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

writernextdoor

First Post
The team, Mace included, flew to Switzerland, hot on the trail of Piotr Markov (formerly called Grolliniere) and his Swiss accounts.

There was some confusion, or rather deception about which bank(s) Markov used, and the team was not feeling very confident that they could simultaneously hack into every bank in Switzerland, so Rossini proposed a new idea:

Go find Markov in person.

Markov was visiting family and attending a charity golf event on the shores of Lake Geneva ((NOTE - In our Cthulhu campaign, this site was a sanitarium, I just repurposed it)) and it wouldn't be too hard for the team to infiltrate the golf event, right?

Well, it shouldn't be hard. Some quick cover identities and some money exchanging hands helped to get the team in play. Mace was the announcer, Nick and Mike the caddies, the ladies the players and Rossini the escape plan/wheelman.

The plan was shockingly simple - play some golf, talk to Markov, get the details, sneak off after losing on Day 2 of the event.

The first problem - The ladies did not want to lose. They refused to lose. ((NOTE - And they rolled INCREDIBLY WELL)), so they kept winning, kept raising money for "The Society to Prevent Aggressive Seedy Machinations". Team SPASM finally got slotted into a foursome with Markov and his wife, and after almost organizing an orgy ((Foreign languages can be tough)), the quartet made fast friends.

Rossini, meanwhile was tracking down whether or the "elderly grandma" of Markov was actually elderly or a grandma. She was in fact a grandmother, but she was far more spry than he accounted for. So spry in fact, that she almost broke his arm when they wrestled for the gun after he took the Lord's name in vain and she recoiled from it. ((NOTE - New kind of Vamp tried out, REALLY worked well).

((NOTE - The nursing home proved very problematic. The elderly, many listed as terminal or invalid, had slowly been becoming healthier, more youthful and more aggressive. The nursing staff thought that maybe it was a miracle. It wasn't))

Grandma apparently spent time in Brazil, as her jiu-jitsu was amazing. Rossini though, also spent time in Brazil, because his machete-jitsu was equally amazing. Snicker-snack went the blade and grandma lost a few fingers in the escape.

His cover blown, Rossini improvised Plan B, break into Markov's apartment, locate the bank records, and get the team out quick. The apartment was nice, and Rossini even had time to raid the fridge. But there was a problem - Rossini was bleeding. Not terribly, but enough that he needed to empty a first aid kit and use a bottle of whiskey to clean himself up.

But blood is blood, and grandma wanted blood. So to the apartment she trailed him, leaping from rooftop to rooftop Batman/Assassin's Creed-style until she met up with Rossini while he was picking the lock on Markov's desk.

They fought ((NOTE - Rossini found a way to spend EVERY point on his sheet, except his 2 in Bureaucracy - was BRILLIANT)) and eventually Rossini stole a car, and made his way to the golf course. He ended up sleeping in the parking lot.

Because the rest of the party had been invited to a sunset champagne cocktail party to celebrate the close of Day 1.

The party was good, Desdemona was smooth, and it didn't take more than a few hours of flirting to find out where the vault was and that Mace is going to have to assemble a special team for that job. ((NOTE - THE BANK JOB WILL BE RUN AT DREAMATION)). Markov's mistress, Tatianna was very happy to share details like that after seven drinks and some flirting. Markov though had some trouble....

Nick and Mace found him in the bathroom, where he may have "accidentally slipped when backing up from the urinal, performed a cartwheel, caromed off the sink, slid his head against the mirror and 'done a barrel roll' onto the floor" ((NOTE - Nick forgot the house rule of 'if you say it, the character says it' and a fight broke out.)). Markov was stuffed into a stall using some handcuffs (Mace brought them in case the party was "that" kind of party) and gagged with Nick's socks.

But they had the information, and judging by the mention of "more pieces on the board", Mace was going to have to assemble a larger team for the Op.

Time to go, right? Just give the exit strategy, everyone to the rendezvous point and it's over yes?

Nope. The sun set. Rossini was still in the parking lot. Asleep. At night. In the open.

Grandma found him and peeled the roof off the car like it was a Pez dispenser. Fortunately, the team was on the patio and was able to help Rossini out. Grandma ended up staked on the 6th hole.

Mission accomplished. Rossini got medical attention and the party went to the American Embassy in Geneva to prepare for The Bank Job.

Next time, A super team goes after Markov's bank.
 

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writernextdoor

First Post
Some observations:

Game Prep
------------

1. The adventures work best when there's a thin skeleton of linear action (basically a list of scenes/major beats) but bazillions of hooks and ways to move from scene to scene. For example, here's one beat from Saturday's game:

** The party (at least 2 members) should be on the second floor of the bank, and moved into NPC's office. ** ((NOTE - the numbers are the max spends))

Sense Trouble (2) - Was that a tripwire?
Bureaucracy (1) - Far more paperwork than would be expected...
Digital Intrusion/Infiltration (#) - Password is "carrots" (on underside of box of tissues)

GOAL - Find computer files GOAL 2 - Encounter sniper from window once seated at desk

Gone are the days of lengthy text, the system lends itself to improvised tension.

