Sunday, March 26, 2017

Night's Black Agents: "Good Guys"

Some musings: One of the reasons I don't like D&D in its purest form is that the characters are, at best, glory-seeking killers. They invade dungeons, kill off whatever life they find, and take whatever is of value. There's an understandable paradigm there (it was good enough to power years of real-world "discovery"), and I'm not ragging on the gaming done during the 70s as the hobby was defining itself at first.

But, I started with Marvel Superheroes. My first RPG was one in which if you killed, you literally lost all your Karma (which did double-duty as XP and a roll-enhancer, so losing it kinda sucked, especially if you'd built up a lot). Killing had consequences, but moreover, it wasn't something the characters did without it being a major thing. In D&D, you killed everything in sight, because it might give you XP, and XP led to leveling up, and leveling up made you better so you could kill more things. (I'm told that in later editions of the game, you can get XP without necessarily killing, and I seem to recall that in earlier editions XP was just as tied to gold as killing monsters, but it's still what the mechanics of the game are built around.)

If you consider the morality of your characters, then no character in D&D should be "Lawful Good." Intrinsic to being "good" should be "respectful of life." Or, put another way, if you were walking home and you passed by, like, a badger den and the badger had for some stupid reason made a nest on top of a bag of money, could you kill the badger and take it? Killing is hard.

I say all this not to judge, but just to call out that old joke about PCs in RPGs being kill-crazy murderhobos. It's a joke that gets a lot of play in Dork Tower, and in games with a combat focus, it's pretty often true. But any game in which the characters commit acts of questionable morality runs the risk of desensitizing itself, which is why I think systems that at least make the players aware of what their actions might mean are good.

CASE IN POINT.

Last time on Night's Black Agents, the agents got out of the villa with their lives, but it was a near thing. Now hiding in Florence, they begin a new op looking for a target and a way to get out from under.

First thing: Money. MacAteer contacts a friend, formerly of the IRA, named Sean Christian, and has him wire some money (Sean owes him a favor or two). Hanover moves some money around, so the group is solvent, at least for the time being. Parker contacts her friend Patel in London and has him check on on Sedillo and Koltay; they're doing OK, but Sedillo drops a bit of a bombshell: The thing the agents killed outside the villa wasn't the same kind of master they'd seen before. It was a different, but similar, species, and the poison they'd used wouldn't kill it. It would make its muscles lock up, and thus make it more vulnerable to brute force attacks (like a van), but wouldn't kill one on its own.

The agents ponder this: Is the conspiracy escalating somehow? Is this a response to their actions? Or just something they hadn't seen up to now? Is it the same conspiracy? It must be, they're too closely linked not to be.

The agents dig into Vilmos Hajnal some more. Hanover does some hacking, starting with the ruins of Hi-Klass Escorts and the finances of Rus-Bel Air, and narrow down the areas that Hajnal's organization really wields power. They note, interestingly, that he doesn't have a lot of influence in Russia - he might well be at odds, in some places, with the Russian mob. The agents decide to use that.

Gambone activates an old cover (Ivan Kostov), and contacts an associate of his named Tick - drug mule, krokodil addict, general scumbag. With Hanover's help, he sets up a job for Tick, moving into Budapest and moving in on a human trafficking ring that Hajnal's organization runs.

The agents decide that this is a good start, but a two-pronged attack might be better. Hanover and Parker hack the gibson or whatever and go after Hajnal's finances, making it look like Russian interference. Then they get the hell out of Florence, heading to London, and setting up the safehouse so it looks like the Russians were there.

A couple of days later, in London, they learn on the news that a brothel in Budapest was burned, multiple people were dead, and Tick's head was mounted on an iron fence outside. Gambone sees this, and feels shaken. He's killed people before and Tick was a crook, but it's one thing to whack a guy. It's another to deliver him to vampires. (Ess, meanwhile, sleeps soundly that night: God has his back, he feels.)

The agents discuss their next move. The conspiracy is distracted, Budapest is hot - maybe under the cover of this chaos they can hit the prison? Hanover suggests going to Minsk and looking into Rus-Bel Air more, but no one is very keen on that. In the end, they collect some new darts from Sedillo (and Parker taps her friend Dr. Highbridge to get Sedillo some lab space), and the agents decide to check out the Isle of Man while they're in the area. Financial things keep leading back there; maybe there's something to find. MacAteer has his buddy Snug set them up with a boat and some guns, so they can get off the island quickly if they need to.

They track the trail from the capital city of Douglas to a smaller village called Laxey. They spend the day on bikes as tourists, and their trained eyes note that a house near the seashore that has some enhanced security and recent construction.

Ess and MacAteer knock on the door, MacAteer pretending he fell off his bike and got hurt. A woman answers the door, takes them in, and starts to patch him up, but Ess notes that she's armed and MacAteer realizes that she's trained and strong - plus she has a com in her ear. A flicker of recognition crosses her face...

Hanover is covering the front, Parker is up on a hill covering the back, and Gambone picks the lock at the back of the house, disables the motion detector he finds there, and hides in the kitchen. A black car starts heading down the road, and Parker signals to Ess that trouble is incoming.

Ess disarms the woman, and MacAteer socks her in the jaw, stunning her long enough for Ess to immobilize her. Two men with machine pistols get out of the car; Parker shoots one of them dead and then forces the other to drop his gun (Gambone takes him prisoner). The agents have to move quickly (people around here aren't used to gunshots, but surely someone heard). They load the woman and the surviving security man into the car, put the body in the trunk, and Hanover and Gambone search the house.

Hanover takes a laptop from the woman's downstairs room, but Gambone finds something upstairs that no one expected: Bugarcic, the curator of the Tesla museum in Belgrade. The agents had figured he went to the USA, but here he is. They take him prisoner as well, head for the seaside, get in the boat, and get the hell off the island.

Next time: Interrogation.