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Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Joshua W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/30/2021 17:07:23

Angel's Citadel just did a review of Night's Black Agents. You can find our take on it here:

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Lucas F d. O. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/22/2017 13:03:43

Amazing book. I am not much into the Gumshoe System (though I recognize its strengths), but the campaign framework is one of the best things I have ever found in 25 years as a GM.

Highly recommended.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/26/2015 04:12:30

An review

Night's Black Agents, as a hardcover, is a massive 232 page-book, with 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, which leaves us with 227 pages of content - so let's take a look!

Wait for a second - before we do: Yes, this means I'm branching out into GUMSHOE, at least occasionally. Why? Well, I actually got Night's Black Agents as a present from a friend of mine (thanks, Paco!) and had been playing with it for quite some time. Before I get into the nit and grit, let's start with a brief discussion of GUMSHOE, the engine of this RPG.

The system you're probably most likely to know the engine from would be "Trail of Cthulhu," Pelgrane Press' investigative horror game - and thus, you can already deduce the focus of GUMSHOE. Focus? Well, it is my firm belief that no roleplaying game system's engine is perfect. Pathfinder, for example, excels in complex builds and combat simulation. If you take a look at the investigative aspects...well, not so much. I believe that both players and GMs benefit from a change of pace and system once in a while and so, in a way, GUMSHOE was the natural step to take for me, since it can be considered to be almost diametrically opposed to PFRPG in focus. GUMSHOE is a roleplaying game all about the brains, less about the brawns.

The system is very much ability-driven (though the GUMSHOE term "ability" here does not refer to an ability-score, but rather a skill): Investigative abilities contain e.g. Cop Talk, Data Recovery, Law - you get the idea. Now here's the clincher though: You have one point in an investigative ability? You're one of the best in the field - auto-success. I know, w-t-f, right? But what about degrees of success? Well, the interesting thing is that each ability in GUMSHOE is treated as a resource - you can e.g. spend points of your investigative abilities to unearth ADDITIONAL information. The result of this structure is that the director (or GM) has a different task, as do authors - the structure must, by virtue of the game's design, provide multiple ways towards the end. expending points from the investigative abilities can open new venues of investigation, provide short-cuts -the system pretty much enforces well-written investigations - you can't provide a railroad, you need to make the research modular. This is pretty much genius. (Yes, abilities spent regenerate.)

There also are general abilities, which follow different rules that allow for failure. You spend ability points and roll a 6-sided die to see whether you succeed. To keep a character from investing all in one score, the second highest score must at least be half the highest. Points to buy abilities from depend, btw., on group-size. General abilities contain Athletics, Disguise, Driving, Hand-to-Hand, Shooting...and, obviously Health and Stability. So yes, that's about it. No, seriously - investigative and general abilities. that's it. Simple, right? The more dice you spend, the higher is your chance of success. Cooperation between characters is still an option and groups may piggyback on the best character's action by spending less points.

So, this would be the basic set-up. Now, as you can glean from the set-up, combat is not nearly as complex or diverse as in PFRPG or 13th Age and indeed, the system lends itself to a higher lethality-level. There is also an evident problem for anyone familiar with similar set-ups: Essentially, the set-up boils down to resource-management, which means spreading abilities etc. makes sense. Inexperienced players may end up sans points in their key competences right in the middle of an investigation. This is intentional, mind you, and part of the challenge - each spent should be carefully considered. Agents do not exist in solitude - hence, in most game-styles, there are sources of stability that help you from going off the deep end - from causes to persons, these are your anchor in the world, what keeps the character sane - their sources of stability.

So that's the vanilla set-up of GUMSHOE. Night's Black Agents, to me, has one of the best, if not the best version of the GUMSHOE-engine, though - at least for any game that is at least slightly pulpy. The book sports so-called thriller combat rules, which allow for the stunts we all know and love from the spy genre's fiction and it also offers "cherries." 8 points in a given ability unlock the cherry, which means you get something awesome: You're either less ridiculously easy to hit with guns, get a wild-card die-result you can substitute for another roll, automatically bypass most doors sans test...yes, this would be iconic and interesting specialization options, which coincidentally also help with the spread-problem.

Design-wise, it should also be noted that Night's Black Agents is one of the smartest, most professional games you can get for its focus: What do i mean by that? We ALL have different concepts of what spy thrillers should be like - gritty and psychological? Far-out and action-packed? Well, this book offers different game-modes, which handy glyphs denote. These game-modes represent different approaches to the genre and play in vastly different ways: "Burn" focuses on the psychological ramifications of spy-work and damage. While the default of Night's Black Agents is a Bourne Identity-like cinematic set-up, "Dust" allows for gritty, lethal, lo-fi rules that would also gel perfectly well with noir-aesthetics. "Mirror" would be the ultimate game of shifting alliances, betrayal and trust - intended only for mature groups, here betrayal among players and contacts, constantly shifting allegiances and the like generate a feeling of paranoia. Finally, "Stakes" is probably most in line with classic James Bond - it's the high-risk "In service of a higher cause" type of gameplay. All of these are supported, and, to a degree, they can be combined by a capable director. The result being that this is not a simple monolithic rules-set, but one that has a massive array of support for table-variation built into its very foundation.

EVERY other game-system I know (and quite a few designers) should take a careful look at this design-principle - here, we have support for A LOT of table variations and playstyles. And yes, this extends throughout the whole game's presentation, from chases to the primary antagonists.

Which brings me to the next point: When I got this book from Paco, I wasn't that thrilled - As I've been rambling on about time and again, I have VERY specific notions of what vampires should be. Well, the primary antagonists of Night's Black Agents, the conspiracy of vampires the agents face, is nothing less than brilliant in the way that it extends this modularity to the very concept of vampires: Instead of providing a monolithic hostile force that was bound to limit and disappoint some groups, we get a vast toolkit for your own vampire customization, with abilities marked with handy glyphs: Whether due to a mutation of the Marburg V-virus, as descendants of Dracula's lineage, supernatural creatures or even aliens, a plethora of vampiric themes is supported...yes, including the classic "servants of hell"-trope. And, once again, options are provided without making the material presented prescriptive in any shape, way or form. Sample characters can be found here to highlight the potential of the adversaries and infection/becoming a vampire also has a different set of conditions. Perhaps you're one of the weirdo GMs like yours truly and want something far-out? Well, from Camazotz to the Lamia, quite an array of kind-of vampiric adversaries are provided for your convenience.

