Lisa Padol was the worthy winner of the $1000 Night’s Black Agents Tournament at DEXCON. Here is her run-through of the event, published first here.
First Round: The Italians
- GM: Kenneth Hite
- Agent Mario: Keith Stetson
- Agent Luigi: Rebecca Baudrino
- Agent Vespucci: Me
- Agent Carvaggio: Timothy Sullivan
- Agent Da Vinci: Mike
So, there we were, flying an American helicopter to a hospital. There were reasons for this, but I was a little fuzzy on exactly what those were.
It as Saturday at DexCon, and, as happens at a lot of gaming conventions, a certain lack of sleep was causing me consciousness issues. I’d done what I’d thought was ample resting up on Wednesday and Thursday, then gamed from 8 pm until 4 am on Thursday, from 9 am until 1 pm on Friday, rested until about 6 pm on Saturday, and gamed from 8 pm until midnight, crashing out at a more reasonable 1 or 2 am, and waking up at 8 am for a 9am game. I did what dozing I could as we waited to be divided into teams for the NBA tournament, but when we sat down at the table, consciousness and I weren’t as close as I’d have liked. So, the first thing I remember was that we were flying a helicopter to a hospital.
I pieced together that we were trying to find a Dr. Shannon Rose Tyler, a renowned hematologist, and that we had reason to believe there were some kind of terrorists at the hospital where she worked. At least one person on the team wanted to call ahead to let the hospital know we were coming, though, so I’m not sure what we thought we knew about the situation.
My notes say that we had encrypted radios. We did not, however, have entirely complete characters. This was true across the board, for all teams. I found this out by accident, noting that my character had no skill whatsoever with firearms. Well, this in itself wasn’t unreasonable; Vespucci was an infiltration specialist. But, Vespucci also didn’t have Sense Trouble or Notice or several other skills one would expect the agent to have. Ken looked at everyone’s character sheets, then checked the other groups and consulted with the GMs. The upshot was that all of us were given a pool of 30 general skill points to use when and as we liked, and Ken said that I might just have saved all of the characters on all of the teams from an untimely death, even by the standards of NBA.
Meanwhile, when the copter reached the hospital, there were vehicles parked in front of the hospital, and when the copter landed, armed men came running out from the building. They seemed to be calling for surrender rather than immediately opening fire, but once one or two agents decided to meet fire with fire (Agent Da Vinci, I’m looking at you), any negotiations were put on hold. And, I think grenades and maybe something bigger got used.
When the dust settled, we had a couple of prisoners, at least one of whom surrendered, and then immediately died. It was as if something had cut his throat from the inside. Specifically, it was as if a thorn had grown inside his throat and chosen that particular moment to cut its way out as destructively as possible.
Unfortunately, the guy with the RPG managed to run away. Da Vinci decided to deal with him and with any backup he might have by blowing up the hospital.
Me: Are you insane?
Da Vinci blew up the hospital solely to kill the guy with the RPG who ran away, and any backup. *Then* poking around in the rubble uncovered the Chuvash Renfield.
Vespucci stayed back with the pilot, I think, while this was going on. The others started going through the rubble, cautiously. Something grabbed Carvaggio. This turned out to be a hand belonging to someone buried under the rubble, someone who should have been dead. There may have been more than one — I’m not quite sure. But, as I understand it, the hospital was pretty much a trap. So, while by all rational standards, blowing it up as Da Vinci had was utterly insane, but it seemed also to have been exactly the correct thing to do.
The Italians and their sole surviving prisoner went to one of Agent Da Vinci’s contacts, whose name I completely failed to record. I remember that Mike was relieved that he hadn’t picked the Russian contact, since the terrorists, while mostly Chuvash, had at least one Russian with them, I think.
Ah: The notes of one of my teammates say that we got a Moldovan passport from his body, as well as an iPhone. The latter showed that he had called the Chuvash Republic in Russia and called Angelli Smertev (who might have been Da Vinci’s Russian contact).
Regardless, the helicopter landed where Da Vinci’s friend, Omar, ruled as the Tuareg chieftain. The Tuareg were Moslems, and they were delighted to have received Da Vinci’s gift of the helicopter, and, as it was a copter the Italians had, er, borrowed from the Americans, the group was willing to trade it in for a land vehicle, medical attention, and a chance to catch its breath. Carvaggio arranged to get a silver dagger.
Vespucci removed the thorn from the prisoner’s throat via traechotomy, and he was a) relieved that it was gone and wouldn’t kill him and b) willing to answer questions, although these were kept to yes / no questions as talking was difficult for him just now.
