by Adam Gauntlett
Running all over Europe shooting vampires attracts attention from governments, police agencies, and other unsympathetic official observers. Night’s Black Agents represents this attention, and the concomitant investigations and pursuits, with the abstract value of Heat.
If you make it go Boom, there are consequences. What should those consequences be? How can they be put into effect?
Heat comes from illegal, particularly flamboyantly illegal, actions. Stealing a car gets a bit of Heat. Blowing up Parliament gets a ton of Heat, and probably a sniper’s bullet right between the eyes. However, what the Director needs to understand is, Heat isn’t personal. The authorities don’t know that it’s bang-and-burner Fibber McGee who’s been blowing up all those police stations. They just know there’s a lot of smoking craters where police stations used to be, and are very keen to arrest whoever’s been doing it. So more cops get put on the road, the investigation team gets larger, special contingency schemes are activated, and, in truly awful situations, domestic intelligence agencies, or military agencies, get involved. All this increases Heat, and thus make it more likely that Fibber and his partner(s) in chaos will encounter official resistance.
This means more overt signs of domestic turmoil. Wherever Fibber and his pals go, there are road blocks and stop-and-searches. The underworld shuts down, because the cops are closing down every den of vice they can find. If the police don’t usually go about armed, now they do. If they are usually armed, then they’re even more trigger-happy than before. Soldiers or special forces become common sights. All this, of course, before anyone makes a die roll. The agents smacked the wasps’ nest with a baseball bat; now the wasps retaliate.
So right away you can see one function of Heat: to provide consequence for outrageous actions. Which in turn encourages the agents to save up the really crazy stuff for when it’s necessary, as opposed to going full Terminator whenever they see a police station.
Now let’s look at specific Heat call-outs in the rules. Heat increases Difficulty, and Heat shuts down access to the Black Market.
Let’s say the agents have earned 5 or more points of Heat. That means the Difficulty for all suitable General tests goes up from base 4 to base 5, because the Difficulty is now based on Heat. Going through airport security, breaking into Government IT instillations, Network tests and similar – basically, all the subtle, sneaky, bluff-and-diplomacy options become trickier to pull off. So Throckmorton P. Gildersneeve, the team’s hacker and cracker, is going to find it much more difficult to get into even the least well protected of networks.
Here Heat serves as a complicating factor. It’s not directly affecting the agents, but its indirect effects can be catastrophic. This in turn forces the agents to think about their Heat, and how to lower it before a disastrous General check ruins them for good. It doesn’t mean as much to Molly’s Parkour checks, because those shan’t be affected by Heat – but how often does an operation’s success depend entirely on Parkour?
To reinforce this, the Director should enforce this rule as soon as it comes into effect – so as soon as Heat hits 5 or more – and keep hammering away at it for as long as Heat remains at that level. Keeping Heat, and thus Difficulty, high, means the agents will be spending more from pools, and risking greater negative effects every time they make relevant General tests.
Then there’s the Black Market option, or, as I like to think of it, the Banhammer. If Belulah the Wetworker wants to buy guns, she’s got to go to the Market, but if Fibber’s been raising the Heat to unacceptable levels, then this could be costly. If Belulah’s total Streetwise pool plus the number of points spent is less than the team’s total Heat, she gets betrayed by the dealer, in some way. This doesn’t have to mean a fight. It could mean she gets defective goods, or is sold a nice, reliable American assault rifle – you know, the ones with the RFID markers, easily traced.
Notice that team Heat affects the team. It might be Fibber who got a little too bang-happy, but everyone pays the price. This is called Collective Punishment; it’s been with us since the 2nd Century BC, at least. Under Collective Punishment, everyone in the group pays for the sins of one member of the group. “Private Pyle … has dishonored himself … and dishonored the platoon,” as Full Metal Jacket’s Gunny Hartman puts it. By letting everyone know that it was Private Pyle who earned the platoon pushups, Gunny Hartman bullies the platoon into helping Hartman police Pyle. “I have tried to help him, but I have failed. I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation.”
