I often run tabletop roleplaying games on the weekend. I just started a Night’s Black Agents game, which is a spy thriller with a supernatural conspiracy element. Since I spent last week prepping and not writing on Goyle Country, I figured I’d share a writeup of the session.
It all started during the Cold War. The government was so worried about the possibility of a Soviet invasion of the continental United States that they developed Operation BASTION, a stay behind outfit that positioned groups of intelligence agents throughout the country. They were equipped with civilian cover identities, secret stockpiles of weapons and equipment, and anonymous bank accounts filled with cash. They had one directive: should the enemy conquer the United States, they were to immediately launch a guerrilla insurgency, rally the populace, and resist by any means necessary. But the CIA, so paranoid of Soviet infiltration, buried BASTION deep. As the Cold War ground on, fewer and fewer people even realized the operation existed. And once the Berlin Wall came down, BASTION itself began erasing any evidence of their existence. Forgotten by the government that had once relied on them as a last ditch defense, the agents of BASTION leveraged those secret bank accounts with their mountains of untraceable cash. They sold their stockpiles of equipment on the black market to make even more money, and in the end they all maneuvered themselves into positions of wealth, power, and comfort.
Those grey haired agents of BASTION would have died happy, had something not changed. Underground though they were, some of them had kept abreast of the goings on of the intelligence community. Sometime in the early 00’s, they realized something was going on. The Cold War may have ended, but a Shadow War was being fought. What’s more, it looked like the CIA was losing. Worse, it was being suborned, eaten from the inside out by some dark conspiracy that seemed bent on taking control of the government.
By the time BASTION roused themselves to action it was almost too late. Too old to be effective footsoldiers themselves they went recruiting. Carefully vetting candidates in all branches of the intelligence community and even the armed forces, they started building their own conspiracy. Recruits were convinced that BASTION was a legitimate government agency, an ultra secret black ops outfit dedicated to protecting the US from threats it couldn’t see. It had the virtue of being mostly true. Every agent brought in was scrubbed – their ties to their former employers were cut and references to them eliminated as much as possible. They were then given civilian cover identities, and when BASTION called with a mission they answered.
Our agents are:
Barney (played by Jim): the medic and interrogation expert. He’s got “soap opera doctor” looks. Formerly of the CIA. His drive is “altruism”. Gotta keep the bad guys from hurting the innocents, no matter the cost.
Elena (played by Gaite): the hacker. She’s brown skinned, lightly built, and is a fan of hoodies. Formerly of the NSA. Her drive might actually be a bit of a problem. It’s “transparency”.
Gwen (played by Audrey): the assassin and infiltrator. Of Nordic descent: tall, blond and deadly. Formerly military special forces. Her drive is “comradship”.
Quin (played by Derek): the document forger and wheelman. He’s a lanky, spiky haired, tattooed adrenaline junkie. Formerly of the CIA. His drive is “thrill seeker”.
Donald (played by Jeff): the handler/analyst/guy in charge. Annapolis graduate, he’s a fairly typical spy. Former CIA, of course. His drive is “patriotism”.
The scene opens with the agents gathering for a late night meeting at a functional, if currently empty, warehouse in Seattle. Que the obligatory rainstorm. They’d received the order through usual coded signals on internet message boards. With the exception of Quin they all arrived more or less discretely – getting out of a taxi a few blocks away, walking from a bus stop, etc. Quin? Quin brought his muscle car and parked right outside. Knowing they were supposed to meet a contact from BASTION, the group gathers in the warehouse’s office on the second floor. As soon as they turn on the lights a camera blinks to life. Not long after they hear a helicopter buzz overhead – alarmingly odd at this time of night, in the rain, and at such a low altitude. With a good idea that something’s wrong they head back downstairs, only to run into their contact.
The man is setting off bullshit detectors left and right. They ask him if he was followed, he says no. He’s distracted, keeps glancing at the door, and when they ask about the helicopter he tries to play it off as a news chopper that must’ve been on its way to cover a story. When Quin presses him, calling him out on his lies, the man breaks and says “they” made him do it. He pulls a gun from inside his raincoat, and the agents leap into action.
They want to take him alive, knowing that if they’ve been set up this man is their best chance at getting answers. Gwen, who’d gotten her 9mm pistol ready the moment their contact started acting shady, fires off a round that flies right by the side of her target’s head. We called this a support move, since she was trying to distract him. It works, and as he flinches away Barney goes in for the hand to hand disarm. The gun goes off, but the shot is wild and no one is hit. With the turncoat agent disarmed and held in an armlock, Donald notes the wireless earpiece he’s wearing. Removing it, Donald puts it in his own ear to hear a monotone voice directing the contact to “kill everyone in the room”.
They have no time to plan past that. The door the agents entered through swings open, and a man with a submachine gun looks in. Reacting quickly, Gwen opens up on the door to provide covering fire. She and the others fall back towards the door on the other side of the warehouse as the main loading bay doors ratchet open, revealing the headlights of a van and a group of armed men. The trap is well and truly sprung.
Barney takes cover behind a conveniently placed crate, their contact still restrained. Gwen finds cover as best she can and reloads while Quin opens fire on the mooks rushing in through the loading doors. Donald and Elena reach their exit, only to find that another mook with a submachine gun is coming through. Donald drops him with a few well placed shots. The two of them each take cover to either side of the door. Outside in the dark and rain are two more mooks, both with submachine guns. The mooks open fire, hitting the brick walls of the warehouse and missing the agents. Donald returns fire while Elena throws a knife(?!). The blade doesn’t hurt anybody, but it does surprise their assailants.
