Follow TV Tropes


Tabletop Game / Night's Black Agents

Go To
Night's Black Agents is a vampire spy thriller Tabletop RPG written by Kenneth Hite and published by Pelgrane Press in 2012, using the GUMSHOE system.

Night's Black Agents' default setting is a world of horror and shadows, with flashes of action. In this game, the player characters are secret agents who discover that vampires are real, in control of the world, and want to kill them for knowing they exist. They spend the remainder of the campaign using secret agent skills to destroy the vampire conspiracy. Central to the game is the idea that the characters are hyper-competent operatives, with the talents and resources to pull off their mission. High-tech gadgets, high-speed chases and intense combat scenes against villains both human or vampiric are the order of the day.

The Director (as the game calls the GM) customises the vampires and their conspiracy as they wish, with four base origins involved: supernatural (mystical but not necessarily evil origin), damned (explicitly demonic origin), mutant (human subspecies), or alien (inhuman species). From there, the game offers various powers, regenerative techniques, feeding methods and propagation methods, all with suggestions on which is best suited for which origin. The players have to discover these details within each unique campaign without any knowledge carried over from previous campaigns.

Directors can alter their modes of play to suit their individual visions. They are divided into Dust (gritty techno-thriller), Mirrors (paranoid bluffing, double-crosses and manipulation), Burn (pushing the characters to their mental limits) and Stakes (monster-hunting action-adventure). The core rulebook also offers three possible variants of the core setting suitable for straight spy stories, cosmic horror or psionic action.

Note: The Dracula Dossier, an improvisational campaign for Night's Black Agents, has its own page.