Combat, btw., is significantly more rewarding here than you'd think - the new cherries and various options, from expert martial arts to feinting mean that this book's combat-section can be considered the most refined among GUMSHOE games. Special tag-team benefits allow btw. fr the combination of abilities for rather intriguing effects. The book also sports several hazards and how to deal with them in the context of the rules -from falling to acid to toxins, there is enough out there to kill your agents..or drive them mad. A significant collection of stability-loss samples and concise rules for mental illness, PTSD and the like, are provided - and yes, in mirror games, multiple personality disorder may turn you into your own adversary.

Directors also may benefit from the easy means f tracking "heat", i.e. the level by which your agents are hunted. Tools of the trade, both subtle and of the flamethrower-variant and tricks of the trade, from covert networks to safe houses - there is a lot going on here - and even with the relatively broad strokes I'm painting with here, I have no true means of covering the whole book sans bloating the review. So, I'll instead comment on some aspects.

The advice to players-section is gold. Yes, you can win. Yes, something horrible is gonna happen - this is a horror game. Get an exit strategy...this short section should be something featured in any investigative roleplaying game - it also helps players succeed and not be stumped. (Contrary to popular myth, GUMSHOE does lead to dead-ends once in a while - not via investigative abilities failing, but due to the human factor...and that is a good thing, as it makes the final triumph sweeter!)

Directors of the game can officially start grinning, since at this point, it is time for me to tell you about another great aspect of this book: Beyond the excessive modularity of the rules presented, the book acknowledges something: Investigations are HARD. No, seriously. Any GM of any game who has ever tried to write one will have come to this conclusion - much less speaking of a whole friggin' campaign! The solution, obviously, is to give the director the tools for the trade - and partially, the system's insistence of modularity, hard-coded into the very rules, already does that pretty well. But the narrative structuring of the frame-work still is an issue - so we get the downright genius Conspyramid. You have various levels, where you generate a flow-chart diagram of your own vampiric conspiracy...but beyond this, it's the advice that really matters. If, e.g., you follow Stoker's classic means of identifying vampires (or that from folklore), this will have repercussions on how your game works: Do they show on smart-phones and cameras? is a bite enough to doom you? Can vampirism be cured? If so, how? Only before or also after the transformation? The level of detail is staggering. Want more? What about a concise list of Europe's backstage intelligence agencies and military OPs as well as detailed information on criminal syndicates and the like? Quick and dirty city building, alongside concise and detailed examples provide glorious backdrops and advice on how to handle the grand game of spy-craft. On a meta-concern beyond individual design, advice on pacing and structuring of operations, pyramidal structures of antagonist motivations - the structuring advice provided here in not only great and valid within the frame-work of Night's Black Agents and reaches almost the level of a full-blown GM-advice book.

So, what about EVEN MORE modifications? Perhaps you don't like the vampire angle - no problem: The book has rules for straight, non-supernatural spygames. Or perhaps, you want gameplay with agents that also have supernatural abilities like remote viewing? Supported. The latter especially is interesting, since it offers plenty of support in conjunction with other GUMSHOE-products...nothing keeps you from re-designing that cthulhu-material, after all...

A brief and solid entry-scenario can also be found in this book, though that would be the one component where Night's Black Agents does not fare as well as other GUMSHOE-products - the scenario is solid, sure - but, as you'll see next week, there are better ones out there. A further reading list concludes the main text of the book.

The addenda contain exceedingly handy director-tracking sheets, worksheets for vampires and cities, operation sheets, an easy director-cheat-sheet of crucial rules, thriller chase summary cheat-sheet and rules, the same for thriller combat options, conspyramid-sheets to print/copy and use, ability summaries (also for refreshs), an agent record sheet, indices and a handy main index for navigation.


Editing and formatting are apex-level awesome - no significant glitches in a book of this size. Wow. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read 3-column standard - which I usually really don't like - in most of the cases, 3-columns render the page's visuals cluttered. not so here. In fact, due to the excessive modularity of the system provided, it actually works to the book's benefit as a structuring element here. The artwork ranges from somewhat comic-y (and less awesome than I've come to expect from Pelgrane Press) to the glorious style of the cover. Btw.: Quite a few non-gamer friends have commented on the cover artwork being absolutely stunning. I concur. The book's dead tree hardcover is a thing of beauty and if you intend to play this game, I certainly advise you getting it.

Now originally, I did not have the electronic version of Night's Black Agents - by now I do. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and symbols among the bookmarks for your convenience, making navigation very simple. The book also comes with an EPUB-version, a MOBI-version, Agent's Dossier, the first module from the Zalozhniy Quartet (review forthcoming) and the BETA 2-version of the Night's Black Agents Android App. There also are free resources to be downloaded online - scroll to the bottom of the review (at least on my homepage) for the link.

Kenneth Hite's Night's Black Agents is one damn impressive tome - the setting provided is concise and managed, in spite of my VERY STRONG opinion on vampires, to avoid annoying me. This book is all about options - it is a toolkit par excellence that does not force any playstyle on a given group, instead opening up a vast plethora of diverse choices and options for anyone to pursue. The rules are explained in a concise, easy to grasp manner and are so simple I managed to convey them to people who had never played RPGs before in less than 10 minutes. Granted, that's a strength of GUMSHOE as an engine.

However, beyond utilizing the strengths of the engine itself, this book resolves several crucial points of criticism with the engine underlying the setting - the diverse rules not only allow for different playstyles with different foci, it also mitigates some of the less inspired components of the engine by adding (optional) complexity that renders gameplay more diverse and ultimately, rewarding.

The single, biggest crucial strength of this book is that its modularity extends beyond the reach of its implied setting - in spite of the great presentation and concise rules, the concept of spies vs. vampires, to me, seemed rather monolithic; the issue of Cthulhu-games, if you will: You (kind of) know what to expect. Well, the beauty here lies in the options: You can easily combine this book with other GUMSHOE settings and systems. Want to go Cthulhu NOW with ToC? Get this. Want more combat edges and action in Esoterrorists? (Yup, review coming up!) Get this now.

The engine-tweaks introduced herein render this book an imho non-optional, massive toolkit for GUMSHOE that enriches ANY game based on the engine, not only the intended playstyle-verisimilitude. Which also deserves credit galore - the level of detail and support for the director should be taken as the level to which all games should aspire to.

