Investigation, action and vampires. What more can a game need? We’re here today to talk about a really great RPG called Night’s Black Agents. This game was put out by Pelgrane Press and uses its d6 based GUMSHOE system, also used in their Lovecraftian game, Trail of Cthulu. Quite often in the rule book for this game, the author, Kenneth Hite, refrences some action movies that this was inspired by, including the Bourne Trilogy. This alone made me extremely excited to play this game, and unsurprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed. It takes place during an interesting time period that we don’t see too often, post Cold War and post War on Terror (for the most part). Sticking it in a very modern setting makes the game even more intriguing, vampires and the supernatural aside. The fact that the game beyond that is about a vast conspiracy of vampires behind the scenes, with each species being vastly different depending on region, really hammers it home. Just to get this off my chest now, I’ve actually never run this game, only played as a player. Seeing how I recently purchased the rule book, this will change in the near future.
Maybe it’s just Pelgrane’s overall style, but this RPG does a fantastic job at making your character feel like a total badass. The basic premise of the game is that you pretty much always succeed in regards to investigation, and simply spend a point from a pool belonging to a skill relevant to the clue’s type to get some sort of bonus information. The only time you actually roll dice to see how successful you are in regards to something is an action, called a Test. The idea is that you shouldn’t possibly fail unless there’s some serious consequence if you do. Test rolls can include things like driving a getaway car, jumping a fence while being chased, shooting a target etc. In other words, things we’re very used to rolling for in most other RPG’s. Your character? A former agent in some sort of government organization (MI-5, the CIA, the IRA etc.) that you are able to choose yourself (of course) that has either gotten out of the business due to being burned out or simply was sick of the structure and wanted to handle things their own way. And what would an RPG be if you didn’t have an arsenal of skills to utilize? This game is obviously no different. The difference does lie, however, in the way they’re used. You have a couple classes of abilities: Background, Investigative Abilities, General Abilities and your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). Backgrounds are what your agent did in their “old life” or in their respective organization, Investigative Abilities are the ones that always succeed, General Abilities are used in Test rolls, and your MOS is one of your General Abilities (Shooting, Driving, Athletics etc.) that you designate as such and can invoke once per session to automatically succeed at that task using the ability.
Story-wise, this game takes a rather popular trope of the vampire conspiracy and turns it into something that I feel is actually very unique. Super spies coupled with vampire overlords just really makes me excited. When I first played this game, Kevin Kulp ran it for my Tuesday group and we weren’t told about the vampire aspect. We were told it was simply a spy action-thriller. So at the end, when it was revealed that the Russian crime lord we were chasing was a vampire, we were all just taken off our feet. It was glorious. In general though, you almost have to be a political genius to run this game well, I feel. Unless, of course, you’re running the adventure in the back of the book. Thanks, Pelgrane, I love that you guys do that. There’s just a lot of the factual world that has to be translated to the game, depending on what scenario you’re cooking up, and form there you have to create this ever twisting and weaving story to keep your agents on their toes.
What really makes this a little less daunting, however, is that the chapter called The Addenda , in the back of the book has some tools to make this easier. the most interesting that I saw were the Vampiramid and the Conspyramid. they’re basically pyramid charts to help you keep your vampire and conspiracy hierarchy straight, simply genius. The Thriller Skeleton Worksheet is also brilliant. It helps you write down and built a basic outline for your story including the premise and goals, locations and targets/opposition. The layout is simple and elegant, making it really easy to read once you get writing.
Seeing how this is only half of a review, considering I haven’t run this game yet, keep an eye out for the follow up once I’ve run a session or two! maybe some perspectives will change/improve.
Stay Metal! \m/