Spoiler Alert: Although I don’t intend to go into a great deal of depth about the precise plot points and ways in which characters from The 100 and The Walking Dead died recently, there will be some spoilers. So anyone who wants to not have the latest seasons of these shows ruined for them should turn around and go the other way now! Otherwise tune in for a discussion about the ways you should think about presenting and using the deaths of minor characters to further the plot – especially if being dead is really the way to go about things.
A long time ago, when I was starting to get into Night’s Black Agents I had an important question on my mind: Did I mix my peanut butter with my delicious chocolate? Notably, do I start bleeding together the worlds of my Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents games? Trail of Cthulhu is a very deliberate, slow and highly investigative orientated game. Subsequently, GUMSHOE as presented in Trail is more about the discovery of terrible mysteries about the nature of man and the insane world locked behind the curtain of our minds. Night’s Black Agents takes a different approach, with the characters being more like the protagonists of a spy thriller. High tech gadgets, high speed chases and intense combat scenes against villains – human or vampiric – are the order of the day. Investigative skills tend to get toned down, or at least aren’t the inherent focus of the game.
But what if we genuinely combined these two excellent GUMSHOE systems together? My initial thought was making the two worlds I had created coterminous would be entirely logical, until I started doing it. What I quickly found was that there were aspects of my NBA campaigns that, quite frankly, didn’t fit with the slow methodical cosmic horror of Trail of Cthulhu. Most notably is the power disparity between the inherent antagonists of the two games: Vampires are kind of small time when placed against the mythos gods, which is emphasized even more when you start saying “Vampires and the Gods of the mythos are inherently linked”. In effect, making everything the result of mythos magic seemed to diminish vampires as the core antagonists of NBA.
That felt to me like I was losing a lot of what made Night’s Black Agents, by itself, a compelling game and experience. So I decided to separate my universes back into a set “Night’s Black Agents techno spy vampire thriller world” and “Trail of Cthulhu slow horrifying cosmic horror world”. After much thought, I considered if I had perhaps given up too easily and perhaps there was a lot of merit to the idea? One thing that stood out to me at the time, was how much my players were disappointed that I didn’t actually go ahead and do this. Most of my NBA and Trail of Cthulhu players were excited by the idea of having their Cthulhu and Vampire puddings mixed together. Here are some of my ideas that I have come up with on this issue, for your digestion as well.
An unfortunate part of roleplaying games is that they’re inherently reliant upon a single person for them to work: The DM/GM/Keeper/Storyteller (etc). I say this is unfortunate, because while the reactivity and ability to think on the fly of a human GM is their best part, it’s something that can lead to the game falling apart. Most frequently there are multiple reasons for this, with the most common by far being the GM simply burns out and can’t get the motivation to run anymore. Another common reason is the dreaded “Real-Life”, which sometimes rears its ugly head to derail the GM and their plans.
Recently this happened to me. This is the major reason why I haven’t updated the guild with my usual stories of player based shenanigans. When I finally did cull my games for the moment, until I was in a better place and more capable of running them I felt pretty bad. I’ve played with a lot of these people for a long time and it very much felt like letting everyone down. On the other hand, I have had a lot of disruption and changes in life recently, including moving an entire city so change was difficult to adjust to. In the end, I had to make a decision about what to do for myself and my players.
With my writing under control and the blog starting to come back into action, I am going to restart the regular Ask the Guild column on this site! I already have questions in place to begin with, but as always I am happy to have more for the future! So if you have a question here’s where you can get in touch with the guild:
- The about page has an email contact.
- Should you like facebook, there is a facebook page for you to like and leave messages on!
- Tweet short questions to me directly on twitter as well.
- The guild can also be found on tumblr, which is also where I tend to reblog a lot of great art!
Really complicated questions might get elevated into entire features under longer pieces, like Narrative Thoughts or Training Day as well – so don’t fret if I don’t immediately answer!
Hope you all enjoy the return of Ask the Guild!
In this weeks edition of “Ask the Guild”, we’re going to talk about a problem that sometimes occurs: What happens when some of your party flees from a fight and others stay? Should you encourage players to run? What happens when those players who do stay fight an enemy, which ultimately proves to be far too difficult for them and what do you do? This is especially problematic if the monster in question was beyond the DMs expectations or realization in terms of difficulty.
As life has its various twists and turns, it sometimes occurs that the DM of your regular face to face game has to change their circumstances. In my case, I’ve found myself with a fantastic opportunity to pursue my developing writing career further – but it requires me to go to another country to really fulfill it. Naturally this raises an important question: What happens to my current face to face games? As I’ve mentioned before, I currently run a Shadowrun game, two Trail of Cthulhu games (one will be changing to Star Wars soon) and a Night’s Black Agents game. Most of these are biweekly or take over my “Roleplay Sunday” when it occurs, but that isn’t going to be possible to do face to face when I’m in another country.
So what approaches are there for a GM on the move?
Image of some Delta Green agents from the upcoming kickstarter.
Another kickstarter caught my eye recently, which is being run by Arc Dream Publishing who currently have the rights to the absolutely fantastic Delta Green. Aside from producing a new iteration of that book, which I almost certainly will be backing whenever I get the chance, they have also decided to work with Pelgrane Press and produce a GUMSHOE system version called “The Fall of Delta Green”. This addition is being written by Kenneth Hite (who originally wrote Trail of Cthulhu) and so immediately caught my eye and excitement.
Masks of the Dreamer: Recovery of U-571 Part 3This excellent piece of concept art comes from a very exciting and now released horror video game, called Soma. It’s also very good and I recommend anyone interested in horror and science fiction play it!
The finale of this investigation has a few bits that feel forced or disjointed, mostly because of my previously discussed error. The error being that I didn’t give the investigators much of an incentive to communicate with the discovery channel crew. As a result a certain “plot” twist here is going to feel like it comes out of absolutely nowhere. On the other hand, this finale to the investigation worked out really well on several levels and developed with some interesting tension between certain PCs. This tension though was quite palpable and almost a bit too much, so I needed to keep everyone a bit after the game to talk about the “Traitor” mechanic present in the game.
Even though the landing of some of the events in this wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, it still worked well enough and conveyed some worrying secrets to the players – without giving the full story away (just yet, we’re almost at the end of this campaign).
In this weeks “Ask the Guild” I am going to cover a couple of related topics, revolving a little bit around conflict at the table and how to handle things. The first is how to deal with someone distracting the other players and you from the game by being repeatedly disruptive. Then I’m going to talk about how you, as the DM, handle another person not in your game coming and interfering in a similar manner. The first conflict is one that can happen with many groups, but the second is usually a spectator or bystander effect – especially if you’re playing in a public space. In the end, both are ultimately up to you as the DM to resolve and here are my recommendations.
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!