Apart from the vast diversity of options (none of which are neglected or considered superior), the sheer attention to detail regarding the finer points of conspiracy-creation and the like retain their validity even beyond the confines of this game. Oh, and then there's massive array of supplemental material, the fact that you literally can derive so much awesomeness from this book. If you play GUMSHOE, any GUMSHOE game, and always felt like the engine had more to offer, then you should consider this a must-buy book. If the theme even remotely interests you, well, then this should be considered a unique and rewarding game to play. Night's Black Agents is, by any measure I apply, a superb game. My review may not reflect this 100%, but I tried VERY hard to pick this book apart - but quite frankly, there is nothing worth complaining about. Sure, its combat will never attain 13th Age's or PFRPG's level of complexity. But neither will those systems ever come close to the investigative caliber of this book.

If you're looking for a change of pace, for vampires in your GUMSHOE game, for a glorious investigative game, for a rules-expansion of the highest caliber, for any of the above virtues- then there's no way past this book.

My final verdict will be 5 stars + my seal of approval, accompanied by being tagged as an EZG Essential-book for GUMSHOE. Once I've reviewed enough books of the system, I will provide the corresponding Essentials-list.

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2014 20:33:51

Protagonists cut off from the real world. Men and women forced into violence to survive. Agents of powers that skulk in shadow. Are they spies or vampires? Both types of characters share a startling amount of similarities. The two genres seem tailor made for each other. Ken Hite brings them together in his newest RPG, Night’s Black Agents. But be aware, it’s not vampire spies. It’s spies vs. vampires.While playing vampires in RPGs has been extremely popular over the past 20 years or so, this one is about putting stakes in hearts and walking away while the bloodsucker burns in the sun.

The PDF is full color and laid out in a very modern style. The game includes several sidebar callouts explaining why certain rules work certain ways as well as giving examples of what happened during playtesting. The tone is intelligent yet conversational. The game is not afraid to cite influences in the text. The books ends with a discussion of sources that range from the literary to the cinematic to other games that inspired the design beyond the GUMSHOE rules. Popping in some of the DVDs recommended is a great way for players to be inspired for their characters.

The game casts the PCs as Jason Bourne style spies who stumble upon a vampire conspiracy. The PCs are expected to punch their way up the latter to the dread undead lords who rule and bring them down. It uses the investigative GUMSHOE rules set but mixes in much more options for action scenes. It also offers several rules tweaks to get the espionage feel the group wants. The spy genre is a broad definition but the game offers rules for groups that want a James Bond, Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne feel.

The game also offers a wide toolbox on how to build the campaign’s vampires. Vampires are also a very broad category. Part of the investigative element of GUMSHOE works well in figuring out which bits of folklore are true and which bits are false. Vampire games require a set of rules for the bad guys to work under and the campaign does a great job examining the pros and cons of powers and limits. The game also offers help in building up a vampire conspiracy that goes from street level thugs, through multinational corporations all the way up to the vampire lord’s crypt. There are example conspiracies in the book that act as excellent jump offs or quick adversaries in addition to fully playable bad guys on their own.

By comparison, the spy side of things comes off less useful. It’s a daunting thing to wade into the mass of agencies, private contractors and shady individuals and pare it down to something that fits in the core book. Most of the information can be had in a few minutes on Wikipedia. The book’s default setting of the european intelligence underground makes things exotic. It also means the GM should look to do a bit of legwork if they want plots grounded in the real world. Some games won’t care about the difference between the Russian Mafia and the Italian Mafia, but those that do will want to prep with some outside sources. This side of the book is merely good, not great.

The art also is an area of relative weakness. Pelgrane has a history of putting out gorgeous books and Night’s Black Agents has a fantastic layout and several art pieces that fit the mood perfectly. But the art is inconsistent, especially when it comes to depictions of the monsters the agents find themselves battling. Pelgrane’s no slouch in the monster department. There are several pieces in the Trail of Cthulhu line that are perfect, brooding and unsettling. The monster pieces here are too often brightly lit when they should be swallowed by shadow. The art featuring agents and their methods fares much better. Every version of the GUMSHOE rules improves on the last and Night’s Black Agents is no exception. The thriller rules turn one of the weaknesses of the system into a strength. Short combats and quick, brutal outcomes are a staple of spy thrillers. But now the agents have many more options ranging from spends that allow them to go whenever they want to stunts that refresh pools if the player takes the time to talk up how awesome a gadget is. The skill list is flavorful and adds bonuses for each general skill hitting a certain level instead of a select few. GUMSHOE is proving to be a surprisingly robust platform for different versions of the game. Each version is similar enough for people to grasp the basics but the genre modifications work splendidly. There’s even a section that talks about using other games for modifications, like running spies vs. Cthulhu or adapting the powers from Mutant City Blues for actual super spies.

Bottom Line: Night’s Black Agents could easily be played as a straight up spy game. The vampires are delicious, blood red frosting on the cake.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Roger L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2014 02:50:42

Im Sep­tem­ber 2013 über­raschte mich Pel­grane Press damit, dass sie Night’s Black Agents (NBA) in das damals aktu­elle Bundle of Hol­ding pack­ten. Die ande­ren Gums­hoe–Titel Ashen Stars (2011), Fear Its­elf (2007) und Mutant City Blues (2009) hat­ten ja bereits ein wenig Staub ange­setzt, aber NBA (2012) ist wesent­lich neuer und gerade wurde mit Dou­ble Tap ein Erwei­te­rungs­band herausgebracht.

Nach einer Online-Hangout-Runde Eso­ter­ro­rists als Spie­ler, war bei mir die Lust auf Gums­hoe wie­der geweckt und ich habe mir NBA mal genauer angesehen.

Die Spiel­welt

NBA sie­delt seine Aben­teuer im moder­nen Europa an, das häu­fig als Kulisse rasan­ter Spionage-Thriller taugt. Der Twist der Spiel­welt ist dabei, dass Vam­pire exis­tie­ren. Als Ver­schwö­rung wir­ken sie im Hin­ter­grund, und agie­ren z.B. durch das orga­ni­sierte Ver­bre­chen oder auch die Geheimdienste.