2. The players will tend to play 'short' (conserving points for what is perceived to be an end-moment) or 'burn' (constantly daisy-chaining refresh opportunities. Both should be capitalized on with staggered tensions, climaxes and spending-for-clue moments.

3. To get quiet or hesitant players involved, I've found it useful to suggest possible spends (not their amounts though) when they stall in a scene or feel pressured by the table.

Scene Operation
----------------
1. Not all scenes have the same weight. The expectation is that combat scenes are time and attention heavy, but here, one guy can drop a mook or two pretty easily. Also, given the GUMSHOE nature of play, the expectation is that discovery/investigation scenes are heavy. Mixing the nature of the two (short combats, long clues, long combat, short clues) keeps the whole game moving.

2. (Personal note) I found it a lot easier to reduce the importance of combat. It still happens, but it's not just combat-to-defeat-the-boss-monster. Combat-as-an-option-for-obstacle-resolution is a great way to make combat happen without signifying it as a red flag to players. (You can always punch your way out of here....)

3. It's not hard to offer refresh. I invented a few new cherries ('Dammit Jim I'm a Doctor' comes to mind as the new Medic refresh) that focus more on "using SKILL-gibberish to get involved at the table. So far, it's a great way to let the player(s) be creative and incite its continuation. Also, offering refresh regularly encourages them to spend points.

Vampires
----------
1. It's not that I was disappointed with the vampires as-printed, I just thought it would be a shame NOT to make full use of the crunch and depth suggested. It's an excel chart. Not quite roll-and-build, but pretty close.

2. They should be tougher than the players. And that's a tough balance, very table-dependent, but I've found a base +1 or +2 to rolls to be a good incentive to spend in a fight. After all, if they were weaker, they wouldn't have such a big conspiracy, right?

3. It's nice having homebrewed vamps (at most I have 2 types), as players aren't sure which to prep for, so they intensify the role-play efforts.

Type 1: Stereotypic - Death by sunlight, stake, fire. Summons bats, wolves, rats, turns into mist. Mesmerizes the weak-minded. Invades dreams.

Type 2: Religious/Evil/Damned - Death by sunlight, holy things (Water, tools), paralyzed by stake to heart, trapped by salt.

Treating them as breeds (though both are technically "Damned") keeps the players from always sharpening stakes and waiting for sunrise.

Players
---------
1. I'm still working on a way to incent players to do more than always spend 2 points. I think I just need to ratchet up difficulties.

2. I'm still working on getting people OUT of the roll-a-d20-skill-heavy-work-off-the-paper mindset, and that comes usually by spelling out the game which I do with this equation:

Mission Impossible + spy novels + Jason Bourne + Vampires + Cthulhu

At some point, everyone hooks to a part of that line.

3. Because the mechanics are so easy and don't change, I find they actually DON'T hook players as easily as I thought. The setting/theme hooks them, the mechanics KEEP them. And the scenes have to reinforce that.

There will be more later tonight, after Day 2 of Dreamation
 

Pelgrane

First Post
This is great- thank you! Have youi players been taking advantage of tactical fact finding benefits, tag team benefits, Cover and Network? Are they getting their extra pools for creating their org charts?
 

writernextdoor

First Post
They're HUGE fans of Network. And they're coming around on tag team benefits (due to other games, we're all little used to an odd sort of me-first or better-than-you competition).

The org chart is starting to come together, I think some players have understood it more quickly than others (Mace's player and Anna's player both are familiar with the theme, so it was an easy sell -- the others are slowly coming on board as they get more into the vibe of play over time.

Regretably, I have to confess that GM Error is to blame for them not making more use of Cover - I didn't initially understand it, and when I first presented it, I did a poor and vague job of describing its uses. I've since caught my mistakes (mostly just not accounting for it as an option), and have been correcting the players' mistakes when it comes up, but I do think had I not started off with a misunderstanding I could have made more use of it.

I will, going forward, point out more of the mechanical side of things. Sorry I didn't do that sooner.
 

Pelgrane

First Post
Regretably, I have to confess that GM Error is to blame for them not making more use of Cover - I didn't initially understand it, and when I first presented it, I did a poor and vague job of describing its uses. I've since caught my mistakes (mostly just not accounting for it as an option), and have been correcting the players' mistakes when it comes up, but I do think had I not started off with a misunderstanding I could have made more use of it.

I will, going forward, point out more of the mechanical side of things. Sorry I didn't do that sooner.