The Director should never have to worry about Heat. The Director should welcome Heat. It’s the agents who should worry, because with each point of Heat their lives become more and more complicated. They might all rack up Heat heedlessly, stealing cars, getting into fights, and then get wide-eyed and cautious when Heat reaches toxic levels, and options become unavailable, or too costly to pursue. If they know that they’ll all have to pay for the actions of one, they’ll start policing the one, leading to conflict – and conflict is the engine of Drama.
Let’s go through an example. The team is Fibber the bang-and-burner, Molly the black bagger, Belulah the wetworker, and Throckmorton the hacker. Fibber, the scamp, has been up to his old tricks, and the team’s Heat is 6.
They’re just coming from a scene in which Belulah, in search of weapons, was betrayed by her black market contact, and a fight broke out. All of them got dinged, but the worst was Throckmorton, who’s now Hurt.
Now they’re going into a scene that involves breaking into a Conspiracy installation. It has to be tonight, for plot reasons. They don’t have an easy or quick way to drain Heat, so they’re going in with the Difficulties and penalties appropriate for Heat 6.
Throckmorton could have used Digital Intrusion to change the police database, but he’s Hurt and facing increased Difficulty. He felt the risk wasn’t worth it, especially since he needs his pool for the Infiltration scene, and hasn’t got an easy way to refresh, in the time available. Molly might have tried something similar with Disguise, but she doesn’t have many pool points left after a test earlier in the session. None of the rest of the group have any applicable General abilities, so there’s no chance of getting rid of the Heat before the operation.
Already nerves are on edge, and the other three are snapping at Fibber, who got them into this.
Now they have to break in. When they cased the joint earlier, the guard regime was patchy and their internet security was a joke. Not any more. All the cunning options have Difficulty 6; cop cars drive past the front gate every fifteen minutes, and the Conspiracy’s IT guru is busy on-site, ensuring all that precious data stays secure. After all, the Conspiracy isn’t dumb. If Government installations are upgrading security because police stations are vanishing in puffs of logic, the local Node is at the very least going to change the locks on the front door.
Fibber, anxious to regain group favor, says he’s Prepared for this. “All the Conspiracy bigwigs ride around in those fancy black cars, and carry special ID, right? Well, it just so happens I’ve got that exact kind of car, with the fake IDs to go with it, and some of those off-the-rack suits they like to wear. That should get us past the front gate, right?” Fibber’s plan is a success, and with the advantage gained through Preparedness, the group gets past the front gate. Throckmorton stays behind, using his hacking skills to take over the security cameras and guide the agents through. Besides, he’s already Hurt, and getting shot at isn’t in his job description.
Unfortunately for Throckmorton, Difficulty’s up, and the Director isn’t telling him by how much. He rolls the dice, and gets a dirty success – high enough to succeed, but below Heat & Hurt levels. So the Director decides that the IT guru spots his attempt and lets it succeed, so the IT guru can backtrack the feed and find out where the attack is coming from.
Meanwhile the team’s getting on with the job, and are close to the objective. Not all of the group has Infiltration, so Molly’s pools have been draining rapidly to cope with this and the higher Difficulty. Now they’re in position, but there’s a bunch of guards between them and the objective. “That’s new,” says Belulah, as she gets her silenced weapon out. She wonders if she can earn the Hush Puppy achievement. That pool refresh is looking pretty tasty, after the black market fight drained her combat pools.
“Uh … guys?” says Throckmorton, over the coms. “There’s … uhh, there’s a bunch of scary spec ops-looking dudes, converging on my location. Can I get a little help?”
“Don’t worry!” Fibber gets out one of his special little packages. “I Prepared for this, too!”
The night is ripped apart by the all-too-familiar noise of high explosives going off, and, in the distance, police sirens.
“Hey! Big Ba-Da-Boom!” says Fibber.
“Great,” reply his unenthusiastic teammates.