by Adam Gauntlett
In Night’s Black Agents, the Network ability represents your network of professional contacts. It works something like Cover in play; at any time, you may reveal or remember the existence of a member of your network in a given city …
Walther PPK, 7.65 millimeter. Only three men I know use such a gun. I believe I’ve killed two of them … Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky, GoldenEye.
Fibber felt ice trickle down his spine as he looked at the corpse of his friend Rico Marcelli, laid out on a morgue slab, the autopsy Y-incision a brutal reminder that, this time, it really was the end of Rico.
Fibber wasn’t just mourning the death of a friend, a colleague, a comrade in the fight against the Conspiracy. When Rico went, he took 4 of Fibber’s Network points with him. Those would be difficult to replace. Plus, Rico was supposed to be finding out as much as he could about the vampiric killer Sweetie-Face, the Conspiracy’s number one killer. Now all Rico’s work was gone – or was it? Maybe, before the Conspiracy caught up with him, Rico had time to load up one of his special dead drops; if he did, Fibber could salvage something from this disaster.
Network, and by extension Contacts, are special tools which the agents can use to help them out in a tight spot. In story, they represent old friends, professional colleagues, people whose skills and talents are vital in obtaining whatever McGuffin needs to be obtained this time. Mechanically, they are floating pools of Investigative and General points and boosts, which can be drawn on to overcome an obstacle.
What is an obstacle? Well, it’s whatever happens to be blocking plot progress in the moment. It doesn’t have to be a threat to life and limb. It can as easily be an invitation to that exclusive party, underworld gossip, or that all-important, difficult-to-obtain, Bane or Block.
Why use a Contact to overcome that obstacle when you have Investigative pools to spend? Perhaps your agent doesn’t want to spend their own points, or hasn’t got them to spend. Banking points in a Contact is a good way of ensuring there’s a way round every obstacle, no matter when or where they occur. Think of a Contact as the Swiss Army Knife of NPCs; a tool for every conceivable occasion – and reusable, so long as the Contact has points left.
In the Bond films GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough, Robbie Coltrane plays one of Bond’s Network contacts, Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky, a former KGB agent turned entrepreneur and shady dealer in questionable merchandise. In their first meeting, Bond offers Zhukovsky a benefit – cash from an arms deal gone wrong – in exchange for a meeting with the shadowy Janus, boss of the crime syndicate that snatched control over a powerful, experimental weapon. In their second, Zhukovsky is much more involved with the plot, and saves Bond from a death trap with a carefully aimed bullet from Zhukovsky’s cane gun.
So in their first meeting, the obstacle was information, and an introduction. In their second there are several different obstacles, culminating in a final confrontation in which only Zhukovsky’s intervention gets Bond out of a situation that would otherwise have ended the story prematurely.
If this were an NBA campaign, Bond’s player probably didn’t invest that many Network points in Zhukovsky to begin with. After all, Bond doesn’t need Zhukovsky for more than one thing. So let’s say the player puts in 2 Network points, creating the character, giving Zhukovsky just enough points that Bond can buy that introduction to Janus. The arms deal gone wrong is flavor text; it means nothing to the overall plot, but it provides a reason for Zhukovsky to get involved. It represents that initial Network spend; Bond gives Zhukovsky pool points, and in exchange Zhukovsky overcomes an obstacle for Bond.
However it later becomes clear Zhukovsky’s more useful to Bond that he appeared at first glance. Bond’s player therefore invests more Network points, boosting Zhukovsky’s pool and thus allowing Zhukovsky to do more things for Bond. Network points don’t refresh, either for the contact or the agent, so every time Zhukovsky intervenes, he gets one step closer to burnout. In the story, Zhukovsky exhausts his pool and dies, but not before getting Bond out of the mess Bond’s in.
A Network spend is a big investment for the agent. The agent has to keep paying on the installment plan, with hard-won experience points, or have their Contact repossessed. Even that has its advantages, for the Director. In NBA, losing a Contact to the vampires means a potential cameo later on. Zhukovsky returns! As a hungry ghost, a ghoul, a vampire, who knows … For Fibber, this might mean Rico’s about to get up off the slab and put the bite on him. That Y-incision could be the perfect decoy!