Network is the player-facing glue which attaches PCs to the setting.

I've just worked out how useful cover is, too. It was a failed cover roll which led to the players first unpleasant encounter with a Type II. I asked Ken about it before they'd really used it:


I’m slightly concerned about the build points currency – why would you buy Cover or Network, when you can get reusable Disguise and other interpersonal abilities?

Because Cover and Network work better in their specific areas. You can't buy a specific Cover even with Disguise; Forgery burns out if it's cross-checked. Network is a real savings because it's essentially "wild" points: the same pool can be Investigative, string-pulling, or equipment-getting.

Plus, from a game play perspective, that's why you get the big pile of free Cover and Network points up front. You get used to using those, so you don't try to rewire the skills system on the fly.

Ken
 

writernextdoor

First Post
Dreamation Report

[Mechanical Notes are in braces]
((GM Notes are in double parentheses))

The adventure for Dreamation was a modified scenario, incredibly hacked for time and audience. ((I had 2 hours to run through a session, not 4, and therefore chopped out a lot of the second and third acts to accomodate playing. Also, because this specific scenario is still currently viable, what I'm presenting here is the barest of skeletons.))

The party ((Of the 45 characters pregenerated they took Mace Hunter, Nick Darter, Rossini, Chip Chesteron [sniper], Carter Byers [medic], Amelia Stewart [analyst], Anna Latwanna, Alice (no last name given))) was in Switzerland to rob a bank to retrieve the Macguffin.

Of course, trying to stop this from happening were the following facts:

1. The Bank was being sold to the Russian Mob.
2. There was a team of terrorists trying to invade Switzerland
3. There was a robbery already in progress.

Rossini thought it was prudent move to Forge [3 point spend] the bank's sales documents which were being couriered to the Bank. Amelia was Prepared [2 point spend] and worked with Chip and Nick [1 point Traffic Analysis, they tag teamed brilliantly] to discover the best route of Rufi, the Nigerian courier who was tasked with delivering the briefcase.

Originally, they were just going to bribe him [via Amelia's preparedness] , impersonate him [via Mace or Nick's Disguise] and then forge the documents [Rossini's forgery].

And then the party realized Rufi was expendable, and thought perhaps he'd put up a fight, since the briefcase was chained to his wrist.

There was a small fight, but an untrained, alcoholic Nigerian is no match for Nick Darter's krav maga [Nick's Hand-to-Hand 1 point].

They didn't kill him, they just broke his arm, and gave him some "career advice". ((Rufi will return later as a cab driver or something blue collar in a subsequent episode)).

So, Rossini bought the bank. And fired the security staff - replacing it with the rest of the team.

And then they went into the cage of safe deposit boxes and the vault, only to find down there, they were not alone. A large relatively "not-alive" man was standing stock still, staring at the safe deposit box in question.

Carter and Amelia went in for a closer look - and everything was okay, until Amelia had the bright idea to put a money bag over his head. Previously they put one in the guy's gut. He didn't bleed. He didn't even stagger. He just stood there and took it, like he was made of marble.

But when they bagged him, the fight was pretty intense, but the agents were agile [both did some almost lucha-libre athletics to avoid the rather pot roast-sized fists, again, great tag teaming] and they managed to lock BagGuy in the cage, where eventually he just 'reset' back to staring at the safe deposit box.

Nick later went back down to open the box with the master key from Rossini's new office (where Anna and Alice camped out to handle the [Electronic Surveillance that they mysteriously found to be wiped out and static-y long before the party even arrived in Zurich].

Once the box was opened, and found to be empty ((There was HUGE confusion over whether or not the safe deposit box was an actual box, or just the door in a wall or something like a high school locker - this was due to the fact that party was way bigger than I thought and people just were NOT listening to each other)) save for a cross scratched into the sheet metal of the rear wall big a fingernail. A fingernail as it happened, that had to be attached to an arm that was likely 5 or 6 feet long.

Strange things were afoot at the Bank. Upon the discovery of the crucifix, the fire alarms went off, and the party scattered. ((Bad move on my part, I let the group fragment into thirds, and should have kept it linear))

Chip went to the roof to scout an escape plan, assuming that the Op was hosed. He encountered another sniper, and they exchanged a volley of fire.

Amelia went outside with Nick to calm the bank tellers, and Nick ended up getting details on some of the strange goings-on in and around the bank lately [2 point Flirting spend] from Julie, the chain-smoking bank teller. Julie was able to describe one of four "suspicious people", and Amelia went downstairs to confirm that BagGuy was or was not one of them.

While down there, she managed to search the safe deposit box more carefully, and found the "drachetod", the germanic cult how-to guide and pass it off to Anna, who had a strange compulsion NOT to destroy it (As Mace wanted) but rather thought she could make use of it ((This was where the wheels came off - I'd like to run this whole scenario over with a smaller and more organized party)).