Um das Spiel inter­es­sant zu hal­ten, wird nicht genau vor­ge­ge­ben, was Vam­pire sind oder wel­che Fähig­kei­ten und Schwä­chen sie haben. Das müs­sen die Spie­ler in ihrer Kam­pa­gne selbst her­aus­fin­den. Es gibt einen umfang­rei­chen Bau­satz für Ursprünge des Vam­pi­ris­mus sowie ein varia­bles Sys­tem ver­schie­de­ner beson­de­rer Fähig­kei­ten. Vam­pire kön­nen magisch, außer­ir­disch oder auch Mutan­ten sein, mehr der Folk­lore Ost­eu­ro­pas oder den Geschich­ten aus Hor­ror­ro­ma­nen ent­spre­chen. Genauso wenig ist zum Beginn einer Kam­pa­gne klar, ob Vam­pi­ris­mus über­tra­gen wer­den kann.

Da die Spie­ler vor­ma­lige Geheim­dienst­ler sind, braucht es auch etwas Hin­ter­grund. Hite gibt einen Über­blick über die wich­tigs­ten Poli­zei– und Geheim­dienst­or­ga­ni­sa­tion sowie Fak­ten über Ver­bre­cher­syn­di­kate. Es wird dar­ge­legt, wie man selbst eine Stadt zum Spie­len vor­be­rei­tet und ihr Leben ein­haucht. Zusam­men mit einer Samm­lung vor­be­rei­te­ter Geg­ner hat man einen Bau­satz, aus dem man ver­schie­dene Kam­pa­gnen schus­tern kann.

Die Regeln

Hier sei auch auf meine Rezen­sion zu Trail of Cthulhu ver­wie­sen, denn die Regel­ba­sis von Gums­hoe besteht auch in NBA fort. Auf Ermitt­ler­fä­hig­kei­ten wer­den keine Pro­ben abge­legt. Pro­ben auf andere Skills wer­den mit dem W6 abge­legt und man darf Pool­punkte aus­ge­ben, um sich diese zu erleichtern.

NBA erwei­tert diese Mecha­nik gezielt in zwei Berei­chen, die für das Genre bedeut­sam sind: Kämpfe und Verfolgungsjagden.

Bei Kämp­fen bleibt die Basis­me­cha­nik erhal­ten: Es wird run­den­weise agiert, es wer­den Angriffs­würfe gemacht, Scha­den ermit­telt. Zu die­sem Pro­ze­dere kommt aber noch etwas hinzu:

Man kann gezielt durch das Aus­ge­ben wei­te­rer Pool­punkte und das Ver­wen­den von Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten (Cher­ries genannt, s.u.) bestimmte Manö­ver wie z.B. Extra-Attacken frei­schal­ten. Cha­rak­tere mit hohen Pool­wer­ten im zwei­stel­li­gen Bereich kön­nen so im Kampf deut­lich mehr Feu­er­werk ver­an­stal­ten als andere, ins­be­son­dere auch als Cha­rak­tere in ande­ren Gums­hoe–Titeln. Einige Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten erlau­ben die Wie­der­auf­fri­schung von Pools.

War in ande­ren Gums­hoe–Titeln Kampf eher eine Würf­le­rei ohne viele Optio­nen, so hat man in NBA mehr Mög­lich­kei­ten, die durch die Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten befeu­ert wer­den. Fin­ten, kri­ti­sche Tref­fer, gezielte Schüsse, Auto­feuer und Flä­chen­be­schuss erwei­tern das Arse­nal. Man kann auch gezielt einen schwa­chen Geg­ner an sich rei­ßen und als Deckung auf engem Raum benut­zen (Mook Shield). Ver­schie­dene Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­kei­ten wie Kampf­sport, Scharf­schütze oder Zusatz­trai­ning an einer Waffe fri­schen z.B. die Pool­punkte auf, erhö­hen die Reich­weite oder den Schaden.

Diese Thril­ler Com­bat Rules sind als Paket optio­nal, aber Weg­las­sen ist mei­ner Mei­nung nach keine ernst­zu­neh­mende Option. Es ist mög­lich, einen hoch­ge­züch­te­ten Spe­zi­al­agen­ten drei Atta­cken am Anfang der ers­ten Kampf­runde aus­füh­ren zu las­sen. Dies bil­det das bei­nahe Über­mensch­li­che des Agen­ten­gen­res gut ab. Den Spie­lern wird noch viel mehr Ent­schei­dungs­raum gebo­ten, wie viel von ihrer Befä­hi­gung sie wann im Spiel ein­brin­gen wol­len. NBA dürfte daher wohl bei Wei­tem die span­nends­ten Kämpfe aller Gums­hoe–Rol­len­spiele haben.

Eine große Schwä­che des Gums­hoe–Rol­len­spiels bleibt aber auch erhal­ten: Eigent­lich sol­len die Pools garan­tie­ren, dass kein Spie­ler das Spot­light an sich reißt. Aber in der Pra­xis kann es sein, dass die Aktio­nen trotz aus­ge­ge­be­ner Pool­punkte nicht zün­den. Ein Cha­rak­ter ohne Pool­punkte kann je nach Schwie­rig­keits­grad der Begeg­nung even­tu­ell schon gar nicht mehr tref­fen, selbst wenn er noch unver­letzt ist. Er hat dann sein „Story-Pulver“ schon ver­schos­sen, ohne dass es eine Erklä­rung dafür gibt, die sich naht­los in die Spiel­welt fügt. Warum hat der geübte Pis­to­len­schütze plötz­lich keine Chance mehr, das­selbe Ziel zu tref­fen? Frü­her oder spä­ter ras­selt man mit Gums­hoe in einen sol­chen Logik­bruch hinein.

Nix wie hinterher

Ein ande­res Ele­ment, das in Action­fil­men eine beson­dere Rolle spielt, ist die Ver­fol­gungs­jagd – zu Fuß, per Auto, viel­leicht sogar mit einem Schnell­boot. Auch hier wur­den die Stan­dard­re­geln für Ver­fol­gung auf­ge­bohrt. Nor­ma­ler­weise wird bei Gums­hoe solange gegen­ein­an­der gewür­felt, bis einer sei­nen Wurf ver­sem­melt, was bedeu­tet: die erste Sache, die schief­geht, ent­schei­det die wilde Jagd.

Bei NBA hin­ge­gen ver­rin­gert oder erhöht das nur einen nume­ri­schen Abstand, Lead genannt. Wird die­ser zu hoch, kann sich der Ver­folgte abset­zen. Sinkt er tief genug, kann der Ver­fol­ger auf­schlie­ßen. Hier­bei wird berück­sich­tigt, wie hoch Erfolge oder Miss­er­folge waren, und wie weit das Ergeb­nis auseinanderliegt.