This game contains examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: A bane is something that can kill a vampire. Most banes come from vampire folklore; some come from fiction and film. Almost any bane can be justified as particularly toxic to an alien life form or mutated human.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Real conspiracies fall apart or divert themselves as their leadership dies off; vampire conspiracies don't have that problem. Conspiracies deriving from Hell or time-insensitive aliens can last a very long time, plotting for inhuman and unguessable reasons. A vampire conspiracy is most likely at least as old as its oldest vampire.
  • Artificial Human: Vampires with the Bloodworking power can make homunculi out of blood. The result is a miniature human, usually between 9 and 30 cm tall, with an appetite for human blood and the knowledge of alchemy literally baked into its brain.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: The game depicts mental illness and psychological damage as that used in spy thrillers and vampire fiction. It follows the conventions of those genres, not those of real-world psychiatric medicine.
  • Astral Projection: The Romani murony is a vampire who astrally projects himself out of his grave or out of his house to drain the life from his neighbours. A similar outbreak of spectral vampirism plagued rural Rhode Island in the 19th century. The obayifo of Ghana and the asema of Suriname hunt in the same fashion after removing their skins, but are always living vampires.
  • Badass Boast: Represented by the Technothriller Monologue option. Once per fight, a player with a Shooting rating of 8 or more can gain a 3-point refresh in that ability by uttering a brief narrative description of his or her actions redolent with Clancy-esque detail:
    I sit at the bunker, waiting, scope trained on the doorway, my M4A1 kitted out with all the custom blessings the SOPMOD can bestow.
  • Bat Out of Hell:
    • The human-sized Zapotec and Mayan camazotz resembles a large, powerful man with the head and wings of a bat and delights in beheading its victims and drinking from the spurting neck.
    • A combination of selective breeding, experimental steroids and PCP-laced nectar can produce a flapping hissing fanged megabat that can fly around a vampire's castle or corporate skyscraper.
  • Beat It by Compulsion: A compulsion is something a vampire feels a powerful urge to do, but is not strictly necessary for its continued existence. This might be a side effect of vampiric magic, or OCD caused by a vampire virus.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: After the 1989 revolution, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena were buried in unmarked graves. These graves, after having been identified, now sport crosses, roses and candles burning around the clock — socialist sentimentality, or anti-vampire vigil?
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The ruby wasp, fed vampire blood, is gigantic, bigger than the Asian giant hornet or tarantula hawk wasp. Large specimens can be up to eight centimetres long.
  • Black Magic: Damned vampires have the magics of Hell at their command: not just communion with demons, but other dire ritual sorceries.
  • Blinded by the Light: The flashbang explodes with a brilliant blinding flash and a deafening bang. Vampires may be immune to flashbangs, like any other change in atmospheric pressure.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: With the Mook Shield combat rule, the player character can drag a convenient mook, henchman or minion into the path of incoming gunfire.
  • Casting a Shadow: Demonic vampires summon all-concealing shadows and lurk within them. By convention, artificial lights cannot pierce these shadows (but sunlight can), but the Director is, of course, free to change this.
  • Casts No Shadow: Vampires may cast no shadow, if they can go about in sunlight.
  • Chupacabra: The sigbin, a creature from Filipino that resembles a cross between a dog or fox and a kangaroo and crawls out of its lair at night to feast on blood, may be the root of the chupacabra myth.
  • Cool vs. Awesome: By design, James Bond (or Jason Bourne)-style super-spies vs. a vampiric conspiracy.
  • Composite Character: Vampires, by and large, can do a lot of weird stuff. Historically, this is because Enlightenment-era scholars accreted all manner of specific pieces of local folklore into a generic description of vampires, a tradition gleefully followed by horror ever since, and potentially, by this game. Your vampires might be able to do all, some or none of these things, depending on your sense of horror, the game's challenge level, or a desire to feed (or frustrate) player familiarity.
  • Crossover: In the Dunwich Sanction variant, the secret enemy is not vampires, but ancient, alien forces inimical to man, and the cults that serve them. It combines characters built following the rules of Night's Black Agents with the Sanity rules and certain abilities from Trail of Cthulhu. Vampires may still exist, as independent supernatural actors or as servitors of Mythos entities.
  • Daywalking Vampire: Folkloric vampires attacked at night because that is when evil spirits were up and around, not because they had any particular aversion to the sun. A list of possible sunlight effects range from doing nothing to disabling the vampire's powers to outright killing them.
  • Demonic Vampires: Damned vampires are the work of demonic entities like Satan. They may be demons who possess corpses, revenant suicides or heretics, or humans who made a pact with the Devil before death.
  • Dhampyr: In Romani lore, the word dhampir refers to the half-breed offspring of a vampire and a human. Other Balkan cultures use other terms, such as the Serbian vampirović or the Bulgarian vampirdzhiya. In both Romani folklore and popular culture, a dhampir often acts as a vampire-slayer, using his special powers to protect normal humanity. In Night's Black Agents, the dhampir likely appears as a more powerful sort of Renfield: a vampiric vassal capable of moving about and using a wide range of vampire powers in the sunlight.
  • Dirty Cop: Criminal conspiracies, even supernatural ones, need some sort of shield from the scrutiny of society and law enforcement. Thus, the vampire conspiracy almost always co-opts at least one high police officer in any city where it regularly operates. Even if one local office is strangely incorruptible, there will be others to look the other way and cover up the mysterious exsanguinations.