Between that and information from Da Vinci’s friend and information that the group had received while I was dozing, we realized:
- There was some kind of deity referred to as Our Lord of the Thorns
- There was a payment of two million euros from Our Lord of the Thorns for kidnapping Dr. Tyler and bombing her hospital
- The thorns found in the terrorists’ throats grew in the Ural mountains in Chuvash
- The Chuvash are predisposed to an overproduction of hemoglobin, the opposite of anemia, arithositosis
- There just happened to be an old, pre-Roman temple in Haggas, which was fairly near by.
The Italians took a vehicle over to the temple, parking discreetly far away and looking down on the area. The key question was what kind and how much night vision equipment the group had. After some thought, we decided that the five Italians had between them one set of binoculars and two sets of goggles. All of these worked by picking up body heat.
This meant that the two Italians without the night vision equipment saw the three people down there, while the three with it were convinced all was clear. They were quickly disabused of this notion. Da Vinci and Caravaggio were already thinking “Vampires!” Vespucci was thinking “Technical glitch in the equipment”. But, while half the team thought the other half was going loopy, they all agreed that the enemy had to be dispatched.
Mario’s player used the Preparedness skill, aka “Didn’t I mention I had already taken this into account?” And, he rolled amazingly well, so he had packed five thermobaric rifle grenades. The Italians used at least one of these to blow up one of the two enemy vehicles in the area, hoping to kill at least two of the enemy. They killed one, and wounded another. The other two were dispatched, one of whom crawled down the wall of the temple. I’m not quite sure how we managed that without everyone dying, but we did. The silver knife helped, and at this point, even the skeptics were provisionally accepting something akin to vampires as a hypothesis, if I remember correctly.
However, Da Vinci was killed after getting a bit too far from the others (and blowing a Sense Trouble roll), and Mario was mauled and shot during the fight. It is sobering to realize that the Italians had not even fought true vampires at this point, something I had not realized until Ken Hite looked over the first draft of my write up.
Me: The things we killed at the temple were Renfields, not Vampires?
Ken: And yeah, they were Renfields. Tough, tough Renfields.
At that point, the team considered a tactical withdrawal, but Ken noted on the meta level that doing so would end the scenario. And, we found a justification for pressing on: We’d dealt with the guards out front. Sure, we’d announced our presence. Loudly. But, right now, there might be some confusion, whereas if we left to regroup, the opposition would have time to do likewise.
There was a trip wire in the hallway leading into the temple, but that was spotted in time, as was the land mine buried in the dirt on the other side of the trip wire, right where anyone stepping over it was likely to put his feet. The team cut the wire and deactivated the mine. Then, getting clever, the Italians put it behind the wheel of the surviving enemy vehicle and reset it.
Pressing on, they got the the temple, which contained _lots_ of ammunition and a statue of Dionysus wrapped in thorns. It was at this point that we hit another slight wobble with the character sheets.
So, Trail of Cthulhu, as you probably already know if you’re reading this, uses the Gumshoe engine which works on the principle that bringing the plot to a crashing halt because someone blew a Spot Clue roll is Not Good. So, if a character has the relevant Investigative Skill to find a clue, the character will automatically find the clue.
The characters had been created in advance, and should have had the necessary skills between them, but Architecture had been left out. And the 30 points we were given were only for General skills. But, as three of the PCs had Art History, Ken told us to have one person move the skill points from Art History to Architecture, as otherwise, we’d miss the clue that the last piece of Plot was in a secret room underneath the temple, like, oh, right underneath the statue.
We considered using the Blow Things Up plan which had worked so well earlier, but Ken pointed out that this would bury whatever was below the statue, which we knew might well include the doctor we were trying to rescue. So, the Italians held off on that and tried to figure out how to move the statue.
This involved some tricky maneuvering and more of the live thorns. I think someone may have gotten hit by one of the thorns, but I don’t recall. I do know that the temperature started off cold and kept plumetting, leaching away Health points bit by bit. Agent Da Vinci was dead, and Agent Mario was already dying. (As one runs out of skill points, the party could no longer do any kind of patch up first aid that would restore lost Health.) Stairs were revealed below the base of the statue, as expected. Agent Caravaggio decided to blow the statue’s head off, Just In Case.
Now, had it been an ordinary statue, of ordinary stone or marble, that would have worked. As it was, a chunk of the throat was knocked off, and black ichor dribbled sprayed onto Agent Carvaggio’s face, doing fairly nasty things to him. Then, one of the statue’s arms not only moved, but grew in length and its hand grabbed Agent Luigi by the throat. I think Agent Mario was still fighting. Agent Vespucci walked down the stairs.