Auch hier kom­men die Cher­ries wie­der ins Spiel, und kön­nen z.B. hel­fen, die der Ver­fol­gung zugrunde lie­gende Fähig­keit wie­der­auf­zu­fri­schen. Oder einen schnel­len Schuss durch den Ver­fol­ger zu erlau­ben. Aber am bes­ten gefällt mir, dass man auch inves­ti­ga­tive Fähig­kei­ten ein­brin­gen kann:

Agent A ver­folgt einen Ghoul zu Fuß durch die Kata­kom­ben von Paris. Agent B ist mit ihm per Funk ver­bun­den und gibt einen Punkt Archi­tek­tur aus. Er benutzt sein beson­de­res Wis­sen über den Pari­ser Unter­grund, um den Agent A zu ermög­li­chen, dem Ghoul den Weg abzuschneiden. Agent C wird in einem Auto von einer Gruppe Gangs­ter ver­folgt. Agent D hatte sich bereits zuvor in den Poli­zei­funk ein­ge­hackt und gibt jetzt einen Punkt Poli­zei­jar­gon aus, um Strei­fen­wa­gen auf den Ver­fol­ger zu hetzen.

Ich finde, dadurch wird der nar­ra­tive Aspekt wun­der­bar in die Mecha­ni­ken des Sys­tems ein­ge­bun­den. Cha­rak­tere kön­nen auf ver­schie­denste Weise in das Gesche­hen ein­grei­fen, wie halt auch im Film. Funk­ver­bin­dung wird vom Sys­tem vor­aus­ge­setzt und ermög­licht das Koor­di­nie­ren von Akti­vi­tä­ten an ver­schie­de­nen Orten sowie die erwähn­ten Ein­griffe. Mich erin­nern die Mög­lich­kei­ten am ehes­ten an Filme wie Snea­kers, Ocean’s 13 oder Ronin, weil das Team der Star ist.

Netz­wer­ken und Tarnidentitäten

Zwei Fähig­kei­ten neh­men eine Son­der­stel­lung ein: Cover und Net­work. Es wird ange­nom­men, dass sich die Agen­ten Tar­niden­ti­tä­ten ange­eig­net haben, um ihrer Tätig­keit nach­zu­ge­hen. Gibt man aus einem Cover–Pool Punkte aus, kann man diese einer Iden­ti­tät zuwei­sen. Diese wer­den bei allen Wür­fen ein­ge­setzt, bei denen diese Iden­ti­tät ins Spiel kommt. Ist der Pool einer Iden­ti­tät leer, so ist diese auf­ge­flo­gen und nutzlos.

Genauso erschafft man Kon­takte aus dem eige­nen Netz­werk. Man gibt Punkte aus und inves­tiert diese in einen Infor­man­ten oder jemand, dem noch an einer alten Wir­kungs­stätte kennt. Auch hier kann der Pool ein­ge­setzt wer­den, um indi­vi­du­elle Würfe zu erleich­tern, z.B. wenn man Infos von einem Kol­le­gen vom MI5 braucht. Oder wenn einem ein Mafioso noch einen Gefal­len schul­det. Sind die Punkte in einem sol­chen Pool auf­ge­braucht, kann man den Kon­takt nicht mehr aktivieren.

Um das Spiel nicht zu kom­pli­ziert zu gestal­ten, bedient sich der Autor bei Lever­age und arbei­tet mit Rück­blen­den. Rück­blen­den ermög­li­chen es, Fak­ten durch Aus­ge­ben von Punk­ten in die Story hin­ein zu erzäh­len. Man muss nicht vor­her ange­ben, wel­che Kum­pels man beim KGB hat. Man zieht die­ses Kar­ni­ckel inmit­ten des Story-Verlaufs aus dem Ärmel und gibt dann die Punkte aus. Das ermög­licht es auch, mit­ten in der Hand­lung so zu tun, als hätte man umfang­reich geplant und fast alles bedacht, ohne vor­her lang­wie­rige Pla­nun­gen aus­spie­len zu müssen.

Im Bezug aufs Kam­pa­gnen­spiel gilt, dass Cover und Net­work sich nicht wie­der auf­fri­schen. Gibt man Punkte dort aus, kann man sie nur durch den Ein­satz von Erfah­rungs­punk­ten zurückgewinnen.


Es ist einem auch bei NBA unbe­nom­men, die Kauf­punkte aus­zu­ge­ben, wie man will. Man kann aber auch Hin­ter­gründe wäh­len. Ein Hin­ter­grund ist ein Paket von inves­ti­ga­ti­ven und all­ge­mei­nen Skills. Diese Pakete sind aber nicht bil­li­ger. Sie beschleu­ni­gen nur den Pro­zess. Wäh­rend diese Cha­rakt­er­hin­ter­gründe nicht bin­dend sind, ver­mit­teln sie ganz gut Arche­ty­pen aus sol­chen Thril­ler­ge­schich­ten wie Geld­ku­riere, Flucht­wa­gen­fah­rer oder Hacker.

Erreicht man in einer all­ge­mei­nen Fer­tig­keit einen Wert von 8 oder höher, wer­den Bonu­s­ef­fekte frei­ge­schal­tet, Cher­ries genannt. Hat man 8 Punkte in Digi­tal Intru­sion, erhält man einen Gra­tis­punkt in Kryp­to­gra­phie. 8 Punkte in Ath­le­tik ermög­li­chen z.B. die Spe­zi­al­fä­hig­keit Park­our, die bei Ver­fol­gungs­jag­den zu Fuß sehr nütz­lich sein kann. Durch die Cher­ries wird auch aus­ge­drückt, worin sich beson­ders inten­si­ves Trai­ning von nor­ma­lem Kön­nen unter­schei­det. Cher­ries unter­stüt­zen die film­rei­fen Aktio­nen, die wir von den Prot­ago­nis­ten von Action-Thrillern erwar­ten. Man wählt auch einen MOS, eine Fähig­keit, die ein­ma­lig garan­tiert gelin­gen wird.

