By Kevin Kulp
Preparedness and Flashbacks
Ask for a flashback when a character uses their Preparedness skill to produce a particularly impressive result, especially if they have 8+ or a MOS. This doesn’t need to be any more complicated than the player narrating what they did ahead of time to make sure their plan succeeds. There’s not necesarily game mechanical advantage to doing so, but it gives a cinematic feel to your game and is a whole lot of fun for clever players.
Don’t Work Sequentially
Night’s Black Agents is more cinematic than most fantasy RPGs, so don’t fall into the trap of accounting for a characters’ every action. Use cut scenes to get from one interesting location to another. You can cross continents by simply describing a jet taking off in one airport and just touching down in another, and cross jungles by describing the rutted and bumpy track underneath the characters’ truck. Speed up time to move past the boring bits.
Similarly, use action montages to quickly summarize lengthy actions. If PCs need to question a terrorist they’ve captured, quickly have the players describe a few seconds of action that helps define their character. It’s much more memorable to let a player say “He’s tied up on the gurney. I smile blandly at him and precisely lay out my medical scalpels one… by… one,” . than it is to require detailed interrogation techniques or bluntly ask players “Who has points in Interrogation?”
Encourage the Play You Want to See
Game mechanics reinforce play styles. If you want to encourage a particular approach to the game, or show your appreciation for a particular tactic in a mission, encourage this by temporarily lowering the target number by a point. Characters are more likely to all jump on motorcycles for a terrifying race through a mountainous city if the players know it’ll be a little easier than normal.
Have the Players Do Your Work
Letting players fill in details makes your job easier, even as it gives them buy-in into your game. Let them fill in details – time of day, types of cars, names of restaurants, the furnishings of rooms. If someone asks you a question – “Are there many people in the lobby of the hotel as I spy on the tall man?” – and you don’t immediately know the answer, “you tell me” is a great way to proceed.
Start With Action
One of the things Bond movies do best is starting with action. Try doing this yourself, preferably with a scene that leads straight into your mission or ties to it indirectly. The Thrill Chase rules are excellent for this. The best way to make sure you start on a high note is to begin with the characters right in the middle of an action scene – falling out of a plane with no parachute, racing around a mountain curve while spies shoot from a chase car, facing down an exhausted and injured creature of the night, or finishing a high speed ocean chase on jet skis. Make the scene snappy, keeping it to no more than a half hour, and you’ll immediately have your players’ attention.
Discourage Analysis Paralysis
There’s a tendency with cautious or analytical players to not move forward until all the facts are considered. That’s not needed with Gumshoe, especially in the spy genre. Since the players get more clues only once they start looking for them, it’s worth reminding players that they should stay active when they feel there’s not enough to go on.
If you want to make your players think creatively instead of just reacting to violence, don’t threaten their characters; threaten something their characters care about. Ideally, threaten several things they care about, all at the same time. This requires the players to make hard and meaningful decisions, and often inspires creative solutions that never even occurred to you.
See Through the Villains’ Eyes
It’s less common in a RPG, but you can get a lot of mileage by narrating a cut scene about the villains. After all, would Die Hard be nearly as much fun if you didn’t know what Hans Gruber was up to? Use this technique to introduce new antagonists or to foreshadow plot developments. A chase over a long bridge becomes much more exciting when the players know it’s wired to explode, but their characters don’t.
Roll With the Punches
You’re not directing a movie, and players will always surprise you. Don’t tell players they can’t do something just because it doesn’t match how you suspected the game would go. Instead, quickly consider the consequences (warning the players if necessary if they’re about to do something particularly disastrous) and let them carry on. You can always adjust the adventure on the fly to make sure it stays fun, even if the players go completely off the rails.
The Internet is Your Friend
For inspiration, try a few internet searches. Keywords such as “best car chases,” worst slums,” or “crowded markets” may give you ideas for locales or encounters. Similarly, Google Maps and Wikipedia will give you almost everything you need to quickly fake knowledge of a foreign city.