Below the temple were two large sarcophogi. The ichor from the statue was dripping on them. Also in the area were the missing doctor (unconscious), a laptop, and Rosetta Stone translation software. Agent Vespucci picked up the laptop in one hand, and struggled to bring the doctor up the stairs, thus having no hands to spare for, oh, firing a weapon. And it kept getting colder.
Agent Luigi decided to blow up the statue, and fired a thermobaric grenade into its neck. As Ken reminded me, this
- Killed the statue (which he called a vorthr)
- Killed Luigi and Mario
- Set off all of the Russian ordnance in the room
Somehow, Agent Vespucci, the unconscious doctor, and Agent Caravaggio survived the blast, escaping the temple. Ken noted that there were two vehicles available.
Me: I’m taking ours — we rigged theirs to blow up.
Ken had been hoping we might have forgotten that little detail.
By now, Agent Caravaggio was in bad shape. The ichor had invaded his system, and black veins were appearing all over him. It was also clear that there were thorns buried beneath his skin, lots of them. The question he needed to answer was whether he wanted Agent Luigi to put him out of his misery here and now, or whether he wanted to become a test subject of the Italian government. He opted for the latter, not wanting to die.
Nevertheless, Ken ruled that only Agent Vespucci had actually survived the scenario. We all reviewed what we knew, and I got such notes as folks took so that I’d have the best chance possible of solving the mystery of what the vampires’ plan for world domination was.
Second Round: The Survivors
So, while we were blowing up a hospital, it seems that one team blew up a hotel, and the other blew up a ship. There were a total of three players and the GM.
- GM: Kenneth Hite
- Jack Ryan, CIA: ???
- Agent Vespucci: Me
- Luthor, IMF: ???
Our mission: Guard the rescued Dr. Shannon Rose Tyler in a prestigious Italian hotel where she is the keynote speaker for a prestigious medical conference.
The doctor was not the only bigwig around. The Secret Service was out in force because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also attending the conference. And bigwigs like, but not limited to her meant that we couldn’t just, oh, clear a floor for Dr. Tyler.
Our instructions were that the doctor was to be kept safe and incommunicado. And she had her laptop with her.
Vespucci: Does… it… have an internet connection?
GM: Of course it does!
I think Luthor took care of that problem. And, Ryan and Vespucci quickly got on the same page regarding vampires. I’m not sure how much Luthor knew, but at least he didn’t think his fellow agents were insane. Perhaps he should have.
Then, the agents discovered that the doctor had ordered food from room service, which was rather interesting considering there wasn’t a working phone in her room. She explained that she’d been asked by a staff member if there were anything she wanted, and she’d put in an order.
Agent Vespucci intercepted the order and delievered it to the room one door down, where dignitary Stella Dieter knew danged well she hadn’t ordered room service and that Agent Vespucci wasn’t dressed like room service. She called security and closed the door. Meanwhile, Agent Ryan grabbed Dr. Tyler and hustled her out onto the balcony. She was on the fourth floor, so they couldn’t just jump out the window.
A secret service man came to find out what was going on, and he and Vespucci showed each other their IDs. Now, Agent Vespucci was in communication with the rest of her team with ear bud-mic set ups all around, so Agent Luthor was able to let her know that the secret service agent wasn’t showing up on camera. She told him he should leave and the vampire disgused as agent did. She later had a brief encounter with other secret service men, and she told their leader of her encounter, and described the man — who did not match the description attached to the name.
The leader was about to ask Agent Vespucci if she’d come with him somewhere he could have her beaten up when he got a call on _his_ ear bud-mic set up, informing him that the body of the real secret service agent had been discovered. He was not pleased, but allowed as how Agent Vespucci should let him know if she noticed that anyone else had been replaced, and they exchanged contact information. Agent Vespucci then decided to play a hunch.
The hotel included the remnants of a temple to the god Aesculepius, and supposedly, he visited petitioners in their dreams. Agent Vespucci called a contact in academia to ask where, exactly, petitioners might have slept. After much, much ranting about what Mussolini had done to archaeological sites, the professoer told her that it was probably the current mud room. So, Agent Vespucci put on a bathing suit and went to take a soothing mud bath, along with many other guests. She had visions that she interpreted as more or less Romans fighting Cartheginians who worshiped vampires and took slaves to feed to them. She (and I) may have been a bit fuzzy on the details, but the general idea was correct.