Jede Figur hat auch einen Drive, also eine ihr Han­deln bestim­mende Moti­va­tion, und drei Dinge, die dem Cha­rak­ter etwas bedeu­ten: Sym­bol, Solace und Safety. Sym­bol ist etwas Abs­trak­tes, ein Gegen­stand, irgend­et­was, das der Figur viel bedeu­tet, ob es nun Aus­druck von Reli­gion, des per­sön­li­chen Wer­de­gangs oder der eige­nen Werte ist. Solace ist eine Per­son, der man bedin­gungs­los ver­traut. Safety ist der per­sön­li­che Zufluchts­ort. Wer­den einem diese Dinge genom­men, oder sind sie bedroht, kann das unan­ge­nehme Aus­wir­kun­gen auf die innere Sta­bi­li­tät im Spiel haben.

Spiel­bar­keit aus Spielleitersicht

Auf den SL kommt zuerst die Ent­schei­dung zu, ob er eine der vor­ge­schla­ge­nen Vari­an­ten für seine Kam­pa­gne her­nimmt: Burn, Dust, Mir­ror oder Sta­kes. Burn führt zu schnel­le­rem psy­cho­lo­gi­schem Ver­fall, auch Töten ist hier keine Sache, die man mal so im Vor­bei­ge­hen macht. Dust kürzt fast alle neuen Thriller-Elemente aus dem Spiel, die Agen­ten wer­den auf eine Art Nor­mal­maß her­un­ter­ge­stutzt und müs­sen vor­sich­ti­ger agie­ren. Mir­ror bedeu­tet, dass Kon­takte unzu­ver­läs­sig sind und Ver­rat fast erwart­bar ist. Sta­kes legt Wert auf eine Moti­va­tion und ein höhe­res Ziel der Cha­rak­tere. Vom post­mo­der­nen „Jeder für sich selbst“ bis zum „Für mein Vater­land, egal was es kos­tet“ ist hier alles dabei, und ver­schie­dene Modi ver­lan­gen ver­schie­dene Spielweisen.

Gene­rell fällt an NBA posi­tiv auf, wie wenig es ver­sucht, nur eine bestimmte Geschichte zu erzäh­len. Viel­mehr ist es ein Bau­kas­ten, um ganz ver­schie­dene Ele­mente, Moti­va­tio­nen, Hin­ter­gründe und Sto­ries aus­zu­pro­bie­ren. Ob es nun um die Schwä­chen der Vam­pire oder die Motive der Spie­ler geht, alles lässt sich vari­ie­ren und damit lohnt es sich auch, mehr als eine NBA–Kam­pa­gne zu spie­len. Man merkt dem Buch auch die Recherche-Leistung sei­nes Autors an.

Das bedeu­tet auch, dass jede Kam­pa­gne etwas Vor­ar­beit erfor­dert. Wie funk­tio­niert Vam­pi­ris­mus? Was steckt dahin­ter? Hier wer­den die Hin­ter­gründe Superna­tu­ral, Dam­ned, Alien und Mutant ange­bo­ten. Wie weit reicht die Ver­schwö­rung im Hin­ter­grund? Wie lange besteht sie schon? Ste­hen über­na­tür­li­che Mit­tel zur Ver­fü­gung? Wer arbei­tet mit wem? Und natür­lich: Was ist das End­ziel der Vampire?

Die Über­sicht im Kam­pa­gnen­spiel behält man durch das Anfer­ti­gen einer Cons­py­ra­mid – ein Dia­gramm, an des­sen Spitze die Ober­vam­pire ste­hen und unten das Fuss­volk. Die Spie­ler wer­den sich im Laufe der Kam­pa­gne durch diese Pyra­mide hin­durch­ar­bei­ten und sie erleich­tert es dem SL, kurz­fris­tig Hin­weise zu gene­rie­ren und zu streuen, wenn die Spie­ler die Ermitt­lungs­rich­tung wechseln.

Durch die Hin­weise zum Gestal­ten eines Thril­lers lernt man, Action– und Ermitt­lungs­sze­nen sich abwech­seln zu las­sen, wodurch die Ermitt­lung auch nicht das Spiel domi­niert. Wen man nicht genug Infos hat, müs­sen die Agen­ten wie­der ins Feld. Dadurch hat es man in NBA viel leich­ter, eine Kam­pa­gne selbst zu gestal­ten, anstatt müh­sam ein Gesamt­kunst­werk wie bei Trail of Cthulhu stri­cken zu müs­sen. Es geht auch Spie­lern leich­ter von der Hand, die nicht so detek­ti­visch vor­ge­hen, wie das andere Gums­hoe–Spiele wol­len.

Spiel­bar­keit aus Spielersicht

Für den Spie­ler gestal­tet es sich NBA rela­tiv ein­fach. In den ver­schie­de­nen Szen­en­ty­pen kann der Umgang mit den zwei Arten von Skills ein­ge­übt wer­den. In einer Thril­ler Chase kann man gezielt zusätz­li­che Regeln ein­füh­ren. Die Thril­ler Com­bat Rules las­sen sich eine nach der ande­ren in den weni­ger wich­ti­gen Kämp­fen mit klei­nen Scher­gen ein­füh­ren, um es dann spä­ter im Kampf mit den Vam­pi­ren rich­tig kra­chen zu las­sen. Durch die anstei­gende Span­nungs­kurve lässt sich die­ses gra­du­elle Ein­füh­ren von Rege­l­ele­men­ten gut rechtfertigen.

Auch die Rück­blen­den ermög­li­chen den schnel­len Ein­stieg ins Spiel. Weil man nicht alle erlern­ten Spra­chen, Kon­takte und Tar­niden­ti­tä­ten zu Beginn fest­le­gen muss, kann man sei­nen Cha­rak­ter gezielt im Spiel wei­ter ausgestalten.


Man erhält ein rich­tig gutes Spiel, aber es ist nicht bil­lig. Mein per­sön­li­cher Erwar­tungs­wert liegt bei weni­ger als 10 USD pro 100 Sei­ten, und ab 20 USD für ein PDF über­lege ich mir in der Regel schon sehr genau, ob ich zuschlage.

Ver­gli­chen mit dem Bundle of Hol­ding, bei dem es das PDF als Bonus inklu­sive einem Aben­teu­er­band dazu gab, schnei­det das Preis­leis­tungs­ver­hält­nis sogar sehr schlecht ab. Als Ein­zel­kauf ist es für mei­nen Geschmack zu teuer, aber die Kom­bi­na­tion von PDF + Hard­co­ver beim Sphä­ren­meis­ter kann sich preis­lich wie­der sehen lassen.