  • Dream Weaver: The ability to enter, influence or read dreams appears in many vampire legends around the world. Folkloric vampires often seem able to eerily calm their victims, or to impel them to suicide.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Alien vampires likely exist on some level neither alive nor dead: a biochemistry suited to deep space, a sensorium evolved for fifth-dimensional perceptions, feeding habits that leave psychic wounds or weirdly altered blood chemistry in their wake. Humans can barely comprehend their lives without biotechnological brain surgery or psychic contact.
  • Emotion Eater: Psychic vampires are the most likely to feed on emotion or neural electricity; drinking blood may be a particularly delectable repast or a good way to weaken resistance.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Psionic vampires may convince witnesses that they see (and usually, smell and hear) nothing. This creates a vampire that can only be seen by cameras or mechanical detection systems. Sometimes this works on dogs; sometimes animals are immune to psionic suasion.
  • Fast Tunnelling: Many Balkan vampires can dig themselves out of their graves or into another one with unnatural speed and stealth. A wormlike alien vampire might be able to tunnel through the soil as easily as it oozes along the ground.
  • Feathered Fiend: Striges are child-eating, vampiric monsters who can turn into ravens, owls, crows or blackbirds.
  • Forensic Accounting: Nobody works for vampires for their health, and somebody has to pay for all the robes and chalices. Even if vampires don't cast shadows, their money does. The PCs are advised to hit obvious sources of income like rich scumbags, casinos or drug rings, and comb financial records to find suspiciously well-off civil servants; find out who actually bought that medieval icon or Etruscan tomb amulet.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Ape-men might be the literal results of Ilya Ivanov's genuine attempts in the 1920s to create humanzees using artificial insemination to combine ape sperm and human eggs into a hybrid embryo that could be carried to term by a human mother.
  • Healing Factor: Even when you can do damage to a vampire, its unnatural flesh heals and regenerates. A powerful vampire can even regenerate from its own ashes, if exposed to enough blood. Damage from some sources (usually banes) does not regenerate, or only regenerates at normal human healing speed.
  • Holy Burns Evil: If it works at all, holy water only does damage on the first hit. Its damage is caused by holiness, not volume. After that, the spiritual wound is cauterised and the vampire loses no more Health, although he may scream blasphemies and smoulder. Holy water is freely available from the font of any Catholic or Orthodox church, and an agent ordained as a priest can consecrate water with a few seconds of prayer.
  • Human Traffickers: A vampire conspiracy that taps into underground human cargo and labour flows has plenty of necks to drink from. Sex workers and other slaves are easier to drink and drain; illegal workers are generally in better health with fewer drug problems. Human trafficking is also a good funding source, assuming the vampires don't drink all the profits.
  • Human Disguise: Horrific alien vampires often project powerful psionic illusions to disguise themselves as humans.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Fetches cannot kill themselves without the permission of their vampiric creator, but they tend to cling to their pathetic parodies of lives with surprising tenacity anyway.
  • Invisible Monsters:
    • A myling can only be seen by its designated victim. To everyone else, the myling is invisible and intangible.
    • Preta can only be seen by children, dogs, and those on the brink of mental breakdown or under the effects of certain chemicals.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Fexts can only be killed by glass weapons.
  • Life Drain: By default, a vampire can drain Health from a victim and add it to his own Health pool.
  • Losing Your Head: At night, a penanggalan detaches her head from her body, dragging her internal organs behind her.
  • The Mafiya: The main antagonists of The Zalozhniy Quartet are the Lisky Bratva. Josef Lisky is an old-school vor who adapted to the modern post-Soviet world by making his bratva part of the Conspiracy.
  • Missing Reflection: Vampires might cast no image in mirrors, windows or other reflective surfaces. In the Internet age, their names or biometric data might simply disappear from digital records: only ink and paper can record their existence.
  • Mouth of Sauron: Worshippers placate a bhuta at a shrine or temple called a bhutastan or bhandara; it may possess a priestess and speak through her there.
  • Mutants: Mutant vampires are earthly beings infected or changed by (or into) some freak of nature.
  • Natural Weapon: Most vampires at least have extended canines; many also have true fangs, talons or other body parts that can be used as weapons.
  • Not of This Earth: In one chapter of The Zalozhniy Quartet, the Conspiracy gets a noted heart specialist to do what they want by handing him a vial of vampiric blood and telling him to analyze it. The specialist has a scientific freak-out at the results.
  • Omniglot: The language rules in Night's Black Agents offer more languages per slot than standard GUMSHOE rules for the Languages ability: Languages 2 gives the PC five languages, and at Languages 4, they can speak and read thirteen other languages. The reason is because the spy thriller genre embraces cosmopolitan settings and globetrotting transitions.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The adzeh of Ewe lore is a kind of insect-demon, drinking the life from men, beasts, and crops indiscriminately. It might be the true source of vampirism, or an organism created or summoned by a master vampire to provide vampiric power to (or command and control of) human servants.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: Gargoyles are living statues, stone golems, or the result of bizarre alchemy or biological engineering that turns humans into stony horrors. They are extensions of the vampire's will, animated and controlled by the vampire's unholy power.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Technically, a ghoul is anyone who eats corpses, although the word comes from an Arab desert demon, the ghul, which ate human flesh and drank blood. Later Persian and Western fiction combined the undead with corpse-eating wild dogs into canine, pack-travelling cemetery monsters. In Night's Black Agents, ghouls typically act as muscle for a vampire, or as guard dogs for an underground location. They needn't be canine; ghouls might be flesh-eating beetles, fish or alien constructs.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: In Night's Black Agents, the vampires and their conspiracy are modular, customisable. Vampires are the result of supernatural activities on Earth. Vampires are the work of demonic entities opposed to mankind and God. Vampires are alien beings who follow different laws of physics. Vampires are earthly beings infected or changed by (or into) some freak of nature. In one Director's world, they might fear garlic and crosses — in another Director's campaign, they might be spider-like aliens who move through hyperspace.
