Hangman: Operation Awakened Dragon Part 2
Every now and again as a director, you just don’t have an effective day at the office and unfortunately this particular session was one of those times. Although I did manage to get the story to the point where I wanted it, this prologue didn’t run as effectively as I wanted – mostly because Night’s Black Agents as a system does not demand slow investigation like Trail of Cthulhu. As a result of trying to slow up the pace, introduce new characters within this operation and extend out the “investigative” parts of the game, I think I fumbled much of the set up/story. In reality, the events in Moscow should have concluded with the Dragon being thrown off the car and the agent’s escaping the city. That is where I should have moved onto the next operation “Bloodied Skies”, but because I wanted to have every character introduced before this point I chose instead to extend out this operation beyond its narrative capacity.
This Operation started extremely strongly and I feel hit the right notes, but that’s because I worked with the pace Night’s Black Agents goes for. Night’s Black Agents is a game of figuring out where the bad guys have their listening post with some investigation skills, then going and kicking down the door to get further answers. Dragging the players around to different places, instead of being more liberal with information to keep the pacing high definitely didn’t work well. So bear this in mind while going through this play report!
Where we Left Off Last Time: A Car vs. Foot Chase?
Resuming from the previous session was actually a little difficult, because a couple of months had passed since I last ran the game and I needed to refresh the players as to what had happened. Most importantly, it required me to explain that yes, they did have an extremely angry terrorist organization chasing them down in their car. On foot. The resulting thriller chase was actually quite interesting, because despite the agents best attempts to slow down the Dragon, he was actually able to catch up to them! In reality I thought this was pretty dramatically appropriate and led to a great moment, where the Dragon was on top of the car trying to punch through the roof to get at the agents! A great burst of inspiration from Natalie driving the car caused her to roll the vehicle with a stunt, throwing off the Dragon but damaging the agents and barely getting the vehicle out in an operational state.
Unfortunately, this also ensured that the agents lost two of the vials as they were destroyed when the car rolled over. Some experimentation and fiddling with one of the vials meant that the agents learned they had amazing healing properties. Natalie regained 2 health points as soon as she tasted some of the red substance, but had to make a stability check to avoid becoming hopelessly addicted to it! Additionally, it gave a bit of a flash of something else, which might be significant a bit later on or not (depending on my particular mood at the time). Naturally once you give players something that might be “super soldier serum” of unknown origin, the first thing you do is inject yourself with it. Right?
Well thankfully Daina and Elise were there to mention that was probably not a good idea. So injecting themselves with it was out of the question, even if from a narrative point of view it would have been really interesting to see her do so. At this point, the ideal ending to the operation was for them to discover that Vlad – their crazed Russian supernatural conspiracy theorist contact – was gone with all of his evidence, then leave Moscow in a hurry. Unfortunately here I made the decision to introduce the two player’s agents who weren’t able to make the first session:
Dr. Daniel Jackson – Undercover for US DOD/CIA as Archaeologist
Jack Bauer Jnr – Former North Korean Security Official Hiding out in Moscow
Here I decided to delay out the action until both players arrived, where I would then conclude the actual operation with everyone taking part. In reality this wasn’t a good idea, because the rest of this operation involved stretching out a plot that was – in every way – satisfactorily concluded with the way the chase resolved earlier. At this point I had a very slow kind of game, which mostly involved having the players bounce around between finding Dr. Jackson to ask about the prophecy and dealing with attacks from the Dragons jobbers. Of course this was somewhat frustrating for the players, because the character with forensics/science skills hadn’t arrived yet (Jack Bauer Jnr), which meant they couldn’t get an answer about the “red substance” they had.
If there was one positive to come out of this rather slow bouncing around from place to place, it was the natural title of Dr. Jackson’s lecture at Moscow University: “Ancient Egypt and Shit”. This was somewhat crude humor and also somewhat rather relevant, because you can learn some interesting things from the poop of ancient people*. Dr. Jackson was needed to translate their “Prophecy” they discovered from asking Vlad and that was contained with the vials of red substance in the case. It turns out it’s something like this: “When the blood of the ancients flows freely into the mouths of the worthy, there shall be an eternal night and the new kings shall ascend to rule this world”. Apparently this event requires a Blood Moon and some unknown substance imbued by a group of cultists or fanatics. It’s rather unsettling occult nonsense, but given what the agents have already seen they couldn’t dismiss the supernatural so easily….
In any event by this point my last player had arrived, where I set about introducing them in a semi-convoluted way. Jack Bauer was known to one of the players contacts, who informed them that he could analyse the red liquid for them. Here I gave a few hints as to the nature of their enemy, with Jack discovering the substance could “infect” blood – but only to an extent. Here I was trying to convey mechanically and from a story point of view that blood, which has left the human body, is not able to be “converted” by the red substance shortly after it ceases being “fresh”. While this was important information and made the scene worthwhile, in reality, the more I’ve thought about it since the session finished, the more I should have introduced both characters in the second “future” operation.
Especially because for the finale of the session, after successfully sneaking into Moscow University to steal the rest of the prophecy mentioned above, we ended on… another car chase. While there was something very fun about beginning and ending with a car chase, I felt that this was symptomatic of stretching out the plot of this operation too far. Ironically, this car chase ended with several of the jobbers getting shot with rocksalt (an oddly effective weapon against them) and then crashing into the side of the barn, as the jobbers couldn’t keep up and the agents finally escaped. This was a satisfying conclusion, but the pace of this operation had been slow and I’d mostly run around certain plot points – stretching things out like with the prophecy – to cover the whole session.
In any event, the agents knew they had an enemy in The Dragon and a starting point, which was his people smuggling and trafficking operations in the ancient capital of Rome. The next steps were to gather some allies, get rid of the heat from being burned/discovered by authorities and start fighting the supernatural conspiracy: One monster at a time.
*I promise regular readers we aren’t on some kind of poop binge right now.