Meanwhile, as Gwen alternately fires at the mook in the door and the ones coming through the loading bay doors, Barney’s hostage wiggles free. The traitor tries to make a run for it, only to have Barney shoot him in the leg (called shot for the win!). Quin gets a devious idea. Popping off the occasional round just to keep the enemy’s head down, he locates a forklift and proceeds to rig it so that it will drive straight ahead unmanned. He then sends it towards the wall along the side of the building where Donald and Elena are having their firefight.
As it trundles along, Elena has decided that bringing a knife to an automatic weapon fight is a recipe for disaster. Having brought no gun of her own, she uses an athletics roll to duck outside and grab the submachine gun from the first mook they killed. She then uses it to gun down one of the two mooks outside. Shortly after, the forklift hits the wall and barrels out into the rain, right towards the remaining mook. He makes a break for it, fearing that someone is going to use the forklift to run him over. Elena and Donald emerge from the building and gun him down while he’s in the open.
With an exit cleared, the group makes a firing retreat. They’ve thinned the ranks of the main assault wave, but there are more coming. Once everyone is outside, Barney hauling along their injured turncoat, the group realizes their only getaway vehicle is on the other side of the building. Quin volunteers to go get it, and as the others hunker down and defend their new position he makes an infiltration roll to sneak around to where he left his car. There are three mooks on that side of the building, but they seem more occupied with a bald man who’s yelling at them in Russian to notice Quin. He sneaks into his car, fires it up, revs the engine, and guns it for the mooks. They scatter, and he floors it to drift around the corner and reach his comrades.
The problem is soon apparent. A muscle car will not fit five agents and a hostage. To make matters worse, the helicopter is coming back, and now it has a spotlight. Quin volunteers to lead the helicopter on a wild chase, giving the others a chance at escaping. He knows a guy, Vic, who can put them up in a safe house. If they all get away they’ll meet there. The agents agree, and after throwing their captive in the trunk Barney slides into the passenger seat. Quin’s muscle car, peppered with bullet holes, roars off into the night, helicopter in tow. The rest of the group falls back into a maze of stacked shipping containers, and after a chained infiltration test they manage to evade their pursuers. Donald, Gwen, and Elena emerge onto city streets several blocks away from the action. They hoof it to Gwen’s SUV, which they take to Vic and the safehouse.
Meanwhile, Quin is having way too much fun. He leads the helicopter in an area where, thanks to a combination of weather and terrain, it has to get low to maintain visual contact. Barney takes the opportunity to shoot at it, trying to kill the pilot. He misses, but succeeds in blowing out the searchlight. Once that’s gone, the helicopter gives up the chase, unable to effectively track the car thanks to the storm. After tooling around town for a while to make sure they weren’t still being followed, Quin and Barney arrive at the safe house. Barney does his thing and patches up Gwen, who took enough damage to get her to 1 point of health while she was flanked in the warehouse. This is cinematic health, of course, so she’s not really all that injured.
Now the investigation begins. They question the turncoat, Toby, who explains he was black bagged in front of his apartment one morning. Once in a van he was injected with something – he doesn’t know what – and was unconscious for an unknown amount of time. When he woke up, he found that he had the overwhelming compulsion to obey commands given to him by the monotone voice. Barney looks Toby over and finds a puncture wound to the back of the man’s neck, and evidence of restraints on his wrists. He also notes that while the man has been shot and should probably be going into shock, his heart rate is up and his body temperature is elevated. Odd. Using his medical kit, Barney takes several vials of blood (careful not to take too much, since he was bleeding from a leg wound shortly before). As a doctor he has a contact, Reese, at a local lab who can analyse the blood for any drugs or chemicals. With some persuading, he gets Reese to agree to meet him the lab even though it’s close to the middle of the night. He and Quin take Gwen’s SUV, and with no trouble drop off the blood.
Meanwhile, Elena is doing her thing. She tracks the message that brought them to the warehouse back to a cybercafe in Bismark, ND (I have no idea if there are cybercafes in Bismark, North Dakota, but let’s roll with it). As luck and some network points would have it, she knows a guy (Frank81) who uses that cafe as a base of caffeinated operations when he’s on a hacking job. So she asks him to get her the security camera footage for the time the message was posted, and maybe even eyeball the guy who posted it, if he gets the opportunity. That outsourced, she turns to the submachine gun she picked up from the fight. The serial numbers have been filed off, but Gwen manages to take it apart and they find some other numbers stamped on the various parts. Trying to track those back to the manufacturer hits a firewall, and she doesn’t feel like taking the time to get around it. Instead, they take a different tack. Once Barney is back, they get him to lift fingerprints off the ammunition that was loaded in the magazine. She then digitizes them (using her smartphone). A quick hack into the police database later, and they’ve matched the prints to a downtown Seattle gang called The Mayhem.
This is interesting for two reasons: one, they’re not Russian. Two, the bald Russian yelling at the mooks was from a dock-side gang (this thanks to Quin recalling his tattoos and Gwen having streetwise). Three, the Russians and the Mayhem don’t like each other. So why did they seem to be working together at the warehouse ambush? How did they even know to set it up? If they could get to a member of BASTION (the now captive Toby), it’s possible they could have targeted the agents one by one. So why get them in a group before attacking? Donald is of the opinion that this is a sloppy, amateur operation. Which would make sense if these were gang members, but why use amateurs to take on pros?
After a little traffic analysis, Elena finds out something somewhat more ominous – there’s no new chatter from BASTION in any of the usual places. Has their counter-conspiracy run into dire trouble?
Next time: what do you do with a Manchurian Candidate ally, blood test results, cybercafe video footage, and they’re not out of the woods just yet.