A Network Contact is usually unplanned, so, unlike every other Director-controlled character, the Contact is the player’s personal project. This does mean the Director needs to keep an eye on what the player creates, and offer advice or guidance, as needed. Zhukovsky’s a brilliant example of a good Contact; an ex-KGB with a sideline in arms dealing can have his fat fingers in all sorts of pies, and be seen anywhere in the world, from Macau to Manchester. On the other hand, Irene the hotel front desk attendant is less useful. Sure, she can overcome that one obstacle at the Paris Ritz, where she works, but she’s probably not going to be at the Ritz Dubai next week, or the Ritz-Carlton Moscow the week after that, never mind the 2020 Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection next month. Irene is pretty much stuck in Paris, along with all those Network points someone invested in her. Moreover she’s only useful in hotels; she won’t be arranging illicit gun sales, or breaking the agents out of prison.
Fibber and his somber team discuss their options. Rico’s death almost certainly means Sweetie-Face is tracking them, possibly even preparing an ambush. Fibber thinks Rico may have left some intel in a safe house that Rico set up, so they decide to go there first.
Sure enough, it’s a trap – but not a very well-planned trap. ‘Sweetie-Face is getting sloppy,’ says Fibber, as the team stacks dead mooks in the bedroom of a La Busserine apartment, in Marseille.
Belulah thinks that was the point. ‘There’s a lot of cops hanging around,’ she points out. ‘Plenty more than I’d expect, given how tough this neighborhood is. Almost like they’re waiting for the Go order. Did you see those stacks of cash and whatever that stuff in the brown bags is, in the bedroom? I bet Sweetie-Face set this up so she can hang some kind of major crime on us, maybe terrorism or drug smuggling.’
The team starts to sweat, particularly bang-and-burner Fibber, who’s in enough trouble as it is. Belulah grins. ‘I can call in my old pal George,’ she says.
Belulah’s player initially thought of a Marseille gangster Contact, but the Director pointed out that someone closely tied to Marseille wouldn’t be much use in, say, Japan. Not that next week’s scenario is set in Japan, but … [discreet cough]. Instead Belulah puts 4 Network points into George Gamble, founder and CEO of Worldwide Forensic Experts LLC, a small, specialized humanitarian forensics company. George used to work in war zones; a Marseilles apartment stacked with corpses is probably not even the goriest thing he’s seen this week.
Meanwhile, hacker and cracker Gildersneeve puts the backdoor he installed on the cops’ network to good use. Sure enough, the cops are planning a raid on this very apartment block, searching for some big, tough, organized crime types. A few more keyboard taps, and Gildersneeve delays the raid for a precious few hours, by laying a false trail. It won’t last long; Belulah needs to act now.
Of course, the team could cleanse the apartment with Investigative spends. However nobody has a lot of Technical points to burn, and Belulah’s concerned this could end up with bags of suspicious chemicals in the trunk of the car, corpses on the back seat, and Fibber in the passenger seat playing with C4, while she’s driving down La Canebière with sirens howling in the background.
No. Better to make this problem go away. No fuss, no muss.
‘Hiya, Belulah,’ says George. He has his equipment in a carrybag, and Noddy suits for all the gang, so they don’t leave any more forensic traces.
‘No time for small talk, George.’ Belulah’s busy gathering the team’s guns in a bag, for easy disposal. She’s burning Streetwise to discover if dumping them in the Canal or the Harbor is a good idea. ‘We need this whole place cleansed, as if we were never here.’
‘Can do. It’ll be just like that time in Rome. It’ll cost you, B.’ Mechanically, a point spend from the Network pool Belulah invested in George, but in narrative it could be anything. Bond used cash from an arms deal gone wrong to lure Zhukovsky. In game, Belulah uses her High Society connections to get George access to exclusive parties.
‘Sure. Back room of Insomnia, Berlin?’
‘Done, and done.’ George starts laying out the tools of his trade.
‘Oh!’ Belulah remembers Rico’s dead drop. ‘Fibber thinks there’s something hidden here, but he’s not sure where.’
‘If it’s here, I’ll find it.’ Sure enough, George pulls out the intel file Rico hid on a data stick stuffed behind a false power socket. Rico’s last testament is now in Fibber’s possession.
‘You’re a doll, George. Do you speak Japanese?’
‘That’s good to know. See you round, George!’
The team scarpers. They have evidence, and their clothing, to dispose of, and Fibber has the clues Rico gave him. It’s time to give Sweetie-Face a taste of her own, bitter medicine …
Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.