Rossini, now driving Rufi's armored car picked up the party, and the book and headed for the airport, ending the adventure as several mortars were lobbed into Zurich's busy city centers.


GM Notes:

1. TOO MANY PLAYERS - I expected 4, I wanted 6, I got 8. The room was large and they were too spread out to be a coherent group.

2. Not enough prep/setup on my part - I absolutely think I dropped the ball several times - Mechanically, this was probably my best run, but storywise it was a nightmare. The party broke into two groups - those around the table, acting more or less as a unit and then the people were on the room's fringes, who I think expected more out of a 2-hour session I had planned.

To cut down on hassles (this version of the story took 1 hour, 51 minutes) I took out the whole second Act, both car chases, both ambushes, and the vampire reveal. I regret it.

3. The favorite spends here were Preparedness, Athletics and Traffic Analysis. I was really happy to see people actually making use of ALL the pools available.

I'm going to arrange my regular group run the same episode on Monday morning, and will compare results.
 

writernextdoor

First Post
((GM Notes are in double parentheses))
[Mechanical notes are in braces]

((The Dreamation adventure was re-run with a smaller group of five agents and was a HUGE success. The key seems to be party size and economy, so my Dreamation observations were accurate))

Having gotten the contents of the safety deposit box, the team (Mace Hunter, Nick Darter, Carter Byers, Anna the Hacker and Rossini) headed to the airport, to make good their escape. Everyone thought this would be a good and quick escape. No one thought twice about checking the airport in advance.

They should have.

The Russian mob, (the guys who also wanted the contents of the newly robbed safe deposit box), were swarming the airport. Thirty guys. Thirty guns, about two hundred hostages. News cameras. The army was getting called in. The airport was a no-go.

The team needed medical attention, so Dr Byers took them to a medical safehouse [2-point Preparedness, 2-point Network spends] and gave everyone care and rest. ((We walked through the effects of [shrink] here, and found it useful to describe what exactly players did with the memories of what they dealt with - this gave everyone a heal and a refresh))

The airport standoff was still...stood off. The mob was making demands and as a result the number of trains being sent into and out of Zurich was restricted.

Nick made some phone calls [3-points of Network, 3-points Cover] and got the team tickets on the first train to Zurich.

Why Zurich? Because The Man left a message for Mace saying that a critical asset (Natalie Endott, the German Minister of Commerce) could possibly be assassinated just after she gives a speech announcing a new plan to convert historical sites into interactive museums. The reward for safely protecting her and getting the speech broadcast? Access to a South African informant that knows something about a missing code-breaking machine.

On the train ((I found it useful to provide them with actual pictures and layouts of train interiors here)), the team got settled, set up crude surveillance and secured the perimeter ((which is code for Nick-sat-by-the-door-with-a-gun).

The team was thorough. The communications between them were secure [Thanks to the Intrusion Cherry] and the car was basically a killbox [thanks to the weapons cherry]. Each team member checked a particular car on the train, and they felt very confident that they should have an easy time getting from Point A to Point B.

However, not all searches are conducted the same way. Alice was tasked with checking the baggage car, and her search 'looked like it was okay'. ((She had a string of rolled 3's without spends)). The long boxes were probably just shipping containers for six-foot-long skis right? Sure. Absolutely.

An hour into the ride, as the team was busy planning for Munich ((the initial plan was to disguise as the asset, and give the speech)), the first problem happened. Power was lost in the middle of the train. People were sent back to their bunks/cars/rooms/whatevers. The train was still moving, they could still reach their destination, just that the food, bar and internet cafe cars were out of service until the electrician could re-route some powerlines.

Carter ran into the electrician on the way to the washroom. He never saw an an electrician with so many tattoos or a silenced pistol in his toolbox [2-point Sense Trouble spend]. He brought this to the team's attention, and they all thought it a good idea to tail the gunner to the electrical conduit box in the baggage car. Alice, due to her previous poor search and a glare from Mace, was left behind to cover the door and try and corral communications as best she could.

The team found the electrician. His arm by the toolbox. A leg dripping against some suitcases. The delightful sound of a chest being cracked open and the blood being slurped out by something leathery, hunched and gaunt.

((The team rolled pretty well here on the Stability check. I think they all spent 1 or 2 and rolled 5s and 6s)).

In close quarters, it's hard to argue with Rossini and a sawed off shotgun. The gun belched smoke and shot, and the creature skittered back, its leg reduced to ribbons. Out a window it fell, a long stretch of blood against the exterior of the car.

Other large boxes were checked, and only one had a passenger. Another gaunt spindly creature, who was staked and beheaded, the head tossed out the window of the train's bathroom.

((more of this to come, I can't read the player notes))
 

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