  • Our Wights Are Different: The Old Norse word vorthr means warder or guardian and applies to an animated corpse guarding a barrow, not unlike Tolkien's barrow-wights. In Night's Black Agents, a vorthr is a very powerful undead creature assigned to guard something of supreme importance to a vampire lord. In your campaign a vorthr might be a mummy, golem, robot, or any other mighty guardian.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The zombie is a reanimated corpse, usually with no additional vampiric powers. Vampires send them into battle or keep them handy as guards. Traditional Haitian zombies can be laid to rest with salt; and George A. Romero added the infectious bite to zombie lore.
  • Pest Controller: An adzeh may be found as one insect commanding a swarm of blood-drinking flies or mosquitoes.
  • Plague Master: Many vampires of Balkan folklore spread diseases like tuberculosis or plague by their breath or touch.
  • Poisonous Person: Some vampires, especially the serpentine lamia of the Romantic imagination, inject venom with their bite.
  • Psychic Powers: In the Special Assets variant, the agents have access to magic or psionics or some other paranormal ability, as in Brian Lumley's Necroscope. In most games, however, only the vampires will have mental attacks, all of which will affect the agents' minds.
  • The Renfield: In Night's Black Agents, any human servant of the vampires is a Renfield, and is also likely to be a dangerous killer. These assets are promised 'life', and usually have some vampire blood in their veins to seal the bargain and grant them some supernatural power. Ideally, players will wonder if the Renfield is actually a Renfield, or just a really dangerous human.
  • Resurrective Immortality: As any cursory examination of Balkan legendry or Hammer films indicates, vampires can come back from death. A dead vampire rises again if exposed to some stimulus: black magic, moonlight, radiation, or (especially) enough blood. To stop such resurrection, would-be slayers must take specific precautions.
  • Rubber Man: The Romani dhampir has no bones, making him extremely flexible: he can fit through any space a large snake can fit through.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: Horror convention maintains that vampires keep their clothing in a transformation. If you decide that transformed vampires leave clothing behind, expect the agents to run rigorous forensic tests on it, empty any wallets, and otherwise exploit this opportunity.
  • Spy Fiction: Night's Black Agents is a vampire spy thriller. Player characters agents worthy of spy films: tough, resourceful, clever, deadly — in a word, badass. Then the Director sends the vampires, and their own agents, and their pawns and tools and ghouls and monsters, to kill them. The goal — both players' and the Director's — is action, and horror, and the special thrills that only spy stories can deliver.
  • Stronger with Age: In some cases, older vampires have fewer weaknesses than new-fledged ones, or the effects of banes and such are lessened.
  • Summon Magic: Vampires can summon assistance from dark powers, or from the creatures of the night. Vampires automatically command the obedience of any summoned aid except demons, who can get shirty.
  • The Symbiote: An adzeh can be found as a brain bug inside the ear, eye, mouth or brain of a controlled human or corpse, where it gives its human host various traits and powers.
  • Truth Serums: Some intelligence agencies use some specific barbiturate cocktails, including scopolamine and sodium thiopental, to assist interrogation. These drugs induce a general sense of well-being, lowered inhibitions, and (under proper guidance by an interrogator) a tendency to rattle off anything and everything on their mind, truthful or not. In spy thrillers, truth serum works much more dependably; after an injection of 'sodium pentothal', the interrogator can pry reliable answers forcibly out of a writhing victim. If the agents want truth drugs, they need to steal them from an agency medical facility or source them with Network. Using truth serum speeds up the Interrogation ability, assuming someone present has the Shrink ability as well.
  • Undead Child: A myling is the ghost of an unbaptised, unburied child.
  • Vampiric Draining: Most vampires feed on blood, but others feed on spinal fluid, breath, sex, emotions, memories, youth, feces, food or psychic power. Of all these, blood just plain works best thanks to centuries of fiction and millennia of symbolic weight.
  • The Virus: Vampires can infect the living, turning them into vampires as well.
  • Wanted Meter:
    • Running all over Europe shooting vampires attracts attention from governments, police agencies and other unsympathetic official observers. This attention and the concomitant investigations and pursuits are represented with the abstract value of Heat. The more Heat you have on you, the more likely the long arm of the law is to take a gratuitous swipe at you.
    • The Shadow score in Solo Ops measures the degree to which the supernatural threat is aware of you. A low Shadow score means the vampires don't know you're in their city, or can't pin down your location. A high Shadow score means they know about you, they can smell your blood, and can strike at you with supernatural attacks. Think of Shadow as Vampire Heat.
  • Was Once a Man: Many vampires (except alien vampires) were once human, before they rose from the dead, signed a pact with Satan, were bitten, were infected, or what have you. To what extent are they still human? Do they retain their human memories and desires? Human loyalties and hatreds? Can they pass as human, or do they depend on magic, psionics, or heavy coats and hoodies to move around the city?
  • Wooden Stake: Stabbing a vampire with a sharpened piece of wood might be instantly fatal, or be the only thing that can finish a vampire off for good. Stakes may have to be made of some specific wood (ash, hawthorn, oak, etc).
  • Would Hurt a Child: The lamia hates children and pregnant women and enjoys killing and draining them.