past a kitchen with thirty years of canned food.

They reached what they believed was the lowest floor (it isn't, but they've not found the passage yet) and ran into a very fat creature, like a shaved chimpanzee with gout, who was busy sucking the marrow out of a skeleton. A skeleton that had a briefcase handcuffed to its wrist. A badly dented metal briefcase. With a USSR flag stenciled on it.

Did I mention that the party also learned the value of casual ammunition and supply checks? Defeating this...thing took duct tape, three road flares, an office chair, some canned peaches and half a bottle of floor wax.

GM Note - I may have to ratchet up the intensity on creatures now.

But they got the case (after using it to bludgeon the creature's head into applesauce) and got it open.

Grollineire's real name is Markov. Piotr Markov. And he's got some Swiss bank accounts the team is now very interested in. Especially because that particular Swiss Bank is only accessible in person, with three forms of ID verification.

Escaping the house/bunker was easy, almost fun. Not as much fun as calling the police that some terrorists had invaded a supermarket and had a chemical weapon hidden in the bread aisle, creating enough of a media frenzy for Mace (and his groceries) to make it back to headquarters, but pretty damn fun.

The team heads to Switzerland later this week.


First Post
Upcoming TTVD post(s):

2 items of note here:

1. Expect something posted likely Thursday morning before I head to Dreamation. It will have the party in Switzerland.

2. There will also be a post-Dreamation report of the one-shot adventure...which I need to be writing now, actually.

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