Ken later explained to me: Your vision was of vampirized Tuaregs being taken as mercenaries by the Carthaginians to Italy in 216 BC, then (through the Tuareg’s blood memory, the blood having seeped into the mud) to the place where the Greeks killed Etruscan vampires in 600 BC.
Meanwhile, Agent Ryan was having a tricky time trying to keep Dr. Tyler from deciding he was a raving lunatic and screaming for help. He tried seducing her, which did work for a time, despite his having slapped her earlier. As he turned on the charm, he was informed by the GM: “I’ll allow that because this is a spy thriller, and for no other reason!”
Agent Vespucci decided to collect whatever silver she could, as she’d seen that vampires were vulnerable to it. This meant the good silverware that would probably be in the hotel safe, an Infiltration task which the GM said might not be so straightforward.
Me: M. O. S.
GM: Apparently, it will be that straightforward.
Infiltration was Agent Vespucci’s Military Occupational Specialty, aka MOS. This meant that, once per session, I could take an auto success in it. This seemed like a really good time. Agent Vespucci took all of the knives and maybe a platter or two. Agent Ryan used a couple of the knives to create a silver knife taser.
The agents decided that they should have a body double give the doctor’s speech. And, as luck (or Networking points) would have it, Jack Ryan knew that one of Secretary of State Clinton’s secret service agents was a woman of about the right build. He got the go ahead to borrow the agent, and she agreed to help out.
Dr. Tyler, however, was adamant that she had to give the speech herself. Well, insistent. Well, actually, more like programmed or brainwashed. Agent Vespucci got the body double to the stage while Agent Ryan dealt with Dr. Tyler for values of dealt with that included drugging her into unconsciousness and arranging for a car to pick up the doctor and the agents.
Agent Luthor monitored the room where the keynote speech was to take place, and looked up people’s name badges online, telling the double who everyone was and which ones Dr. Tyler knew and how, via the agent’s ear bud. This worked well enough until she got to the stage, at which point Agent Luthor and the double sort of vamped with empty phrases, getting progressively more nervous. Agent Luthor told Agent Vespucci which people weren’t showing up on camera.
At this point, the agents decided to set off alarms, which gave Agent Vespucci the excuse to hustle her charge, “Dr. Tyler”, offstage. The two were briefly separated, and Agent Vespucci stabbed a vampire who had grabbed her. The silver knife worked rather well, although the agent did not stick around to make sure to finish killling the vampire, choosing instead to catch up with the body double, who was quite correctly shedding her disguise as soon as she was out of sight.
Various dignitaries’ security forces moved to protect their bosses, most definitely including Secretary of State Clinton’s secret service agents, who hustled her away to a helicopter on the roof, I think. The body double demanded to know what was going on, and Agent Vespucci was actually dumb enough to tell her it was vampires. She informed her fellow secret service agents (via ear bud-mic) that the Italian agent had gone insane, warned the agent to back away, and returned to her own teammates.
This was fine with Agent Vespucci, who grabbed a hotel staff jacket and made her way out of the hotel. Agent Ryan was with the real Dr. Tyler in a second floor room, and dropped the unconsious woman into the swimming pool, jumping in after to retrieve her. He then left the hotel and got into the car he’d been waiting for.
Agent Vespucci got into the car. So did Agent Luthor — after usine his own MOS skill to lock every door in the hotel room that could be locked remotely. And, miraculously, the three agents made a clean getaway with Dr. Tyler and her laptop.
Now, the doctor’s laptop had a fairly boring speech about the need to fund Doctors Without Borders. However, this was not the speech the doctor had been going to give. Nope, that was the one on the laptop Agent Vespucci had retrieved.
The new speech was about how Polycythemia vera was spreading, and urging the governments of the world to pour money into researching and fighting this disease. Lee Gold taught me what it was some years back, when she showed me a drafts of the first two novels in her Bloodslut trilogy.
I explained that it was having too much blood, or something reasonably close. A more accurate definition from PubMed Health is: Polycythemia vera is a bone marrow disease that leads to an abnormal increase in the number of blood cells (primarily red blood cells).
And with that, Ken pronounced all three PCs as survivors. All three of us were eligible to win the prize for our team by most correctly identifying the vampires’ master plan. I took it by writing down that the plan was to infect humanity as widely as possible with Polycythemia vera, turning humans into blood cows that required regular milking by the vampires. I made a few other guesses about other things that Ken said were pretty much correct, but those weren’t related to the Master Plan.
Sunday, I collected my share of the cash prize. There is something extremely satisfying in being handed a small envelope with a wad of cash.