Bei einem Oneshot mit vor­be­rei­te­ten Cha­rak­te­ren und einem selbst­ge­stal­te­ten Aben­teuer bewährte sich das Sys­tem gut. Die Spie­ler, alle bis auf einen ohne Gums­hoe–Erfah­rung, haben das Sys­tem schnell erfasst und konn­ten sich auf ihre Rol­len kon­zen­trie­ren. Anschei­nend kom­men Spie­ler auch ohne über­mä­ßig viel Spio­na­ge­thril­ler gese­hen zu haben ganz gut damit zurecht, wie man in NBA Infor­ma­tio­nen durch Hacken und Kon­takte beschafft. Rege­l­ele­mente wie Cover und Net­work las­sen sich durch die Mecha­nik ganz gut mit­ten im Spiel ein­füh­ren. Das Feed­back der Spie­ler war durch­weg positiv.


Nights black agents coverDie glän­zen­den Sei­ten im Hard­co­ver tref­fen mei­nen Geschmack nicht, genauso scheint die Bin­dung etwas ungleich­mäs­sig. Das sehr helle Sei­ten­de­sign wirkt hoch­mo­dern und passt auch zum Thema Spionage-Thriller. Für Vampir-Horror wirkt es hin­ge­gen etwas klinisch.

Gums­hoe–Pro­dukte lei­den gene­rell an einer über­trie­be­nen Menge Text pro Seite. Das fällt beson­ders bei Sei­ten ohne Illus­tra­tion oder Side­bar auf. Dort wir­ken der drei­spal­tige Text und die geringe Schrift­größe beson­ders problematisch.

Die Illus­tra­tio­nen sind manch­mal sehr gut und manch­mal eher etwas dürf­tig. Es kann vor allem sein, dass nur alle paar Sei­ten eine kommt. Side­bars und Tabel­len sind hin­ge­gen sehr über­sicht­lich gestaltet.


Es gibt Eini­ges an Down­loads, ins­be­son­dere die ver­schie­de­nen Bögen für das Spiel, eine Kurz­demo und Mate­rial zu dem Aben­teu­er­band The Zalozh­niy Quar­tet.


Mein Ein­druck ist, dass NBA ganz her­vor­ra­gend funk­tio­niert. Man kann es gewis­ser­ma­ßen als ein Gums­hoe 2.0 betrach­ten, das dem Sys­tem weder zu viel noch zu wenig hin­zu­fügt. Zwar wird Gums­hoe nie wirk­lich ein Sys­tem tak­ti­scher Tiefe wer­den, aber im Rah­men der Story sind inter­es­sante Kon­flikte möglich.

NBA scheint auch viel ein­stei­ger­freund­li­cher durch seine Erzähl­struk­tur. Die Ermitt­lun­gen blie­ben kurz und kna­ckig, um in die nächste Action-Szene über­zu­lei­ten. Eine sol­che Erzähl­struk­tur würde sich auch für Eso­ter­ro­rists eig­nen. Über­haupt zieht NBA Gums­hoe aus der rei­nen Ermitt­lungs­ecke und kann dadurch als Inspi­ra­tion für alle Gums­hoe–Spiele die­nen. Das Glei­che gilt für die Thril­ler Com­bat Rules und die Thril­ler Chase Rules. Was Hite hier dem Kanon der Gums­hoe–Ideen hin­zu­fügt, das zündet.

Obwohl NBA das Sys­tem wei­ter­führt, blei­ben die alten Pro­bleme beste­hen: Was tun, wenn die Pools erschöpft sind? Dann kann sinn­vol­les Han­deln sogar unmög­lich sein. Ins­be­son­dere dann, wenn man Ath­le­tik erschöpft hat: Dann kann man je nach Gegner­zahl nicht mal mehr abhauen, denn das erfor­dert auch einen Wurf oder sogar einen Wett­be­werb mit ver­glei­chen­den Wür­fen! Das Pro­blem der unmög­li­chen Schwie­rig­kei­ten von 7 oder höher auf dem W6 kann bei ein paar unglück­li­chen Wür­fen sehr schnell drän­gend wer­den und in einen Total Party Kill füh­ren. Das hat mit Spot­light–Ver­tei­lung nichts mehr zu tun, son­dern ist unter Umstän­den in der Spiel­welt nicht sin­nig zu erklären.

Zusam­men mit ein paar Schwä­chen bei der Prä­sen­ta­tion ergibt sich als Wer­tung eine sehr posi­tiv gemeinte 4 von 5.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/23/2012 19:43:34

There is much to love about this RPG. First, it extends the already interesting Gumshoe game system used for such games as Ashen Stars, Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Mutant City Blues. I've been itching to try out the investigation mechanics for Gumshoe, and this recent incarnation and extension of the ruleset affords me such additional rules the combat and cinematic chase rules to support the espionage/thriller genre.

Next, it also provides rule options to help emulate and support various subgenres of the spy thriller. There are rules for the interestingly-named subgenres: Burn ("psychological damage and the cost of heroism"), Dust ("gritty, lo-fi espionage"), Mirror ("hidden agendas and shifting alliances"), and Stakes ("higher purposes than mere survival or 'getting the job done'"). In addition to the Drives and Sources of Stability that we've seen in other flavors of Gumshoe, the Trust / Betrayal mechanics are particularly interesting and volatile in a espionage game (reminds me of Cold City / Hot War)!

Gunplay and cinematic chase rules look good from the emulation space, though I'd be remiss if I didn't say that proper playtesting should be done on my part before I can say if it's to my taste.

As for the vampire aspect -- great latitude is given to the GM and the players is choosing the type of vampires they're fighting (which is good to keep the surprises coming in a thriller), and the organization creation rules married with the classic genre pattern of starting at the bottom of the conspiracy pyramid and moving up through the ranks until dealing with the Big Bad (to borrow some Buffy terminology here) has really ratcheted up my desire to play this game as soon as possible! That's made easier by the sample vampires and their various minions also included in the book.

Well done, Pelgrane Press -- I look forward to future releases in this line!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2012 13:34:25

Ever since I first encountered the GUMSHOE system, I have been thinking that it would be perfect for the sort of spy games I like to run and play... and this book fulfills that desire! In it, Ken Hite has distilled the essence of the cinematic yet gritty spy thriller and woven it through the core GUMSHOE mechanic - and added the twist of vampires into the bargain!

The Introduction lays out the basic premise. This is not just any spy game. It has a very specific slant, taking the view that in the aftermath of the Cold War a lot of people who'd been earning their keep on the back of the efforts of East and West to monitor (and interfere with) each other now found themselves at a loose end, and had to put their somewhat dubious skills to profitable use in a freelance market - mercenary spies for hire, if you will. Frequent reference is made to movies and TV shows that present the appropriate feel, and if you enjoy them, it's likely that this game will work for you, at least at the 'spy' level. As has been done with other GUMSHOE games, there are various 'modes' in which you can run your game and each is denoted by a small symbol - these are used to denote optional rules appropriate to your chosen mode, and other snippets of information useful to that style of game. This allows you to fine-tune the mood of your game so that it becomes precisely what you are after.

The first section looks at creating and running characters: the rules you need to generate your agent then equip and play him in the swirling underworld of post-Cold War Europe. It is recommended that players work together to create a rounded team of agents who between them cover all the areas of expertise that they need: particularly important given the investigative nature of this game as well as to ensure that the technical abilities of various spy specialities are represented - the classic gunner-and-runner, the computer specialist, the driver, the bang-and-burner (a destructive role specialising in explosives, arson attacks, etc.) and so on. The assumption is made that everyone is a competent all-round agent: they have, after all, been operating at the highest level for a while before the game begins. This is not a game about raw recruits, or 'ordinary people' suddently thrust into the cloak and dagger world. There's a lot of detail both about skills and backgrounds, to aid you in creating realistic agents who will be fun to play and who are embedded thoroughly into the setting.

The next section is Rules. Here are the core mechanics that make the whole game work, beyond the actions of the characters themselves. The key GUMSHOE concept, that clues essential to the plotline WILL be found in play, is emphasised, but the way in which characters are designed is intended to facilitate this without it appearing forced. A core assumption is that, as competent and experienced operators, a lot of the time the characters will succeed at whatever they decide to do... the art is in deciding what to do and describing how they go about it in appropriate style. It is all flavourful in the extreme, and whilst there are game mechanics involved, these can be internalised so that play is not interrupted by die rolls that carry the possibility of derailing everything - there are still plenty of opportunities to get it wrong, for the characters to find everything falling around their ears: but a single botched die roll is unlikely to be the cause.

This is followed by Tools. Not just the 'tools of the trade' but how to acquire and use them to best effect, keeping in mind always the cinematic thriller style that the game aims to achieve. This also includes developing strategies and team-work - and tradecraft - as well as the physical items the well-equipped (or 'joke-shop') spy always seems to have to hand. There's even a rule mechanic for that - Preparedness - where a character is enabled to just happen to have the appropriate item when he needs it, although he does need to come up with a plausible reason. That is one of the joys of the system as a whole, any action can be enhanced by giving an outstanding in-character description of what you are doing - consider those little monologues on tradecraft scattered through the TV series Burn Notice for example. This section ends with some excellent advice for players on how to approach the game.

This is where we leave material for everyone and move more into GM (here, Director) territory, starting with a chapter Vampires. However, so much is left to individual Director whim that curious players will not spoil things by reading on... While it is a given that the core enemy is a vampire conspiracy, the nature of the conspiracy and indeed of the 'vampires' themselves is open, although a whole raft of suggestions are presented here, from Bram Stoker-style ancient horrors to aliens, creatures from folklore (have you ever stopped to wonder just why nearly every culture has vampire legends?), black magic or even a disease; and as to what these vampires might actually be up to... well, that's for the Director to decide and the characters to find out. There is a lot here for the Director to ponder. Bear in mind that this is not a game you buy one afternoon and run that night: to make it work you will need to put in a fair deal of planning, even though once the core plot is determined it is a game that runs well in improvisational style, using ideas that come out of your collective storytelling to determine what happens next.

Here is introduced a core mechanic to keep tract of what is going on: the Conspyramid. This tracks the layers of your conspiracy - people, groups, and their specific aims, as well as how each is linked to the others - and provides a structure through which investigating agents can move as they discover what is going on, peeling back the layers as their investigation proceeds. Leaving the structure relatively open allows for future developments: ideas may strike long after the game has begun, but this process facilitates incorporating them - and even theories that the players come up with that are just to good to ignore - during play. It can also provide a loose 'road-map' for your campaign, if you imagine it proceeding from lower levels right up to the kingpin at the top. It's a brilliant concept, and worth considering for any conspiracy-based game, vampires and spies or not.

Next, Cities. Spies are urban animals, and Europe in particular provides a rich array of cities in which they can ply their art and have their being. This chapter provides a wealth of advice as to how to develop your spin on real-world cities to make them a part of your adventures and the shared world of the alternate reality of this game. Although the focus is on Europe, the concepts apply just as well to wherever you decide to set your game, perhaps your conspiracy is a global one and the characters likewise will have to span the world as they investigate and ultimately destroy it. This section also includes organisations, criminal and spy agency alike, which may feature as opposition or allies. Local law enforcement, after all, are unlikely to take kindly to runners-and-gunners who seek to excuse that heavily-armed chase through the crowded city centre by explaining that they were chasing a vampire...

Several 'quick-and-dirty' city descriptions, and one (Marseilles) detailed extensively, are followed by a section on Stories, explaining the general nature of what might well go on in the game - the various approaches that the characters can take in their investigations, and the strategies that the conspiracy will employ to thwart them. It won't be long, after all, before the conspiracy becomes aware of the agents and decides that it might be best to deal with them before they become too much of a problem! There is a wealth of advice here not just on the stories to tell, but how to go about ensuring that the shared story is told to best effect given the style and flavour you have chosen for your game.

Finally, an introductory adventure is presented in all its glory. (S)entries will sweep agents into the heart of affairs from the outset, whilst introducing itself as a simple task that any freelance 'mercenary spy' might expect to be hired to perform. Be warned, though, whilst quite detailed as to what is going on and what the characters should be able to discover, this - like the whole game - requires preparation, it cannot just be picked up, read once, and played. The work put in will repay the effort, however, the potential to start your campaign in high epic thriller style is there from the outset.

This product makes the most of the GUMSHOE mechanic, incorporating it well into spy thriller mode and giving you all the tools you need to set up conspiracies for agents to investigate and destroy. Although the idea of vampires being behind it all is presented as an integral part of the game, if you prefer a different form of conspiracy (fans of Jason Bourne, or those who are convinced that all manner of plots are hatched in Davos, may step forwards here) it will work perfectly without fangs and a thirst for blood. If you do like vampires, this game is a delightful twist on other games involving them, a whole new set of stories to tell.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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